The Catholic Church and modern science



A recent intervention by the Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, OP, was both unremarkable and, paradoxically, significant. In a letter to the Prime Minister on August 20th, co-signed by the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Glenn Davies, and the Greek Orthodox Primate, Archbishop Makarios, Archbishop Fisher suggested that the projected use of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine might cause a crisis of conscience for some potential recipients because cell lines derived from a 1973 aborted foetus were involved in its production.


This intervention was unremarkable because it was all too predictable. Archbishop Fisher, more inclined to find fault with and to condemn modern scientific developments than to welcome and encourage them. But the intervention was, nonetheless, significant because it was of a piece with a series of stances which the Vatican authorities have adopted over the past fifty years. These stances, pitting the Church over against the world, represent a retreat from the hopes and aspirations expressed in that most progressive decree of the Second Vatican Council: 'Gaudium et Spes: The Church in the Modern World'. Whereas the Vatican II document sought to engage with, and to respect, the autonomy of the modern world and its science, only too many of the Vatican’s official statements over the past fifty years have effectively resiled from that commitment.

It is no secret, of course, that the Vatican II decree was a step too far even for some of the more progressive theologians advising the bishops at the Council, notably among them, Joseph Ratzinger. Although the assembled bishops did approve the decree, there were rumblings even at the Council, and these have reverberated over the years especially among the more conservative elements in the Church. Joseph Ratzinger, too, was to become in time the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and the custodian of doctrinal ‘orthodoxy’. Some commentators have remarked that not only did Ratzinger distance himself at the time from 'Gaudium et Spes', but also that the student riots of 1968 and the general unrest that accompanied them reinforced his fears that hitherto unquestioned absolute principles were under sustained attack from rampant progressivism. Hence his retreat from the more liberal theology of his earlier years.



The first test for the Church was the debate over artificial contraception. Pope Paul VI withdrew the issue from discussion at the Second Vatican Council but subsequently appointed two committees to investigate the arguments. The first committee was composed exclusively of bishops and cardinals. By a narrow majority it reported that the use of artificial contraceptives might be permissible for married couples in some restricted circumstances. The second committee, composed of sixty clerical and lay members, also reported in the affirmative, but this time by a large majority, reputedly 56:4 in favour. This committee justified their recommendation as a development from the Church’s traditional stance, which opposed all forms of artificial contraception, by viewing marriage as a relationship rather than a series of conjugal acts, giving priority to the unitive over the procreative dimensions of marriage. The relationship should certainly be procreative in intent, but not each and every act of conjugal intercourse had to be open to the possibility of procreation. There were circumstances in which couples could intentionally regulate their births not only by natural, but also by artificial, contraceptive methods.


'But when a remedy for infertility was becoming available, why did it matter so much where the union of the zygotes took place — in the fallopian tube (back to which the in-vitro embryo was swiftly implanted in any case) or temporarily in a petri dish? ‘Location, location’, why was it so important?'


The majority and minority reports of the second committee were leaked to the media. Paul VI hesitated and deferred. But in July, 1968, in the encyclical, Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life), he finally sided with the minorities, declaring that each and every conjugal act had to be open to the possibility of procreation, effectively ruling out the use of artificial contraceptives.

Commentators have speculated that what finally swayed him was the fear that if he accepted the recommendations of the majorities, he would seem to be reversing the negative judgment of his predecessor, Pius XI, in his 1930 encyclical, Casti Connubii’ (Of Chaste Marriage). This reversal, he believed, would have had the effect of undermining papal authority.

Paradoxically, of course, nothing more effectively undermined papal authority than the publication of Humanae Vitae. Not only did the laity reject it, but even a series of bishops’ conferences, notably the Canadians and Germans, provided commentaries on the encyclical that suggested that it should not be taken as the definitive word but interpreted according to each married couple’s consciences and circumstances.


