What is claimed to be the world's first faculty of bioethics will open this autumn at one of Rome's six Pontifical universities. The Ateneo Pontificio Regina Apostolorum is run by the Legionnaires of Christ, a relatively new movement considered to be one of the most conservative and traditionalist forces in Catholicism.
Courses are open to clergy, seminarists and lay students from all over the world, and about 100 are expected in the first year, about 70 per cent of whom should be lay people.
"Courses in bioethics already exist," said Father Paolo Scarafoni, rector of the Regina Apostolorum. "But to train real specialists, who are increasingly needed, a full interdisciplinary degree course was required."
Father Gonzalo Miranda, dean of the new faculty, said: "(Bioethics) involves elements of biology, medicine, law, philosophy and theology. Clearly, our position is in harmony with the teaching of the church. However, we will not be trying to close our students' eyes. Rather, we will put the scientific evidence before them and make them think for themselves."
Father Miranda said lecturers would be mostly Catholic clergy and laymen.
The courses will be taught in Italian but translation services are being prepared. The baccalaureate will be a two-year course, the degree a further two years, while the doctorate has no time limit.
"It will be possible to write the doctoral thesis anywhere, with occasional visits to Rome for meetings with the supervisors. But the other courses require full presence," Father Miranda said.
The Regina Apostolorum is a Pontifical university recognised by the Vatican. It awards ecclesiastic titles that can be convalidated in some countries. Father Miranda said the faculty may also offer "lay academic titles".