Search the NCBCblog

Loading...

Friday, December 5, 2014

The NCBC Supports: The Little Sisters of the Poor and Others Challenging Violations of their Conscience Rights

The National Catholic Bioethics Center has again been a signatory to several amicus briefs of late in support of sound and life giving health care policies: 

 The NCBC supports the state of Iowa and the Ruling of its Board of Medicine to protect women from abortions via telemedicine. Planned Parenthood has challenge these safety requirements and the case is before the Iowa Supreme Court. Dr. Marie Hilliard, is Director of Bioethics and Public Policy for The National Catholic Bioethics Center, where she files briefs such as the brief for Iowa (NCBC named on page 4) and she helps the Center fulfill its critical role in defending the human person and supporting the common good. 
(For more details on this issue, see: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/health/2014/09/16/planned-parenthood-of-the-heartland-iowa-supreme-court-telemedicine-abortion/15726317/.)


The NCBC has also firmly supported the Little Sisters of the Poor in their Fight for Religious Freedom, which is being Violated by the HHS Contraceptive Mandate. On Monday December 8th, 2014, the Little Sisters of the Poor will have their day in court before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through its Contraceptive Mandate, is requiring virtually all employers, regardless of their opposition on grounds of conscience, to provide to their employees through their benefit plans coverage of contraceptive drugs and devices, including abortifacients, as well as surgical sterilizations. The Little Sisters present perhaps the best and clearest example of a religious organization that is faced with an existential threat by the HHS Contraceptive Mandate 

A victory by the Little Sisters will send a clear message to the U.S. Supreme Court, and will increase the chances that other religious non-profits will be protected from the ruinous fines that would be imposed under the Mandate. A defeat could subject the Little Sisters to as much as $50 million in fines for following their conscience -- that would force them out of their significant ministry to the elderly and infirm, and also send an ominous message about the future of religious freedom in America. Please continue to hold the Little Sisters and their attorneys in your prayers.


The National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC) continues to support organizations and their rights to religious freedom which are continuously violated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Contraceptive Mandate. The NCBC joins other organizations committed to the protection of Religious Freedom in signing onto the following amicus briefs, in support of those employers who are legally challenging the violations of their conscience rights: 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

ACTION ITEM -- Join the NCBC in the Fight for Informed Consent and Protection of Organ Donors

Right on the heels of the Official Commentary given by NCBC Director of Public Policy, Dr. Marie Hilliard, concerning new living-donor transplant policies that: "Violate informed consent, donor and recipient safety, as well as human physical integrity." 

Dr. Marie Hilliard


Dr. Hilliard and the NCBC ask that you help us take action on this issue:


The Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN), the federally authorized body to develop public policy on safe organ donation and transplantation, has issued a request for public comment on their proposal entitled Policy to Implement the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network's Oversight of Vascularized Composite Allografts (VCAs).

As we know, the Catholic Church supports the voluntary charity of organ donation, as a gift of life. However, this proposal would allow living donors to donate hands and feet and facial tissue. The public comment of The National Catholic Bioethics Center is attached. The protections for the safety of the donor and recipient, true informed consent, and bodily integrity will be violated by this policy. Please have your voice heard by December 5, 2014, by e-mailing OPTN at publiccomment@unos.org, asking that this proposal be rejected, citing that you:

  • “Urge an entire rejection of this policy and a redrafting to address the blatant violations of informed consent, donor and recipient safety, and human physical integrity, as well as the prevention of bodily mutilation to the living donor. No living donor should be included in VCA donation policies.”

Thank you for helping to inform the regulators of public policy on the importance of such protections for the human person.

-- And thank you to Dr. Hilliard for her hard work on these issues!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Dr. Haas Reports from Rome -- Day 3 of the Colloquium

The President of The National Catholic Bioethics Center, Dr. John Haas, is in Rome this week to attend an international colloquium on the Complementarity of Man and Woman organized by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and co-sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Family, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.
Dr. Haas will also be attending the annual assembly of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Care for Healthcare Workers, for which he serves as a Consultor. 

Dr. Haas is providing daily reports of the proceedings of both those meetings for the benefit of those who are visitors to our website and social media sites. We will provide regular updates to you here on the Blog this week!

Click here to read about day 1 of the Humanum Colloquium.

Click here to read about Day 2 of the Humanum Colloquium

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The third day of the conference was a radical shift from the two previous days.  There were no papers in the morning.  Instead there was the Wednesday audience with Pope Francis for participants in the colloquium – and a few hundred other people.  It was a beautiful, clear day with a bright blue sky.  The participants in the conference were taken as a group and placed in chairs near the Pope.  Francis lived up to his image of being outgoing and freewheeling with the crowd, taking one baby after another in his arms and kissing them.  I asked a Swiss Guard if his job were more demanding now with this Pope, and he responded diplomatically, “It is certainly more interesting!”


