A reader sent me this press release from the Catholic League.
At a news conference yesterday, Senator Tom Harkin denounced President Bush’s veto of a bill that would expand embryonic stem cell research. He questioned, "Who set up the president of the United States, this president, as our moral pope? The president of the United States is not our moral ayatollah. He may wish to be, but he’s not."
Sen. Harkin also said that the president has put himself "in the company of people like Cardinal Roberto Bellarmino, who told Galileo it was heresy to claim that the earth revolved around the sun.." He also claimed that Bush is now aligned "with people like Pope Boniface VIII, who banned the practice of cadaver dissection in the 1200s. This stopped cadaver dissection for over 300 years, over 300 years."
Here’s how Catholic League president Bill Donohue responded:
"It’s hard to know what’s worse-Senator Harkin’s Catholic baiting or his ignorance of history. When he votes to allow doctors to kill babies who are 80 percent born, no one calls him a moral pope. But the Iowa Catholic is quick to drop the Taliban card on President Bush for vetoing a bill that was opposed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. He is just as quick in distorting history.
"Cardinal Bellarmine, as well as Pope Urban VIII, welcomed Galileo’s research, presenting him with medals and gifts. It was only after Galileo persisted in promoting his hypothesis as fact (this was the heresy, not the claim that the earth revolved around the sun) that trouble ensued. As for Pope Boniface VIII, in 1299 he sought to stop the trafficking in bones from soldiers killed in the Holy Land-not to stop all dissection. In any event, dissection began again a few years later, not 300 years later.
"Sen. Harkin’s reckless remarks will anger many in the Catholic community. There is no place in the senate for Catholic baiting, and it matters now a whit whether the guilty are themselves Catholic."
Added with Sen. Specter’s statement it must be false Catholic history week in the senate. Since both Senators Harkin and Specter brought up the cadaver dissection I wonder where this talking point came from? Though I guess it is an old one since it was also included in 2002 as part of the statement of the Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2002 (which wouldn’t have)
History shows us the devastating effects of tying the hands of scientists for ideological reasons. Galileo was imprisoned for his support of Copernicus’ theory that the planets revolve around the sun. Pope Boniface VIII banned the practice of cadaver dissection in the 1200’s. This set back the understanding of human anatomy and the practice of medicine for over 300 years.
This is in fact an old talking point and I suspect like many other false portrayals of Catholic history that it originated from some Protestants. Many black legends and other bits of false history made it into the public’s consciousness over time via Protestant apologists trying to make the Catholic Church appear to be foolish.
Here is a paper published back in 1911"The Supposed Papal Prohibition Of Dissection" written to answer this slander and addresses the true topic of the Papal Bull by Pope Boniface VIII. So obviously this slander/talking point has been with us for a while.
"Title Concerning Burials.’ Boniface VIII. Persons cutting up the bodies of the dead, barbarously boiling them, in order that the bones, being separated from the flesh, may be carried for burial into their own countries, are by the very act excommunicated.
…The reason for the bull is very well known. During the crusades, numbers of the nobility who died at a distance from their homes in infidel countries were prepared for transportation and burial in their own lands by dismemberment and boiling.