Questions Answered

  • How should we deal with dissenting Catholic politicians?
  • Is there a moral obligation to reverse a vasectomy?

Dissenting Politicians
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.”

Repairing Vasectomies
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.



Fr. Brian Mullady, OP About Fr. Brian Mullady, OP

Fr. Brian T. Mullady, OP, entered the Dominican Order in 1966 and was ordained in 1972. He has been a parish priest, high school teacher, retreat master, mission preacher, and university professor. He has had seven series on EWTN and is the author of two books and numerous articles, including his regular column in HPR, "Questions Answered".

Please send your questions to:
Fr. Brian T. Mullady, O.P.
375 NE Clackamas St.
Portland, OR 97232
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  1. Thank you, Fr. Mullady, for your explanation of the moral obligations of Catholic politicians. Tracing past the responsibility of Catholics due to their Catholic Faith, to the responsibility of all men due to right reason. This points out the serious fault in the curriculum of much of our education. All schools, public and private, secular and religious, Christian and Catholic Christian ought to teach right thinking according to right reason. The “dumbing down” of the country, the almost complete replacement of classical education in favor of what is merely training for employment, has left us a culture desensitized to truth, beauty and goodness. Such a culture is pointed in one tragic direction: down.

  2. Avatar bill bannon says:

    St. Alphonsus Ligouri though in his “Theologia Moralis” noted that the natural law is not clear in complex problems and that saints had differed on intricate questions. The Dominicans had accused the Franciscans of usury in their conduct of their pawns shops and a subsequent Council had to decide in favor of the Franciscans. Pope Nicholas V was pro perpetual slavery in 1454 for all
    “enemies of Christ” that Portugal came upon in the new world ( Romanus Pontifex, mid 4th large par.) but Pope Paul III fought that bull in his Sublimis Deus of 1537. Sterilization was called mutilation by Pope Pius XI in 1930 but from 1585 til 1878, the papacy formally and proximately cooperated with the castrati culture for the papal choirs ( Pope Sixtus V brought them in in 1585). Go to new advent and the topic is absent when you search for it in the older Catholic Encyclopedia there. Opera ended the practice in 1800 under the pressure from enlightenment authors whereas the Vatican ended it 78 years later when one Pope…Leo XIII issued a letter ending it except for those already in that role. That was 300 years and 29 Popes not seeing it as mutilation and then one Pope seeing it as such and probbly thence agreeing with the forces that made opera stop.

    In short, reason and Popes are not thoroughly reliable. The use of infallibility by Popes is reliable and abortion is clearly condemned by Evangelium Vitae in section 62 not in the iffy ordinary magisterium like sterilization but in the extraordinary magisterium wherein John Paul polled all Bishops worldwide on abortion and got their unanimous agreement:
    “Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops-who on various occasions have condemned abortion and who in the aforementioned consultation, albeit dispersed throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreement concerning this doctrine-I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is transmitted by the Church’s Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium. ”

    Natural law is mentioned but is not solely depended on.

  3. March 13: Some years ago Benedict XVI sent a letter to the American Bishops through Cardinal McCarrick but Cardinal McCarrick did not share the letter with the Bishops only his own personal interpretation of it. Recently I read a copy of that letter where Benedict XVI spoke clearly and forcefully about Politicians who not only accept abortion but who promote an anti-life agenda and where he stated clearly that they must not present themselves for Holy Communion and if they do, they must be refused. The fact that our Bishops refuse to act on this has not only affirmed these politicians in their aggressive promotion of evil but they have refused what could be a catalyst for conversion; and they cause confusion among Catholics. Andrew Cuomo is becoming more and more aggressive and belligerent in his demands that abortion be made legal at all times, for any reason or for no reason and is pushing for gay marriage. Yet, Card. Dolan has stated that he would never refuse anyone the Eucharist because to do so would be to ‘politicize’ the Sacrament…not to do so is defying the Holy Father and the teachings of the Church and is, in fact, politicizing the Sacrament. This is tragic…


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