The Church teaches that IVF is morally wrong. But as we all know well, even though the Church teaches something is wrong, some Catholics will go ahead and do it anyway. Some Catholics will be honestly ignorant of the Church’s views on an issue, due to poor catechesis or so on. Many other Catholics know very well what the Church teaches, but just decide that they know better. Others believe the Church’s teachings, yet succumb to pressure from their spouse or some other weakness in their will. So, my question then is, how at a practical, pastoral level, do priests deal with Catholics in this situation?
(Since I know this is a very complex issue with lots of variables, can I please ask that we restrict the discussion, at least initially, to couples validly married according to the Church’s teaching and doing IVF with their own sperm/eggs/womb. That way we can put aside some of the unique issues other IVF situations involve, such as sperm donation, egg donation, embryo donation, surrogacy, same-sex couples, unmarried heterosexual couples, single parents, etc. The married couple using their own sperm/eggs/womb is in many ways one of the simplest cases, so I think we should start by thinking about how to approach it, before moving on to consider those other cases that involve additional complexities.)
For example, how do priests handle access to sacraments for Catholics who have done IVF? If a Catholic admits to a priest that they have done IVF, or are doing IVF, or plan to do it – should the priest refuse communion, or absolution in confession? Or, what if they have done it, but it is in the past?
When is IVF actually in the past? Suppose a couple did IVF, they have one or more children from it, but they still have frozen embryos in storage? Is the sin of IVF in the past, or is it continuing as long as they have those stored embryos? What if they were to transfer them to the wife’s womb (whether or not they go on to become a successful pregnancy)? What if they are disposed of? What if they donate them to another couple? If the couple ask a priest what to do with those embryos, what should he say? If this is a continuing state of sin, how and when does it end?
Also, if a couple did IVF, and they have one or more children as a result – is genuine repentance actually possible for them? I mean, a priest can do all he can to try to convince them of the truth of the Church’s position – but is it psychologically possible for a parent to ever really repent of the conception of their own children? Even if they express contrition, can they ever really mean it deep down inside?