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The Tablet

A Hard Line on Family Ethics


The Pontifical Council for the Family has published a “lexicon” of key terminology bearing on the family and human life. The volume, two years in the making, devotes 867 pages to the interpretation of 78 “ambiguous terms and discussion of the family, life and ethical question.”

The lexicon, which is published in Italian, takes a tough line on such issues as homosexuality, safe sex, reproductive health, cohabitation, the human embryo and euthanasia. In particular, it seeks to expose the euphemisms which it says deny the natural truths about sexuality, marriage and the dignity of human life, Peggy Polk reports from Rome.

Cardinal Alfonso Lopex Trujillo, prefect of the council, says in his introduction that the lexicon is intended to be “a useful instruction for the noble and urgent cause of the family and of life.” Above all, it is meant to clarify the terms and expressions used by parliaments and cultural and international organisations “when they discuss and legislate on themes of the family and life.” Many of these “hide their real content and significance,” according to the cardinal, and are designed “to manipulate public opinion.”

The lexicon is an alphabetically arranged collection of scholarly essays by 68 experts of theology, ethics, medicine and church teaching, published with the blessing of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It was issued by the Casa Editrice Dehoniane of Bologna, the publishing house of the order of Priests of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, known as the Dehonian Fathers.

Homosexuality, the lexicon says, “has no rights because it has no social value.” Homophobia is “a term created by homosexual associations to stigmatise all those who question and do not accept the banalisation and the ‘normalisation’ of homosexuality.” Social systems and individual heterosexuals are often pushed to a “sense of guilt over homosexuality,” made to feel that they had committed “a crime, the crime of homophobia.”

Asserting that “no law in the world, no political system can ever make abortion lawful nor the right to abortion, which is in itself unlawful,” the lexicon says that any state that attacks the right to life from the moment of conception until natural death “is not democratic.” Another section provides a detailed examination of “day after” methods of contraception, all of which, it says, must be considered as forms of abortion.

Writing on “safe sex,” Jacques Suaudeau, a French surgeon who is also a student of moral theology, says there is no assurance of safe sex outside a monogamous marriage. Casting doubt on the efficacy of condoms, he says that tests of their “resistance, impermeability and reliability” show that there is a 10 percent risk of failure. This he calls “very high.” He says their efficacy against Aids also remains to be proven. “Not only is the expression safe sex inexact but it also feeds a dangerous illusion and opens the way to perverse consequences,” he says.

The lexicon defines the promotion of “sexual and reproductive rights,” in particular through United Nations organisations, as a thinly beiled attempr to ensure that women have easy access to contraception and legal abortion. The situation of women will only improve with the defence of matrimony, education in sexuality, and better health services for pregnant women and their babies, the entry states.

Reaction to the lexicon has come from several corners. A left-winger in Italy’s parliament, Franco Grillini, who is honorary president of the Italian Archigay gay rights movement, said the Vatican’s attitude toward homosexuality “is very similar to a broken record.” The book insulted homosexuals and homosexuality and ignored their contributions to society, he said.

The United States-based organisation Catholics for a Free Choice, which was described in the lexicon as Catholic in name only, said in a press statement that the lexicon was reminiscent of an era “in which the Catholic Church fought against advances in science.” The president of Catholics for a Free Choice, Frances Kissling, said the Vatican should not advance the idea that some lives and lifestyles are superior to others.

Dr. Timothy Potts, the chairman of Quest, a British organisation for gay and lesbian Catholics, pointed out that, as the lexicon was a collection of essays signed by their authors, the book did not have the authority of a declaration of a Vatican congregation.

This article originally appeared in the 12 April 2003 edition of The Tablet.


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