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By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

Welcoming an In Vitro Great-Grandchild

How Should I React?

Q: My grandson and his wife are expecting a baby conceived through in vitro fertilization. I have a few questions. May I give the baby a gift, with a nice card, wishing the child well? May I send a congratulatory card to the parents when the baby is born? How should this matter be handled if it is ever brought up after the child is born?

A: By all means, congratulate the parents and give this baby a card and a gift. The child should not be penalized for the circumstances of its conception but should be welcomed and celebrated as you would do for any other great-grandchild.

Perhaps Pope John Paul I provides a model in this situation. Shortly before being elected pope in 1978, Cardinal Albino Luciani said that the in vitro fertilization process poses “grave risks” for the human family. Yet he also expressed good wishes to Louise Brown, the first person that we know of born through in vitro fertilization.

Once a child is born, he or she should be welcomed as we welcome any other baby, a gift of life from God.

If you are ever drawn by family members into a discussion of in vitro fertilization, you can say nothing or give your opinion.

You might simply state that, in seeking to achieve a good purpose, some unfortunate things have happened and could happen again. For example, fertilized eggs are routinely destroyed when they are considered no longer necessary. There can be mix-ups in matching sperm and egg from the same couple. Someone else’s sperm or egg could be fraudulently substituted; some years ago one clinic director used his own sperm without a couple’s knowledge.

Technically speaking, the term in vitro fertilization means any fertilization which occurs outside a woman’s body, usually in a petri dish. By this term many people often include the use of someone else’s egg and/or sperm for the conception. The potential complications about the identity of a child conceived in this manner are enormous.

Organ Donations Approved?

Q: What is the Church’s view on organ donation? My father passed away 10 days ago and we donated his corneas.

I know my father is at peace, but this question nags at me. For some reason, somewhere along the way I got the impression that the Church disapproved. This, however, is a means of giving life to others who are in need of such help, which leaves me confused.

A: “This is a means of giving life to others who are in need of such help...,” you wrote. I couldn’t agree more.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “Organ transplants are not morally acceptable if donors or those who legitimately speak for them have not given their informed consent.

“Organ transplants conform with the moral law and can be meritorious if the physical and psychological dangers and risks incurred by the donor are proportionate to the good sought for the recipient.

“It is morally inadmissible directly to bring about the disabling mutilation or death of a human being, even in order to delay the death of other persons” (#2296).

A couple years ago an American couple donated the organs of their son murdered in a drive-by shooting in Italy. The Church publicly applauded their generous decision which helped seven people.

To avoid a potential conflict of interest, the medical team treating the dying patient should be separate from the team for any potential recipient.

The donation of your father’s corneas was made with your consent and perhaps his before he died. There was no risk to the donor, who had already died. You have given the gift of sight to someone. The Church blesses your action. Please be at peace with your generous, pro-life decision.

Is Drinking Alcohol O.K.?

Q: I would like to know what the Church thinks about drinking alcohol. I am not an alcoholic. I like to have a few drinks on the weekend at home. I am very confused and wonder if God looks down on this or not. I have searched and searched the Bible for some answers, but there just don’t seem to be any.

A: Since alcohol is part of God’s creation, it should be used responsibly and in moderation. The Scriptures have many positive references to wine, such as Isaiah 25:6, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.”

The Scriptures also give warnings about the misuse of alcohol. Proverbs 20:1 says, “Wine is arrogant, strong drink is riotous; none who goes astray for it is wise.”

The key issue here is honesty. Is alcohol the center of your life, something around which you frequently make decisions to ensure its availability? Or is it incidental, something that you can take or leave?

If you can honestly say that it is incidental and those closest to you would agree, then I do not think you need to worry. If you cannot honestly say that, then you need to deal with this realization, using the help of a professional or a group like Alcoholics Anonymous.

Some medical conditions require people to refrain from drinking alcohol. Alcoholism is a disease for which there is no cure but which can be managed.

Help is available locally from Alcoholics Anonymous (check the listing in your phone book) or by calling 1-800-711-6375 (Alcohol A.A. Center 24-Hour Helpline). Any local A.A. group can provide a checklist of signs pointing to alcoholism.

Fatima Message

Q: I would like to know what the secret was that the Blessed Virgin Mary gave to Lucy at Fatima. It was supposed to be revealed to the world in 1960.

I feel if the Blessed Virgin didn’t want us to know she would not have told Lucy in the first place. No matter what the secret is, it won’t have any effect on my life, but I’m sure it would help a lot of unbelievers.

A: Sister Lucy, a cloistered Carmelite nun, wrote the third part of her apparitions in 1944 and gave them in a sealed envelope to the bishop of Leira, the Portuguese diocese where Fatima is located. The message was to be opened in 1960 or after her death—whichever came first.

Before the bishop died in 1957, the envelope was given to the Sacred Congregation for the Holy Office (since 1965 known as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith). Pope John XXIII opened it in 1960 and showed it to one person, Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, head of that congregation.

The letter was resealed and, to the best of my knowledge, has not been read again. Cardinal Ottaviani later said that all the stories circulating about the contents of the letter were fantasies.

Whatever the contents are, they cannot be central to our faith because they are a private revelation, no matter how widely they are publicized.

I very much doubt that publishing that letter would cause many nonbelievers to become believers. It is surely better to use the Scriptures, the tradition and teachings of the Church, the sacraments and the good example offered by the saints over the centuries as guides to our decisions.

Unfortunately, Christians can become so interested in something like the Fatima secret that they neglect God’s public revelation given through the Scriptures. If you keep close to the Scriptures and the sacraments, you will not go wrong.

Looking Up Saints

Q: My children are attending catechism to make their first Communion. They have to make a report on their patron saint. My son’s name is Daniel and my daughter’s name is Vivian.

Do you have any suggestions what book I can buy for them to do research? Your help is appreciated. Their reports are due very soon.

A: Considering the short time available, your best bet may be to get information on the Internet at or (pick D for Daniel and V for Vivian).

Two other possibilities are Dictionary of the Saints, by John Delaney (Doubleday) or Our Sunday Visitor’s Encyclopedia of Saints, by Matthew, Margaret and Stephen Bunson.

The Jerusalem Cross

Q: What is the Jerusalem cross and where did it come from? What do the four smaller crosses mean?

A: The Jerusalem Cross is also called the Crusaders’ Cross. This emblem was sent by Patriarch Thomas of Jerusalem to Charlemagne in the ninth century.

There are five crosses all with equal horizontal and vertical arms: one large and four small, one in each quadrant. Together, they represent Christ’s five wounds and the four corners of the earth.

If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.

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