In-vitro fertilisation

The next test for the Church in its engagement with the modern world and its science was its reaction to the developments associated with in-vitro fertilisation. It all started off well. One month after the birth of Louise Brown, the first ‘test tube baby’, in July, 1978, the newly-elected Pope, Albino Luciani, Pope John Paul I, was asked for a reaction. After a moment’s reflection he responded: ‘I bless the mother; I bless the baby’. It seemed the appropriate response for a Church that was generally perceived as pro-natalist.

The pontificate of John Paul I lasted only 33 days. He was succeeded by Pope John Paul II, under whose pontificate Cardinal Ratzinger presided as Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. It was on his watch that the Church published in February, 1987, its definitive teaching on in-vitro fertilisation, Donum Vitae (The Gift of Life).

Once again, as with Humanae Vitae, the response was negative. Not even the so-called ‘simple case’ of IVF between husband and wife with all the embryos transferred back to the maternal uterus was permitted. Harking back to the 1968 encyclical, just as ‘lovemaking’ without the possibility of ‘baby making’ was interdicted in Humanae Vitae, so in Donum Vitae ‘baby making’ without ‘lovemaking’ was proscribed. The indissoluble link which Humanae Vitae had proclaimed to exist between conjugal relations and openness to procreation operated both ways. No procreation was permitted unless it was continuous with preceding conjugal relations, even for infertile couples. ‘Procreation which is truly responsible vis-à-vis a child to be born’, it proclaimed, ‘must be the fruit of the marriage act’.

But again, as with Humanae Vitae, infertile couples, even ‘good Catholics’ were unlikely to be persuaded by a papal instruction denying them even the ‘simple case’ of IVF. Many may have shared the instruction’s concerns about cryopreserved banks of ‘surplus’ embryos and the liability that these embryos would be exposed to scientific experimentation. But when a remedy for infertility was becoming available, why did it matter so much where the union of the zygotes took place — in the fallopian tube (back to which the in-vitro embryo was swiftly implanted in any case) or temporarily in a petri dish? ‘Location, location’, why was it so important?

Arguments that IVF ‘commodified’ procreation cut little ice with infertile couples and with all who sympathised with them, including most Catholics. When Pius XII in statements in 1949 and 1956 had not ruled out the possibility of medical interventions subsequent to intercourse to promote sperm motility and to facilitate the union of the zygotes — dilation of the vagina and the use of a syringe to spray the ejaculate further into the cervical canal were the preferred interventions — why were these manipulations morally licit while that associated with IVF was unacceptable?


‘Tainted’ cell lines

The third test for the Church’s biological scruples concerned the derivation of cell lines from aborted foetuses. It was to this question that the recent interventions of the Sydney Archbishops and the Greek Orthodox Primate were directed.

In 2003, Debra Vinnedge from Florida in the United States sent a letter to Cardinal Ratzinger at the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith seeking a clarification about ‘the liceity of vaccinating children with vaccines prepared using cell lines derived from aborted human foetuses’. She was concerned primarily with a vaccine for the Rubella virus whose production involved a cell line derived from foetuses surgically aborted in the 1960s and 1970s.

The Vatican took over two years to reply and apparently consulted widely before providing its response. Archbishop Fisher has belatedly acknowledged that he was one of the consultants.

In an eight page reply the Pontifical Academy for Life emphasised the evil of abortion and the responsibility of medical scientists who used cell lines derived from surgically aborted foetuses to distance themselves generally from abortifacient procedures. It would never be acceptable to effect an abortion in order to generate a productive cell line. That would be so-called ‘formal cooperation’, where the medical scientist would be adjudged to share the evil intention of the abortionist.

