‘Thanks for Actively Defending Life,’ President of Pontifical Academy for Life Tells US Bishops

Archbishop Paglia Speaks to Bioethics workshop held by US Bishops in Dallas

Pope Francis hugs a baby during his first day at Turin

PHOTO.VA - OSSERVATORE ROMANO

The President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, reported Vatican Radio, has thanked US bishops for their commitment to “actively defend human life and the dignity of the person.”

Speaking to a bioethics workshop held by the bishops of the United States in Dallas, Texas on Monday, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia said: “We must be very clear-headed and resolute in confronting the contradictions of extreme individualism and moral relativity that put at risk the humanity of that freedom and personal dignity.”

The prelate also gave three examples of areas in which ethical considerations will be crucial in the near future:

Below is the Vatican Radio-provided full text of Archbishop Paglia’s address:

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Your Eminences

Your Excellencies

Doctor Haas

Friends,

Thank you for your invitation to deliver the keynote address at this bioethics workshop that celebrates this year its twenty-sixth anniversary.  The fruitful cooperation between the National Catholic Bioethics Center and the Knights of Columbus over all these years has been a great benefit to the bishops of the United States, Mexico, Canada and Central America and as President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, I would very much like to see this service offered to other bodies of bishops around the world and would appreciate your assistance in making such an service a reality.

It is truly encouraging to see your intense and passionate efforts in the service of life, whose sacredness we must continually recognize and call to mind every chance we get in every activity — cultural, social, political and religious.  It is also encouraging to hear that in all the areas you serve there are tens of thousands of women and men who singly or in association with others devote their best cultural, spiritual and even economic resources to defending God’s breath of life that is in every person and that gives life to al of history.  Your generosity in organizing and supporting effective community witness for life, and your leadership in initiatives that actively defend human life and the dignity of the person reveal a commitment that must be clearly recognized, appreciated, maintained and, as I just said, instilled in others.

Today, we are called to a very careful discernment of the “signs of the times.”  We must be able to recognize the positive features of the new culture of individual freedom and dignity that has grown up in our history as a flowering of the seed planted by Christianity. We must also be very clear-headed and resolute in confronting the contradictions of extreme individualism and moral relativity that put at risk the humanity of that freedom and personal dignity.

For the first time in history man thinks himself able to unhinge the connection that has always been considered and essential aspect of life and of human society. The indissoluble bond that joins marriage between a man and a woman with the idea of family and with life.  What God hath joined together, today man, and not only in western culture, thinks himself able to put asunder and deconstruct.  And the individual as if maddened with dream of omnipotence thinks himself able to restructure that relationship in his own way for his own use and enjoyment. We no longer have only a situation where, as Hobbes wrote, Homo homini lupus est. Today we see that homo homini Deus est, and the ancient call of hubris leads man to believe himself a “creator” as well as a destroyer.

Pope Francis, in his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia warns us about this Promethean temptation where “human identity becomes the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time.  It is a source of concern, he says, that some ideologies of this sort, which seek to respond to what are at times understandable aspirations, manage to assert themselves as absolute and unquestionable, even dictating how children should be raised. It needs to be emphasized that biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated.”

In a world that is ever more complex yet ever more borderless and fluid thanks to technology, the economy and a quest for efficiency, we are faced with and cultural and social construct of relationless individuals who in the worship of their own autonomy day by day destroy the memories of the roots and relationships that formed them. Freedom cannot grow and human beings cannot flourish where their roots dry up and are destroyed like so many weeds.

We need to develop a holistic understanding of human life, life  which has its very beginnings in the generative relationship between man and woman. It was for this reason that the Holy Father decided to  bring the Pontifical Academy for Life into  a  closer relationship with the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, and to have both of them work closely with the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life.  This was not just a formal reorganization. It reflects the anthropologic vision that determined what tasks that he decided to assign to each of the three institutions.

If what drives us, even ethically, is the acquisition of greater power and the satisfaction of our own desires, we will be unable to appreciate the value of stable relationships, of care and assistance to others, of welcome and solidarity.  I think an awareness of this point is the anthropologic key that opens for us an understanding of the serious matters that you will be examining in the coming days: transgenderism, the ideological take-over of gender questions, biotechnology, assisted suicide.

In a special way, new technologies, by reason of the satisfaction they bring, their complexity, and their great efficiency have become the touchstone by which today’s ethical callenges are judged. The search for operational perfection—as measured by technical efficiency—is more and more becoming the way that life in all its complexity is being judged.  Using the means at our disposal today, the human being—and really all forms fo life—can be analyzed, studied and manipulated in its least detail.  The possibility for that level of manipulation of sensory/motor, neuro-cognitive and genetic-evolutionary structures opens up new and undesirable horizons, that we must learn to encompass intellectually in a way that makes possible ethical-humanistic solutions that are equal to the enormous possibilities, both positive and negative that can have effects on civil society and more generally on all forms of human interaction.

