Looks like Sen. Specter knows just as much about history as he does about the "promise" of ESCR.
WASHINGTON (CNS) — What does a pope elected at the end of the 13th century have to do with the Senate debate about embryonic stem-cell research?
Pope Boniface VIII, best known for his efforts to exercise temporal power over the French monarchy, was cited — albeit misidentified — by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., from the Senate floor July 18 to represent religious leaders who had slowed scientific progress over the centuries.
"Pope Boniface VII (sic) banned the practice of cadaver dissection in the 1200s," Specter said. "This stopped the practice for over 300 years and greatly slowed the accumulation of education regarding human anatomy."
Boniface VII, an antipope who held the papacy during three separate periods in the late 900s, is clearly not the pope to whom Specter was referring. Boniface VIII served from 1294 to 1303.
But neither of the Bonifaces, nor any other pope, was responsible for the type of ban cited by Specter, most historical sources agree.
The New Catholic Encyclopedia entry on Pope Boniface VIII makes no mention of any papal document related to dissection, but other sources cite the possible cause for confusion in "De Sepulturis," a papal bull issued in 1300.
"Persons cutting up the bodies of the dead, barbarously cooking them in order that the bones being separated from the flesh may be carried for burial into their own countries, are by the very fact excommunicated," says one translation of the document.
"The only possible explanation of the misunderstanding that the bull forbade dissection is that someone read only the first part of the title and considered that … one of the methods of preparing bodies for study in anatomy was by boiling them in order to be able to remove the flesh from them easily, (and) that this decree forbade such practices thereafter," the Catholic Encyclopedia said.
In his 1845 textbook "The History of Medicine," German author Heinrich Haesar said dissection of cadavers continued without hindrance during the Middle Ages in European universities, run under the direction of church leaders.
The Catholic Encyclopedia, in its entry on anatomy, says that Guy de Chauliac, considered the father of modern surgery, encouraged the use of dissection in anatomical studies in the 14th century and insisted "on the necessity for the dissection of human bodies if any definite progress in surgery is to be made."
Since de Chauliac was the personal surgeon to three popes and encouraged dissection while a member of the papal household, "this fact alone would seem to decide definitely that there was no papal regulation, real or supposed, forbidding the practice of human dissection at this time," the encyclopedia says.
In his Senate speech, Specter said one of the victims of the papal ban was Spaniard Michael Servetus, who "used cadaver dissection to study blood circulation" in the 1500s and was "tried and imprisoned by the Catholic Church."
While it is true that Servetus is credited as the first to accurately describe the circulation of blood through the lungs and reportedly used cadavers in his science, that does not seem to have played any role in his 1553 arrest, trial and execution.
One of the more fun and at the same time most annoying things about being Catholic is that we have a disproportionate share of urban legends that have come to become "common knowledge." It is rare to read a statement in the media concerning Church history that is actually correct or doesn’t contain some degree of error. Sometimes in seems in my reading of Church history that not only do I learn much; at the same time I have to unlearn much of what I was taught or learned through societal osmosis.