But over and above formal cooperation there is also so-called ‘material cooperation’, and it is mainly the degree of immediacy or remoteness of the cooperation that respectively condemns or may legitimise the material cooperation. Generally speaking, the more remote the medical science use of the cell lines is from the original abortion, the more legitimate morally it is likely to be. It would be better, the Academy advised, to use cell lines not derived from aborted foetuses, but where these are not available or where their efficacy is limited or compromised , then the use of the aborted foetal cell lines may be acceptable, especially if they are very efficacious and there is an urgent need for a protective vaccine. Its response concluded as follows:


As regards the diseases against which there are no alternative vaccines which are available and ethically acceptable, it is right to abstain from using these vaccines if it can be done without causing children, and indirectly the population as a whole, to undergo a significant risk to their health.   

However, if the latter are exposed to considerable dangers to their health, vaccines with moral problems pertaining to them may be used on a temporary basis. The moral reason is that the duty to avoid passive material cooperation is not obligatory if there is a grave inconvenience.

Moreover, we find in such a case a proportional reason in order to accept the use of these vaccines in the presence of the danger of favouring the spread of the pathological agent due to the lack of vaccination of children.


Even the subsequent 2008 Vatican Instruction, Dignitas Personae (The Dignity of the Person), while emphasising once again the evil of any formal cooperation with the original abortion, acknowledged that:


Grave reasons may be morally proportionate to justify the use of such ‘biological material’. Thus, for example, danger to the health of children could permit parents to use a vaccine which was developed using cell lines of illicit origin, while keeping in mind that everyone has the duty to make known their disagreement and to ask their healthcare system to make other types of vaccines available.


These Vatican pronouncements were the source on which Archbishop Fisher and his co-signers drew in their letter to the Prime Minister. They admitted that: ‘Some will have no ethical problem with using tissue from electively aborted foetuses for medical purposes’. But the burden of their letter was to alert the Prime Minister to what they called the ‘ethically tainted’ status of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine.

They did not, however, directly acknowledge that many quite orthodox Catholic moral theologians would have seen the use of the vaccine as so remote from the original abortion that it was morally acceptable to use the vaccine, and it was not necessary to wait for an alternative vaccine, particularly during a pandemic. 

Nor did the signatories even advert to the arguments that have also been advanced that the use of foetal material to develop a life-saving vaccine may, at least to some degree ‘redeem’ or mitigate the original abortion.

Certainly one may not induce an abortion with the intention of developing a cell line from the foetus — that would be formal cooperation — but once the abortion has in fact taken place, isn’t it better, with the mother’s permission, for a medical researcher, independent of the abortionist, to use the foetus to develop the cell line rather than to consign it to hospital waste?

Although we abhor the Nazi human experimental programmes, we have used some of their results for further research. Although we deplore slavery, there are nations and cultures that now accept that their very foundations were built on slave labour. If a suicide has donated his body to medical research, should we refuse to use it? And in traditional Christian theology, the price of our redemption was the obscenity of Christ’s passion and death — the felix culpa of the Easter liturgy.

Certainly these subsequent beneficial uses or effects do not justify the original immoral actions, but there is a sense in which they ‘redeem’ or mitigate the original evil.



In each of the three aforesaid instances — contraception, in-vitro fertilisation and ‘tainted’ cell lines — in which the Vatican has engaged with modern medical science, there has been an underlying fear that has inspired the doctrinaire, hard-line response of the Roman authorities.

With Humanae Vitae and contraception, it was the fear that accepting the majority report and allowing the use of artificial contraceptives in some circumstances would reverse the universal prohibition of Casti Connubii’ of Pius XI and thus undermine papal authority.

With Donum Vitae and in-vitro fertilisation, there was the fear that extra-corporeal fertilisation of embryos would result — as, indeed, it did — in the generation of thousands of ‘surplus’ embryos, which, inevitably, would be cryo-preserved in suspended animation or used for medical experimentation. So, even the ‘simple case’ of IVF was proscribed.

With Dignitas Personae and the use of cell lines derived from induced abortions, it was the fear that this would result in a lessening of the horror of abortion and even the possibility of the formal cooperation of the ‘medical science industry’ with the ‘abortion industry’.

