Dr. Thomas Hilgers is a medical doctor specializing in women’s health. He is the founder of the Pope Paul VI Institute in Nebraska, which seeks to answer the Church’s call for reproductive health care that fully respects life.
The Institute does this through the Creighton Model FertilityCare™ System & NaProTechnology, a system for natural family planning developed by Dr. Hilgers. Thus, without any recourse to in vitro fertilization, Dr. Hilgers has helped countless families to determine what is causing their infertility problems and to successfully give life. The Creighton Model has also become a widely used form of NFP for couples seeking to delay, prevent or achieve pregnancy.
Dr. Hilgers was a medical student when Humane Vitae was released, and Paul VI’s exhortation for scientists and medical professionals to get involved in these areas was the catalyst for his life’s work. He will be reading at this Sunday’s Mass for the beatification of Paul VI.
However, Dr. Hilgers says that much of his work during these decades has been done despite the fact that Church leaders, overall, have not been very supportive. In this interview with ZENIT, he says that this lack of support has been one of his “great regrets” in his mission, and asks bishops to “shout from the mountaintops” the Church’s teachings on marriage, family and contraception, and to “believe what they teach.”
ZENIT: Based on your rich experience, in particular areas key to family ministry, what would you like to see come from this Synod?
Dr. Hilgers: I believe that the bishops should shout from the mountaintops the beauty of Catholic insights into marriage, family, contraception, abortion, in vitro fertilization, etc. The public pronouncements ahead of time are suggesting perhaps that the bishops are going to “loosen” the teaching on this. This would be a huge mistake. In fact, the Church has been sitting on the solution to many of the world’s problems, but has been afraid to implement them. The teachings found in Humanae Vitae, Familiaris Consortio and Evangelium Vitae are revolutionary and extraordinarily good for humankind.
ZENIT: As a developer of a method of Natural Family Planning, you know that NFP is a hard-sell in today’s Catholic world. Why? Because of the effort involved? Because misinformation is still lurking in the medical community? Other reasons?
Dr. Hilgers: The main reason for the difficulty is that the Church has done a horrible job of teaching the Catholic population the importance and the value of this. We are a Church that has prided itself, over many years, in its ability to educate people. Catholic education is certainly a good example of that. However, much of “Catholic” education in this area has come from the secular media. Thus, most Catholics do not even have the vaguest idea of what the Church is trying to get done here. It is important for the Church to take a whole new look at the catechesis involved here. If they are going to do that, however, they are going to have to work with people who understand these issues. They have been reluctant to do so, and it would be a tragedy if their reluctance would lead to another step into the abyss of the culture of death.
ZENIT: The Creighton method that you developed emphasizes the benefits that a marriage can reap with NFP. What are some of those?
Dr. Hilgers: Well for one, the communication between the husband and wife has been shown to improve with the use of the CREIGHTON MODEL System because the entire emphasis in the marriage is not on a physical form of sexuality, but on the understanding and communication of the whole person – one to the other. Only those who understand this can see the beauty of it. The Church needs to find ways to make this message more and more available to people. You asked earlier whether it was “difficult.” However, I do not think difficulty is so much the issue. I do think there is a huge bias and prejudice against it that has developed over many, many years. The Church needs to lead the way better in all of this.
ZENIT: Much of your work today deals with infertility, another area in which Church teaching is countercultural. In what way can Church leaders improve ministry to couples struggling with infertility?
Dr. Hilgers: To be honest, the teachings of the Church relative to family planning, abortion, in vitro fertilization, sterilization, etc. are very consistent, and the consistency is at least one of those things which is really important. Our approach to infertility has to do with our ability to look for the causes of the infertility problem and then to treat it successfully. Of course, we do not yet know all of the causes, but, as we take the approach in NaProTECHNOLOGY, we will have hope of finding a cure. This will only come, however, with much expanded and needed research into these areas. I will tell you, however, that in vitro fertilization will never be a cure because one of its tenets is to avoid looking for the causes. I do want to add that NaProTECHNOLOGY is more than just a treatment for infertility. It is a women’s health science for women of reproductive age which is completely consistent with Catholic teaching. It was entirely stimulated by Pope Paul VI in his encyclical letter, Humanae Vitae when in Part III he called on “men of science” and “physicians and healthcare professionals” to get involved in these areas.
ZENIT: In what way could the Church (her leaders and laity) support your ministry better?
Dr. Hilgers: One of my great regrets in all of this has been that the Church as a whole has not been responsive and has not been, overall, very supportive. While we do get support from a number of the hierarchy who really understand and believe what it is that we are doing, we also get virtually no material support whatsoever. In fact, much of it is almost clouded in politics. I have felt that the Church leaders often have had difficulty believing what they teach. If they would only believe what they teach, they would definitely see the value of it all without any difficulty, and they would better understand where it is going.
For more information on the Paul VI Institute, the Creighton model of NFP, or to read testimonies of couples who have had their infertility problems treated and overcome, see here: http://www.popepaulvi.com