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The Vatican Makes Assisted Fertility Treatment A Sin

Catholic Church condemns as "sinful behavior" certain so-called social vices, including medical help for sterility. But will adding new sins bring faithful back to confession?

St. Peter's Basilica (Trishhhh)

Giacomo Galeazzi

VATICAN CITY – The Vatican has ruled that fertility treatment is a sin, placing attempts for medical help for would-be parents among other examples of "sinful behavior with regards to individual and social rights."

In vitro fertilization and other medical treatments to help women get pregnant and men overcome sterility problems are now on a list of new types of "social sins' that has been added to the traditional seven deadly vices.

To manipulate life in any way is in conflict with one of the Church's seven sacraments: confession, which in recent years has not enjoyed great popularity among the faithful. Now the Church plans to revive it.

New forms of sin and the right ways to tackle them is the theme of this year's ‘Course on the Internal Forum" for 750 priests, which is traditionally organized during Lent by the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Vatican department that oversees "problems of conscience." The internal forum has ecclesiastical jurisdiction over questions concerning the welfare of individual Christians, and their relation to God.

"Today, there are new forms of sin that we could never have imagined," says Bishop Gianfranco Girotti of the Apostolic Penitentiary, the tribunal of the Roman Curia that handles cases of sin and forgiveness. "The new frontiers of bioethics, above all, put us up against morally questionable corruption that concerns a very wide field."

Girotti said the most frequent case is the "recourse to certain techniques of artificial fertility, such as in vitro fertilization, which are not morally acceptable." The bishop added that conception "must happen in a natural way between two spouses." Assisted fertility can in itself lead to another "immoral event," he said: "the freezing of embryos," which "are people."

Facing these bioethical challenges, the Vatican is turning to retraining for confessors and new guidelines for priests caught up in new social sins, whether bioethical violations like fertility treatment and birth control, experiments of dubious morality like research on stem cells and DNA studies, drug abuse, polluting the environment, contributing to the increase of the disparity between rich and poor, or the accumulation of excessive wealth.

The entire field of genetic manipulation, which is steadily expanding its capacity, "represents an insidious terrain," Girotti said. "Today people offend God not only by stealing and swearing, but also by actions of social pollution, ruining the environment, or conducting morally questionable scientific experiments." (There is also the sphere of public ethics where even more new forms of sin enter the field, like tax fraud, evasion and corruption.)

Meanwhile, 60 percent of believers no longer go to confession, according to research carried out by the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart. "The phenomenon of indifference towards confession that exists today is startling," concludes Bishop Girotti. "Currently, the position of this sacrament in the Church is not at its best, neither at the level of practice nor in that of comprehension. For the faithful, the conscience of sin is weakening." Apparently, the Vatican hopes that by adding to the traditional warnings of the 10 commandments these new forms of social sin – including assisted fertility treatment - their message starts to hit home.

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