The Wednesday before last, the liturgical Ordo exsequiarum (Order of Christian Funerals) was celebrated in Staten Island, New York for a Brooklyn Catholic school boy who took his own life last month. Thirteen-year-old Daniel Fitzpatrick was laid to his earthly rest just weeks shy of beginning what would have been this month the start of a new academic year. For Fitzpatrick, the impending academic year was to begin at a new school, separated from the peers who he writes tormented him and removed from the teachers and administration who he says ignored the abuse and his incessant pleas for help. Following the tragedy, the question for the Church is: Are children in Catholic education being educated properly in the true faith?
In a letter that the family says he wrote last month, Fitzpatrick, reported to be a boy scout and an altar boy at the Staten Island parish at which his funeral Mass was celebrated, left a vivid account of the torment inflicted upon him by bullying peers at Holy Angels Catholic Academy over the Narrows in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. In the letter—a digital version of which was disseminated widely by a newspaper—penned in blue ink on loose-leaf paper, and unmistakable as the writing of a child, Fitzpatrick says of the bullies and their abuse upon him: “[T]hey did it constantly” and eventually “I gave up,” further remarking that “the teachers … didn’t do ANYTHING!” (original emphasis).
His family reports that school officials did little to help their son, suggesting that his peers and school employees are complicit in his suicide. Both internal administrative and external law enforcement investigations (as well as reporting by a sensationalist press that relish dramatic quarreling) have commenced in order to understand more clearly the circumstances surrounding Fitzpatrick’s death, the ultimate findings of which will aid in the discernment of what administrative codes may require alteration. The investigations will also focus on the family—what they did or did not do, which the print press has already begun investigating independently. Contradictory and disparate stories are being told by the family, and now through their lawyer-spokesman, as well as by the Academy, which is speaking publicly through the public relations arm of the Diocese of Brooklyn.
It will likely never be known—especially considering the probability that there was a confluence of factors—precisely, and truly, what led Fitzpatrick to make that ultimate decision inside the family’s Staten Island home. Those investigations, and the speculation, at any rate are better left in the above-mentioned domains; rather to be asked at present is the crucial question for both Fitzpatrick’s local Catholic community and the universal Catholic community: If the Church—querying its every layer—failed the soul of young Daniel Fitzpatrick by not properly inculcating in him the moral teachings of the Church, which would have given him strength, and reason, to continue living in the midst of his mental suffering.
The primary duty of the ordained Catholic priest or bishop is to save souls. For, theologically, it is the priest—imperfect and sinful, as are all human beings—who stands in the living flesh as a conduit between the lay Catholic and the perfect being, the Lord and savior himself, Jesus Christ. If for every one man, woman, and child, there were an available priest assigned to him, to guide him daily from when the sun rises to when the sun sets, then with the priest the Church community could entrust every responsibility of guidance and the saving of one’s soul. Of course there is not, however, a priest available to shadow every man, woman, and child, every day for the entirety of their lives, hence it falls upon the whole community of believers to instruct, guide, and assist their brethren in the salvation of their respective souls.
As Saint Paul writes, all the parts of the Church body are necessary for a properly functioning church community, just as all the parts of the human body are necessary for the proper functioning of a human body (1 Cor 12:12-27). Further, to use Aristotelian and Thomistic philosophy for guidance, a properly ordered community will constitute all proper elements so that the individuals who make up the whole may reach the proper end. For Saint Thomas Aquinas, that end is eternal life with the first mover.
In the Letter to the Hebrews, one sees how in the early Christian community it fell upon those of the commonweal to bring others to veritas (truth).
We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works. We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another, and this all the more as you see the day drawing near (10:24-25).
What might Fitzpatrick’s death signal about the functionality of the Church body? Is the Church body taking seriously the wisdom of Socrates, who argued that incomplete or disordered education will not only impact all facets of a youth’s later disposition, but also his subsequent interaction with the community of which he is a part, which shall thereby induce rot to the whole?
As a member of Catholic familial, parish, educational, diocesan, and Church universal communities, did young Fitzpatrick receive from his priest, sisters, brothers, his community members, his religious education teachers, the adult members of his school and parish, and his family—indeed, from all with whom he came into contact in the Catholic communities of which he was a member—the proper spiritual guidance and catechesis requisite for him to be able to fully “worship the Father in Spirit and truth” (Jn 4:23)? Did they teach young Fitzpatrick how to live, why to live, for what to live, and for whom to live? Did they demonstrate to him that his own life was worth living by teaching, and living themselves as role models in accordance with, the rich and timeless moral and spiritual teachings of the Church?
