The Vatican department in charge supporting Catholic health care workers has announced that it will soon release updated guidelines on bioethics issues.
The guidelines offered in the "Charter for Health Care Workers" provide a point of reference on Church teaching for medical professionals. It is being updated to provide current teaching on complex topics in the health care field like stem-cell research, reproductive issues, euthanasia and abortion.
Representatives from the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Health Workers spoke to journalists about the theme on Feb. 3 after presenting the Pope's message for the 19th World Day for the Sick.
Bishop Jose L. Redrado, secretary of the council, said Catholic facilities are battling a "culture of death."
In Phoenix, Ariz., one such clash involved doctors at a Catholic hospital choosing to abort the child of a mother with severe pulmonary hypertension. Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix reacted to the news of the abortion by ordering an investigation and, after attempting to reconcile differences with the hospital staff, stripped the facility of its Catholic identity.
These types of cases demonstrate that there is a need to translate Church teaching into terms that are understandable in "modern society," Redrado said.
"The language should be clear," he added, "explaining what the church says, where the frontiers are, where there is a risk of crossing the line."
Under-secretary of the council, Msgr. Jean-Marie Mpendawatu, suggested that the revised document could serve to reduce the "mystification" attached to bioethical themes and offer health workers the truth of Catholic Church teaching in the area.
The monsignor lamented the way that "invasive ideologies" often bury authentic Catholic Church teaching on issues of bioethics. He referred specifically to reproductive issues and the use of adult stem-cell research and treatment.
"Many say that the Church on stem cells is behind the times, it doesn't want to do anything, it's not interested." But the Church has centers for developing and promoting ethical treatments using non-embryonic stem cells, "centers also of research and treatment using (adult) stem cells." he said.
The council, led by Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, is in contact with Catholic institutions to pair their knowledge with Vatican-approved doctrine. Bioethics centers and bishops' conferences throughout the world are contributing.
Msgr. Mpendawatu said that it could be "very important" for the formation of health care workers who are often not trained specifically in bioethics.
During the press conference, the council also announced a May 2011 conference in which participants will examine HIV/AIDS prevention issues. International experts and Vatican officials will be taking part.
Condom use will be discussed, but the conference will take a broader approach to AIDS-related themes, said Msgr. Mpendawatu.
The conference is especially interesting following Pope Benedict XVI's comments on condom use in the 2010 book-interview "Light of the World." He said that condoms were not the solution to AIDS prevention, but that they could show a first sign of moral responsibility if used with the intention of reducing the risk of transmitting disease.
The words were widely seen as a change in Church teaching against condom use, but as the Vatican's doctrine department clarified on Dec. 21, they represented no such change.
The council announced that it will release guidelines to Church teaching on AIDS care and prevention which will provide a Vatican-approved point of reference for Catholic professionals in the field.
As a "pastoral" document, it will approach the many difficult issues such as care for elderly left without children and protection of children whose parents have died from AIDS.