Browsing News Entries

Church Militant to shut down following $500,000 defamation lawsuit brought by priest

St. Michael's Media founder and CEO Michael Voris during an interview for local television news before the "Bishops Enough Is Enough" rally at the MECU Pavilion Nov.16, 2021, in Baltimore. / Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

CNA Staff, Mar 2, 2024 / 14:22 pm (CNA).

Church Militant, the controversial Catholic media outlet that has for years maintained a reputation for combative and antagonistic coverage of Catholic figures and issues, will cease operations next month following a $500,000 defamation judgment against it.

Boston-based law firm Todd & Weld said in a press release this week that Church Militant had “agreed to the entry of a judgment against it in the amount of $500,000” in a defamation lawsuit brought by Father Georges de Laire, the judicial vicar of the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire.

The media outlet had run an article in 2019 titled “NH Vicar Changes Dogma Into Heresy,” one in which the author, canonist Marc Balestrieri, claimed to “have talked to a number of anonymous sources who allegedly made negative comments about Father de Laire both personally and professionally,” the law firm said.

De Laire brought suit against both Balestriei and Church Militant over the article. In the course of the lawsuit, both the writer and the outlet were “unable to identify a single source who said anything negative about Father de Laire,” Todd & Weld said.

The law firm said the article had been written in “an attempt to discredit Father de Laire” and the Diocese of Manchester.

Todd & Weld said in the press release that St. Michael’s Media, the parent company of Church Militant, “will cease all operations of Church Militant by the end of April 2024.”

Church Militant did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday regarding its reasons for shutting down. Asked for insight into the company’s decision, Howard Cooper — a founding partner of Todd & Weld — declined to speculate.

“Questions about Church Militant’s thinking will need to be answered by them,” he told CNA.

Late last year, Church Militant founder Michael Voris resigned over a “morality” violation, with Voris at the time alluding to “horrible ugly things” he had done, though he did not go into specifics at the time.

“I need to conquer these demons,” he said of his decision to resign. “The underlying cause of it has been too ugly for me to look at.”

The Washington Post reported last week that staffers had “complained that Voris had sent shirtless photos of himself to Church Militant staff and associates” prior to his resignation.

Voris founded St. Michael’s Media in 2006. The company launched Church Militant — originally titled Real Catholic TV — in 2008. 

Church Militant to shut down following $500,000 defamation lawsuit brought by priest

St. Michael's Media founder and CEO Michael Voris during an interview for local television news before the "Bishops Enough Is Enough" rally at the MECU Pavilion Nov.16, 2021, in Baltimore. / Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

CNA Staff, Mar 2, 2024 / 14:22 pm (CNA).

Church Militant, the controversial Catholic media outlet that has for years maintained a reputation for combative and antagonistic coverage of Catholic figures and issues, will cease operations next month following a $500,000 defamation judgment against it.

Boston-based law firm Todd & Weld said in a press release this week that Church Militant had “agreed to the entry of a judgment against it in the amount of $500,000” in a defamation lawsuit brought by Father Georges de Laire, the judicial vicar of the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire.

The media outlet had run an article in 2019 titled “NH Vicar Changes Dogma Into Heresy,” one in which the author, canonist Marc Balestrieri, claimed to “have talked to a number of anonymous sources who allegedly made negative comments about Father de Laire both personally and professionally,” the law firm said.

De Laire brought suit against both Balestriei and Church Militant over the article. In the course of the lawsuit, both the writer and the outlet were “unable to identify a single source who said anything negative about Father de Laire,” Todd & Weld said.

The law firm said the article had been written in “an attempt to discredit Father de Laire” and the Diocese of Manchester.

Todd & Weld said in the press release that St. Michael’s Media, the parent company of Church Militant, “will cease all operations of Church Militant by the end of April 2024.”

Church Militant did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday regarding its reasons for shutting down. Asked for insight into the company’s decision, Howard Cooper — a founding partner of Todd & Weld — declined to speculate.

