Francis Etheredge: Over the last year or more, we (Rev. Dr. Dr. Ralph Weimann and myself) have corresponded on two major areas concerning bioethics: on the beginning and end of life. We have touched many delicate questions, such as organ donation, and when death has occurred. However, in order to provide an ethical orientation, solid points of reference are necessary.
Let us begin, then, with your latest book and go on to unfold, the movement of your life, as it were, which entails your engagement with these great questions.
You have recently written the following book: Ralph Weimann, Bioethical Challenges at the End of Life, Brooklyn, NY: Angelico Press, 2022. What would you like to draw our attention to?
Fr. Ralph Weimann: The book deals with bioethical challenges at the end of life. There are so many new challenges that I wanted to offer a reliable orientation. In doing so, the book identifies those fundamental principles that are based on faith and reason, providing guidance and orientation. It starts with the anthropological foundation, with the concept of man. We can only talk about man if one knows who and what man is. Important preliminary decisions are made at this very point. Then the book covers all important challenges concerning the end of life, such as the broad concept of euthanasia, suicide, assisted suicide, ordinary and extraordinary means. An ethical-moral evaluation is always made, so that those principles are made available to the reader that can help him to make an ethically responsible decision. The book includes an important chapter on death and all its implications, including eternal life. Related to the definition of death is the debate about organ donation, the living will and many other topics. Finally, cremation, burial and alkaline hydrolysis are analyzed, and an ethical evaluation is made. Many valuable and not well-known documents, issued by the Magisterium of the Church, provide an objective foundation for a bioethical evaluation. In this way, it can be avoided that this book is just one more “opinion” among other opinions, rather than those principles presented, which are and must be non-negotiable.
We live in a world today where we can’t see the forest for the trees. In this book, the opposite approach is chosen. First, the broader perspective is offered, which also allows the non-expert to understand complicated issues. This is certainly a special feature of the present book Bioethical Challenges at the End of Life.
Francis: What attracted you to bioethics? And in what way does your present position allow you to develop your work in this field?
Fr. Ralph Weimann: Bioethics was like a closed book for me. It was fascinating and complicated at the same time. So, I realized that if I didn’t open this book, engage with it and access the content, it would remain sealed. But that would be a serious sin of omission since there are more and more challenges in bioethics, whether at the beginning, or at the end of human life. Even people who are actively involved in the life of parishes do not usually receive training in this area. Once I was approached by a woman who was a member of a parish council. She was unable to have children and had turned to a fertility center. Only casually did she ask what the Church had to say about it; she was not aware of the Church’s teachings. It is similar with regard to the end of life. Is assisted suicide ethically and morally justifiable? Even many of the faithful don’t know and they receive little guidance from the Church. Therefore, the desire grew in me to look more deeply into these issues and I was able to write a doctoral thesis on the pre-implantation diagnostics, the technique that allows the embryo to be screened in a test tube, a treatment that is used as a kind of quality control before implantation.
Francis: As you have mentioned your work on pre-implantation diagnosis, would you like to summarize some of the main points of your work in this area, perhaps especially mentioning that as soon as the child is conceived outside of the womb, he or she becomes tragically vulnerable, as you say, to a “quality.
Fr. Ralph Weimann: Preimplantation diagnostics is a procedure by which the embryo, i.e., the human being in the first stage of its life, as science unequivocally states, is screened for qualities and possible defects. The result is called eugenics, by which one means the selection of those people who are considered worthy of life and, if necessary, are given the opportunity to be implanted in a uterus, and those who are to be sorted out. Many other problems are associated with this procedure, such as cryo-preserved (frozen) embryos and consumptive embryo production, etc. This procedure and its application are based on a conception of man that does not recognize the dignity of every human being from conception to natural death but makes distinctions. This is highly problematic and shows that a society which goes in this direction has learned nothing from the dramatic developments of the last century.
Francis: As you have told us, the complementarity of faith and reason is wonderfully beneficial. Tell us a bit about yourself and your background that begins to unfold your appreciation of them.
Fr. Ralph Weimann: I am a Catholic priest from Germany. I grew up in a family with many children, I have six brothers and sisters. I was raised in the north of Germany, where we still grew up in a deeply catholic culture, since the Church was present in all parts of life. In my youth, many people still went to Church, but secularization grew ever stronger. Even as a teenager, I noticed that knowledge of the faith was continuously diminishing; people still went to Church, but I got the impression that they were not really convinced, rather, it seemed to be more due to tradition. Joseph Card. Ratzinger together with Pope John Paul II gave me an orientation for my path of faith, and early on I realized that faith is quite reasonable, but needs to be constantly nourished.
Francis: Why did you become a priest? Were there particular experiences that showed you the unique contribution of a ministry that makes present the “person of Christ”?
Fr. Ralph Weimann: The story of each person being called to the priesthood is different. I knew from a young age that the Lord was calling me and felt drawn to Him. This was shown, among other things, in the practice of prayer and the sacraments. Furthermore, I was encouraged on this path through the testimonies of many people, through which my vocation was strengthened.
However, because society was becoming more and more secular and the headwind stronger, I had not told anyone about my decision until I entered the seminary after school and a military career of two years with the German paratroopers.
Then the road was long and hard, but beautiful at the same time. I had the opportunity to study in the US, to work in Mexico, and finally I was able to prepare for the priesthood in Rome and Germany. In 2007, by the grace of God, I became a priest and celebrated my first Mass the following day, as I have done every day since.
Francis: More generally, what is the situation in your country and what is your response to it?
Fr. Ralph Weimann: In my country (Germany) the situation of the Church and the faith is very difficult. There is presently open talk about a new schism, a breakaway from the universal Church like 500 years ago. There are claims that the reference point for faith is no longer Revelation but the personal circumstances of life. In this way, one adapts to the spirit of the times, while the treasure of faith is hardly known anymore.
This has led to more and more people leaving the Church. However, they have long since ceased to associate anything positive with the faith that they do not really know. The Popes have tried again and again to commit the German bishops to unity with the universal church, but this finds little hearing.
There are small groups of people who stand firm in their faith and who are willing to stand up for the faith. But there is no longer a deeply catholic culture, rather an impressive apparatus of Church functionaries. Major dioceses in Germany have more than 50.000 employees. However, most of them do not identify themselves with the faith of the Church anymore, although they are employed by the Church. It goes so far that there are even professors of theology who deny the resurrection of Jesus Christ but continue to teach and to form future priests and religious education teachers. Thus, tensions within the Church are growing and are now putting the Church to the test.
Our response is to make the treasure of faith that the Lord has entrusted to us accessible to people, through lived example and catechesis, after all, there is nothing more beautiful and more joyful than our faith in Jesus Christ as the only Saviour of mankind. For that reason, I publish articles and books because faith is reasonable and offers orientation and gives support, especially in difficult situations.
Francis: Finally, your country has enacted very pro-life legislation, defending the human being from conception, would you like to comment on this?
Fr. Ralph Weimann: In my country, in Germany, there has been a restrictive policy with regard to experimentation with embryos, as well as with regard to euthanasia. This is related to the history of the Third Reich. In this dark period, the distinction between life worth living and a life unworthy of living was made, based on the terrible ideology of National Socialism. The main problem of this ideology lies in the concept of man. The German government felt obliged to learn from its past so that history would not repeat itself. In the meantime, the pressure from other European states and the European Union, as well as from influential lobbies, has become so powerful that, unfortunately, even this policy guaranteeing inviolable human dignity is being weakened more and more.