Excommunicate Stem Cell Scientists Says Vatican Official

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Last week, a top Vatican official said that scientists who engage in embryonic stem cell research and politicians who make such research legal will be excommunicated. According to the Telegraph:

"Destroying human embryos is equivalent to an abortion. It is the same thing," said Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, head of the Pontifical Council for the Family.

"Excommunication will be applied to the women, doctors and researchers who eliminate embryos [and to the] politicians that approve the law," he said in an interview with Famiglia Christiana, an official Vatican magazine.

Of course, the Cardinal's position is not at all surprising given that church doctrine teaches that embryos are the moral equivalent of people. Now Roman Catholic women who have abortions and the physicians who provide them are automatically excommunicated. The Cardinal's statement does not make it clear whether or not Roman Catholics who avail themselves of embryonic stem cell treatments would be excommunicated, but if stem cell treatments are analogous to abortions, it seems likely that they would be.

So how is the threat of excommunication likely to affect the decisions of American Roman Catholics when it comes time to decide to use or forego new therapies based on embryonic stem cells? After all, American Roman Catholics already widely ignore the church's teaching on artificial contraception. According to one 2004 survey, "sexually active Catholic women above the age of 18 are just as likely (97%) to have used some form of contraception banned by the Catholic church as women in the general population (97%)."

Even the church's teachings on abortion are ignored by most American Roman Catholics. A recent survey by the Pew Foundation found that a majority of American Roman Catholics agreed that abortion should be legal in many circumstances (17 percent) or legal and completely up to a woman to decide (35 percent). Those figures were no different from the whole sample of Americans surveyed. Finally, another recent report found, "forty-three percent of women obtaining abortions identify themselves as Protestant, and 27% as Catholic."

Some treatments using embryonic stem cells could be available in as little as two years. Given the data cited above, my bet is that the threat of excommunication will have very little effect on the decisions of American Roman Catholics when it comes to deciding between fidelity to church doctrine and the lives and health of themselves and their families.

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  1. Well, that is Catholic doctrine, which applies to catholics. As someone said, it is only Catholics who can say what Catholics must believe. Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hinduists, and plain non-believers opinions do not matter.

    If you do not like what the Pope teaches, do as Luther did, and walk away. But afterwards, stop trying to change a group in whihc you are not a member

  2. Its nice that they are willing to buck such crazy rules but it would be nicer if they would push their church to discard them altogether.

  3. Interestingly, at a family barbeque yesterday, this topic came up. I’m 36 and considering a sperm donor, and so the topic naturally led to discussing in vitro as an option. Well, my uncle, a Roman Catholic Priest, is all for it. When I asked him what should be done with the leftover embryos, he said it should be up to the parents.

    Not only do many Roman Catholics ignore Church teachings, but apparently so do many of the Messengers.

  4. Adriana: Of course, Catholic doctrine is the business of Catholics. Part of my point is that American Catholics act a whole like American Protestants–they pick the doctrines they like and ignore the ones they don’t.

    In any case, the public policy concern is not that Catholics will refuse to use stem cell treatments, but that some will try to outlaw such treatments for the rest of us.

  5. As to who avails themselves of Embryonic Stem cell therapy is likely an ‘abortive’ concern. This UPI article speculates that there will be therapies presently, but details are lacking, predictably. I think the article is just another attempt to keep hope and interest alive to gain more support for lucrative federal funding.

    Or is this post simply taking an opportunity to pick at Catholic doctrine? All rules are not equal. Preventing conception is immeasurably different than using a human fetus as clinical research material. This should be an issue where devout Catholics and Libertarians find common ground, if for different reasons.

  6. I’m not a canon lawyer, but the good cardinal is mistaken. From the 1983 Code of Canon Law:

    Can. 1398 A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae [automatic] excommunication.

    While the definition could cover those directly involved with the intentional destruction of embryos, it would certainly not include politicians who refuse to make such acts illegal.

    Of course, they could still be excommunicated by a bishop, but it would not occur automatically.

  7. It may not make a difference with American Catholics, but there’s a whole world of Catholics that can be influenced.

  8. So how is the threat of excommunication likely to affect the decisions of American Roman Catholics when it comes time to decide to use or forego new therapies based on embryonic stem cells?

    Let’s see, I’m living on land that, but a century or two ago, was unjustly and forcibly seized from its native inhabitants, who were either murdered or forced to relocate to less desirable lands. Does my use of this land make me guilty of those immoral acts?

    The same would hold true of those who use whatever treatments that would possibly brought about by ESC research. It is not immoral to use something merely because it was discovered by immoral means.

  9. crimethink: I have heard that at least some Catholics refuse to use some vaccines that were developed with fetal cell cultures? Is that right or just an urban legend? Just curious.

  10. I would have a hard time taking a “Cure” that came from processed embryonic stem cells.

    Sorry, it just feels like cannibalism. Sure, much more impersonal and cleaner then the Dalmer party’s experience, but still can’t get my heart around the idea. I’ll skip the green crackers, thanks.

    Kindof silly to “Automatically excommunicate” everyone possibly involved though. Quick and easy for Bub in Rome to say, but who addresses and/or cleans up the mess here?

  11. A-ha, so there are still ways to be excommunicated! And here I thought my baptism sealed the deal for me.

    So do I have to get a girl pregnant and force her to have an abortion? Or would I actually have to go back to school for years and years and get a degree that either a) allows me to perform abortions or b) work on embryonic stem cells?

    (I’m mostly kidding – I really don’t care if I’m excommunicated or not, but I do think it would be kinda cool to be able to say that I was.)

  12. Ron Bailey,

    That may be true. However, just because some Catholics choose not to do something does not mean that one is excommunicated if one does that thing.

