Thursday, July 01, 2004

No Justification to Fund Embryonic Research

That's the conclusion of a Letter to the Editor in today's Chicago Tribune by David Prentice, a Professor of Life Sciences at Indiana State University.

He writes in response to another letter, published last week, which regurgitated the current agitprop being circulated in the press in favor of embyonic stem-cell research. Embryonic stem-cell research creates human embryos for the purpose of destroying them in order to harvest the stem-cells, and is therefore morally illicit.

The advocates of embryonic stem-cell research typically either:

(a) engage in dishonesty by failing to differentiate it from adult stem-cell procedures, which are morally licit.

or (b) Justify it by promising all sorts of benefits to be gained in the future, everything from curing cancer, Parkinson's disease, liver disease, etc. What they don't say is that all of these promised gains are purely speculative, and there is little actual scientific evidence to back up those claims.

On the other hand, adult stem-cell research is rapidly reaching the status of proven technology that is already producing results.

This is one of the most important life-issues of our time, so I think it's important to read what Dr. Prentice writes:

David Prentice, Professor of Life Sciences
Indiana State University
Published July 1, 2004

Terre Haute, Ind. -- Jose Javier Otero of Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine argued that embryonic stem-cell research offers a promising future while adult stem cells are a myth ("Voice of the people, June 22).

As a scientist, it is sad that Otero is seemingly so uninformed about the facts.

It is simply incorrect to assert that adult stem cells are not capable to become any tissue in the body.

This is repeating an outdated litany.

The most noteworthy of several published papers indicating the extensive transforming abilities of adult stem cells is by Catherine Verfaillie's research group at the University of Minnesota. Her research showed (using the same gold standard experiment used for embryonic stem cells) that a type of bone marrow stem cell called MAPC could generate every tissue in the body.

In fact there are more than 200 other scientific references over the last few years that attest to the fact that adult stem cells cannot only generate other cell types but are effective in repairing tissue damage in animals and in human patients.

The exact mechanism of repair is still unclear.

The repair sometimes occurs by fusing with and reinvigorating the tissue, sometimes by generating new tissue cells from the adult stem cells and sometimes by simply stimulating the tissue to begin its own regeneration.

One of the major difficulties with embryonic stem cells is how to direct them into becoming differentiated and thus suitable for transplant.

Most studies show production of the cells result in a mixture of cell types (rather than producing the one cell type needed) and consequently are totally unsuitable for transplant.
Otero is incorrect in asserting that those few differentiated embryonic stem cells that are able to be produced do not form tumors.

A recent article published in the journal Diabetologia explains how researchers attempting to make insulin-secreting cells showed that such differentiated embryonic cells still formed tumors in mice.

Otero rightly indicated that lifting current restrictions on federally funded embryonic stem-cell research would not result in cures tomorrow.

Unfortunately he mistakenly suggested that the current restrictions on funding human embryo research contribute to the misery of suffering patients and their families.

The government has invested in this research, with the Bush administration pouring in more than $20 million to date.

In fact, animal embryonic stem-cell research has been open to funding for more than 20 years, yet there is still little to show for the investments.

The science has demonstrated no justification for putting additional funding or destroying more embryos for such experimentation.

Canonical Complaint Filed Against John Kerry

A canon lawyer from California, Marc Alexander Balestrieri, filed a complaint on June 14 in the Tribunal of the Archdiocese of Boston against Senator John Kerry.

The complaint, known canonically as a "denunciation", charges Kerry with, among other things, the Public Ecclesiastical Crime of Heresy, Immediate Formal Cooperation in Heresy, Abjection of the Sacred Species, and Grave Harm to Public Morals and Contempt for The Faith and Ecclesiastical Authority".

