Circumcision is one of the areas that often confuses many Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Many say that it’s against the teachings of the Church. However, there are still a lot that continue such practice. Does this mean they’re all committing a sin? Let me shed light on the matter with this article.
Catholics are free to choose whether or not to circumcise. The Catholic Church has never issued an official policy regarding non-religious and infant circumcision, and it has maintained neutrality in such matters. So as long as it is not performed for religious purposes, a Catholic can get circumcised.
Now, what is it about circumcision that many Catholics are against it and why shouldn’t it be done for religious purposes? Moreover, why do many people still practice it? Continue reading to know the answers to all these questions.
Does the Catholic Church Support Circumcision?
The Catholic Church does not support circumcision. But it’s not against the practice either. As mentioned above, the Church maintains a neutral position in such matters, providing that it is not performed for religious purposes. That said, if an individual was to be circumcised as a condition to join the church or to be saved, then it is not allowed.
See, there’s no official policy regarding circumcision in the Catholic Church. Why? Because Scripture says that it doesn’t matter. As mentioned in Galatians 5:6: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love.” So religiously speaking, getting circumcised or not doesn’t have any value in the eyes of Jesus.
It’s worth mentioning, however, that there was a time when the Catholic Church rejected circumcision. In the 14th century, Pope Eugene IV condemned the practice in the “Cantate Domino” where he says: “He therefore, commands, without exception all those who boast of the name of Christian not to practice circumcision either before or after baptism because, even if one places no hope in it, it cannot in any way be practiced without losing eternal salvation.” In 1952, this was affirmed by Pope Pius XII.
But again, parents today are free to choose whether or not to circumcise their sons. So if you refuse non-therapeutic circumcision out of conscience, then that’s great. This shouldn’t, however, be used to attack the legitimate choice of parents who do choose to circumcise.
Why are Some Catholics Against Circumcision?
Aside from the pain that will be inflicted on someone, some Catholics reject the practice of circumcision since they see it as both an amputation and mutilation of the body. For them, this goes against the Church’s statements on moral law, which can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2297):
“Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law.”
As Catholics, we are all required to respect our bodies’ integrity. So intentionally amputating, mutilating, and sterilizing our bodies is considered a lack of respect and is considered a violation of the Fifth Commandment: You shall not kill.
Keep in mind, however, that circumcision was established as a sign of one’s commitment and relationship with God. It is a part of the Old Covenant and explained in Genesis 17:10-11 as: “This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your descendants after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you…” Then in Genesis 17:14, it’s stated that “Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”
Additionally, such a practice was observed for thousands of years until baptism didn’t make it necessary (Colossians 2:12-14).
That being said, is circumcision really a mutilation of one’s body? Well, God wouldn’t establish a ritual that would deliberately harm and, thus, make us sin, right?
Why Do Some Catholics Practice Circumcision?
According to a 2016 study on male circumcision prevalence, it is estimated that there are 37 to 39% of circumcised men throughout the world. Most of these are Muslims and Jews, who practice circumcision as part of their religion. While there’s no concrete data on how many of these are Catholics, it’s safe to say that there are still Catholics who practice circumcision. How do I know? Because I came from a place where 78.8% of the population is Roman Catholic yet male circumcision is still highly practiced.
So why do Catholics and non-Catholics choose to circumcise? Here are the following reasons:
In many countries, circumcision is a part of their culture. Among these are sub-Saharan Africa and many ethnic groups worldwide, including the Aztecs and Mayans, aboriginal Australasians, Filipinos, inhabitants of eastern Indonesia, and various Pacific Islands. The majority of these cultures treat circumcision as a rite of passage to manhood. However, this isn’t universal since others, such as ethnic groups in Nigeria, are circumcised in infancy.
Social or Tradition
Some also do it out of tradition and society. For instance, in places where the majority of boys are circumcised, there’s a greater desire to conform. So the sons are circumcised just as their father, father’s father, uncles, cousins, and brothers are.
Health, Hygiene, and Sexual Benefits
The perceived health and hygienic benefits are among the main reasons why male circumcision is performed in many countries. According to the World Health Organization (WHO): “There is now conclusive evidence that male circumcision significantly reduces the risk of HIV infection in men.”
In the same study, it mentioned that mothers cite hygiene as “the most important determinant of choosing to circumcise their sons.” In particular, male circumcision is seen as cleansing a boy after birth in Ghana.
Additionally, circumcision was said to be a way to improve penile hygiene. For example, men in Botswana, Malawi, the United Republic of Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Kenya believe it is easier to keep a circumcised penis clean. Others also believe circumcision could improve sexual attraction. This is a strong reason why many men choose to get circumcised in the Philippines, Republic of Korea, and Kenya.
Furthermore, a 2010 study stated that male circumcision was promoted as a “preventative measure for an array of pathologies including reduced risks of penile cancer, urinary tract infections, sexually transmitted diseases, and even cervical cancer in sexual partners.” This led to other people advocating for routine neonatal circumcision.