Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., made a false accusation against the Catholic Church during debate on the Senate floor over federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research, according to Catholic News Service.
Arguing President Bush's opposition to the federal funding on moral grounds could seriously set back scientific discovery, Specter said: "Pope Boniface VII (sic) banned the practice of cadaver dissection in the 1200s. This stopped the practice for over 300 years and greatly slowed the accumulation of education regarding human anatomy."
Specter not only misidentified the pope, the Catholic news site asserts, but most historical sources indicate no pontiff in history was responsible for the type of ban cited by Specter.
Boniface VII, CNS explained, was an antipope who held the papacy during three separate periods in the late 900s. Boniface VIII served from 1294 to 1303.
The news service said some 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 Catholic Encyclopedia says 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."
According to German author Heinrich Haesar, in his 1845 textbook "The History of Medicine," dissection of cadavers continued without hindrance during the Middle Ages in European universities, run under the direction of church leaders.
Guy de Chauliac, considered the father of modern surgery, was the personal surgeon to three popes in the 14th century and a promoter of dissection in anatomical studies.
The Catholic Encyclopedia says "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."
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THE CATHOLIC KNIGHT: As noted in the story I posted below, Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pa) also voted in favor if the embryonic stem-cell bill recently vetoed by President Bush. This particular stem-cell bill would have provided federal funding for turning human embryos (pre-born babies) into guinea pigs for scientific research. Based on the Catholic Church's plain and clear teaching on the sanctity of human life, I don't see how any practicing Catholic (who takes his faith seriously) could ever vote for this man's reelection.