Bishop Michael F. Olson, in a letter to the House State Affairs Committee urges passage of House Bill 3074 by Representative Drew Springer that would correct the most glaring flaw in the Texas Advanced Directives Act by requiring nutrition and hydration to continue after ethics committee review unless it is harmful to the patient.
April 15, 2015
House State Affairs Committee
Dear Chairman Cook and Committee Members,
I had hoped that I would have been able to be in Austin on Wednesday to testify on House
Bill 3074 by Representative Drew Springer that would correct the most glaring flaw in the
Texas Advanced Directives Act by requiring nutrition and hydration to continue after
ethics committee review unless it is harmful to the patient. Unfortunately, I am officiating confirmation mass at a parish in my Diocese and am unable to testify—hence this letter.
However, I can speak on behalf of my brother bishops in the Texas Catholic Conference in
urging the State Affairs Committee pass this bill. The Texas Bishops have sought
reasonable reform of the Texas Advance Directives Act for more than a decade, and this
measure—while incremental—takes a significant step forward.
First, I want to address the nutrition and hydration issue from a Catholic moral position.
We use the terms “ordinary” and “extraordinary” to distinguish the medical treatments that
one is obligated to use in order to preserve their life and those that one can in good
conscience reject. Sometimes the terms proportionate and disproportionate are also used to
convey those means that are morally required vs. those that are optional. There is no
laundry list of treatments that are always ordinary and obligatory because circumstances
can be important factors in determining the morality of the action.
Treatment decisions should be based on whether or not the expected benefit of the
treatment outweighs the burden to the patient, and Representative Springer’s bill takes this
into account. Some claim that the bill still allows quality of life decisions, but they are
wrong. The criteria in this bill reflect an assessment of the quality or effectiveness of the
treatment, not the quality of life for the patient.
This assessment of effectiveness includes the use of artificially administered nutrition and
hydration. The position of our opponents fails to recognize both the reality of experience
and the Church’s teaching. In rare cases there comes a point when even artificially
administered nutrition and hydration may be morally withdrawn.
Saint John Paul II taught that the use of artificially administered food and hydration is in
principle considered ordinary care because food and water are basic necessities due to all
human persons. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith further clarified that while
this is true, there can still come a point in the dying process when food and water can be
withdrawn because their use is “excessively burdensome for the patient or [would] cause
significant physical discomfort.”
For instance, as a patient draws close to inevitable death from an underlying progressive and fatal
condition, certain measures to provide nutrition and hydration may cause such serious medical
complications that they are therefore not obligatory in light of their very limited ability to prolong
life or provide comfort.
As a Catholic Bishop, I speak with clarity, resolve, and compassion. It is my responsibility to trust
God’s Grace given to me to speak in this voice with avoidance of division and confusion. The
Catholic voice in the pro-life world does not view death as the ultimate enemy.
As you are aware, some organizations who identify themselves as being pro-life have
misrepresented the Catholic or pro-life position as opposing this legislation because it allows for
the removal of nutrition and hydration when such procedures would have no medical benefit and
could be needlessly torturous. Such an approach reacts to one extreme that imposes the refusal or
withdrawal of basic care by imposing a contrary extreme that demands burdensome procedures
without medical benefit in the effort to prolong dying. Each extreme approach fails to respect the
legitimate ethical judgment and decision-making of family members to be exercised prudentially
on behalf of their incapacitated loved ones. Their position has been that patients, or their
surrogates in the case of incompetent patients, have absolute autonomy to demand medical
interventions that may be ineffective or even harmful to the life of the patient. This is a distortion
of Church teaching. Accepting that a person is dying and withdrawing ineffective interventions is
not euthanasia or suicide; instead, it recognizes the essential dignity of man as created by God and
returning to Him at the end.
As a bishop I state that this reaction is not consistent with Catholic teaching regarding legitimate
care for dying and terminally ill persons. Those who make claims to the contrary are
misrepresenting the Church and causing division through fostering distrust of the integrity of the
authentic pastoral teaching of the bishops in Texas as articulated through our state’s Catholic
I hope that my letter demonstrates to the committee my strong support for the good work that
Representative Springer has done to bring clarity and unity to a controversial and difficult issue.
