Archive of February 24, 2011

For Belgian Church rocked by scandal, three new auxiliary bishops

Rome, Italy, Feb 24, 2011 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI has appointed three new auxiliary bishops to assist Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard of Mechelen-Brussels.

Msgrs. Jean-Luc Hudsyn, Jean Kockerols and Leon Lemmens were appointed Feb. 22.

The Belgian Church has been rocked by clerical abuse scandals in recent years.

Archbishop Leonard was appointed in Jan. 2010 in part in response to the scandals, which occurred under Cardinal Godfried Danneels, now retired. Archbishop Leonard was called by some the "Belgian Ratzinger" for his no-tolerance policy on sexual abuse.

Just months after Archbishop Leonard's appointment, Bishop Roger Vangheluwe of Bruges, Belgium resigned following revelations of charges of  past abuse. Within weeks, more than 400 abuse allegations against priests were made public and in June, authorities stormed diocesan offices in Brussels and confiscated the files and computers of the diocesan commission investigating abuse claims. No charges against the Church were filed.

More controversy came in October with the release of a book of interviews with Archbishop Leonard.
In it, the archbishop was quoted as suggesting that AIDS was a “a kind of immanent justice,” for homosexual activity.

“If we act inappropriately with physical nature, nature in turn will mistreat us,” the archbishop is quoted as saying. “And when people deal inappropriately with the deeper meaning of human love, that brings catastrophes at all levels.”

The statements caused a riot in international media and led to the resignation of the archbishop's spokesperson. Since then, however, the archbishop  has kept well under the radar.

The Pope's appointment of the three auxiliaries comes after a winter season of relative peace and quiet for the Belgian Church.

Father Tommy Scholtes, S.J., spokesman for the country’s bishops, told CNA that having a number of auxiliary bishops has been a "normal" thing in the archdiocese in recent years. He did not see any special significance to appointing all three at the same time.

"I think this is good news for everybody," he said of the appointments, adding that he didn't anticipate any problems. “I haven't heard anything, either yesterday or today."

After Archbishop Leonard's appointment last January, there were rather public complaints that he was "too conservative" for the nation.

After a rocky 2010, the archbishop is “going in a good direction," Fr. Scholtes said.

With the appointments of the auxiliaries, he added, "I think it will be better now."

Msgr. Hudsyn, 63, will now be in charge of the French-speaking region south of Brussels called the Vicariate of Walloon Brabant. He was groomed into the position through 22 years of service to the former auxiliary bishop in charge of the same region.

Msgr. Hudsyn already serves in a number of administrative and pastoral capacities in the area. According to a press release from the archdiocese, Msgr. Hudsyn pays particular attention to the theological and pastoral formation of the laity. He also prepares and accompanies permanent deacons in their service and has also been very involved in media relations.

The 52-year old Msgr. Jean Kockerols has a broad formation in law, philosophy, theology and cooperation and development. He has worked largely in parishes and founded a pastoral studies center in Brussels in 2001.

He has been dean of the Church's Brussels-South region in recent years and works as director of the department of faith, formator at the diocesan seminary and course leader at the Institute of Theological Studies.

As auxiliary, Msgr. Kockerols will head the Vicariate of Brussels.

Msgr. Leon Lemmens, 56, is being called back to Belgium from his current position as official of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches in charge of Formation and Study. He is specialized in collaboration with the Eastern Orthodox churches and is a member of the Sant'Egidio community.

Msgr. Lemmens has served as president of the Major Seminary of Hasselt, Belgium and rector of the College Romain in Rome. He has worked in vocations, permanent formation and on the inter-diocesan commission for media and culture.

He will oversee the Flemish Brabant region, the Dutch-speaking area that surrounds Brussels.

The three will be ordained on Sunday, April 3 in the Basilica of Koekelberg.

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Muslims set fire to Christian town in Bangladesh

Rome, Italy, Feb 24, 2011 (CNA) - More than 300 Muslims set fire to a town in Bangladesh in order to strip indigenous Christians, Hindus and Buddhists of their property.

