Ambiguous and debatable terms regarding family life and ethical
In January 2003 the Dehonian Fathers' publishing house (in Bologna)
will publish a book with the English title: Lexicon: Ambiguous and
Debatable Terms Regarding Family Life and Ethical Questions.
This handy dictionary, edited by the Pontifical Council for the
Family, collects in 1,000 pages 78 topics/articles written by well-known
experts. You will find the list of topics [below}. Cardinal López
Trujillo, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, wrote the
preface to which you can read in translation. He explains why the volume
is needed for pastoral work today Here is a translation of his preface.
Urgent need and goal
The Lexicon reviews a range of possibilities as its
full title suggests.
By setting forth the content and the truth which must guide correct
applications, our authors seek to enlighten people on some ambiguous or
confusing terms and jargon difficult to assess. In this area, there is a
cultural inclination that makes it difficult to give a correct
To deal with this, one has to track the invention, development and
spread of the terms. Cases often arise in which one notices that terms
are coined that do not completely hide an intention in an effort to tone
down expressions to avoid causing shock and an instinctive rejection.
This is the case with the clever phrases: "voluntary interruption
of pregnancy" or "pro-choice".
Many expressions are used in parliaments and world forums with
concealment of their true content and meaning even for the politicians
and members of parliament who use them, due to their weak background in
philosophy, theology, law, anthropology, etc. This represents the
greatest obstacle for a correct understanding of certain terms. The
purpose of the Lexicon is to assist in such cases and to
awaken interest in order to promote serious and objective information,
and stimulate the desire for a deeper formation in this field where
several sciences and critical disciplines converge.
Juridical positivism worsens the problem since a law's quality is no
longer determined by the human person as a whole, but by the accepted
procedure by which a law is formulated in accord with the will of the
majority. This leads to a concept of "political truth" and of
democracy that will not escape from the concept of law as what is
imposed by the strongest.
There are many obscure concepts which are hard to understand because
their content requires calm and patient investigation. This is of course
complicated by those who refuse to accept natural law and to give law an
ethical foundation. Obviously, we cannot marginalize the riches of faith
that confirm and deepen what reason understands.
The teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is timely:
"'The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the
married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him
with its own proper laws.... God himself is the author of marriage' (Gaudium
et spes, n. 48). The vocation to marriage is written in the very
nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator.
Marriage is not a purely human institution despite the changes it has
undergone through the centuries in different cultures, social structures
and spiritual attitudes. These differences should not cause us to forget
its common and permanent features. Although the dignity of this
institution does not appear everywhere with the same clarity, a certain
sense of the greatness of the matrimonial union exists in all cultures
because 'The wellbeing of the individual person and of both human and
Christian society is closely bound up with the healthy state of conjugal
and family life' (Gaudium et spes, n. 47)" (n. 1603).
It is not the intention of this project to combat or oppose
institutions or persons or even less to impose upon them. Rather we want
to propose, to persuade lovingly, directing people towards the truth
with respect, in the hope of beginning and reinforcing a fruitful
dialogue. We cannot escape the truth to which human beings have a right
in order to live with genuine freedom.
Confusion of terminology
Certain expressions exploit the uninformed people who use them and,
since they are deceived by their ambiguity, they are not aware of the
deception. In this way, one tries to manipulate public opinion by
concealing the unpleasant or shocking aspects of reality and of the
truth. Since the terms that have been made up are not really innocent,
their authors seek to promote their methods as a way to reach their
goals by changing the meaning of the terms. They do this to avoid
rejection, which they see as a possible risk.
The cunning use of ambiguous terms has reached worrisome levels.
People are beginning to speak of an Orwellian language. In his book
"1984", the famous writer George Orwell criticized the
totalitarian usage in which, for the sake of propaganda, certain words,
repeated to create conditioned reflexes, eluded the ability of the
intelligence to grasp their meaning and ended by having exactly the
opposite meaning: for example, "slavery" means
"freedom", "evil" is identified with
"good", and "falsehood" with "truth".