While I'm not a canon lawyer, the complaint seems very thorough, both in its recitation of the facts and its citation of the relevant canons. The recitation of facts begins as follows:
It is an undisputed fact, externally verifiable, that the Defendant is one of the most visible, notorious and vocal members of the United States Senate to advocate and support the right to choose murder. In his first Senate speech in 1985, Defendant advocated legal abortion. He has voted to delay federal funds to hospitals - including Cathlic ones, that refuse to perform abortions...He has consistently opposed a ban on partial-birth abortions, and declared that "there is no such thing as a partial birth"...Between 1995 and 2003, defendant has a record of voting 100% in favor of the "right to choose" murder.

Perhaps the most explosive charge in the complaint is towards the end:
Therefore, Defendant Kerry, by receiving the Sacred Species with advertence of the ecclesiastical prohibition affecting him as a pro-choice politician, and doing so in the perseverant state of juridically presumptive grave sin, has exhibited that voluntary and grave contempt inherent in the crime of Abjection of the Consecrated Species envisaged by Can. 1367 CIC. As such he has incurred a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See.

What is important to note here is that, as I understand it, Mr. Balestrieri is not arguing that by being pro-choice simpliciter, Sen. Kerry has incurred the penalty of excommunication. He is arguing that, because Kerry has been instructed and publicly admonished regarding his stance, and has been warned that he should not receive communion, his perseverance in going to communion in spite of that warning renders him excommunicate.

I am sending it around to a couple of canonists I know to get their opinions. I'll be interested to know what they think.

It will also be interesting to see what happens to this complaint. Canon lawyers explain, in this Washington Times story, that the Archdiocese of Boston is not obliged to hear the case:
Charles M. Wilson, director of the St. Joseph Foundation in San Antonio, which has filed numerous complaints in church courts across the country on behalf of Catholic laity, doubts the Boston Archdiocese will respond to the case.

The weak point of a "denunciation" suit, he said, is that the bishop need not take action. Usually a bishop will first investigate the case and determine whether the charges have substance, Mr. Wilson said, but Archbishop Sean O'Malley of Boston is under no obligation to prosecute the accused.

However, if Boston refuses to hear the case, Balestrieri has the right to appeal it to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This case, it seems to me, puts Archbishop O'Malley on the hot seat: will he brave the firestorm of indignant CINO Democrat opinion by hearing the case, or risk appearing pusillanimous by kicking the case upstairs?

(Thanks to Chateau Du Meau and Mark Shea for the links.)


Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Archbishop Burke of St. Louis Writes This:
The “intolerant secularism,” which tells a Catholic politician that he may not act according to his conscience, characterizes the exercise of the bishop’s pastoral responsibility as a violation of the legitimate autonomy of the political sphere from the church. Right reason, on the contrary, tells us that a bishop, if he truly cares for the flock, must admonish Catholic politicians “who choose to depart from church teaching on the inviolability of human life in their public life” regarding “the consequences for their own spiritual well being, as well as the scandal they risk by leading others into serious sin” (Living the Gospel of Life, No. 32). Once again, it must be noted that the bishop always has before his eyes the most fundamental good of life from the moment of conception.

...[F]or the Catholic politician to receive Communion when he or she has publicly violated the moral law in a grave matter like procured abortion risks leading others into thinking that they can accept procured abortion with a right conscience. In such a case, if the Catholic politician does not recognize the lack of the proper disposition to receive Communion, then the church herself must refuse the sacrament, in order to safeguard the worthy reception of the sacrament and to prevent a serious scandal among the faithful... After I had set forth the church’s discipline in the matter during my service as bishop of La Crosse, many Catholics and non-Catholics alike wrote to thank me for making clear what had been very confusing for them. The teaching and discipline that I set forth is not in any way new, and it should not be exploited as a political tool by anyone.

And, in response to Archbishop Burke's clear and compelling statement, many people wrote letters to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which noted that "We received an extraordinarily large volume of letters in response to Archbishop Raymond L. Burke's comments last week on Catholics and politicians who support abortion rights. A total of 57 letters were critical of the archbishop; 21 supported him."

Well, there you go! A majority of the letters disagreed with Burke, so he must be wrong!

These letters to the editor exhibited a predictable array of confusion and fuddlement:
As practicing Catholics, we were disappointed to find out we can no longer vote Democrat without being condemned by the church.

