FaithWorld

New Catholic archbishop of Brussels raises hackles in Belgium

brussels 1

Archbishop Léonard and Cardinal Danneels at news conference in Brussels 18 Jan 2010/Thierry Roge

The long-awaited announcement of the successor to the retiring Catholic archbishop of Brussels, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, has sparked an unusual outcry in Belgium. The new archbishop, André-Mutien Léonard, is sometimes called  “the Belgian Ratzinger” for his conservative views. Danneels ranks as one of the last liberal prelates in a Church hierarchy that has turned increasingly traditional under Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict.

Léonard has been a controversial figure in Belgium for his critical stands on homosexuality, same-sex marriage and condom use. He has been an outspoken opponent of abortion and euthanasia, both of which are legal in Belgium, and criticised the Catholic universities of Leuven and Louvain for their research into assisted reproduction and embryonic stem cells.

The most outspoken comment came from Deputy Prime Minister Laurette Onkelinx, who is the country’s health minister. “Church and State are separate in Belgium, but when there are problems in our society, all the social partners sit down around a table, including representatives of secularism and of religion,” she told RTL radio. “Cardinal Danneels was a man of openness, of tolerance and was able to fit in there. Archbishop Léonard has already regularly challenged decisions made by our parliament.”

Onkelinx said Léonard’s appointment could upset the balance between secular and religious that Belgium has found. “Concerning AIDS, he’s against the use of condoms even while people are dying from it every day. He is against abortion and euthanasia … The pope’s choice could undermine the compromise that allows us to live together with respect for everyone.”

U.S. approves first “ethical” embryonic stem cell lines

stem-cellsThe U.S. government has approved the first 13 batches of human embryonic stem cells, enabling researchers using them to get millions of dollars in federal funding as promised by President Barack Obama in March.

According to Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the stem cell lines met strict ethical restrictions. The cells, for instance, have to have been made using an embryo donated from leftovers at fertility clinics and parents must have signed detailed consent forms. (Photo:Ampoules with stem cell storage medium/Peter Macdiarmid)

As our Health and Science Editor Maggie Fox reports, Collins described these criteria as an acceptable compromise between those who want this research to go ahead and critics who oppose it because human embryos are destroyed in the process of making these stem cells.

Vatican editor defends himself against U.S. conservatives

oss-romWhen Gian Maria Vian took over as editor of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano in late 2007, most observers yawned. No-one really expected much change at the staid newspaper. But within a few months, the paper started to rock and roll — at least as much as a paper like that can.

Slowly but surely, change has come to the 148-year-old mouthpiece of the Vatican, considered by many in the past a bland broadsheet at best and once called the “Catholic Pravda”, a reference to the communist party organ in the former Soviet Union.

It started publishing color pictures and more articles by and about women — not bad for an institution that is still a male bastion. It also began including more international cover, war cover and economic cover.
Some of its unorthodox commentaries have also been lighthearted and provocative. To wit: it ran an editorial saying that perhaps the washing machine had done more to liberate women than the pill or the right to work. It post-humusly forgave John Lennon for once boasting that the Beatles were more famous than Christ. And, it finally set the record straight that no, the pope does not wear Prada.

A selection of religion reports: week of March 8

manila-moonReuters publishes many more reports on religion, faith and ethics than we can mention on the FaithWorld blog. We sometimes highlight a story here, but often leave an issue unmentioned because it was already covered on the wire, or we have neither the time nor any extra information for a blog post. Here’s a sample of some of the stories we’ve published over the past week:

