Roman Catholic leaders condemned as ``morally unacceptable'' President Bush's support of limited federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Conservative Protestants said they were disappointed but encouraged by Bush's thoughtful approach.
After weighing the issue for months, Bush announced Thursday night that he would support federal funding for the research, but only on existing lines of embryonic stem cells, restricting research to cells from embryos that already have been destroyed.
``The fact that he is not putting federal funds in the support of killing additional babies is a very critical line not crossed,'' said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptists' Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
Pope John Paul II had personally urged Bush to reject research on human embryos. Bishop Joseph Fiorenza, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, called Bush's choice ``morally unacceptable.''
``The federal government, for the first time in history, will support research that relies on the destruction of some defenseless human beings for the possible benefit to others,'' Fiorenza said in a statement. ``It allows our nation's research enterprise to cultivate a disrespect for human life.''
Bush's own denomination, the United Methodist Church, had urged him to uphold the ban on federal funding, but leaders said they were satisfied the president had thoroughly considered all the ethical issues involved.
``We would have liked him to continue the moratorium that was in place, but if you're going to do this research with federal funding, he narrowed it as much as he could,'' said Jay Dee Hanson of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society in Washington.
Bush had no obligation as a devout Christian to reach a different conclusion, Hanson and Land said.
``I think he had an obligation as a Christian to do what he thought was right,'' Land said.
Hanson said it was naive to think Bush's spiritual concerns would completely outweigh his political ones. ``I feel as president, he is obligated to take into account all of the religious traditions in this country,'' he said.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which opposes abortion in most cases, has taken no position on embryonic stem cell research but has said it ``merits cautious scrutiny.'' Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Mormon, had urged Bush to lift the federal funding ban.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) was alone among major Protestant denominations in endorsing embryonic stem cell research. The church backed the research for medical goals that could be achieved no other way, if embryo donations were kept separate from decisions to abort and if human embryos weren't sold.
Nathan Diament, policy director for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, which had urged Bush to lift the ban on federal funding, felt comfortable with the president's limited approach. The group, which represents 1,000 synagogues, said using existing embryos that otherwise would have been discarded would not violate their beliefs.
``There's nothing wrong with going slow,'' Diament said. ``He basically said he wants this research to proceed slowly but carefully, and that's OK.''
Copyright 2001 The Associated Press.