Sunday, July 8, 2007

ticked off and venting

I have been able to stomach a lot of disagreements with the Catholic Church, but I'm so angry about an article I read in the paper where I used to work. This time, it's personal. I don't mean to attack the reporter, as she is a nice person, but the arrogance and condescension of the two men quoted here — "moral theologians" — has hit a nerve so deeply that I have been thinking all weekend about leaving the church. And I'm not the only one who's ticked off. My friend Anne, just home from the hospital after giving birth to a pair of beloved twins — conceived through artificial insemination — was steamed about it, too. Lisa, with whom I discussed it Friday during a fun outing to the Minnesota Zoo with our children, didn't seem very happy with it, either. And Steve rolled his eyes and said, "I just wish the church would stay out of our sex lives and worry about the truly important things, like poverty and the war in Iraq."

Choice quotes:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that reproductive techniques that disassociate sex from reproduction — such as artificial insemination — are morally unacceptable, even if the sperm and eggs are from the husband and wife because it disrespects the gift of sex and the dignity of the child to be conceived.

That is just BS. The sanctity of Steve's and my sex life was never demeaned or called into question by our choice to undergo artificial insemination. I think we of all people would know that. In fact, our desire to have a child and our openness to conception were infused deeply in our sex life the whole time we were trying to conceive. The fact that it wasn't working and that we chose to undergo additional medical measures to help me get pregnant did not lessen that. True, we sometimes felt as if we were on a timer when it came to having sex, but that's true of any couple who is tracking their fertile days in an effort to get pregnant.

And Daniel's dignity? That comment is what really upsets me. You can insult my choices, but don't you dare question the dignity of my son. If anything, Daniel is all the more beloved and valued as a result of the efforts we underwent to bring him into this world. So what if he was not conceived through old-fashioned sex? Many a child was conceived on the back seat of a car, by drunken accident, and you don't hear the church questioning that child's dignity. The idea that Daniel's dignity was demeaned or disrespected comes from a mindset that clearly has never had firsthand experience with infertility.

“Catholic couples who are having infertility problems really need to do their homework,” said (Moral Theologian X). “They really need to find the right fertility doctor and make sure that they’re getting the best information possible on their infertility, its causes and the risks involved in using hyperovulant drugs.

As if Catholic couples aren't really doing their homework. How condescending. Does it occur to him that perhaps we do do our homework and arrive at our decisions out of our own consciences, even if those decisions are counter to what the church would tell us to do?

It’s important to remember that couples do not have a right to a child, said Father (Moral Theologian Y), ... who teaches at Saint Paul Seminary. “Children are gifts,” he said. “Couples that suffer infertility suffer a great cross. That’s no easy reality.”

Regardless of whether that is the church's position, I wonder if this guy realizes how pompous and hurtful that sounds. As a young priest, he has never walked in the shoes of parents who struggle with infertility, even if he may have counseled them. Yes, children are gifts. But that does not mean parents need to just sit back passively and wait for one to be given to them, especially if there are medical options that would help. Medical options that hurt no one if used responsibly. Ugh.

And this same priest goes on to say:

Couples struggling to conceive should learn Natural Family Planning, which teaches couples their bodies’ natural fertility cycles and maximizes the possibility to achieve pregnancy. ... “God has, by design, allowed for a proper way of spacing or planning births,” he said, in that a woman is fertile during only a portion of her natural cycle, while men are always fertile.

Oh ... so that was the problem! If we had just had sex during my fertile times, I would have gotten pregnant right away. Silly me ... I get it now!

Wait, we did do NFP. That's where we started, right after we were married. And that's how I found out about my fertility problem in the first place.

Seriously ... I am not a trained theologian, but I've thought about these issues a lot, and this teaching just feels wrong to me. I don't mean to sound arrogant about it myself, but I believe this whole area is too complex to slap a simple "impermissible" label on it and be done with it. Fertility treatments are fairly new and recent in the spectrum of issues moral theologians have addressed over the centuries. I think they need to spend more time with this one.


liz said...

Many a child was conceived on the back seat of a car, by drunken accident, and you don't hear the church questioning that child's dignity.

Seriously. This is sickening. I especially love the bit counseling you to have sex during your fertile times. Eureka! That solves everything!

I'm sorry, Em. How hurtful this is... I know that Daniel was born into more love and dignity than most children in the world, and I know he'll know that too.

Are you going to write a letter to the editor?? :)

Brad said...

Absolutely! You go, girl.

If the Church dreams of retaining younger members, it had better update this perspective. Blind insistence on such a doctrine will push more modern couples away.

More to the point, I can't imagine a logical or theological basis for taking a hard line against choices that did not exist a hundred years ago. What you did to bring Daniel into the world does not neatly fit into older notions of morality. I think some priests simply fear the unknown and so invent absolutes.

Writing as a non-Catholic married to a Catholic.

Ellen said...

