Thank God I'm not Catholic. The Roman Catholic Church upgraded its position on reproductive issues today, and as best as I can tell the intent of the revision was to make sure that Catholics continue to live in the Middle Ages when it comes to all things sexual. Judaism at least has its progressive heresies like Reform, Renewal, Reconstructionism, and Humanism, but all the Catholics have is the Pope.
The Church strengthened its on-going opposition to contraception, embryonic stem cell research, and abortion, and clarified its stand against in vitro fertilization. It also called “shameful and reprehensible” any attempt to make sure embryos that are implanted in a woman are free from genetic flaws or disease. I guess the reasoning was that if you are going to sin by using in vitro fertilization you should at least maximize your chances of having a sick child. Nothing like sin to add to your suffering.
Still, I admire the Church’s consistency when it comes to pro-life issues, but I thank God for not making me a Catholic. Imagine you are raped, and the sperm of your rapist has fertilized one of your eggs, and that fertilized egg is about to begin its 14 day journey down your fallopian tube to your womb. Without being implanted in the womb that fertilized egg has no chance of becoming a baby, and you won’t be forced to carry your rapist’s baby to term. But your religion refuses to allow you to take a pill that will prevent that implantation. Why? Because that fertilized egg is a person in the eyes of the Church.
Which makes me wonder… Since 70% of all fertilized eggs fail to implant in the womb, what happens to all these mini-humans? They haven’t been baptized, so I’m not certain they can go to heaven. Do they go to hell? That doesn’t seem fair. Do they go to purgatory? That, too, seems unkind. Limbo is out because the Church recently disavowed its earlier teaching that there ever was such a place. Wherever they go, it has got to be very crowded. Or maybe not. Are mini-human souls smaller than baby souls or fully adult souls?
The Church’s antipathy to in vitro fertilization was a bit surprising. Rather than finding a womb for the 500,000 frozen embryos (and their frozen souls), or allowing these mini-people to die and allowing their souls go to… wherever… the Church prefers to leave them in frozen neverneverland. Does this sound moral to you? It doesn’t to me. If the Church is worried about these souls, why leave them stuck in frozen eggs?
The Church insists that its position is not uniquely Catholic, but rather based on Natural Law and hence universal. The implication, of course, is that anyone with a different point of view (me, for example) isn’t only anti-Catholic but anti-human.
The fact is reproductive technology has outstripped the capacity of the Church, or any other religion locked into medieval theological positions, to make sense of it. What we need is fresh thinking to match the innovations of the technology. I pity the Catholic who feels coerced into living in the past. I worry that the Church has just moved itself closer to the point of total irrelevance in the lives of many Catholics. The more the Church clings to the past the more irrelevant it is to those wrestling with the present and the future.