- How should we deal with dissenting Catholic politicians?
- Is there a moral obligation to reverse a vasectomy?
Question: Recently many politicians have claimed that though they are Catholic they are in favor of a woman’s right to choose whatever is necessary for her reproductive health. Can you comment on this attitude?
Answer: The statement you describe is simply an impossible one for any Catholic to make. It rests on a theory of rights which is incompatible with Catholic doctrine. This theory and practice of rights is necessary to understanding the distinction between private conscience and public duty invoked by many Catholic politicians today.
The argument goes that, though they are privately opposed to abortion and the like, they do not have a right to impose their Christian moral opinions on others because of the separation of Church and state. Though they look on abortion as murder in their private judgement, their public judgement must obey the will and good of the majority, and so approve of the fact that there is a right to an abortion. This argument is flawed for several reasons.
First, the question of the nature of abortion as murder is not just an issue of private judgment or Christian morality. The existence of the human soul, and the subsequent fact that the right to life is inviolable, is based on reasoning which is accessible even to philosophy. The proof of the existence of the spiritual soul is based on the action of intelligence. Man demonstrates a kind of knowledge which goes beyond the physical order. Even Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle understood that man can arrive at universal ideas through sensible experiences. Though Socrates and Plato had trouble with the necessity of sense knowledge to arrive at these ideas, Aristotle did not. Arguments, therefore, concerning the spiritual nature of man do not depend merely on religion, though the Christian religion presupposes them and makes that nature more certain.
If these rights were created by the State, then man would have no recourse against the power of the State. Might would make right. The affirmation of an objective and spiritual nature of man is the only defense human beings have against becoming ciphers of the State.
Politicians who refuse to recognize the primordial sanction of the natural law as the foundation for human law, open their nations to the whim of private interest. The common good has no meaning other than the collective good of the majority, who can persecute the minority, or deprive them of their rights. In fact, in this view, there are no duties only rights.
Conscience is a chain of reasoning in which the natural law is implemented in concrete choices. If this is true of the private conscience, then, when it comes to public duty, this must include applying this to the State, if the natural law, and not force, is to be the sanction for the civil law as well. The common good must be both the end and the order necessary to obtain that order. Both must be good and so based in the truth of human nature, expressed in the natural law.
It is a red herring to claim the separation of Church and State as an excuse for failing to guide the public good by the private conscience. What other guide is there if both must be based on the natural law? In the film, The Man for All Seasons, Thomas More tells Cardinal Wolsey: “When statesmen forsake their private conscience for the sake of their public duty, they lead their country on a short root to chaos.”
Question: Some couples have chosen to practice contraception by vasectomy. They think they have had enough children. At times, they are devout Catholics who are not even aware that what they are doing is contraceptive. At other times, they have changed their minds and decide they do want more children. Is there a moral obligation to reverse this procedure?
Answer: First, it is important to state that having a vasectomy is considered a mortal sin. It is elective contraception. The person chooses to mutilate his body with the sole purpose of precluding birth. Many men are not aware that this is a sin, because the propaganda involved in the contraceptive community has been so effective. It is even worse than pills or artificial devices because it is irreversible.
Msgr. Smith pointed out, in a column he wrote in HPR on this subject in May, 1996, that the Holy See had not authoritatively spoken to the issue of reversing vasectomies. To my knowledge, that is still the case. Sexual acts performed when the man has had a vasectomy cannot result in birth, and so would be contraceptive.
Some people have adopted the rigorist conclusion that a couple should, therefore, abstain, basically practicing celibacy.
This is not generally held by even orthodox moralists. For one thing, people perform the conjugal act in other circumstances, where conception cannot result. This would be the case, for example, after menopause. The same would apply to married couples who have undergone this procedure, provided it is not easily reversible.
Though there are some very dedicated Catholic physicians who are working on trying to reverse vasectomies with procedures which would be generally successful and inexpensive, such is not the case at the moment. If it were ever to happen that the medical community was to develop a procedure which was highly successful and inexpensive, then the couple might be obliged to seek to reverse this procedure. Since this is not the case now, such a requirement would fall under “extraordinary means” and, thus, not be morally obligatory. Nor would people be committing a sin in performing their marriage duties in such circumstances.