So, even though in terms of traditional moral theology the use of these so-called ‘tainted’ cell lines would be justified as an instance of remote material cooperation, Archbishop Fisher and his co-signers, in deference to his Vatican patrons, have written to the Prime Minister to recommend that a cell line alternative to AstraZeneca be made available.

In each of these cases, too, to overcome these fears, it might have been possible for the Vatican to engage more positively with modern medical science.

In the contraception debate it would have meant accepting the majority report’s recommendation that there had been over the thirty years since Casti Connubii’ a development of doctrine in respect of the theology of marriage — that marriage should be viewed primarily not through the lens of procreation, the Victorian ‘producing a son and heir’, but in terms primarily of a personal relationship. While the whole relationship should be procreative in intent, it was not necessary that each and every conjugal act of intercourse should be open to the possibility of procreation. After all, this is what human biology dictates. Why cannot modern science enable married couples to regulate their biology so that artifice enhances nature and avoids unwanted births?

In the IVF debate, while abhorring the production of surplus embryos and their availability for experimentation, these abuses should not necessarily infect the ‘simple case’ of the use of IVF for infertile married couples where all the embryos generated are returned to the maternal uterus. Why is the location where the zygotes are united so important that it condemns some couples to lifetime infertility? Could not the afterthought of Pope Pius XII in 1949 and 1956, when addressing the debate among moral theologians on the legitimacy of homologous (husband/wife) artificial insemination as a remedy for infertility, be invoked? 


Although one may not exclude new methods for the sole reason that they are new: nevertheless, as regards artificial insemination, there is not only reason for extreme reserve, but it must be entirely rejected.

To say this is not necessarily to proscribe the use of certain artificial means designed to facilitate the natural act, performed in a normal manner, to attain its end.


Indeed, a clinic in San Antonio, Texas, at the height of the IVF debate acted on this advice to extract semen after intercourse and inject it into the fallopian tube adjacent to a maturing ovum follicle. Such a procedure was brought to the attention of the Vatican as a ‘Catholic’ form of IVF. It was neither approved nor condemned. But it is difficult to see that this is less ‘artificial’ than the simple case of IVF.

Finally, of course, as I have indicated and the co-signers have — reluctantly — agreed, the use of the ‘tainted’ cell lines from the 1960/1970s abortions is so remote (and material, rather than formal, cooperation) that it is quite morally acceptable to use these lines to develop the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine and to use the lines in other medical applications.

On this understanding the intervention of the Archbishop and his subsequent cautionary comments, while potentially winning him plaudits in some of the more conservative Roman dicasteries, may well be construed as unnecessary and alarmist rather than genuinely pastoral.



Bill UrenBill Uren SJ AO is a Jesuit Priest, Scholar in Residence at Newman College at the University of Melbourne and Former Rector of the College, Jesuit Theological College and former Provincial of the Australian Jesuits. He is a graduate of the Universities of Melbourne, Sydney, Oxford and the Melbourne College of Divinity. He has lectured in moral philosophy and bioethics at the Universities of Melbourne, Murdoch and Queensland, and has served on over a dozen clinical and research ethics committees in universities, hospitals and research institutes.

Main image: (Charles Deluvio/Unsplash)

Topic tags: Bill Uren, catholic, IVF, vaccine



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Existing comments

A categorical imperative is a principle which must be followed everywhere and at all times. Is there a categorical imperative as to when something is ‘remote’? If a Uyghur dies in a concentration camp and his liver is extracted post-mortem to found some dazzling line of medical success, can a medically-ailing Vicar of Christ next century use it? Wouldn’t a commonsensical Calabrian peasant find something a little defiling to Catholicism about the prospect?
roy chen yee | 15 September 2020