“Questions about Church Militant’s thinking will need to be answered by them,” he told CNA.

Late last year, Church Militant founder Michael Voris resigned over a “morality” violation, with Voris at the time alluding to “horrible ugly things” he had done, though he did not go into specifics at the time.

“I need to conquer these demons,” he said of his decision to resign. “The underlying cause of it has been too ugly for me to look at.”

The Washington Post reported last week that staffers had “complained that Voris had sent shirtless photos of himself to Church Militant staff and associates” prior to his resignation.

Voris founded St. Michael’s Media in 2006. The company launched Church Militant — originally titled Real Catholic TV — in 2008. 

Pope Francis opens Vatican’s Judicial Year, has aide read speech due to ‘bronchitis’

Pope Francis engages with a youngster at the inauguration of the 95th Judicial Year of the Vatican City State on Saturday, March 2, 2024. / Credit: Vatican Media

Vatican City, Mar 2, 2024 / 10:42 am (CNA).

Pope Francis presided over the inauguration of the 95th Judicial Year of the Vatican City State on Saturday morning, however he delegated the task of reading the speech to an aide due to bronchitis. 

“I thank you all. I have prepared a speech, but you can hear I am unable to read it because of bronchitis,” a visibly fatigued and hoarse-sounding Francis said to the Vatican’s magistrates gathered in the Hall of Blessings. 

The 87-year-old pontiff canceled his public engagements last Saturday and Monday due to a “mild flu.” After his remarks at the general audience on Wednesday, which were also read by Monsignor Filippo Ciampanelli, the pope went to Rome’s Gemelli Isola Tiberina Hospital for “diagnostic tests.” 

On Saturday, however, the pope maintained a full schedule, including several meetings with curial officials and a private audience with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. 

The pope’s remarks to the Vatican magistrates highlighted the virtue of courage, which he observed was at the very center of justice. He said that when “combined with fortitude, [courage] ensures constancy in the search for good and makes one capable of facing trials.” 

Observing that “in well-organized, well-regulated, and institutionally supported societies, it always remains that personal courage is needed to face different situations,” the pope stressed that courage is underscored by a “healthy audacity.”

In the absence of this, the pope warned, “we risk giving in to resignation and ending up overlooking many small and large abuses.”

Expanding on this reflection, the Holy Father noted that courage is a core virtue that allows people to confront difficult inner and external trials.

“Let us think of the victims of wars, or of those who are subjected to continuous violations of human rights, including the numerous persecuted Christians. In the face of these injustices, the Spirit gives us the strength not to give up, it inspires indignation and courage in us: indignation in the face of these unacceptable realities and the courage to try to change them.”

“Courage,” the pope continued, “contains a humble strength, which is based on faith and the closeness of God and is expressed in a particular way in the ability to act with patience and perseverance, rejecting the internal and external conditioning that hinders the accomplishment of good. This courage disorientates the corrupt and puts them, so to speak, in a corner, with their hearts closed and hardened.”

The pope also noted that courage is not an isolated virtue but exists in tandem with “prudence and justice,” both of which are underscored by charity. The nexus of these virtues, the pope observed, form the basis for exercising sound judgment.

“The administration of justice,” the pope added, “[is] demonstrated by the serenity of judgment, the independence and impartiality of those who are called upon to judge at the various stages of the process. The best response is industrious silence and serious commitment to work, which allow our courts to administer justice with authority and impartiality, guaranteeing due process, in compliance with the peculiarities of the Vatican system.”

Pope Francis to the world’s children: ‘If we really want to be happy, we need to pray’

Pope Francis poses with a woman and three children during a lunch in the Vatican's Paul VI Hall for over 1,000 poor and economically disadvantaged people on Nov. 19, 2023. / Credit: Vatican Media

Vatican City, Mar 2, 2024 / 10:16 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has issued a message to the world’s children in anticipation of the Church’s first-ever World Children’s Day, which will take place in Rome from May 25–26, reminding them that the key to happiness lies in cultivating a prayer life and personal relationship with Christ, which in turn forms the basis of broader social action. 