A Swiss Guard checking credentials


Spotted at the Colloquium: The Honorable Mary Ann Glendon,
Professor of Law and former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See

Also spotted: Dr. John Garvey, President of Catholic University



Dr. Haas got to meet the new Archbishop of Sydney,
His Excellency Anthony Fisher, OP, at the Colloquium.



Father Scott Borgman (driving) was kind enough to take Dr. Haas to one of his appointments!



At 12:15, as others were heading to lunch, I reported to the Swiss Guards at St. Anne’s Gate of the Vatican to keep an appointment with my mentor, Pope Emeritus Benedict!  The Swiss Guards checked  my passport and then had a driver take me up to the convent in the Vatican Gardens which had been renovated to accommodate the Pope Emeritus.  We were first taken to a sitting room and offered a seat.  Shortly a religious sister came in and visited with me, asking me how I knew the Holy Father.  She said that Pope Emeritus would see me for 10 or 15 minutes.  



After a short time I was taken in an elevator to his apartments.  As I came in, he entered through a door across the room, walking slowly but steadily.  It was a great joy to see him again.  He sat on a couch in the room and I sat in a chair beside it.  He was very alert.  He asked about the work of the NCBC and even remembered projects with which we had collaborated.  He remembered having twice addressed the Bishops’ Workshops which are organized every other year by the NCBC and underwritten by the Knights of Columbus.  I showed him the material we had prepared for the next Workshop planned for February 2015, and he seemed most interested.  He has a remarkable memory.
He asked me about the HUMANUM conference I was attending and so was quite aware of what was going on.  He said it would have been inconceivable thirty years ago that there would be the need to defend marriage against the assaults of something such as same-sex marriage.  He said the current situation was a result of the collapse of Christian culture.   He spoke of the beauty of Catholic folk customs, so dear to him in Bavaria, which helped to nurture sound family life.  Indeed, he said it was important to nurture such customs in our day lest they die out.  We visited for about 40 minutes after which he gave me a commemorative medal and a holy card.  The convent sits on a hill above the dome of St. Peter’s.  The walk down the hill provided stunning views of the basilica – and the opportunity to reflect on the significant contributions Benedict XVI made to Catholic thought and practice.    

Dr. Haas and His Holiness Benedict, Pope Emeritus




The View of Saint Peter's Basilica from the residence of the Pope Emeritus




After lunch with some friends I headed back for the conclusion of the Humanum conference.

Passing Saint Peter's on the way to lunch


 Archbishop Luis Ladaria, SJ, Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, chaired the afternoon session.  The Archbishop made it clear that marriage of a man and a woman is a natural institution for which there is no substitute.  In the Church this natural institution becomes a supernatural, sacramental reality.  Archbishop Charles Chaput spoke with his customary clarity on the nature of marriage and the plans of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families.  As a conclusion to the colloquium, the Pentecostal minister Dr. Rivers and his wife Mrs. Jacqueline Cooke-Rivers delivered a rousing “Affirmation of Marriage”, taking turns in making declarations on the beauty of marriage and the unique and essential contribution it makes to society.    There was tremendous enthusiasm on the part of participants as the program concluded with renewed commitment to work in defense of marriage.

***

Check the NCBC Blog this week, and keep your eyes on our Facebook or Twitter accounts for notices of new posts. You won't want to miss these glimpses into the daily life of the Church in service to the world!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Dr. Haas Reporting from Rome -- Day 2 of the Colloquium

The President of The National Catholic Bioethics Center, Dr. John Haas, is in Rome this week to attend an international colloquium on the Complementarity of Man and Woman organized by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and co-sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Family, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.
Dr. Haas will also be attending the annual assembly of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Care for Healthcare Workers, for which he serves as a Consultor. 

Dr. Haas is providing daily reports of the proceedings of both those meetings for the benefit of those who are visitors to our website and social media sites. We will provide regular updates to you here on the Blog this week!

Click here to read about day 1 of the Colloquium.

Click here to read about day 3 of the Colloquium.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------



The second day of the conference began with intermittent heavy rain.  I would not have made it to the conference dry had it not been for the generosity of a couple from Benin who allowed me to share their umbrella.  Yvette and Cyrille Seke head a movement known as “Love Power” in English and “L’Ethique de l’Amour” in French.  They gave a presentation later in the afternoon.



