The husband of brain-disabled Terri Schindler-Schiavo – whose continued existence is at the heart of a highly charged legal battle – has barred a revered Roman Catholic priest from visiting his wife.
As WorldNetDaily reported, Terri’s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, have been locked in a decade-long legal struggle with their son-in-law over care and custody of their daughter, who suffered brain damage when she collapsed at her home 13 years ago under unexplained circumstances.
Terri Schindler-Schiavo before her disability.
A contentious dispute over Terri’s lack of care became a major euthanasia battle five years ago when Michael Schiavo, 39, obtained permission from a court to have a feeding tube removed so his wife would starve to death. Terri breathes on her own and maintains her own blood pressure but requires the tube for sustenance. An appeals court upheld the ruling, declaring Terri to be in a vegetative state though her parents present evidence she is responsive. Now they are trying to persuade the Florida Supreme Court to hear a final appeal.
Yesterday morning, Monsignor Thaddeus Malanowski of the Diocese of St. Petersburg learned Shindler-Schiavo’s husband has barred him from visiting because of concerns about his “integrity.”
Schiavo’s actions took family members by surprise because Malanowski had visited Terri many times at the hospice where she resides. Terri was admitted to Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater, Fla., Wednesday night to address an emergency medical crisis.
Malanowski served as a chaplain in the U.S. Army for 30 years, retiring with the rank of brigadier general. He left the service with an unblemished record. Despite being retired, he has been called on four times by Bishop Robert Lynch to run the parishes of priests forced to leave because of child molestation charges.
The priest found out he was barred when he dropped by the hospital yesterday morning to see Terri. No reason was given by the nurse, except that his name was not on the list of persons Schiavo allowed to see his wife.
Malanowski told WorldNetDaily he had visited Terri Friday evening at the hospital, assuring nurses he was on a court-approved visitors list at the Hospice of the Florida Suncoast.
The priest said he gave Terri the Sacraments of Absolution and Healing as he had on many occasions. Before leaving, he asked the nurse at the reception desk to note his visit in Terri’s file. He visited Terri again the next morning, Saturday, with her parents, part of an established family ritual.
Every Saturday, for nearly three years, Malanowski has accompanied the Schindlers to lead in religious observances.
“I say some novena prayers for her from St. Jude Thaddeus and St. Theresa of the Child Jesus — her patron saint,” Malanowski said. “Her parents share with her in the Sacrament of Healing. They respond with the prayers.”
He said there was nothing extraordinary about his two visits, which makes the banishment inexplicable.
Malanowski noted a “No Visitors” sign now hangs on Terri’s door, and he learned not even the Catholic chaplains at the hospital are allowed to see her.
“I thought every Catholic person has the right to the sacrament of the Church by a priest or Catholic chaplain,” he said.
Asked if he had ever run into anything comparable, Malanowski said, “Never.”
“I was in the Army for 30 years, and never, never in my life have I had an experience like this,” he declared. “We were very ecumenical, tolerated each other, shared with other ministers and rabbis. I never came across anything like this.”
No explanation came until yesterday afternoon when Deborah Bushnell, the court-appointed attorney for the guardianship, faxed a brief letter to the Schindler’s attorney Patricia Anderson, citing complaints by Schiavo about the monsignor.
“Mike Schiavo has asked me to inform you that Father Melanowski [sic] is no longer on the authorized list to visit Teri [sic] at the nursing home in the company of family members,” Bushnell wrote.
She said Schiavo claimed to have reports from the staff that Malanowski had “attempted to visit Teri [sic] at the hospital on his own” yesterday.
The letter continued: “He told the hospital staff that he ‘has a court order’ to visit, and that he is the ‘court-appointed’ chaplain.”
It concluded, “Please let your clients and Father Melanowski know that Father Melanowski is not authorized to visit Teri [sic] at the hospital, the nursing home, or in any other venue.”
Bushnell told WND Schiavo’s action was prompted by requests of the staff, and she insisted Malanowski had misrepresented himself, as indicated in the letter. He conceded the priest was on the list of visitors Schiavo had approved, but maintained it applied only to visits at the hospice.
Bushnell argued a hospital is a different type of venue, because they’re doing “medical procedures, and lots of visitors can interrupt those.”
“Mike has, at the request of the medical personnel, restricted the visitors at the hospital to immediate family because of the medical procedures that are going on,” she said. “He didn’t want to interfere with that.”
That includes barring a priest from visiting a communicant?
Bushnell claimed Malanowski tried to get in “by saying he had a court order to visit, which he does not, and describing himself as a court-appointed chaplain, which he isn’t.”
“They told him, sorry, family members only, and later they found him in the room with Terri and they had to escort him out,” said Bushnell. “That kind of behavior in a volatile situation is not the kind of thing that we really need.”
Bushnell said the ban was extended to other venues because if Malanowski “would misrepresent himself in order to gain access to visit Terri, Mike felt that it was inappropriate for him, at least at this point, to be on the visitors list to visit her anywhere.”
She added that could change, “but at this point Mike is concerned about Father Malanowski’s integrity and his willingness to misrepresent himself in order to gain access to her room. He felt that that’s not the kind of person that he wanted visiting Terri or that he felt comfortable visiting Terri.”
Malinowski emphatically denies he slipped into Terri’s room and had to be escorted out.
“That’s not true!” he exclaimed. “[The nurse] told me to sit down on a chair near the area where they work. I was about 30 or 40 feet away. When she told me I wasn’t on the list, I got up and left. I did not go back. I did not go into Terri’s room.”
The monsignor insisted he had been very calm and gentle with the nurse, “and she was very calm and gentle with me. She said, ‘There’s nothing I can do. We can only go by the names on the list, and your name is not on the list.'”
Attorney Anderson said the directive barring the monsignor shocked the Schindler family.
“Frankly, I am outraged that Michael Schiavo has barred Monsignor Malanowski from visiting Terri and giving her communion as he has been doing for the last three years,” Anderson said.
Noting the priest’s stellar record, she declared, “There is not one bit of artifice in him. He is the kindest man you could meet. He visits Terri on his own time, just because he wants to do it, and he’s been going there like clockwork for three years.”
Anderson is particularly concerned about the impact this could have on Terri.
“Terri looked forward to his visits,” she said.
Anderson said Malanowski filed an affidavit “describing how one St. Patrick’s Day he visited Terri and told her he was going to sing ‘When Irish Eyes are Smiling’ in Polish. And she started laughing. She got the humor, she understood. Michael insists that she is so brain-damaged that she can’t recognize people or anything — but she loves Monsignor.”
As Anderson’s sees it, Schiavo is trying to make Terri’s environment as “barren as possible, and as free from stimulation.”
“I don’t think there is any justification for removing spiritual comfort from her in what may be her last days,” she said. “It’s beyond comprehension.”
Anderson said she will file an emergency motion to restore Malanowski’s visitation rights and do away with the visitors list.
“Michael has proven he has misused his guardianship rights,” she said.