FaithWorld

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.

John Thavis of Catholic News Service has a useful “Vatican bioethics document at a glance” and John Allen has a detailed analysis at “Vatican issues new document on biotechnology.”

One interesting angle is the argument in the conclusion that modern societies have already banned other practices that violate human dignity such as “racism, slavery, unjust discrimination and marginalization of women, children, and ill and disabled people.:” It encourages Catholics to show “courageous opposition to all those practices which result in grave and unjust discrimination against unborn human beings, who have the dignity of a person, created like others in the image of God.”

from Environment Forum:

Germany’s ‘Sun King’ Asbeck explains solar power for Vatican

Every once in a while you run into someone with so much energy that you find yourself wishing you could plug something into them to tap a bit of that excess power. On a dark, cloudy December afternoon, I spoke to Frank Asbeck, the chairman of SolarWorld and dubbed the "Sonnenkoenig" (Sun King) by a leading newspaper in his native Germany for turning an idea (mass use of photovoltaic) into a multi-billion euro corporation with 2,500 employees -- in little over a decade.

Asbeck, 49, easily the most entertaining chief executive I've met in Germany, lit up the room with a 90-minute surge of ideas, witty comments and untempered optimism about solar power -- a delightful respite from the economic doom and gloom of the current era.

But what especially interested me about him was his trip a day earlier to the Vatican, where he donated 2,400 photovoltaic panels worth 1.2 million euros that will produce enough electricity for the equivalent of 100 households (300 Megawatt hours) each year. So I asked: "Did you donate the solar panels to the Vatican because:

Vatican report snag to Mexican ex-president’s marriage plans

Mexicans have long suspected their former President Vicente Fox was a little barmy. The tall, mustached one-time Coca-Cola executive is known for his racial gaffes, a very public falling out with Cuban leader Fidel Castro in 2002 and clumsily flaunting his wealth in glossy magazines in impoverished Mexico. Now — in a painful snub for a president who broke with decades of repression of the Catholic Church in Mexico by openly practicing his Catholic faith and even attending a papal Mass — the Vatican has decided that Fox has a personality disorder and may not be fit to remarry with the Church’s blessing.

Fox, a conservative who ended 71 years of one-party rule in 2000, wants a church wedding for his second wife and former press secretary, Marta Sahagun. The couple wed in a surprise civil ceremony in 2001 and planned to tie the knot before a Catholic priest in Asturias, Spain next year. Sahagun has already bought her wedding gown, Mexican media say. (Photo: Vincente Fox and his wife Marta Sahagun, 26 Oct 2002/Claudia Daut)

According to confidential documents obtained by the Mexican online magazine Reporte Indigo, the Vatican last year annulled Fox’s first marriage of 20 years, but only because he is “self-obsessed and narcissistic and has a personality disorder.” That diagnosis by Vatican doctors means he is unfit to remarry in the Catholic church because he leads a double life, hiding his “hysteria” and his insincerity behind the politician’s mask, it says. The Vatican did not question his fitness for public office, however.

Kirill interim Russian Orthodox head, final outcome unclear

The Russian Orthodox Church has chosen Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad as its interim leader, picking one of its best-known personalities to stand in until a successor to the late Patriarch Alexiy II can be chosen. The Church’s charter says this must happen within the next six months, but crucially does not say exactly how the new man should be picked. That introduces a potential wild card into the equation, the so-called “apostolic method” of election that leaves the final decision to be decided by drawing lots. (Photo: Metropolitan Kirill, 19 Oct 2008/Ramon Espinosa)

Kirill, 64, has headed the Church’s department for external relations for two decades and has been active in the ecumenical movement abroad. He is considered relatively open to cooperation with the Roman Catholic Church, which has been trying for years to arrange a papal visit to Moscow despite tensions over Orthodox charges the Vatican is trying to win over Orthodox to Catholicism. At home, most Russians see him as the public face of the Church, at least partly because of his frequent appearances on television.

While he is considered a front-runner, he reportedly does not have strong support among the bishops, who are considered more nationalist and less outward-looking than he is. Metropolitan Kliment of Kaluga and Borovsk is said to be more to their liking. Metropolitan Juvenali of Krutitsy and Kolomna and Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk are also mentioned as possible contenders.

