Address of John Paul II on the Occasion of the International Congress of
Catholic Obstetricians and Gynecologists
POPE JOHN PAUL II
warmly welcome your visit on the occasion of the International
Congress of Catholic Obstetricians and Gynecologists, at which
you are reflecting upon your future in the light of the
fundamental right to medical training and practice according to
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
I warmly welcome your visit on the occasion of the International
Congress of Catholic Obstetricians and Gynecologists, at which you
are reflecting upon your future in the light of the fundamental
right to medical training and practice according to conscience.
Through you, I greet all those health workers who, as servants and
guardians of life, bear unceasing witness throughout the world to
the presence of Christ's Church in this vital field, especially when
human life is threatened by the burgeoning culture of death. In
particular, I thank professor Gian Luigi Gigli for his kind words on
your behalf, and I greet Professor Robert Walley, co-organizer of
Christian obstetricians, gynaecologists and obstetric nurses are
always called to be servants and guardians of life, for "the Gospel
of life is at the heart of Jesus' message. Lovingly received day
after day by the Church, it is to be preached with dauntless
fidelity as 'good news' to the people of every age and culture" (Evangelium
Vitae, 1). But your profession has become still more important
and your responsibility still greater "in today's cultural and
social context, in which science and the practice of medicine risk
losing sight of their inherent ethical dimension, [and] health-care
professionals can be strongly tempted at times to become
manipulators of life, or even agents of death" (ibid., 89).
Until quite recently, medical ethics in general and Catholic
morality were rarely in disagreement. Without problems of
conscience, Catholic doctors could generally offer patients all that
medical science afforded. But this has now changed profoundly. The
availability of contraceptive and abortive drugs, new threats to
life in the laws of some countries, some of the uses of prenatal
diagnosis, the spread of in vitro fertilization techniques, the
consequent production of embryos to deal with sterility, but also
their destination to scientific research, the use of embryonic stem
cells for the development of tissue for transplants to cure
degenerative diseases, and projects of full or partial cloning,
already done with animals: all of these have changed the situation
Moreover, conception, pregnancy and childbirth are no longer
understood as ways of cooperating with the Creator in the marvelous
task of giving life to a new human being. Instead they are often
perceived as a burden and even as an ailment to be cured, rather
than being seen as a gift from God.
Inevitably Catholic obstetricians and gynecologists and nurses
are caught up in these tensions and changes. They are exposed to a
social ideology which asks them to be agents of a concept of
"reproductive health" based on new reproductive technologies. Yet
despite the pressure upon their conscience, many still recognize
their responsibility as medical specialists to care for the tiniest
and weakest of human beings, and to defend those who have no
economic or social power, or public voice of their own.
The conflict between social pressure and the demands of right
conscience can lead to the dilemma either of abandoning the medical
profession or of compromising one's convictions. Faced with that
tension, we must remember that there is a middle path which opens up
before Catholic health workers who are faithful to their conscience.
It is the path of conscientious objection, which ought to be
respected by all, especially legislators.
In striving to serve life, we must work to ensure that the right
to professional training and practice that is respectful of
conscience in law and in practice is guaranteed. It is clear, as I
noted in my Encyclical Evangelium Vitae, that "Christians,
like all people of good will, are called upon under grave obligation
of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if
permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God's law. Indeed,
from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally
in evil" (No. 74). Wherever the right to train for and practice
medicine with respect for one's moral convictions is violated,
Catholics must earnestly work for redress.
In particular, Catholic universities and hospitals are called to
follow the directives of the Church's Magisterium in every aspect of
obstetric and gynecological practice, including research involving
embryos. They should also offer a qualified and internationally
recognized teaching network, in order to help doctors who are
subject to discrimination or unacceptable pressure on their moral
convictions to specialize in obstetrics and gynecology.
It is my fervent hope that at the beginning of this new
millennium, all Catholic medical and health care personnel, whether
in research or practice, will commit themselves whole-heartedly to
the service of human life. I trust that the local Churches will give
due attention to the medical profession, promoting the ideal of
unambiguous service to the great miracle of life, supporting
obstetricians, gynecologists and health workers who respect the
right to life by helping to bring them together for mutual support
and the exchange of ideas and experiences.
Entrusting you and your mission as guardians and servants of life to
the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I cordially impart my
Apostolic Blessing to you and to all who work with you in bearing
witness to the Gospel of life.
Pope John Paul II "Address of John Paul II on the Occasion of the
International Congress of Catholic Obstetricians and Gynecologists."
June 18, 2001.