The NCBC President with Yvette and Cyrille Seke (whose kindness kept Dr. Haas dry!)



The second day began very solemnly as the announcement was made that there had been an attack on a synagogue in Jerusalem during which three Americans and one Briton were killed.  Cardinal Jean-Luis Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, who was presiding over the morning session, called for a moment of prayer.  Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, who had spoken the day before, offered a moving prayer for peace and Hebrew prayers for the departed.


Cardinal Tauran then proceeded to open the conference observing that we could not avoid engaging in an interreligious analysis of contemporary challenges to marriage since marriage is a natural institution which is found in all societies and the assault against it is taking place in many different countries and cultures.  We must be in a common struggle to uphold the family, and in those societies in which marriage is under the most profound assault, we, as believers, must be guaranteed the right to live in accord with our beliefs about marriage. 


Bishop Michael Nazir’ Ali was the first speaker.  He is the former Anglican Bishop of Rochester in England, and comes from a Pakistani Muslim family.  He began by addressing the decline of family life and of legal support for marriage which has become common in contemporary western societies.  He said there are particular complications in England since the Church of England is still the established church and so its canon law still has the force of public law.  So there are virtually two parallel legal systems in England dealing with these issues.  He said that in secularized society, and he counted England, there has been a rejection of the understanding of a “natural” or “normative” family even though historical studies have shown that a union between a man and a woman open to children has indeed constituted “normative” marriage.  Sociological studies show the same.  There are important values and practical goods that can be provided by the Church, even in a secularized society.  One benefit would be marriage preparation which is not provided by the state, as well as preparation in “fathering” and “mothering”.  There was some irony in the presence of a bishop from the Church of England which is experiencing severe tensions with its daughter Anglican churches in Africa that continue to adhere to scriptural norms of sexual morality. 


The Bishop’s presentation was followed by two “witnesses”; Mr. Manmohan Singh, speaking to the Sikh tradition, and Dr. Munehiro Niwano, a Catholic in Japan, who offered the example of the strength a Buddhist couple drew from one another after the catastrophic earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power plant disaster that hit Japan a couple years ago. 


Mr. Manmohan with Msgr. Steve Lopes,who works for the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and was a
principle organizer of the Humanum Colloquium


One of the most gripping speakers of the conference was an African American woman, Dr. Jacqueline Cooke-Rivers from Harvard, who introduced herself as a daughter of the African “diaspora” and as a follower of Jesus Christ.  She movingly spoke of one of the most precious things stolen from black slaves by their owners during the period of slavery; marriage.  Black slaves longed for it, and upon freedom many immediately married.  But she then went on to speak of how governmental policies eventually came to undermine the black family.  In 1965 a report of the Labor Department was issued by Daniel Patrick Moynihan entitled: The Negro Family: the Case for National Action. The Moynihan Report showed a 25% rate of out-of-wedlock births and attributed it largely to the absence of fathers in the home.  It stated: "The steady expansion of welfare programs can be taken as a measure of the steady disintegration of the Negro family structure over the past generation in the United States".  There were proposals that governments should enact policies that would protect the family.  The opposite occurred.  The report was criticized as being demeaning to the black family, particularly to women, by stating that a significant source of the problem was the absence of the father in the home.  That, indeed, was and continues to be a major problem.  Many welfare programs actually resulted in a decline in the presence of a father in the home and this has been devastating for the black community.  Now the out-of-wedlock birthrate in the black community is 70%.  However, even in this disarray, and even as African American women bear children out of wedlock, they still long for stable marriage.  Dr. Cook-Rivers was particularly indignant that the gay movement had wrapped itself in the cloak of the civil rights movement.  She insisted that there is no equivalence whatsoever between the agenda of the homosexual community and the civil rights movement.


At the beginning of the second half of the morning sessions Cardinal Müller announced that Wael Farouq, who had spoken the day before, had requested to address the assembly.  Prof. Farouq said he was chosen by the other Muslims at the conference to speak on their behalf.  He said he had been part of the group that took over the square in Cairo to speak out against the brutal dictatorship of the Muslim Brotherhood.  He said when the Catholics in the crowd wanted to say mass, he said he and his fellow Muslims formed a protected area, a “church”, with their own bodies for them.  He said he saw Christians as brothers and sisters.  Speaking on behalf of the Muslims present he said, “We strongly condemn without reserve the violence against the innocent and all places of worship.  Our religion has been kidnapped by a very small group of radicals.”  One could see the pain in his face as he had to address the atrocities committed by those who claimed to be members of his religion.
The next speaker was Prof. Abdelwahab Maalmi who had served as the Ambassador of Morocco to the Holy See and is a professor international relations at the law faculty of the University Hassan II. 