Confusion over pope’s letter saying interfaith talks impossible

“Pope questions interfaith dialogue,” read a headline on a New York Times report this morning. “In comments on Sunday that could have broad implications in a period of intense religious conflict,”, it wrote, Pope Benedict said that dialogue between religions was impossible. Before noon, a New York rabbi was urgently appealing to Benedict XVI not to “abandon dialogue between faith communities.”

Readers following the recent upswing in interfaith contacts will recall the last time Benedict’s relations with other faiths were in the news was when he warmly received Islamic scholars on Nov. 6 in Rome and spoke of Christians and Muslims as “members of one family: the family that God has loved and gathered together from the creation of the world to the end of human history.” How could he now suggest that talks across faith lines are useless? (Photo: Pope Benedict greets Bosnian Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric at the Vatican, 6 Nov 2008/Osservatore Romano)

If these readers wonder what’s going on, they’re not alone. We’ve been getting queries from contacts asking how to read a letter written by Benedict that was published in the Milan daily Corriere della Sera on Sunday and got almost no coverage other than in the New York Times. What’s going on is that the Gray Lady has confused the philosophical precision of a German theologian and the real-world pragmatism of the Roman Catholic Church. That theologian, better known as Pope Benedict, restated his definition of interreligious dialogue in the letter to Italian politician and philosopher Marcello Pena. As the NYT reported, he said that “an interreligious dialogue in the strict sense of the word is not possible.” In theological terms, added the pope, “a true dialogue is not possible without putting one’s faith in parentheses.”

Vatican forgives John Lennon for “more popular than Jesus” quip

When John Lennon said in 1966 that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus,” there was a furious reaction in the United States. Dozens of radio stations in the South and Midwest banned Beatles music and some concert venues cancelled scheduled appearances by the band. Their manager Brian Epstein quickly flew to the U.S. to try to quell the storm. Soon afterward, Lennon told a news conference in Chicago that he was sorry for making the comparison, although he added he still thought it was true. The Vatican, as far as I can see from online archives, stayed silent and aloof even thought it could hardly agree with or approve Lennon’s message. (Photo: Japanese band performs in Lennon’s memory, 8 Dec 2005/Toshiyuki Aizawa)

When the Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano came out with a nostalgic look back at the Beatles on the 40th anniversary of their 1968 White Album on Saturday, it lead off the article with Lennon’s famous quote and promptly shrugged it off. “The remark by John Lennon, which triggered deep indignation mainly in the United States, after many years sounds only like a ‘boast’ by a young working-class Englishman faced with unexpected success, after growing up with the legend of Elvis and rock and roll,” it wrote. The Beatles’ music was creative and original, even more so than their haircuts and clothes, and has stood the test of time, it said. The Italian-language original has now been overtaken on the OR website by the latest edition, but an English translation will certainly pop up somewhere (on Zenit?).

At the risk of possibly over-interpreting an arts page story, I wonder what all this says about the ridiculing of religious leaders. The uproar back in 1966 was mostly from the U.S. “Bible Belt” and the Vatican seems to have been quiet. Would it be the same today? At the Catholic-Muslim Forum in Rome three weeks ago, the two sides agreed in a statement about religious minorities that “their founding figures and symbols they consider sacred should not be subject to any form of mockery or ridicule.” Muslim countries, which were not very vocal on the international scene back in the 1960s, are now working hard at the United Nations to push through a global blasphemy law.

Court allows cut-off in Italy’s “Terry Schiavo case”

Italy’s “Terry Schiavo case” has ended with the country’s top appeals court allowing a father to disconnect the feeding tube that has kept his comatose daughter alive for 16 years. Eluana Englaro, now 37, has been in a vegetative state at a hospital in northern Italy since a 1992 car crash. The Englaro case has been compared to that of American Terri Schiavo, who spent 15 years in a vegetative state before a long and very public dispute ended in 2005 with a court decision allowing her husband to have her feeding tube disconnected.

