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Authoritarian but not authoritative?

March 9, 2017
Alex M. Saunders
San Carlos

Reading the opinion article on the church’s resolution of bioethical questions, by Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk (Feb. 23), one must ask, “What is wrong with this message?” One answer is “Everything historical in the article is true, but needs further interpretation.”

Take as example the quote from Pope Pius XII: “…. artificial insemination is immoral and absolutely unlawful.” Put it in context of the hundreds of statements Pius XII made to medical professionals and researchers, and since he had no science background whatever, the opinion he expressed in that one speech could not have been personal. It expressed the opinion in the church at that time.

Let us take four more statements made about the same pope (all from Wikipedia). (1) “Pius XII was very careful not to close any doors prematurely. He was energetic on this point and regretted the case of Galileo”; (2) “To Pius XII, science and religion were heavenly sisters, different manifestations of divine exactness, who could not possibly contradict each other over the long term”; (3) Pope Pius XII himself established a new policy for more liberal investigations by theologians; (4) “Pope Pius XII often reconsidered previously accepted truth, thus he was first to determine that the use of pain medicine in terminally ill patients is justified, even if this may shorten the life of the patient, as long as life shortening is not the objective itself.”

The same pope who made an opinion 60 years ago, with knowledge of that day, was willing to change. Would he now change, because religion and science are in the process of resolving contradictions? For science and religion to converge, new policy has to be established. That will only happen if the church is willing to substitute theologians for “church leaders” in the discussion with medical professionals. The leaders to whom Father Pacholczyk refers may give authoritarian but not authoritative guidance.

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