September 11, 2003 -- CropChoice news --The Guardian, 08/14/03:
Plans being laid at the Vatican to throw the Pope's
vast moral influence behind the cultivation of genetically
modified crops have sparked a row within the church.
An Italian archbishop, Renato Martino, is the prelate
behind the pro-GM lobby and the equivalent of a minister
in the Pope's government. His department, the Pontifical
Council for Justice and Peace, which deals with ethical
issues, is preparing to publish a report on the use
of biotechnology in agriculture which, the archbishop
has already hinted, will give a favorable verdict.
He told Vatican radio: "The problem of hunger
involves the conscience of every man. For this reason
the Catholic church follows with special interest and
solicitude every development in science to help the
solution of a plight that afflicts ... humanity."
His remarks have angered Catholic clerics working in
the developing world. Father Giulio Albanese, head of
the missionary news agency, MISNA, described them as
a "provocation". In a statement, the influential
Fr Albanese stressed: "The concern of many in the
missionary world over the property rights to GM seeds
... cannot but accentuate the dependence of the poor
nations on the rich ones."
Opposition to GM technology is growing rapidly within
the Catholic church. "We do not believe that agro-companies
or gene technologies will help our farmers to produce
the food that is needed in the 21st century," said
bishops from Botswana, South Africa and Swaziland in
The bishops said it was morally irresponsible to produce
and market genetically modified food and warned of damage
to the environment and human health. "We think
it will destroy the diversity, the local knowledge and
the sustainable agricultural systems and that it will
undermine our capacity to feed ourselves."
In the Philippines, the Catholic Bishops Conference
has urged the government to postpone the authorisation
of GM corn until comprehensive studies have been made.
"We have to be careful, because once it is there,
how can we remedy its consequences?" said Cardinal
GM supporters in the Vatican are thought to have been
so worried about the position of Filipino local clergy
that they called them to Rome to be addressed by a leading
ethicist, Bishop Elio Sgreccia, vice-president of the
Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life.
"There are no impediments to animal and vegetable
biotechnologies," Sgr Sgreccia told them. "[They]
can be justified with the motive that they are for the
good of man."
In Brazil, 14 bishops appealed to the government last
month not to allow GM crops to be grown. "It is
clear that large corporations will be the greatest beneficiary,
with grave damage for the farmer", they said.
Catholics in other developing countries are split between
their hierarchies, who tend to be pro-GM, and the lower
orders who work with the poorest and tend to be against
it. Zambian bishops supported GM food aid earlier this
year but were strongly opposed by Jesuits from the Centre
for Theological Reflection.
The Pope has so far been cautious. Two years ago, he
set the tone for a wide-ranging inquiry when he declared
that GM agriculture could not be judged solely on the
basis of "short-term economic interests",
but needed to be subject to "a rigorous scientific
and ethical process of verification".
A church official who has met Archbishop Martino described
him as "unusually forthright and voluble".
The official added that the eventual report from the
Vatican might be couched in more ambiguous language
- not least because he expected a determined campaign
by developing world clerics to water it down.