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US bishops: Equality Act will hurt more than help

Washington D.C., Mar 20, 2019 / 02:16 pm (CNA).- In a March 20 letter to members of the U.S. Senate, three bishops warned that while the proposed Equality Act purports to address issues of discrimination, it would actually create new problems and threaten fundamental freedoms.

“This proposed legislation does not accomplish what its supporters assert, but rather creates new difficulties and will hurt more people than its designers want to help,” the bishops said, urging Senators to oppose the bill.

The Equality Act, reintroduced in Congress this month, would add anti-discrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity to existing protections for race, color, national origin, sex, disability and religion.

It would apply not just to employment, but other areas like housing, jury duty, credit, and education, as well as at retail stores, emergency shelters, banks, transit and pharmacies, among others. It would also specify facility access for self-identified transgender persons, such as access to male and female bathrooms.

David Cicilline, D-R.I., is the bill’s main sponsor in the House, NBC News reports. As of March 13, the bill had 239 co-sponsors in the House.

The March letter to the U.S. Senate was signed by Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ religious liberty committee; Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, head of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage; and Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

“As a nation we have a laudable history of confronting and overcoming unjust discrimination and attempting to balance the rights of various groups,” the bishops said.

“As Catholics, we share in this work of justice. It is our firm belief that each and every person should be treated with dignity and respect,” including the right to gainful employment with discrimination and the right to services necessary to maintain health and safety, they said. “In this, we whole-heartedly support nondiscrimination to ensure that everyone’s rights are protected.”

But instead of providing these protections, the Equality Act would create broad regulations that would harm society, they warned.

“The Act’s definitions alone would remove women and girls from protected legal existence. Furthermore, the Act also fails to recognize the difference between the person – who has dignity and is entitled to recognition of it – and the actions of a person, which have ethical and social ramifications. Conflating the two will introduce a plethora of further legal complications.”

The legislation would threaten the right to free speech, conscience and exercise of religion by making illegal certain beliefs about the human person - held by many individuals and groups, the bishops said. It would particularly threaten religious freedom, a foundational principle of the American founding, by exempting itself from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a move that the bishops noted is “unprecedented.”

Also dangerous, they said, is the lack of criteria for “gender identity,” which could open the door for abuses in restrooms and locker rooms.

“This risk arises not so much from those who experience gender incongruence, but from others who would take malicious advantage of open-door policies in these private spaces,” they stated.

The Equality Act would also put many charitable organizations at risk, requiring that homeless shelters place biological men with vulnerable women and adoption agencies place children with same-sex couples, even if this violates their beliefs and the birth mother’s wishes, the bishops said.

“The resulting closures of such charitable services would be unconscionable – especially when the opioid crisis is leaving more and more children in need of foster care.”

The legislation could threaten professionals in the wedding industry, such as cake bakers, photographers, and florists, who will serve all customers but cannot express messages to which they object. It would require health professionals to provide “gender transition” treatments and surgeries in violation of their medical and ethical judgments.

“Given all of these effects, we strongly oppose the Equality Act and respectfully urge you to oppose it as well,” the bishops wrote to the Senate. “We pray that wisdom will inform your deliberations on these matters and we readily stand with you, and are willing to assist you, in developing compassionate and just means to eradicate unjust discrimination and harassment from our country.”

Update on Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo’s Recovery from a Mild Stroke

WASHINGTON—The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston has issued the following update on the recovery of Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston and Presidentof the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Cardinal DiNardo suffered a mild stroke last Friday, March 15. We join with the archdiocese in continued prayers for the Cardinal’s full recovery.

Archdiocesan Statement re: Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo:

Following a mild stroke experienced last Friday evening while leading a Lenten observance of the Stations of the Cross, we are pleased to report that Cardinal DiNardo’s condition has improved to the point that he was discharged from St. Joseph’s Hospital today — and has entered a standard rehabilitation program which usually lasts in the neighborhood of two weeks. Based on recent trends, doctors expect the Cardinal to make a full recovery. “I could not be more grateful to the truly wonderful doctors and nurses at St. Joseph’s for their expert care and compassion, which has helped hasten my way down the road to a full recovery,” said Cardinal DiNardo. “I am also doubly thankful for the many kindwishes and especially the prayers that have been directed towards my healing, which I can assure you are making a true difference. I look forward to getting back to work soon and continuing the important work we have before us.”  

