Signs of the Times

Outcry on Cloning and Prenatal Selection

The Vatican condemned the cloning of human embryos by U.S. scientists, rejecting claims that the research produced simple cells and not human individuals. Despite the scientists’ stated humanitarian aims, the research represents a new form of discrimination against defenseless people. Scientists at Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Mass., announced on Nov. 25 in the online journal E-Biomed: The Journal of Regenerative Medicine that they had cloned a human embryo for the first time. The researchers said their aim was to use the technique, known as therapeutic cloning, to develop genetically compatible replacement cells for patients with illnesses like diabetes and Parkinson’snot human clones.

Catholic leaders and pro-life organizations also strongly condemned the actions of Advanced Cell Technology. Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, urged a federal ban on human cloning without delay. The fact that U.S. scientists have now created human embryos by cloning should serve as a wake-up call to Congress, and to all of us. Once again, a technical ability to manipulate and exploit human life is outdistancing society’s ability to understand and respond to its frightening implications. Human cloning violates fundamental ethical and moral norms and is to be condemned unequivocally, he said in a statement on Nov. 27. Human cloning does not treat any disease, but turns human reproduction into a manufacturing process, he said. Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua of Philadelphia, head of the bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, also condemned human cloning, calling it morally reprehensible. Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington warned that the reported successful cloning of early-stage human embryos has dangerous implications of playing God and devaluing human life.


The privately held biotechnology firm reported that after more than 70 attempts they recently produced cloned human embryonic cells, two of which divided to four cells or more. It was the first public announcement of human embryonic cloning in the world. They said they also induced parthenogenesis in not-fully-mature human eggs, getting several to divide for up to five days, reaching the blastocyst stage. The company’s officials say they oppose reproductive human cloningaimed at producing a babyand they sought to obtain human embryonic stem cells solely for experiments aimed at eventually turning such cells to therapeutic uses.

Pope John Paul II, in a strongly worded critique of current biomedical research, condemned the growing practice of prenatal selection and discrimination. He said it was time that legislators and political authorities took steps to curb abuses that have emerged along with the dazzling advances in biological science.

German Cardinal Promotes Air Travel

The president of the German bishops’ conference appeared in an advertisement for the German airline Lufthansa, to help rebuild consumer confidence following terrorist attacks in the United States. The advertisement, carried in German newspapers in late November, featured a photograph of Cardinal Karl Lehmann of Mainz accompanied by the message peace and freedom will have no future without contacts with other people. Jürgen Strickstrock, spokesman for the Diocese of Mainz, said, The cardinal wanted to help rebuild confidence in air travel after Sept. 11. Strickstrock added, He also wanted to thank Lufthansa for the many journeys he has made with them.

Missionaries Killed

In an ambush in Uganda, the Lord’s Resistance Army killed a Sudanese priest, the latest of several church workers killed by the rebel movement. The Rev. Peter Obore died on Nov. 24 when the rebels attacked a pickup truck in which he and other passengers were riding in northern Uganda. His body was taken to his parish in Nimule, in the southern Sudanese diocese of Torit. Diocesan officials said Father Obore had been returning to Sudan from a visit to a seminary in Kampala, the Ugandan capital. He was the third Sudanese priest to be killed along the border with Uganda.

A Dutch Marianhill missionary priest was shot and killed on Nov. 23 in Papua New Guinea. Father Hubert Hofmans, 62, was attacked by a group of unidentified young people outside a youth center he administered in the city of Lae. He died from a gunshot wound to the head after being taken to a hospital. The youths apparently were looking for money. The priest was carrying the equivalent of $12.

Pope on Priests and Parish Life

Pope John Paul II warned it would be a fatal error to think that the current shortage of priests means tomorrow’s church would have to make do without ordained ministers. He said priests alone can serve as pastors of parishes because of their unique representation of Christ in church communities. The church community absolutely needs the ministerial priesthood to have Christ, head and pastor, present in it, the pope said on Nov. 23 to participants in the plenary assembly of the Congregation for the Clergy. Other faithful certainly can work with [the priest] actively, even full time, but they cannot substitute for him as pastor because they have not received the ministerial priesthood, he said.

