Wednesday, July 12, 2006
These two halves of God, the Pope and the emperor.
— Victor Hugo, Hernani
Neither of them believes in science. They both believe in God. They both have a weapon available to them to enforce their beliefs. George Bush can veto. Pope Benedict can excommunicate.
George Bush has never vetoed a bill. He hasn’t had to. He simply ignores laws he doesn’t like and says, when signing, that that’s what he’ll do. He’s been president for the longest 6 years in the history of the United States. During that time he has signed 110 bills with which he disagrees and has attached 750 signing statements telling anyone more literate than he, (i.e. those who can and do read) that he will ignore that which he has just signed. According to Arlen Specter, the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, “the president has taken the signing statements far beyond the customary purviews. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont called Mr. Bush’s signing statements “a grave threat to our constitutional system of checks and balances.” Having been unaware that the country even had a constitution until he became president and someone mentioned it to him, Mr. Bush is hardly troubled by his new discovery. On an issue slated to reach his desk in the not too distant future, Mr. Bush may well be forced to exercise his first veto, a signing statement being too weak a remedy. It’s all because of what the House of Representatives did in 2005 and what the Senate is about to do in July 2006.
In 2005 the House passed a bill that calls for expanding federal funding for stem cell research to include leftover embryos that, if not used for research, might be discarded from fertility clinics The Senate has promised to take the bill up in July and if it passes as expected, it will be sent to the president for his signature.
The only thing Mr. Bush knows about stem cell research is that if he doesn’t veto the bill he will alienate his right wing supporters and spoil his non-veto record. Being a pragmatist as well as an ignoramus he has, therefore, promised to veto any bill lessening the restrictions on stem cell research. Whether there are enough votes in the Congress to override his veto will be determined after he’s vetoed the bill.
Back in Rome Pope Benedict and friends are sponsoring a conference that will attack the issue of stem cell research head on. It will be the second conference in 2006 that will cause some to wonder where Pope Benedict spent his time before his ascension. The first was in April when he sponsored a conference to rehabilitate the Crusaders. That conference occurred about the same time there were riots all over the world over the publication in Denmark of cartoons deemed offensive to Muslims. Insensitive to what was happening outside the Vatican, it sponsored a conference that said the Crusaders had the “noble aim” of recapturing the Holy Land for Christianity. A speaker at the conference was the Italian historian Roberto de Mattei who described the Crusades as a “response to the Muslim invasion of Christian lands and the Muslim devastation of the Holy Places.” With that brilliantly timed bit of political theater behind him, Pope Benedict decided it was time for another step backward.
In late June 2006 it was announced that a conference that was convening on July 1 would be asked to consider the question of excommunication for scientists who (a) were Catholics and (b) engaged in stem cell research. Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo is the head of The Pontifical Council for the Family, the group that proposes family-related policies for the church. The description of the Council published on its website says it “promotes and coordinates pastoral efforts related to the issue of responsible procreation, and encourages, sustains and coordinates initiatives in defense of human life in all stages of its existence, from conception to natural death.” The one defense of human life the council does not support is research in how to improve it if it involves stem cells, even stem cells that would otherwise be destroyed. In an interview with the Catholic weekly Famiglia Cristiana Cardinal Trujillo says: “Destroying an embryo is equivalent to abortion. Excommunication is valid for the women, the doctors and researchers who destroy embryos.”
According to Paolo Binetti, a Catholic politician, defining the penalty for those doing stem cell research was necessary so the church could catch up with the Bush view of science by taking a giant step backwards. As he explained to Elisabeth Rosenthal of the New York Times, when the church decided in 1990 to impose automatic excommunication for those involved with abortion, “embryonic stem cell research was not a front-page issue.” Now it is and the church wants to make sure that it is no less regressive than George Bush. It’s not.