AUTHOR: Carolyn Savage | POSTED: March 27, 2011 | COMMENTS: 32 Comments
Last week during mass, as I prayed after communion, I thought about how much my church means to me. After Sean and I were married, my first job was in my parish teaching 8th grade. All of my children were baptized at font to the left of the altar. I have practically burned a hole in the crucifix that hangs over the altar praying. I’ve prayed for my kids, my unborn children, the babies that I have lost and everything else under the sun. As I pondered how much I would miss the place if I were ever to leave, a kind hand tapped me on the shoulder and before I knew it, I was wrapped in a bear hug from the parent of a former student. I hugged her back as she whispered in my ear, “We’re so proud of you!”
“Thank you!” I said, as I knelt back down. It was a timely gesture in a seemingly appropriate place—or was it? You see, there was irony in this scene as not only have we received the most supportive messages from our fellow Catholics, but we have also been condemned by a handful of other Catholics and the leadership of the Catholic Church.
On the day I gave birth and reunited my baby with his genetic parents, the bishop of our diocese released a statement condemning our use of IVF as immoral. Poor timing aside, the statement was not surprising given that when we met with our pastor to tell him of my pregnancy, he warned us that there would be “those” who would think we had committed a mortal sin. After that meeting I reminded Sean of our pastor’s statement and Sean argued with me.
Sean He didn’t say mortal sin.
Me Yes, He did.
Sean No! He didn’t.
(In Roman Catholic theology, a mortal sin is a grave matter, such as murder or blasphemy, and is committed with the full knowledge and deliberate consent of the sinner. The committing of such a heinous sin causes a complete loss of grace and leads to eternal damnation unless absolved.)
Sean couldn’t believe that anyone, given the circumstances of what we were doing , would accuse us of committing a mortal sin. But the church has determined that conceiving in any manner except through sex is immoral. Therefore, IVF is a mortal sin in the same way that pre-meditated murder, rape and torture are mortal sins.
Because I have endometriosis, and my fallopian tubes don’t work, the only way I can conceive is through IVF. According to the church, I can use IVF, confess my mortal sin, gain absolution and get back into God’s good grace. But how do I seek forgiveness for conceiving my children? If their conception was immoral, what does that say about their souls? I understand the doctrine, but am confused by its necessity. Isn’t the creation of a loving Catholic family more important than the sexual act?
When I sit in church every Sunday, I can point to many Catholic families that have also turned to IVF to conceive their children. (I often wonder where the Church thinks all these twins and triplets are coming from?) The last year I served as a Catholic school principal, our kindergarten class had 24 students with three sets of twins. We happily took their tuition and their Sunday offering. I guess we thought that was what Jesus would do. The question is, would Jesus condemn a married couple for seeking medical treatment that resulted in the conception of a very loved Catholic child? I would never imply that IVF is acceptable simply because other Catholics are also doing it. But, honestly, when I look into the eyes of an IVF baby, I see God’s love. I have no doubt, that IVF children are part of God’s loving plan for our world.
When my fellow parishioner buried me in a supportive hug, she conveyed a sentiment that several Catholics, including many priests and nuns, have whispered to us countless times since my pregnancy. I’d love it if this unconditional support could be proclaimed in public instead of whispered in private, but I understand why they whisper. They whisper out of fear. Fear of being condemned by the very Church we all love.
I struggle to reconcile all of this and still worship in my community. I worry that I could be wrong and strive to behave in a manner that keeps my life free from arrogance. I also pray…a lot. I pray for wisdom, courage and strength. I also pray for all Catholic IVF children and their parents who are faith filled members of the Catholic Church. My guess is, if indeed I am condemned to hell for our choice to conceive using IVF, I’ll be in good company.
I’m so grateful for the support I have received from the many Catholics that have stepped into this fire beside us. I hope and pray that someday, the leadership of the Catholic Church will reconsider their stance on IVF recognizing that the thousands of Catholic IVF children, that fill their churches and schools, were conceived under the most loving of circumstances. In the meantime, I’ll cherish the kind and supportive whispers and endure the attacks, thanking God every day that the former outnumbers the latter in droves.