“If we really want to be happy, we need to pray, to pray a lot, to pray every day, because prayer connects us directly to God. Prayer fills our hearts with light and warmth; it helps us to do everything with confidence and peace of mind,” the pope wrote in his March 2 letter addressed to the world’s children. 

The pope followed up this reflection by asking children to pray the Lord’s Prayer “every morning and every evening, in your families too, together with your parents, brothers, sisters, and grandparents.” But the pope urged children to not merely recite the words but to reflect on their meaning and on Jesus’ ministry. 

“He is calling us and he wants us to join actively with him, on this World Children’s Day, to become builders of a new, more humane, just, and peaceful world. Jesus, who offered himself on the cross to gather all of us together in love, who conquered death and reconciled us with the Father, wants to continue his work in the Church through us,” the pope continued

Pope Francis announced the creation of World Children’s Day last December, saying that it will be an event to bring children from all around the world together to reflect on the question of “What kind of world do we wish to pass on to the children who are growing up?” The Vatican’s Dicastery for Culture and Education is sponsoring the initiative. 

In his March 2 letter, the pope explained the theme for the World Day of Children is taken from Jesus’ words in the Book of Revelation: “Behold, I make all things new.” The pope noted these words “invite us to become as clever as children in grasping the new realities stirred up by the Spirit, both within us and around us.” 

Reflecting on the importance of children for families, the pope noted that they are a sign “of every person’s desire to grow and flourish” and a “source of joy,” a recognition that helps foster an intergenerational link “from the past to the future.” 

The pope’s message also touched upon the need for social action, asking young people to always remember “other children and young people who are already battling illness and hardship.” 

Highlighting the examples of those who are facing poverty and hunger, “victims of war and violence,” or those “forced to be soldiers or to flee as refugees, separated from their parents,” Pope Francis pleaded that “we need to hear those voices, for amid their sufferings they remind us of reality, with their tearful eyes and with that tenacious yearning for goodness that endures in the hearts of those who have truly seen the horror of evil.” 

The pope encouraged children that action starts on the local level through small acts of kindness.  

“Our world will change if we all begin with these little things, without being ashamed to take small steps, one at a time,” the pope expressed. 

Catholic priest finds kidney donor through parishioner

null / Credit: Chaikom/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Mar 2, 2024 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Father Tim O’Sullivan is a parochial vicar at St. Ephrem Catholic Church in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. He first arrived to the parish in 2001 and says he considers it home.

In 2017, the priest began to have several health issues that led to him undergoing 11 different surgeries in a matter of 15 months. 

“The doctors say all the anesthesia that was in my system eventually took its toll on my kidneys,” O’Sullivan told Trish Hartman of Channel 6 Action News.

This led O’Sullivan to being on dialysis for five years. 

In November 2023, he decided to write a letter in the parish bulletin letting parishioners know that he was in search of a kidney donor. Despite having several people reach out, none were a match.

“A couple people in the parish did call but were not qualified for some reason or another,” he said.

It wasn’t until January that O’Sullivan received the good news — he had a donor.

Albert Stanley, 46, of South Philadelphia, died on New Year’s Day after suffering several strokes and a brain bleed. His sister, Christine Moretti, is a parishioner at St. Ephrem’s. After seeing on her brother’s driver’s license that he was an organ donor, she contacted O’Sullivan. 

“He had multiple people in his family that were not matches, so in speaking with him, of course, this would be the miracle that we need,” Moretti told Channel 6 Action News.

On Jan. 3, O’Sullivan received the call that Stanley was a match.

He received both of Stanley’s kidneys and is no longer on dialysis. O’Sullivan is still recovering but hopes to be offering Mass again at St. Ephrem’s in April. 

Stanley’s mother and sister said that knowing his organs saved someone else’s life has given them comfort in their grief.

“It was already a comfort knowing that he would live on through others. But to know that it’s someone so close — part of our parish, that my kids interact with — was very meaningful to me,” Moretti said.

