Page 1, 9th November 1951

9th November 1951
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Page 1, 9th November 1951 — Apostolate of the midwives

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Page 1 from 9th November 1951

Apostolate of the midwives


BELOW is a carefully-checked translation, f the original

Italian, of the critical and controverted passages of the Holy Father's allocution.

The whole address runs to 8,000 words and contains much that is general instruction and exhortation to Italian members of a particular profession.

IN his allocution the Holy Father told the obstetric

ians that one aspect of their apostolate "is zeal in upholding the value and inviolability of

barman life."

"Another aspect," said His Holiness, "is that of helping the mother in carrying out the function of motherhood with readiness and generosity."

He introduced these sections with these words:

The modern world has urgent need of being convinced by the threefold evidence of mind, heart and facts. Your profession offers you the chance and the duty of doing this.

Sometimes this testimony will express itself in a mere word spoken opportunely and with tact to the mother or father, but in the snajority of cases it is your conduct and your conscientious way of going about things that have a discreet and silent influence on the parents.

More than other people you are capable of understanding and appreciating what human life is in itself and what it is worth in the eyes of sane reasoning. your conscience, society, the Church and, especially, God.

Mother and baby

THE Lord has created all other A things on earth for man, and so far as his being and essence are concerned, mart has been created for God. and for no other creature, although so far as his activity is concerned he has obligations towards the community.

Now, the infant is "man," even though it be not yet born. to the same degree and through the same title as the mother.

Every human being, even a baby in its mother's womb, has the right to life directly from God. not from the parents nor from any society or human authority.

Therefore there is no man, no human authority, no science. no medical. eugenic. social. economic or moral suasions which can show or give a valid lawful right for a direct and deliberate disposing of an innocent human life. That is a disposing that aims at the destruction of life either as an end in itself or as the means to an end that is perhaps lawful in itself.

Thus, for example. to save the life of the mother is a most noble end. But the direct killing of the child as a means to this end is not lawful. The direct destruction of what they call " life without value," horn or unborn. often practised these past few years, can in no way be justified.

Hence, when these practices began. the Church formally declared that the killing, even by order of public authority, of those who although innocent are not only useless to the nation on account of physical or psychic defects but also a burden upon it. is contrary to positive natural and divine right and therefore, unlawful. (Dec. Holy Office 2 Dec. 1940Act Apostolicae Sedis Vol. 32, 1940, pp, 553-554.) The life of an innocent person cannot he touched. Any direct attempt against it is a violation of one of the basic laws without which there can be no security among men.

Your apostolate concerns chiefly the mother.

The voice of nature speaks to her heart and fills it with the desire, the joy, the courage, the love, and the will to look after the child. Yet, in order to overcome cowardly suggestions, whatever form they take. this voice needs to be strengthened and assume a supernatural tone.

It is you who, more by your whole manner of behaving and acting than by words, must help the young mother to appreciate the greatness, the beauty, the nobility of that young life forming and living within her womb. born of her, carried in her arms and fed at her breast. In her heart and eyes you must see that there is a reflection of the great gift ectitdhe love of God for her and her

'A great burden'

Unfortunately. it often happens that speaking, even cautiously, of children as a " blessing " is enough to provoke contradiction or even laughter. Very often the idea that achisldren are a great burden dumb

te How opposed opposed is such a frame of mind to God's plan and the language of Holy Scripture and even to sound reason and the sentiment of nature. Even if there are cases where, without violating God's law, parents may avoid the " blessing " of children, such cases are no excuse for perverting ideas, disparaging values and despising the mother who has the courage and the spirit to ,bring forth new life.

What we have said up to now concerns the protection and care of life on the natural plane, but it is much more applicable to the supernatural life the child receives when it is baptised. Under the present dispensation there is no other way of giving this life to the child who is still without the use of reason.

Need of Baptism

In any case, the state of grace at the moment of death is absolutely necessary for salvation; without it, no one can attain to supernatural happiness, the beatific vision of God.

In the case of a grown-up person, an act of love may suffice for obtaining sanctifying grace and making up for the lack of baptism. To the child still unborn or the child just born this path is not open.