Thank you Bill for bringing this subject out into the light of general conversation. Am hoping, if I find time, to respond in detail elesewhere to your many claims. Yet, there's one facet that needs an immediate response: your quiding proposition that the Church is anti-science. You are not a scientist and seem to be well outside your area of competence. Speaking as a cradle Catholic Christian with worldwide scientific experience and publications, as well as extensive experience in Christian minstry and high qualifications in ethical theology, I totally disagree with your proposition, Bill. My Catholic faith and my scientific contributions have harmonised beautifully. The Magisterium of the Catholic Church and its expression in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (please read # 2292-2294) also subverts your (frankly preposterous) claim. It is not Science per se that the Church critiques but such technological applications as demean human personhood. Your article indicates you believe there are no such situations! With all proper respects I'd want your readers to also refer to Colossians 2:8. "Make sure that no one traps you and deprives you of your freedom by some secondhand, empty, rational philosophy based on the principles of this world instead of Christ." (Jerusalem Bible)
Dr Marty Rice | 15 September 2020

This is a very fine article, Bill, providing sorely needed balance to Archbishop Fisher's statement. Many Catholics must have been dismayed at the dampening of their hopes for vaccine for the most virulent disease seen in a century on the most threadbare theoretical grounds. Your article will shore up the hopes of such people and demonstrate to the church and the world at large that hierarchical pronouncements are not the last word on questions of faith and morals, but must be received by the universal church before they can claim to be settled Catholic doctrine. MIchael Leahy
MICHAEL T LEAHY | 15 September 2020

Thanks Bill for this helpful guidance for Catholics in light of Archbishop Fisher's misguided intervention, yet another example of leadership failure in the Catholic Church. If the Church is to have any influence in society, its leaders must be seen to act responsibly. Archbishop Fisher prejudices the use of what may be the earliest and only viable COVID vaccine despite his own view that it would be OK ‘to use this vaccine if there is no alternative available’. Instead of providing responsible leadership in a life threatening crisis, Fisher chooses to undermine the Government's difficult fight against this pandemic because in his view some Catholics will be "troubled"! I guess he's made sure of that - to the extent that Catholics still heed such pontificating.
Peter Johnstone | 15 September 2020

Dear Fr Bill, the hierarchy of the church cant exactly be accused of common sense when 90,000 Indians a day are falling ill with Covid 19. Exhaustive as your analysis is, religious prejudice and scientific advancement simply dont mix. Whether its the use of contraception (a major factor in stopping the spread of HIV) or child abuse, the church never gets it right. In 1633 Galileo was put under house arrest for the "heresy" of declaring that the earth revolved around the sun and it took this monolith "church" 300 years to clear his name. For heavens sake, let the scientists worry about the vaccine and let the church learn how to clean up its own back yard - not pontificate in areas in which it has no expertise.
Francis Armstrong | 15 September 2020

I would suggest that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later late Pope Benedict XVI, was among the first to discern the impact of contemporary philosophical relativism that denies the knowability of objective truth and gives rise to the placement of the word orthodoxy in qualifying commas. The only science the Catholic Church opposes is that which undermines human dignity, such as that which commodifies, commercialises and cannibalises human embryos and calls these practices progress.
John RD | 15 September 2020

Thank you for your detailed, balanced and very welcome addition to this debate, Fr Uren SJ AO. It seems at times that some of the current church leaders veer very close to the Manichaean tradition of the 3rd century.
Carol | 16 September 2020

Moral philosophy, like the physical sciences, needs a Grand Unified Theory. If you treat the foetus in the same way as progressives want to treat contraception, that marriage is a relationship, not a series of conjugal acts, in which the morality of behaviour at a conjugal act is controlled by the morality of the purpose of the whole relationship, then the whole purpose of preserving an unnaturally aborted embryo for science vitiates its use for science. The need for the moral GUT extends to other topical issues. If colonisation is a morally purposive relationship, separate acts of ill-treatment of indigenes do not vitiate the relationship. If the purposive relationship was wrong to begin with, separate acts of goodwill cannot save it from voidness. Without this GUT, we're mired in situational ethics/ moral relativism. The moral GUT is currently unavailable to humans but residing in God who judges the subjective as well as the objective as in an eternal present. But if what is moral is always a 'present tense', there is no remoteness that makes something 'moral'. The best that can be said of remoteness is that it is a concession, like divorce, to stiffnecked humans.
roy chen yee | 16 September 2020

