The beauty of Catholic moral teaching in the area of sexuality

A weekend of faith
It all began, as it so often does, in Warsaw, the midpoint between our two major cities. Our Family Life and Pro-Life Office had arranged an extraordinary meeting concerning a matter with moral implications, but so little noticed. I refer to infertility. Women who hunger to have children and for whatever reason, find it difficult to conceive. We should say men and women, because it is truly a family matter.

Over 100 people came; priests, candidates for the diaconate, men and women involved in parish ministry, descended on the Ramada Inn. The first speaker was Father Tad Pacholczyk, a scientist and theologian, who shared with us the ethics and the consequences of in vitro fertilization — IVF. So many are placed on this road with its severe consequences: huge expenditure of money; morally offensive methods and sad and frustrating results. There are over 400,000 frozen embryos in fertility clinics all over the country. He shared both the moral implications and human implications of IVF, and the low success rate. Father Tad brought out clearly the distinction between the child who comes forth, sometimes, from this method who must always be seen as a gift; and the method, which is opposed both to church teaching and the natural law, and with such terrible consequences.

A story of courage and faith
The next speaker was Dr. Patrick Holly. Dr. Holly is a member of St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Fort Wayne, and the father of seven children. But what he now shared before this large group of pastoral ministers working each day to assist couples was something we all found to be inspiring.

He related how, although a Catholic, he would provide contraceptives and perform sterilizations as part of his practice. Troubled by it, he read again “Humanae Vitae,” the historic encyclical of Pope Paul VI on this subject. He mentioned a visit at a Japanese restaurant, where the chef referred to him and his family as “a good Catholic family.” God’s grace is everywhere, even in Japanese restaurants. He went home with the realization that he was not a good Catholic. He was providing contraceptives. He had several children at this point and his wife had had three miscarriages, but he received the light and grace to know that God was calling him to change how he practiced medicine.

He understood this would be costly financially, and he did not know where it would lead. But he went to work the next morning and informed his staff that he would no longer prescribe contraceptives or perform sterilizations. He turned to Dr. Thomas Hilgers at Creighton University in Omaha. Dr. Hilgers had long since established the Pope Paul VI Center. He, too, had read “Humanae Vitae” and took notice, as Dr. Holly was beginning to do, of the requests that Paul VI had made to scientists and physicians to examine this question from a scientific point of view, knowing that morality is also good science and good medicine. Dr. Holly went to the Pope Paul VI Center for further training and became certified as a Creighton model medical consultant.

There are many methods of Natural Family Planning, and Dr. Hilgers has used his method to develop the science of NaProTechnology, which is a set of medical and surgical procedures designed to treat infertility in a way that is completely in accord with church teaching and which has a much higher success rate than IVF. All of this was laid out clearly for us by both Father Pacholczyk and Dr. Holly.

I had the good fortune at being at table with a woman from St. Pius X Parish, Granger, who came in with several others from that parish. She shared with us the cross and the pain she had experienced in her struggle to have a child and how moved she was, even to tears, that there were so many present, including outstanding scientists and pastoral leaders who understood the pain of not being able to have a child, and were working for people like herself in a way that is sound and moral, and according to the plan of God; and that treatment for her infertility through NaProTechnology was being pursued in a way that was moral and respectful of human dignity.

Then Lisa Everett, mother of seven, who along with her husband, Fred, has worked beside me for over 23 years on so many matters, spoke and explained the various resources and literature, which their department was making available to all those in attendance. This was followed by a period of question and answers.

Open to life
What was especially moving was to realize anew the teaching of the church that the marital union must always be open to life, and that this teaching is beautiful. Why have we not done better in teaching this truth? I shared a few thoughts afterwards, since I have lived through this controversy. I remember as a young priest at St. Mary’s, Beverly, Mass., baptizing an average of 10 to 15 children every Sunday. New life was all around us. Pope Paul VI, in his teaching, foresaw much of what would come upon us. Much criticized at the time, his teaching, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, is only now being more understood. His message was prophetic. He predicted things, like in vitro fertilization and saw clearly the connection between contraception and the direct attack on human life in the womb.

One left Warsaw feeling very hopeful. In a few remarks at the end, I spoke of the second visit of Pope John Paul II to this country. We bishops had morning prayer and breakfast with him at one of the old California missions, not far from Los Angeles. Later that day, he would celebrate Mass at Dodger Stadium before 80,000 people. But the morning prayer was with bishops only.

Four talks were given by different bishops. One concerned the pressing moral questions. In his response, the Holy Father said that in the great and difficult moral issues we should teach in such a way that people would see church teaching as attractive and be drawn to it. A few months later, at lunch with several other bishops during the “ad limina” visit, I reminded him of what he said, and asked, “Holy Father, how do we do this?” The pope became very serious. Philosophical. “It is necessary to understand the soul of the woman. All these things which were meant to liberate her; premarital sex, birth control, abortion. Have they liberated her, or have they enslaved her?” The challenge he gave to the bishops on that lovely sunny day at the old mission in California must be taken up. It seems the beauty and attractiveness of Catholic moral teaching have only now begun to find a serious hearing among many people. We must take up the challenge to share, especially with our young people, the beauty of Catholic moral teaching in the area of sexuality and marital life, and the value of Natural Family Planning which respects the law of God and the dignity of the woman.

Chapter two
So much for Friday. On Saturday evening, I was at Corpus Christi Parish, South Bend, for the liturgical installation of Father Daryl Rybicki. Despite the conflict of the Notre Dame-Michigan game, the Mass was well attended and a lovely supper followed. I said to Father Rybicki that this event was marked by much joy. So many of the people there knew Father Daryl from his previous assignments at St. Adalbert, St. Hedwig, St. Matthew, along with Saint Joseph’s and Marian high schools, institutions where he exercised educational leadership. It was like a homecoming for him, and for his dear mother and for the people. So many people thanked me for sending him there. He is already well launched, quite happy and it was a joy to be with him.

Sunday
Off east from my comfortable quarters with the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration to Sacred Heart, Warsaw. This generous parish has enlarged their church and school. I blessed the expanded church and preached and paid tribute to Msgr. Jim Wolf, who has given excellent pastoral leadership there. I reminded them how important this small town is. It is a place for orthopedic construction where they build knees and hips and all kinds of things. People come to live there from all over the country, and I have always told them to make the Eucharist and the church their anchor. I always meet people there from my hometown; and I am most proud of this parish and its Catholic school.

Not yet finished
Back to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception for the Jubilee Mass for those married 25, 50 and 60 years. I often think of my dear parents and how they would love to have such a Mass with the bishop.

Word arrived early in the weekend that we had lost our beloved Father Ronald Ramenaden, a priest of our diocese who came to us from far away Sri Lanka. I hope to say more about him next week.

I will see you all then.

Posted on September 16, 2009, to: