LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Everything is ready to receive Alfie Evans at a Vatican-owned children’s hospital in Rome, according to the bishop tasked with acting as a go-between for the Evans family and the Vatican’s Secretariat of State.
Bishop Francesco Cavina of Carpi, in northern Italy, helped arrange a meeting with Pope Francis and Alfie’s father, Thomas Evans, on Wednesday morning.
The 23-month-old English child has an undiagnosed brain disease, and Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool wants to remove his life support against his parents’ wishes.
The Vatican-owned Bambino Gesù children’s hospital has offered to admit the child and treat him.
Evans, 21, and his partner Kate James, 20, have fought an ongoing legal battle to allow them to take Alfie abroad.
The British courts have sided with the hospital, however, and a date was set for the removal of Alfie’s ventilator last week. However, the parents appealed the decision. The Appellate Court on Monday refused to allow Alfie to leave the country, and the case is now with the UK Supreme Court.
Cavina said the Vatican is trying to accommodate the transfer of Alfie to Rome but admitted “there are major difficulties from a legislative and legal point of view. We will see if it’s possible to overcome them.”
The bishop has been following the case from Italy and prayed for Alfie during the Easter Vigil in his cathedral, and for “all children deprived of the right to life.”
Evans, who is Catholic, pleaded for the pope’s help during their meeting and asked the Vatican for “asylum” for his family.
During the pope’s general audience, which took place immediately after his meeting with Evans, Francis asked for prayers for Alfie, and said it is “our duty to do everything to preserve life.”
“I would like to reiterate and forcefully confirm that the only master of life, from the beginning to its natural conclusion, is God!” Francis said.
“The Holy Father has instructed me to maintain contacts with the Secretariat of State so that the Bambino Gesù will be fully prepared to welcome Alfie into its health facility. And so that’s what we’re trying to do now,” Cavina said.
The bishop said Francis said he admired the courage Evans has, especially give his youth, to defend his son’s life.
“At one point he [Francis] even said the courage of this father is similar to the love God has for humanity; he does not resign himself to losing us. And I think that was the most moving moment,” he told Vatican News.
“Alfie’s father – I must say – came out very reassured. At the end of the meeting, when we were alone, he was very moved and said: ‘I do not believe it! I do not believe in what the Holy Father told me!’ …To arrive today they made an absurd journey: They had to go to Athens and then from Athens to Rome — so they practically traveled all night long, and are profoundly exhausted,” the bishop explained.
But he admitted there was a long road ahead, since “if we cannot find a willingness on the part of the judges and the British hospital, everything becomes much more difficult.”
Evans said he was “very fortunate” to meet with the pontiff, and he believes Francis “will do what he can to save Alfie.”
In an interview with Zenit, a Catholic news agency, Evans said the pope wanted to know more about Alfie, and what the situation was for children in the United Kingdom.
“And I let him know how they are treating the disabled children, and while euthanasia is not legal over there, but for some reason they think it is legal to euthanize these children,” he said.
“From the look on Pope Francis’s face, as you know, I do not understand Italian, but he looked very touched. He was listening and making eye contact. For me, that was the most important thing about the meeting,” he said.
After news of the meeting broke, the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales put out their first statement on Alfie Evans, saying that, “With the Holy Father, we pray that, with love and realism, everything will be done to accompany Alfie and his parents in their deep suffering.”
The bishops also defended Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool, saying they were convinced “that all those who are and have been taking the agonizing decisions regarding the care of Alfie Evans act with integrity and for Alfie’s good as they see it.”
“The professionalism and care for severely ill children shown at Alder Hey Hospital is to be recognized and affirmed. 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,” the statement said.
The bishops’ statement also said it was for Bambino Gesù to “present to the British Courts, where crucial decisions in conflicts of opinion have to be taken, the medical reasons for an exception to be made in this tragic case.”
The president of the Bambino Gesù, Mariella Enoc, said “it is a bit difficult for us to understand why they will not allow him to be transported.”
In an interview with Avvenire – the daily newspaper published by the Italian bishops’ conference – Enoc said the “parents should take responsibility” of the treatment of their children.
“Today we can treat without causing suffering. The Church does not want people to die suffering; you can give drugs that also make the transition to death less painful. I am not a bioethicist, but I believe that if it can be done without suffering, then treatment is due,” she said.
Cavina also doesn’t understand the British position, saying it is “beyond all human logic.”
“Two parents are asking to transfer their child from one hospital to another. I do not understand why this should be prevented: If not in Italy, then in another hospital in England. It is difficult to understand something like this,” the bishop said.