As in the Schiavo case, the Milan court that ruled on the case said it was convinced Englaro would prefer to die rather than be kept alive artificially. State prosecutors appealed that decision to the Cassation Court, the highest appeals court in Italy, and it was the Cassation Court’s decision on Nov. 13 that definitively settled the case. (Photo:Eluana Englaro in an undated family photo)

This was the first time such a ruling has been made and upheld in Italy, where the influential Roman Catholic Church is implacably opposed to ending feeding and hydrating of patients in a vegetative state. Vatican Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan called the decision a “monstrous and inhuman murder” .

Where is the line between criticism and blasphemy?

Where is the dividing line between acceptable and unacceptable criticism of religion? How should the media cover issues that offend certain believers? These issues came up at last week’s Catholic-Muslim Forum in Rome and in the public editor’s column in the Sunday New York Times. In both cases, useful distinctions were made. But I’m not sure how much agreement they will produce the next time someone finds a depiction of a religion, its beliefs or its symbols outrageous. (Photo:Filipino Muslims protest outside Danish embassy in Manila, 15 Feb 2006)

The Catholic-Muslim Forum, an unprecedented meeting between Vatican and Muslim leaders and scholars, approached the issue as one of the rights of a minority religion, since cases they are concerned about — such as the Danish caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad — involved criticism of a minority faith by the local majority. They agreed that “religious minorities are entitled to be respected in their own religious convictions and practices … and their founding figures and symbols they consider sacred should not be subject to any form of mockery or ridicule.”

When I asked Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Catholic delegation, whether this meant the Vatican would support moves to limit criticism of religion that some western critics see as censorship, he said: “One must distinguish between a critical spirit, a spirit of criticism, and mockery. Freedom of speech means that we have the right to express opinions about religion, philosophy, philosophers and theologians and founders of religion. That is one thing. But deriding them and mocking them is something else… That impacts the values on which millions of people base their lives. That’s why we talk about mockery. I introduced that term… Mockery is very strong.”

Cardinal sees possible “favoured channel” in dialogue with Islam

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, has made statements in the past that made him sound quite sceptical about the value of a theological dialogue with Muslims. (Photo: Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran)

That wasn’t what I found when I interviewed him last Saturday at his office on Via della Conciliazione, just down the road from St. Peter’s Basilica. The subject was the Catholic-Muslim Forum he had just hosted on Nov 4-6 between a Muslim delegation from the Common Word group and Catholic delegation of Vatican officials, Catholic Islam scholars and bishops from western and Muslim countries.

The Common Word group, he said, could become a “favoured channel” for Vatican contacts with Muslims, even while it retains other channels of dialogue. While he still had some reservations about the group’s approach because of differences he sees in ways of reading scriptures, he was quite positive about the actual dialogue itself. “In discussing the love of God, we were doing theology unintentionally,” he said. That jibed with a point that Muslim delegates made during the session itself. “I thought they didn’t want to discuss theology but we’ve been doing that from the start,” University of Cambridge Islamic studies lecturer Tim Winter remarked halfway though the conference.

Bishop sees slow progress on churches in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia’s ban on churches on its territory is a thorny issue that loomed over the Catholic-Muslim Forum meeting this week in Rome. Some Catholics say the question of religious freedom for minority faiths in Muslim countries is so important that the Vatican should insist on strict reciprocity in such interfaith talks.  (In photo: St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church opens in Doha on 15 March 2008/Fadi Al-Assaad)

However, more believe it is not a good idea to make the dialogue hostage to a single issue, so it did not become a dealbreaker here. It did get discussed in the closed-door talks, which delegates said were quite lively at times, and it was referred to in the final declaration. Cynics may say nothing was resolved, but there are interesting nuances that could lead to change.

The final declaration had this to say: “Genuine love of neighbour implies respect of the person and her or his choices in matters of conscience and religion. It includes the right of individuals and communities to practice their religion in private and public.” Having Muslim delegates sign up to a statement that non-Muslims should be able to worship publicly in Muslim majority countries, i.e. have their own churches, is an important step. This is clearly aimed at Saudi Arabia, where the rights of other faiths are most clearly limited. A Catholic delegate told me some Muslims did not like the final part about practising religion in private and public but their delegation head, Bosnian Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric, reminded them that this passage could also help minority Muslims who want to build mosques in Western countries. This is an interesting example of how the globalisation of Islam is starting to influence the traditional Muslim world.