The topic he addressed dealt with the relationship between women and society in contemporary Muslim countries and how those relations are regulated by both Sharia law and law.  In his mind, the notion of complementarity raised more problems than it solved because the important theme in Islam is not complementarity but rather equality.  The speaker presented complementarity as being opposed to equality.  In my opinion the speaker fundamentally misunderstood the understanding of complementarity developed by the conference.  Perhaps I misunderstood the interpreters!  He nonetheless made some interesting points about contemporary Islam and the place of women.  He said Islam had made great progress.  Women can be lawyers, physicians, professors, writers, but the Muslim woman is still in a situation of inferiority in private life because of Sharia law which dictates family policies.  He did not mention it but there is considerable variety in Muslim countries in the way in which women are treated.


The Rev. Dr. Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention spoke next saying that the fundamental question of our day is whether we will think of man as a machine whose parts can be altered and changed or a creation of God with specific ends and purposes inscribed in his very being.  Marriage is imbedded in the created order; marriage and family were not crafted by any human state.  As an Evangelical he said he was concerned with protecting marriage not only to contribute to human flourishing and a sound social order but also with the goal and meaning of the universe since the mystery of the universe is in Christ which is manifested in marriage, in the indissoluble union between Christ the bridegroom and His bride the Church.  In my opinion, Dr. Moore did not give a lecture; he rather delivered a rousing sermon which elicited shouts of “Amen, brother” from the Pentecostals and other Protestants present.  It was probably a first for the Synod Hall!  He had some great quotes which I have to paraphrase since I did not record him.  The sexual revolution is not a liberation but a new form of slavery in which women continue to be used and exploited for man’s benefit.  Immorality is not just naughtiness but a sermon, a sermon preaching a different message.  He said, “We must resist the will to power which would treat children as manufactured products or nuisances to be destroyed”.  He said there are those who tell us that contemporary society will not hear us if we do not accept and speak in its terms.  He went on, “The churches that adopted those positions are now deader than Henry VIII”.  That brought resounding applause but I could not help but wonder what the Anglican bishops present thought!


Cardinal Müller thanked him for his presentation and observed, “If you are standing at the precipice, to step back is the best way to progress”, which elicited laughter and applause from the assembly.
The next speaker was a Taoist, Mrs. Tsui-ying Sheng of Fu Jen University.  She spoke of the symbol ying/yang which permeates their religion and reflects the complementarity found throughout all the created order: day, night; darkness, light; man, woman; husband, wife.  She spoke of the beauty of harmonious married life and how the ying/yang accommodates, for example, one partner growing weak with the other growing stronger.


The afternoon session was presided over by Archbishop Augustine DiNoia, a Dominican and Adjunct Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  He pointed out that St. Thomas Aquinas, the great theologian of the Dominican Order, never used the word “complementarity” but he spoke to the reality of it.  The Archbishop expounded on St. Thomas’ teaching on the human person as being a single reality of body and soul.  The soul is created by God to be infused into a body created by Him to receive it.  The relationship between body and soul is complementary and one cannot exist without the other.  And the body which the soul will inform, will vivify, is ineluctably either male or female.  This makes complementarity an objective, incontrovertible reality in human existence.  And this complementarity is more than biological but permeates the full reality of what it is to be a human being.  Indeed, “sexuality extends from the tip of the toes to the top of the soul”.


The next speaker was the Rev. Dr. Richard Warren, a very popular author, preacher and pastor of one of America’s mega-churches, Saddleback Church in California with 25,000 members.  I have attended many conferences in the Vatican, and the papers are invariably quite scholarly and not infrequently boring.  It was a new experience to witness the Evangelical approach with great animation and moving oratory.


Not surprisingly, Pastor Warren said the first thing we must do to save marriage is “Affirm the authority of God’s Word”.  As Catholics we do the same but we also draw from sacred Tradition and the natural order.  He insisted, as would we, that “We build our lives on the unchanging truth of God’s Word, not on passing fads.  Truth is still truth no matter how many people deny it.”  He did address the natural order to a certain extent by pointing out that when couples make love, or even just show affection to one another, they secrete the hormone oxytocin which engenders feeling of happiness and satisfaction.  It is sometimes known as the “bonding hormone”.  He suggested activities which would lead to the secretion of oxytocin as one way to help preserve marriages!
In referring to the previous 20 presentations (!) of the conference, he said it was good to speak to the nature of marriage and the threats to it in contemporary society.  But he said, with great zest, that the REAL issue is, “What are we going to do about it?!” which generated loud applause.  I turned to Lord Windsor, a Catholic convert of the British royal family, who was sitting beside me and said, “A typically American approach”, at which he chuckled.  However, we both agreed that the good pastor raised a critically important point!  He went on to list very practical approaches that can be taken at the local congregational level to strengthen marriage.  One was forming small groups of married couples to share their experiences and to have couples with successful marriages mentor newly married young couples.


