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BY Jim Cosgrove
NEW YORK — The head of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life commission told Zenit news service that he sees cause for optimism about President George Bush's upcoming decision on federal funding for stem-cell research, and about relations with the Church in general.
“The atmosphere in the White House has changed, and the first signs, in relation to the Catholic Church, are hopeful,” said Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore.
In this interview with Zenit, the cardinal analyzes John Paul II's address July 23 to Bush at Castel Gandolfo, Italy, and the decisions that confront the president.
Said the cardinal, “It was an absolutely necessary speech, to turn attention again to the moral dimension of the problem. To date, the public debate concentrated almost exclusively on the medical implications of the decision Bush must make, forgetting that the embryos to be used are the beginning of life. A just society cannot put aside the ethical analysis of such an important question.”
Zenit: Why is the president's decision on stem-cell research so important in the United States?
Because it is a point of inflection. To date, we have succeeded in keeping the government, which finances this type of research, from officially authorizing the sacrifice of life in the name of science.
However, the debate has now extended to the entire Congress and country, and we are only a step away from approving the funding. A change in the policy line, with the abolition of the existing prohibition, would cause a chain reaction, with negative effects for the pro-life camp.
Why are Bush's doubts so prolonged? If he believes that life begins at conception, he should be sure of his position.
The situation should certainly be clear. On the other hand, if we look at all the pressures that the White House executive has received, within his party, too, and if we analyze the way in which the media has covered the argument, we can understand how a mistaken view can arise.
If the president had decided, solely on what the newspapers have written, he would have removed the prohibition on funding months ago. This is why it was necessary for the Pope to make his voice heard, attracting attention to the most neglected aspect of the problem.
However, you say that relations with the new administration are hopeful. Why?
Because of the attention the White House executive is giving to Catholics, demonstrated also in gestures. For example, a few days ago, he dedicated his first visit to New York to honoring the memory of Cardinal O‘Connor. In recent weeks, he attended the inauguration of the new cultural center in Washington, which is named after John Paul II.
These gestures are also coupled with words and the taking of positions. In his speeches, Bush often refers to Catholic values, the Pope's words and the defense of life. We know he supports the death penalty, but we still have not had an in-depth public debate with him on this topic.
He has declared himself personally opposed to abortion, but added that the country is not ready to abolish it.
We must continue to raise the problem on all possible occasions.
Some analysts say that Bush's attention to Catholics is politically motivated. His objective would be to attract the majority of votes of this center group, which might decide the results of the next presidential elections.
I will not go into the issue of politics. What is of interest to Catholics is to raise important questions, in keeping with our faith.
The president said that in his meeting with the Pope they spoke at length on international topics. What do you think of his Middle East line, the anti-missile shield, and the inclusion of excluded people in the benefits of globalization?
It is too early to judge his Middle Eastern policy, but we must pray that, not only the president but also the other leaders involved, will be convinced of the need to put violence aside and concentrate on peace.
As regards the anti-missile shield, its recent connection to nuclear disarmament is hopeful. No matter what the future of this initiative, it would be useful to begin to discuss a more thorough reduction of the arsenals.
Lastly, despite the clashes and violence, the G-8 has taken initiatives in the struggle against poverty. Before leaving [on his trip], Bush asked the World Bank to turn half of its loans into donations for development. This is a positive sign: We will now see if it is translated into practical action.