Monday, February 05, 2007

Bioethics and natural law

Saint Agatha

Sandro Magister talks about two documents that are coming out soon, one on bioethics and another on natural law, both from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. My excerpts below have gotten rather long, but do read through them all. The bit about the 'Ratzinger style' is interesting. The link to the CDF document is mine.

ROMA, February 5, 2007 – Unborn life and the natural law: these are the themes of two new documents being prepared by the Vatican congregation for the doctrine of the faith. They were announced in the newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference, “Avvenire,” in an interview with the secretary of the congregation, archbishop Angelo Amato.

The first document:

The first of the two new documents, the one on unborn life, will follow in the footsteps of the instruction “Donum Vitae,” published in 1987 by the then-prefect of the congregation, cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

Amato says in this regard:

“This Donum Vitae II is not intended to abolish the previous one, but to confront the various questions of bioethics and biotechnology that are posed today, and that were still unthinkable back then. Donum Vitae still retains all of its value, and in certain regards it is prophetic.

Regarding those clerics who have spoken out lately:

Amato further clarifies:

"The study of such delicate topics is the competency of our congregation, which then submits its work to the pope. And therefore the opinions on these topics that come from other ecclesiastical institutions or personalities – as respectable as these may be – cannot have the authoritativeness that the mass media sometimes seem to want to attribute to them."

The opinions of ecclesiastical persons to which Amato refers include, in particular, those expressed by cardinal Carlo Maria Martini in the “Dialogue on life” he published in the weekly “L’espresso” in April of 2006, a discussion that dealt with the very same topics found in “Donum Vitae.” They also include the opinions formulated by the same cardinal on the matter of euthanasia last January 21, in the newspaper “Il Sole 24 Ore,” one week before this interview with Amato in “Avvenire.” Both of cardinal Martini’s contributions diverge on a number of points from the Church’s official teaching.

The second document:

But the second new document, the one on natural law, will be the very first of its kind. On a number of occasions Benedict XVI has indicated as the foundation of shared existence among all men the moral principles inscribed upon the heart of every man, and “spoken in an unmistakable way by the quiet but clear voice of conscience.” But even as prefect of the congregation of the doctrine of the faith, he never dedicated a specific document to this.

Amato explains:

“A Catholic, for example, cannot consent to legislation that introduces marriage between two persons of the same sex; this is contrary to biblical revelation and to the natural law itself. [...] The pope often cites natural law in his catecheses. Our congregation is preparing something on this topic, and to that end has already consulted all of the Catholic universities. Everyone’s responses are very encouraging, even those from the professors considered the most ‘difficult’. The natural law is very important, in part because it alone provides the foundation for productive interreligious dialogue.”

The volume of the documents of the CDF was also discussed by Archbishop Amato in his interview with the Italian Bishops Conference's newspaper.

The first 200 pages of the volume collect the documents released by the congregation when its prefects were the cardinals Alfredo Ottaviani and Franjo Seper. The next 400 pages collect the much more extensive and numerous texts from when Ratzinger was prefect. In Amato’s view, it is possible to speak of a “Ratzinger style” in the congregation.

“With him, there was an effort to extend and articulate the arguments in defense of contested truths of the faith, and also a desire to present reliable guidelines on the many challenges of contemporary culture.”

At the Vatican site, the CDF page has listings of doctrinal and disciplinary documents.

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