The group of Muslim settlers set fire to the town of Rangamati in the Diocese of Chattagonag, Bangladesh on Feb. 17. According to the Fides news agency, news that the body of a missing Muslim man had been found was the pretext for carrying out what the Muslims called “an expedition to punish the town where indigenous peoples live.” 

Other attacks on indigenous towns were reported in the region of Gulishakhali.

An eyewitness told Fides that recently, Muslim colonists have been expelling non-Muslim ethnic groups in order to take possession of their farmland. He said they are often successful because local officials do nothing to intervene and to guarantee the rights of ethnic and religious minorities.

Bangladesh, located in southern Asia, is 89.7 percent Muslim, 9.2 percent Hindu, 0.7 percent Buddhist and 0.3 percent Christian.

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New phase begins in canonization cause of first African-American priest

Chicago, Ill., Feb 24, 2011 (CNA) - The Archdiocese of Chicago has begun a new phase of the investigation that could ultimately canonize Fr. Augustus Tolton. As the first African-American to become a priest, Fr. Tolton demonstrated remarkable patience, courage and dedication to his ministry during a time of widespread injustice.

Approximately a year after it opened Fr. Tolton's cause, the archdiocese formally began the proceedings to examine the 19th century priest's life, virtues and reputation for holiness. The process requires a canonical trial, which will hold its first session on the afternoon of Feb. 24 at St. James Chapel in downtown Chicago.

Chicago's Cardinal Archbishop Francis E. George will preside over the public event, at which Bishop Joseph N. Perry – the Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago, who is the postulator of Fr. Tolton's cause for sainthood – will introduce evidence of Fr. Tolton's faithful life and holiness. The proceeding will also feature the appointment of officials who will evaluate Fr. Tolton's reputation and the facts of his life.

The judgment of those officials, in conjunction with the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints, could lead to the next step in Tolton's cause: his designation as a “Servant of God.” After this, a declaration of “heroic virtue” would establish him as “Venerable.”

Further evidence of his miraculous intercession would be needed for Fr. Tolton to become a saint of the Church. Bishop Perry told CNA on Feb. 22 that at least one such possible occurrence is already under consideration, from the reports that the archdiocese is continuing to receive from the faithful.

In the short term, however, Bishop Perry is less occupied with possible miracles, and more interested in making the case for Fr. Tolton as a model of Christian virtue.

According to Bishop Perry, the key to understanding Fr. Tolton's life is in recognizing his “long-suffering perseverance, in the face of what you might call 'racial apartheid'.”

“His adult life was lived largely through the period of Reconstruction after the Civil War,” the bishop noted. “The nation had no program to assimilate blacks in society, following the Emancipation Proclamation. Anyone who was emerging as an accomplished black person, suffered – and was, more than likely, not accepted.”

Augustus Tolton was born into slavery, and baptized into the Catholic Church, in Missouri during 1854. His parents were Catholics, as were their owners.

His father, Peter Paul Tolton, died in 1861 after fleeing Missouri to join the Union Army at the beginning of the Civil War. Along with his mother and siblings, Augustus escaped to Illinois, where they were no longer slaves.

But freedom did not entail equality, even within the Church. Outraged German-American parishioners forced him to withdraw from their parish school.

At age 14, the former slave had to begin a remedial education. But he received encouragement from an Irish priest, Fr. Peter McGirr, who admitted him to his parish school. He eventually encouraged the devout young man to consider the priesthood.

However, no Catholic seminary in the United States would accept a black student. For years Augustus worked various manual jobs, while using his off-hours to assist at Mass and teach religion to black Catholics in the town of Quincy, Ill.

Finally, 1880, he was accepted to study in Rome – where it was assumed he would train to become a missionary in Africa. Augustus studied African languages and cultures for six years in Rome.

Then, on the night before his ordination, the plan changed unexpectedly. He was told he would be ordained as a priest for the United States.

The Italian Cardinal Simeoni told him: “America has been called the most enlightened nation in the world. We shall see if it deserves that honor.”

“If the United States has never before seen a black priest,” the cardinal said, “it must see one now!”

Bishop Perry explained that in the town of Quincy, where Fr. Tolton was sent back after his ordination, “racial separation was the norm at the time.”

