The Vatican is reported to be “furious” that the Nobel committee has decided to honour the British doctor Robert G. Edwards with the 2010 Prize in medicine. I have an image of the Man Himself stamping his red-shod foot at the effrontery of the august Swedish body selecting a distinguished researcher whose offense against Rome is to have helped develop in vitro fertilization, a scientific breakthrough that by one count to date has led to the birth of some four million individuals.
It has also brought untold happiness to countless numbers of infertile couples around the world who, thanks to Dr. Edwards and his gynecologist colleague, the late Dr. Patrick Steptoe, have had the joy of holding in their arms their own babies, a blessing that once would never have been theirs. Surely something to be celebrated, for which to give thanks?
But not, it seems, in the eyes and heart of a man and an institution, who through their dogmatic position on contraception have perversely encouraged untold numbers of unwanted pregnancies and often tortured births in areas of the world where they are least needed and frequently result in the death not simply of the child but of the mother, too: for lack of years, for lack of care, for lack of clean water — for lack, even, of common sense and decency.
In this, as in so much else, the Vatican demonstrates just how far out of touch it is with the real world. Its positions on many issues as outdated as the uniforms worn by its Swiss Guard.
Recent visitors to Rome have recounted how these same guardians appear to be extending the strict dress code once applied only to St Paul’s Basilica to the rest of the Vatican. This summer, Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper revealed that tourists wearing shorts and sleeveless dresses were being refused entry because they were “inappropriately dressed.”
The irony is not lost on those, many of them intelligent and concerned Catholics, who are calling on Rome to account for the singularly inappropriate behavior of hundreds — and perhaps even more — priests who have been accused of the serial abuse of young people in their care. What many find most distasteful is that many of the more serious cases that have come to light were perpetrated during the period when the current Pope served as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a position in which his main responsibilities centered on defending and reaffirming Catholic doctrine on such issues as birth control and homosexuality. The then Cardinal Ratzinger also managed successfully to apply the “confidentiality of internal church investigations” to the numerous cases of sexual abuse by priests, ensuring that most of the accused were moved to other dioscese, there to continue their ministrations unhindered by the long arm of the secular law.
Where, pray, was his red-footed fury then?
Ian de Stains is the Executive Director of the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan. The views expressed in this column are strictly his own and are not necessarily endorsed by or shared by the Chamber.
Robert G. Edwards, Wikipedia