The program had presenters with more academic papers and “witnesses” who spoke to their own experiences of marriage.  The next speaker was President Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints, i.e., a Mormon leader.  He was older and a bit frail but he did what Pastor Warren had said should be done, he gave testimony to a happy marriage.  He simply told a love story of encountering his wife, falling in love, and raising a family.  He occasionally choked up a bit with emotion which made the presentation all the more moving.  His story was touched off by his telling us that, as he arrived for the conference, he had received news of the birth of their first great grandchild! The Mormons have been extraordinarily strong defenders of marriage and supporters of the larger movement in defense of marriage.


The final presentation of the day was provided by the handsome couple from Benin who had shared their umbrella with me that morning, Cyro and Cyra Seke.  They had a beautiful story of a love that overcame many obstacles.  He was a tribal prince from the north of the country, and she was from the south.  Apparently the north and south simply do not intermarry, and their marriage was fiercely opposed by both families, especially his.  His family tried to talk him into taking several wives but he had been educated in a Christian school and had converted.  He refused.  Despite the opposition of their families, they married.  In their culture a couple has children as soon as they marry.  They have gone 10 years without children which is seen by some as a punishment.  However, they took in a special needs child who had been rejected by his family so that they now have their own family.  They were engaging, taking turns telling their story – and entertaining, singing a couple love songs for us!  They truly provided a beautiful example of embracing true marriage despite great cultural opposition.


The day concluded with a panel of five experts.  One of them was Professor Robert George of Princeton University who has been particularly forceful in the defense of marriage.  He gave an impassioned appeal for rallying all the resources at our disposal on behalf of marriage.  He said the demand for gay marriage is not the cause of the current decline of marriage and family in our society but rather one of the effects of the devastation resulting from a culture of divorce and promiscuity.  He said to permit the attempted redefinition of marriage in the United State would lead to catastrophe.  All our attempts to work against divorce, promiscuity, out-of-wedlock births, co-habitation, increased drug use among the young will be in vain because true marriage, the basis of family life, will cease to exist in law.  The state should have no particular interest in regulating friendships and romantic relationships.  The social purpose of marriage is conjugal, to provide a mother and a father in a permanent bond for a child who is born from their union.  This social purpose is absolutely irreplaceable.


Professor Robert George


After the day’s program, on a walk along the walls of the Vatican City State on the way to the Vatican Museum, I spoke with a law professor. We spoke of Prof. George’s stern warning and of how urgent it was to continue the struggle for marriage. The law professor said that the loss of this struggle could be worse than the abortion one from a legal point of view. He said we can keep working against abortion and making it progressively less bad. However, it would be virtually impossible to undo the legal consequences that result from our failure in defense of marriage. How could one in the future contend with same-sex persons being “spouses” under law with all the legal and governmental benefits that accompany it? A remedy would be virtually inconceivable if the status of marriage was nationally awarded to same sex couples. So the day ended on a rather sobering note after some of the beautiful testimonies that had been given in the course of the day to married love.


***

Check the NCBC Blog this week, and keep your eyes on our Facebook or Twitter accounts for notices of new posts. You won't want to miss these glimpses into the daily life of the Church in service to the world!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Photos From Rome -- All the photos from Dr. Haas's Journey

Many of these photos will appear in the body of his daily reports from Rome and will be categorized and captioned, some will only be here and will remain unlabeled. This post will function as the full album for the time being!



Dr. John Haas with Archbishop Charles Chaput, who is an NCBC Board Member








NCBC Board Member, Mr. Zurlo
















Dr. Haas Reporting from Rome -- DAY 1 of the Colloquium

The President of The National Catholic Bioethics Center, Dr. John Haas, is in Rome this week to attend an international colloquium on the Complementarity of Man and Woman organized by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and co-sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Family, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.
Dr. Haas will also be attending the annual assembly of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Care for Healthcare Workers, for which he serves as a Consultor. 

Dr. Haas is providing daily reports of the proceedings of both those meetings for the benefit of those who are visitors to our website and social media sites. We will provide regular updates to you here on the Blog this week!

