It’s not just about finances: Vatican cancels controversial stem cell conference
VATICAN CITY, March 28, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The Vatican has announced the last-minute cancellation of a stem cell conference scheduled for April 25-28 after an internal outcry from Members of the Pontifical Academy for Life, who objected to the fact that several of the main speakers scheduled engaged in human embryo-destructive stem cell research. Several news reports suggested that the leadership of the Academy is saying the conference was cancelled simply because of financial reasons, but Academy Members are saying otherwise.
The cancellation falls on the heels of another Vatican conference on in vitro fertilization, after which Members of the Academy went public with their extreme disappointment with the selection of speakers, calling it a “huge disservice to Catholics everywhere.”
The keynote address at the April conference was to be delivered by George Daley, the Boston Children’s hospital researcher responsible for furnishing 11 of the 13 human embryonic stem cell lines approved by President Barack Obama’s Administration for research in 2009.
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LifeSiteNews communicated with several Members of the Pontifical Academy about the cancellation of April’s conference.
Guatemala’s Marcedes Arzu Wilson, President of the Family of the Americas Foundation, who had expressed her disapproval of the speakers prior to the conference’s cancellation, told LifeSiteNews, “Members of the Academy made strong objections to their conference and its keynote speaker George Daley of Harvard’s Sterm Cell Institute who is well known for his research and support of embryonic stem cell research.”
“Alan Trounson, John Wagner, also presenters at the Congress, were the main supporters of embryonic stem cell research from California and Minnesota,” added Wilson.
Judie Brown, president of American Life League and another member of the Academy, told LifeSiteNews, “I am absolutely and totally relieved that the conference was cancelled.”
Brown added: “The Church has a very distinct teaching on the use of human embryonic stem cells it doesn’t need to be debated. It doesn’t need to be discussed. That conference would have been a disaster for the Church.”
Another member of the Academy, who would only speak anonymously, told LifeSiteNews, “Bishop Ignacio Carrasco de Paulo, the president of the Academy, was insistent that the speakers at the conference avoid any advocacy of embryonic stem cell research and use their scientific competencies to address only morally legitimate research using adult stem cells.”
“Nonetheless,” the member added, “the risk always exists that such speakers would not honor the terms of their engagement and might use the opportunity to advocate for their own position. Beyond that, several speakers were such high-profile proponents of embryonic stem cell research, even providing testimony before Congress in opposition to that of the bishops, that their speaking would surely have led to confusion in the minds of the faithful and the general public about the Church’s uncompromising opposition to the destruction of embryonic human beings for any purpose whatsoever, research included.”
Reacting to the cancellation, Daley told the Boston Globe that he “had not been prohibited from speaking about embryonic stem cell research, but had been asked not to focus on that research in his talk.”
Rev. Scott Borgman, a coordinator for the leadership of the Academy, told LifeSiteNews by email that “there was a combination of factors for the cancellation.” He referenced a note on the Academy website which informed potential participants of the cancellation, attributing the reason to an unspecified “variety of organizational, logistical and economic factors inhibiting the complete success of the scientific event.”
Borgman stressed that previous conferences on the subject went well and that the sponsoring organizations are fully in line with the Church’s teaching against embryo destructive research.
Pro-life leaders are hoping the cancellation of the Vatican conference will set a good example for Catholic entities worldwide in terms of selection of speakers and presenters.
The Vatican-approved 2004 document of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called ‘Catholics in Political Life,’ stated that, “The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.” “They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”
Given the “scandal” of the previous IVF conference and the “inexcusable” speakers proposed for the April conference, Wilson is calling for the leadership of the Academy to step down. “I strongly propose that the President and the complete Board resign immediately,” she said.
Wilson noted that the conference speakers were scheduled “without the approval of the Academicians,” and “obviously” without Pope Benedict XVI’s awareness. The schedule of the cancelled April conference notes a two-hour audience with the Pope at its conclusion.
* See exclusive LSN report on last month’s Pontifical Academy for Life Conference on infertility: Trouble in Vatican: Pontifical Academy members upset with ethics deficit at infertility conference