The British "newspaper" The Telegraph has run a story headlined "Vatican vows to expel stem cell scientists from Church" and illustrated yet again why the secular press is too incompetent to keep its job when it comes to reporting religion stories.
According to the story:
Scientists who carry out embryonic stem cell research
and politicians who pass laws permitting the practice will be
excommunicated, the Vatican said yesterday.
human embryos is equivalent to an abortion. It is the same thing," said
Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, head of the Pontifical Council for the
"Excommunication will be applied to the
women, doctors and researchers who eliminate embryos [and to the]
politicians that approve the law," he said in an interview with
Famiglia Christiana, an official Vatican magazine.
Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!
The Telegraph needs to hold its horses on this one.
First, the fact that the head of a pontifical council said something in a magazine interview–even in a magazine published by the Vatican–does not ammount ot a statement of Vatican policy, so it is completely misrepresents the situation to take the cardinals interview remarks and pitch them as "Vatican vows" to do anything. The Vatican doesn’t make policy statements in magazine interviews.
Second, we’re talking about the head of the Pontifical Council on the Family, here. While he’s a great guy, it is not within his brief to make binding statements regarding the extent to which canonical matters like excommunication apply to particular situations. He’s certainly entitled to express his opinions on the matters (and ED PETERS THINKS HE’S RIGHT REGARDING EMBRYO DESTROYERS) but the good cardinal is not empowered to move beyond the realm of offering an opinion and into making binding interpretations of canon law. So one more reason why this ain’t a "Vatican vow."
Third, we’re not talking about all stem cell scientists–just those who destroy embryos. As JAMIE BEU POINTS OUT, only stem cell research involving embryos is in question, not adult stem cell research.
Fourth, even confining outselves to embryonic stem cell research, it ain’t all scientists who do this research that the cardinal was addressing–just those who destroy embryos. If a scientist is doing experiments on a cell line derived from embryos who were killed in the past, he’s not performing an abortion and thus he’s not whacked by the sentence of excommunication. Regardless of whether he’s engaging in a moral activity in doing such experiments, he’s not aborting embryos and thus does not incur excommunication for procuring or assisting in the procurement of an abortion.
Fifth, excommunication does not "expel [one] from [the] Church"! It just doesn’t! Not under current canon law. The canonical effects of excommunication are enumerated in CANON 1331 and being expelled from the Church ain’t one of ’em.
So any way you slice it, The Telegraph staff responsible for this story have done a flatly incompetent job–at that before we even get past the headline!
It’s not even clear from the way the story is written how far its incompetence goes.
For example, note this statement:
"Excommunication will be applied to the women, doctors and researchers who eliminate embryos [and to the] politicians that approve the law," he said in an interview with Famiglia Christiana, an official Vatican magazine.
Since I don’t have a copy of Famiglia Christiana (or a translation of it), I have to rely on The Telegraph that the material from the cardinal is being quoted accurately and in context, but there is a question in my mind about that because of the inserted "[and to the]" which bridges an elipsis in the cardinal’s remarks.
There is a question in my mind about whether this insertion and elipsis distorts what the cardinal said because there would be notable canonical problems with the assertion that politicians would be excommunicated.
Penal laws are subject to narrow interpretation (Canon 18), and the Church has not historically interpreted the abortion excommunication politicians who vote in favor of laws that allow abortion as being excommunicated. Those directly involved in the abortion are, but not those who established the legal framework allowing abortion to take place.
Further, John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae 73 that in certain situations Catholic politicians can vote for laws that allow abortion if there is no practical way to get the abortion-allowing provisions out of the laws.
If Cardinal Trujillo did say that the abortion excommunication applies to politicians (and I don’t know what is meant by "approve"–whether it is morally approve or approve in the sense of voting, either one of which would have canonical hurdles for such excommunications to take effect) then that is his opinion, but it is once again not an authentic (i.e., authoritative) interpretation of canon law.
Unfortunately, I can’t even be sure what the cardinal said or meant from the incompetent way that The Telegraph’s staff has handled this story.