O’Sullivan shared that the family’s decision was “humbling” and was a “very generous decision, even in the midst of a mother’s worst grief.”

Catholic priest finds kidney donor through parishioner

null / Credit: Chaikom/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Mar 2, 2024 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Father Tim O’Sullivan is a parochial vicar at St. Ephrem Catholic Church in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. He first arrived to the parish in 2001 and says he considers it home.

In 2017, the priest began to have several health issues that led to him undergoing 11 different surgeries in a matter of 15 months. 

“The doctors say all the anesthesia that was in my system eventually took its toll on my kidneys,” O’Sullivan told Trish Hartman of Channel 6 Action News.

This led O’Sullivan to being on dialysis for five years. 

In November 2023, he decided to write a letter in the parish bulletin letting parishioners know that he was in search of a kidney donor. Despite having several people reach out, none were a match.

“A couple people in the parish did call but were not qualified for some reason or another,” he said.

It wasn’t until January that O’Sullivan received the good news — he had a donor.

Albert Stanley, 46, of South Philadelphia, died on New Year’s Day after suffering several strokes and a brain bleed. His sister, Christine Moretti, is a parishioner at St. Ephrem’s. After seeing on her brother’s driver’s license that he was an organ donor, she contacted O’Sullivan. 

“He had multiple people in his family that were not matches, so in speaking with him, of course, this would be the miracle that we need,” Moretti told Channel 6 Action News.

On Jan. 3, O’Sullivan received the call that Stanley was a match.

He received both of Stanley’s kidneys and is no longer on dialysis. O’Sullivan is still recovering but hopes to be offering Mass again at St. Ephrem’s in April. 

Stanley’s mother and sister said that knowing his organs saved someone else’s life has given them comfort in their grief.

“It was already a comfort knowing that he would live on through others. But to know that it’s someone so close — part of our parish, that my kids interact with — was very meaningful to me,” Moretti said.

O’Sullivan shared that the family’s decision was “humbling” and was a “very generous decision, even in the midst of a mother’s worst grief.”

Experts warn of ‘inhumane’ treatment of embryos, ‘evil’ circumstances surrounding IVF

Heritage Foundation researcher Emma Waters speaks to Prudence Robertson on “EWTN Pro-Life Weekly,” Feb. 29, 2024. / Credit: “EWTN Pro-Life Weekly”

CNA Staff, Mar 2, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

A Catholic moral theologian this week warned that in vitro fertilization (IVF) “separates the things that God wanted to be together” while another expert spoke out against the “inhumane” treatment of the hundreds of thousands of human embryos produced by IVF. 

The Alabama Supreme Court has sparked a national debate on the ethics surrounding IVF following the court’s recent decision that ruled embryos are considered children under state law.

“EWTN Pro-Life Weekly” anchor Prudence Robertson spoke to Emma Waters, a researcher at the Heritage Foundation, about the ethical implications of IVF and its effects on marriage and society.

“In a normal in vitro fertilization process, clinicians will create anywhere between 15 to 20 embryos at a time,” Waters explained.

Embryos are then tested for genetic issues, and parents have the opportunity to choose the sex of the baby, she explained. After this, wanted embryos are either implanted into the intended mother or frozen for a later time. 

But unwanted embryos are “routinely destroyed or donated to science, where they’re also later destroyed after having inhumane testing done to them,” Waters pointed out.

Because of the high cost of IVF, which averages about $19,000, many couples choose to discontinue the process, resulting in the embryonic children being destroyed. 

Nearly 80,000 infants born were conceived through such alternatives to sex, according to the most recent data from 2020. But reports say that between 400,000 and 1.5 million frozen embryonic children are preserved in laboratories in the U.S. today. 

Father Ezra Sullivan, OP, a professor of moral theology and psychology at the University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, told Robertson that the Church is outspoken against the mass “production of children” through IVF. 