To Roy's opening statement: my response is no. Several Catholic and other philosophers and ethicists are not Kantians and would challenge his assumption. On the other hand, the Calabrian peasant in question may well have heard his priest or, in her own simple way, his wife or mother weigh up the relative vices and virtues attached to ethical decision-making: not so far-fetched and complex a quandary for even simple people using scales and who expect, regardless of their peasant status, not to be cheated of their agency. Hence, without mentioning the polysyllabic concept of proportionality, they unquestionably engage with it. As to Dr Rice's view, I'm not sure that the twin disciplines of science and ethics overlap. Many good scientists I know make pretty poor philosophers and vice versa. Indeed, a former tutor at Blackfriars Oxford, the esteemed Irish Dominican, Jerome Toner, observed that several scientists confuse the Naturalistic Fallacy with the Appeal to Nature Fallacy. Whether one agrees with his view or not, it has to be acknowledged that Bill Uren's standing in both Catholic and secular philosophic circles as an eminent ethical scholar, especially in the Australian context, is considerable. Indeed his reputation, on evidence here, is enviable.
Dr Michael FURTADO | 16 September 2020

Very interesting article. It brought to mind my plight when, as a young University registrar engaged in research to transplant kidneys, I was threatened with loss of my job when I said that I could not ethically support transplanting kidneys in human beings. This position was derived after we failed to produce one surviving dog in 139 transplant operations. Then out of nowhere two dogs survived without any change in what we were doing and without any idea as to why they had survived. The boss declared, "Now we're ready to do it in people!" At the time I was the only Catholic involved in the four experimental transplant programs in this country [Vic, SA, NSW and WA]. It was a time when there were no established ethics or law that applied to transplantation in human beings. I sought the advice of Fr Tom Johnson SJ, who took some 6 weeks to send his advice to me in a brown paper parcel with the tell tale AMDG printed on the sealing tape. The parcel contained a wedding gift and a brief note which read in reply to my question, "I suspect that if there is one life that has been lost or cannot be saved, I would have thought that our Creator would smile favourably if one little piece of that life, eg a kidney [a cell] were saved in order to save the life of another - provided you were not running an unacceptable risk with the life you are trying to save. He taught me that science is but the ongoing revelation of the greatness and truth of God's creation revealed to us in God's time, not ours, for reasons beyond our knowing. I can not support the Archbishop's letter even though I do support in large part his published expertise in medical ethics.
john frawley | 16 September 2020

It is so pleasing to read Fr Uren’s piece. Intelligent, cogent and clearly sophisticated in its analysis. For Uren has a distinguished history in bioethics ands the very fact that he has served on government and private health ethics committees is testament to his expertise. That is exactly where the tradition of Church teaching should be interfacing with society. And the interface has so much credibility when it is of a calibre such as Fr Uren’s. His piece provides interested Catholics with a helpful perspective when too often there is a vacuum after confusing public commentaries by our Church leaders. Let’s have more of it.
Francis Sullivan | 16 September 2020

I was not going to comment on Fr Bill Uren's tightly argued but nuanced article headed The Catholic Church and Modern Science. I agreed with it wholeheartedly. Even when some of the commentary seemed to miss the points Bill was making I thought he was more than able to defend himself if he cared to. But when I read today an article in the American catholic magazine, CRISIS, headed "Will Children Die So That We May Live?" I realised how important it is that intellectuals with Bill's expertise in Moral Theology and Bio-ethics to speak out. The CRISIS article defends the joint ecumenical letter by the three Archbishops, Roman, Anglican & Greek. It does so in a way that reflects the the way ethical issues are being debated in the conduct of the US Presidential election. Emotionalism is high. Nuance is non=existent. When Church leaders, such as Archbishop Fisher OP, lobby the government with tendentious arguments, they can only undermine the Catholic Church's New Evangelization and its Ecumenism. How helpful is the concept "ethically tainted" to any government wanting to draw up medical policies that would protect the health of its population?
Joseph Quigley | 16 September 2020

