(ZENIT News / Rome, 29.09.2022).- Because of its interest, we reproduce the analytical article of nine scientists, one of whom is a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, who correct the grave doctrinal errors in the recently published book entitled “Theological Ethics of Life,” which is being promoted on the Pontifical Academy’s social networks.
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Pastoral care outside of experience ceases to be pastoral
The Pontifical Academy for Life and the book “Theological Ethics of Life”
A Controversial Book
A controversy was sparked immediately after the publication of the book entitled Theological Ethics of Life. Scripture, Tradition, Practical Challenges. Among other subjects, it considers the use of “unnatural contraceptive methods in specific circumstances, in which it would be irresponsible to have children.”
A certain confusion has resulted in some ecclesial realms and in the media by interpreting it as a change in the Holy See’s position on these issues. Since at least Pius XI and all subsequent Popes have repeatedly affirmed the Apostles’ teaching formulated by Paul: And why not do evil to bring good? As some calumniously accuse us of saying. Their condemnation is just.”
One must not want positively what is essentially a violation of the moral order and, hence, unworthy of human dignity, even if the intention is to promote the wellbeing of the individual, of the family or of the society (1). The proposals of the manuscript are those of a group of experts. They do not reflect the position of the Academy (2). The authors argue that: “We must respond to the world’s thirst of hope with new sources of thought,” and that “Theological and scientific reflection must go beyond what is already known, to be able to address the changing times in which we are immersed.”
Yes, it’s necessary to continue having innovative ideas to address the new challenges of each historical moment. However, many fear that these words might mean the following idea: “the Doctrine of the Catholic Church is good and must not change, but we must change pastoral care when it comes to applying it (doing, if necessary, the opposite of what the Doctrine proposes).”
One would arrive at a sort of contradiction, affirming something and proposing the contrary to the faithful. In the end, the Doctrine — salvific truth — would be relegated to a theoretic ideal, in detriment of believers who think that they cannot attain it.
A proposal for all, or various proposals for different circumstances?
Saint John Paul II warned that the “law of gradualness” should not be confused with the gradualness of the law,” as if there were degrees or forms of precept in the divine law, for different persons in their personal situations. The law of gradualness implies that we are all invited to live in fulness the proposals of the Church, even if we achieve them little by little, from our personal capacities and circumstances, counting on grace and being accompanied to overcome the difficulties.
Pope Francis guides us in this line, stressing energetically the importance of accompaniment and merciful discernment of spouses (3):
“It’s necessary to address all these situations in a positive way, trying to transform them into opportunity on the way to the fulfilment of marriage and of the family in the light of the Gospel. It’s about welcoming and accompanying them with patience and delicacy.”
The gradualness of the law would imply, on the contrary, that there are different laws according to whom one is and in what circumstances.
Pastoral care must not be behind medical knowledge
We, the undersigned, want to focus briefly on the aspects of these theological proposals that are of our ambit of experience, as some of us have been working with and accompanying marriages for 40 years in responsible paternity, the living of their marital sexuality and the use of natural methods (NM) in respect of their fertility and in permanent dialogue, to foster, space or avoid pregnancies.
The anthropological principles that support the proposal of the Magisterium of the Church on responsible paternity go beyond the choice of an artificial or natural method to space pregnancies. But in this writing we wish to focus on one idea: theological conclusions and their pastoral applications must not be validated if they are outside medical science. To pose today, as the authors of the book mentioned above do, the use of “unnatural contraceptive methods in specific circumstances … “ is, beyond a theoretic intellectual exercise, an affirmation that doesn’t take into account either the reality of studies on the accompaniment of marriages or the experience of so very many marriages. Moreover, it’s not a “new source of thought.”
What do we know after 60 years of experience with oral hormonal contraceptives?
The results seen in over 60 years of experience on the use of contraceptives and artificial methods of assisted reproduction make one foresee the effects that this “new” pastoral focus would have. In the ‘60s couples were taught that the pill would solve so-called overpopulation. After 1968 women were taught that the pill would protect them from “unwanted” pregnancies and would avoid abortion. In the ‘70s techniques of artificial insemination were developed to help couples have a “wanted” child. Later, in the ‘80s, it was said that condoms would avoid infections and also “unwanted” pregnancies.