In the Peace of Christ,
Most Reverend Michael Olson
Bishop of the Diocese of Fort Worth
+ Bishop Olson
Homily for the Ordination of Nghia Nguyen to the Transitional Diaconate
Vietnamese Martyrs Catholic Church
March 7, 2015
In the Acts of the Apostles, we hear of how the Church faces a problem of the Greek-speaking widows who are complaining of injustice. This problem becomes an opportunity for God’s Grace to enter once again in a new way into the life of the Church. The problem soon gives way, not a systematic solution, but to a deeper revelation of Christ disguised in the mystery of the human person, especially the human person who is in need; the human person who is not a universal abstraction, but a real person with a name.
The Church needs your diaconal ministry just as it required that of St. Stephen and the other deacons in the early days of the Church, as read in the Acts of the Apostles. The diaconal ministry of Stephen helped to prevent the exclusion of the poor widows and children, an exclusion that was taking place on the basis of differences in culture and language in society, and it was affecting the life of the Church through unawareness and insensitivity of its human membership. The Greek speaking widows spoken of in today’s reading had begun to be treated more as a “corporate problem” than as particular persons with problems who have been incorporated into Christ’s Body, the Church.
Today, we are faced with the same challenges and the same need for diaconal ministry where the busy-ness of our society often propels us towards basic insensitivity and unawareness. This too often leads to our own adoption of a passive attitude whereby people become simply problems that are insoluble on their own terms. The grace of diaconal ministry, including the diaconal ministry of bishops and priests, and those diaconal aspects of the ministry of the baptized laity, prevents us from facing the people in the margins of society simplistically as a problem. Christ uses diaconal ministry to save us from abandoning people because they are misunderstood by us as problems that are too difficult for us to resolve on our own terms. Nghia, your diaconal vocation must be a means by which Christ calls us back from such complacency. As Pope Francis reminds us in Evangelii Gaudium:
“Any Church community, if it thinks it can comfortably go its own way without creative concern and effective cooperation in helping the poor to live with dignity and reaching out to everyone, will also risk breaking down, however much it may talk about social issues or criticize governments. It will easily drift into a spiritual worldliness camouflaged by religious practices, unproductive meetings and empty talk.”
While today you are ordained a deacon so that you might make the transition towards priesthood, the diaconal quality of your ministry (care for the poor, care for those persons in the margins, care for those persons overlooked, care for those who suffer violence, concern for those without a clear voice, care for those persons threatened by isolation and exclusion from the common good because of existing differences in language and culture) is not transitional in the sense that it ever goes away.
Despite its transitional character, your diaconal ordination has its own unique integrity that will be necessary for your future priestly ministry. This diaconal ordination will strengthen you in the command of our Lord “to serve and not to be served” that must imbue your personal character, your human formation, and your priestly identity so that Christ’s Grace more clearly might be seen in the administration of the sacraments and not obscured by the seduction of entitlement.
This sense of entitlement is subtle and often gradual. The promises that you make today of celibate chastity and obedience to me and to my successors are most truly directed to Christ; these are graces given to you by Christ to save you from this subtle and deadly enemy. The subtlety of entitlement involves a gradual shift in priorities when the mission of the Gospel becomes secondary to the human dimensions of the institution of the Church. This can frequently affect parish ministry in that our policies can soon take on a custodianship of the status quo of the parish administration instead of facilitating the authentic sacramental life of our people. The ministry of the sacramental life must establish the priorities articulated in our policies and not vice versa. The fidelity of your diaconal ministry as one who is “to serve and not to be served” will help to guard you against this subtle foe of entitlement throughout your priestly life. The fidelity of your diaconal ministry will prevent your priestly ministry from becoming simply cultic or ceremonial.
As Pope Benedict XVI reminded us, “Every priest, of course, also continues to be a deacon and must always be aware of this dimension, for the Lord Himself became our deacon. Recall the act of the washing of the feet, where it is explicitly shown that the Teacher, the Lord, acts as a deacon and wants those who follow Him to be deacons and carry out this ministry for humanity, to the point that they even help us to wash the dirty feet of the people entrusted to our care. This dimension seems to be of paramount importance.”
The justice that your diaconal ministry proclaims must always be subordinate to charity and love. Justice most strictly delineates the obligations that we possess in accordance with charity–love–the very life of God shared unconditionally with us by Christ.
This love is the same love that Christ offered you in giving you a vocation. Never doubt that it is Christ who has called you; it is He who has chosen you, not you who have first chosen Him. This love you know intimately, He offers to you on a daily basis through the grace of your ordination. Trust this Grace. Trust Him at times of fear and oppression and loneliness, and He will be your joy.
