Letter to the Elderly

Referring to “He's Teaching Us How to Grow Old,” Raymond de Souza's item about the Pope's recent letter to the elderly (Indepth, Nov. 21-27), how may I procure a copy of the Holy Father's letter?

Margaret Brick Hemet, California

Editor's reply: The letter will soon be available from Pauline Books and Media (of the Daughters of St. Paul). Call (800) 876-4463.

On the Internet, you can search for it at www.vatican.va (the Holy See's Web site), or go directly to it at: http://www.vatican.va/holy_ father/john_paul_ii/letters/documents/hf_jpii_let_01101999_letter-to-elderly_en.html

Bishops Embrace College Reforms

The report of the debates during the recent U.S. bishops' meeting (“Bishops Embrace College Reforms,” Nov. 28-Dec. 4) seems to miss the fundamental issue. Throughout the report, the issue raised is that of academic freedom, expressed in concern that the mandatum would cause theologians to be “inappropriately fettered.” But whether they are or should be fettered is not the real issue.

The real issue is truth and the responsibility Catholic bishops have to ensure that the truth is being taught, and to give assurances to Catholic parents that their children are learning the truth. It is the truth that leads us to Christ and sets us free. We live in an age where many within the Church echo the words of Pontius Pilate, “What is truth?” — rather than the words of Jesus, “The truth shall set you free.”

Since her birth, the Church has struggled with false teaching and been led, as Jesus promised, by the Holy Spirit to teach the truth. However, during the past 30-plus years there has probably been more widespread denial of truth within the Church than at any other time in her history. It is doubtful that there is a single doctrine historically taught by the authentic magisterium which has not been called into question by some who teach “within” the Church. Given this immediate historical context, framing the debate over Ex Corde Ecclesiae as an issue of “academic freedom” is akin to framing the debate over abortion as a matter of “choice.”

The Holy Father has sought to combat this situation throughout his pontificate. Publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, [the 1993 encyclical] Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of the Truth), and the appropriately titled [1990 apostolic constitution for higher education] Ex Corde Ecclesiae (From the Heart of the Church) are some of the means he has employed. It is indeed welcome news that the American Catholic bishops agree. We must pray that they (and we) will take the appropriate actions to guard the faith entrusted to them (and us).

James W. Sember New Holstein, Wisconsin

I was heartened to read that the U.S. bishops have drafted a document to implement Ex Corde Ecclesiae. Hopefully this will usher in some much-needed reforms of Catholic colleges and universities.

I am concerned that these reforms alone may not do enough to correct the regrettable state of Catholic education in the United States. Perhaps the colleges and universities have received this attention because their difficulties are the most obvious. However, as someone who has worked in religious education in both parish and school settings …. I pray that the bishops will take a long, careful look at what is being taught and by whom in our country's parishes and Catholic schools (private and parochial). After all, many Catholics never attend a Catholic college or university. The only education in the faith that most of these people will receive will come from their parish or Catholic school. In my experience, theological formation in these two arenas is at least as problematical as it is in secondary education. To be concerned about the quality and character of Catholic teaching at only the universities and colleges, then, misses a vital and vast part of the whole.

David Burroughs Religion Department Chairman, Mayfield Senior School Pasadena, California

The Contraception Culture

Regarding your recent editorials mentioning contraception: When a contraceptive pill was first developed, Pope Paul VI appointed a committee to decide whether its use should be permitted by the Church. The committee approved its use. But the committee was merely advisory. The decision was to be made by the Holy Father. After delaying for many months, and praying fervently, the Pope decided the pill should not be approved.

Years later, doctors realized the pill is sometimes abortive. Can you imagine the horrendous problem involved if the Church had unwittingly approved abortions! It is a clear-cut case of God protecting his Church from error, as Christ promised when he said: “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.”

Dan Lyons Bloomsbury, New Jersey

In addition to the several comments by proponents of “population control” in your report, “Pro-Life Activists Cheer U.N. Payments Deal” (Nov. 28-Dec. 4), about the denial of foreign aid to organizations promoting abortions overseas, Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, also made an outlandish statement reported in the Washington Times of Nov. 27.

She said, “In the end this strategy will lead to more, not fewer, abortions because it will reduce access to family-planning services, the single most effective means of reducing abortion.”

Ms. Michelman is wrong because “family planning” (also known as contracepting) is not the most effective way of preventing pregnancy and because using contraceptives leads to more abortions. The “single most effective means” of reducing abortion is abstinence, which precludes pregnancy.

The national Best Friends program has proven over the last 12 years that even young, unmarried women in the inner city can refrain from sex in a milieu where it is ubiquitous. The last survey of Best Friends girls showed that 97% had not had sex in the 1998-1999 school year.

For married couples, natural family planning is up to 98% effective in avoiding pregnancy. On the other hand, the Alan Guttmacher Institute routinely provides statistics on the ineffectiveness of contraceptives. For example, their report in January 1998 revealed that 58% of the women who had an abortion were contracepting in the month they became pregnant. The point is that contraceptive use leads to increased use of abortion, which those who want to prevent birth see as the “ultimate contraceptive.”

Also, the former medical director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation said in 1970: “Abortion and contraception are inextricably intertwined in their use. As the idea of family planning spreads through a community there appears to be a rise in the incidence of induced abortion at the point where the community begins to initiate the use of contraceptives.” A 1995 IPPF publication observed that, after Romania abolished restrictions on the use of contraceptives and abortion, contraceptive rates there rose by 20%, but the abortion rate rose 100%.

Ms. Michelman should know that, while IPPF is the leading contraceptive dispenser, it openly advocates unrestricted abortion. The proof is found in the IPPF's Vision 2000 document which shows that they “advocate for changes in restrictive national laws, policies, practices and traditions …. continually improve access to these services; and condemn incidents of any political, administrative or social barriers curtailing this right” to abortion.

Ms. Michelman conveniently overlooks the fact that after four decades of skyrocketing contraceptive use, abortion rates have increased markedly, as have sexually transmitted diseases. Abortion causes many medical and psychological problems and experts estimate that 33% of all women now have the incurable HPV virus which is the primary cause of cervical cancer.

Rather than promoting contraception and abortion throughout the world, the United States could improve world health immensely by promoting abstinence before marriage and natural family planning as parents deem necessary during marriage. Let's hope that Ms. Michelman and others quoted in the Register will soon see the harm they are doing by promoting contraception and its inevitable consequences — epidemics of sexually transmitted diseases and abortion.

John Naughton Silver Spring, Maryland