OTTAWA (CCN) — In light of the new laws concerning physician assisted death and euthanasia, the bishops of Atlantic Canada, following the pastoral direction and example of Pope Francis, have issued a pastoral letter on Nov. 27, the First Sunday of Advent, emphasizing the pastoral accompaniment of Catholics and their reception of the sacraments of reconciliation, holy communion and the anointing of the sick.
Their letter stands in sharp contrast to that of the bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories (NWT) released last September that also highlighted accompaniment and pastoral care, but clearly lays out the teaching on proper disposition for the reception of sacraments.
“The Sacrament of Penance is for the forgiveness of past sins, not the ones that have yet to be committed, and yet the Catechism reminds us that by ways known to God alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance” (CCC, no. 2283), the Atlantic bishops’ letter says. “The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is for strengthening and accompanying someone in a vulnerable and suffering state. It presupposes one’s desire to follow Christ even in his passion, suffering and death; it is an expression of trust and dependence on God in difficult circumstances” (CCC, no. 1520-3).
“The reception of Holy Communion as one approaches the end of this life can assist a person in growing in their union with Christ,” the letter says. “This last Communion, called Viaticum, has a particular significance and importance as the seed of eternal life and the power of resurrection” (CCC, no. 1524).
Those words contrast with those of the Alberta and NWT document that says: “In our day a priest may encounter a penitent who has officially requested physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia. The penitent has not yet been killed nor has he/she committed suicide, but he or she has initiated the process, which is already a grave matter.”
“If the penitent does not rescind this request, he or she will be killed,” they write. “They are in this objective state of sin, which is gravely disordered. They have incited and officially arranged for someone to kill them.”
The Alberta and NWT bishops, however, write that those facing euthanasia may not be “aware euthanasia is a grave sin” and their freedom may be “impaired through depression, drugs, or pressure from others.”
Edmundston Bishop Claude Champagne, the past president of the Atlantic Episcopal Assembly, said the Alberta and NWT bishops’ pastoral letter had come out in September prior to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops annual plenary. “It was not expressing the vision of all the Canadian bishops,” Champagne said in an interview.”
The Atlantic bishops decided to follow more the model of Quebec bishops, who have stressed pastoral care instead of doctrine to ensure Catholics will feel welcomed, Champagne said.
“Our concern is pastoral accompaniment,” said Champagne. “Pope Francis is our model.”
“We try not to condemn or to judge, but try to approach people to express the Catholic vision, but at the same time we try to journey with the people,” the bishop said.
However, differences in approach are not doctrinal, Champagne said. “We share the same vision of life and death,” he said. “We are all Catholics.”
He noted how Pope Francis in The Joy of Love (Amoris Laetitia) affirms the Catholic vision while recognizing “there are people who are not yet there.”
“We will welcome them, try to understand and journey with them,” he said.
“We believe that all priests, deacons and lay ministers, particularly those who care for the sick and vulnerable every day, at home, in hospices and in hospitals, need to be compassionate expressions and effective sacraments of this mercy of God in all that they do and whomever they encounter,” the letter says. “Euthanasia and assisted suicide may be legal, but they do not reflect our Christian view of life, suffering and death. The Gospel is a message of good news and hope in the face of pain and suffering.”
The goal of pastoral care is to communicate Christ’s compassion, healing love and his mercy, the letter says. “Furthermore, we must take into account the suffering person’s emotional, family and faith context when responding to their specific requests for the reception of the Sacrament of Penance and the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, the reception of Holy Communion and the celebration of a Christian Funeral.”