In a ruling today, in response to what is believed to be the final judicial appeal by the Schindler family to save the life of their daughter, Terri Schiavo, the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said:

“While the members of her family and the members of Congress have acted in a way that is both fervent and sincere, the time has come for dispassionate discharge of duty.” (Empahsis added.)

As Terri Schiavo enters her twelfth day without food and water, it is likely too late now to save her even if food and water were restored (in place of the deadly morphine they are “feeding” her). Yet, her robust fight to live ought to be pricking the conscience of the nation, especially of those in our society who assumed she was brain dead, in a coma, and on life support that, when withdrawn, would lead to a quick (and painless!) death.

As we pray for her deliverance from this ordeal, Terry Mattingly’s Scripps-Howard column exposes the next indignity that awaits Ms. Schiavo. Against the wishes of her immediate family, and their traditional Catholicism, Michael Schiavo plans to have Terri’s body cremated:

“Even in death, he isn’t going to allow them a shrine, a place to go talk to her,” Franciscan monk Paul O’Donnell told reporters, speaking for the family. “Won’t he at least give them her dead body?” This debate is stark evidence that many Catholics continue to struggle with changes made by the modern church. After centuries of opposition to cremation, the Code of Canon Law now states: “The Church earnestly recommends the pious custom of burial be retained; but it does not forbid cremation, unless this is chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching.”

The hardest liturgical changes to accept are those linked to emotional events at the crossroads of life—birth, marriage and death.

“Cremation is no longer considered shocking to most Catholics,” said Philip Lawler, editor of Catholic World Report. “But, overwhelmingly, traditional Catholics would lean toward a traditional burial. The older the Catholic, the more likely they would remember the traditions against cremation.”

The modern Catechism of the Catholic Church hints at the ancient roots of this controversy, noting that cremation is permitted, “provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body.”

Early Christian believers were familiar with pagan cremation rituals and saw martyrs burned at the stake, noted Father C. John McCloskey III, of the Faith and Reason Institute in Chicago. The Jewish apostles knew that Judaism rejected cremation.

“The early church also defined itself in opposition to Manichaeism, Gnosticism and other heretical sects that taught that the soul is good and the body is bad. So it didn’t matter what you did with the body. The soul was all that mattered.

“But the church kept saying, ‘No, the body is good. It should be honored and treated with respect.’ … Thus, you had an emphasis in church tradition on funeral rites and the burial of the body in ground that has been blessed.”

To read the entire column, click here.