There is a wonderful joke about a philosopher being a blind man in a totally darkened room looking for a black cat that isn't there and a theologian being the one who follows him into the room and finds it. This article reminds me of that joke. You raise what are three very important and I would suggest, discrete, moral predicaments to the people who find themselves in them. I am not sure you have either solved those problems satisfactorily for those involved, nor thrown much real light on the situation for others. The purpose of the letter Archbishop Fisher co-signed and which was sent to the Prime Minister on the possible use of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine was done, I think, to both inform Christians who might have grave doubts about using it and to possibly suggest the later development of other vaccines from less morally questionable sources. Behind this and the other predicaments you raise is the question of what human life is really about. This is a penultimate question.
Edward Fido | 16 September 2020

Michael Furtado: “To Roy's opening statement: my response is no.” The claim that the judicial death penalty is unconditionally unusable is a claim that categorical imperatives (or, at least, one) exist. Philosophy uses extrapolation from facts. An unnaturally aborted foetus is saved for science practically at the time of the abortion because tissue will decay unless it is quickly frozen. This means that the person accepting the donation of the foetus from an abortion facility is complicit in the act of abortion because he is deliberately using the happenstance of the act to further his own purposes. The nexus between the donor and donee is so close that the donee is tainted. If we apply the Black Lives Matter argument that whites today are indicted by being descendants of the whites of yesteryear, the same logic must apply to users of AstraZeneca as descendants of the donee.
roy chen yee | 17 September 2020

The Church is only against science that pertains to sex and reproduction. There has been, especially in the encyclicals of Pope Francis, an awareness of our place in the universe and our responsibility to nurture our earth.
Helen | 17 September 2020

Francis Sullivan: "That is exactly where the tradition of Church teaching should be interfacing with society." This article certainly stimulates the brain. What is the role of a scholar who, in an apostolic church, is not an apostle? We could be cheeky and ask what is the role of an apostle (or three) who are not scholars but we don't know that.
roy chen yee | 17 September 2020

Roy's second post here, while dripping with perspecuity, lends insight to the mindset of those who would also defend the indefensible. Having only ever encountered this seemingly impossible leap of logic in the form known as 'Stockholm Syndrome', I might illustrate. John Frawley arrives at his conclusion which allows some wriggle room for Archbishop Fisher, but Roy's 'winner-takes-all' approach makes no such concession. To a fellow Asian Australian, especially given Roy's allusion to colonialism, this appears perverse and hands the balance of doubt to those who wield absolute power in morally complex and unequal situations. My late father, once an engineer in Calcutta, was alerted to stay away from his place of employment on the eve of India's Independence. This he did but warned his subordinates that while strikes were commendable moral tools, violence wasn't. Two of his British colleagues defied the warning in order to break the strike and were killed in the volatility that ensued. My father identified the ring-leaders who were summarily convicted and executed (in post-Independent India). Giving evidence, he appealed to the Chief Justice of the Court to mitigate their sentence on the grounds that their position was manifestly unequal to that of their employers.
Michael FURTADO | 17 September 2020

Thanks for the article, a well written blend of philosophies and science with appropriate respect for the religious. I'm not sure that the argument from the Christian side is limited to what is presented as the argument for objection. The Mass pronounces and evokes the words of Christ to eat and drink his body and blood in the notion of consuming human components as a funtional beneficial and life saving act should not be foreign to theological thinking...but perhaps the theraputic use of stem cells from some unknown aborted foetus is verging too much on the god-like. The COVID pandemic fear and fallout has adversely affected the world; it and any defeat by vaccine has been forefront in our minds for months and will continue to disrupt even the powerful until a vaccine may be found. It's almost incongruous that the most promising cure for a suffering global human condition might come from one so tiny, unloved and rejected...perhaps that consideration should not be lost in the greater arguments.
ray | 17 September 2020

