The Pontifical Academy for Life is having its 13th General Assembly here in Rome from 23-24 Feb. The topic, "La conscienza cristiana a sostegno del diritto alla vita … Christian conscience in support of right to life."
They will be studying among other things the tension of tolerance, democracy, moral autonomy in reference especially to scientific research and the necessity of forming the conscience under the light of Faith.
One of the very good lines of the chief presenter today, His Excellency Most Rev. Elio Sgreccia, Pres. of the P.A.V. was this: "A Christian may not ignore the distinction between sin, which is prevented, or avoided or amended, and the sinner who is helped."
Another presenter, H.E. Most Rev. Anthony Fisher, of Australia, had a marvelous introduction to the conference. He explained that it is often thought now that conscience confers "private infallibility". The problem is that two people can differ. Conscience is not a GPS, which gives us directions from outside, like "Tom Tom" gadget, something alien to us and we can ignore of follow as we wish. Neither are we slaves to some voice outside us, of the state or another authority. Nor is conscience like a tax lawyer which tries to get us out of things: "Can I reclassify something and then do it? Can I do just a little (abortion)?" In the 1960’s conscience was a code for "strong feeling" or "personal preference". Card. Ratzinger referred to this misunderstanding of conscience as "a clock thrown over human subjectivity" allowing people to avoid hard questions.
Mons. Laffitte spoke about “conscientious objection”. Conscientious objection is often applied to military situations or issues of defense of life. In Great Britain in April, according to new laws Catholic adoption agencies will be obliged to entrust children to homosexual couples. Does the question of objection of conscience apply to this? Will these agencies have to close (rather than cooperate in sin)?
Prof.ssa Lopez Barahoma, who is a bioethicist and director of a bank of stem cells, explained that today legislators are giving in to the demands of scientific research in such a way that the laws are creating problems for the dignity of life. Present laws are inadequate to respond to the questions we are facing. The over arching “rights” of people are also creating problems. For example, when a child is seen as an object to which people have a right, there are demands for laws favoring in vitro fertilization. Then there could be demands for a certain kind of child, leading to genetic manipulation. On the other hand, there if there is a “right” not to be inconvenienced, there are demands for laws for abortion and euthanasia and assisted suicide. In the face of many of these unacceptable demands, even on the level of laws that confer or support the claims of rights, what do Catholics whose conscience is properly formed do? “The solution to the dilemmas that the scientist has to confront throughout all his/her professional life is given in Donum Vitae (22 Feb 1987) that recommends conscientious objection against those civil laws.” Moreover, “We have to bear in mind that silence usually means complicity so let us raise out active voice and search the Truth”.
I was rather amazed to see that most of the journalists were silent after the presentations and did not ask questions.