One must note that one of the most disturbing symptoms of a weakening
of morality is the confusion of terms which lead to degrading
levels when they are used with cold calculation to obtain a semantic
change, changing the meaning of words in a deliberately perverted way.
Example of 'rights'
This incredible ability for semantic change that demonstrates the
emptiness of an anthropology, appears in the concepts of "rights",
that has become selective and capricious.
The universality of rights is not always consistently recognized,
indeed, "exceptions" are made which deny the quality and
comprehensiveness of rights, especially with regard to what is stated in
Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "Everyone
has the right to life, liberty and the security of person". The
striking spread of the massacre of abortion shows how some make relative
a right that should be universal. John Paul II wrote: "All human
rights are in fact closely connected, being the expression of different
dimensions of a single subject, the human person.... Defence of the
universality and indivisibility of human rights is essential for
the construction of a peaceful society and for the overall development
of individuals, peoples and nations" (Message for World Day of
Peace, 1 January 1999, n. 3; ORE, 23 December 1998, p.
With the escalation of ambiguity, new rights have even been proposed,
not as victories for previously unrecognized issues that deserve serious
consideration, but as new forms of manipulation. Allow me to quote a
valid reflection. Fr Lobato wrote explaining the term "new
rights": "Taken individually these concepts seem fascinating;
however it is not a question of newness but more precisely of a true difference
of language, that aims at removing certain human rights from
every ethical norm, to relegate them to the realm of privacy by means of
ambivalent language which advances ideas and practices that contradict
their immediate meaning. A term is manipulated and camouflaged in order
to penetrate all sectors through the powerful means of communication. An
ever greater separation exists between thought, reality, and the word
that expresses it, which is the subject of manipulation. In the end, the
three concepts that the words seemed to convey are denied: newness,
rights, and the 'humanum'. In order not to offend the ear,
alternative words or phrases are used to replace them, for example: the
voluntary interruption of pregnancy for abortion, euthanasia
for induced death, the morning-after pill for an
The Church is often presented as an obstacle to freedom, discouraging
and intolerant. Hegel's affirmations are quite fitting: "But that
man should be free in himself and for himself, by virtue of his very
substance, that he should be born free as man was unknown to Plato,
Aristotle, Cicero or to the Roman jurists, although the source of human
rights lies in this concept alone. Only in the Christian principle does
the individual personal spirit essentially assume an infinite, absolute
value; God wants us to give help to all human beings. In the Christian
religion, the doctrine that all men are equal before God because Christ
has called them to Christian freedom has made headway". He says
further: "These assertions ensured that freedom became independent
of birth, social class, education, etc.... The purport of this
principle, has acted like leaven down the centuries and millenniums,
producing the most gigantic revolutions" (cf. G.W.F. Hegel, Lessons
on the History of Philosophy 1, Italian
edition, 1998, p. 61).
Case of 'discrimination' against women
Certain commonplace terms give rise to special difficulty. This is
the case with the concept "discrimination".
Ambiguity is particularly dangerous since at first it arouses a
sympathetic reaction: who is not opposed to all forms of discrimination?
This seems to derive from respect for human rights. However, the first
concrete favourable reaction changes once the concrete content is more
closely examined. In parliaments, in the name of non-discrimination,
bills are introduced for de facto unions and for those between
homosexuals and lesbians even with the possibility of adopting children.
A recent case that can illustrate this problem (and which is a case
in point) is that of the CEDAW. These letters stand for "Convention
on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women".
This turns out to be evidently hostile to the family which is presented
as a place of modern slavery. Consequently, it is claimed that being a
wife and mother is equivalent to being discriminated against by those
who uphold the moral principles that are anchored in true human rights.