Michael Furtado, “Stockholm Syndrome” isn’t a particularly useful citation. Its opposite is Lima Syndrome. Life, a reservoir of creativity, in throwing up different scenarios, is an unreliable foundation for founding a categorical imperative. You could say that Pilate, “anxious” to free Christ, was showing some signs of a Lima syndrome, or that a donee with Lima Syndrome would not accept an unnaturally aborted foetus. In any case, the power here resides with the abortee’s mother and with the pharmaceutical establishment. As for the murderous ringleaders, would Gandhi have been one of them? If categorical imperatives exist, they exist independently of life. “Proportionality” is, at the bottom of it, bending and stretching to normalise immorality. “Proportionality” is simultaneously giving in to temptation and saying that that was the strength that God gave to us to overcome that temptation. “Proportionality” isn’t searching for the morality of a situation. It’s searching for how best to define downwards the immorality of a situation to the point where we can plausibly throw ourselves on God’s mercy and hope to get away with it.
roy chen yee | 18 September 2020

Michael: the need to abjure the ethical relativism of 'pragmatic' priests, philosophers, theologians, and 'the powers that be' is plain enough in the 27 texts of The New Testament that are the main foundation of The Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is very much God's will that each person should be free to choose but choose we must. No amount of equivocation can excuse us individually or collectively from that. Mother Church has openly taught these eternal truth for nearly 2,000 years. You could access my humble 'modern scientific/philosophical/theological fragments' @: It's a basic spiritual law that small compromises put us on the slippery slope to perdition. In today's world - may God have mercy on us - the blood of newly aborted infants is highly sought-after for transfusions to extend the longevity of elderly, wealthy individuals. It is God's perfectly self-giving right ethics that have enabled our universe. We are eternally well-advised to follow love incarnate - Jesus Christ - in obedience to God's way, and to follow no other.
Dr Marty Rice | 18 September 2020

Dr Michael Furtado: the need to abjure the ethical relativism of 'pragmatic' priests, philosophers, theologians, and 'the powers that be' is plain enough in the 27 texts of The New Testament that are the main foundation of The Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is very much God's will that each person should be free to choose but choose we must. No amount of equivocation can excuse us individually or collectively from that. Mother Church has openly taught these eternal truths for nearly 2,000 years; ours's the choice to obey or not. You asked about my expertise, Michael; please feel free to access (free) my humble 'modern scientific/philosophical/theological fragments' @: It's a basic spiritual law that small compromises are what put us on the slippery slope. In today's world - may God have mercy on us - the blood of newly aborted infants is highly sought-after for transfusions to extend the longevity of elderly, wealthy individuals. So much like this flouts God's perfectly self-giving right ethics that have enabled our universe to exist, temporarily. We are eternally well-advised to follow love incarnate - Jesus Christ - in obedience to God's way, and to follow no other.
Dr Marty Rice | 18 September 2020

I wish this article had focussed on the reasons Archbishop Fisher co-signed the letter to the Prime Minister on the possible use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Neither he nor his two signatories are moral, theological or philosophical naïfs. Nor is Tom Uren, who I would put in the same class as the late Donald Mackinnon, formerly Norris-Hulse Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge. My problem here is that intellectuals of this calibre can sometimes confuse, rather than clarify matters by their intervention. Many Christians worldwide would have had moral reservations about using this vaccine because of its source. They looked to their Churches to inform them on the matter. The Churches' advice on the matter was spot on. There is no ban as far as I can see. The use of material from aborted foetuses to experiment on or to cannibalise for medical research or treatment is something I find abhorrent. It reminds me of Nazi Germany and its pagan philosophy.
Edward Fido | 19 September 2020


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