No, you just can't vote for pro-abortion zealots who never heard of an abortion they couldn't justify. You're perfectly free to vote for pro-life Democrats, while a few still exist.
...Is Archbishop Raymond Burke telling us to vote Republican?

No. Not even close. Please re-read his statement.

...Many of us, while not necessarily Democrats, believe that the Democratic ideology best expresses the majority of our views and priorities. Among other things, the Democratic Party often excels in areas such as serving the poor and homeless with health care, social services and basic needs - values grounded in our faith and church teachings.

All of those assertions are arguable. And all of them involve issues of prudential judgment on which Catholics can in good conscience disagree. And none of those issues come close to equalling the moral gravity of abortion. Our bishops have made clear that being "right" on other issues...
"can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life...All direct attacks on innocent human life, such as abortion and euthanasia, strike at the... foundation of the dignity of human life".

In other words we must take the defense and protection of the unborn as the starting point, the sine qua non of our pro-life ethic. Because the protection of innocent human life is fundamental, and the prohibition on abortion so absolute, the US bishops warn that "failure to protect and defend life in its most vulnerable stages renders suspect any claims to the 'rightness' of positions in other matters..."
Has the archbishop overlooked the good these programs do for our community?

I doubt it. But he recognizes that giving kids free school lunches does not make up for slaughtering thousands of other kids daily in the womb.

Of course, there's the de rigeur letter from the "God-is-a warm-and-fuzzy-puppy-dog" set:
After 50 some years, I admit my catechism lessons have gotten a bit fuzzy. However, I recall that Jesus was a loving, caring God who urged us to help each other. That would include fellow adults and children who suffer or die from muscle diseases, cancers, diabetes, paralysis, Parkinson's disease and such.
.
Yes, that's right. God will countenance any sort of monstrosity or outrage as long as you want to "help each other". But don't unborn human beings count as those "others" who we should help? I guess not. Too bad. :-(

The faithful have been fed milk and pablum for thirty years by the go-along-get-along American CatholicTM establishment. Now that some of our shepherds are giving them the spiritual equivalent of steak, it's not surprising that some are finding it somewhat indigestible. There will be more reactions like this before things improve.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Democrats Literally Aborting Themselves Out of Existence

A fascinating study by Larry L. Eastland at Opinionjournal.com shows how the Democrats' fanatical embrace of abortion is causing them to kill themselves off:
• Republicans have fewer abortions than their proportion of the population, Democrats have more than their proportion of the population. Democrats account for 30% more abortions than Republicans (49% vs. 35%).

• The more ideologically Democratic the voters are (self-identified liberals), the more abortions they have. The more ideologically Republican the voters are (self-identified conservatives), the fewer abortions they have.

This isn't particularly surprising given the core constituencies of both political parties. But translating percentages into numbers for the purpose of evaluating their impact on politics makes the importance of these numbers real. It's one thing to quote percentages and statistics, it's quite another to look at actual human beings. For example:

• There are 19,748,000 Democrats who are not with us today. (49.37 percent of 40 million).

• There are 13,900,000 Republican who are not with us today. (34.75 percent of 40 million).

• By comparison, then, the Democrats have lost 5,848,000 more voters than the Republicans have.

Eastland's article spells out in black and white that the Democratic Party's worship of Moloch is literally self-destuctive.

An object lesson in the truth of Mark Shea's dictum "Sin makes you stupid."

(Thanks to Mark Shea for the link.)

For Freedom Christ Has Set Us Free

Homily for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle C


St. Paul tells us "For Freedom Christ has set us free". We are meant to be free, but Sin gets in the way of that - it is an obstacle between us and God, like a wall or barrier in our way.

Christ came to conquer sin, so that we would have no more obstacles between us and God. That is the freedom that St. Paul talks about: the freedom to love God and be loved by Him, without our own pride and selfishness getting in the way. Only in Christ are we truly free.

