The Catholic Spirit: Archbishop Hebda leads lawmakers in prayer

Physician-assisted suicide, religious liberty among issues being debated

Archbishop Bernard Hebda led the Minnesota Senate and Minnesota House in prayer March 7, even as a House committee debated and moved forward a bill that would legalize physician-assisted suicide.

“Almighty God, you have made each person in your image unique and irreplaceable. Help us to recognize our common humanity and our true identity as brothers and sisters, irrespective of our race or cultural backgrounds or the ways in which we seek you,” the archbishop prayed.

The archbishop was joined at the Minnesota State Capitol by Auxiliary Bishops Joseph Williams and Michael Izen, and Catholic bishops across the state for an annual meeting with lawmakers in their offices.

The prayer and the meetings came at a critical time for Minnesotans as several bills work their way through the Legislature that Catholic leaders say would erode human rights in the state.

Members of the House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee heard testimony, debated and amended a bill — HF1930 — that would allow physician-assisted suicide for patients diagnosed with a terminal illness and with a prognosis of six months or less to live. With an 8-6 vote, the bill was amended and referred to the Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee, where it was scheduled for a March 12 hearing. The companion Senate bill is SF1813.

Another bill before the Legislature seeks to include a religious exemption to an amendment of the Minnesota Human Rights Act that adds “gender identity” as a protected status.

The Minnesota Catholic Conference, which represents the public policy interests of the state’s bishops, said that without a religious exemption, churches and schools would be prohibited from acting on religious beliefs regarding human sexuality that could impact what they teach and who they hire.

Archbishop Hebda addressed physician-assisted suicide and gender ideology in a special commentary in the March 7 edition of The Catholic Spirit, titled “Stewards of the gift of life.”

In his prayer with lawmakers, Archbishop Hebda encouraged mutual understanding and respect.

“In the fraternal bonds we share, may we work to generate policies that foster peace and justice,” the archbishop prayed. “Giving to each what is due, help us to engage conflict not in a spirit of anger and resentment, but in mutual acknowledgment that disagreement is often rooted in misunderstandings. Teach us to listen patiently to one another so that we may come to a deeper place of understanding and move forward in greater unity, while always striving to respect the legitimate diversity with which you have left and enriched our state.”

The archbishop told senators that he was thankful “to be praying with you and for you this morning as we strive together to discern what serves the common good of our state.”

Several people outside the House committee hearing room before the meeting started on HF1930 said they wanted to attend the hearing to show that they are concerned about the assisted suicide bill and to testify against it.

Brother Conrad Richardson of the Franciscan Brothers of Peace in St. Paul said the bill has personal significance for him and members of his religious order. The order’s founder, Brother Michael Gaworski, required a feeding tube for 12 years after he suffered cardiac arrest and an infection that caused a brain injury. Brother Conrad, a certified nursing assistant, cared for him before his death in 2003.

Brother Conrad said physician-assisted suicide is wrong “because it’s taking a human life with dignity and value and meaning.”

“A person’s usefulness, success or notoriety (is seen as one) of the most important things,” Brother Conrad said. “But there is beautiful, great dignity in just the human person (themself).”

Bother Conrad said he and the other friars were edified from how Brother Michael suffered in the years before his death.

“(There is) an amazing amount to be learned from people that are in our lives that we care for,” he said. “If life has any meaning at all, then suffering does as well, because that’s part of life.”


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