[Yesterday] morning, Benedict XVI received participants in the plenary session of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is being held this week in the Vatican.
The Pope recalled how last year the congregation published "two important documents presenting … certain clarifications necessary for the correct functioning of ecumenical dialogue, and of dialogue with the religions and cultures of the world".
The first of these documents, "Responses to some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church", confirms that "the one and only Church of Christ has subsistence, permanence and stability in the Catholic Church and, consequently, that the unity, indivisibility and indestructibility of the Church of Christ is not invalidated by separations and divisions among Christians".
The Holy Father went on to note how the document calls attention "to the difference that still persists between the different Christians confessions, as concerns their understanding of 'being Church' in a strictly theological sense. This, far from impeding true ecumenical commitment, will be a stimulus to ensuring that discussion of doctrinal questions is always carried out with realism, and with complete awareness of the aspects that still divide Christian confessions", he said.
The Pope then referred to the other document published by the congregation last year, the "Doctrinal Note on some aspects of evangelisation", issued in December. "Faced with the risk of persistent religious and cultural relativism", he said, this document "stresses that the Church, in a time of dialogue between religions and cultures, is not dispensed from the need to evangelise and undertake missionary activity among peoples, nor does she cease asking mankind to accept the salvation that is offered to everyone. The recognition of elements of truth and goodness in other religions of the world, … collaboration with them in the defence and promotion of the dignity of the human person and of universal moral values, cannot be understood as a limitation to the Church's missionary task, which involves her in the constant announcement of Christ as the way, the truth and the life".
Benedict XVI invited the members of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to give particular attention to "the difficult and complex problems of bioethics". In this context, he indicated that the "Church's Magisterium certainly cannot and should not intervene on every scientific innovation. Rather, it has the task of reiterating the great values at stake, and providing the faithful, and all men and women of good will, with ethical-moral principals and guidelines for these new and important questions.
"The two fundamental criteria for moral discernment in this field", he added, "are: unconditional respect for the human being as a person, from conception to natural death; and respect for the origin of the transmission of human life through the acts of the spouses".
The Pope highlighted "new problems" associated with such questions as "the freezing of human embryos, embryonal reduction, pre-implantation diagnosis, stem cell research and attempts at human cloning". All these, he said, "clearly show how, with artificial insemination outside the body, the barrier protecting human dignity has been broken. When human beings in the weakest and most defenceless stage of their existence are selected, abandoned, killed or used as pure 'biological matter', how can it be denied that they are no longer being treated as 'someone' but as 'something', thus placing the very concept of human dignity in doubt".
The Holy Father highlighted how "the Church appreciates and encourages progress in the biomedical sciences, which opens up previously unimagined therapeutic possibilities". At the same time, he pointed out that "she feels the need to enlighten everyone's consciences so that scientific progress may be truly respectful of all human beings, who must be recognised as having individual dignity because they have been created in the image of God". In this context, he concluded by ensuring participants in the plenary assembly that study of such themes "will certainly contribute to promoting the formation of consciences of many of our brothers and sisters".