The result –the worsening of families and the coercion of governments– was predicted by the Encyclical Humanae Vitae. In addition to the worsening of the situation of women who, supposedly, were going to be “liberated” by these methods and of the increase of marriage failures, we are now suffering a “demographic winter” and epidemics of sexually transmitted infections are increasing. Young people are suffering because they yearn and seek love and don’t know where to find it. There are family breakups and the children become “orphans of living parents”(4). All this will affect negatively the wellbeing of people we want to give pastoral care if we don’t get it right. Specifically, we have learned and confirmed that:
- The NM called “double check Symto-thermal method” has a practical efficacy of 2%, whereas the contraceptive pill has an efficacy of 7% (5). It is five times more effective than the condom, which has a 15% rate of failure (6).
- In the case that some special circumstances make it necessary, the NM can also be used by limiting sexual relations to the 100% infertile days of the cycle.
- The current contraceptive pill has as one of its mechanisms of action the early elimination of embryos by impeding their implantation (7).
- Many women would not want to use them if they knew that the destruction of an embryo is possible. Moreover, the majority of them affirm that they should be informed about this action mechanism (8).
- The best extant study to date on the pill-breast cancer relation, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, has assessed prospectively almost 1.8 million women of Denmark (9). Oral hormonal contraceptives highten the risk of breast cancer in an epidemic way. They reduce some types of cancer, but it isn’t comparable to the risk of causing cancer of the breast, of the liver and of the cervix.
- Oral contraceptives raise by 60% the risk of myocardial infarction and cerebral-vascular accident (10).
- Studies of scientific quality have been published in the JAMA Psychiatry scientific reviews (11) and in the American Journal of Psychiatry (12) (almost half a million women were followed over eight years), which show an increase of the risk of depression and suicides and attempted suicides in connection with the use of contraceptives.
- To implement approaches such as Na Pro Technology obtains results similar to artificial methods of assisted reproduction, without its bioethical inconveniences and secondary effects (13). And there is now the problem of all frozen embryos.
Just by following the teachings of Humanae Vitae, innumerable deaths could have been avoided over the last 50 years from causes described earlier. To question today the implementation of the Humanae Vitae pastoral instructions adducing problems in the use of NM can lead to one of the greatest scandals for public health of all times, as it would affect the health of millions of women.
Moreover, it would be an unprecedented victory for the pharmaceutical industry, which attempts to silence the current medical evidence on the contraceptive pill, to continue increasing its business at the cost of women’s health.
Natural modern methods promote marital autonomy. They are effective, ecological and salutary
Fortunately, during these years, the NM have followed their development with ever better efficacy, with the help of applications for Smartphones that include Sympto-thermal algorithms, with individualized teaching, and with the support of Centers that promote them worldwide with more success and professionalism (14).
In some countries its teaching is financed by Social Security. It also increases its success to foster pregnancies in cases of subfertility. At present, those of us who work in these subjects accompany the grandchildren of the first users of oral contraceptives. The pastoral approaches proposed by the mentioned working group aren’t new and have been implemented for 60 years in some places, probably because they didn’t believe in the HV or because they didn’t know how to help married couples in another way or let themselves be carried away by the influence of pharmaceuticals on the media and health sources. Now we hear very different voices in our daily practice. Young women –in the majority non-believers– are sad, even indignant, because they were never told that they could live without contraceptives.
