Pope Francis’ recent interviews in America magazine, and with atheist Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari in La Repubblica, have “gone viral” since their publication. Unfortunately, the level of selective reporting and of skewed reading is also off the scale!
There are the jubilant headlines announcing that the Pope is telling pro-lifers to stop ‘obsessing’ about abortion, and that he is shifting moral teachings relating sexuality and marriage. Then there are angry remarks from bloggers inside the Church who have micro-analysed Francis’ remarks and see “behind them a slap in the face for all those who have fought the culture wars in defence of traditional Catholic teachings.”
The disruption and social experimentation involved in surrogacy arrangements take on even more serious social concerns when those arrangements involve what is called “reproductive tourism” and globalised commercial interests. On this issue, the League’s bioethical voice can find a common cause with other ethicists and social commentators who may not share all our principles regarding the inherent value of “nascent human life” (as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI succinctly titled it).
In 2011, the Tasmanian Catholic Women’s League (CWL) prepared a detailed submission to the Tasmanian Parliament which voiced serious concerns about the risks of “genealogical bewilderment” for children and exploitation of vulnerable women within the state and beyond. Their submission also decried a state endorsed “surrogacy arrangement…. which intentionally deprives children of the opportunity to be conceived, carried in the womb, and raised by a natural mother and a natural father.”
In 1991 the Australian political scientist, sociologist and historian, Paul Duffy SJ, concluded his major study1 of the role and nature of the media by arguing that if Catholics are to take the Gospel seriously, they also needed to take the media seriously.
Pope John Paul II surprised many when he affirmed the insights of over a century of women’s activism: “Women’s dignity has often been unacknowledged and their prerogatives misrepresented; they have often been relegated to the margins of society and even reduced to servitude. This has prevented women from truly being themselves and it has resulted in a spiritual impoverishment of humanity.” (Letter to Women #3)
The words and actions of Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI surely affirm, and inspire us all in the pursuit of the League’s mission of educating, promoting and defending the dignity of all our fellow human beings—whether elderly, pre-born, disabled, or hale and hearty.
The spontaneous gesture by Pope Francis to leave his papal entourage so that he could kiss a disabled man was a bioethics homily beyond words. The responding surprised delight on the man’s face, and those around him in St Peter’s Square, was a powerful visual counter-sign to a world where pregnancies are screened and the challenging end-of-lives patients are hastened to their death.
In his third encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (Love in Truth, 2009), Pope Benedict XVI urges the societies of the world and the Church herself to take a “new trajectory of thinking … in order to arrive at a better understanding of the implications of our being one family” (n.35). This need to re-imagine the Church’s social mission seems more urgent than ever, especially as Christianity becomes caricatured or unheard in the midst of the often strident debates about human rights and equality, bioethical issues, asylum seekers, humane and sustainable economies, and what Benedict XVI calls the ‘ecology’ of love, sexuality and marriage.
There is distinct air of both surprise and hope at the announcement this week that Father Paul Bird, the regional head (provincial) of the Redemptorists will be the eighth Catholic Bishop for the Catholic Diocese of Ballarat.
It is interesting that commentators and bloggers from different theological quarters in the church have been united in their positive reception of the news.
Often the ethical, cultural and legislative campaigns for euthanasia are so unremitting that those many people defending the sanctity of life suffer a type of campaign “fatigue”.
Symptoms of this fatigue can include existential burn-out and a type of ethical depression. We can start to believe that those campaigning for euthanasia and assisted suicide have all the celebrities, all the progress, all the funding, all the media headlines and all the emotional energy. It is worth discussing just a few of the reasons for this experience.
In April this year, an independent and cross-party U.K. Parliamentary group released the Report of its Inquiry into Online Child Protection. The Inquiry was conducted not only with the working team of Conservative, Labour and cross-bench members, but was supported by 60 other British Parliamentarians. It was prompted by some of the findings of the 2011 Report Letting Children Be Children: Report of the Independent review of the Commercialisation and Sexualisation of Childhood (October 2011).
The last few decades have witnessed a rising tide of societal outrage and grief over the neglect or evasion of cases of child sexual abuse within once trusted institutions—the scouts, schools or churches. People question why it is that time and time again those in authority prevaricated, ignored the evidence or were simply too perplexed to face their suspicions squarely. These questions are justified.
At the same time, there is evidence of a disturbing double standard within the same sections of the public who would lynch all priests and school teachers for the crimes of a few.
Academics, media commentators and even ordinary members of the public increasingly assume these days that the population is divided into two distinct camps—those who are “believers” on one hand and those who are “unbelievers” on the other. The increasingly belligerent “new atheists” use this misconstrual to argue for the exclusion of the “believers” from public discourse and at the same time argue for the benevolent “neutrality” of the “non-believers”.
Associate Professor Nicholas Tonti-Filippini is something of an Australian landmark. He is currently the Associate Dean and Head of the Bioethics Department at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Melbourne.
In an earlier blog, I wrote about a series of seminars that Professor Tonti-Filippini has organized in different parts of Melbourne, in order to outline his concerns about end-of-life decisions.
The Journal of Medical Ethics recently published a paper titled “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?” that, as the title implies, explores the ethics of killing newborn children. The authors argued that there’s no difference between aborting an unborn child and killing newborns.
Was it an act of cynical ethical kite flying or was it a rather clever exercise in satire?
Amidst all the outrage and horror that greeted the publication, it is understandable that some readers of the venerable British Journal of Medical Ethics simply did not believe that the article in this year’s March 2nd edition, entitled bluntly: “After-birth Abortion: why should baby live?”, was for real.
“Told that I would die within five years (in 1977) and having become interested in philosophy, I saw no harm in making the latter my principal interest rather than following a career-orientated path.” So writes Associate Professor Nicholas Tonti-Filippini, with disarming understatement, in the introduction to his timely new book titled: “About Bioethics: Philosophical and Theological Approaches.”
The book itself is a very rare event—a very readable and at times very personal reflection on the pressing “life issues” by one of the most recognizable and active public ethicists in Australia. It is doubly rare, since it represents the thinking of a bioethicist who says: “For me the central concept of Bioethics is respect for every member of the human family” and who has defended and articulated this universal norm in the public square, while making no secret of being “primarily motivated by Christ’s instruction that we should love God and one another.”