Click here to read about Day 2 of the Colloquium
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Dr. John Haas on HUMANUM:
The Complementarity of Man and Woman
An International Interreligious Colloquium
Vatican City

November 17 – 19, 2014


What led to this Colloquium were obviously the tremendous set-backs the institution of marriage and family have suffered recently in many economically advanced countries, especially the United States.  Unions have been legally recognized as marriages when they do not at all conform to the reality of marriage.  No-fault divorce has led to almost 50% divorce rates in many of these countries.  So-called reproductive technologies have led to “rental wombs” and the engendering of children in Petri dishes using gametes, or sex cells, that have been donated or sold so that children have no knowledge of or personal bonding with their biological fathers and sometimes not even with their mothers.  The Church is rightly alarmed by these developments since they will not, in the final analysis, lead to healthy, sound societies or human happiness.  I was fortunate to be invited to attend this conference and to bring with me the insights and work of The National Catholic Bioethics Center. 

Before 8:00 in the morning on Monday, participants lined up outside the Palace of the Holy Office which houses the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the dicastery principally responsible for the colloquium.  The morning was overcast and cool but spirits were high.  Our credentials had to be checked by the Rome police and then again by the Swiss guards who had lists of the invited guests.  We made our way inside the Vatican to the Paul VI Aula which can accommodate thousands for audiences with the pope and special events.  We proceeded to the second floor of the building where there is a modern, well-equipped auditorium that can hold about 400 people.  There is theater-style seating and video screens across the front of the auditorium on which are projected the speakers and slides if they have them for their presentations.  The auditorium was packed.  Everyone had to be in their seats by 8:45 since the Holy Father was to address the participants promptly at 9:00.  Much to my surprise, the Holy Father actually arrived on time and made his way to the stage as everyone stood and applauded.


As might be expected, Pope Francis gave a strong defense of the value of marriage and insisted on it as an objective reality.  He said it was the principal place where we can aspire to greatness because of the formation in love that we receive there.  Pope Francis has often spoken of our contemporary “throw-away” culture that even influences our treatment of human life.  He spoke of our living in a culture of the “temporary”.  However, he pointed out that in marriage the basic roles of men and women are “fixed” and cannot simply be manipulated however some in society may want.  He said that the culture of the temporary has brought spiritual devastation and a host of social ills and that those who have suffered the most are women, children and the elderly.  He said children have a right to grow up in a family with a mother and a father.  He said the Church has been somewhat slow to realize the extent to which our basic social institutions have been put at risk.  He said the permanent commitment to fruitful love actually corresponds to the deepest longings of the human heart.  Almost to stress the objective nature of the reality of marriage and the family, he departed from his text and looked at the participants and said, “A family is a family!”  And then he repeated, “A family is a family!”  In other words, don’t mess with reality!


And then to the delight of the Americans there, especially the Archbishop of Philadelphia, he said, “I wish now at this time to confirm that I will come to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families”.



Our Holy Father at the Humanum Colloquium


Pope Francis addresses the audience at the Colloquium



As he left the auditorium he went to the front rows to greet the various representatives of other Christian bodies and other religions.  And of course, I witnessed a trick used to stop a Pope in his tracks which my wife and I had used about thirty years earlier with St. John Paul II.  Someone came up with their baby and held him for the Pope to kiss and bless!  It worked thirty years ago with our infant son and it worked today!


I wanted to write these daily reports to share the riches being provided at the colloquium.  However, there were twenty presenters today, and you would weary of reading just as I would surely grow weary of writing it all up!  So I will try to share some high points and some particularly interesting insights.


The Opening Presentation was given by Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  In terms of the theme of complementarity the Cardinal pointed out that none of us can complete ourselves.  Alone we are incomplete.  The truth of this is seen in Genesis where creation culminates in the creation of man and woman, for the sake of one another.  They are called outside of themselves and in this way God actually manifests himself.  Sexual differentiation is not simply diversity; each understands oneself through the other.  Only in the union with the other does one become perfected.  The Cardinal pointed out that Greek myths thought that the differentiation between male and female actually was a punishment from the gods, and that men and women sought union with one another so that the differentiation could be overcome. 


In the Jewish and Christian tradition, however, the differentiation of male in female is the crown of creation.  It is necessary to pass on the image of God.  Male and female reveal the presence of our Creator, and we reflect Him in that we have a relational identity as He Himself does.  The overflow of the spouses’ love is the child.  And then the Cardinal said, “The state cannot love children!”  The family can never be replaced.
The big surprise of the colloquium was the showing of extraordinarily high quality videos that were produced on the theme of the conference, each lasting perhaps ten minutes.  The first one, “The Destiny of Humanity”, was shown following Cardinal Mueller’s presentation.


After the video there were four presenters from a wide variety of backgrounds who “witnessed” in their comments to a common awareness the beauty and the good of complementarity.  First was Wael Farouq, President of the Tawasul Cultural Center in Cairo.  He quoted passages from the Koran pointing to complementarity in God’s creation.  Aware of the terrible crisis in the Middle East, he insisted that the unspeakable brutality of the ISIS fighters resulted from their not following the Koran and from the fact that they most likely an inadequate Islamic formation in their families!


Pastor Johann Christoph Arnold of the Bruderhof Communities, who live in great simplicity with large families, gave a very personal witness to his 50 years of marriage and the blessings of children and grand children.  A handsome young Spaniard, Ignacio Ibarzabal, Executive Director of Grupo Sólido said the members of his group are “launching a rebellion against promiscuity and infidelity”!  The next speaker, Dr. Harshad N. Sanghrajika, a Jainist Hindu, showed that even their polytheistic religious beliefs acknowledged the complementary character of reality itself and of the family.
The coffee break provided great opportunity for mingling, sharing business cards, and speaking about future projects.  I was able to visit with two of the board members of the NCBC are present at the Colloquium: Archbishop Charles Chaput and Mr. Gene Zurlo.

Dr. John Haas with NCBC Board Member, Archbishop Charles Chaput


NCBC Board Member, Mr. Gene Zurlo at left.

The speaker after the break was Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of the UK and the Commonwealth.  He established great rapport with the audience by saying that we were actually gathered as a great extended family in defense of the family.  He attributed the survival of Judaism and its ability to survive the most horrific of persecutions to the fact that their religion is based in the family.  Every week at sundown they celebrate the Sabbath together in the home.  He had some interesting observations, such as that the meeting of opposites generates diversity which is good for society, and that pair bonding was necessitated by human offspring who, among all mammals, need care and nurture from both parents for a considerable period of time. When he finished he received a standing ovation from the participants.  After everyone was seated again, Cardinal Mueller leaned over to him and said with great humor, “I thought my presentation was the best one today until I heard yours!” 


Two more presentations of witness followed.  The first was quite scholarly and more than mere “witness”.  Sister Mary Prudence Allen, RSM, a scholar of the thought of St. John Paul II spoke of his development of the concept of an integral complementarity.  She used the occasion to denounce the distortions of the new gender politics which would deny, unbelievably, a biological basis for identity insisting that gender is simply culturally determined.  She said she preferred to speak of gender reality and its biological foundations.


The following speaker was a Bhuddist from Japan who claimed that society today is suffering from the loss of a knowledge of true marriage.  He insisted that maternal love is an absolute reality which flows from the mother.  Unfortunately he used technical Bhuddist terms for various schools of thought without clarifying them which made it quite difficult to follow the lecture.


Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, presided over the afternoon session.  He pointed out that there is no such thing as an isolated “human being”.  We only encounter human beings in relation, most fundamentally human beings as man and woman.  God Himself chose to enter the world in the context of a family where He was born and educated as a child.  Because the family is the primal institution of society, the future of the world itself revolves around the family.


Following the presentation by Cardinal Koch Dr. Janne Haaland Matláry, former Secretary of State of Norway, addressed the topic of “The Family – Still the Basic Unit of Society”.  She pointed out that she now deals with security and defense issues for the Norwegian government which, she said, were much easier to deal with than gender and family politics in Scandinavia!  Norway has only a 1% Catholic population and is very secularized, providing an example of how far secularizing trends can take a country.  Government policies are still heavily influenced by Kinsey and gender ideology, and the country suffers from a 44% divorce rate.  She said it was a shame there was even a need for conference such as this one where academic presentations had to be made to state the obvious!  This had all come about in the last twenty years.  Sperm donation has been legal in Norway since 1930 but recently a law was passed that children have a right to know who their biological father is.  She said this has led to its virtual disappearance but in Denmark it continues as a thriving business.  She pointed out that in Sweden there are kindergartens in which male and female names and pronouns may not be used with the children.  They want to deconstruct heterosexual hegemony and bring about a normless society.


Another gripping video followed her presentation: “The Cradle of Life and Love: A Mother and Father for the for the World’s Children”.  The next speaker was Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, Primate of the Anglican Church of Nigeria.  It is rather well known that the Christians in Africa tend to be quite conservative in their beliefs, practices and interpretation of Scripture.  He spoke of the disorder of homosexual practices and their deviation from Scripture.  He said the challenges facing Christian marriage in Africa were unique because they had to deal with traditional beliefs and practices, such as polygamy, on the one hand and secularizing trends from the West on the other.  Also, marriages contracted in Africa tend to involve the extended families as well and not just the couple who are marrying.  This has a stabilizing effect on the social order.


