VATICAN CITY — In a year when the “culture of death” seemed to win many victories, news from Rome seemed to provide some hope.
The Vatican gave its highest stamp of approval to the School of Bioethics at Rome’s Pontifical Regina Apostolorum College in order to help the faculty reach the top of its field.
The Congregation for Catholic Education formally established the school with a canonical decree Oct. 16. The official announcement was made by Archbishop Jean-Louis Bruguès, secretary of the congregation, during a ceremony to inaugurate the 2008-09 academic year. When the School of Bioethics was founded in October 2001, it was the first of its kind in the world.
The decree gives added authority to the school’s already shining reputation. Over the past seven years, the institution has been at the forefront of the pro-life cause, training professionals who can influence key bioethical decisions in hospitals, research institutions, universities and media outlets.
Speaking to the Register Dec. 10, Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, explained why the Vatican wanted to bestow the decree on the school. “We are always encouraging these institutions because we believe that bioethical questions are extremely important today,” he said. He added that the Vatican has “always encouraged this faculty at the Regina Apostolorum” and has insisted “very much” that the school be taken to a higher level.
In his inaugural speech, Archbishop Bruguès explained that “the most urgent task for our Church today is that of once more offering the joy of eternity.” He reminded those present that this task “should be a priority for those who, like you, are responsible for transmitting and educating.” He called on the faithful to “keep in mind the paths of hope” and, in more secular terms, “to teach our society how to believe in its future.”
Legionary Father Pedro Barrajon, rector of the Regina Apostolorum, said efforts had been made to obtain this decree since the school was founded. “The decree canonically defining the Bioethics School,” he said, “means the definitive confirmation on the part of the Holy See that bioethics as an academic discipline merits a specific academic program for the training of future professionals in this area, be it as professors or researchers.”
The school was founded in response to Pope John Paul II’s invitation, in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Value and Inviolability of Human Life), to “activate a great campaign in support of life.” It aims to form biotechnical professionals to respond competently to the many complex ethical problems that arise in the area of biomedical and bioethical science, both in regards to respect for human dignity and the defense of life for each person from conception to natural death.
The school argues that although many useful courses on bioethics already exist, there is an urgent need for specialists in this field, and so a bioethics curriculum is needed that is both comprehensive and interdisciplinary (there are also courses in philosophy, medicine, law and theology). Cardinal Grocholewski said the decree would help strengthen the school by enabling it to “acquire more authority,” stressing that it would be useless if it were “weak.”
“It must acquire more authority and train professors,” the Polish cardinal said. “This can’t be done in one or two years, but they [the Regina Apostolorum] must do everything they can to bring this faculty to the highest level.” He added that the Vatican wants and expects this from any school in service of the Church.
The School of Bioethics offers a multifaceted program: bachelor’s, licentiate, master’s and doctorate degrees, plus an international summer course for higher studies. After graduating, students have a number of opportunities open to them, including work with clinical bioethics committees, hospitals, biomedical and biological research centers, universities and centers for higher education, institutions dedicated to studies on marriage and the family, and various ecclesiastical institutions.
The faculty board has a number of highly respected clerical and lay experts, including Bishop Elio Sgreccia, president emeritus of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, archbishop of Milan, and Edmund Pellegrino, chairman of the U.S. President’s Council on Bioethics.
Edward Pentin is
based in Rome.