If then, love for one's neighbour means helping him in need, this obligation becomes more serious and urgent when the person in need cannot help and save himself.

It is therefore easy to understand the great importance of seeing that baptism is given to a child deprived of the use of reason. and in grave danger or certain of dying.

There is no doubt that this duty hinds the parents in the first place but. in urgent cases when there is no lime to lose and a priest cannot be called. you must perform the great office of giving baptism.

Marriage rights

A RIGHT moral order demands " that a sincere inner acceptance of the office and duties of motherhood accompanies the use of conjugal rights.

When a married couple honour and appreciate the privilege of bringing forth a new life piously awaited your role is an easy one.

Unfortunately. it is not always so. Often the child is not wanted. Worse. it is feared.

Under such conditions, how can dpeoutple be ready to carry out their

In cases like this, your apostolate must be exercised in an effective and

(Continued from page 1) efficacious way. Negatively, in the first place, by your refusal to cooperate in anything that is immortal. Then, constructively, by striving delicately to banish prejto dices, apprehension or cowardly excuses in order to remove, as far as ypu are able, even external obstacles that might render the acceptance of motherhood a painful thing. If people ask your advice and help merely to ease procreation of new life, to protect it and direct it towards its full development, you can cooperate unhesitatingly.

But in how many other cases do they have recourse to you for hindering procreation and conservation ot life with no regard for the commandments of the moral order?

To agree to such requests would he to debase your knowledge and your ability by making you accomplices in an immoral action; it would be a perversion of your apostolate. This demands a calm but categoric "No" that does not allow the laws of God and the dictates of the conscience to be transgressed. Therefore, your profession cone pels you to have a clear knowledge of this Divine law so that you can make it respected without going beyond its precepts.


In his Encyclical "Cast! counithii" of December 31, 1930, our predecessor, Pius XI, of happy memory. solemnly restated the basic law of the conjugal act and conjugal rela tions. Every attempt on the part of the married couple during the conjugal act or during the development of its natural consequences, to deprive it of its inherent power and to hinder the procreation of a new life is immoral. No 'excuse ' or need can change an action that is intrinsically immoral into an action that is moral and lawful " (Acta Apostolicae Sedis, Vol. 22, p, 559 seq.). This rule holds good today just as much as it did yesterday. It will hold tomorrow and always, for it is not a mere precept of human right but the expression of a natural and Divine law. It would be very much more than an unwillingness to serve life if the attempt be made not just to interfere with a single act but with the organ ism itself, in order to sterilise and deprive it of the faculty of procreating a new life. In this case, too, you have, in the* teaching of the Church, a clear rule for your interior and outward conduct, Direct sterilisation, that which aims at making procreation impossible as both a means and an end, is a grave violation of the moral law, and therefore unlawful. Even public authority has no right to permit it under the pretext of any excuse whatsoever, and still less to prescribe it or to have it carried out to the harm of the innocent. This principle has been already stated in the Encyclical of Pius XI v,hich we have quoted (pp. 564, 565). Therefore, ten years ago, when sterilisation came to be more widely applied, the Holy See found itself in need of stating expressly and publicly that direct sterilisation, either permanent or temporary, of man or of woman, is illegal by virtue of the natural law from which, as you are aware, the Church has no power to dispense (Dec. Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office, Feb. 22, 1940: .4cta Apostolicae Sedis. 1940, p. 73). Use all your strength therefore in opposing these perverse tendencies and refuse to cooperate with them. Then, there is the serious question today as to whether and how far the obligation always to he ready to serve motherhood can he reconciled with the ever more widely diffused recourse to the periods of natural sterility (the so-called agenetic periods of the woman) since this seems to he a clear expression of a will opposed to that service.

Two cases

It is rightly expected that you be well informed from the medical point of view about this theory and of the progress that is likely to be made in it. It is also expected that your advice and aid be based not on popular publicatitIns but founded on scientific facts and the authoritative judgment of specialists in medicine and biology. It is your office, not that of the priest, to instruct married people either when they come for private consultations or through serious publications on the biological and technical aspects of the theory, without, however, allowing yourselves to be committed to a propaganda that is neither right nor decent. In this field, too, your apostolate demands of you as women and Christians that you know and defend the norms of morality to which the application of this theory is subordinated. Here the Church is the competent judge.