In this way, technologically advance society is prepared for the qualitative leap that is expected.  Society today is able to intervene in the life of each individual and on future generations without necessarily offering any improvement in the conditions for human existence.  Man’s desire to rule over nature soon becomes a desire in every heart to control, shape and empower the biological self, and the only reality worth relying on seems today to be the life that man believes he can build with his own hands.

The promise of a longer life, and even of immortality is the most convincing argument that technological society can offer. Who of us would give up the possibility of a just to honor the limit of “threescore and ten” that nature longer life physical nature traditionally imposes?  Why should we turn down the possibility of overcoming all limits that technology offers?  Here are three examples where ethical considerations are crucial:

1.  A number of studies predict that in the future health care will be one of the central elements of western economies by reason of the development of efficient preventive medicine protocols in addition to the traditional combat against specific diseases and assistance in recovery. This approach will be expensive and not widely available.  It will work only in a an service economy fueled by competition and will leave behind those who have limited access to basic health care.  The late philosopher Hans Jonas, whose writings decades ago influenced the development of our awareness today that we are stewards of creation, saw situations like this as an area where clearly our decisions must be based on much more than mechanistic technological and economic analysis

2.. With technology, we will soon be able to manage all the variables connected with human reproduction, variables that until now have been left to “nature” or “chance.”  Why, when this happens, should we still leave reproduction to chance and in addition burden it with the potentially limiting circumstances of a binding affective relationship known as marriage when we can manage the entire process all by ourselves?

3. The development of robotics and the increasing integrating of man and machine reopens the question of how we can speak today about “nature.”  We speak of artificial intelligence, of developments in neuroscience, of the millions of dollars spent on developing software that will make us more evolved because we are more informed.  Does it still make sense to speak about a basic “human nature” and if so how do we do it in a way that is not merely defensive in a world where everyone else believes in technology, at least on a practical level?

These are interesting questions but before we try to answer them we have to consider whether the intellectual categories that we as shepherds of souls and preachers of the Gospel use in our life and mission are adequate to address situations that arise in a world that is profoundly immanentistic, that on a practical level thinks with machines that can be held in the hand and that are incapable of leading us to any reality beyond ourselves,

The prospect of technology-enabled immortality that lies behind these questions obligates us to ask whether a life without pain or death is really worth living if living forever means a life without any goal or meaning.  The problems, the deformities, that this workshop will be considering are understandable only if we can reflect on them in the context of the hopelessness that is the result of believing that we are sufficient unto ourselves.  To live happily in the technological world that is more and more surrounding us, must we renounce and avoid every affection, compassion, feeling of love that intrudes into our “scientific” search for well-being? Do we have to become willingly ignorant of the meaning, the depth , the value and the purpose of life as we see it around us.?  Already many think that we have to “perfect” humankind by eliminating individuals who evidence too many things wrong or unsupportable weakness ) the handicapped, the elderly, the incurable.  Does this mean that the more advanced our technology becomes, the higher we raise the barrier to acceptability and those who are tolerated today will become expendable tomorrow? I hope not.  That approach wold run counter to everything that has made our civilization great and will only lead to its decline. And to its inability defend itself against despotism.

Behind all the phenomena this workshop will be considering, it is impossible not to see in them the effects that follow when society is ever more competitive, and perfection-oriented, measuring itself against the machines that it has created and that it fears, when society is afraid to welcome new generations, new ideas, new life, when society lives on radical social Darwinism where everyone considers himself either a god or a worthless creature in search of an identity that will make life bearable.

As we consider the sorry and apparently hopeless situations that our workshop is about, I hope we ask ourselves how it is possible that, just to start, that acts so human and so full of generative meaning for a man and a woman are discussed and studied in other venues today only in the technical terms of their reproductive effects; how is it possible that we are so losing touch with the idea of human nature that we no longer see that it offers us such a wealth of worthy purpose and that it so much mirrors the love and goodness of God who created each one of us..

The challenge of our workshop will be to ask ourselves whether we can do justice to the challenges that face us as pastors of souls and preachers of the Gospel if we consider them only in the language of hopeless techno-science that gave rise to those challenges or whether we can find in our own Gospel language and formation new and broader horizons within which we can welcome and offer salvation to those whose sufferings trials we are studying and anxious to heal.

In this situation, “We’re all in the same boat.” to paraphrase Pallas Pascal, and thus we are all called to a new sense of responsibility for building ever broader alliances with other persons, cultures, religions , ethical perspectives that are united in not wanting to see the sun go down on humanity.

It is in this framework that we can see the wisdom of Pope Francis in broadening the mandate and mission of the Pontifical Academy for Life and of having it coordinate closely with the John Paul Institute and well as with the ne Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life.  We need a new culture, one that is able to gather and add value to all those traditions that are able to speak with truth about the human condition and promote concrete actions within the diverse and dissimilar circumstances where the meaning and value of life in questioned, This workshop is a long lived example of the ability of the Church and of you bishops to seek out those circumstances and to approach them with love even when, or especially when, they are unattractive and involve situations that directly affect only a small number of persons.