“There were three Catholic churches – a German one, an Irish one, and one that they began for blacks.”

Many churches of the time did not allow blacks to receive Communion at Mass in a “white” church, where they would be segregated to the balcony.

“A lot of them didn't go to Communion at all,” Bishop Perry recalled. “It was not allowed, to kneel at the Communion railing next to a white person. If there wasn't a balcony, most churches had a roped off section with a few pews for blacks to sit in.”

“It's contrary to everything the Gospel stands for,” the bishop stated. “But racial separation was taken practically as a religion in itself.”

Amid this environment of reflexive racism, Fr. Augustus was charged with preaching the Gospel.

“Some folks thought whites, even though they were Catholic, should have nothing to do with his church,” Bishop Perry recounted. “Other whites went to his Masses – they found him an attractive speaker and preacher, and went to him for Confession.”

“A priest in a German parish told him, in no uncertain terms, that he should restrict himself to the blacks. He took his complaint to the local bishop – and was reprimanded.”

“Fr. Tolton responded by saying that the Church is open to everyone, and we shouldn't tell anyone they can't come in. He was told that if he could not obey, it was best that he leave town.”

After a subsequent dispute, which forced him to do so, he found that a group of black Catholics in Chicago – who worshiped in a church basement – also needed a pastor.

The Archbishop of Chicago welcomed him. But, as Bishop Perry noted, Fr. Tolton's new ministry was “largely confined to the south side of the city – the tenement houses, and the rather poor area occupied by freed blacks and escaped slaves.”

Fr. Tolton died of heat stroke, at the age of 43, in 1897. By that time, however, he had already become a revered leader of the black Catholic community in Chicago.

Some of the descendants of his former parishioners have volunteered their testimony to Bishop Perry, recounting family stories of encounters with the beloved priest who was known as “Father Gus.”

Simply being the first black Catholic priest in America, Bishop Perry said, “doesn't make him a saint.” What does, in Bishop Perry's estimation, is the manner in which he lived out his priesthood.

“A priest is supposed to be a servant to all. As a priest, Fr. Tolton was always open and receptive to everyone –  although even the Church did not always allow him to be a priest in that way.”

“He tried to improve the culture. But the culture was so resistant – it almost made his priesthood impossible. Society, and the Church, threw a lot of 'nos' at him: 'We can't take you, we can't accept you'.”

Now, Bishop Perry and the Archdiocese of Chicago hope the universal Church will uphold Fr. Augustus Tolton as an example for priests, and for all the faithful.

“We're hoping that, after all the 'nos' he had to endure in life, this time the Church will say 'yes'.”

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Bishop urges Catholics to strengthen faith during Lent

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Feb 24, 2011 (CNA) - Bishop Carlos Franzini of Rafaela, Argentina invited Catholics to seek out Christ during the upcoming Lenten Season.

Lent this year will begin on Wednesday, March 9.

In a Feb. 23 pastoral letter to help Catholics in his diocese prepare for the penitential season, the bishop encouraged them to “seek out a more profound encounter with the Lord to strengthen their faith.”

Our Lenten practices “should be accompanied by a renewed personal and communitarian commitment to further develop the face of solidarity of our Church,” he said.

The bishop then turned to the topic of abortion, noting that the the “so-called right to abortion” must be rejected – even in cases of rape.

“Greater pastoral care must be given to young women who become pregnant against their will,” the bishop wrote.  “While some are interested in demanding the supposed right to abortion, we want to reaffirm the value of human life from the moment of conception.”

“Abortion is always a tragedy, and we want to avoid it by helping young mothers and the children they carry in their wombs,” he added.

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Red World Youth Day bandanas recall love of martyrs

Cordoba, Spain, Feb 24, 2011 (CNA) - Bishop Demetrio Fernandez Gonzalez of Cordoba, Spain recently explained that the red bandanas that were distributed to World Youth Day participants in his diocese recall the sacrifice of Christian martyrs.

Bishop Fernandez sent an article to CNA on Feb. 21, explaining that “for Christians, in their 2,000 year-long history, red is the color of the blood of the martyrs, it is the color of the Holy Spirit.”

