Another deplorable interference of the Church hierarchy in conscience of citizens

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

“Bishops urge voters to vote for parties that defend life and marriage”… “The Council of Bishops offers Catholics ideas that aid them in voting responsibly”… (headlines from the press published on October 22).

As was the case with education for citizenship (something that we, and they, so desperately need), the Church hierarchy is once again judging matters that are totally beyond their jurisdiction and the scope of religion, such as when they recognize “the moral legitimacy of nationalisms or regionalisms which through peaceful means are seeking a new form of unity within the Spanish State… although it is necessary to protect the common good of the Spanish Nation as a whole, avoiding the risk of manipulation based on any type of separatist or ideological claims”.

And there you are: they avoid manipulation by manipulating with affirmations that, in addition to being inappropriate in a democratic country with no official religion, are scientifically unsustainable. The history of the undue interference of religion in science is especially rich in episodes that stain the image of the Church and which would not have occurred if it had kept within its own intellectual framework.

I remember that in 1981 I had the honor of attending a session of the Pontifical Academy commemorating Albert Einstein, alongside Pope John Paul II. Many Nobel Prize laureates were present, including Severo Ochoa. Suddenly the Pope apologized for the Church’s unjust treatment of Galileo Galilei. When religion passes from metaphysics to physics, it runs the great risk of committing mistakes, he said. The same occurs –he added, because he measures each word- when science meddles in beliefs… He was probably referring to the book “Chance and Necessity”. “The Church doesn’t care whether the world is flat or round, or whether it rotates on its axis”, he told me… Severo Ochoa and the scientific community represented there were quite satisfied with the unexpected explanations that the Pope offered… which the Vatican has progressively been “putting into their context”.

In that regard, when speaking of defending life –which all of us want to defend, and not only birth, but throughout one’s existence- Father Martínez Camino didn’t forget to underscore “the danger of certain legislative options that do not adequately protect each human being’s fundamental right to life from conception until his natural death”. We scientists have given the origin of human life all of the attention it deserves. Pedro Laín Entralgo and Xavier Zubiri published very profound reflections on the subject. In the 1980s I also published a work concerning the implication of infertility treatments carried out with genes but not on genes…

Years later, in 1992, as Director General of UNESCO, I became alarmed at the possibility that genetic engineering could achieve the perverse goals of Hitler and Mengele that they hadn’t achieved with the genetics of Mendel. Thus I commenced a round of consultation with all of the specialists which, with the creation of the World Bioethics Council, culminated 1997 with in the Universal Declaration on the Human Genome, whose Article 11 specifically prohibits cloning human genes for reproductive purposes.

In 2003, Carlos Alonso Bedate, S.J. and I coordinated the publication of “Gen-Ética” (Gene-Ethics), a book that provides the data and knowledge required to address with scientific rigor subjects related to the fantastic progress made in genetics and the regulation of epigenetics.

For all of the above, as a believer and as a member of the Church “of the Gospel and the sandals”, as Bishop Pere Casaldáliga described it, I wish to express my most energetic protest against this new and intolerable interference of the Church hierarchy in the upcoming elections, addressing aspects in which the Council of Bishops has absolutely no jurisdiction.

They also referred to homosexuality (a subject on which they should maintain much discretion) and the Education for Citizenship course as questions to be considered when deciding one’s vote.

Education for Citizenship! To be “free and responsible”, in UNESCO’s definition of educated people, set forth in Article 1 of its Constitution. Let’s be free and responsible: after giving it due consideration, let’s vote for those who we believe will better enable all citizens to live according to their own conscience, without obedience or submission to opinions or ideologies that limit the greatness of each human being: his autonomy.

In the face of any imposition and obstacle, from any source, let’s endeavor to be free and responsible!