As we respond to what for too long we have called “challenges,” e must remember that we are to being called to a conflict but rather to a rebuilding, a reconstruction of what it means to be human.  Our first task is not to identify enemies but rather to find companions on the journey, person with whom we can share our path.  In this optic—and I’m referring to only one subject that can open a new horizon on the relationship between the Church and the family—a call for a new alliance, human and civil, between men and women wold be an indispensable resource. The alliance between the sexes that, as a result of openness to community, can be created not only within marriage and the family, is a resource that the Church must seek out, encourage and support.  It is likewise the most effective response to ideologies of separation or indifference.  The alliance of masculine and feminine must again take hold of the tiller of history, of statecraft, of the economy. Concern for generation, as well as good relations among the generations, are the primary goals of this alliance.  It must have everyone’s support,

whatever their religious belief or choice of life because this is the fundamental condition for the protection of that humanity .that is common to all of us and for the care of the human quality of the common good.

What we are discussing reveals how urgent and timely are the words of Lumen Pentium about the vocation of the Church: “…the Church is in Christ like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race…”(LG,1) There is a duty of service to the whole human race that—in an era of globalization—appears in all its force. The Catholic Church must serve this unity, and for this reason, together with all persons of good will, the Church feels a special duty to assist men and women in every way—in the words of St. Paul, “In season and out of season.” (2Tim 4:2)—to envision together the future of love and peace to which we are called.  This “dream” of God about humanity calls for a constant listening of the Word of God within the rich tradition of the Church, and with it a listening to the “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted…” (Gaudium et Spes, 1).  It is a complex work, but an indispensable one.   For this reason we must examine thoroughly the questions, the ideas and the objections that our society raises, and we mus free our discussions from reductionist frameworks, challenge cliches return to a passionate love of human truth.  We must keep sight of both immanence and transcendence, awareness and mystery, perfection and imperfection, power and weakness, limits and desire for the infinite, efficiency and mercy.

Even more deeply, we must understand—and understand doesn’t always mean agree with—the wrenching contradictions in which modern man lives.  Here it is helpful to remember the words of Pope Francis, ““The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to treat his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Treat the wounds, heal the wounds. … And you have to start from the ground up.” (Civiltà Cattolica, September, 2013).

The reference to a hospital is particularly apposite not only because, as we know, the Academy for Life was founded by the great physician and geneticist , Jerome Lejeune, but especially because a hospital, where people are treated and cured, is a telling metaphor for hospitality, a concept that is key for anyone who wants to think how to welcome, care for, and support others in every stage of their lives.  The idea of hospitality always implies recognizing the other, someone who is welcomed for who he is, a foreigner, healthy or sick, to our liking or not.  We have no claim on him.  Only one who treats another just like himself, who opens his heart, and his home, can bear witness to that highest quality of life, sacredness, which is the first and genuine source of equality.

I assure you that the Academy for Life and the John Paul II Institute, together, mean to answer this challenge, bringing to bear all the cultural energy that comes from the presence of scholars and experts in many fields— theology, philosophy, social sciences, medicine—from all over the world to treat those serious anthropological injuries that are both cause and effect of new forms of desertion and violence against human life, which is more and more at the mercy of technology and hateful greed.

To continue its commitment to resolving the difficulties facing today’s world, once the Academy’s membership is in place, it will address many of these questions in its General Assembly next October.  The theme of that meeting will be “Accompany Life.  New Responsibilities in a Technological Age.” It is the beginning of a project to be shared with all men of good will, and it will call on all the resources of our humanity empowered as it is by the saving words of the Gospel .

In an age marked by to much technology, avarice, power and materialism, the word “accompany” makes us think of companionship, sharing, and the path we tread together.  For sure we are to establish effective accompaniment for life at every one of its stages.  For sure we have to stand against whatever weakens or still worse destroys life or threatens its dignity.  Without fail, and quickly,  we are to learn the art of encounter and sharpen our ability to rebuild relationships, to build up open communities, to provide the means to change lives and social mores.  The Church has a store of human wisdom that can help in accomplishing these tasks, for the benefit of individuals, groups and the whole human family.

Human perfection has, after all, a model in the perfection of God and of the Trinitarian relationship from which the original beauty of all creation springs.  The command that Leviticus gives us—and more than once—“Be holy because I, your God, am holy (Lv. 11:14) has its justification in the fact that we are created in “the image of God” from the first moment of our conception till forever in whatever condition we find ourselves.  Modern man, with wondrous tools at his disposal can always be truly more original and more creative in finding ways to be welcoming, to watch over others, to be more fully human if only he can model that loving relationship that is God himself.

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