Posted by Diocese of Fort Worth at 11:41 AM
Saturday, January 31, 2015
Somebody said to me recently, “Congratulations. You made it through a year.” And I said, “Congratulations. So did you.”
It is hard to believe it’s been a year. But what is time but simply a measurement of motion and, hopefully, of growth.
One of the chief things bishops talk about when they get together is oftentimes what are called problems. What some see as problems, others see as opportunities. Opportunities which we are given by God.
One of the scripture passages, which I reflected on as I prepared for this evening, involves the issue of fear. And how really antithetical to the Gospel, and how antithetical to scripture, and how antithetical to Catholic education is this problem of fear.
And yet how tempting it is in so many ways.
The scripture passage from Mark’s Gospel chapter 9 verses 2-9 comes to mind. It talks about how our Lord Jesus takes three of his apostles—Peter, James and John—to the summit of Mount Tabor. And there, in prayer, they experience Christ transfigured.
They experience him as the Beloved Son in whom the Father is well pleased. The apostles are simultaneously overcome by fear and, at the same time, a great desire to erect three booths—three monuments to remain on the top of Mt. Tabor. But, Christ is not interested in these booths, tents, or institutions. Rather, He directs them to their mission. And not only does He direct them, He accompanies them. He accompanies them through their fear down the mountain onto Jerusalem, to the place where He will give his sacrifice — the sacrifice of love, which is the cross and the Resurrection. It is this mission of the Church, in particular Catholic education, we are entrusted with. The mission of the Gospel must always drive the institution, not the other way around. And when we let fear dominate our lives, or even infiltrate the way we assess schools, we are losing sight of the mission entrusted to us by Christ.
This, like the Gospel, is nothing new, yet it is always new. It’s always been a part of Catholic education to teach as Jesus taught: To instruct and to enlighten us in our ignorance and to continue forward in service to our neighbor; to accompany each other as Pope Francis says. It has also been a part of our local history as a Diocese, and as a local Church in North Texas where the institutions founded in Catholic education have always been in service to the mission of evangelization.
During this year dedicated to Consecrated Religious Life we especially want to acknowledge the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur. They illustrate how the mission of evangelization and Catholic education go hand in hand. And their institutions have always been dynamically filled by that mission and assessed by that mission as a means to an end. We can see in our history how Our Lady of Victory High School became the foundation for Nolan Catholic High School. And without their generosity, Nolan would have never taken root.
Academy of Mary Immaculate in Wichita Falls with their generosity became the foundation for Notre Dame. And, since I’m in an ecumenical mood, in Dallas Our Lady of Good Counsel, founded by them, became Bishop Dunne. Our Lady of Victory College through their generosity became the charter foundation for the University of Dallas.
Mission must always drive our institutions and keep them alive, and keep us all free of fear.
When we’re afraid, we begin to compare ourselves to others. And there’s a proverb that says, if I compare myself to somebody else, I always lose in that comparison. You see in our identity as Catholics, schools comes from our “yes” to Christ to accompany him in his mission—not to appropriate him for our own. We’re not in competition with other institutions, others booths, or other tents. We do not grow in our Catholic identity by defining ourselves by what we are not. “We are not public schools,” “We are not private schools,” “We’re not home schooling. We’re not even charter schools.”
What are we? If we become overly encumbered with those questions, we’ll be lost in fear just as Peter was on Tabor. We begin to isolate ourselves in individualism with a destructive sense of competition.
We’re not about marketing our schools. We do not have a product. We have a call to serve God and our neighbor in love which is Christ’s mission to establish the Kingdom of God here that we might be prepared to flourish in the Kingdom yet to come.
If we lose ourselves in fear, we choose not to accompany Christ down the mountain to Jerusalem, the site of his sacrifice and resurrection. If we lose sight of that, we lose our sense of sacrifice and it becomes simply private in investment. Education soon becomes the acquisition of useful skills and our schools become sadly, instruments of division and exclusion.
Our “yes” to Christ as Catholic Schools, and the mission that it entails, can only be made if we are all in solidarity with each other. We do not have a series of branch offices in our schools but rather, particular local sites to carry out the one mission of the one Church of the one God.
We have to keep in mind the preferential option for those who are most in need; and that carries with it the responsibility to serve the poor well with the optimal and most prudent application of our resources in the stewardship appropriate for disciples of Jesus. Those who exercise stewardship, always do so in gratitude and with a sense of generosity for the good of my neighbor. The decisions we make in each of our schools affect and impact each and every one of our other schools. The objective of the evil one is to disperse, to scatter and to isolate the sheep so that he might pick us off one by one—the weakest first, but not exclusively. It is the responsibility of the Shepherd to keep the sheep together—mostly.