There are two cases to be considered.

If the carrying out of this theory means nothing more than that the couple can make use of their matrimonial rights on the days of natural sterility too, there is nothing against it, for by so doing they neither hinder nor injure in any way the consummation of the natural act and its further natural consequences.

It is in this respect that the application of the theory of which we have spoken differs from the abuse already mentioned, which is a perversion of the act itself.

If, however, it is a further question—that is. of permitting the conjugal act on those days exclusively— then the conduct of the married couple must he examined more closely. Here, two other suppositions present themselves.

Right and use

If at the time of marriage at least one of the couple intended to restrict the marriage right, not merely _its to the sterile periods, in such a way that at other times the second party would not even have the right to demand the act. this would imply an essential defect in the consent to marriage, • which' would carry with it invalidity of the marriage itself. For the right deriving from the contract of marriage is a permanent, uninterrupted and not intermittent right of each partner, the one to the other. On the other hand, if this limitation to the days of natural sterility refers to the mere use of the right and not the right itself. there is no question about the validity of the marriage. Nevertheless. the moral lawfulness of such conduct on the part of the couple will he approved or denied according as to whether ornot the intention of observing those Periods constantly was based on sufficient and secure moral grounds. The mere fact that the couple do not offend the nature of the act and are prepared to accept and bring up the child which in spite of their precautions came into the world would not be sufficient in itself to guarantee the rectitude of intention and the unobjectionable morality of the motives themselves.

Serious reasons

There are serious reasons, medical. eugenic, economic, and: social, that can exempt for a long time, perhaps even for the whole duration of the marriage, from the positive and obligatory carrying out of the act. From this it follows that keeping to the non-fertile periods alone can be morally lawful. Under such conditions it really is so. But if, according to a reasonable and fair judgment, there are no such grave reasons of a petsonal nature or deriving from external circumstances, then the intention always to avoid fruitful union while at the same time continuing fully to satisfy sensuality means a false appreciation of life and is alien to right moral rules. But you may point out that you know through the exercise of your profession of very delicate cases in which the risk of motherhood cannot be run or must be avoided completely. and in which the sterile period either does not give sufficient security or has to be abandoned for other reasons.

You ask therefore how one can still speak of an apostolate in the service of motherhood.

If in your reliable and experienced judgment, conditions absolutely demand, a " no "—(that is, that maternity must be excluded)--it would be a mistake and a wrong to impose or counsel a " yes."


Here we are dealing with concrete facts, with a medical, not a theological, question, one. therefore, which you are competent to handle. But in such cases, couples do not ask you for a medical answer which is necessarily negative, but for approval of a " technique" of the conjugal act insured against the risk of motherhood. Here is another occasion on which you are called to exercise your apostolate, in so far as you do not leave any doubt that even in such extreme cases every preventive step and every direct attempt upon the life and development of the germ is in conscience prohibited and excluded. and that there is but one way open, that of complete abstinence from every complete exercise of the natural faculty. Here your apostolate obliges you to clear. sure judgment and calm firmness. But it will be objected that such abstinence is impossible, that such heroism cannot he attained. Today you will hear and read this objection on all sides, even from those who on account of their duty and ability should be able to judge very differ ently. following argument is brought forward as a proof: "No one is obliged to do the impossible and no reasonable legislator, it is assumed. wishes by his law to oblige people to do the impossible. But. for married couples long-term abstinence is impossible. Therefore they are not obliged to abstain. The Divine law cannot mean this."

Thus, from partly true premises a false conclusion is deduced.

It is possible

In order to convince yourself of this. invert the steps of the argument. God does not oblige people to do the impossible. But God obliges married people to abstain, if their union cannot be fulfilled according to the laws of nature. Therefore, in this case, abstinence is possible. In confirmation of this argument we have the Council of Trent which. in its chapter on the observance, necessary and possible, of the Commandments, teaches us that, as St. Augustine said, " God does not command impossible things, but when He commands He warns us to do what can be done and to ask what cannot and gives you help so that

ou can "

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