I think these "moral theologians" are just concered about the rising number of cases involving multiple fetuses that result from certain fertility treatments, and also the leftover embryos that don't get used. I hear them refering to the "dignity" of children who die or suffer health complications at birth due to the overcrowding in the womb.
Em, I'm sure you have already read about the surge of zealous young priests and seminarians who are more conservative, almost pre-Vatican II, who don't jive with the modern church the way Catholics have in the last 40 years. I've met them. They speak in cliches from Theology of the Body and the Catechism. You would not find older nuns and priests making general, blind statements about infertility the way these guys did in the article. Thank you for speaking out against their lack of understanding and compassion, and let's hope life teaches them that it's more important to love as Jesus did rather than dwell on these nitty-gritties.
On a more spiritual note, God is closest to you when you are angry, confused and on the verge of leaving the church. Just pray about your reaction to this article and you will be more confident in the best choices you could have possibly made for you, Steve and Daniel.

LutherLiz said...

Well, I tried to finish that article three times before I actually made it through. It kept making me too mad to continue. But now that I made it through I will try to focus some thoughts into some rational critism rather than angry swearing.

1. I know the grandmother of the Morrison sextuplets. She is a pastor and a wonderful Christian. She works hard for the church, and everything I know about the Morrison's themselves tells me they are good people going through hell right now worrying about their surviving children and mourning the ones they lost. And I very much doubt that the moral theologians would think that selective abortion would have been the way to go. I HATE using someone else's pain as a jumping point for a starting point of a moral rant.

2. I would think that the church would recognize that those who struggle with infertility are MORE likely to recognize that children are gifts and raise them in dignity and love. In a perfect world, all children would be loved and cared for but the reality is that not all children are. Those people who had to work for it seem more likely to recognize the gift of the child in their lives.

3. From a theological point of view (and a little bit of the sarcastic Lutheran in me): I would think that children concieved without sex could be viewed as having more dignity. First they would be born without the stigma of sex and it's theological relationship to original sin. I get confused on the finer points of original sin from a Catholic point of view though. Also, couldn't those children born with assistance be seen as being concieved in a closer way to Jesus' own conception (i.e. without sex - though probably not virginal :p)
(OK, that is a stretch but since the theologians of the day are already bending Christian thought to fit new scientific developments is it that different?)

4. Oh you mean women have cycles? Really, that must have taken a long time to figure out. And I don't know ANYONE who has had infertility issues who hasnt tried a variation of Natural Family Planning first. Grr.

5. I'm sure there is more but I'm mad again. I'll try to cool off some more first!

Kristine said...

I don't have nearly as much to say as the other posters here, but I wasnt to say I know Daniel was created and born out of so much love and dignity. I am so sorry these words were published, not just for you and Steve (well, and little Daniel) but for any couple or person who may be struggling with the same thing. Sometimes it makes you not even want to be associtated with being Catholic or even Christianity, for that matter.

Roxy said...

you know how much it pissed me off. Eva was a much waited for child too. How dare ANYONE call her less dignified. So a crack-whore's child has more dignity?

I will be writing to the paper. I am so disappointed it kills me. Nice church.

isn't there something about the person with no sin casting the first stone. So the "moral thelogins" can tell us we are immoral for doing IUIs, but they have no idea what we have been through.

we are good parents, Daniel & Eva are beautiful and MUCH wanted/loved children. screw anyone that doesn't understand that.

KtCLaire said...

Emilie- Thanks for eloquently saying what I and a lot of others are thinking reading hurtful statements like that. It's hard for me to reconcile some statements by leaders of my religion that seem to not be in sync with the teachings of Christ.
-Katie (KtClaire)

Anonymous said...

That stuff quoted in the article makes me embarrassed to be Catholic. How dare they point the finger at someone like you, Em, who has gone OUT OF THE WAY to give Daniel a Catholic upbringing and exposure. I witnessed his baptism into the Catholic church. That is what makes you a true Catholic; how dare somebody disregard all that because he wasn’t conceived by the “gift of sex.”

There is one thing that hits home for me, which is that there are many, many, many people in this world who completely disagree with the quotes in the article, and who think that Daniel’s conception is not only completely legitimate, but miraculous! I’m one of those people, and countless others as well, including many other Catholics. It boils down to this: the people in the article say artificial incemination is more-or-less wrong, but that doesn’t mean they are correct. Their word is not final. It’s repulsive that people could feel that way, but it doesn’t mean they are accurate, legitimate feelings.

Ellen does have a point about the issue of deformities. But the article makes it sound like it’s not deformities, but rather some moral issue that makes artificial incemination wrong. If it’s deformities that these people are concerned about, then they need to say so up front.

- Susanne

Missy said...

I'm glad you wrote about this. I didn't see the article, and it makes me angry, too. I think the writer was a bit irresponsible by highlighting the opinions of 2 leaders of the church and not digging deeper into the issue.

I can only imagine how painful this was for you if it's making you question leaving the church. I hope you can find some sense of peace on this.