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Keywords: Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston

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Media Contact:

Judy Keane

202-541-3200

 

U.S. Bishops’ Chairmen Reaffirm Authentic Human Dignity and Rights in Letter to Congress Opposing Equality Act

WASHINGTON—Three chairmen of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) have written in public opposition to the Equality Act (H.R. 5 / S. 788), which was introduced in Congress on March 13, 2019. The Act would add the new terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the definition of “sex” in federal civil rights laws, which has wide-reaching impacts on health care, women and girls’ legal protections, charitable services to needful populations, schools, personal privacy, athletics, free speech, religious liberties, and potentially parental rights.
 
With respect to those who identify as “LGBT,” “each and every person should be treated with dignity and respect. Part of that dignity, as Pope Benedict stated, is every person’s right to gainful and decent employment free of unjust discrimination. Also included is each person’s right to services that address their needs for health and safety,” affirmed Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty; and Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage; in their letter to members of Congress.
 
“Rather than offering meaningful protections for individuals, however, the Equality Act would impose sweeping regulations to the detriment of society as a whole,” they explained. The chairmen proceeded to elaborate on some of their several concerns with the Act’s consequences. In state and local jurisdictions with similar laws, many of these have already been coming to fruition – with students, charities, and businesses owners facing privacy violations, penalties, or litigation.

Stressing their desire to work toward social inclusion without divisiveness or harm to the common good, the bishops emphasized to members of Congress that “we readily stand with you, and are willing to assist you, in developing compassionate and just means to eradicate unjust discrimination and harassment from our country.”
 
The letter to the House and Senate is available online at www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/marriage-and-family/marriage/promotion-and-defense-of-marriage/upload/Equality-Act-Letter-to-Congress-House-1.pdf, and www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/marriage-and-family/marriage/promotion-and-defense-of-marriage/upload/Equality-Act-Letter-to-Congress-Senate-1.pdf.
 
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Keywords: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Bishop Frank J. Dewane, Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, Committee for Religious Liberty, Bishop James D. Conley, Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage; U.S. Congress, Equality Act (H.R. 5 / S. 788), LGBT, civil rights laws
 
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MEDIA CONTACT:
Judy Keane
202-541-3200

 

Bishops oppose 'absurd' amnesty law for El Salvador

San Salvador, El Salvador, Mar 19, 2019 / 04:15 pm (CNA).- A proposal to grant amnesty to those convicted of war crimes committed during the El Salvadoran civil war has drawn friece criticizm from the country’s Catholic bishops.

 

"It would be a spurious law,” said the Episcopal Conference of El Salvador, which represents the bishops of the country’s eight Catholic dioceses, in a statement released March 17.

 

The bishops compared the proposal to the 1993 Amnesty Law, brought in following a United Nations investigation into human rights abuses during the El Salvadoran Civil War.

 

That measure was declared unconstitutional by the country’s Supreme Court in 2016, which ordered the Salvadoran congress to draft a new version of the law by July of 2019.

 

According to the bishops, the new bill would be a “totally unfair law” that would protect criminals instead of their victims.

 

Instead, the bishops called for “a law of true reconciliation,” that would promote a “transitional justice exercise that protects and provides reparation to victims.”

 

Archbishop José Luis Escobar Alas of San Salvador said that the new law “does not make sense,” and is worse than the 1993 version.

 

“It is absurd to issue an amnesty law that seeks to cover all crimes, including crimes against humanity,” said Alas.

 

The 1993 Amnesty Bill notably would have prevented charges being brought against those who orchestrated the assassination of St. Oscar Romero.

 

Romero, who was the Archbishop of San Salvador, was murdered while celebrating Mass on March 24, 1980. The day before his murder, he had preached a homily that implored the country’s soldiers to stop committing human rights atrocities.

 

It is believed that he was killed by Salvadoran National Police Detective Óscar Pérez Linares, and that his assassination was ordered by Roberto D'Aubuisson, a politician and death-squad leader. Álvaro Rafael Saravia, who was chief of security for D’Aubuisson and involved in the death squads, was found to be liable for Romero’s death, but has not yet been prosecuted.

 

After the 1993 law was repealed, a warrant was issued for Saravia, and the case was re-opened.

 

Saravia remains in hiding. Linares and D’Aubuisson are now both deceased.

 

During El Salvador’s 12-year civil war, an estimated 75,000 people were killed, and a further 10,000 people vanished. The conflict ended in 1992, following the singing of the Chapultepec Peace Accords.

U.S. Bishops’ Chairman Offers Prayers for Recovery, After Flooding in the Midwest

WASHINGTON—After historic flooding brought devastation to parts of the Midwest, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida and Chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, expressed grief over the lives lost and threatened by the floods and offered prayers for recovery.

