This Week in God

THIS WEEK IN GOD…. First up from the God Machine this week, the Roman Catholic hierarchy has weighed in, officially, with its first authoritative statement on reproductive science in decades. Those hoping that the church would show a new tolerance for scientific advancement were left disappointed.

The Vatican issued the most authoritative and sweeping document on bioethical issues in more than 20 years on Friday, taking into account recent developments in biomedical technology and reinforcing the church’s opposition to in vitro fertilization, human cloning, genetic testing on embryos before implantation and embryonic stem cell research.

The Vatican says these techniques violate the principles that every human life — even an embryo — is sacred, and that children should be conceived only through intercourse by a married couple.

The 32-page instruction, titled “Dignitas Personae,” or “The Dignity of the Person,” was issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog, and carries the approval and the authority of Pope Benedict XVI. It was developed to provide moral responses to bioethical questions that have been raised in the 21 years since the congregation last issued instructions.

Church leaders took a rather inflexible stand on pretty much every advancement made under reproductive science in recent years, including emergency contraception, and a variety of common producers used to help couples have children, such as freezing embryos, in vitro fertilization, and the injection of sperm into eggs.

While the Vatican’s position on these issues has been well known, the Washington Post noted that “a church ‘instruction’ from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is far more authoritative and made a number of new declarations.”

For a church that has been accused of being out of step with the beliefs and needs of modern Catholics around the world, the new “instruction” is not exactly a step forward.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* The lunatics at the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church — best known for protesting the funerals of fallen U.S. troops — now want equal time at the state of Washington’s holiday display. The church wants state officials to approve a “Santa Claus will take you to Hell” message. It would take its place alongside a Nativity scene, an atheist message, and three signs mocking the atheist message.

* To help prevent theft of holiday displays, many houses of worship are embedding GPS devices in Baby Jesus, menorahs, and other figures.

* The Rev. Rob Schenck, a third-tier religious right personality, believes George W. Bush is not a good Christian.

* Newsweek has a cover story on why the Bible would approve gay marriage. The religious right is very unhappy about it.

* And Stephen Johnson, the controversial administration of Bush’s Environmental Protection Agency, has said he’s unwilling to separate religion from science, because as he sees it, there isn’t a “clean-cut division.”

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.