In sum, was Fitzpatrick given the tools required for his soul to feel as did Saint Paul’s when he wrote to the Galatians?
I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me (2:19-20).
Considering the deplorable state of catechesis in the United States in general, and most especially in the Diocese of Brooklyn, Fitzpatrick likely did not receive the proper tools necessary for him to know the purpose of his life, and how to use suffering to become closer to the Lord. One must query, then, the health and functionality of the Church body, in a time during which children need guidance more than ever, for they live in a society in which degraded souls are mired in confusion, and faced with an incessantly augmenting prevalence of deleterious philosophies that cause people to lead meaningless and self-destructive lives.
Indeed, contemporary children live in a society in which life is not deemed to be a gift given to man by his creator, and one in which virtuous acts mean something, and that all human beings are geared towards a divine end. Rather than being taught that this life is a training ground for the eternal life, contemporary children are indoctrinated to believe the falsehood that they are mere “accidents.”
For into the positive law of the United States of America has been entered anti-life measures, thoroughly incompatible with natural law, that obliterate the inherent dignity of man by making licit the unnatural death of innocents: in the womb, by way of abortion, and when sick or seemingly disinterested in life, by way of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.
Catholic moral philosophy begins with the principle that life is sacred and deserving of protection against harm. Contemporary secular humanists do not and the result is an intellectually incoherent and contradictory position. Hence when the misguided contemporary ideologues react, as they have, with lament over Daniel Fitzpatrick taking his own life, they would, in the same breath, pledge their support for, and attempt to defend logically, physician-assisted suicide, ultimately unable to realize the innate fallacies in their guiding principles and the subsequent development of a disordered values system.
Supporters of physician-assisted suicide—a practice the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith declares is “equally as wrong as murder”—are ultimately unable to grasp the grotesquely offensive behavior of a California woman who late last month planned a two-day euphemistically-named “farewell party” for family and friends before legally ingesting a coconut milkshake mixed with morphine, pentobarbital, and chloral hydrate as her family watched her die. The End of Life Option Act, which was made law last year and went into effect this June, gives California the horrid distinction of being the fourth state in which physician-assisted suicide is blatantly legal, and thus encouraged openly.
Any child who lives in a country in which suicide is legal and encouraged in any circumstance is taught that life is an accident and a choice; and that to halt the continuance of that life is permissible morally. The detrimental implication is that young people come to believe that reverence to God is unnecessary, for every man individually himself retains a will as powerful, or even more powerful, than is the will of God. If the first principle is that the will of the individual is supreme, then one is able to defend seemingly the subsequent argument that destruction of life is morally permissible when in accord with the will of an individual. When one holds a disordered premise or first principle, the logical result is a disordered conclusion.
In a world that so heinously devalues life, the Catholic Church’s call for a culture of life is more necessary than ever for the healthy cultivation of the souls of young people.
For the Church, when a member of the community dies, those who remain have a duty:
The death of a member of the community (or the anniversary of a death, or the seventh or thirtieth day after death) is an event that should lead beyond the perspectives of “this world” and should draw the faithful into the true perspective of faith in the risen Christ (CCC 1687).
The death of Daniel Fitzpatrick must bring Catholics—those who were intimately part of Fitzpatrick’s Catholic community as well as those of the larger Catholic community—to “the true perspective of faith,” which one could argue in this case might incorporate the realization that the children of the Catholic community need moral and intellectual guidance now, perhaps more than ever, and that every member of the Church body must rise out of his torpor to impart dutifully that knowledge.
Prior to the recession of Fitzpatrick’s remains to St. Peter’s Cemetery in Staten Island, the Ordo exsequiarum instructs that Fitzpatrick were to be given his “farewell” (original emphasis), which the Church instructs will be for him “his final ‘commendation to God’ by the Church” (CCC 1690). Fitzpatrick’s juvenile remains will subsequently return to the earth whence it came, for to Adam the Lord said: “For you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19).
For those who remain, they must do their part to save souls, for there should be nary a single child who leaves this earth in such a fashion as did Daniel Fitzpatrick. Perhaps one will never know for certain precisely what led Fitzpatrick to commit the act, but one thing is for sure: If he were given the tools to know the truth and the encouragement to live it by the whole of his Catholic community, he would have been able to reject the ways of the world; and in the midst of his suffering, no matter from what, or as result of what and by whom, he would have been able to lean on his Lord, his Mother, and his saints—for they would have loved him unconditionally.