Although the "right" to abortion is not mentioned directly, in
a subtle way this option is not excluded. Discretely, without making a
fuss, the possibility will be taken up in other ways, either through the
interpretation of the definitely ambiguous meaning of the phrase
"reproductive health", or with recourse to the instruments of
abortion, or with the introduction of a new definition of abortion,
confined to the later stages of pregnancy and not from the moment of
conception to the implantation of the embryo. We are faced with a
In some cases the equivocations are actually crude and broader. In
the name of women's rights and as one of them, not only is abortion
presented as if the embryo were the mother's property and indeed an
appendage, but people have even come to the point of fighting pregnancy
as though it were some kind of disease, and the "unborn" child
an unjust assailant. For some time there has been talk of an
"anti-baby vaccine". We are in the eye of the storm that began
with secularization and ethical relativism.
Heidegger's thoughts on the ambiguity and truth of language are well
known. Equivocation does not help authenticity (for Heidegger, in his
complex language and his original thought, man is "the shepherd of
being"; the truth is not the conformity of judgement with being,
but a way in which reality reveals itself [it is the a-lethe-ia]
which is not concealed and has in language "the home of
being". Truth is an unveiling. Gossip, curiosity and equivocation
attack the authenticity of this unveiling [cf. Martin Heidegger, Being
Holy Father's critique of language
The Holy Father has described "a society which is sick"
from many points of view, since "our society has broken away from
the full truth about man, from the truth about what man and woman
really are as persons" (Letter to Families Gratissimam sane,
n. 20). He then refers to the falsification produced by certain modern
instruments of the mass media that "are tempted to manipulate the
message, thereby falsifying the truth about man" (ibid.).
Public opinion is under systematic pressure: "At times
it appears that concerted efforts are being made to present as ‘normal'
and attractive, and even to glamourize, situations which are in fact
'irregular"' (ibid., n. 5).
A typical example is the case of "free love".
Suggestive words that imply a universe of freedom when in fact, instead
of freedom, a true and proper slavery prevails. John Paul II says,
without mincing his words: "Opposed to the civilization of love is
certainly the phenomenon of so-called 'free love'.... To follow
in every instance a 'real' emotional impulse by invoking a love
'liberated' from all conditionings, means nothing more than to make the
individual a slave to those human instincts which St Thomas calls
'passions of the soul'. 'Free love' exploits human weaknesses; it gives
them a certain 'veneer' of respectability with the help of seduction and
the blessing of public opinion. In this way there is an attempt to
'soothe' consciences by creating a 'moral alibi’…. A freedom without
responsibilities is the opposite of love" (ibid., n.
The Holy Father has also denounced such widely used expressions as
"pro-choice", which is camouflaged as the real exercise of
freedom: "In the context of a civilization of pleasure, woman can
become an object for man, children a hindrance to parents, the family an
institution obstructing the freedom of its members. To be convinced that
this is the case, one need only look at certain sexual education
programmes introduced into the schools, often notwithstanding the
disagreement and even the protests of many parents; or pro-abortion
tendencies which vainly try to hide behind the so-called
'right to choose' ('pro-choice') on the part of both spouses, and in
particular on the part of the woman. These are only two examples; many
more could be mentioned" (ibid., n. 13).
In the United States, a semantic battle is being fought: to react to
"pro-choice", pro-lifers say that the best "pro-choice"
In Evangelium vitae (Gospel of Life), the Pope, with prophetic
vigour, has denounced the systematic malice of changing the word
"delitto" (crime) into the word "diritto"
(right). "We shall concentrate particular attention on another
category of attacks, affecting life in its earliest and in its final
stages, attacks which present new characteristics with respect to the
past and which raise questions of extraordinary seriousness. It
is not only that in generalized opinion these attacks tend no longer to
be considered as "crimes"; paradoxically they assume the
nature of "rights", to the point that the State is called upon
to give them legal recognition and to make them available through the
free services of health-care personnel. Such attacks strike
human life at the time of its greatest frailty, when it lacks any means
of self-defence. Even more serious is the fact that, most often, those
attacks are carried out in the very heart of and with the complicity of
the family—the family which by its
nature is called to be the "sanctuary of life" (Evangelium
vitae, n. 11).