“This is not the color red of the Marxist revolution, which was a resounding failure, nor of the nihilism of Nietzsche, which leads to nothing and to meaninglessness even though it exalts the super man.” Nor, he continued, does it symbolize “the sexual revolution of Freud and his followers, which enslaves people everywhere to sex.”

On the contrary, “the red color of the bandanas given to our young people … represents Christian love, which has built history on the foundation of Jesus Christ,” the bishop said.

On Feb. 19, thousands of young people gathered in the city of Cordoba to prepare for World Youth Day with music and a liturgy.

The event was intended to encourage young people to “change their lives, to draw closer to Jesus Christ, to live in a state of grace and recover the purity of soul that is offered in the sacrament of
forgiveness,” Bishop Fernandez said.

“The future of the Church and of our society is in these young people,” he stated.

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Amid violent protests, Catholic missionaries continue their work in Libya

Tripoli, Libya, Feb 24, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -

As a swell of protestors and pro-government troops battle to establish control of Libyan cities, Catholic missionaries continue to carry out their work.

The nation's leader, Moammar Ghadafi, has come down hard on protesters who took to the streets in an appeal for greater liberty. Benghazi and other cities in the eastern half of the nation are reportedly now controlled by protesters with military backing.

Tripoli remains a hotspot for the conflict and international news agencies are reporting bombings and rampant killing. Confirmations of the true status of cities are scarce, as are open lines of communication.

Estimates of the dead vary from 1,000 to tens of thousands and there is talk that the clashes could escalate into civil war. Thousands of people, especially foreign nationals residing in Libya, are evacuating en masse.

Some illegal African immigrants in Libyan jails are being forced by the pro-government troops to choose between becoming mercenaries or being killed, Father Mussie Zerai of the Italian Habeshia agency told MISNA news.

There are also reports that male immigrants are being abducted from their homes for possible mercenary service. Their possible role in mercenary service has made all immigrants targets for Ghadafi opponents.

The Italian bishops' SIR news reported that the Catholic Church is organizing for the evacuation of 500 illegal emigrants, largely Eritreans.

Catholic priests and religious are weathering the storm. Many religious sisters work in hospitals and are working overtime with casualties from the conflicts.

“We are well and are continuing our work, despite the situation being unclear and not knowing who actually controls the city,” Sr. Elisabeth of the Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception told MISNA from Benghazi.

“The police and army have disappeared, everyone is thinking of their own safety, guarding their homes, businesses and neighborhoods.”

Sr. Elisabeth said she was unsure of how many people have been injured or killed. “But we know there are many,” she said.

She added that the Libyan people are “weary.”

In a brief telephone conversation with CNA on Feb. 24, Bishop Sylvester Magro, Apostolic Vicar of Benghazi, said that the principal concern of the Catholic Church “is to be close to the sick and suffering, so our contribution to the events is invaluable because of our closeness to the people.”

He said that the Catholic population shares the fate of “everybody else,” at this point.

Bishop Giovanni Innocenzo Martinelli, Apostolic Vicar of Tripoli, told Fides on Feb. 23 that the Catholic community in Libya is made up entirely of “foreigners.”

While the Europeans have been mostly evacuated, the Filipinos - who have a particular presence as hospital nurses - have remained, but the African immigrants “are the ones who need the most assistance.”

Bishop Martinelli is “convinced that there are many people who want peace above all.”

Of the Church in Tripoli, he said they have not had any trouble. “We even had some signs of solidarity on the part of the Libyans, in the form of assistance to both the sisters and to Christians, such as the Filipino nurses who are serving at local hospitals.”

He is closely monitoring the situation of religious communities, he said. For those working around the clock to treat victims, they have instructions that they may leave the country for a period of rest if they feel mentally and physically infirm.

Bishop Martinelli also said that one group of religious sisters who work with immigrants in Tripoli may soon be leaving the city anyway because “in this situation it is precarious to work.”

Bishops Martinelli and Magro oversee the two apostolic vicariates that coordinate Church activities from the western capital of Tripoli and the eastern city of Benghazi.

To serve the large and varied immigrant communities, Masses are held at least once a week for at least 10 different groups divided up by nationality or language.

