Q. How is it that suddenly a series of topics that rightly belongs to Catholic moral doctrine are being labeled "social issues" and are being discussed as political topics? What competency do politicians have regarding, for example, tubal ligations, or embryonic transfers, or contraception, or, most important, abortion? I am also angry with comedians who suggest that Catholic moral teachings ignore what is reasonable. What is going on with all these absurd claims?
A. Complaints are certainly justified in the way Catholic doctrine and theology, especially in bioethical issues, are being discussed by the secular media and entertainment figures today. And as for the charge that Catholic bioethics ignores reason, many who control the flow of information just haven’t taken the time or the energy to comprehend the Church’s sophisticated, magnificent, and perfectly consistent teachings. There is so much to learn today that too many in media positions are not really up to their responsibilities, or else they prefer to remain ignorant. It is as if they would rather not use their intellects; and, certainly, they also manifest contempt for the Sacred Scriptures as read within the Church.
The bottom line: the Church today is up against monumental ignorance or mindless disdain; and the situation grows worse with time – despite the enormous library of solid bioethical materials available to anyone who wants to know.
Regarding contraception: Pope John Paul II presented a lengthy catechesis on the "theology of the body," over an almost two-years series of instructions. Therein, John Paul explained at length that God has invested conjugal communion with two meanings that cannot be separated or tampered with by human beings without "playing God" themselves.
One dimension is unitive, or love-giving; the other, procreative, or life-giving. This theology is not only clear from the Bible as read within the Church, but also from reason. How is it not? The language of human sexuality is not man’s to change without challenging God’s plan.
As for embryonic experimentation, it clearly violates human dignity in that it involves manipulation of a human being, who is then subjected to being used as if he or she were an it and not a Thou (to use the idiom popularized by the great Jewish existentialist, Martin Buber).
Indeed, the very concept of human dignity is being assailed today by materialists and secularists, who need to be reminded that when they dehumanize embryos, they are in effect dehumanizing themselves. Wasn’t this one of the principal pathways to the Nazi crematoria at places like Auschwitz? Of course it was.
Tubal ligation falls under the category of sterilization. The basic principle here – structured in the Sacred Scriptures and reason – is that sterilization, whether permanent or temporary, for men or for women, may not be used as a means of contraception. This is not to deny that procedures are permitted which induce sterility if and when (1) they are immediately directed toward the cure or diminution or prevention of a serious pathological condition, and such procedures are not directly contraceptive; and (2) the assumption being that a simple, corrective, medical intervention is not reasonably available. (See Medicine and Christian Morality, Thomas J. O’Donnell, 1991.)
Since medical procedures vary and are constantly being updated, the ethical principles cited above are often concretized in hospital "protocols."
In addressing the questions here, I have not even gone below the surface, as it were. What about bioethics and genetic studies? Or end-of-life decisions?
To look for solid answers among politicians makes no sense whatsoever.
Msgr. Liptak co-founded the Pope John Paul II Bioethics Center at Holy Apostles Seminary, Cromwell.