Medical intervention

Question: The Church condemns artificial birth control because it violates God’s will in our life cycle. Should not the same logic condemn mechanical interventions and organ transplants extending life as contrary to God’s will in that cycle? 

Bill Bandle, Manchester Mo.

Answer: When an artificial device such as a knee replacement is used, or in the case of an organ transplant, we are seeking to repair something that is no longer working properly. However, in the case of contraception we are seeking to render dysfunctional, something which is functioning properly, and is a normal aspect of a healthy body. This, is a rather big difference and renders your example more of a contrast than a comparison. 

The Church condemns artificial contraception because it violates our obligation of safeguarding both the unitive and the procreative dimensions of the conjugal act. In other words, contraception violates the intrinsic meaning of human sexuality. 

The replacement of a knee or a kidney, however, does not violate the essential meaning and purpose of the body. Rather, it helps to enhance the body’s overall function, which has been diminished somehow, either by injury or disease. 

There are, of course, limits to bodily interventions that we might make. There should be good reasons to replace organs or body parts, and our interventions should enhance the proper, God-given functioning of the body, not alter its intrinsic meaning. There are increasingly strange practices today involving exotic piercings and extreme “body art,” some of which come close to mutilation and may hinder the proper functioning of the body. So-called “sex-change operations” would also be excluded since they seek to fundamentally alter what God has given. 

However, it is not inappropriate to make proper medical interventions to ensure healthy functioning of the body. 

Question: Are Catholics who reject the Church’s teachings on the Mass, the Trinity, the virgin birth of Christ, abortion, etc., no longer Catholics, or are they one for life because of their baptism?  

John Clubine, Ontario

Answer: Regarding baptism, the Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms the following: “Baptism seals the Christian with the indelible spiritual mark (character) of his belonging to Christ. No sin can erase this mark, even if sin prevents baptism from bearing the fruits of salvation. Given once for all, baptism cannot be repeated” (No. 1272). 

If one were to reject the teachings you mention, he would seriously harm his communion and unity with the Church. At times the Church must ask those who intentionally dissent to assess their own communion with the Church, and to no longer celebrate a communion that is seriously impaired by refraining from receiving Holy Communion. In rare cases, the Church may see a need to formally declare that an excommunication exists. 

Even in such cases, one can never utterly lose the status of belonging to Christ. By analogy, even if a son or daughter of yours were to wander far from you, live in total contradiction to what you believe, and even curse you to your face, this would not change the fact that they are your son or daughter. 

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to msgrpope@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.