Issues with male circumcision and the Roman Catholic Church

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There have been many Issues with male circumcision and the Roman Catholic Church.

Jesus, the Christ,[1] was reared in a Jewish family in Nazareth, Israel by Mary, his mother and Joseph, his step-father.[2] Israel was a Jewish nation where Judaism was the prevailing religion. Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day in accordance with the Abrahamic covenant.[3] The circumcision would have a minimal reduction of the acroposthion, in accordance with the former practice of the Jews.

The first followers of Jesus were Jews, since his ministry was in Jewish Israel. In the years after Jesus ascended into heaven,[4] an issue arose among his followers as to whether it was necessary for Christians to be circumcised in accordance with the Abrahamic covenant, as advocated by the Judaizer party.

It was necessary to hold a meeting to resolve the issue. The Council at Jerusalem was held in approximately 49 AD to establish a policy. The Council determined that circumcision is not necessary to be a Christian and wrote a letter stating that. The requirement for circumcision was omitted from the requirements in the letter.[5] This remains the general view of Christians to this day with the exception of the Copts, a denomination in Egypt, which requires circumcision.

Christian divisions

Christians have divided into several large blocks, which include the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the various Protestant denominations, and the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt and adjacent areas. This article discusses the Roman Catholic Church's views on circumcision.

The position of the Roman Catholic Church

The Roman Catholic Church has issued the following relevant documents. They prohibit circumcision.

Bull of Union with the Copts (1442)

The Roman Catholic Church convened an ecumenical council at Florence in the Fifteenth Century to establish relations with eastern churches. A papal bull was published in connection with this ecumenical council. The Bull said in part:

Bull of Union with the Copts
It [The Holy Roman Church] firmly believes, professes and teaches that the legal prescriptions of the old Testament or the Mosaic law, which are divided into ceremonies, holy sacrifices and sacraments, because they were instituted to signify something in the future, although they were adequate for the divine cult of that age, once our lord Jesus Christ who was signified by them had come, came to an end and the sacraments of the new Testament had their beginning. Whoever, after the passion, places his hope in the legal prescriptions and submits himself to them as necessary for salvation and as if faith in Christ without them could not save, sins mortally. It does not deny that from Christ's passion until the promulgation of the gospel they could have been retained, provided they were in no way believed to be necessary for salvation. But it asserts that after the promulgation of the gospel they cannot be observed without loss of eternal salvation. Therefore it denounces all who after that time observe circumcision, the sabbath and other legal prescriptions as strangers to the faith of Christ and unable to share in eternal salvation, unless they recoil at some time from these errors. Therefore it strictly orders all who glory in the name of Christian, not to practise circumcision either before or after baptism, since whether or not they place their hope in it, it cannot possibly be observed without loss of eternal salvation.
– Eugenius IV, Pope (CIRP)[6]

Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church was promulgated by Pope John Paul II in 1992. It was published in Latin with translations in English and Spanish. The English version was released in 1994. It aims to summarize, in book form, the main beliefs of the Catholic Church. A revised edition was published in 1997.

The Catechism contains discussions and extensions of the meanings of the Ten Commandments. The Fifth Commandment (Thou shalt not murder.) is relevant. The discussion of the Fifth Commandment is divided into three sections. Section II Respect for the Dignity of Persons is relevant. It is divided into several subsections. The subsection entitled Respect for Bodily Integrity is relevant. It includes Paragraph 2297. Paragraph 2297 does not use the word circumcision. It does discuss the broader classifications of amputations and mutilations, both of which include circumcision.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraph 2297
Kidnapping and hostage taking bring on a reign of terror; by means of threats they subject their victims to intolerable pressures. They are morally wrong. Terrorism threatens, wounds, and kills indiscriminately; it is gravely against justice and charity. Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity. Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law. (Catechism of the Catholic Church)[7]

Commentary by Catholic writers

There are several significant Catholic comments. They are listed in chronological order of publication.

Father Edwin F. Healy, S.J. (1956)

The general rule regarding mutilation is this, that mutilation is licit only when necessary for preserving the health of the whole body. The reason that the scope of justifiable mutilations is thus limited is that man has the supreme ownership neither of the whole body nor of its various parts, and that he is therefore not permitted to treat them as though he were the supreme owner. Man is merely the custodian of his body and its parts. Directly to destroy the body or one of its parts is to exercise over that object supreme ownership. One cannot act more clearly in a manner that implies ownership over a thing than by destroying it, for by so doing he puts an end to its very existence.
– Father Edwin F. Healy, S.J.[8]

Father John J. Dietzen, M.A., S.T.L. (2004)

The morality of circumcision
Today, while nontherapeutic male circumcision remains common in some places, as a general practice it is forbidden in Catholic teaching for more basic reasons of respect for bodily integrity.The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against moral law” (N. 2297).