The full statement follows:

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of life and the damage caused by the flooding throughout the Midwest these past few days. As of this writing, at least nine million people in fourteen states have been affected by rising water levels along rivers and creeks in the central United States. Four people have been killed by swift currents and rising floodwaters. Heavy rainfall and melting snow from this winter’s powerful storms continue to threaten the lives and livelihoods of many as the floodwaters are not expected to recede until later this week.

It is our prayer that those affected by the floods will find the strength to rebuild. We trust that the Lord will console them in their suffering. Let us answer the Lord’s call to love one another and generously support our neighbors in this time of need.”
Donations can be made to Catholic Charities USA at https://catholiccharitiesusa.org.

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Keywords: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Bishop Frank Dewane, Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, Missouri, Kansas, Midwest, Missouri River

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Media Contact:
Judy Keane
202-541-3200

 

Collection to Help Serve Vulnerable and Marginalized People to Be Held on March 31

WASHINGTON— The annual Catholic Relief Services Collection will be held in many dioceses across the country on Laetare Sunday, March 31.

The Catholic Relief Services Collection supports the work of several Catholic organizations serving some of the most marginalized communities in the world. Programs include relief and resettlement for victims of persecution, war, and natural disasters; development projects to improve living conditions for people in poverty; pastoral services for rural workers and legal support services for poor immigrants in the United States; peace and reconciliation work for people suffering from violence and religious persecution; and advocacy on behalf of the powerless.

“This Lent we pray that our eyes are opened to see Christ, our redeemer, standing before us. This special collection is a way for us to see Christ in the face of those in need — people who are in poverty, suffering, vulnerable, and marginalized. I thank the faithful for their steadfast support of those in need and for answering Christ’s call to help them,” said Archbishop Paul D. Etienne of Anchorage, Alaska, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) Committee on National Collections.

Funds donated to the special collection are provided to six Catholic groups that share in the Catholic mission of promoting the sanctity of human life and the dignity of the human person. These include the USCCB Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church, the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, and the USCCB Department of Migration and Refugee Services, as well as Catholic Relief Services, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., and the Holy Father's Relief Fund. The USCCB Administrative Committee is responsible for grant-making from this national collection.

More information about the collection, including detailed information about who it supports and how the funds are distributed, can be found at www.usccb.org/catholic-relief. People who live in dioceses that do not participate in the collection can learn more online.  
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Keywords: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Catholic Relief Service, Collection, Archbishop Paul D. Etienne, poverty, pastoral services, legal services, immigrants,

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Media Contact:
Judy Keane
202-541-3200

 

President of U.S. Bishops Conference Suffers Mild Stroke

WASHINGTON—The following statement has been issued by the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston regarding Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston and Presidentof the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. We join with the archdiocese in praying for the Cardinal’s quick recovery.  

Archdiocesan Statement re: Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo:

Cardinal DiNardo was taken to a Houston hospital last night after experiencing the symptoms of what tests today have confirmed was a mild stroke. The Cardinal is resting comfortablyand conversing with associates, doctors and nurses. It is expected that Cardinal DiNardo will remain hospitalized for a few more days of testing and observation, followed by a transfer to another facility for rehabilitation. He is grateful to the doctorsand nurses for their wonderful care and for continued prayers during his recovery. Cardinal DiNardo said, "With so much to do, I am looking forward to getting back to work as soon as possible."

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Keywords: Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston

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Media Contact:

Judy Keane

202-541-3200

 

Polish bishops release ‘tragic’ report on sexual abuse

Krakow, Poland, Mar 15, 2019 / 04:10 pm (CNA).- Nearly 400 Polish priests were accused of sexual abuse of minors from 1990 until 2018, a study commissioned by the Episcopal Conference of Poland revealed on Thursday.

 

The study covered data collected from the more than 10,000 parishes in Poland, and included religious orders.

 

According to the report, 382 priests were accused of abuse during the time covered, and the allegations concern 625 potential victims. Of the clerics accused, 284 were diocesan priests, and 98 belonged to a religious order.

 

Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, who leads the Episcopal Conference of Poland, called the report’s findings “tragic,” and said every instance of sexual abuse is a “particularly painful” betrayal of public trust.

 

The archbishop also noted that while the Church must deal with the problem of clerical sexual abuse, it was important that the same kinds of abuse not be permitted to continue in other institutions.

 

Among allegations concerning diocesan priests, 54.2 percent concerned victims under the age of 15, and 45.8 percent victims over the age 15.

 

Allegations involving religious orders showed that a total of 44 priests--44.9 percent--were accused of sexually abusing someone under the age of 15. Fifty four priests, or 55.1 percent, were accused of abusing someone over the age of 15.

 

In total, 198 priests were accused of abusing those under 15, compared to 184 who were accused of abusing older teens.

