By John-Henry Westen

VATICAN, May 1, 2006 ( – Although mostly below the surface, there has been much activity from the Vatican in combating the negative effects of Cardinal Carlo Martini’s break with the Catholic Church on bioethical matters. (coverage: The controversial remarks, published in the Italian weekly L’Espresso, were, according to EWTN’s Vatican Bureau Chief Joan Lewis, the cause of a “high level meeting” on how to deal with the matter.

The results of that meeting, says Lewis, “may never be known for no statement or declaration was issued, no article appeared in the Vatican newspaper, nor was anything published on the Vatican web site.” Another Vatican expert, Ciesa’s Sandro Magister reports that while reaction from the Vatican seems muted, “the sparks are flying in private.”

However, hints as to what transpired are easily detectable in the chain of events that have taken place since the Friday April 21 publication of the interview. It seems that it was decided that the pro-life arms of the church agencies involved ie, the Vatican and the Italian Bishops Conference of which Martini is a senior cleric, should respond.Â

The first off the mark was the president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life, Bishop Elio Sgreccia. Bishop Sgreccia directly contradicted Martini on the beginning of life and thus the permissibility of embryo research, on in vitro fertilization and on the use of condoms to protect against AIDS. (see coverage:

Two days later, on April 26, the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano published in its weekly edition the final communiqué from the 12th General Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life which was issued over a month before (on March 23). That Assembly dealt with “The Human Embryo in the Pre-Implantation Phase.” And its conclusions contradicted Martini’s assertion that after the union of a sperm and ovum and prior to syngamy there was not human life.

Rather, the Pontifical Academy after much study ofÂembryology stated, “in light of the most recent discoveries of embryology, it is possible to establish certain universally recognized points,” the first of which was that “The moment the sperm penetrates the oocyte is when the existence of a new ‘human being’ begins.”

Moreover, the Academy asserted, “on the precise basis of the available biological data, we maintain that there is no significant reason to deny that the embryo is already a person in this phase.” Concluding, the communiqué stressed, “over and above any consideration of the human embryo’s personality, the mere fact of being in the presence of a human being (and even the doubt of this would suffice) would demand full respect for the embryo’s integrity and dignity: Any conduct that might in some way constitute a threat or an offense to its fundamental rights, and first and foremost the right to life, must be considered as seriously immoral.” (See the communiqué here:

The reaction from the Italian Bishops Conference comes courtesy of Vatican reporter Sandro Magister who reveals the interview of Cremona Bishop Dante Lafranconi, a former head of the Italian Bishops Conference commission for life and family. Like Sgreccia, Lafranconi, objected to the points on embryo research and in vitro fertilization presented by Martini, and noted a caution about Martini’s remarks around the condom. (see coverage: )


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