ROCHESTER, N.Y. CNS –"Why is the church against using birth control?" "Is it ethical to receive a COVID-19 vaccine that has a link to fetal cell lines from abortion?" "What should Catholics consider when writing living wills?"

These are just some of the questions that will be addressed in courses for a new graduate certification program in Catholic bioethics through Pittsford's St. Bernard's School of Theology and Ministry, near Rochester, and the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, beginning this academic year.

"The graduate certificate in Catholic Bioethics will provide a systematic formation and certification in bioethics so that dioceses, hospitals and ethics committee will have advisers better qualified to apply Catholic moral tradition to challenging contemporary issues in health care," explained Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, director of education and ethicist at the bioethics center.

NCBC was founded in 1972 as nonprofit research and educational institute specializing in upholding and teaching Catholic principals on medical ethics. Since 2005, NCBC has offered a yearlong certification program in health care ethics, with more than 1,200 students graduating from the program.

The center is not an accredited higher education institution but previously has offered educational opportunities in conjunction with the University of Mary in North Dakota and Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Connecticut.

"The quality of the formation we offer has been recognized by various institutions that we have partnered with, so that graduate credit can be obtained from our partnering institutions by students completing our program," Father Pacholczyk explained in an email to the Catholic Courier, newspaper of the Diocese of Rochester.

NCBC's partnership with St. Bernard's came about after Father Pacholczyk visited the school in July 2021 to discuss the Catholic perspective on issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whereas NCBC certification programs with the University of Mary and Holy Apostles College put students on a master's degree track, the St. Bernard's partnership is the center's first and only graduate certification program.

"Our partnering with St. Bernard's ... uniquely allows students who may not be ready to commit to a full master's program to nevertheless do advanced studies in bioethics and receive credit that can be applied at a later stage in their studies toward a master's degree," Father Pacholczyk wrote.

To receive a graduate certificate in Catholic bioethics through St. Bernard's, students will be required to complete the yearlong certification program with NCBC, then take two bioethics courses at St. Bernard's, said Jean Baric Parker, program director for the graduate certificate program in Catholic bioethics at St. Bernard's.


The NCBC program consists of online work and directed study modules, which are completed on a weekly basis. Students also are required to attend two in-person events during the course of their studies with the center in Philadelphia.

Upon completion of the program, students pursuing a graduate certificate through St. Bernard's must complete two three-credit courses in bioethics.

The "Catholic Bioethics at the Beginning of Life" course will be offered at St. Bernard's starting in the fall of 2022, focusing on such issues as abortion, in vitro fertilization and surrogate pregnancy.

The second course, "Catholic Bioethics at the End of Life," will begin in the 2023 spring semester and address a range of controversial issues from euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide to hospice and palliative care and organ donation. Bioethical issues such as gender dysphoria, gene editing and COVID-19 vaccines also will be covered in the courses, Parker said.

Parker, who will be teaching both of the courses at St. Bernard's, said the program is open to all who are interested in learning more about Catholic bioethics.

In her previous bioethics courses, Parker has had students who were seminarians, priests, lawyers and judges as well as people working in catechesis and life issues in dioceses or parishes. She even had one couple take her course because they wanted to learn how to do a living will.

"(The program is) very practical," said Parker. "It doesn't matter if we're talking about abortion or if we're talking about stem-cell research, people seem to be very interested and engaged in the topic."

Editor's Note: To learn more about the graduate certificate program in Catholic bioethics with NCBC and St. Bernard's, visit https://www.stbernards.edu/catholic-bioethics-certificate.

Capellazzi is coordinator of new media at the Catholic Courier and El Mensajero Católico, the English-language and Spanish-language newspapers of the Diocese of Rochester.