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The Tragic Death of UK Toddler Alfie Evans: Where was the Church?

04-30-2018

He had the backing of Pope Francis, but what about the Church in his home country of the United Kingdom? Did 23-month-old Alfie Evans and his parents' alternative plan of medical treatment in Italy have its support?

Andrea Williams, the chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, which is representing Alfie's father, told CBN News that Christian people across the globe rallied around the courageous toddler and his steadfast parents, but she said that wasn't the case with the Church in the UK.

"But there is a reality that the established Church in the United Kingdom was silent," Williams said. "The pope wasn't silent, but the Church in Great Britain – personally the established Church was silent on this."

"I think that definitely the Church of England was silent, and the Catholic Church in England wasn't very loud," she continued. "The pope was much louder, and there wasn't any other Church voices in the United Kingdom that really came in and supported him."

CBN News contacted the Church of England for a comment. A spokesperson with the Archbishops' Council press office declined to comment.

Alfie had an undiagnosed brain disease that doctors said left him with almost no brain function, and mulitple courts in the UK legal system ruled that letting him live was not in his best interests.

Doctors at Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool took Alfie off life support last Monday with the permission of the UK's High Court. The toddler died at the hospital early Saturday morning.

His parents, Tom Evans and Kate James, fought to get a judge to allow them to take their little boy to a Vatican hospital, where medical treatment would continue. Tom even met with the pope, and in addition, the Italian government granted Alfie citizenship.

The pope tweeted prior to Alfie's death, "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."

 

 

Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth, UK, also tweeted in support of Alfie's family last week, "Let's offer heartfelt prayers today for little Alfie Evans - now an Italian citizen - and his courageous parents. If there is anything at all that can be done, may the Lord enable us by His love and grace to effect it."

 

 

The Archbishop of Liverpool Malcolm McMahon met with Pope Francis about Alfie's situation last week, according to The Tablet, The International Catholic News Weekly.

"I explained to him that the Catholic people of Liverpool are heartbroken for Alfie and his parents and are continuing (to) offer support and prayers," the archbishop said, according to the news outlet.

But he also spoke in favor of the work of the medical staff at Alder Hey, The Tablet reported.

"I am grateful for the medical and chaplaincy care which Alfie is receiving," the archbishop told the publication. "I know that they are doing everything that (is) humanly possible."

"And our prayer at this difficult moment is that the Lord will give everyone the spiritual strength to face the immediate future," he continued. 

"I am very aware of the compassion which is characteristically shown by the Italian people to those in need, and in this case Alfie," the archbishop added. 

"But I know that our medical and legal systems in the UK are also based on compassion and the safeguarding of the rights of the individual child," he said.

CBN News reached out to Archbishop McMahon for comment on the criticism that churches have received regarding Alfie's case. He has not yet responded to our inquiry.

On the same day that Tom Evans met with the pope in Rome earlier this month, the Catholic bishops of England and Wales released a "Statement on the case of Alfie Evans from the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales", in which they defended the hospital.

"Our hearts go out to the parents of Alfie Evans and our prayers are for him and with them as they try to do all they can to care for their son," the statement said.

"We affirm our conviction that all those who are and have been taking the agonising decisions regarding the care of Alfie Evans act with integrity and for Alfie's good as they see it," it continued.

"The professionalism and care for severely ill children shown at Alder Hey Hospital is to be recognised and affirmed," the statement said. "We know that recently reported public criticism of their work is unfounded as our chaplaincy care for the staff, and indeed offered to the family, has been consistently provided."

Alder Hey administrators also defended their care of Alfie, releasing last week an "Open Letter from the Chairman and Chief Executive of Alder Hey Children's NHS Foundation Trust".

In it, they wrote, "All of us feel deeply for Alfie and his whole family and we continue to do everything we can to support them as best we can, just as we have for the last 17 months."

But The Catholic Association, a lay group that promotes Catholic principles in public, also released a statement last week, disagreeing with the bishops of England and Wales.

"It's confusing and disappointing to see the Catholic leadership in the U.K... abandon Catholic social teaching and split from the Pope by defending the government instead of Alfie and his family," said Ashley McGuire, a senior fellow with TCA, in the statement.

"The Church has long been the first and only voice to speak out for truth and defend the vulnerable," McGuire continued. 

On Monday, Pope Francis tweeted about the "vulnerable," saying, "Be one with Christ when you pray, take care of your most vulnerable brothers and sisters, and work for peace."

 

 

Williams maintains the Church in the United Kingdom could have done so much more on behalf of Alfie.

"This is part of the issue that we're facing in the United Kingdom – when will the Church arise?" she told CBN News. "When will she find her voice and speak on behalf of the most vulnerable; speak for life. This was a chance."

"I think it's a reality generally for the Church in the West and firstly, in the United Kingdom that we are mute," she continued. "We don't know how, when to speak."

"And we've become silent. We've allowed ourselves to be silenced. And this is tragic, and it's tragic in a case such as Alfie's," Williams said.

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