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Church confronts cultural challenges

Sarah Barrett | Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Marking the fifth anniversary of the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture, director David Solomon hosted theologian Cardinal Avery Dulles, bioethicist Edmund Pellegrino and philosopher Ralph McInerny in a discussion on the ethical issues facing today’s Catholic Church.

With “250 years of rich contribution to ethical discussion” between them, the panelists were invited on the basis of their brilliant and complementary ideas, Solomon said. Issues discussed included the importance of discipleship to the Church, the role of the Church in the study of bioethics and the societal changes that have created a growing dissidence between Catholic moral tradition and contemporary medical ethics.

“Discipleship is common to all religions; it works for a common goal, allowing personal relationship with the Lord and bringing together a community,” Dulles said. “Everyone who is a teacher develops disciples … teachers must understand their obligation to teach their students so students can take that knowledge and apply it to life.”

Discipleship, Pellegrino added, is essential to the continuation of bioethics.

“People aren’t accepting bioethical doctors because we are not providing stem cell research and contraception alternatives,” he said. “We must train people who know both about philosophy and medicine to enter in the discourse.”

He called on Catholic universities to “[put] their money into bioethical research to convince the world that we have something to say and that we are going somewhere.”

Pellegrino then explained his views on the feasibility of doing scientific research within the confines of catholic medicine.

“Stem cell research, for example, is not morally acceptable – the embryo is killed,” he said. “We have alternate sources like placental blood and apparent adult cells that are changeable. Emergency contraception is not an alternative – the devil will be there to collect on [a woman’s] soul [if she goes through with it].”

McInerny urged the audience to remember the importance of faith and responsibility in the home.

“Don’t forget that you were born as a baby, don’t forget that an infant is born without the ability to speak, and learns under the tutelage of their parents,” he said. “Parents have the responsibility to work for the common good of the family … for the way to the civic common good passes by way through the family.”

Dulles agreed the home is an essential starting point in reconstructing the sense of an individual in society. He concluded with a call for renewed loyalty to the Church in challenging times.

“Culture is in trouble … even people that like parts of it, know it’s in trouble,” he said. “Intellectual challenges are significant and will not be met without deep participation.”

Dulles, the author of 22 books, is currently the Laurence J. McGinley professor of religion and society at Fordham University. Pellegrino is the John Carroll professor of medicine and medical ethics at Georgetown University and the founder of the Journal of Medicine and Philosophy. McInerny, who just began his 50th year on the Notre Dame faculty, is a professor of medieval studies and the head of the Jacques Maritain Center. He is also very extensively published philosopher, with more than 110 books to his name.