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God Is the Author of All Life
By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

Q U I C K S C A N

In Vitro Fertilization: Where Does the Catholic Church Stand?
Pollution as a Moral Issue
Is Sexual Intercourse Between Husband and Wife Lustful?
Are Some Prayers More Powerful Than Others?
Is Shopping on Sunday Immoral?


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 procedures.

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 discarded.

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 moral consequences.

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. 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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