Avoid polarizing debate, promote healthy scientific discussion, pope says

Pope Francis greets people who took part in a conference organized by the Alphonsian Academy in Rome during an audience at the Vatican March 23, 2023. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — When presenting its moral teachings on bioethics, the church needs to avoid falling into the "extremist dynamics of polarization" seen in media debates, Pope Francis said.

"Every theological-moral proposal ultimately has this foundation: it is God's love that is our guide," he said during an audience at the Vatican March 23 with people who attended a conference hosted by the Alphonsian Academy in Rome.

The academy, founded and run by the Redemptorists, offers advanced studies in moral theology. It held a conference March 21-22 on modern-day practical applications of St. Alphonsus' theological-moral proposals, especially in the field of bioethics and social justice.

When it comes to bioethical issues, the pope said, moral proposals "must be attentive to the real ordeals of people, who are often confused when faced with the moral dilemmas of life."

The work of moral theology must be more "accessible" and comprehensible to the average person, he said, and guidelines on life issues must be developed further to make them more "practicable and humanizing."

In the "complex field" of bioethics, he said, it is important "to cultivate the patience of listening and discussion as St. Alphonsus recommends for situations of conflict. Do not be afraid to listen."

It is important to seek "common solutions that recognize and guarantee respect for the sacredness of every life, in every condition," he said. Research that covers many different disciplines "will allow new challenges to be approached with greater competence and critical skills, in the light of the Gospel and human experience."

"Only in this way will it be possible to develop reasonable and sound arguments in the bioethical field, rooted in faith, suitable for adult and responsible consciences and capable of inspiring social-political debate," he said.

The church needs to "shy away from the extremist dynamics of polarization, which are more characteristic of media debate than of healthy and fruitful scientific and theological research," Pope Francis said.

"Let us then seek to enter humbly and wisely into the complex fabric of the society in which we live, to know well how it works and to propose to the men and women of our time appropriate paths toward greater maturity," he said.

The responses of the church on moral issues, he said, need to be "pathways, adequate pathways, not mathematical solutions."

"Problems are solved by walking ecclesially as the people of God, walking with people in the moral state they are in," he said. "Walking with them and looking for a way to solve their problems, but walking, not sitting like doctors who with a raised finger condemn without caring."

"The environmental crisis, ecological transition, war, a financial system capable of affecting people's lives to the point of creating new slaves, the challenge of building fraternity among individuals and all people" are among those issues requiring greater reflection, research and dialogue, the pope said.

"In recent years, we have faced serious moral issues such as migration and pedophilia; today, we see the urgency of adding others, such as profit concentrated in the hands of a few and the division of global powers," he said, adding, "Let us also accept these challenges with confidence, ready to 'give reason for the hope that is in us.'"

Nourished by Sacred Scripture, moral theology "should help the faithful understand the nobility of their vocation to bring Christ's charity" and love into the world, he said.

Conscience, he said, "is first and foremost the place where every person is alone with God, whose voice echoes in his depths." This is how one's conscience can reflect "the very Word of the creator, who became flesh to be with humanity."

"Moral theologians, missionaries and confessors are called to enter into a living relationship with the people of God, especially taking on the cry of the least, to understand their real difficulties, to look at existence from their point of view and to offer them answers that reflect the light of the Father's eternal love," the pope said.



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