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Vatican prepares two new documents on family


No Vatican cause in recent years has aroused the same crusader spirit as defense of the family, and that fervor seems set to be revived in two new documents from the Pontifical Council for the Family.

Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, a Colombian who heads the council, broke the news at a late November conference in Rome that his office is preparing a treatise on “The Family and Procreation.”

López Trujillo told NCR that it should appear in a few months, and will cover a wide range of perils to the family and to life.

Meanwhile, an official of the Council for the Family, in an exclusive Dec. 11 interview with NCR, described another new text awaiting final approval from López Trujillo: a lexicon of 60 terms used in debates over sexual ethics.

López Trujillo first announced that project at a consistory, or gathering of cardinals, in May.

Fr. Jacques Suaudeau, a physician who once worked at the National Institutes of Health in Washington, told NCR that terms such as “reproductive rights” and “emergency contraception” have come into popular use in recent years, but what they mean is often unclear.

Sometimes, Suaudeau asserted, the ambiguity is intentional. Linguistic sleight-of-hand, he said, prepares the way for political and social change that would otherwise be difficult to defend.

As a case in point, Suadeau offered the term pre-embryo, which he said was coined in England in the 1990s to justify research on human embryos.

“Scientifically, the term pre-embryo makes very little sense,” Suadeau said. “We know the embryo is in continual development from the very beginning. But it’s easier to justify experiments if you call it something else.”

The goal of the lexicon is to offer clear definitions of these terms, Suadeau said, critiquing them from the Vatican’s point of view. Other terms on the list include “quality of life,” “sexual rights,” “homophobia/homophilia,” “sustainable development,” and gender.

As an example of the approach taken, Suadeau said the article on homosexuality will suggest that requests for gay marriage and adoption rights reflect an awareness within homosexuals themselves that “something is wrong” with their orientation.

Inspiration for the lexicon, he said, came from a similar publication of the United Nations Family Planning Agency, a body with which the Vatican frequently clashes. The idea was to “answer” the United Nations.

The lexicon will likely run to some 250-300 pages, and Suadeau said he hopes it will be of use to Catholics involved in debates on family issues as well as to journalists.

The council drafted authors from around the world to work on the project. From the United States, contributors include two laypersons: William E. May, who handled the term “emergency contraception,” and Janet Smith, who defined “reproductive rights.”

May is a conservative moral theologian with the John Paul II Institute on Marriage and the Family in Washington. Smith is a professor of philosophy at the University of Dallas and author of Why Humanae Vitae Was Right, a 1993 title from Ignatius Press.

The document on Family and Procreation will likely cover some of the same ground. If the Nov. 21-24 Rome conference where it was announced is any indication, it will do so in strong terms.

The gathering marked the 20th anniversary of the papal document Familiaris Consortio that followed the 1980 synod of bishops.

López Trujillo decried the corrosive effect of modernity on the family. He warned of a “contraceptive imperialism” imposed by population control ideology, “also within the church itself.”

Referring to unmarried couples, liberal divorce and abortion laws and homosexual unions, López Trujillo compared this “cancellation” of the traditional family to the transformation described in “The Metamorphosis,” the story by Franz Kafka in which a man awakens to discover he has become an insect.

“Humanity is now in danger of this transformation,” López Trujillo said. “It will be the suicide of humanity.”

Archbishop Carlo Caffarra, a key Vatican adviser on family issues, said church teaching on family and life issues “has been completely ignored by the culture,” asserting that the idea of a necessary connection between marriage and openness to life has become “unthinkable.”

Sydney, Australia, Archbishop George Pell criticized feminism by associating it with the “radical individualism” of the West. As one example, he quoted sociological theories to the effect that feminism in the 1960s and ’70s “saved capitalism” by “sending wives out to work.”

If families had tried to get by on one income during that period of rising costs and declining income, Pell said, massive social unrest would have resulted. Feminism, Pell said, thus sustained “the radical individualism of market ideology.”

Pell argued that policymakers should put the market to work for the family, for example, by reintroducing fault into the divorce process. He also suggested a 1 percent reduction in tax for married couples for each year they stay married and for each child under 18.

Referring to falling fertility rates in the West, Pell said, “We need to start rethinking this attitude if we want enough people around to care for us when we are old, pay taxes to support us, and if necessary, go to war to defend us.”

John Klink, an American layman and part of the Holy See delegation to the United Nations, warned that “the abortion lobby” is manipulating U.N. conferences to push a “Western, secularist, socialist model,” in part, to override pro-family policies in Latin American and Muslim nations.

John L. Allen Jr. is NCR Rome correspondent. His e-mail address is jallen@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, December 21, 2001