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Originally posted at Talk to Action.

The Catholic Right, Part Sixty

On June 13, 2008 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops approved a declaration condemning embryonic stem cell research. Bill Donohue's Catholic League issued an immediate statement of support, proclaiming, "The life issues, then, are of preeminent importance to Catholics. To discuss social justice, for example, while being dismissive of the life issues is profoundly un-Catholic."


But as a Catholic who both actively supports and would benefit from this research, I began to wonder, what does it take for something to truly constitute a life issue for the princes of the Church?

A few posts back I was a bit optimistic that with its concern for Global Warming that the Church hierarchy was beginning to understand just how out of proportion with the need for Social Justice its take-no-prisoners attitude on issues such as abortion, birth control and stem cell research actually is.  Sadly, I stand corrected.


In its most recent proclamation on stem cell research the U.S Bishops again resort to bad science to make a dogmatic point. For example, they seriously misstate the value of both adult and embryonic stem cells in treating disease and disability:

Nature in fact provides ample resources for pursuing medical progress without raising these grave moral concerns. Stem cells from adult tissues and umbilical cord blood are now known to be much more versatile than once thought. These cells are now in widespread use to treat many kinds of cancer and other illnesses, and in clinical trials they have already benefited patients suffering from heart disease, corneal damage, sickle-cell anemia, multiple sclerosis, and many other devastating conditions. (1) Researchers have even developed new non-destructive methods for producing cells with the properties of embryonic stem cells-for example, by "reprogramming" adult cells. There is no moral objection to research and therapy of this kind, when it involves no harm to human beings at any stage of development and is conducted with appropriate informed consent. Catholic foundations and medical centers have been, and will continue to be, among the leading supporters of ethically responsible advances in the medical use of adult stem cells.

This is a deliberately misleading statement. As far as a new technique that could potentially reprogram embryonic stem cells from skin cells cells are concerned, the independent, National Catholic Reporter more soberly explained:

If headlines turn out to be prophetic, Nov. 20, 2007, was a historic day in the decade-long ethical debate over embryonic stem-cell research. "Scientists Bypass Need for Embryo to Get Stem Cells," reads The New York Times. "Major leap for stem cells," the Chicago Tribune added. "Advance May End Stem Cell Debate," chimed The Washington Post.

But headline prophecies are a tricky business and less than two months later, it appears The Washington Post was wise to use the word, "may."

Additionally, Dr. Shinya Yamanaka, one of the two researchers who discovered the technique told AFP News Services:

TOKYO (AFP) - A Japanese scientist who helped produce stem cells from skin says controversial research on human embryos must continue for now, as it will take time to put the new breakthrough into practical use..."It was a breakthrough. It allowed us to see a goal. But the goal is far off in the distance," Shinya Yamanaka, the leader of the Kyoto University research team, told AFP in an interview.

The bishops conveniently left out those important facts.  But not content with fudging science, the bishops then engaged in a bit of historical revision:

This is not only a teaching of the Catholic Church. Our nation's Declaration of Independence took for granted that human beings are unequal in size, strength, and intelligence. Yet it declared that members of the human race who are unequal in all these respects are created equal in their fundamental rights, beginning with the right to life. Tragically, this principle of equal human rights for all has not always been followed in practice, even by the Declaration's signers. But in our nation's proudest moments Americans have realized that we cannot dismiss or exclude any class of humanity-that basic human rights must belong to all members of the human race without distinction. In light of modern knowledge about the continuity of human development from conception onwards, all of us-without regard to religious affiliation-confront this challenge again today when we make decisions about human beings at the embryonic stage of development.

This is nothing more than George Weigel-Robert P. George-Michael Novak neoconservative hogwash being substituted for historical fact. As I've written here and elsewhere, the natural law principles expounded by the Founders were far more evolved than those adhered to of the Catholic Church's most orthodox thinkers. Men such as Alexander Hamilton and James Madison were students of Richard Hooker and John Locke. And as for the Founders, while they did not does speak of or even hint of embryos in the Declaration of Independence, their intent can be better inferred by Article II of the United States Constitution where personhood is described as a natural born Citizen.


It is not difficult see that players of the Catholic Right were pivotal in putting forth this declaration. As the Independent Catholic News reported, a familiar name was involved:

In presenting the document, Archbishop of Kansas City Joseph F Naumann announced that another statement would be issued soon, "addressed especially to Catholic engaged and married couples (including those struggling with infertility), to explain the Church's teaching on reproductive technologies such as 'in vitro' fertilization."

As you may recall from Part Fifty-seven of this series, Archbishop Naumann threatened Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebellius with denial of the Sacrament of Holy Communion for vetoing restrictive abortion legislation sent to her desk for signing. Sebellius, a Catholic, is a frequently mentioned possible running mate for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.


In reading that line, two thoughts immediately appeared in my mind: 1) Archbishop Naumann is wading deeper into the abortion politics game; and 2) Next he will begin denying Communion to Catholics who practice birth control. If anything, Naumann's high-profile pronouncment is a clear indication that hard-line social conservatives are not only asserting themselves within the ranks of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, but are prepared to continue their noxious interventions in American politics in the service of distorted dogma.


As an American Catholic, I question who are these people to speak for people of other faiths, let alone for we faithful who support this research on theological grounds?  What of our Jewish, Anglican and UCC brethren who believe that we are commanded by God to pursue this potentially life-saving research?


As I previously observed:

And so out of a combination of fear, reaction and yes, isolation, the faction that now controls the Vatican gives aid and comfort to those who share their dislike of modernity; neoconservatives and others who look disapprovingly upon the Enlightenment and its progeny. They do so at the expense of the natural born mostly for the protection of the fetus and embryo. The Vatican and their allied neo-orthodox Americans such as Richard John Neuhaus have made abortion such a litmus test issue to the points where one's position on "life" is too narrowly defined as "abortion or not."  Other "life" issue, such as health insurance for children and curing disease are unjustifiably given the short shrift.

Are these clergy so aloof that they will place the status of a blastocyst - a clump of cells with no primitive streak (the structure that forms in the early stages of embryonic development, the beginning of a central nervous system) above the needs of a seven year-old child whose short, precious life is threatened by juvenile diabetes, muscular dystrophy or some other devastating illness?


Isn't this too a legitimate "life issue?"


But it appears that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, like the increasingly dogmatic Vatican hierarchy it speaks for, is more concerned about life in the abstract than about lives in the real world.


(1) In general see the site www.stemcellresearch.org. Current clinical trials using adult and cord blood stem cells can be viewed at the site ClinicalTrials.gov by using the search term "stem cell."


The Catholic Right: A Series, by Frank L. Cocozzelli

Originally posted to Frank Cocozzelli on Mon Jun 23, 2008 at 11:33 AM PDT.

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