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Non possumus?

These days the Vatican’s statements sound a bit like a broken record, repeating continuously “Non possumus”. It started at the beginning of December when Benedict XVI refused to support President Sarkozy’s proposal that encourages the governments of the World to decriminalize homosexuality, proposal that should be added to the next UN Declaration of human rights.
It’s worth knowing that in the world more or less eighty countries have rules that punish sexual acts between homosexual people.

They are condemned to death in Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, The Arab Emirates, Yemen, Sudan, Iran, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Somalia.
A life sentence, instead, is the verdict in India, Pakistan, Burma, Guyana, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Tanzania, Bangladesh and the Barbados.
But other punishments are widespread in many places. In Guinea Bissau, Angola and in Mozambique homosexuals are condemned both to jail and to forced labour camps. In Malawi the law dictates fourteen years in prison for this “crime” (twenty years in Malaysia, and ten in the Maldives)

Just twenty-four hours later the Vatican refused to support the new version of the Declaration of the Rights of Disabled Persons approved by the UN. The reason for this refusal is that articles 23 and 25 of the Declaration talk about a right for people to plan reproduction, something that from the Catholic perspective leaves room for voluntary termination of pregnancy, since this could mean that foetuses affected by severe diseases could be aborted.

Few days later the Vatican stated a Document, entitled Dignitas Personae that is a list of prohibitions, or “Non Possumus” as they like to say.
I counted more then seventeen prohibited actions but in short the most relevant are related to embryo manipulation, in vitro fertilizations, human cloning, cryopreservation, preimplantation diagnosis, embryo reduction, the use of means of interception and contragestation, the use of embryos for research or for the treatment of disease, germ line cell therapy, genetic engineering, the use of embryonic stem cells, hybrid cloning and obviously the use of human embryos or foetuses as an object of experimentation.

According to the Catholic moral perspective, all these actions are strictly forbidden because “The dignity of a person must be recognized in every human being from conception to natural death.  This fundamental principle expresses a great “yes” to human life and must be at the centre of ethical reflection on biomedical research, which has an ever greater importance in today’s world”.
Therefore it’s clear that the Catholic Church wants to defend the embryo’s life without regard to the stage of development. This is a principle we can agree or disagree with, but the point here is that this strenuous defence of whatever smells of human life becomes less strenuous when we talk about homosexual people.

The Pope should maybe reflect about this contradiction implied in defending human life of embryos but not of homosexual people. A strong defence of human life shouldn’t leave room for killing a particular category of people: it is an indefensible position from both a logical and a moral perspective. Maybe the next time the Pope should think about all the homosexual people that have been killed just because of their sexual attitude, and then he would better write a long list of “mea culpa” instead of “non possumus”.

Some References

To read the entire dignitas personae in english click here


Many newspapers articles in Italian are available on this site and then click on “Rassegna Stampa”

Corriere della Sera 3rd of December page 9
L’Avvenire 3rd of December 2008 page 13
L’Avvenire 4th of December 2008 page 1
L’Unità 3rd of December 2008 page 24
La Repubblica 3rd of December page 4
La Repubblica 14th of December page 27

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2 Comment on this post

  1. And, if the church does maintain such seemingly contradictory positions, how might it respond to a development such as a pre-natal test for homosexuality? If the church tacitly accepts that homosexuals can be put to death for their sexual orientation, does it then follow that it would accept the abortion of fetuses whose genetic makeup predisposes them to homosexuality? The church must decide whether it stands for the defence of all human life, or merely the lives of those who live and act according to the increasingly antiquated tenets it so desperately clings to. A very interesting post Francesca.

  2. I think this is a false dichotomy. To refuse to endorse a measure asking for decriminalization is to refuse to make homosexual behaviour a value-neutral lifestyle choice on a par with heterosexual marriage. This is completely different from saying that homosexual acts deserve the death penalty. I think you will find that the Catholic church is against the death penalty for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation. But the Catholic church also has the right not to endorse behaviour which it believes is sin – regardless of the unpopularity of this position.

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