This is a partial transcript from "On the Record," March 24, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: The Vatican said in no uncertain terms that it is wrong to starve Terri Schiavo to death ... calling the U.S. courts executioners. But our next guest is former priest who is criticizing Vatican hard-liners for focusing on physical life signs rather than survival of the personality.
Daniel Maguire says, "You could easily have a totally incompetent pope for an indefinite period. It is a very interesting conundrum that they are boxing themselves into."
Daniel Maguire is a doctor of theology and a professor at Marquette University. He joins us by phone. Professor, do you want to enlighten us a little bit more on your view on why you take issue with the Vatican?
DANIEL MAGUIRE, PROFESSOR OF THEOLOGY: First of all as you said, I am a former priest. I'm also a former high school student but I'm not here in either capacity.
I'm here because I'm a professionally trained and practicing Catholic theologian and I congratulate you on having a theologian. Very often the press invite in priests and bishops who are very good pastors and administrators but not theologians and very often their information is not accurate.
But with regard to this particular case, I see it as really an atrocity. I think that this woman should have been allowed to complete her dying 15 years ago when they realized that she had terrible damage to her brain and was no longer capable of personal consciousness and, even at that time, I do not believe there was an obligation to insert.
But I see the whole thing as a remarkable spectacle and it goes against the best of Catholic wisdom, which always said that when there's no possibility of returning to normal health and a reasonable degree of health you have no obligation to do things that are so bizarre as keeping a person in this condition alive for 15 years.
That goes against the tradition. Pope Pius XII said, for example, that if someone were being kept breathing, the only way they could breathe was with a respirator but it was clear that you could not return them to conscious reasonable health, you turn the respirator off. Now the current pope has departed from that and has taken a much more rigid view and I feel that it's a betrayal of the Catholic wisdom.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, professor, thank you very much. I appreciate your thoughts.
Joining us in Washington is Father William Stetson, the director of the Catholic Information Center and not a former a priest, a current priest, right sir?
FATHER WILLIAM STETSON, CATHOLIC INFORMATION CENTER: That's right. Thank you, Greta.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Your thoughts, I mean that the Vatican has even spoken out of this issue.
STETSON: Well, I think it's a year ago March 20th that John Paul II made an address to a special congress taking place on the question of vegetative state in which he said that it is ordinary care, the feeding tube and keeping it because the person is still a human person, a human being and a human being has a right to nourishment and hydration. That was what the pope said and to omit it would be euthanasia by omission.
VAN SUSTEREN: One of the issues that has made its way into the court pleadings is that Terri Schiavo is deprived of her right to practice her religion. She's a Catholic.
And one of the issues raised in the legal papers is that her husband intends to have her cremated. Her family wants her buried. What's the Catholic Church's position? Is it a violation to have her cremated of her religion?
STETSON: No, it is not.
VAN SUSTEREN: So, the church has sort of evolved that cremation is acceptable?
STETSON: Yes. Yes. Yes.
VAN SUSTEREN: Where does the Catholic Church's sort of role in this whole, I don't know how to describe this…
STETSON: This tragedy, yes. Well, I think the church's role is to apply the teaching. I'm sorry that your theologian from Milwaukee takes the position that he does.
In fact, John Paul II did not say that you could not remove respirators from a person. If it does not perform any medical benefit for the person, the respirator can be taken away. But he does say and insists that a person in the so-called vegetative state is still a human being and has the right to nourishment and hydration.
VAN SUSTEREN: What if a person executes a living will, as a Catholic, a person has a right to say that I, you know, within the Catholic Church, within the practice of the church to sign a living will saying no life support, right?
STETSON: No life support. But nutrition and hydration is not life support. It is the normal course of keeping a person alive who can digest the food. They are assimilating the food that is given to them through the feeding tube.
VAN SUSTEREN: So, by virtue of the fact that the feeding tube has been removed it's the Catholic Church's position that her religious rights are violated?
STETSON: I'm not sure that it would say that her religious rights have been violated. I think that the natural law as expounded by the Catholic Church has been violated. Whether or not she has a right in the church to this is another question. I think that it's a civil right. She has a right to be maintained and alive by the ordinary means of providing her with hydration and food.
VAN SUSTEREN: Is it unusual for the Vatican to be speaking out on this?
STETSON: I don't think so. I have no idea exactly — because with the advances in medical science this is not probably the first time that this issue has been raised to the people in Rome and to theologians.
And a year ago a group of theologians, I'm sure advising the Holy Father and the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, reached the conclusion that a person in the vegetative state continues to be a human being, a human person and that as a human person they have the right to hydration and nourishment.
VAN SUSTEREN: Father, thank you very much. Thank you very much for joining us sir.
STETSON: OK, thank you for inviting me.
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