Faced with low numbers of priests and religious, the church cannot lower standards but should instead give greater attention to the selection and formation of candidates, the pope said. To overcome the current shortage, Catholic communities must make the promotion of vocations a central pastoral issue. While all the church’s members are called to holiness, vocations to the priesthood or the religious life are still precious and necessary gifts, and those who dedicate their lives to Christ in chastity, poverty and obedience are following privileged paths toward spiritual fullness.

Americans Appointed to Biblical Commission

Pope John Paul II has named two American Scripture scholars to the Pontifical Biblical Commission. They are Donald Senior, a Passionist priest who is president of Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, and Hungarian-born Abbot Denis M. Farkasfalvy, head of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas in Irving, Tex. The two were among 12 scholars from around the world appointed on Oct. 18 to five-year terms on the commission, a consultative body that works under the jurisdiction of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Father Senior is general editor of the Catholic Study Bible, published by Oxford University Press; co-editor of The Collegeville Pastoral Dictionary of the Bible, published by The Liturgical Press; co-editor of the 22-volume international commentary series, New Testament Message; and general editor of The Bible Today, a bimonthly magazine from The Liturgical Press that promotes wider understanding and appreciation of Scripture for life and ministry. A Philadelphia native, Father Senior joined the Passionists in 1960 and was ordained a priest in 1967.

Abbot Farkasfalvy has headed his abbey since 1988. He is also a mathematics teacher at Cistercian Preparatory School in Irving and a part-time research scholar and adjunct lecturer in the theology department of the University of Dallas. He has a licentiate and doctorate in theology from San Anselmo University in Rome, a licentiate in Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and a master’s degree in mathematics from Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.

Eastern Canon Law

The 20-year process of drafting the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches required patience and serenity, and so will the process of using the code to resolve outstanding problems, said the head of the Congregation for Eastern Churches. Cardinal Ignace Moussa I Daoud, former patriarch of the Syrian Catholic Church, opened an international meeting at the Vatican on Nov. 19-23 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the new laws for the Eastern Catholic churches. The cardinal, who had served as a consultant and then member of the drafting commission, said the code attempted to reflect the originality of each of the 21 Eastern churches in full communion with Rome and their special relationship with the Orthodox churches. The code is meant to be a vehicle of charity or love, respectful of the history and traditions of each of the churches and of their varying degrees of autonomy from Rome, he said.

The Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches was designed to promote a tranquility of order faithful to the heritage of the Eastern Catholic churches, Pope John Paul II said. The pope added that fidelity to the ancient liturgies, disciplines and practices of the Christian East does not harm the unity of the church, but deepens it.

C.R.S. Aid to Refugees

As fighting inside Afghanistan continued to drive refugees across the border into Pakistan, Catholic aid workers fought politics and bureaucracy to feed the most vulnerable of the newcomers. Gul Wali, an official with Catholic Relief Services in Peshawar, said the U.S. bishops’ international aid and development agency provided food for 2,500 people in the sprawling Jallozai refugee camp south of Peshawar. Wali said the food was distributed to the most vulnerable of the 80,000 people in the camp on the eve of Ramadan, which began Nov. 17. Luc Picard, C.R.S. country representative in Pakistan, said Pakistani government and U.N. officials were reluctant to let C.R.S. provide food and other relief materials for Jallozai residents, but wanted the agency to wait until the refugees were relocated. At the rate the government is relocating people, it will take five or six months to move them all. People are desperate now; they can’t wait five months. There is no need for people to die of hunger and cold when the stocks are full, Picard said.

Honor for Chaplain

Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, has asked President Bush to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously to Mychal F. Judge, O.F.M., the New York Fire Department chaplain who died at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. Schumer announced his action on Nov. 18 at Engine Co. 1, the firehouse directly across West 32nd Street from St. Francis of Assisi Church in mid-Manhattan, where Father Judge lived. He said New York’s other senator, Hillary Rodham Clinton, was joining him in the request. On that tragic day in September, Father Judge died as he livedserving others, Schumer and Clinton said in a letter to President Bush. When the firefighters entered the building, Father Judge was at their side, where he remained offering comfort and absolution until the end.

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