When asked what might be done about the thousands upon thousands of embryonic children now in existence in labs throughout the U.S., Sullivan called it an “irresolvably evil” situation.

“Should we try to allow parents to conceive these children, since they already exist?” he asked. “Should we baptize them — and in that moment of baptism, the embryo, unfortunately, cannot survive?”

“There’s no definitive resolution because it’s a situation that John Paul II would say is irresolvably evil,” he continued. “There’s no way to solve it without some kind of moral problem arising.”

IVF has “totally upended society’s understanding” of what it means to procreate, Waters said. 

Children “can be created at will by any adults who simply have the right parts whether they come from themselves or they come through sperm and egg donation,” she explained. 

Sullivan, meanwhile, noted that IVF “breaks apart” the “marital bond” because it creates a child “outside of the marital act, within a hospital or laboratory.” 

“The issue of IVF is sensitive because a lot of people are having trouble conceiving in this time, ” he said. “But ultimately the Church says that we want to go the natural route.”

IVF separates ‘the things God wanted to be together’

While “conception is difficult” for a variety of reasons, Sullivan noted that IVF “separates the things that God wanted to be together: love and marriage, conception, procreation in the very marital act.” 

“One of the difficulties that we need to accept as human beings is that we’re weak, we’re imperfect,” Sullivan noted. “And sometimes when, for instance, we have trouble conceiving, sometimes that’s our body’s way of saying that maybe we need to find another way to give life to the world, another way to serve others.” 

The Alabama ruling stemmed from a lawsuit filed by three couples after their IVF-created embryos were accidentally destroyed at the lab where they were stored. 

During the discussion of the issue on “EWTN Pro-Life Weekly,” Dr. Joseph Meaney, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, defended the Alabama ruling.

Meaney said the decision “recognizes that human life begins at conception” and that “children should be protected no matter where they are, in their mother’s womb or in the laboratory.”

“In fact, it points out that the in vitro fertilization process kills huge numbers of children at the embryonic stage,” he said.

The ruling limited the protection of these embryos to legal protection against cases where clinics were negligent. But the Alabama Legislature has since defined protections for IVF after three clinics in the state paused their in vitro services.  

In the wake of the controversy, several top contenders for the 2024 U.S. presidential election have voiced their support for IVF. 

Donald Trump came out strongly against the Alabama Supreme Court ruling on social media, saying he supports IVF “in every state in America.” 

Trump’s lone remaining rival for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, told CNN’s Jake Tapper that she conceived her son through artificial insemination. She said that “Alabama needs to go back and look at the law” that fueled the court’s decision. 

President Joe Biden, meanwhile, told EWTN White House correspondent Owen Jensen this week that he disagreed with the Catholic Church’s position on IVF.

Experts warn of ‘inhumane’ treatment of embryos, ‘evil’ circumstances surrounding IVF

Heritage Foundation researcher Emma Waters speaks to Prudence Robertson on “EWTN Pro-Life Weekly,” Feb. 29, 2024. / Credit: “EWTN Pro-Life Weekly”

CNA Staff, Mar 2, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

A Catholic moral theologian this week warned that in vitro fertilization (IVF) “separates the things that God wanted to be together” while another expert spoke out against the “inhumane” treatment of the hundreds of thousands of human embryos produced by IVF. 

The Alabama Supreme Court has sparked a national debate on the ethics surrounding IVF following the court’s recent decision that ruled embryos are considered children under state law.

“EWTN Pro-Life Weekly” anchor Prudence Robertson spoke to Emma Waters, a researcher at the Heritage Foundation, about the ethical implications of IVF and its effects on marriage and society.

“In a normal in vitro fertilization process, clinicians will create anywhere between 15 to 20 embryos at a time,” Waters explained.

Embryos are then tested for genetic issues, and parents have the opportunity to choose the sex of the baby, she explained. After this, wanted embryos are either implanted into the intended mother or frozen for a later time. 

But unwanted embryos are “routinely destroyed or donated to science, where they’re also later destroyed after having inhumane testing done to them,” Waters pointed out.