We are given freedom so that we can share in the work of Christ, truly be part of His work in the Church and the world. But freedom can be abused. St. Paul warns us against this, saying "do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love.

St. Paul tells us that the Spirit and the flesh are opposed, and St. Paul tells us elsewhere what he means by "serving the flesh": some of the things he mentions are obvious, like impurity, licentiousness or drunkenness. But others he lists are not so obvious, like idolatry, enmity, anger, or envy.

The fact is, that every time we turn away from God back to ourself, every time we say "me first", we are turning back to the flesh, and away from the Spirit. St. Augustine summed it up when he said "the one who lives according to the flesh is the one who lives for himself".

The fact is, we all live in this tension between living for the Spirit and living for ourselves. We all would like to adjust or "tweak" the gospel, just a little bit, to suit our own comfort or priorities. And that's what Jesus is talking about in our Gospel. Jesus meets these people who say "I will follow you", but then say, in effect, "oh,wait a minute, there's one other thing." They want to follow Jesus on their terms, not His.

We want to submit the Gospel to our judgment, rather than submit our judgment to the gospel. So are we really willing to follow Jesus "wherever he goes"?

This problem is with us today in every aspect of our lives, even our public life. There are a number of politicians who call themselves Catholic, but yet put themselves at odds with the Church in fundamental issues of morality, by supporting things like abortion or same-sex marriage. The Church teaches, and has always taught, that such things are intrinsically and always wrong, and yet they maintain that it is possible to support and work for laws permitting such things, and still be a "good" Catholic. But what they are doing is trying to adjust or "tweak" the Gospel of Christ to suit themselves, or what they think the world expects of them.

In order to justify their position, they frequently appeal to their "freedom of conscience". When they do this, they demonstrate that either they are confused, or that they are dishonest, and hope you are confused.

The way these politicians refer to their conscience, they make it sound as though the conscience is simply "whatever I happen to feel strongly about." And I imagine that many people think of it that way. But that isn't what the conscience is at all. The conscience is a judgment, a judgment about what is right and wrong, made according to reason. The conscience is not just my own strongly felt opinion.

Our consciences have to be formed, that is, shaped and guided. And if we call ourselves Christians, they must be shaped and guided according to the mind of Christ. St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans that we must "put on Christ". That means Christ must guide our judgments, Christ must guide our priorities, Christ must guide our values, and Christ must guide our decisions, whether they be decisions about how we raise our children, spend our money, or order our political lives. And if we want to know the mind of Christ, we must look to the Gospel, and to the Church that Christ Himself founded, through which we have that Gospel.

We say that the Church is the Body of Christ. That means that when the Church teaches, she does so with the voice and with the mind of Christ. So politicians, and all of us, have a duty to form our consciences, to form our judgments about what is right and wrong, and to make decisions, according to the teaching of the Church.

Now, this is sometimes difficult. I know, firsthand. While I was in the seminary, and even before that, I came across teachings of the church that challenged me, that I found difficult to accept. I struggled with a number of issues of Church teaching over the years, and, every time, after study and prayer, I've discovered that it's the Church that is right, and I'm the one who needed to deepen or change my understanding. I've learned that we must approach the Church's teaching with a spirit of humility, as one needing to be taught, rather than as one who is going to teach or "correct" the Church.

So it is not only incorrect, it is in fact absurd, to say "I know the Church says that X is wrong, but I will support it anyway, because my conscience tells me it is right". Such a person hasn't truly formed his or her conscience according to the mind of Christ, within the church, as we are called to. The most charitable thing you can say about such a person is that he is confused.

A Catholic politician, or anyone else, who holds that he can be a "good Catholic" and yet go against Church teaching on such fundamental moral issues as abortion is like the man in the gospel who says "I will follow you wherever you go... but first there's one other thing..." That's giving in to the temptation, a temptation we all face, to try to conform the gospel to ourselves, rather than ourselves to the gospel.

And if someone were to persist in such a course even after being corrected, as some of these politicians unfortunately have, then I can only remind them, and you, of the words of the gospel: "No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God."