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By Deacon Keith Fournier

6/13/2012 (3 years ago)

Catholic Online (

We are witnessing a new front in the expansion of the Culture of death and we must act.

The early Roman Empire was a Culture of death. The Christian Church was called into it to transform it from within and build a Culture of life. They lived as leaven, light and salt for the world into which they were sent. Our situation at the beginning of the Third Millennium is similar.

A baby box or hatch where an unwanted newborn has been left

A baby box or hatch where an unwanted newborn has been left


By Deacon Keith Fournier

Catholic Online (

6/13/2012 (3 years ago)

Published in Europe

Keywords: abortion, infanticide, exposure, baby boxes, hatches, Rome, Greec, didache, dignetus, Culture of Life, Culture of death, Deacon Keith Fournier

CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - One of my favorite early Christian writings is the letter to Diognetus. A poignant portion of the letter can be read on the Vatican website here. It is one of the earliest examples of Christian "apologetics". The word does NOT mean apologizing for the faith but rather defending the faith.

The letter was written to a pagan inquirer to the Christian faith in the second century. The writer explains some of the practices of the early Christians which set them apart from the pagan cultures into which they were sent. One example of the Christian way of life was their faithful monogamous marriages (only between men and women) and their willingness to welcome children as a gift. They did not engage in non-marital sexual relationships. They did not abort children in the womb or expose their babies after birth.

The unknown writer notes of Christians, "there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives.They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh". 

In the ancient Roman and Greek world primitive forms of abortion were practiced. They did not have the sophisticated means we have at our disposal to kill the children by reaching into their first home, their mothers womb. Exposure, the practice of leaving unwanted children out on rocks to be eaten by birds of prey, picked up by slave traders, or die from the exposure to the elements, was also common. At times, the motive of leaving the baby was to prevent their death. However, the practice became a form of child abandonment and infanticide. 

The first/second century Greek historian Plutarch, who became a Roman citizen, wrote of the practice of exposure, "the father took his child and brought it to the elders of the tribe. They examined the child, and if it was well formed and strong, ordered it to be raised, but if the child was ill-born and maimed, they discarded it in the so-called Apothetae, a kind of pit, on the grounds that it was not worth the rearing."

Ancient Rome had "paterfamilias" in their legal code. It gave men the power of life or death over children. The Romans adopted a pseudo-religious defense of the practice claiming that "Romulus (one of the purported founders of the Empire) compelled the citizens to raise every male child and the first-born of the females, and he forbade them to put to death any child under three years of age, unless it was a cripple or a monster from birth. He did not prevent the parents from exposing such children, provided that they had displayed them first to the five nearest neighbors and had secured their approval."

The Christians of the first millennium lived an entirely different way of life than the pagans around them on these matters. One of the earliest Catechisms, the "Didache" or teaching of the twelve , contrasted the way of life and the way of death. Christians were commanded "Do not kill a fetus by abortion, or commit infanticide." Christians rescued children left to die by exposure and took them into their homes, raising them as their own.

The early Roman Empire was a Culture of death. The Christian Church was called into it to transform it from within and build a Culture of life. They lived as their Lord had taught them and become leaven, light and salt for the world into which they were sent. As the letter to Diognetus recorded, "To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body."

Our situation at the beginning of the Third Millennium is similar. The "empires" we live under may not be ancient Rome, but the worldview is similar. It is arguably more brutal when it comes to children in the womb. Abortion for any reason and at any time is now called a "right". The police power of the State, rather than protect the child, protects the ones who take their lives.

So, I was saddened but not shocked to read this week of the return of what could become a new practice of exposure - and the interesting complications posed in this age of sperm banks and new "reproductive" technologies. Randeep Ramesh of the Guardian newspaper in a Sunday June 12, 2012 article entitled "Spread of 'baby boxes' in Europe alarms United Nations"  wrote concerning the growing practice.

The article reported on the growing use of "baby boxes where infants can be secretly abandoned by parents, warning that the practice "contravenes the right of the child to be known and cared for by his or her parents." However there is a twist to the story. The boxes (or hatches) are often placed outside of hospitals and intended to save the children. Some are sponsored by monasteries or well intended Church or faith based groups who actually want to save babies. 

The writer noted "It is the United Nations raising the complaint and expressing a concern for the rights of the children. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which reports on how well governments respect and protect children's human rights, is alarmed at the prevalence of the hatches - usually outside a hospital - which allow unwanted newborns to be left in boxes with an alarm or bell to summon a carer."

"In western Europe the issue is complicated by religious practice and the law. Sari Essayah, Finnish MEP from the centre-right Christian Democrats, pointed out that in Scandinavia "two lesbians can get sperm anonymously and have children. They don't know the name of the donor. So what about the rights of the child? The UN have got it wrong here about baby boxes."

"Perhaps the most taxing problem will be Germany, the powerhouse of Europe, which has about 80 baby boxes operating across the nation. The German constitution says all citizens have a right to "know of their origins" and fathers have a right to be part of a child's upbringing. Both are breached when a mother gives birth anonymously."

"Hatches are tolerated - but earlier this year German ministers floated the possibility of a new "legal framework for confidential births. In February the German Youth Institute found that the anonymous service had lost trace of a fifth of all abandoned babies - giving ammunition to those who want to end the practice".

We also have a Catechism which gives us instruction, as did our brethren in the early part of the first millennium.  Article Four treats the Morality of Human Acts. It explains that, "Freedom makes man a moral subject. When he acts deliberately, man is, so to speak, the father of his acts. Human acts, that is, acts that are freely chosen in consequence of a judgment of conscience, can be morally evaluated. They are either good or evil."
In evaluating the morality of an act we are to look to the "Sources of Morality": "The morality of human acts depends on: the object chosen; the end in view or the intention; the circumstances of the action. The object, the intention, and the circumstances make up the "sources," or constitutive elements, of the morality of human acts." (CCC # 1749, 1750)

So, judging the immorality or morality of this modern form of exposure requires an analysis of the intention of the actor. It is not the box or hatch - just like it was not the rock - which determines morality. It was the person leaving the child who was and is engaged in either a moral or an immoral act.

With the ancient form of exposure in Rome - sometimes the motive of leaving the child was to save the lives of the children. However, just as it was with exposure on the rocks used in the early centuries of the first millennium, the practice of baby boxes or hatches itself, abandoning newborn children, is a foreboding sign and requires our attention and intervention as Christians.It raises once again the very serious question at the heart of the decay of Western culture, the loss of respect for the dignity of every human life. 

We are witnessing a new front in the expansion of the Culture of Death and we must act properly. 


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