Court of Appeal rejects plea from Alfie Evans’ parents

Catholic News Agency

.- An appeal by the parents of ailing toddler Alfie Evans was dismissed by the UK Court of Appeal Wednesday, leaving the child to remain at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in England.

Tom Evans and Kate James had been appealing to take their son, Alfie, to Italy for treatment, after the child survived the removal of life support, against their will, at Alder Hey Hospital.

“It’s disgusting how he’s being treated. Not even an animal would be treated this way,” Evans said earlier in the day, adding that Alfie is “fighting.”

Alfie is a 23-month-old toddler who is in what physicians have described as a “semi-vegetative state” due to a mysterious degenerative neurological condition that doctors at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in London have not been able to properly diagnose. He has been hospitalized since December of 2016.

Against the wishes of his parents, Alfie’s life support machine was removed on Monday, and hydration was withheld from him. Although he was expected to die within minutes, he began breathing on his own, and several hours later, doctors re-administered oxygen and hydration. The hospital also withheld food for nearly 24 hours before allowing the toddler to again receive it, Alfie’s father said.

In a hearing on Tuesday, Judge Anthony Hayden of the High Court again denied Alfie the right to travel elsewhere to seek continued treatment, saying his ruling would be the “final chapter in the case of this extraordinary little boy.”

That ruling was upheld when the Court of Appeal dismissed appeals from Alfie’s parents late Wednesday.

Alife’s case first attracted international attention in March, when London’s Court of Appeal upheld a lower court’s decision to end life support for Alfie. Judge Hayden of the High Court had ruled that “continued ventilator support is no longer in Alfie’s interests.”

Alfie’s parents had repeatedly made requests to transfer him to the Vatican-linked Bambino Gesu Pediatric Hospital in Rome, for further diagnosis and treatment. Tom Evans traveled to Rome to meet with Pope Francis in person April 18, where he plead for asylum for his family in Italy, so that his son could be moved.

Earlier this week Alfie was granted Italian citizenship in hopes that he would be allowed immediate transfer to Rome to be treated at Bambino Gesu Hospital.

However, the UK judge ruled that the transfer would not be in Alfie’s best interest, and he would not be allowed to travel to Rome or Munich, where another hospital had offered to treat him. An air ambulance had been ready and waiting to transport Alfie to Italy if the transfer was approved.

Pope Francis had offered prayers for Alfie and his family several times, including at a general audience and in several Twitter posts.

“Moved by the prayers and immense solidarity shown little Alfie Evans, I renew my appeal that the suffering of his parents may be heard and that their desire to seek new forms of treatment may be granted,” he said on Twitter Monday.

COMING UP: Art: A needed sacrament of faith

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A sacrament is an outward, material sign of an inward, spiritual reality. The seven sacraments are signs instituted by Jesus to communicate his grace to us. In addition, we have sacramentals, signs and practices that draw us more deeply into our faith. We do not have an abstract faith; it is sacramental and incarnational, centered on the coming into the flesh of the Son of God and his continued presence in the Church through the Eucharist.
Art, following this sacramental identity, expresses our faith, draws us into prayer, and mediates divine realities. In a time of relativism, which shuns proposals of truth and goodness, we need to rely more upon the witness of beauty. Pope Benedict XVI spoke of this opportunity and need: “I have often affirmed my conviction that the true apology of Christian faith, the most convincing demonstration of its truth against every denial, are the saints, and the beauty that the faith has generated. Today, for faith to grow, we must lead ourselves and the persons we meet to encounter the saints and to enter into contact with the Beautiful.”

Does this approach actually work for evangelization? Elizabeth Lev details one example, the crucial role of art at a time of crisis in the Church, in her book, How Catholic Art Saved the Faith: The Triumph of Beauty and Truth in Counter-Reformation Art (Sophia, 2018). As core Catholic doctrines faced opposition from Protestants, the Council of Trent called for the creation of art to assist in renewal. The Council said that art should instruct, help to remember and meditate divine realities, admonish, provide examples, and to inspire the faithful to order their lives in imitation of the saints (4). Lev adds her own synthesis of how art assists the Church, asserting that “art is useful in evangelization…. can bring clarity…. [and] is uplifting” (6). The Catholic Reformation and Baroque periods, particularly in central Italy, were ages “of unprecedented art patronage from the top down, effectively a very expensive PR campaign meant to awaken the hearts and minds of millions of pilgrims who were making their way to the Eternal City” (5).

And it worked. It was not art for art’s sake that led Catholics to stay true to the faith, but art’s ability to express the deep spiritual vision of the Church as articulated by the great Catholic reformers. Lev lists the main protagonists of this cooperative work:  “The spiritual insight of Charles Borromeo, Robert Bellarmine, Federico Borromeo, St. Philip Neri, and Paleotti fused with the creative talents of Caravaggio, Barocci, the Carracci School, Lavinia Fontana, and Guido Reni, making for a heady cocktail designed to entice the faithful into experiencing mystery” (16). Lev provides a masterful overview of the key theological issues at stake and how artists were commissioned to visualize the faith in these areas, including the sacraments, mediation of the saints, purgatory, and practices such as pilgrimage.

Developments in technique enabled art to come alive, actively mediating faith, by using theatrical characteristics that invited the viewer into the drama of the scene. Altar pieces beckoned down to the action of the altar, pointing to the reality occurring there, such as Caravaggio’s The Entombment of Christ (37), and others drew the viewer into the scene, as with Frederico Barocci’s extended hand of St. Francis bearing the stigmata, inviting an imitation of Christ (145). Other paintings inspired religious sentiments such as contrition, as found in Reni’s St. Peter Penitent, who models how to weep for one’s sins and to beat one’s chest in repentance (45), and Titian’s good thief who reaches out to Christ as one would do in confession (52). The book beautifully presents the artwork, and Lev seamlessly combines art criticism and religious commentary.

The time period of Lev’s book bears some striking similarities to contemporary struggles. Many Catholics continue to question the faith, and we have experienced a return to iconoclasm in the last fifty years, bent on the destruction of the Church’s sacramental vision. We, too, need the inspiration of art, which calls us to renew our faith: “Art no longer allow[s] the viewer to stand at a safe distance, as a passive recipient of grace, but exhort[s] everyone to act” (180). For the success of the New Evangelization, we need a return to beauty. This will require us to invest in a renaissance of the arts, knowing that this investment will support the Church’s efforts to communicate the truth of our faith, for the salvation of souls.