  13. This makes me ponder:

    If the Catholic Church was wrong about gravity then, how wrong could they be about this?

    God needs to get a new legistation

  14. I have a question:
    Can one excommunicate oneself? If so, I did it at 15. Felt great!

  15. “If you do not like what the Pope teaches, do as Luther did, and walk away. But afterwards, stop trying to change a group in whihc you are not a member.”

    If you dispute a point of Catholic teaching, your only legitimate option is to leave. If you stay, you have to stop disputing Catholic doctrine.

    Oh, and if you leave, you cannot legitimately try to change Catholic doctrine.

    Nice litte Catch-22, Adriana. So who SHOULD work to change Catholic doctrine in your little world – the people who agree with all of it (ie, the only ones who should remain in the Church)?

  16. The answer to the question “So who should work to change Catholic doctrine?” is, of course, the “princes” and “king” of the Church. There is no role for people of good conscience to work for reform.

    There is a Catholic feast day called “The Feast of Christ the King.” Sounds old and Biblical, right? Wrong. It was created after WW1, in an effort to remind Catholics of how wonderful monarchy is, and to try to enlist them in the Church’s war against democracy. That’s what they think of people – they don’t even have the right to have a voice in the civil laws they live under. Logic like Adriana’s is the longstanding stance of the Catholic Church towards its adherents.

  17. It’s decisions like this that made me walk away from a religion that I have lived with and practiced (for the most part) for more than 50 years.

    Till the Catholic Church evolves from the 7th Century, I’ll stay away.

  18. By the Church’s own standards, it should excommunicate itself for its centuries of genocide, including its crucial and CONTINUING support of Nazis and Rwandan massacres. The Vatican Nazi Rat Lines smuggled 10,000 Nazis to North America, including camp death doctors, Gustav Mueller and Joseph Mengele who secretly continued killing “useless eater” minority orphans in Canadian hospitals and Catholic orphanages. Everyone should listen to the audio archives of the Vancouver Hidden From History CFRO 102.7 FM radio show and website,

  19. It would be most interesting to see the Catholic Church try and not let heresy slide, especially in such areas of contraception and abortion. Full enforcement, in an atomosphere of freedom to leave and join a different church, might well reduce the number of Catholics enough to fit them all into the Vatican. Excommunication is a two edged sword, heretics still provide money and support as well.

    In Luther’s day they had a simple solution, Mass Murder. That solution failed in Luther’s case because they created heretics faster than they could kill them. Not that that didn’t prevent them from trying, or having been sucessful in many prior and a few subsequent attempts.

    Now many conservative “Christians” are calling for the same thing all over again, but from Moonies to the Pope, after they finished off the ones they agree to murder, they will then have to decide which of each other to murder as well.

    Short of such enforced thought control, the Church and indeed all churches must wrestle with the fact that every single member is a heretic at some level of thought or understanding, until they find a way to use knowlege they don’t believe in to create some sort of hive mind.

    Indeed virtually every technical operation or object exists because somebody thought for themselves and looked at reality. By that standard only the Amish even try to live without the fruits of heresy, and even they cannot fully succeed.

  20. Will the Church ALSO excommunicate Catholics who support George Bush in his WAR of CHOICE?

    The Church told Bush through Pope John Paul II that the war was NOT just.

    Thou shalt not LIE and KILL, you know.

    Or, just more HYPOCRISY from “religious” people who supposedly follow the Word of Jesus and God???

  21. I do not make the Catholic doctrine, I just report it.

    You can choose to be or not be a Catholic, but if you are, you better understand that THE CHURCH IS NOT A DEMOCRACY.

    Even if Papal infalibillity only applies to statements ex cathedra and in matters of doctrine, the fact is that on certain matters THE POPE IS ALWAYS RIGHT.

    But then, you can be a bad Catholic..
    Or an ex-Catholic.

    (Trivia. In Ireland, according to Conor Cruise O’Brien, if you are called a Communist, they are just using an euphemist for “bad Catholic”).

    So, don’t be a Catholic, and encourage other Catholics to leave the Church, but that’s all. Do not enter into arguments about Papal infallibility or other matters, because you may end up debating with Jesuits, and these are champion hair-splitters.

  22. Adriana:

    Actually, the Pope CLAIMS to always be right, and some people such as yourself back that claim. I disagree, and will argue with him –and you– if I want to. And invoking the edict of an organization whose authority I do not recognize will do precious little to deter me from it.

    Insisting that people do as you demand because of certain rules you hold to is something akin to shouting at people on a playground to not use their hands to touch the ball because it’s against the rules of soccer when they’re playing -basketball-. Get it?

  23. Kiitty:

    Well, the Pope claims it, and unfortunately you are supposed, if you are a good Catholic to agree.

    If you are not a good Catholic, do as you please.

  24. I wonder how you can get officially excommunicated. I work in biological science. If I can get excommunicated, I will have a great answer when my mother asks why I have’nt gone to church.

  25. Hey what the Vatican wants makes a lot of sense. They want some of those cells to grow into little boys so the priests can have a field day molesting them.

  26. Hey what the Vatican wants makes a lot of sense. They want some of those cells to grow into little boys so the priests can have a field day molesting them.

  27. Hey what the Vatican wants makes a lot of sense. They want some of those cells to grow into little boys so the priests can have a field day molesting them.

  28. Actually, the Pope CLAIMS to always be right…

    Um … no.

    Popes claim to be infallible only when they are speaking officially (“ex cathedra,” or “from the chair”) on church doctrine regarding matters of faith and morals. Popes have only done this, on average, about once every thousand years.

  29. Voltaire was right. Crush the Infamy! And also, Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.

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