IT began last week with a
-I headlined story in The Guardian. A majority of Catholic doctors favour some form of birth control. the story said. It was quite obvious in all that followed that somewhere there had been "a leak".
For four months the Guild of St. Luke, Ss. Cosmos and Damian had guarded its findings on the birth control issue closely. Copies of the report had been sent to a chosen few.people like Cardinal Heenan and the English and Welsh bishops, Archbishop Roberts, Si., the masters of the 28 branches of the guild and, of course, the commission sitting in Rome.
There had been good reasons for the secrecy. In the first place the Guild had decided not to release its report until the commission had Spoken, and if the decision was taken against using birth control the facts of the report would probably not have been released at all.
Secondly the Guild had in the back of its mind Cardinal Heenan's plea for as little publicity as possible on the matter sshile it was still under discussion at the Council.
Not all the members of the Guild had favoured silence but this had been the majority view and a secret it was . .. until the Guardian story was published, The ripples from the splash reached Rome just before the Council opened and heightened an already tense atmosphere.
If members of the guild know the responsible person, thcy are not telling. But in the face of the leak—made, apparently, by someone who felt strongly enough about it to see that it got into the hands of the Guardian correspondent—the Guild has stood by the facts as they were published.
The report, I was told, was correct. The only denial so far has come from the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council which has said that 12 of its doctors— and not two-thirds of its 370 medical advisers—had replied to the survey.
The Guild has always been regarded as conservative. The majority of the doctors in the association are Irish and the fact that nearly 70 per cent of those who answered the questionnaire favoured birth control suggested that an even higher percentage outside the Guild would back contraception, Mr. John Ryan, a leading Catholic gynaecologist, was reported in one paper as having said: "The Guild is an ultraconservative institution, That even they have come to these conclusions is a pretty startling thing."
Why did the Guild carry out the survey? Mainly because the Pope had invited evidence from all sources. And a few months ago, rumours that the Commission was coming out with a concrete statement prodded the doctors into action.
It was a hurried job but a highly professional one. The problem was squarely covered from the medical and even the natural law point of view. The doctors were definite in their answers With very few "tincertains".
The survey covered a wide spectrum of the medical profession, from gynaecologists and psychiatrists to hospital officers, G.P.s and retired doctors.
The Guild has about 3,000 members in 28 branches around the country. It was founded in 1902 to help Catholic doctors in England to keep up-to-date on moral and medical problems. Spiritual retreats and discussion groups on moral problems are held throughout the year.
Their patrons? Cosmos and Damian, the twin saints as they are called, were amongst the first members of the medical profession to use the national health service. They gave their services freely in Asia Minor and Middle East.
St. Luke, the Apostle and scripture writer, is also believed to have been a doctor.