Vatican official gestures at news conference during bishops' annual spring meeting in New Orleans

Vatican official speaks at bioethics conference attended by Bishop Nickless

By JOANNE FOX
joannef@sdiocese.org

Ethical and moral issues, including ministering to transgender people, were among the topics Bishop Walker Nickless and almost 200 other bishops from all across the world discussed at a Feb. 6-8 bioethics meeting in Dallas, Texas.

“The transgender issue has burst onto the scene,” the Sioux City bishop acknowledged. “Although it does not impact about 99.9 percent of the population, we still need to understand and follow the lead of Pope Francis, who says, ‘Accompany, never abandon,’ a child of God.”

Transgender is a term for persons whose gender identity does not conform to that associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth. Bishop Nickless learned that much of the “hype” about transgender stems from individuals and organizations that push their own agenda.

“Certainly there are individuals who struggle with this,” he said. “But there are concerns that some people are making the gender identity issue into a crisis. It’s important for us to educate the faithful on this and other issues.”

Bishop Nickless offered the example of the inclusion of separate, public restrooms for a transgender individual.

“Again, we are talking about a small segment of the population, yet businesses and schools are being forced to spend a substantial amount of money to include these facilities,” he said. “You’ve got to ask yourself if a lot of this frenzy is fueled by money.”

The head of the Pontifical Council for Life spoke to the bishops and emphasized “humanity” is under threat of being ignored in the continued search for technological progress.

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia delivered the keynote on the first evening of the workshop, presented by the Philadelphia-based National Catholic Bioethics Center. This year’s theme was “Healing Persons in a Wounded Culture.”

Archbishop Paglia pointed to three particular concerns.

One was how, in the future, he noted, “health care will be one of the central elements of Western economies by reason of the development of efficient preventive medicine protocols. This approach will be expensive and not widely available.”

In reproductive technology, “We will soon be able to manage all the variables connected with human reproduction, variables that, until now, have been left to ‘nature’ or ‘chance,'” the archbishop said, wondering aloud about its effect on the “binding relationship known as marriage – when we can manage the entire process all by ourselves.”

A third danger Archbishop Paglia cited was the investments in software, neuroscience and artificial intelligence.

“Already many think that we have to ‘perfect’ humankind by eliminating individuals who evidence too many things wrong or unsupportable weakness: the handicapped, the elderly, the incurable. Does this mean that the more advanced our technology becomes, the higher we raise the barrier to acceptability and those who are tolerated today will become expendable tomorrow? I hope not,” he said.

The conference coincided with the Vatican’s Feb. 6 release of an expanded and updated guide of the church’s bioethical teachings.

The “New Charter for Health Care Workers” addresses questions arising from the medical and scientific advancements made since the first charter was published in 1994, said Msgr. Jean-Marie Mupendawatu.

The monsignor, who is the secretary delegate for health care in the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, said the charter “is a valid compendium of doctrine and praxis” for those involved in providing medical care and for those in the field of health care.

Many of the issues added to the updated charter were dealt with in the doctrinal congregation’s 2008 instruction, such as, the immorality of human cloning, artificial contraception, freezing of human embryos, use of embryonic stem cells for research and the destruction of embryos suspected of defects.

Catholic News Service contributed to this article.

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