The Church at the forefront
Dr. John Haas: Despite the NCBC’s long history, few Catholics know it exists . . .
I recently had the pleasure of addressing three different Legatus chapters in one week. The topic was the role of the Catholic Church today in the major public policy debates in the area of bioethics.
One cannot discuss the Church’s role in this contentious area without discussing The National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC) of which I serve as president. After one of these Legatus presentations I was chided by a woman for not having made our work and services better known. “Why are we just finding out about you now!?” she wanted to know.
I explained that we do our utmost to make our work known, including writing a regular column for Legatus magazine! However, she has a point. Simply publishing articles with our ethicists’ bylines tells little about the Center’s work.
The Catholic Church is often perceived as being behind the times. However, invariably, the Church is ahead of the times. After all, the father of modern genetics was an Augustinian friar named Gregor Mendel, and it was a Catholic canon named Nicolaus Copernicus who had proposed the theory that the earth revolves around the sun.
NCBC is another indication that the Church is ahead of the times. Before anyone was even talking about bioethics, the Catholic Hospital Association established a “think tank” in 1972 to reflect on the ethical issues arising from developments in medicine and the life sciences. The Association wanted to be prepared to address the ethical issues they knew would arrive in medicine. It was initially named the Pope John XXIII Medical Moral Research and Education Center to honor the man who took the Church boldly into the contemporary world. The name was changed years later. The NCBC is formally committed to doing all of its work in conformity with the magisterial teachings of the Catholic Church.
The Center was forward-looking from the beginning and was established before abortion was “legalized” in this country, before HIV/AIDS had come on the scene, before a stem cell was ever isolated, before fertility clinics were engendering human embryos in Petri dishes and freezing hundreds of thousands of “spare ones” in liquid nitrogen.
The Center’s first president, Fr. Albert Moraczewski, OP, embodied the Catholic tradition of embracing science and religion in his very person. Father Albert had taught pharmacology at Baylor Medical School before discovering his call to the priesthood. He went on to become a Dominican priest, theologian and bioethicist.
The NCBC is the largest Catholic publisher in the area of bioethics. It has a four-page monthly publication, Ethics & Medics, and a scholarly journal, The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly. This publication has been awarded first prize for scholarly excellence six times from the Catholic Press Association.
Then there is education. The Center’s six ethicists travel the world giving presentations on bioethics and the Catholic moral tradition. At the request of a number of bishops, the Center established a National Catholic Certification Program in Bioethics, which is an online educational program requiring completion of weekly assignments, two onsite meetings and a research paper. There are now hundreds of certified health care professionals, hospital administrators, health care attorneys, chaplains, and conscientious Catholics.
One of the Center’s most impressive educational endeavors is a bioethics workshop that takes place every other year. We invite all bishops from Canada, the U.S., Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. In attendance at our February workshop were over 140 bishops, two apostolic nuncios, and the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It is the largest gathering of bishops apart from their own annual meetings and has been addressed by Supreme Court justices, curial cardinals, scientists, philosophers, and, on two occasions, Cardinal Ratzinger.
One of the NCBC’s most valued services is a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week consultation service to assist individuals facing difficult (often life-and-death) ethical decisions, who seek guidance from the Catholic moral tradition. In fact, it was this service the good lady from Legatus wished she had known about.
The Center is here to serve you with the Church’s teachings. Never hesitate to contact us if you need help. The NCBC also offers individual memberships, which provide all its print publications and consultation services. Contact us to see if we can be of assistance. Visit ncbcenter.org or call (215) 877-2660.
JOHN M. HAAS, PH.D., is president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center and founding president of the International Institute for Culture. He is a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life and serves on its Directive Council.