Masses for Koreans, Indians, Eritreans and Filipinos are interspersed among those given in English, Italian, French, Polish and Arabic.

Parish activities are still largely overseen by Franciscan priests. In a number of cities and towns, but in particular in Tripoli and Benghazi, religious communities are also present.

For now, the conflict continues and projections for casualties look grim.

The vice president of the European Parliament, Gianni Pitella, told Vatican Radio that they have received confirmation of around 10,000 dead. He warned that the figure would be increasing by the hour.

He said that “the brutal madness of the regime puts almost any means, even the most atrocious, into play ... to stop the citizens that are in the squares, in the streets and are seeing their dream of freedom being realized.”

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Obama decision on marriage law raises questions of religious liberty, future of marriage

Washington D.C., Feb 24, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Obama administration’s decision not to defend a key federal marriage law raises worrying questions about the religious freedom of Catholics and others who believe in traditional marriage, according to Catholic leaders.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced Feb. 23 that the administration now believes the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act – which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman and denies marital benefits to homosexual partnerships – is unconstitutional because it discriminates against homosexuals.

Holder cited a “changed” legal landscape – including a Supreme Court ruling that laws against homosexual conduct are unconstitutional. He also cited Congress’ decision late last year to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that prevented homosexuals from serving openly in the military.

Anthony R. Picarello, Jr., the top legal counsel for the U.S. bishops, called the administration’s decision a “grave affront” to Americans who reject unjust discrimination but also affirm “the unique and inestimable value of marriage as between one man and one woman.”

“Support for actual marriage is not bigotry, but instead an eminently reasonable, common judgment affirming the foundational institution of civil society,” Picarello said.

Any government suggestion that this belief is discriminatory is a “serious threat” to religious liberty, he added.

Robert P. George, perhaps the nation’s top Catholic scholar on marriage, described Holder’s defense of the administration’s position as “extremely worrying.”

He said Holder’s statement was “dripping with animus” against people who believe that marriage is “the conjugal union of a husband and wife.”

“He treats that belief as if it were a mere prejudice, as though it is motivated by a desire to cause harm to people,” George told CNA Feb. 24. “Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. It is a legitimate moral belief that has informed our law throughout history.”

The statement suggests to George the possibility that the Justice Department will “abuse its authority to suppress the religious liberty of people who dissent.”

“It raises the concern that the Justice Department will treat believing Christians, Jews, Muslims and others as though they are the equivalent of racists,” he warned.

While racists are not jailed in the United States, they face civil disabilities in licensing and accreditation for fields like teaching and psychology. Universities with racist policies, for instance, are refused tax-exempt status.

George believes it is “imperative” for religious believers and those who support the traditional definition of marriage to defend their religious liberty. Believers should make clear to the Justice Department that they intend to fight any effort to restrict their liberty and their rights of conscience.

He said recognizing marriage as only between one man and one woman is “absolutely not” discriminatory in terms of constitutional law. He cited Justice Anthony Kennedy’s ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, a landmark 2003 case that declared laws against homosexual acts to be unconstitutional. That ruling, George said, has “no implications whatsoever for marriage.”

George is a Princeton University professor of jurisprudence and co-author of the “Manhattan Declaration,” a 2009 statement in defense of the sanctity of life and the family that has garnered nearly 500,000 signatures.

He said even prior to the administration’s latest decision, the Justice Department has mounted only half-hearted efforts to defend the marriage law in court.

“In the litigation so far, the Obama administration and Attorney General Eric Holder have defended the law so inadequately as to make it nearly impossible to conclude that they were not throwing the case,” George said Feb. 24, one day after the administration announced that it would no longer defend the law.

Holder and the Justice Department have declined to advance the “very best arguments” in support of the law. Instead, he said, the administration seemed intent on “deliberately sabotaging the case.”

The law says that the federal government only recognizes unions of one man and one woman as “marriages,” and will not provide benefits to same-sex couples in civil partnerships. It also established that U.S. states are not obliged to recognize same-sex “marriages” contracted in other states that recognize those unions.

But even if the administration will no longer defend the law, George said that Congress can.

