Monday, April 16, 2007

A Tale of Two Archbishops: What exactly is Anglican Archbishop Philip Freier saying about Archbishop Denis Hart's stand on Embryo Experiments?

Today, Anglican Archbishop Philip Freier has a column in The Age entitled "Let's be concerned about all human life".

It is hard to know a) who he is taking his stand against (Archbishop Hart or the Victorian Government?), and b) what his actual stand is (pro-life certainly, but to what degree?).

His topic is, of course, the proposed changes to Victoria's laws that would "allow scientists to clone human life for research purposes". This is, he says, a "vexed" ethical question. But it is not a question which he proceeds directly to address. First he makes a detour to comment about the "Roman Catholic ethical system".

Now it is known to everyone that the Catholic Archbishop, Denis Hart, has been particularly outspoken on this particular "vexed" ethical position (see his statements here and here).

It appears that Archbishop Freier is actually reacting to these statements of our Catholic Archbishop rather than to the proposed legislation before the parliament? For rather than proceeding to critique the prevailing culture that could lead to such ethically bankrupt practices as creating human beings just to kill them off in experimentation, the Archbishop dives straight in (apropos of nothing) to a discussion of Catholic moral theology:
I respect the position of the Catholic Church — a position also held by many in the Anglican Church — that all human life from the moment of conception is sacred and has an inviolable right to life. This belief inevitably opposes the creation of human embryos purely for experimentation and then destruction.
To say "I respect" is not the same thing as to say "I share". One is almost waiting for other boot (the "BUT...") to drop.

Yet it doesn't--not immediately anyway. Apart from the comment that "I am not concerned here to establish whether the Roman Catholic ethical system is right or wrong in its entirety" (one wonders why he should even think anyone would look to him for such a judgment to be established), he agrees that "there are questions that need to be asked", and he proceeds to ask them.

Some of these questions, in general, favour the Catholic position, particularly the question which he identifies as the "key moral question":
at what point does human life begin? Is being able to think and feel like a human being the test or is it just having the potential to develop these abilities? If we decide a cluster of cells just days old — the early pre-implantation embryo — does not satisfy this criterion, then what do we say about an old person with severe dementia? Is this person any less human than a fit and healthy young person? Is it possible to say we are more or less human at different points on the continuum of life? Or do we have an essential and indivisible humanness that remains the same at every point?
Others we would react to with some concern (such as:
what does it mean to be made in the image of God? Are we made in this image simply through our DNA and biological distinctiveness, or does it depend on our becoming human people in relationship with God?)
And is he having a go at Archbishop Hart when he asks
Is it reasonable for the opponents of this legislation to argue emotively that it allows human life to be created and then to be "killed off"?
(In his first statement Archbishop Hart said that "creating and then destroying human life" is always totally unethical.")

And when he writes that there are other "disturbing threats to the sacredness of human life that cry out for urgent attention and justice", is he suggesting that the Catholic Church does not give the same attention to these injustices that it gives to bioethical questions?

I must say that I am more than a little amazed that an Anglican Archbishop--in addressing a public ethical issue as important as "therapeutic" cloning--should chose publically to engage the issue in such a sectarian manner.


At Monday, April 16, 2007 2:42:00 pm , Anonymous Tony Bartel said...

It seems to me that this is a very good Anglican statement.

Both sides of the view are canvassed, without really committing to any point of view - what else can an Anglican leader do who is sandwiched in between evangelical and liberal factions in his diocese. A lot is said without really saying anything. A good recipe for fudge.

Then, you play the Pope Card - the one that trumps all others. We may not be able to agree among ourselves, but thank goodness we are not like those Catholics who are not able to think for themselves, but unthinkingly have to parrot the line that their Church takes. Surely anything must be better than that.

Finally, you cloud the debate by bringing in other social issues, and claim that these should be addressed, even though as Herr Schutz points out, the Catholic Church has been equally vocal in addressing these issues, and often more effectively than Anglicans.

It is mostly embarassing to be an Anglican these days, but some days it is more embarassing than others.

Kyrie eleison.

At Monday, April 16, 2007 3:38:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

I will pray for you, Fr Tony. Far be it from me to suggest that the cure to all your woes of being an Anglican is really very simple... ;-)

But while I have long accepted that this was the way of things in the Anglican camp, I hardly expected their highest representative to take our highest representative to task in such a public and "fudgy" manner!

Not what makes for good ecumenical relations, you know.

At Monday, April 16, 2007 7:57:00 pm , Anonymous Tony Bartel said...

" Far be it from me to suggest that the cure to all your woes of being an Anglican is really very simple... ;-) "

The answer to that is either:

Ecclesiastes 3:1


Mark 8:33


At Monday, April 16, 2007 9:25:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

To which I can only say: John 16:29!

At Tuesday, April 17, 2007 6:01:00 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

News items from the Archbishop quite clearly articulate that he would not support the legislation - the news story is in the associated links next to the op ed piece on The Age website.

The purpose of the article was not to produce another item of faith to stick in the back of the prayer book, but to get people thinking, and discussing the complexity of the issue, to step outside of the well rehearsed insitutional reactions and really enter into a dialogue with one another.

It's hardly embarassing to be part of a church that desires to enter into dialogue and become truly informed.

At Tuesday, April 17, 2007 11:23:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Oh, good, glad we cleared that up, Anonymous.

So what was the purpose of commenting on the "Roman Catholic ethical system"?

Or does the process of being open and informed also include conducting our ecumenical dialogue through the medium of the newspapers?

And generally, like the theatre productions I attend, I prefer ethical reactions, whether "institutional" or not, to be "well rehearsed".

At Wednesday, April 18, 2007 12:18:00 pm , Anonymous Tony Bartel said...

"It's hardly embarassing to be part of a church that desires to enter into dialogue and become truly informed."

Absolutely right.

It is embarassing, however, when a leader of one Church has a dig at the teaching of another Church - no matter how subtle this is.

Why did the Roman Catholic Church need to be brought into this at all? Why not simply state a position? Why accuse others of emotional reasoning, when in reality you are only arguing with a straw man?

This is what is embarassing. As Herr Schutz has quite rightly pointed out, the op ed pages of the Age are not the place to enter into ecumenical debate.


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