Philippines says open to amending Muslim autonomy law 13 Mar 2009

China says willing to meet Dalai Lama’s envoys 13 Mar 2009

Jews ask pope for Holocaust studies in schools 12 Mar 2009tibet

Turkey denies firing editor over Darwin article 12 Mar 2009

Pope says pained over “hate, hostility” against him 12 Mar 12 2009

China says it must approve Dalai Lama reincarnation 12 Mar 2009

U.S. says some states curb free speech in name of religion 12 Mar 2009

Australia says may quit UN racism conference 12 Mar 2009

Pope admits Holocaust denier affair was mishandled 12 Mar 2009

Pope to visit Rome synagogue in autumn 12 Mar 2009pope-rabbi

Malaysia Christians battle with Muslims over Allah 11 Mar 2009

“Big Love” network apologizes to Mormons 11 Mar 2009

Catholics protest Connecticut church finance bill 11 Mar 2009

Russia church offers to help Kremlin weather crisis 11 Mar 2009

Pope admits Holocaust denier affair was mishandled 11 Mar 2009

Cardinal says bad bankers must ask God’s pardon 11 Mar 2009

US fertility patients want final say on embryos 11 Mar 2009

Dalai Lama slams China over Tibet “suffering” 10 Mar 2009obama

Cameroon demolishes street stalls for Pope’s visit 10 Mar 2009

Stem cell go-ahead puts Obama at odds with pope 10 Mar 2009

Somali cabinet votes to implement sharia law 10 Mar 2009

FACTBOX: Embryonic stem cells, the ultimate master cell 10 Mar 2009

Stem cell advocates finally get their Obama moment 09 Mar 2009

French filmmaker slammed for likening illegals to WWII Jews 09 Mar 2009

jp2-yad-vashem1Vatican paper: Washing machine liberated women most 09 Mar 2009

Chechnya wants newborns to be named after Mohammad 09 Mar 2009

Obama to let health institute decide on stem cells 08 Mar 2009

US stem cell announcement only a first step 08 Mar 2009

Pope to visit Holocaust memorial during Israel trip 08 Mar 2009

Turkish Mosque Holds First Official Kurdish Sermon 08 Mar 2009

(Photo credits from top: Romeo Ranoco, Philippe Wojazer, Alessia Pierdomenico, Larry Downing, stringer)

Vatican reaffirms stand against IVF, designer babies, cloning

The Vatican issued a major document on bioethics today, “Instruction Dignitas Personae on Certain Bioethical Questions,” that outlines Roman Catholic teaching on the latest procedures concerning human reproduction. This is the third major Vatican document on bioethics in recent years after Donum Vitae (Gift of Life) in 1987 — issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), like today’s document — and Pope John Paul’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae (Gospel of Life) in 1995. (Photo:Pope kisses baby at Vatican, 8 Oct 2008/Max Rossi)

Our news story on the document is here, accompanied by a list of procedures it declared morally unacceptable and acceptable and selected quotes from the text. The full text in English is here. The Vatican also has comments from the news conference presenting the document (here all in Italian).

Much of this is a restatement and updating of known Vatican positions. The wording is in places quite strong and sound-bite-like, which may mean those passages could be intended for use in national political debates about bioethics. There is too much to comment on individually here, so go to the links for details.

Does global warming trump all hot-button ethical issues?

Smoke billows from Chinese chemical factory, 22 Sept 2008/Vincent DuImagine you go to a conference on major bioethical questions — controversial issues like abortion, embryonic stem cells, assisted reproduction and euthanasia — and a keynote speaker uses all his allotted time warning about global warming. Is this the wrong issue to discuss — or the only one worth talking about?

The question arose at the annual conference of the European Association of Centres of Medical Ethics (EACME) that ended at the weekend in Prague. Dr. Richard Nicholson, editor of the Bulletin of Medical Ethics, told the assembled bioethicists they had to look beyond their usual issues to consider the far larger ecological threat he said could soon end up destroying mankind.

The issue is urgent for bioethicists, he said, because the healthcare industry in the rich OECD countries is a major source of carbon dioxide emissions. It also spends vast amounts to prolong patients’ lives, about half of it in the final months before death. “The more effort we put into saving individual lives, the more likely we are to doom the human race to extinction,” he said.

Science helps religion in stem cell debates

A microscopic view of undifferentiated human embryonic stem cells.Science and religion are sometimes portrayed as adversaries, especially by the “new atheists“, but the real picture has always been more complex. The latest breakthrough in stem cell research shows how quickly opposing sides can become allies. On Nov. 20, two research teams announced they had transformed ordinary skin cells into stem cells without destroying human embryos in the process. That meant that scientists could solve an ethical dilemma they had effectively created when they began using human embryos to produce stem cells.

Religious groups critical of embryonic stem cell research immediately hailed the breakthrough as an advance that opened the door to ethnical use of these potential wonder cells. They have now begun to use it as a welcome argument to bolster their positions in disputes on the issue. This must be happening in quite a few places, but here are two examples that show how science is helping religion in this case.

In Germany, the Roman Catholic Church has severely criticised the governing Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party for agreeing to loosen tight restrictions on embryonic stem cell research there. The law bars German scientists from working on stem cell lines developed after January 1, 2002. Researchers say this is hampering their work and want the cut-off date to be moved up to 2007.

Stem cell breakthrough — science the ethical way?

A microscopic view of undifferentiated human embryonic stem cells.We noted here just the other day the all-but-absent ethical angle in the Daily Telegraph story about the creator of Dolly the cloned sheep and a new technique for creating stem cells without embryos. Now, we have two reports from Maggie Fox, our Health and Science Editor in Washington, that address the scientific and ethical issues.

Our story length limits meant the two had to be broken up, but they should be read in tandem.

One deals with the science:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two separate teams of researchers announced on Tuesday they had transformed ordinary skin cells into batches of cells that look and act like embryonic stem cells — but without using cloning technology and without making embryos.