The Roman Catholic Church and Non-therapeutic Circumcision

The early teaching of the Roman Catholic Church regarding the practice of male circumcision was stated by Eugene IV in a Papal Bull, Bull of Union with the Copts, in 14421 Persons who practice circumcision risk loss of eternal salvation.1

The Roman Catholic Church has never issued an official policy specifically regarding non-therapeutic neonatal male circumcision as it has been practiced primarily in the English-speaking nations in the Twentieth Century and now the Twenty-first Century. The Church, however, has a strong moral statement on amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations.2 Circumcision falls under both amputation and mutilation, so it is clearly covered by this policy. Catholics generally are required to respect bodily integrity.2 Lack of respect for bodily integrity is viewed as a violation of the Fifth Commandment, Thou shalt not kill.3

The new (1994) Catechism of the Catholic Church at paragraph 2297 states in part:

"Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law."2

The Council on Scientific Affairs of the American Medical Association now defines neonatal circumcision as a "non-therapeutic" surgical procedure.4 Circumcisions (as commonly performed on newborn boys) are non-therapeutic, because no disease is present and no therapeutic treatment is required. Furthermore, circumcision removes healthy and functional tissue from the body and renders the part less functional.5 Thus, a circumcision is a non-therapeutic amputation and mutilation. Therefore, for Catholics, non-therapeutic circumcision at any age is immoral according to the teaching of the Church as expressed in the Catechism.

  1. Eugene IV. Bull of Union with the Copts. Council of Florence, Florence, 4 February 1442.
  2. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Liguori Publications, Liguori, MO 63057-9999, 1994 (ISBN 0-89243-566-6).
  3. Ex 20:13, Deut 5:17.
  4. Council on Scientific Affairs, American Medical Association. Report 10: Neonatal circumcision. Chicago: American Medical Association, 1999.
  5. Cold CJ, Taylor JR. The prepuce. BJU Int 1999;83 Suppl. 1:34-44.

(File revised 2 November 2006)

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