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Tuesday, February 20, 2007


VATICAN CITY, FEB 20, 2007 (VIS) - At 11.30 a.m. today in the Holy See Press Office, a press conference was held to present an international congress entitled "Christian conscience in support of the right to life," due to be held in the Vatican on February 23 and 24 under the auspices of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

  Participating in today's press conference were Bishop Elio Sgreccia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life; Bishop Anthony Fisher O.P., auxiliary of Sydney, Australia and professor of bioethics and moral theology at the John Paul II Institute in Sydney; Msgr. Jean Laffitte, vice president of the Pontifical Academy for Life and professor of anthropology and of conjugal spirituality at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family; Monica Lopez Barahona, biologist, professor of bioethics and director of the bioethical institute at the University of Francisco de Vitoria, Madrid, Spain.

  In his comments, Bishop Sgreccia made it clear that the theme chosen for this year's congress reflects the urgent need to form Christian consciences "in the modern context, indicating the foundation, the specific nature and the duties of a conscience illuminated by faith, though not overlooking the need for dialogue with the lay world and the pluralism of cultures."

  Going on to refer to the question of conscientious objection, which is due to be discussed on the second day of the congress, the president of the Pontifical Academy for Life indicated that if such objection "is accompanied by love for truth and for all people it is not an avoidance of responsibility but, on the contrary, a testimony of support and assistance." Today, in the field of healthcare, "a whole series of new cases and situations arise in which doctors and other figures associated with their work are called to put this objection into effect."

  Bishop Anthony Fisher, speaking English, began his comments by considering "the question of what conscience is and is not and what authority conscience has."

  "The classical Christian conception of conscience," he said, "is of the natural perception of basic moral principles, their application in particular circumstances, and the final judgement about what is to be (or has been) done. ... But conscience must be both well-informed and well-formed."

  The bishop mentioned "the authority of the Church as a moral teacher and former/informer of conscience, ... the ideas of the Magisterium, the unconditional assent of faith, religious assent and dissent. ... Can there be a conflict between the Church as teacher and the individual conscience and how is this to be resolved?"

  Bishop Fisher also considered "the problematic of those who oppose conscience to Magisterium," identifying "two helpful strands of contemporary thought: the communitarian call to think with one's moral community and the 'practical reason' approaches to maturation of conscience. On these views the Magisterium is not some external source of moral thinking with which private conscience must grapple: it informs conscience much like a soul informs a body, giving it its shape and direction from within."

  Msgr. Laffitte spoke of the concept of tolerance which, he said, has ceased "to be an expression of the classical virtue of prudence and, hence, a practical virtue," while "ideological tolerance has been raised to the rank of theoretical virtue."

  "Ideological tolerance" he continued, "is always linked to an individualistic concept of moral conscience. ... And the norms received from moral authority, from social tradition and from the teaching of the religious authorities will, at best, be considered as interesting guidelines or stimulating opinions upon which to reflect, but in no case will such norms involve the individual as a moral subject."

  Professor Lopez Barahona recalled that "man is a free being who establishes his behaviour and forges his will in a series of ethical and/or religious principles. Loyalty to these principles brings the right and the need of conscientious objection."

  "We have," she said, "witnessed incessant concessions to scientific research by the legislator, justified with reasoning that may seek to present the consecration of bioethics by the law as the protection of the person, whereas these concessions actually involve creating new exemptions in favour of biomedical research even when this fails to take the dignity of human life into account."

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