To keep this solidarity of all of us together requires not that we be judged by the world as being better at education than anybody else; it requires that we care for each other, and that we are grateful for the opportunity to sacrifice in many ways for the education that always shows us Jesus. Sacrifice—not investment—sacrifice that is consistently offered through the action and example of parents, students, teachers, administrators, pastors, staff, parishioners, alumni, and even the bishop. Sacrifice—a willing and loving and generous sense of inconvenience—an inconvenience not for the best—not for ideals, but for the real and true risen Lord who so loves us that He trusts us with his mission. A mission that Catholic schools are an absolutely important means in bringing about the evangelization of our society that so needs to understand the dignity of the human person—that so needs to understand, the right relationship among people, the common good of society. That so needs to understand that those that are disenfranchised and vulnerable are not our adversaries.
How can we teach Christ in and through our schools? Where do we see Christ? Where does He disperse our ignorance in our lives? It is good for us to be here, as Peter would say, but let us not build booths or institutions out of fear. Let’s accompany each other together with Christ down the mountain, eschewing fear and consoling each other in the certitude of faith in Christ—who teaches because He can neither deceive nor be deceived. This is his mission that He entrusts with us for Catholic education. And may our schools always strive to serve the means to that end.
Posted by Diocese of Fort Worth at 4:24 PM
Benediction Prayer for the Inauguration of Governor Abbot, Lt. Governor Patrick, and Texas Legislature
Benediction Prayer for the Inauguration
January 20, 2015
Blessed are you, Gracious God, Source of all that is true and beautiful. You, who delight in all people, we stand in awe before you, believing that the spark of life within each person on earth is the spark of your Divine presence. Through your goodness to us, we live in this great State of Texas – some of us born and nurtured here by your grace and wisdom, some of us called from afar and delivered here through your mercy and compassion, each and all of us sustained here together in fellowship and solidarity by your loving and generous providence.
Bless us, as one people, with the courage to seek the common good for all members of our towns and cities, of our counties and state, of our nation and world. Deliver us as one people from selfishness and distrust that would foment fear and incite violence within our homes and in our communities. Instill in us, as one people, your spirit of integrity that we might do our part in diligently exercising our own personal responsibility for the betterment of our society.
Bless us, as one people with the desire for authentic freedom and justice as promoted by love of our neighbor and protected by the rule of law. Deliver us as one people from apathy and cynicism that would divide and scatter us into the shadows of isolation and moral listlessness. Instill in us as one people, your spirit of compassion that we might actively inconvenience ourselves to care for each and every human being in the reality of need, and not abstractly enshrine humanity in the emptiness of idealism.
Bendícenos, como un solo pueblo, con el deseo de libertad y justicia auténticas promovidas por el amor al prójimo y protegida por el estado de derecho. Líbranos como a un solo pueblo de la apatía y el cinismo que nos dividen y ahuyentan a las sombras del aislamiento y la apatía moral. Inculca en nosotros, como un solo pueblo, el espíritu de la compasión que nos incomode en el cuidado de cada persona humana en su realidad social, y no ver la humanidad en el abstracto y en el vacío del idealismo.
Gracious God, we entrust to you our Governor and our Lieutenant Governor, our legislators and our judges. Bless them as our public servants, in their responsibilities of government, with the courage to be humble in their sincere commitment to the unity of action required for the promotion of a just social order. Deliver them, as our public servants, from temptation to arrogance and dishonesty that would do damage to our development as one people in fellowship and solidarity. Instill in them, as our public servants, our spirit of confidence, that they might lead us in deed as well as in word in the direction set for the by your guidance for a better society marked by the dignity of human flourishing and concern for the poor who live in the margins of our society.
Bless them with wisdom and right judgment that they might, through their decisions, strengthen our state in the present moment with an eye toward the future development and peace for generations yet to come. Deliver our public servants from impatience with the complexities of government. Instill in them your virtue of prudence that they might see, judge, and act within the proper balance of eternal values and present needs for the sake of your peace. We ask all of this in your name.
Bendícelos con sabiduría y buen juicio para que puedan a través de sus decisiones fortalecer a nuestro estado ahora en el momento presente con la mirada puesta en el desarrollo y la paz para las generaciones por venir.
Posted by Diocese of Fort Worth at 6:53 PM