Q: Is the Catholic Church against in
vitro fertilization? If so, why? Isn’t
this a compassionate response for couples
who want to have children, but either
or both spouses have medical conditions
that make this unlikely?
A: The Catholic Church teaches
that conception should occur
within a wife’s body, using the egg and
the sperm from this wife and this husband.
Depending on the medical situation
of a couple, eggs and/or sperm
can be extracted, undergo a process to
improve chances of conceiving and
then be reintroduced into the woman’s
body where the conception occurs. The
Catholic Church is not opposed to such
It does consider immoral in vitro fertilization
(IVF), the conception of a
child in a petri dish—even if the egg
and sperm come from the married couple
desiring to have a child (homologous
artificial insemination and
fertilization). Why? The unitive and
procreative dimensions of marital intercourse
have been separated through
the introduction of technology that
threatens the dignity of the human
person. An added reason is that IVF
procedures usually result in several
zygotes, most of which are eventually
All the more does the Catholic
Church consider it immoral if donated
eggs and/or sperm are used (heterologous
artificial insemination and fertilization).
Surrogate motherhood, the
use of a second woman to carry a child
conceived in vitro (whether through
homologous or heterologous procedures),
is also considered immoral.
These situations are addressed in the
Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2373-2379). On February 22, 1987, the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith
issued Donum Vitae (Gift of Life), an
instruction that addresses medically
assisted human reproduction. That text
is available through the Congregation’s
link at www.vatican.va.
The document Dignitas Personae (Dignity
of the Person), prepared by the same
congregation with the assistance of the
Pontifical Academy for Life and dated
September 8, 2008, addresses IVF, as
well as genetic therapy and embryonic
stem-cell research. Its full text can be
found at the same Web site.
Is in vitro fertilization a compassionate
response to couples who want
to have children, but one or both
spouses have medical conditions that
make that unlikely? Not really. The
Catechism of the Catholic Church notes:
“A child is not something owed to one,
but is a gift. The ‘supreme gift of marriage’
is a human person. A child may
not be considered a piece of property,
an idea to which an alleged ‘right to a
child’ would lead. In this area, only
the child possesses genuine rights: the
right ‘to be the fruit of a specific act of
the conjugal love of parents,’ and ‘the
right to be respected as a person from
the moment of conception’” (#2378,
quoting Donum Vitae, II, 8).
The Catechism concludes its treatment
of in vitro fertilization in these
words: “The Gospel shows that physical
sterility is not an absolute evil.
Spouses who still suffer from infertility
after exhausting legitimate medical procedures
should unite themselves with
the Lord’s Cross, the source of all spiritual
fecundity. They can give expression
to their generosity by adopting
abandoned children or performing
demanding services for others” (#2379).
Q: It seems that the weather is becoming
more extreme and that air pollution
is a factor in this. Has pollution
become a moral issue? I think people
should stop driving so much.
A: The basic moral principle is that
the goods of the earth are
meant for everyone. That includes
access to clean air, water and soil. This
does not deny the human right to private
property, but it places that right in
its proper context. Laws against monopolies
do the same.
Yes, pollution is a moral issue because
it ignores God’s intention for creation and disregards the virtue of prudence.
We now realize that we need to
pay more attention to our individual
and collective “carbon footprints,”
which British researchers Thomas
Wideman and Jan Minx define as “a
measure of the exclusive total amount
of carbon dioxide emissions that is
directly and indirectly caused by an
activity or is accumulated over the life
stages of a product.”
Prudential judgments, however, are
open to question. Should I drive, carpool,
take the bus or walk? That depends
on the distance involved and
the options available. We need to
choose wisely because our choices have
Late last December, Pope Benedict
XVI included ecology in his annual
address to heads of offices for the Holy
See. According to John Thavis’s article
for Catholic News Service, the pope
said that the Church’s teaching on ecology
“needs to be understood as arising
from God—the ‘creator Spirit’—who
made the earth and its creatures with
an ‘intelligent structure’ that demands
respect. Because of faith, the Church
has a responsibility for protecting the
created world and for proclaiming publicly
this environmental responsibility.
“The pope then explained why the
human being must be at the center of
the Church’s ecological concern. ‘The
Church must protect not only the earth,
the water and the air as gifts of creation
that belong to everyone. It must also
protect man against self-destruction,’
he said. ‘The tropical forests certainly
deserve our protection, but man as a
creature does not deserve any less.’”
Q: I heard someone say that, whenever
a married couple has sexual
intercourse, it is lustful. I respect the person
who said this, but I cannot believe
that this is true. Is it?
A: Your instincts about this are on
the right track because when a
husband and wife have intercourse this
is not lustful, wrong or sinful. They
have pledged themselves to one
another. That does not mean that each
person must say yes every time his or
her spouse seeks to have marital intercourse.
When both spouses are agreeable,
however, that is part of the grace
of this sacrament.
Q: Some people speak as though particular
prayers or a series of prayers
(such as a novena) are more powerful
than simpler prayers. Is this true?
Also, if I believe that God’s will is always
done, why should I pray for a particular
outcome? How can my prayers affect God’s
will one way or the other?
A: The most powerful prayers are
the most honest prayers. That is
why, after telling the story of the Pharisee
and the tax collector praying in
the Temple (Luke 18:9-14), Jesus says
that only the tax collector truly prayed.
We should pray for what we need, but
our prayers do not pile up so that eventually
God responds reluctantly, “O.K.,
have it your way.”
We live with past, present and future
time; we must. God does not relate to
time that way. If God did, that would
be a limitation. We do not pray because
we fear that God’s Plan A regarding
some situation of interest to us is the
wrong choice—and that our prayer can
convince God that our Plan B is the better
one to accept and carry out.
Deep down, we pray because prayer
is the only honest response to the gift
of life that we have received. Prayer
also draws us closer to the person or
people for whom we are praying. Prayer
leads us to do what we can (for example,
visiting the sick), even though we
cannot guarantee the outcome of every
situation about which we pray.
Q: Is it all right to shop on Sunday if you really need something? Not
long ago, my daughter asked me on a Sunday to check at a
nearby store to get some special dishes for a party she was having.
I did so and bought the dishes. Did I commit a sin by shopping
on Sunday? I usually don’t shop on Sunday.
A: The command to honor the Lord’s Day generally means not
working or shopping then. The prohibition, however, is not
absolute. For example, some doctors, nurses, pharmacists, other medical
staff, public safety or military personnel must work on Sunday. Emergencies
happen on the Lord’s Day also.
Even so, there is good reason to postpone whatever commercial activities
are possible. The shopping you describe does not appear to me as
sinful. Unless the party in question was on that Sunday, however, it might
have been better to make your purchase another day.
If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here.
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