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Humanae Vitae (Latin: Of Human Life)

Pope Paul VI Issued Humanae Vitae on 25 July 1968

Summary

Affirmation of traditional teaching

In this encyclical Paul VI reaffirmed the Catholic Church’s traditional view of marriage and marital relations and a continued condemnation of artificial birth control. There were two Papal committees and numerous independent experts looking into the latest advancement of science and medicine on the question of artificial birth control,[2] which were noted by the Pope in his encyclical.[3] The expressed views of Paul VI reflected the teachings of his predecessors, especially Pius XI,[4]Pius XII[5] and John XXIII,[6] all of whom had insisted on the divine obligations of the marital partners in light of their partnership with God the creator.

Doctrinal Basis

Paul VI himself, even as commission members issued their personal views over the years, always reaffirmed the teachings of the Church, repeating them more than once in the first years of his Pontificate.[7]

To Pope Paul VI, as with of all his predecessors, marital relations are much more than a union of two people. They constitute a union of the loving couple with a loving God, in which the two persons create a new person materially, while God completes the creation by adding the soul. For this reason, Paul VI teaches in the first sentence of Humanae Vitae, that the transmission of human life is a most serious role in which married people collaborate freely and responsibly with God the Creator.[8] This is divine partnership, so Paul VI does not allow for arbitrary human decisions, which may limit divine providence. The Pope does not paint an overly romantic picture of marriage: Marital relations are a source of great joy, but also of difficulties and hardships.[8] The question of human procreation, exceeds in the view of Paul VI specific disciplines such as biology, psychology, demography or sociology.[9] According to Paul VI, married love takes its origin from God, who “is love”, and from this basic dignity, he defines his position:

  • Love is total — that very special form of personal friendship in which husband and wife generously share everything, allowing no unreasonable exceptions and not thinking solely of their own convenience. Whoever really loves his partner loves not only for what he receives, but loves that partner for the partner’s own sake, content to be able to enrich the other with the gift of himself.[10]

The encyclical opens with an assertion of the competency of the

English: Pope Paul VI

English: Pope Paul VI (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

magisterium of the Catholic Church to decide questions of morality. It then goes on to observe that circumstances often dictate that married couples should limit the number of children, and that the sexual act between husband and wife is still worthy even if it can be foreseen not to result in procreation. Nevertheless, it is held that the sexual act must “retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life”, and the “direct interruption of the generative process already begun” is unlawful.[citation needed]

Every action specifically intended to prevent procreation is forbidden, except in medically necessary circumstances. Therapeutic means necessary to cure diseases are exempted, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result, but only if infertility is not directly intended.[11] This includes both chemical and barrier methods of contraception.[citation needed] All these are held to directly contradict the “moral order which was established by God”. Abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, is absolutely forbidden, as is sterilization, even if temporary. Therapeutic means which induce infertility are allowed (e.g., hysterectomy), if they are not specifically intended to cause infertility (e.g., the uterus is cancerous, so the preservation of life is intended). Natural family planning methods (abstaining from intercourse during certain parts of the menstrual cycle) are allowed, since they take advantage of “a faculty provided by nature.”[citation needed]

The acceptance of artificial methods of birth control is then claimed to result in several negative consequences, among them a “general lowering of moral standards” resulting from sex without consequences, and the danger that men may reduce women “to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of [their] own desires”; finally, abuse of power by public authorities, and a false sense of autonomy.[12]

Appeal to natural law and conclusion

Public authorities should oppose laws which undermine natural law;[13] scientists should further study effective methods of natural birth control; doctors should further familiarize themselves with this teaching, in order to be able to give advice to their patients,[14] priests must spell out clearly and completely the Church’s teaching on marriage.[15] The encyclical acknowledges that “perhaps not everyone will easily accept this particular teaching”, but points out that the Roman Catholic Church cannot “declare lawful what is in fact unlawful”, because she is concerned with “safeguarding the holiness of marriage, in order to guide married life to its full human and Christian perfection.”[16] This is to be the priority for his fellow bishops and priests and lay people. The Pope predicts that future progress in social cultural and economic spheres will make marital and family life more joyful, provided God’s design for the world is faithfully followed.[16] The encyclical closes with an appeal to observe the natural laws of the Most High God. These laws must be wisely and lovingly observed.[17]

 

 
 
 
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Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life. 72 

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you. 73 

My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth. 74 

2271 Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law: 

You shall not killthe embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish. 75 

English: A six week embryonic age or eight wee...

English: A six week embryonic age or eight week gestational age intact Embryo, found in a Ruptured Ectopic pregnancy case. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes. 76 

2272 Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae ,” 77 “by the very commission of the offense,” 78 and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law. 79 The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society. 

2273 The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation : 

“The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being’s right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death.” 80 

“The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined. . . . As a consequence of the respect and protection which must be ensured for the unborn child from the moment of conception, the law must provide appropriate penal sanctions for every deliberate violation of the child’s rights.” 81 

2274 Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being. 

Prenatal diagnosis is morally licit, “if it respects the life and integrity of the embryo and the human fetus and is directed toward its safe guarding or healing as an individual. . . . It is gravely opposed to the moral law when this is done with the thought of possibly inducing an abortion, depending upon the results: a diagnosis must not be the equivalent of a death sentence.” 82 

2275 “One must hold as licit procedures carried out on the human embryo which respect the life and integrity of the embryo and do not involve disproportionate risks for it, but are directed toward its healing the improvement of its condition of health, or its individual survival.” 83 

“It is immoral to produce human embryos intended for exploitation as disposable biological material.” 84 

“Certain attempts to influence chromosomic or genetic inheritance are not therapeutic but are aimed at producing human beings selected according to sex or other predetermined qualities. Such manipulations are contrary to the personal dignity of the human being and his integrity and identity” 85 which are unique and unrepeatable. 

Source: Catechism of the Catholic Church

 

72 Cf. CDF, Donum vitae I,1.

73 Jer 1:5; cf. Job 10:8-12; Ps 22:10-11.

74 Ps 139:15.

75 Didache 2,2:SCh 248,148; cf. Ep. Barnabae 19,5:PG 2 777; Ad Diognetum 5,6:PG 2,1173; Tertullian, Apol . 9:PL 1,319-320.

76 GS 51 § 3.

77 CIC, can. 1398.

78 CIC, can. 1314.

79 Cf. CIC, cann. 1323-1324.

80 CDF, Donum vitae III.

81 CDF, Donum vitae III.

82 CDF, Donum vitae I,2.

83 CDF, Donum vitae I,3.

84 CDF, Donum vitae I,5.

85 CDF, Donum vitae I,6.

 

 

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