The Pope recently expressed his concern in an address to a
group of Bishops from Brazil: "A pastoral proposal for the family
in crisis presupposes, as a preliminary requirement, doctrinal clarity,
effectively taught in moral theology about sexuality and the respect for
life.... At the root of the crisis one can perceive the rupture
between anthropology and ethics, marked by a moral relativism according
to which the human act is not evaluated with reference to the permanent,
objective principles proper to nature created by God, but in conformity
with a merely subjective reflection on what is the greatest benefit for
the individual's life project. Thus a semantic evolution is produced in
which homicide is called induced death, infanticide, therapeutic
abortion, and adultery becomes a mere extra-marital adventure.
No longer possessing absolute certainty in moral matters, the
divine law becomes an option among the latest variety of opinions in
vogue" (Address to the Brazilian Bishops from the East
II Region on their ad limina visit, 16 November 2002, n. 6; ORE,
27 November 2002, p. 3).
Curiously, a great many ambiguous expressions originate in the idea
that changes are called for by "modernity", itself a term that
needs to be explained. This is how Thomas Mann describes
,"modernity": "One of the features of our time is the way
a problem is made of everything, even of eternal things, sacrosanct,
indispensable and primordial which, today, have become apparently
impossible, apparently obsolete, and irreversibly so.... Freedom,
individualism, a stronger sense of the personality ... and the idea of
the 'right to happiness', stir up discontent and the desire for
liberation" (Thomas Mann, Letter on Matrimony).
For some years now, the Pontifical Council for the Family has been
observing the escalation of this process that gives rise to confusion.
In France recourse to the term "interruption of pregnancy" has
already become a current euphemism for "abortion".
A few years ago, during the celebration of the International Year of
the Family, the coordinating agency of the United Nations began to apply
the word "families" only in its plural form, and with
reluctance used the word "family" in the singular in order to
impose a painful veto on the model of family as desired by God in his
project of Creation: the family based on marriage, the patrimony of
humanity. Thus, under the umbrella of the term "families",
all kinds of unions could safely shelter, like the family
"clubs" to which Louis Roussel referred in his book La
famille incertaine (cf. Ed. Odile Jacob, 1 March 1989), where the
natural institution of the family was rejected and reduced to mere
agreements or elastic pacts in a perspective of
"privatization". He was an active ideologist of the
International Year of the Family. The logo for that occasion, as people
will remember, showed a roof beneath which two hearts were joined with
an arrow shooting towards the infinite. In this way the uncertain future
of the family was depicted and its disappearance in the future, often
foretold, although it is no more founded in reality than it is in the
predictions. Even anti-family ideologies have had to admit this fact.
It was obvious, precisely regarding the International Year of the
Family, that there was a deliberate intention to circulate ambiguous
slogans and expressions to exploit the many who were poorly informed and
frequently also badly formed, at least in the area of an integral
humanism, as Paul VI pointed out in his Encyclical Populorum
progressio on social doctrine, and, particularly, in an anthropology
that has ethical substance: "What must be aimed at is complete
humanism. And what is that if not the fully-rounded development of the
whole man and of all men? A humanism closed in on itself, and not open
to the values of the spirit and to God who is their source, could
achieve apparent success. True, man can organize the world apart from
God, but ‘without God he can organize it in the end only against man.
An exclusive humanism is an inhuman humanism'.
There is no true humanism but that which is open to the Absolute and
is conscious of a vocation which gives human life its true meaning. Far
from being the ultimate measure of all things, man can only realize
himself by reaching beyond himself. As Pascal has said so well: 'Man
infinitely surpasses man'" (Populorum progressio, n. 42).