Because of the high cost of IVF, which averages about $19,000, many couples choose to discontinue the process, resulting in the embryonic children being destroyed. 

Nearly 80,000 infants born were conceived through such alternatives to sex, according to the most recent data from 2020. But reports say that between 400,000 and 1.5 million frozen embryonic children are preserved in laboratories in the U.S. today. 

Father Ezra Sullivan, OP, a professor of moral theology and psychology at the University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, told Robertson that the Church is outspoken against the mass “production of children” through IVF. 

When asked what might be done about the thousands upon thousands of embryonic children now in existence in labs throughout the U.S., Sullivan called it an “irresolvably evil” situation.

“Should we try to allow parents to conceive these children, since they already exist?” he asked. “Should we baptize them — and in that moment of baptism, the embryo, unfortunately, cannot survive?”

“There’s no definitive resolution because it’s a situation that John Paul II would say is irresolvably evil,” he continued. “There’s no way to solve it without some kind of moral problem arising.”

IVF has “totally upended society’s understanding” of what it means to procreate, Waters said. 

Children “can be created at will by any adults who simply have the right parts whether they come from themselves or they come through sperm and egg donation,” she explained. 

Sullivan, meanwhile, noted that IVF “breaks apart” the “marital bond” because it creates a child “outside of the marital act, within a hospital or laboratory.” 

“The issue of IVF is sensitive because a lot of people are having trouble conceiving in this time, ” he said. “But ultimately the Church says that we want to go the natural route.”

IVF separates ‘the things God wanted to be together’

While “conception is difficult” for a variety of reasons, Sullivan noted that IVF “separates the things that God wanted to be together: love and marriage, conception, procreation in the very marital act.” 

“One of the difficulties that we need to accept as human beings is that we’re weak, we’re imperfect,” Sullivan noted. “And sometimes when, for instance, we have trouble conceiving, sometimes that’s our body’s way of saying that maybe we need to find another way to give life to the world, another way to serve others.” 

The Alabama ruling stemmed from a lawsuit filed by three couples after their IVF-created embryos were accidentally destroyed at the lab where they were stored. 

During the discussion of the issue on “EWTN Pro-Life Weekly,” Dr. Joseph Meaney, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, defended the Alabama ruling.

Meaney said the decision “recognizes that human life begins at conception” and that “children should be protected no matter where they are, in their mother’s womb or in the laboratory.”

“In fact, it points out that the in vitro fertilization process kills huge numbers of children at the embryonic stage,” he said.

The ruling limited the protection of these embryos to legal protection against cases where clinics were negligent. But the Alabama Legislature has since defined protections for IVF after three clinics in the state paused their in vitro services.  

In the wake of the controversy, several top contenders for the 2024 U.S. presidential election have voiced their support for IVF. 

Donald Trump came out strongly against the Alabama Supreme Court ruling on social media, saying he supports IVF “in every state in America.” 

Trump’s lone remaining rival for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, told CNN’s Jake Tapper that she conceived her son through artificial insemination. She said that “Alabama needs to go back and look at the law” that fueled the court’s decision. 

President Joe Biden, meanwhile, told EWTN White House correspondent Owen Jensen this week that he disagreed with the Catholic Church’s position on IVF.

Catholics express concern over eroding ‘brain death’ standards

Patient in a hospital bed. Via Shutterstock / null

CNA Staff, Mar 2, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

A broad coalition of 151 Catholics including medical professionals, bioethicists, and scholars released a joint letter this past week expressing concern about new guidelines issued by a major neurological society regarding “brain death” — a hotly contested topic in the medical community and among people of faith.

The signers of the letter contend that the current guidelines regarding brain death from the American Association of Neurology (AAN), released in 2023, could lead in practice to patients being incorrectly pronounced “brain dead” and subsequently having their organs removed while still alive.

The Catholic Church has long supported — with Pope Francis carrying on the tradition — the idea of freely given organ donation as an act of charity for others.