 

In 58.4 percent of allegations of clerical abuse in Poland, males were reportedly the victims. Females were the reported victims in 41.6 percent of allegations.

 

Since 2002, when revelations of abuse by American clergy became worldwide news, the number of cases reported to Polish authorities has seen a gradual increase. In 2017, there were 36 allegations made against diocesan priests.

 

Of the 382 accused priests, a canonical penal process was pursued in 362 of these cases. There is no data available for the other 20 cases, nor is it explained in the report why this is the case. In 270 cases, the process was completed at the time of the study’s commision, and the process was ongoing in 92 cases.

 

A total of 68 priests--almost exactly one quarter--were removed from the priesthood as a result of the canonical process. 109 were punished with a limitation of ministry or other sanctions, and 31 were transferred to either a different parish or in a location away from children. In 34 cases, the process was ended after the death of the accused, and in 28 cases, the priest was acquitted.

 

Only 168 priests were charged with a crime by civil authorities. At the time the report was published, the trial had concluded in 135 of those cases. Eighty-five priests were convicted of sexual abuse. In 36 cases, the charges did not move forward, and in 12 cases, the accuser did not want to cooperate and pursue charges. Two priests were aquitted.

 

There are 33 priests whose trials are ongoing.

 

Poland’s statistics on clerical abuse tell a different than data concerning the United States. According to the “John Jay study,” a report into allegations of abuse by American priests commissioned in 2002, only 27.3 percent of those abused by priests were over the age of 15. In the U.S., males accounted for nearly 80 percent of survivors of clerical abuse.

On Lenten retreat, Pope Francis reflected on 'Gaudium et spes'

Rome, Italy, Mar 15, 2019 / 11:15 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said Friday that he senses resistance to Gaudium et spes, a document the pope said he reflected much upon during his Lenten retreat this week.

In his concluding remarks at the Roman curia’s spiritual exercises March 15, Pope Francis said that he was struck by the retreat master’s theme of God’s presence in humanity.

“I thought a lot about a conciliar document - Gaudium et spes - perhaps it is the document that has found more resistance, even today,” Pope Francis said.

Gaudium et spes is the Second Vatican Council's 1965 pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world.

Francis told the retreat master, Benedictine abbot Bernardo Gianni, that he saw the monk possessed “the courage of the Council Fathers when they signed that document.”

The document's introduction states that “the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel.”

Gaudium et spes touches on the Church’s role in economic and social life, matters of the family, political affairs, the development of culture, and the promotion of peace in the world through the international community.

“Far from diminishing our concern to develop this earth, the expectancy of a new earth should spur us on, for it is here that the body of a new human family grows, foreshadowing in some way the age which is to come,” Gaudium et spes states.

It continues, “When we have spread on earth the fruits of our nature and our enterprise—human dignity, brotherly communion, and freedom—according to the command of the Lord and in his Spirit, we will find them once again, cleansed this time from the stain of sin, illuminated and transfigured, when Christ presents to his Father an eternal and universal kingdom … Here on earth the kingdom is mysteriously present.”

Reflecting on the incarnate Word, the pastoral constitution says: “Christ … fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.”

Pope Francis returned to Rome after his Lenten retreat at the Casa Divin Maestro in Ariccia March 15. It is the sixth consecutive year the pope and members of the Curia have held their spiritual exercises at the house in Ariccia.

Scientists call for global moratorium on genetically modified babies

London, England, Mar 15, 2019 / 10:03 am (CNA).- A group of 18 scientists and bioethicists from seven countries has called for a global moratorium on the practice of editing human DNA to create genetically modified babies until the international community can develop a “framework” for how to proceed in an ethical manner.

The group of scientists, in a March 13 editorial in the journal Nature, acknowledged that many people of religious belief find “the idea of redesigning the fundamental biology of humans morally troubling,” and that the practice could have serious societal consequences.

This practice of changing “heritable DNA” – found in human sperm, eggs, or embryos – is known as “germline editing.”

“By ‘global moratorium’, we do not mean a permanent ban,” the group of scientists wrote.

“Rather, we call for the establishment of an international framework in which nations, while retaining the right to make their own decisions, voluntarily commit to not approve any use of clinical germline editing unless certain conditions are met.”

The conditions for a nation to meet, the scientists say, should include giving public notice of its intention to engage in germline editing and consulting with other nations about “the wisdom of doing so,” as well as taking a suggested two years to ascertain whether there is “broad societal consensus” about whether germline editing is appropriate.

In addition, a coordinating body to provide information and reports about germline editing should be established, they say, possibly under the purview of the World Health Organization.

