"Catholic Catholics", "Anglican Anglicans", and the rest

In a letter to the editor in yesterday’s edition of The Age (entitled oddly “Catholic Catholics”), esteemed philosophy professor Max Charlesworth wrote in opposition to Archbishop Denis Hart’s position against embryonic stem cell research. He wrote:

Many Catholics I know, including a number of theologians, do not agree with the Catholic Church’s present position on stem cell research. They believe, as I do, that the organisms that are experimented on are not real embryos since they cannot possibly develop into a human being, and that it is quite misleading to say that this kind of stem cell research involves bringing embryos into being in order to destroy them.

One hardly knows where to begin to offer a criticism of such an idea.

To assert that embryos created in vitro without any intention of implantation are “not real embryos” but some other kind of “organism” seems to define the objective reality of the embryo in terms of the agent’s subjective intention towards it. Radically stated, Dr Charlesworth is arguing that “you are not human because I don’t think you are and I am not going to treat you if you were.” His argument displays an utter failure to respect all human beings as subjects to be treated with love rather than objects for our utilisation. It is hard to imagine any philosophical basis for such an idea which would not also lead our society directly to the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust (and I don’t make such an assertion lightly).

I leave aside the question of how Dr Charlesworth can continue to call himself a Catholic when he rejects a core teaching of the Catholic Church with regard to the sanctity of life from conception till death. We have come to expect such things from those who prefer what “most Catholics” and “theologians” believe to what the Word of God teaches (speaking through scripture, tradition, and the magisterium of the Catholic Church). Dr Charlesworth and his ilk are anything but “Catholic Catholics”.

What a relief it is therefore to read in today’s edition of The Age a letter from a truly Anglican Anglican, the Anglican Bishop of Ballarat Michael Hough. Although there is no such thing as an Anglican magisterium, he is surely standing more securely in the Anglican tradition than the non-Anglican Anglican Alan Nichols ( The Age, 14/3) against whom he is writing:

ANGLICAN bioethics expert Alan Nichols is wrong : many Anglicans do in fact oppose the proposed changes to legislation that would allow for therapeutic cloning of human embryos. We oppose it because we support the sanctity of all human life, in all stages of its development and the thought of cloning human life purely for the sake of experimentation is morally repugnant to many of us.

Premier Bracks continues to use two worrying arguments to justify ethically suspect proposals. He argues that Victoria needs to proceed so that we do not lose the financial advantages that come with such research: that is, if the money is good we can ignore important ethical issues.

The second flawed ethical argument is his even more worrying insistence that the ends justifies the means, a moral argument that history has shown us time and time again to be fundamentally flawed and inherently dangerous.

I would hope that men and women of all faiths, along with those of none, combine to oppose this degrading of the sanctity of human life.

I couldn’t agree more. There remains today, an extremely important area of ecumenism which is insufficiently explored, namely the ecumenism of morality and ethics. Methinks that there is probably a much wider degree of agreement here than popular news reports would seem to indicate. Those Christians who still take the scriptures seriously and are open to the logical arguments of the natural law (as Bishop Hough obviously is) will always find much unity with the Catholic Church.

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2 Responses to "Catholic Catholics", "Anglican Anglicans", and the rest

  1. Tony Bartel says:

    Perhaps it helps that Bishop Hough was trained as a Roman Catholic priest, and so he has actually studied natural law and moral theology, not to mention philosophy, unlike so many of his Anglican colleagues.

  2. Schütz says:

    Yes, that would be it. You remember, of course, how much natural law education we got as Lutheran Seminarians? Less than diddlysquat. In fact, it was actually repudiated. I didn’t know it at the time of my conversion, but appreciation for the natural law is one of the greatest gifts that God has given me through the Catholic Church.

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