Catholics to Know: Fr. Nic and Jerome Lejeune


People don’t need to be canonized Saints in order to be good role models in the Faith. In “Catholics to Know,” we’ll look at the lives of a few modern-day examples of people living their faith in the world! Today we’ll look at: 

Catholic Geneticists: Fr. Nic and Jerome Lejeune

I don’t think I need to inform anyone of the fact that it’s a common narrative to pit the Church against Science. Yet we know that God is not just the source of religious truth, He is the source of ALL truth (CCC #2465).  So for each new scientific theory or discovery, the Church is compelled to ask: 

Does this fit with our understanding of the world as revealed by God? 
Does it necessitate re-thinking on ways to interpret Sacred Scripture? 
Does this present new moral challenges the Church must speak to? 
If this science seems to contradict our faith, how do we explain the apparent contradiction? 
How can true science and the truths of our faith be harmonized? 

  Rhode Island Science & Technology Advisory Council

One very interesting example of such thinking comes from Fr. Nicanor Pier Giorgio Austriaco, OP, an MIT-grad-turned-Dominican-Friar, who works at Providence College in microbiology.  He frequently gives lectures on one way to understand the relationship between Adam & Eve in Genesis and the latest developments in anthropology and genomics.  He, and many others like him, show that the Church is most definitely not opposed to science– just that the Church has a responsibility to safeguard and accurately present Truth wherever it is found. He is an adviser to the National Catholic Bioethics Center and through his research and work, encourages young Catholics to pursue science with genuine love of inquiry and moral responsibility. He’s written a book entitled “Biomedicine and Beatitude: An Introduction to Catholic Bioethics.” I’m a little ashamed to say that I have not read it (yet), but having been priveledged to meet Fr. Nic a few times, I can say that if he writes at all like he speaks, it will be a very entertaining and enlightening read.

Another facet of the Church’s relationship to science is through the scientific method itself.  Especially within the field of medicine, testing new theories and ideas frequently leads to the necessity to try these things out on humans. Any time we delve into situations where experiments are being done on humans, we find ourselves in the realm of ethics, which is most definitely an area in which the Church must be allowed to have her say. Here’s a relevant passage from the Catechism: 

CCC 2293 Basic scientific research, as well as applied research, is a significant expression of man’s dominion over creation. Science and technology are precious resources when placed at the service of man and promote his integral development for the benefit of all. By themselves however they cannot disclose the meaning of existence and of human progress. Science and technology are ordered to man, from whom they take their origin and development; hence they find in the person and in his moral values both evidence of their purpose and awareness of their limits.

Let me paraphrase some key points: 

1. Scientific research is not opposed to our understanding that humans were created to be stewards of the Earth. Pursuing science is part of what we were designed by God to do.
2. Science can tell us about “how” the world works, but it is not capable of telling us “why” the world works that way (instead of “why” some other way).
3. Science can tell us about “how” things work, but we humans are responsible for figuring out how to use this knowledge. 
4. Science can serve all of mankind if we do not allow our discoveries to lead us to do things which are immoral.

To sum up: With great power, comes great responsibility.

No one knew this better than Mr. Jerome Lejeune,

Credit: Jerome Lejuene Foundation, USA

the French Catholic geneticist who discovered, among many other things,  Trisomy 21, better known as the cause of Downs Syndrome. Lejeune had paved the way for a better understanding of the syndrome, including the possibility of targeted therapeutic treatment, yet we all know what happened next: with the cause of Downs Syndrome now known, tests were developed to detect it in utero, and as a result many children with the disease have been aborted. 

Lejeune was completely shattered that his research would be used in such a horrible way. He very publicly denounced the practice of abortion, fighting for laws that would protect the most vulnerable. He worked tirelessly to support families affected by Downs Syndrome and other chromosomally-linked diseases. He believed that this work caused him to fall out of the running of the prestigious Nobel Prize, yet he kept working. Eventually, he was chosen by Pope Saint John Paul II to head the Pontifical Academy for Life. Lejeune drafted the foundational documents for the academy, yet only served as its president for a few weeks before he died in 1994. The Jerome Lejeune Foundation continues his work of research and advocacy today. 


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