Well, it’s Sunday the day I usually attend Catholic Mass, so to even things out, it’s also seems like a good day for my criticisms of the institutional Catholic Church. The latest? Oh, just firing a teacher for using In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) to get pregnant:
Emily Herx was a popular literature teacher at St. Vincent de Paul School in Fort Wayne, Indiana, until she used her medical leave for in vitro fertilization. Herx lost her job and says a church official called her a “grave, immoral sinner.” When she appealed to Fort Wayne Bishop Kevin Rhoades, he told her IVF was “an intrinsic evil, which means that no circumstances can justify it.” The federal government saw things a bit differently. Herx filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and won — paving the way for a civil lawsuit.
The Atlantic takes this story as a basis for a fascinating interview about Catholic sexual ethics with a PhD in Bioethics Catholic Priest, Richard Sparks. Some highlights:
A lot of babies are conceived in circumstances that don’t seem particularly holy — a one-night stand, or even a rape. In contrast, two people undergoing fertility treatments would seem to be especially committed to each other and to their future family.
Precisely. Sometimes Catholic theologians can be very insensitive about that. They’ll talk to a couple who have loved each other, have gone through pain together, and might be struggling with issues about their masculinity or femininity, and they’ll say, “Moral theology says you don’t have the right to have a child.” That might be correct on a blackboard. But to say that to a couple is like telling them what selfish, evil people they are. They’re loving people who want a child badly — and they know the Church wants people to have children, so they can’t understand why they aren’t getting more empathy.
But the Church does disapprove of in vitro fertilization, no matter how loving and committed a couple may be.
When it comes to sexuality, our Catholic natural law teaching is very genital-based. It’s more focused on biology than Catholic teaching is in other areas. Some would say that love, marriage, and commitment have to be taken into account. Pope John Paul II worked very hard to create what he called the theology of the body — instead of just talking about biology, he spoke about the loving meaning of the whole person. But in the end, the Church would say that you can’t go against biology. That’s the mechanics of our nature.
And here’s my favorite part:
The school might argue that it has the right to uphold its own values in any way it chooses.
Certainly. If you’re going to work for a church, or for the Boy Scouts of America, any organization that has values, it’s one thing to say that if you don’t uphold them they don’t want you as a leader. But when they get around to policing people’s sexual lives, what is that organization doing?
Let’s try a few of these. If you have married couples using contraception, does St. Vincent check their medical cabinets? They wouldn’t think of doing that. If some people aren’t paying their taxes fairly, does the Church fire them? I don’t think anyone ever does. What if they’re pro-capital punishment? No.
Similarly, if you hire a gay teacher who doesn’t have a partner, is that okay? What if he does have one? Should he get fired? What if he doesn’t have partner, but once in a while he goes to gay bars? Should he get fired then? If there’s a Jewish teacher who doesn’t believe in Jesus, can she be thrown out? For that matter, what about a Tea Party Republican who doesn’t seem to care much about the poor? Do we fire that person from a Catholic faculty?
The Catholic Church has always been a kind of universal church. Catholic means broad-minded and sympathetic. But now we’re starting to act more like a sect. My worry is that applying these kinds of purity tests can lead to witch hunts.
Now, obviously I disapprove of the church taking this action largely for the reasons Sparks brings to bear, above. That said, part of me would actually love to see the Catholic Church undertake a bit of a “war on IVF.” The truth is, assisted reproduction is just as anathema to Catholic doctrine as contraception, but you virtually never hear the Church complain about it or lobby on the issue. Presumably because they realize the backlash would be massive and they would alienate a lot of otherwise supportive Catholics. What has always bothered me, then, is the hypocrisy on this. If the Church is going to always insist that it’s just about following their theological imperatives, they should be just as politically concerned with IVF as they are with contraception, abortion, and same-sex marriage. The fact that they are not tells you something. And I don’t think it’s something good.