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Facts First: Vatican Seeks Scientific Data Before Making Judgments

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Facts First: Vatican Seeks Scientific Data Before Making Judgments

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Vatican believes scientific facts
exist and it wants to hear about them from world-renowned scientists before it
offers guidance on or criticism of related political, social or economic
policies. The facts and the practical responses to them are separate
issues, but some Catholics do not understand that or object to it — and there
is no lack of evidence for that in Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo’s inbox.

The bishop is chancellor of both the Pontifical Academy of
Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. The two academies are
holding a workshop Feb. 27-March 1 on preserving biodiversity. In January, the bishop began receiving messages objecting to the invitation the academies extended to Paul R. Ehrlich, president of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University. The letters of protest highlight Ehrlich ‘s controversial book, “The Population Bomb,” published in 1968, and
his advocacy of strong population-control measures, including through abortion. Ehrlich, a biologist, is not a member of either pontifical academy but has been invited to speak at the workshop because of his studies in the field of conservation biology. “Naturally, someone can say, ‘Oh, look who they have invited to the Vatican,’ but the positive side is that he can help us find the truth in the theme we are discussing,” Bishop Sanchez told Catholic News
Service. Ehrlich is one of two people asked to speak about how “consumption preferences, population numbers, technology (and) ecosystem productivity” impact biodiversity. The Vatican has long acknowledged the fact of global
population growth, has shared concern about increased poverty rates in the
fastest-growing regions of the world and accepts the scientific evidence that the
growing population has had a negative effect on the environment.

However, in evaluating policies to respond to the scientific
fact of population growth and environmental destruction, the Vatican insists on
recognition of the sacredness of every human life, respect for human dignity
and trust in the human capacity to change and to innovate. Where some
scientists would favor population-control policies, modern popes consistently
have argued that the problem is less about the number of people living on the
planet and more about human selfishness, the unfair distribution of resources
and a lack of will to find creative solutions.

Before making moral evaluations of policy, the pope and
bishops need to know the scientific facts. The Vatican gets those from scholars
with scientific expertise, regardless of their religious beliefs or their
opinions on the policy implications of the scientific facts.

The object of the upcoming workshop and Ehrlich’s speech is not population
control, Bishop Sanchez said. It is how to respond to the call of Pope Francis
in “Laudato Si'” to protect the diversity of plants and animals God

Objecting to the invitation of a scientist recognized as an
expert in his field “is not logical,” the bishop said. “Critics
are only following the logic of attack. And it’s always the same people.”

Combined, the two pontifical academies have about 100
members — including two dozen Nobel laureates — but Bishop Sanchez said he
does not know how many of them are Catholic. Academicians are nominated by the
pope after vetting by the Vatican Secretariat of State.

Bishop Sanchez said, “I am interested only in their
scientific achievements. Many of them are Nobel laureates. We look for
excellence, for scientists from a variety of disciplines and, third, for those
with a global reputation.”

“Their private opinions are their opinions,” he
said. “What counts is the conclusions that we will draw,” but to
imagine that the conclusions will contradict church teaching on the gift and
sacredness of human life “is crazy.”

Losing patience with the complaints, Bishop Sanchez said it
is not just that the critics seem to be afraid of scientific findings and the
church’s ability to respond to them reasonably, “they are afraid of their
own shadows.”

“Truly, I just don’t understand them. Through dialogue
we are able to obtain much more than they are with their policy of always
criticizing others,” he said.

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.


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