Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 65(3) August 2015
2015 Annual Conference of The Catholic Medical Association (UK)
Dr Dermot Kearney, President, Newcastle Branch
The 2015 Annual Conference of The Catholic Medical Association (UK) took place in The Thistle County Hotel, Newcastle-upon-Tyne on Saturday 16th May. It was the first time this event was held in Newcastle. The theme for the conference was “Science, Medicine & Faith: Searching for Truth”. The impressive line-up of guest speakers attracted delegates from all regions of the UK and also from Ireland and Malta.
After the Introductory prayer to the Holy Spirit, the opening speaker, Fr Andrew Pinsent, Research Director at the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science & Religion at Oxford University addressed the question “Can we have dignity without theology?” Looking at assaults on human dignity throughout history, especially in modern times, he asked what can truly offer protection. While inherited attitudes supported by legislation, argument, reason and conscience may help for a while, without Faith, ultimately, this will not be sufficient. In a world where human persons are reduced to being nothing more than rational animals or mere atoms in motion such frail protections will fail. We need people with Grace who respect persons as persons regardless of appearances and abilities. In the life of Grace, nurtured by prayer and the sacraments, we learn to love with God the things that He loves. We learn to view persons with the eyes of God.
In debates involving Christians and Atheists an issue frequently addressed is whether or not Faith is necessary to be a good person. Dr Anna Rowlands, Theologian and Lecturer in Catholic Studies at Durham University, considered this question and others in her presentation “Is Catholicism a source of good for society?” She explored the benefits that Catholic thought and teaching has brought to society, referring particularly to St Augustine’s fifth century masterpiece “City of God” and Pope Leo XIII’s ground-breaking encyclical “Rerum novarum” from 1891. She demonstrated how Catholic teaching has consistently emphasised the value and dignity of the human person and the importance of the common good of society. She spoke of the Catholic Church’s promotion and defence of the living wage. This is more than just a subsistence wage offering bare survival. A true living wage is a family wage that facilitates full social participation. Above all, Catholic teaching places a strong emphasis on the option for the poor and the disadvantaged. This is truly a theological option purely because God opts for the poor. Catholics are called to do likewise.
John Waters, renowned journalist, author and playwright from Ireland, looked at the influence of the media in his presentation on “Ideological reportage: The media & its hidden agenda”. He illustrated his presentation with a detailed description of the tactics used by the media and supported by the Irish government in the promotion of an anti-Catholic agenda in the recent Irish referendum attempting to redefine the meaning of marriage. He described how previous generations had a greater understanding and appreciation of morality, reason and absolute truth. Public opinion is now largely influenced by appeals to the emotions, by slogans and by catch phrases on social media and even in the mainstream media. Real and meaningful debate is suppressed. In the past the media was generally impartial and concerned with informing the public with facts and truth. Now we are essentially fed ideological bias and propaganda.
Fr Francis Marsden, from the Archdiocese of Liverpool and renowned for his weekly column in The Catholic Times, spoke on “Fountains of Truth: Elaborating Catholic Medical Ethics from the sources”. Asking what is necessary for Catholic Medical Ethics he suggested that the sources of Catholic theology, namely Scripture, Apostolic Tradition and Magisterial Church teaching are essential ingredients in addition to reason, natural law, respect for human dignity and elements of classical wisdom. In the UK, conflicts often arise between Christianity and “legal positivism” whereby the law determines what is moral. Thus many practices, such as abortion and human embryo destruction, directly opposed to the teachings of Jesus are accepted as good and right. In this way democracy often determines morality, overriding Absolute Truth. He described The Natural Law as “God’s wisdom for human flourishing” and reminded the delegates that unjust laws are not proper laws but perversions of the law that cannot demand our allegiance.
“Lourdes, miracles & science” was presented by Dr Jim Connolly, Accident and Emergency Consultant from Newcastle’s RVI Hospital. A native of Liverpool, Dr Connolly travels to Lourdes each year as the senior Medical Officer with the Liverpool Archdiocese pilgrimage. He spoke of his experiences over many years in this role and described the joys and blessings as well as the difficulties associated with these annual adventures. Discussing the many miracles accepted as authentic by the Lourdes Medical Bureau, Dr Connolly described the process by which alleged cures and miracles are investigated. His presentation was illustrated with several examples of true life cures. Noting that the numbers of accepted miracles are less than in the past, he suggested that this may be partially explained by improved diagnosis and improved treatment of many medical conditions previously considered incurable. It is also possible that such miracles are less necessary in God’s plan now as Lourdes has gained worldwide acceptance as a place of pilgrimage and spiritual healing without the need for additional fantastic physical signs.
The final speaker, John Pridmore, is well known throughout the world as an inspirational Catholic evangelist. A former London East End gangster who underwent a remarkable conversion in 1991, he left behind a lucrative life of crime to devote his life to serving God and saving souls. His first book “From Gangland to Promised Land” has sold more than nine million copies worldwide. In his powerful testimony, he emphasised the importance of prayer and the sacraments in developing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. He also spoke about the need for service and personal sacrifice, recognising the inherent beauty in all people created in the image and likeness of God. He encouraged all to courageously seek to become the persons that God intends them to be and not to allow themselves to be disheartened or dragged down by surrounding apparent mediocrity. His final exhortation, quoting Blessed Mother Teresa, with whom he had the honour of working, was “Give… Give ‘til it hurts”. The conference concluded with a closing prayer after this appropriate advice for Catholic healthcare workers.