America News Analysis

A shaman, an assisted suicide, and a headache for Seattle archdiocese

Seattle skyline (Getty)

Between the invented “community statement” a Portland parish appended to the Creed we heard about last month, and the fact that a self-identified shaman was allowed to read the Holy Scriptures at Mass in Seattle, one might be forgiven for thinking that there is something unsound going on among Catholics in the Pacific Northwest.

The mid-May medically assisted suicide of a 75-year-old man in Seattle (pictured) gained national attention late last month, thanks to a story in the Associated Press. The apparent involvement of a Catholic parish, St Therese Church, in the various activities leading up to Robert Fuller’s suicide has given scandal, and led to denials from the Archdiocese of Seattle and the priest who blessed the man just before his death that they were aware of his intentions.

“The Roman Catholic Church opposes aid-in-dying laws, citing the sanctity of life,” reporter Gene Johnson wrote in his lengthy AP feature. “But Fuller’s decision was widely known and accepted among the parishioners. At the service where he received his last communion on May 5, Fr Quentin Dupont brought over a group of white-clad children who were receiving their first communion.”

The report included a photo of Mr Fuller and the First Holy Communion children, with their hands raised in blessing.

This is the crux of the ensuing furore: it’s an issue that a Catholic institution appears to be involved in the celebration of a suicide by Kahlua and poison hinted at by AP’s headline, “In the face of death, the party of a lifetime”, at which a choir sang (though Johnson does not say it was the parish choir).

The day after the AP story was published, the archdiocese released a statement saying: “At the time of this photo, parish leadership was not aware of Mr Fuller’s intentions. That morning, the priest in the photograph was told Mr Fuller was dying and wanted the blessing of the faith community. It wasn’t until later that parish leaders learned of his plans.”

Some dogged reporting by Christine Rousselle of the Catholic News Agency (CNA) revealed that social media posts by Mr Fuller appeared to contradict the archdiocese’s account. He joked about “deadlines” and his “final cocktail”, posting daily as part of what he called the “official countdown to my End of Life Celebration”, by which he hoped to “increase awareness of this beautiful option for dying by sharing my story with family and friends”.

Even more troublingly, he wrote in March: “I have absolutely no reservations about what I am doing. And my pastor/sponsor has given me his blessings. And he’s a Jesuit!!!”

CNA’s reporting prompted a second statement from the archdiocese, which read: “We looked into this and can confirm that the priest who did the blessing [on May 5] did not know about Mr Fuller’s intentions. The priest was a visiting priest who happened to be at St Therese that particular Sunday when the pastor was celebrating Mass at his second parish. The blessing was done after Mass by the priest whose interest was to bring comfort to someone he learned was dying.”

As CNA noted, the second statement did not clarify questions about the role of the parish choir.

Fr Dupont, who blessed Mr Fuller before he died, gave an interview to America magazine in which he denied knowing about Mr Fuller’s intentions.

In addition to the alleged cooperation with assisted suicide, there are a number of other curiosities surrounding Mr Fuller’s widely publicised suicide that might impede him having a funeral Mass, among them the fact that he married the man who was his domestic caregiver just before his death. An account on the Seattle Housing Authority website says: “In a brief ceremony in his apartment, Fuller married Reese Baxter. Soon afterward, the couple rode the elevator down to the community room where they entered and were presented to the waiting crowd.”

Moreover, as the AP story noted, Mr Fuller “considered himself a shaman, and described his impending death as a state of ‘perpetual meditation’.” On the day he killed himself, there was a post on his Facebook page saying, “I’m ready to be welcomed by my Ancestors as Shaman”, and he ended his life in the presence of a clairvoyant named Nancy Rebecca.

“Nancy is a clairvoyant psychic medium who works with the health of the human energy field,” another post on Mr Fuller’s Facebook page says. “Nancy also communicates with the spiritual realm with spirit guides, angels, and the ancestors. She can request the presence of your loved one for your session, however she cannot guarantee that your loved one will be present.”

Mr Fuller had attempted suicide in the past and, according to AP, even administered a lethal dose of drugs to an Aids patient.

Mr Fuller’s case was turned into a cause célèbre by euthanasia advocates and covered heavily by the news. One wonders if all this may have helped to shut down any second thoughts he might have had about going through with it.