“Members of the House of Representatives have standing to retain their own counsel and to defend the act, which, after all, went through the Congress with large bipartisan majorities,” George said. “I’m confident that the lawyers defending the act for the members of the House will defend it robustly and will make the very best possible arguments. In the end, I think, they will succeed in demonstrating that the act is perfectly constitutionally valid.”

George also raised the question of whether President Barack Obama had “defaulted” on his obligation faithfully to see that that the laws of the nation are executed, as his presidential oath requires.

However, George believes public sentiment for traditional marriage remains strong. He noted that all 31 state initiatives to reaffirm the definition of marriage have passed in recent years

For George, these defeats for advocates of same-sex “marriage” explain why they are trying to prevent the issue from being decided in an election.

“If they really thought that the people were going their way… they would be out there ahead of us trying to get the issue on the ballot.”

While some proponents of same-sex “marriage” have depicted their victory as inevitable, George noted the same had been said of movements like communism and legal abortion. However, in the case of abortion most people now profess themselves to be pro-life, especially young people.
“The people on the pro-same-sex marriage side can crow all they want and bluster about how history is on their side, but I’ve heard that same song before,” he said.

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Vatican advisor not surprised by British elder care horror stories

Rome, Italy, Feb 24, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Stories of elder care nightmares in England and Wales are the result of a new generation of “scared people” that see the elderly, sick and handicapped as “cumbersome” and “useless,” according a Vatican consultant.

British authorities earlier this month reported that there are grave deficiencies in the country’s national health care system.

According to an analysis of death certificates of elder care home residents by the Office of National Statistics, 667 hospital patients died of dehydration between 2005 and 2009 in England and Wales.

The study also reported an increase in negligence-caused deaths due to malnutrition, blood poisoning and infection from bed sores over the past decade in the national health system.

The reports have prompted cries for reform in Britain and even caught the attention of the Vatican newspaper.

Dr. Carlo Bellieni, a regular commentator on bio-ethics and health care issues, wrote on Feb. 19 that the lack of care is indeed “scandalous ... but not unexpected.”

He point out other reports to the English Parliament in recent years on the poor treatment available to mental patients, whom he characterized as “invisible” to national health system.

“In short, whomever is quietest receives a proportionately inferior treatment,” Bellieni said.

Neil Duncan-Jordan of the National Pensioners Convention told Britain's Daily Mail it is “absolutely shocking” that these causes are leading to so many deaths.

“What it shows is that a significant number of older people in our care homes are getting substandard, third-rate attention.”

He said he was struck by the fact that they died of poor diet, thirst or because they were not tended to well enough in bed and yet were likely paying the equivalent of around $1,300 (800 British pounds) per week.

“For them to be treated in that way is nothing sort of scandalous,” he said.

A separate report from the Health Service Ombudsman of the National Health Service released earlier in 2011 exposed 10 unfortunate stories of elderly patients who were neglected in hospitals. Some were kept for weeks or months with limited access to food, water and bathing.

In one case, a man's life support was unplugged before his sons were informed.

Of thousands of complaints at national health hospitals, a staggering majority of those investigated involved elderly patients.

Bellieni pointed out a study published in the “Journal of the American Medical Association” in 2000 further emphasized the point. Results of a survey showed that in a number of western nations, “the majority of doctors think that life with neurological disability, but also with a serious physical handicap is worse than death.”

This perspective, he said, is a “sign of a cultural wound, a profound moral discomfort that shows the disability not as something to overcome, but something intolerable, towards which one feels aversion, not compassion.”

Solutions are being sought for how to help them die and not for how to help them live better, he said.

“The issue of death with dignity is not how to rush it, but how to conquer pain and solitude,” said the doctor. “But a climate of terror towards a potential and improbable persistence of keeping (people) alive has been scientifically created.”

In the world today, “a generation of scared people” is being created that “only knows how to seek ways to defend themselves, to run for shelter, flee, looking at death as the last desperate consolation, because life has ultimately lost (its) meaning and attraction.”

This perspective leads people to seek “exit strategies” for lives that have become “cumbersome” to them, he explained.

Bellieni asserted that the “abandonment of the elderly ... is not a problem of malpractice but of cultural discomfort in the face of the sick ... as long as they are living.”

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