However, the signers of the February letter contend that because of what they see as ambiguity in U.S. law and medical practice regarding the declaration of brain death, Catholics ought to remove themselves from their state’s organ donation registry and create advance directives refusing organ donation until those ambiguities are resolved.

The signers of the letter — which encompass a range of views on the validity of brain death — encouraged those engaged in Catholic faith formation and pastoral guidance to reiterate the importance of “moral certainty” that a person has died.

“All agree that the BD criteria found in the guidelines and used in current clinical practice do not provide moral certainty that a patient has died,” the signers wrote.

The statement was prepared by Joseph Eble, a physician and president of the Tulsa Guild of the Catholic Medical Association; John Di Camillo, an ethicist of The National Catholic Bioethics Center; and Peter Colosi, a philosophy professor at Salve Regina University.

What is brain death?

Brain death, also called “death by neurologic criteria,” is a commonly accepted practice of declaring a person dead based on the loss of brain function rather than the stoppage of the heart and breathing. A “brain dead” person on a ventilator may appear, at least to the untrained eyes, to still be alive.

While legal standards for determining brain death differ from country to country, in the U.S. the law relevant to brain death is the 1981 Uniform Determination of Death Act, which states that an individual who has sustained “irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem, is dead.” All 50 states have adopted the UDDA into their own laws, with a few variations in the language used.

According to a 2020 study, brain deaths made up 2% of all deaths at U.S. hospitals between 2012 and 2016. In the United States, 70% of organ donors were declared dead using BD criteria in 2021, the February statement notes.

What has changed?

Ever since the concept of brain death was first introduced in 1968, the medical community has debated what exactly it entails.

The previous AAN guidelines, released in 2010, did not mandate tests for complete cessation of brain function beyond what can be diagnosed bedside, such as an electroencephalogram.

Further, AAN’s 2023 guidelines, announced in October, state that neuroendocrine function can persist in patients with permanent injury to the brain and “is not inconsistent with the whole brain standard of death.” The signers of the February statement note that AAN’s guidelines are “commonly accepted criteria for determinations of BD throughout the United States and are considered the most rigorous and comprehensive.”

When similar guidelines were introduced last year, the bishops of the United States weighed in, expressing concern that the rewrite “would replace the standard of whole brain death with one of partial brain death.”

“Nothing in Catholic teaching provides support for lowering the criterion to something less than ‘irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain,’” the bishops wrote.

“We are opposed to lowering that standard in the absence of compelling scientific evidence.”

The Catholic view

While the term “brain death” is not found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II asserted in 2000 that, if properly diagnosed, the complete and irreversible cessation of all brain function seems a valid way to assess with “moral certainty” that a person has died. Moral certainty, the saint said, “is considered the necessary and sufficient basis for an ethically correct course of action.”

Catholic doctors and ethicists today largely echo the former pontiff in stating that brain death, when properly diagnosed, is not a “kind” of death; it is simply death, period.

However, brain death remains a hotly debated topic among some Catholic medical professionals and ethicists, partly because brain-dead donors are, today, the primary source of organ transplants. Organs such as the heart, lungs, and pancreas can be — and are routinely — harvested from brain-dead donors as close to the time of death as possible.

In his 2000 address, John Paul II stressed the importance of only removing organs from people who have definitively died. The pope’s speech built upon his writing in the 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae in which he decried any practice whereby “organs are removed without respecting objective and adequate criteria which verify the death of the donor,” calling such a practice a form of “furtive ... euthanasia.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in its 2018 Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, states that the “determination of death should be made by the physician or competent medical authority in accordance with responsible and commonly accepted scientific criteria.”

Catholics express concern over eroding ‘brain death’ standards

Patient in a hospital bed. Via Shutterstock / null

CNA Staff, Mar 2, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

A broad coalition of 151 Catholics including medical professionals, bioethicists, and scholars released a joint letter this past week expressing concern about new guidelines issued by a major neurological society regarding “brain death” — a hotly contested topic in the medical community and among people of faith.