Elective circumcision clearly violates that standard. It is an amputation and mutilation, and, to my knowledge, and as you note, no significant medical group in the world defends it as having any therapeutic value. In 1999 the Council on Scientific Affairs of the American Medical Association stated that neonatal circumcision is nontherapeutic because no disease is present and no therapeutic treatment is required.

Modern Catholic Church documents do not deal explicitly with the morality of elective circumcision. The above basic principles, however, clearly render it immoral. It violates the bodily integrity of infant male children and unnecessarily deprives them of a part of their body that can protect the glans of the penis during infancy and serve at least a sexual function for adults.
– Fr. John J. Dietzen, M.A. (The Question Box)[9]

Father Peter A. Clark, S.J., Ph.D. (2006)

To Circumcise or Not to Circumcise?
Examining neonatal male circumcision in light of these moral directives, one can conclude that the amputation of normal, healthy foreskin for non-therapeutic purposes not only violates the child's bodily integrity but also is a medical procedure whose benefits do not clearly outweigh the risks. The ERDs state clearly that such procedures can be justified if there is a proportionate benefit to the patient. But neonatal male circumcision fails the test of proportionality because the questionable therapeutic benefit is overbalanced by the certainty of permanent injury to the penis; the loss of protective, immunological, mechanical, sensory, erogenous, and sexual functions; as well as the risk to health and life inherent in every circumcision.60 Neonatal male circumcision may be appropriate for religious reasons, but after one makes a thorough examination of the medical literature and a comprehensive ethical analysis, one sees quite clearly that it should not be a routine medical procedure.

The Catholic Church teaches that God created us in God;s image and likeness (Gn 1:27-28). It follows then that God created males with a normal, healthy foreskin for the purpose of protecting the glans, providing natural lubrication to prevent dryness, and contributing significantly to the sexual response of the intact male. To surgically remove the foreskin for hygienic reasons, and/or to obtain other questionable benefits that absorb medical resources costing over $200 million a year is not only ethically unjustifiable but morally irresponsible, especially when such procedures can lead to serious injury and even death. Besides the possible harm the procedure can inflict on a child — which violates the basic tenet of Catholic health care of treating every person with dignity and respect — it also violates Catholic health care;s mandate to be responsible stewards of medical resources. When millions of people in the United States and around the world lack basic health care, the provision of a non-therapeutic procedure — especially one that is unnecessary, costly, and in some cases fatal — is irresponsible and a violation of the moral law. Therefore, it is unethical and immoral for Catholic health care institutions to continue to allow neonatal male circumcisions, except out of respect for religious practices of other faith traditions. Respecting the religious beliefs and practices of other faiths is confirmed in the ERDs.

Barring religious obligation, there is little to recommend routine neonatal male circumcision. If promoting the dignity and respect of every human person is a priority for the United States and for Catholic health care, then it is time to better educate the public about this issue and protect those who are the most vulnerable in our society. Doing so is not only a social responsibility; it is a moral imperative as well.
– Father Peter A. Clark, S.J., Ph.D. (Journal of the Catholic Health Care Association of the United States)[10]

There is much fine, elegant language that tells us why it is immoral and a violation of the moral law to inflict a non-therapeutic circumcision. How does it work out in practice?

Institution of the moral law in practice

The institution and implementation of the moral law against mutilation and amputation has been a general failure.

  • Central and South America from Mexico south to Chile are generally Catholic nations. Non-therapeutic circumcision is not a usual practice in those nations, however it is not clear that the Catholic Church deserves the credit for his condition.
  • The Catholic Church in the Philippine Islands has totally failed to institute the teaching of the Catechism regarding amputations and mutilations. Catholicism has been the dominant religion in the Philippines for centuries. About 80 percent of the population are Catholic. In spite of this Catholic influence, the practice of Tuli (non-therapeutic traditional male circumcision) is deeply entrenched and harms about 93 percent of the male population, of whom many have PTSD.[11] The Catholic authorities have turned a blind eye toward this practice of which it apparently approves, although it is a clear violation of the moral law as expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church § 2273.
  • Catholics comprise 23 percent of the population in the United States. The Catholic Church is the largest single religious denomination. The Catholic Church operates hospitals, yet the Catholic Church has taken no action to introduce the moral law into practice, for the protection of boys. Catholic hospitals in the United States still allow circumcision in direct violation of Catechism of the Catholic Church § 2273. There apparently is no interest in the protection of Catholic infant boys on the part of the Catholic authorities.
  • The Catholic Church in Canada operated many Residential Schools for First Nations and Métis children. The schools hurt children.[12] Paul Tinari, who was Métis, was forcibly circumcised at the age of eight by a Catholic priest and a Jewish mohel in Montreal, QC.[13]
  • The Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland) has been the site of a controversy over the non-therapeutic circumcision of boys. The Cologne circumcision court judgment was a ruling in 2012 that non-therapeutic circumcision of a boy violated the human rights of the boy, which are guaranteed by Germany's Basic Law (Grundgesetz). Thereafter a heated Circumcision Debate commenced. The Catholic Church (Katholische Kirche) in Germany took a position in favor of Jewish and Muslims having a right to circumcise as an exercise of a religious right!
"Legal certainty established. The sometimes very emotional and polemical debate about the religiously motivated circumcision of boys has caused considerable irritation in the Jewish and Muslim communities." The irritation of the child during circumcision is irrelevant to the Catholic Church.
– Bishop Mussinghoff[14]
  • The Catholic Church in Germany operates 353 hospitals in Germany. None have a policy against non-therapeutic circumcision. The Catechism of the Catholic Church § 2273 teaching about amputations and mutilations has been totally ignored by the Katholische Kirche.

