Were you part of the group of members that called for its cancellation or did you know about people being opposed to it?
I was not directly part of the group of members of the Pontifical Academy for Life who called for the cancellation of the Pontifical Academy for Life Conference on Stem Cells. The Academicians being opposed to this conference had already reacted in 2009 against the statement of a member of the Vatican Curia about the Recife Affair. The unique concern of those Academicians is fidelity to the teaching of the Catholic Church about the respect of human life from the beginning to the natural death and about the defense of the family.
I understand there was opposition to speakers who are vocal proponents of embryonic research. Do you know why the academy invited these researchers?
A previous question must be considered: Who selected and invited the speakers? On which criterions were they chosen? Who was approached to sponsor this meeting? Is it not to be feared that the weight of those persons could interfere on some running process? I observe that there were different organizers, some of them surprising. Were they unanimous in inviting the different participants? Were the positions of the participants on embryonical research known by the organizing committee? Happy enough some members of the Academy were better informed than the organizing committee!
I know the Pontifical Academy of Sciences invites speakers that don’t agree with the church on many matters, and the academy’s invitation to speak does not indicate an endorsement of these people’s views. Does the Academy for Life have a different procedure? Are all speakers at a PAL event expected to uphold church teaching?
It is true that the Pontifical Academy of Sciences invites speakers that don’t agree with the Church on many matters, and, generally speaking, it is a good thing because the Academicians can discuss and exchange their points of view. But a subject like the respect of human life, especially of the most vulnerable, is non-negotiable. The halls of the Holly See should not be put at the disposal of researchers whose positions are in open disagreement with the teaching of the Church about life. Besides, because they were invited by the Vatican, some of those researchers will proclaim everywhere that the Church is changing her position about the research on embryo.
Will the academy still hold a conference on stem cells in the future?
It will be convenient to consider holding some other conference on adult stem cells in the future. Obviously, it will be important to stress the necessity of experimenting on animals rather than on human embryos. It is urgent as well to show that the researches on adult stem cells are much more promising than the researches on embryonic stem cells. Amidst the scientific community, the researches about embryonic stem cells are strongly controversial, both from the scientific and the ethical points of view. The Church cannot take the risk of being manipulated about topics which are so fundamental. She must support a vision of the Medicine which helps the patient, and not a vision that kills him. This is the reason why it was opportune to cancel the April-planned Congress.
Mgr Michel Schooyans
Michel Schooyans, Emeritus Professor of Political Philosophy at the Louvain University, is an Ordinary Member of the Pontifical Academy for Life and a member of several international scientific societies.
Some extracts of this interview appeared in the article of Carol Glatz, “Organizers: Vatican congress on stem cells canceled for lack of funds”,