Sometimes they have even had to go through an abortion, simply because they trusted blindly in those contraceptives. They often suffer from being in very precarious relationships. Once they have discovered the NM, they feel well again as women, they feel truly emancipated for the first time, owners of their body and their sexuality. Moreover, now they want to be something more than a sexual couple; they want to be wives that love and are loved, and also live maternity fully. These young women feel themselves victims. They no longer want a Pastor that assumes that the “ideal” isn’t for them, who approves contraception, minimizes abortion and regards divorce as inevitable. Pastoral approaches used in many places during these years no longer make any sense, because women have endured their physical and psychological consequences. They want to fulfil the dream the Church has had for centuries. Perhaps some don’t know this good news, because they didn’t get a Christian education, but boys and girls are attracted by this proposal when it’s explained to them. Instead of continuing to live the mirage of false hopes of the ‘60s, which are old and have failed, the Church can embrace more forcefully the whole experience and progress achieved for those of us who work in this field to have a renewed pastoral role and be a hopeful sign for a youth hungry for the Truth and that wants to live to the maximum their plans as a couple.
Applied to family planning, the law of gradualness would mean to propose NM to those that wish to space their pregnancies and, in case difficulties should arise, to accompany them while they resolve their problems to be able to live as others the good news proclaimed by the Church. On the contrary, the gradualness of the law and these “new” proposals would be like saying to them: “This ideal isn’t for you. In your circumstances, use condoms or other contraceptive methods.” In face of affirmations that suggest that “there are situations in which natural methods are impossible or impracticable” and that hence “it’s necessary to find other ways, because a responsible generation can’t ignore technical offers ,” it must be affirmed, without any doubt, with the technical knowledge, the medical science and the experience in hand, that the teaching of the HV is attainable for all marriages, with the help of grace and the pastoral accompaniment of those that have more experience. Those “situations” can be attended and are attended in fact with approaches that do not imply
departing form the HV proposal. We, professionals, who attend marriages carry out this effective work daily and they live the HV with joy (with or without difficulties).
To discourage this work of accompaniment can deprive many spouses from reaching fulness in their marriages and can lead them to a worsening of their mental, physical and sexual health, for trusting in chemical alternatives, such as the contraceptive pill, or even those that are less effective, such as condoms. What certainly is more necessary is a greater effort, if possible, in which we, the laity, health professionals and Universities of Christian inspiration do more, much more to facilitate and improve attention to these marriages. It’s time to abandon the failed paradigms of the sexual revolution (15). It’s time that the Church develop a real and renewed pastoral care, which is sustainable, following an integral ecology, centered on free and responsible men and women. At the service of marriages that acknowledge their fertility, manage it autonomously and protect it, and live an equal commitment to their children. The teaching of the Church is healthy and promoter of public health. The NM foster dialogue in marriage and respect for the other, in addition to strengthening the bonds and ends of the couple. When they proceed from love, they increase true love; when they proceed form freedom, they increase freedom.
It’s time, because our experience and science confirm that it’s possible.
Jokin de Irala MD, MPH, PhD
Ordinary member of the Pontifical Academy for Life
Professor of Preventive Medicine and Public Health, Spain
Dr Michèle Barbato MD
Michèle Barbato, Specialist in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, former Director of S.C. of Obstetrics-Gynaecology, National Director of the RNF training school for the CAMeN Sympto-thermal method. Engaged for 45 years in Research and Support for couples on the RNF, Milan, Italy
Jacques Aimé Bazeboso MD
Président de la Fédération Africaine d’Action Familiale
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Maria Boerci MD
Specialist in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Therapist in Sexology, NFP
Teacher for the CAMeN Sympto-thermal method.
National President of the Italian Confederation of Natural Fertility Regulation Centers.
Paolo Bordin MD
Specialist in Internal Medicine, Specialist in Cardiology,
Central Friuli University Health Authority.
National President of the “La Bottega dell’Orefice ODV”.
Serena Del Zoppo MD
Gynaecologist with experience in Natural Family Planning and Infertility.
Medical Consultant Napro-technology and FEMM. IEEF Board member.
Isabelle Ecochard MD Medical doctor,
NFP Expert, Former President of EIFLE.
France Pierre Hernalsteen MA
Teacher trainer with experience in Belgium, the Netherlands, Ukraine and Rwanda.
Belgium Furio Pesci PhD
Full Professor of History of Education.
Sapienza University of Rome, Italy