The perceived political and economic needs of the Catholic Church have been given priority over the protection of children by the moral law.


The extraordinary horror of Adolf Hitler's pogrom against the Jews, called the Holocaust, has given the word antisemitism a special power.[15] Even persons who had not even been born at the time of the Holocaust accept guilt for it. When anyone proposes action to protect boys from non-therapeutic circumcision, the Jews cry antisemitism, even though the human rights and physical integrity of Jewish boys would be protected. The appellation is so offensive that people, institutions, and governments will go to exceptional lengths to avoid being so labeled.

The Catholic Church has been accused of practicing what many regard as anti-semitism for centuries. The Catholic Church is even charged for doing little to oppose the Holocaust,[16][17] although it is difficult to see how it could have overcome Adolf Hitler's Schutzstaffel.

Pope John Paul II instituted improvement of relations of the Catholic Church with Jews with a visit to the Great Synagogue of Rome in 1986, followed by many other actions, including:

  • a visit to Auschwitz.
  • a visit to Israel, including the Western Wall.
  • establishment of formal diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Israel.[18]

Although opposition to child circumcision is Scripture-based, protective of children, and not antisemitic in any way, the worldwide continued support for non-therapeutic child circumcision indicates a decision has been taken at a very high level that institution of the Catholic Church's moral law regarding amputations and mutilations[7] be suppressed in the interest of the Church of not being labeled antisemitic.


The Moral Question of Circumcision

Brother Andre Marie has an interview with Dr. David Lang, adjunct professor of logic at Boston College and of systematic Thomistic philosophy at Our Lady of Grace Seminary, also in Boston.


Although the Church hierarchy has failed in its duty to promote the moral law, Catholic parents are reminded that non-therapeutic circumcision of children is still against the moral law,[7] and harmful to the child in many ways.

See also


  1. REFweb (1611). Matthew 1:16, Authorized King James Version. Retrieved 18 August 2022.
  2. REFweb (1611). Luke 2-4-5, Authorized King James Version. Retrieved 15 August 2022.
  3. REFweb (1611). Luke 2:21, Authorized King James Version. Retrieved 15 August 2022.
  4. REFweb (1611). Luke 24:51, Authorized King James Version. Retrieved 15 August 2022.
  5. REFweb Acts of the Apostles 15:20-31. Retrieved 13 August 2022.
  6. REFweb Eugenius IV, Pope (4 February 1442). Bull of Union with the Copts. Retrieved 14 August 2022.
  7. a b c REFdocument Catechism of the Catholic Church, The Roman Catholic Church. (1994). Retrieved 14 August 2022.
  8. REFbook Healy E (1956): Medical Ethics. Retrieved 15 August 2022.
  9. REFweb Dietzen JJ (October 2004). The morality of circumcision. Retrieved 15 August 2022.
  10. REFjournal Clark PA. To Circumcise or Not to Circumcise?. Journal of the Catholic Health Care Association of the United States. September 3006; 87(5) Retrieved 15 August 2022.
  11. REFjournal Boyle GJ, Ramos S. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among Filipino boys subjected to non-therapeutic ritual or medical surgical procedures: A retrospective cohort study. Annals of Medicine and Surgery. 2019; 42: 19-22. PMID. PMC. DOI. Retrieved 16 August 2022.
  12. REFweb Logan TE (5 May 2920). Métis Experiences at Residential School, The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 16 August 2022.
  13. REFweb Dean, Dave (3 August 2013). Forcible Circumcision Turned This Man Into an Anti-Circumcision Activist, Vice. Retrieved 16 August 2022.
  14. REFweb (2012). Die Kirchen zur Beschneidung. Retrieved 16 August 2022.
  15. REFweb Romberg, Rosemary (April 2012). Anti-Semitism and Opposition. Retrieved 22 August 2022.
  16. REFweb Allen, Stephen A. (October 1998). The Catholic Church and the Holocaust, Current Events in Historical Perspective. Retrieved 17 August 2022.
  17. REFweb Johnson, Luke Timothy (16 June 2004). The church & anti-Semitism, Commonweal. Retrieved 18 August 2022.
  18. REFweb Wikipedia article: Pope John Paul II and Judaism. Retrieved 20 August 2022.