Saturday, 11 July 2009

Obama meets Pope

US President Obama and the leader of the Catholic Church had a cordial meeting in Rome this week, despite their open differences on key bioethical issues. Pope Benedict XVI presented Mr Obama with copies of a Vatican document on embryo research, "Dignitas Personae", and of his latest encyclical, "Caritas in Veritate" (Charity in Truth).
The Pope's press secretary said that Benedict was "very impressed" by the president and "extremely satisfied" with the talks. Mr Obama told the pope during a picture-taking session: "We look forward to a very strong relationship between our two countries."
The Vatican is an unconditional opponent of abortion and the President a champion of "reproductive rights". However Mr Obama apparently assured the Pope that he was committed to reducing the number of abortions in the US.
The Pope's long-awaited encyclical centres on social justice and the economy, but he touches upon bioethical issues in discussing what constitutes true human development. Here are some passages:
"Openness to life is at the centre of true development. When a society moves towards the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man's true good. If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of a new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away. The acceptance of life strengthens moral fibre and makes people capable of mutual help."
"[Sexuality] cannot be reduced merely to pleasure or entertainment, nor can sex education be reduced to technical instruction aimed solely at protecting the interested parties from possible disease or the "risk" of procreation. This would be to impoverish and disregard the deeper meaning of sexuality... It is irresponsible to view sexuality merely as a source of pleasure, and likewise to regulate it through strategies of mandatory birth control."
Ecology -- "It is contradictory to insist that future generations respect the natural environment when our educational systems and laws do not help them to respect themselves. The book of nature is one and indivisible: it takes in not only the environment but also life, sexuality, marriage, the family, social relations: in a word, integral human development. Our duties towards the environment are linked to our duties towards the human person, considered in himself and in relation to others."
Artificial reproductive technology - "In vitro fertilization, embryo research, the possibility of manufacturing clones and human hybrids: all this is now emerging and being promoted in today's highly disillusioned culture, which believes it has mastered every mystery, because the origin of life is now within our grasp... These practices in turn foster a materialistic and mechanistic understanding of human life. Who could measure the negative effects of this kind of mentality for development? How can we be surprised by the indifference shown towards situations of human degradation, when such indifference extends even to our attitude towards what is and is not human?"