The signers of the letter contend that the current guidelines regarding brain death from the American Association of Neurology (AAN), released in 2023, could lead in practice to patients being incorrectly pronounced “brain dead” and subsequently having their organs removed while still alive.

The Catholic Church has long supported — with Pope Francis carrying on the tradition — the idea of freely given organ donation as an act of charity for others.

However, the signers of the February letter contend that because of what they see as ambiguity in U.S. law and medical practice regarding the declaration of brain death, Catholics ought to remove themselves from their state’s organ donation registry and create advance directives refusing organ donation until those ambiguities are resolved.

The signers of the letter — which encompass a range of views on the validity of brain death — encouraged those engaged in Catholic faith formation and pastoral guidance to reiterate the importance of “moral certainty” that a person has died.

“All agree that the BD criteria found in the guidelines and used in current clinical practice do not provide moral certainty that a patient has died,” the signers wrote.

The statement was prepared by Joseph Eble, a physician and president of the Tulsa Guild of the Catholic Medical Association; John Di Camillo, an ethicist of The National Catholic Bioethics Center; and Peter Colosi, a philosophy professor at Salve Regina University.

What is brain death?

Brain death, also called “death by neurologic criteria,” is a commonly accepted practice of declaring a person dead based on the loss of brain function rather than the stoppage of the heart and breathing. A “brain dead” person on a ventilator may appear, at least to the untrained eyes, to still be alive.

While legal standards for determining brain death differ from country to country, in the U.S. the law relevant to brain death is the 1981 Uniform Determination of Death Act, which states that an individual who has sustained “irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem, is dead.” All 50 states have adopted the UDDA into their own laws, with a few variations in the language used.

According to a 2020 study, brain deaths made up 2% of all deaths at U.S. hospitals between 2012 and 2016. In the United States, 70% of organ donors were declared dead using BD criteria in 2021, the February statement notes.

What has changed?

Ever since the concept of brain death was first introduced in 1968, the medical community has debated what exactly it entails.

The previous AAN guidelines, released in 2010, did not mandate tests for complete cessation of brain function beyond what can be diagnosed bedside, such as an electroencephalogram.

Further, AAN’s 2023 guidelines, announced in October, state that neuroendocrine function can persist in patients with permanent injury to the brain and “is not inconsistent with the whole brain standard of death.” The signers of the February statement note that AAN’s guidelines are “commonly accepted criteria for determinations of BD throughout the United States and are considered the most rigorous and comprehensive.”

When similar guidelines were introduced last year, the bishops of the United States weighed in, expressing concern that the rewrite “would replace the standard of whole brain death with one of partial brain death.”

“Nothing in Catholic teaching provides support for lowering the criterion to something less than ‘irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain,’” the bishops wrote.

“We are opposed to lowering that standard in the absence of compelling scientific evidence.”

The Catholic view

While the term “brain death” is not found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II asserted in 2000 that, if properly diagnosed, the complete and irreversible cessation of all brain function seems a valid way to assess with “moral certainty” that a person has died. Moral certainty, the saint said, “is considered the necessary and sufficient basis for an ethically correct course of action.”

Catholic doctors and ethicists today largely echo the former pontiff in stating that brain death, when properly diagnosed, is not a “kind” of death; it is simply death, period.

However, brain death remains a hotly debated topic among some Catholic medical professionals and ethicists, partly because brain-dead donors are, today, the primary source of organ transplants. Organs such as the heart, lungs, and pancreas can be — and are routinely — harvested from brain-dead donors as close to the time of death as possible.

In his 2000 address, John Paul II stressed the importance of only removing organs from people who have definitively died. The pope’s speech built upon his writing in the 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae in which he decried any practice whereby “organs are removed without respecting objective and adequate criteria which verify the death of the donor,” calling such a practice a form of “furtive ... euthanasia.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in its 2018 Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, states that the “determination of death should be made by the physician or competent medical authority in accordance with responsible and commonly accepted scientific criteria.”