The Vatican and Reverence for Life, Koe magazine, August 1987

Juan Masia, S.J.

Experience in actual clinical practice plays an important function in the development of medical science and treatment. I think that actual experience at the so-called place of treatment is necessary in the case of ethics too. Because I teach morals in the theology faculty I deal on a theoretical level with such matters as moral principles, standards for making judgments, and argumentation on many matters, but I am made to feel painfully day after day, when giving advice in a practical manner at the actual parish level that there is a need for a reappraisal of the moral sciences. Let me provide several examples of consultations which I received.

A young woman troubled with a problem about contraception spoke as follows: " Because contraception is a smaller sin when compared to artificial termination of pregnancy, one can't help but choose contraception."

I answered: " That artificial termination of pregnancy and contraception are two things of an entirely different dimension is certainly true; but why, I ask you now, why do you call what is no sin at all a smaller sin?" The lady, a bit bewildered: " But, isn't it true that the Church does not approve of contraception, that this is not allowed for Catholics?"

I think there must be many believers who, like this lady, are under the impression that contraception is vaguely something evil. So in order to free such believers from this misunderstanding it seems that we will have to start by re-educating the priests who are providing them with guidance.

A   woman in her early forties was very much worried about the possibility of becoming pregnant. She already had two children, and considering her actual economical situation, the bearing a third child would be an immense burden. This troubled woman said to me: " I know it isn't good, but if I would become pregnant, I suppose it will be unavoidable that I terminate the pregnancy." Because she used this word even though she was not yet pregnant at the time, I put this question to her: " Don't you know anything about contraception?" She responded, " Isn't contraception forbidden to Catholics?" That's when I felt very keenly: suppose that this lady would eventually have had an abortion, would that priest who had provided her with such narrow advice about contraception not bear a heavy responsibility towards her?

There was another lady who while still quite young had given birth to two children; then, after consulting with her husband, she went to a doctor and under his care she had an intra-uterine device inserted which she has been using. One day she came to me for a consultation: " Because I know that it is wrong to use this method, I do go to church, but I don't receive the sacraments." I said, " But what is wrong about that method?" and in this way gave her re-assurance. Again, this woman had been taught that any method of contraception which is not natural, that is, contraception which relies on an artificial medium, is wrong. I think it is unfortunate that a time might come when a woman like this would stop coming to church because of a problem which is so trivial. The question is not whether a method is natural or artificial at all; this is a question only of making necessary consultations with a doctor, of talking things over as a couple; they should consider which method of contraception in their case is physically and psychologically healthy.

When in March of this year the Japanese newspapers carried a report about the Instruction on Dignity of Procreation issued by the Vatican Congregation on Doctrine, a married couple of believers said in a worried manner: " We were told that it is impossible for us to have children unless by artificial fertilization and we are now trying that, but until now without result. Is what we are doing something wrong in the viewpoint of the Church?" To which I said: " Use of this method is not at all something which is a substitute for the performance of your mutual love; quite to the contrary, this is a way of expanding the engagement of your love," and in this way I reassured the couple. I told them that I will pray for their success.

Whenever I engage in the above kind of consultations, I am made to feel painfully how very necessary it is to re-think our Catholic ethics. That is why, when participating in the translation of the above mentioned document of the Vatican, I found myself with very complex feelings. Whereas on the one hand there are passages in the document which can be esteemed very highly, on the other hand there are passages to which one cannot agree at all.

On the one hand there are such sentences as make one feel that what had to be said was said very well; but on the other hand there are sentences which make one think that they should better not have been said; or, why did they have to go and spell this out so far? Unfortunately there are more of   the latter kind than of the former. I wish now to comment on the document...