The next speaker was Dr. Rasoul Rasoulipour, Professor of Letters and Human Sciences at the Kharamzi University.  At these kinds of gatherings in Rome one cannot help but be impressed by the reach of the Catholic Church and its ability to bring together people of the most varied backgrounds.  He began his address with the formal Muslim invocation, “In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful”.  He then brought greetings “on behalf of my Shia colleagues in Teheran” which in some respects made one all the more aware of their conflicts with the Sunni Muslims in the Middle East and with the United States.  But he was there to speak of the family and only indirectly alluded to the turmoil in his region of the world, saying that “In such crazy, mad times, it is good to have such religious leaders as Pope Francis”.  He quoted the Koran attesting to the family as ordained by God.  He said that the “family is the first sanctuary of love” but then spoke of the fact that women may not attend public prayers in Iran by pointing out that the “woman’s mosque is the home” and that the “home is the greatest place for practicing the presence of God”.


Bishop Jean Lafitte, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Family, presented a beautiful paper on “The Sacramentality of Human Love according to St. John Paul II”.   I first came to know Bishop Lafitte when he was a priest working for the Pontifical Academy for Life. His presentation was perhaps the most “spiritual” and “theological” of the day with his focus on Ephesians 5 which speaks of marriage reflecting the sacrificial love of Christ for His Church and the indissoluble bond between Christ and His Church.  At the end of his talk he obliquely and indirectly referred to the controversy which had been the center of much debate at the recent Extraordinary Synod of the family, i.e., whether divorced and remarried Catholics can receive communion.


At the end of the day there was a “Scholars’ Panel” presided over with great verve by Professor Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard Law School and former Ambassador of the United States to the Holy See.  Professor Glendon used to serve on the board of the NCBC, and we were able to reminisce a bit about our former collaboration.  She did a masterful job of summarizing and synthesizing what had been presented throughout the day.  She touched on a point raised many times; our marriage culture is deteriorating and those who suffer the most are the weak and vulnerable.  She pointed out that “marriage can’t go it alone” and needs the support of the state.  What is currently happening is that the state no longer offers such support but is actually placing the family increasingly in jeopardy.


The scholars on the panel included a marriage law professor from Brigham Young University, a Sephardic Jewish rabbi, a theologian, a Mexican sociologist, and finally a physician/psychiatrist from the University of California at Irvine.  Of that final session what struck me the most was the psychiatrist insisting that the claims of the “Gender Movement” are simply repudiated by “Gender Reality”.  One simply cannot deny the biological bases of gender, from the affects of hormones to the structure of individual cells, from the way men and women process face recognition to their awareness of orientation.  There was some animated discussion which included reflection on how those who advocate “traditional marriage” can once again engage the culture, perhaps using phrases such as “Pro-family is pro-poor”, expressing succinctly that marriage and family are the most effective means of overcoming poverty.  The colloquium adjourned at 6:30. 


In the course of the day participants not infrequently expressed incredulity that there would even be the need to organize such an international conference in support of a reality, marriage and family, that was basically unquestioned twenty years ago.


***
Check the NCBC Blog this week, and keep your eyes on our Facebook or Twitter accounts for notices of new posts. You won't want to miss these glimpses into the daily life of the Church in service to the world!

Friday, November 14, 2014

COMING NEXT WEEK: NCBC President Reporting From Rome

The President of The National Catholic Bioethics Center, Dr. John Haas, will be travelling to Rome next week to attend an international colloquium on the Complementarity of Man and Woman organized by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and co-sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Family, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.

NCBC President, Dr. John Haas

Later in the week, Dr. Haas will be attending the annual assembly of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Care for Healthcare Workers, for which he serves as a Consultor. The Council is headed by Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski who will direct the presentations on The Person with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Animating Hope. Dr. Haas intends to provide daily reports of the proceedings of both those meetings for the benefit of those who are visitors to our website. The reports will allow our readers to be eye-witnesses to the efforts of the Church in the defense and strengthening of marriage and in service to the sick and suffering through her healthcare ministries throughout the world. We will provide regular updates to you here on the Blog next week!


So please, check the NCBC Blog next week, and keep your eyes on our Facebook or Twitter accounts for notices of new posts. You won't want to miss these glimpses into the daily life of the Church in service to the world.