The call for a moratorium comes amid ethical questions surrounding a Chinese biophysicist who claims he created the first genetically modified babies late last year.

He Jiankui says his goal was to edit embryos to give them the ability to resist HIV infection by disabling the CCR5 gene, which allows HIV to enter a cell.

He says he used a technology known as CRISPR to edit sections of the human genome, performing the procedure on embryonic humans. The technology, which selectively “snips” and trims areas of the genome and replaces it with strands of desired DNA, has previously been used on adult humans and other species. CRISPR technology has only recently been used to treat deadly diseases in adults, and limited experiments have been performed on animals.

In a letter signed by 120 Chinese scientists, He was condemned for ignoring ethical guidelines. The letter called the gene manipulation a “Pandora’s box,” and said, “The biomedical ethics review for this so-called research exists in name only. Conducting direct human experiments can only be described as crazy.”

At least three of the authors of the Nature article have connections to CRISPR-based gene-editing technologies.

The Nature scientists did not rule out germline editing for research purposes, as long as the study did not involve the transfer of an embryo to woman’s uterus; nor did their call for a ban apply to gene editing in non-reproductive cells in order to treat diseases, because modifications done on those cells can be done with the informed consent of adults providing the cells, and the modifications are not heritable, i.e. they cannot be passed on to offspring.

Around 30 nations worldwide, including the United States, already have laws to directly or indirectly ban the clinical use of germline editing. CRISPR research on embryos is currently banned from receiving federal funding, but can be conducted using private funding. The Food and Drug Administration prohibits gene modification on viable human embryos, which means any genetically modified human embryos must be destroyed, rather than brought to term.

The scientists called for a fixed period – perhaps five years – when no clinical uses of germline editing are allowed worldwide.

“As well as allowing for discussions about the technical, scientific, medical, societal, ethical and moral issues that must be considered before germline editing is permitted, this period would provide time to establish an international framework,” they wrote.

The scientists noted that here is broad scientific consensus that germline editing is not yet safe or effective enough to be considered for clinical use. They also highlighted the distinction between “genetic correction,” which involves working to edit out rare mutations, and “genetic enhancement,” or the attempt to improve human individuals and the species.

The Nature scientists noted that even efforts at genetic correction, when undertaken in order to cure a disease, can have unintended consequences. For example, a common variant of the gene SLC39A8 decreases a person’s risk of developing hypertension and Parkinson’s disease, but increases their risk of developing schizophrenia, Crohn’s disease, and obesity.

This is also true for the genes that He worked with in his research, as altering those genes could make the genetically modified babies more susceptible to certain viral infections.

“Its influence on many other diseases – and its interactions with other genes and with the environment – remains unknown,” the scientists wrote.

“It will be much harder to predict the effects of completely new genetic instructions – let alone how multiple modifications will interact when they co-occur in future generations. Attempting to reshape the species on the basis of our current state of knowledge would be hubris.”

In Dignitas personae, its 2008 instruction on certain bioethical questions, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said that while somatic cell gene therapy is in principle morally licit, “because the risks connected to [germ line cell therapy] are considerable and as yet not fully controllable, in the present state of research, it is not morally permissible to act in a way that may cause possible harm to the resulting progeny.”

The instruction also warned against a “eugenic mentality” that aims to improve the gene pool, adding that there could be social stigmas and privileges applied to people with certain genetic qualities, when “such qualities do not constitute what is specifically human.”

CNA spoke to John DiCamillo, an ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, in early 2017. He explained that somatic cell gene editing may be morally legitimate when used for “a directly therapeutic purpose for a particular patient in question, and if we’re sure we’re going to limit whatever changes to this person.” He pointed to gene therapy trials for disorders such as sickle cell disease and cancer that show promise for treating difficult disorders.

Editing sperm, eggs, or early embryos, however, presents serious concerns, he said. Manipulating sperm and ova requires removing them from a person’s body; if conception is achieved with these cells, it is nearly always through in vitro methods. This practice of in vitro fertilization is held by the Church to be ethically unacceptable because it dissociates procreation from the integrally personal context of the conjugal act.

Scientists at the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research and education arm of Susan B. Anthony List, reacted to the Nature scientists' proposal by saying their suggested moratorium does not go far enough.

“This proposal for a temporary moratorium on implanting and gestating gene-edited embryos is disappointingly short-sighted,” said Dr. David Prentice, CLI’s vice president and research director.

“Scientifically unsound and ethically problematic experiments on human embryos, including creating gene-edited embryos in the lab and then destroying them, would still be allowed and even encouraged. We call instead for the full prohibition of gene-editing experiments on embryos or germ cells – not just a speed bump.”