At the International Conference on Population and Development, held
in Cairo in 1994, an attempt was made to exploit a concentrated,
ideological functionally organized cargo which, in addition to setting
in motion mechanisms that would turn out to be inconsistent myths such
as that of "a revolution or population explosion", aimed at
sounding the alarm concerning population growth, resorting to such
expressions as "sexual rights" and "reproductive
rights" (just as, previously, the phrase "Family
Planning" had served to encourage contraception and to make people
reject the natural methods as ineffectual).
By these expressions, however, indeed there was a strategy to remove
adolescents and young people from their family and from the education
and upbringing of their parents by saturating them with information on
"free" choices in order to avoid pregnancy and sexually
transmitted diseases, and by disseminating, without other further
"pressures", every type of contraceptive. Naturally, at the
Cairo Conference, no one excluded recourse to abortion as a right. The
Messages the Holy Father sent to Heads of State and to Mrs Nafis Sadik
were necessary, to call attention to the "life style" that was
to be imposed upon young people, and remind governments of their
responsibility for youth (cf. Message to Heads of State, 19 March
1994; ORE, 20 April 1994, p. 1; cf. Message to
Mrs Nafis Sadik, Executive Director of the United Nations Population
Fund and Secretary General of the 1994 International Conference
on Population and Development, 18 March 1994; ORE, 23
March 1994, p. 1).
Later on, an interesting case with regard to the term
"gender" was the preparation and the actual event of the
Beijing Conference on Women. The Pontifical Council for the Family drew
attention to the ambiguous and ideologized use of it that was being
introduced, despite the fact that the Holy See Delegation had been
assured of the intention to use this term with its
"traditional" meaning. It did not take long for people to
realize the serious implications of this issue and the great need for
clarification. The family and life are inseparable poles of the same
reality, the same truth that is a Good News, a Gospel: "Christians
also have the mission of proclaiming with joy and conviction the Good
News about the family, for the family absolutely needs to hear ever
anew and to understand ever more deeply the authentic words that reveal
its identity, its inner resources and the importance of its mission in
the City of God and in that of man" (Familiaris consortio,
n. 86). The family and life are being literally bombarded by a
deceptive language that does not encourage but complicates dialogue
between individuals and peoples. Without the pursuit of the truth, the
universe of freedom is contaminated and in serious danger. There is no
freedom without truth.
Motives, Background history
Thus we have listed 78 terms. The majority were addressed by
qualified authorities which can be seen at first glance, and by other
experts, who are less famous but know well the topic entrusted to them,
When on the occasion of the Extraordinary Consistory celebrated in
May 2001, I told the Cardinals present about the Lexicon project,
they welcomed the idea enthusiastically, and so later on did the
journalists. Since we received offers from publishing houses of
different languages and nations, it is our intention to publish the
volume in various languages. We decided to begin with the Italian
version, and entrusted it to the Dehonian Publishing House, with which
we have had the positive experience of the promotion of our Enchiridion,
that very soon went to a second edition.
The approval of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which
has fully supported our ideas gave us great pleasure. The text, edited
by competent professionals, gathers the contributions into a single
volume, published in accord with technical and lexicographical criteria,
such as the alphabetical order of the terms, a brief introduction to the
content of each article (set off from the text by a different typeface)
and a brief biographical note on each author.
We hope that the Lexicon will be a useful tool for the
noble and urgent cause of the family and life. We are conscious that the
creation of ambiguities is great and that a later edition might need to
be updated with new entries. In this attempt to shed light on the
ambiguities through a prolonged pursuit of the truth, guided by reason
and illumined by faith and in total obedience to the Magisterium, we
hope that the reader will discover the genuine content and objectives
which are part of the Gospel proclamation "sine glossa"
Feast of the Immaculate Conception, 8 December 2002.
Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo
Index of 78 topics
1. A demographic implosion in Europe?, G.F. Dumont
2. A new model of a Welfare State, T. Raga
3. A new paradigm of health, R. Paccini
4. An ideology of gender: dangers and scope, O. Alzamora
5. Assisted procreation and FIVET, J.L. Bruguès
6. Bioethics committees, E. Sgreccia
7. Biotechnology: the state and forms of fundamentalism, E.
8. Birth control and demographic implosion, M. Schooyans
9. Catholic women for a free choice, B. Clowes
10. Children and labor, R. Valenzona.
11. Children's rights and sexual violence, D. Kornas-Biela
12. Children's Rights, Marie Th. Hermange
13. Conjugal love?, F. Gil Hellin
14. Contraceptive mentality (The), G. Kaszak
15. Contragestation, M.L. Di Pietro
16. Counselling for pregnant women in Germany, H. Reis
17. De facto unions, H. Franceschi
18. Demography, demographic transition and policies, G.F.
19. Dignity of the child (The), L. Scheffczyck
20. Dignity of the human embryo, A. Serra
21. Discrimination against women and CEDAW, F.J. Errázuriz
22. Domestic economy, J.D. Lecaillon
23. Embryonic selection and reduction, A. Serra
24. Equal rights for men and women, G. Cottier
25. Euthanasia, I. Carrasco
26. Extended Family (The), G. Campanini
27. Family and personalism (The), F. Moreno
28. Family and philosophy (The), H. Ramsay
29. Family and sustainable development (The), A.
30. Family and the principal of subsidiarity (The), J.L.
31. Family and the rights of minors (The), F. D'Agostino
32. Family counseling services, L. Pati
33. Family, nature and the person (The), J.M. Meyer
34. Fertility and continence, R.M. Joseph
35. Free choice, William E. May
36. Gender, J. Burggraf
37. Genome and the family (The), R. Colombo
38. Hardness of heart a future possibility?, J.A. Reig
39. Homosexual "marriage", A. Polaino Lorente
40. Homosexuality and homophobia, T. Anatrella
41. Imperfect and iniquitous laws, A. Rodriguez Luño
42. Indissoluble marriage?, F. Di Felice
43. Informed consent, A. Galindo
44. Legal status of the human embryo (The), C. Barra
45. Manipulation of language, W. Neville
46. Marriage with differences in religion, C.M. Ruppi
47. Marriage, separation, divorce and the conscience, F.
48. Medical interruption of pregnancy (The), J.M. Lé
49. Mixed marriage and discrimination, C.M. Ruppi
50. Motherhood and feminism, J. H. Matlary
51. Neutral genetic consultancy, G. Herranz
52. New definitions of gender, B. Vollmer
53. New family models, J. Hagan
54. New human rights, A. Lobato
55. Parenthood, A. Lobato
56. Partial birth abortion, J. Suaudeau
57. Patriarchy and matriarchy, V. Mathieu
58. Person and integral procreation (The), A. Lobato
59. Personalization, A. Lobato
60. Phenomenon of privatization (The), A. López Trujillo
61. Pre-implantation and emergency contraception, J. Wilks
62. Principle and argument of the lesser evil (The), F.C.
63. Pro-choice, J. and M. Meaney
64. Quality of life, R. Paccini
65. Recomposed family (The), Anna Kwak
66. Reproductive health, L. Ciccone
67. Responsible parenthood, C. Caffarra
68. Right to abortion (The), A. Grzeskoviak
69. Safe motherhood, J.R. Flecha
70. Safe sex, J. Suaudeau
71. Sex education, A. Polaino Lorente
72. Sexual and reproductive rights, J.A. Peris
73. Sexual identity and difference, A. Scola
74. Single-parent family (The), C. Meves
75. Traditional family (The), S. Belardinelli
76. Verbal engineering, I. Barreiro
77. Voluntary interruption of pregnancy (The), C. Casini
78. What bioethics?, M. Lalonde