Website accessibility
Show or hide the menu bar

Saint Gianna, patron of motherhood-at-all-costs

"When the Vatican has a principle, no sacrifice is too great."

Forced reproduction must be sugar-coated. Women are the collateral damage of the Vatican's ban on effective contraception and they must be talked around. The Vatican is using both a new theology, the "culture of life", and the specially manufactured Saint Gianna to try to convince women that it's noble to die while producing children for the Church.

Already in 1993 John Paul II first referred to the “culture of life”. This is a concept used to justify Church involvement in “human life from the first moment of conception until its natural end”. [1]

Vatican gets control over marriage by making it a sacrament

The first move to control marriage was taken centuries ago when it was made a sacrament. Until then, during Christianity's first millennium, marriage was viewed by the Church as a civil matter. [2] However, in the 11th and 12th centuries moves were made to characterise marriage as indissoluble, ending the widespread practice of divorce, and during the13th century various Church authorties began to call it a sacrament. [3]

At a time when daughters were given in marriage to cement alliances between families or states, this was an important new power. If the Pope didn't want an alliance, treaty or larger territory that nobles or kings intended to form, he could annul the marriage, which would void the contract. Or the reverse could happen and the pope could refuse to grant an annulment. This was the fateful decision of Clement VII when Henry VIII of England wanted to end his marriage with the aunt of a far more powerful ruler, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. The Pope pleased the Emperor, but lost the religious allegiance of the King.

By making marriage a sacrament the Church inserted itself into marriage. It became a triangle between a man, a woman and the Vatican.

 The Vatican claim to jurisdiction over marriage can be enforced through concordats. Whenever possible concordats demanded jurisdiction over all marriages by banning divorce for everyone or, when that wouldn't work, by forbidding Catholics to exercise their rights under the civil code to get a divorce. [4]

The “culture of life”, first mentioned by Pope John Paul II in 1993, tightens this Church control over marriage by insisting that it be "fruitful". Pope Francis said that Jesus does not like marriages that are childless by choice. Fruitfulness, on the other hand, provides new children through baptism, and the Church grows. [5] This seems to be as close as the Vatican gets to admitting that it is trying to force Catholic women to outbreed the competition. The Church keeps close track of this. As of 2006, as a Vatican official put it, "For the first time in history, we are no longer at the top: Muslims have overtaken us." [6]

The “life-at-all-costs” campaign gets its saint

Religious demographics, however, are not going to convince a woman that it's a good idea to let herself be bred to death. What was needed was a model to convince her that this was the noble thing to do — in other words, a saint. There are many candidates, of course, but few have the right social status. For instance, "Mama Rosa", the farmer's wife with two years of schooling, was not going to become an international role model, despite her nine children and two adopted ones. [7] She only became "blessed" in 2004, despite dying thirty years earlier than a more prestigious candidate who that same year got canonised. This is Gianna Beretta Molla who was set on the fast track to sainthood the year after John Paul II first mentioned the "culture of life".

Since the idea was to make it glamorous to die in childbirth, the Vatican didn’t choose a poor woman in Africa, where most of these preventable deaths occur. Instead the Church selected an Italian paediatrician married to an engineer, who also happened to have three photogenic blonde toddlers.

  Shorn of the medico-religious hysteria [8], it seems that, following treatment for a common (and generally not very threatening) condition early in her pregnancy, and several days after giving birth, she died from an infection (septic peritonitis). Sad, but not, on the face of it, particularly saintly. However, the success of modern obstetrics has limited the pool of martyrs to motherhood available to the Vatican, and Gianna Beretta Molla would have to do. 

Once she was beatified in 1994 by John Paul II, the next step was sainthood, which required claiming that she had worked a miracle after her death. This is the Church account of the miraculous cure of a pregnant woman who appealed to the Blessed Giana. It was deemed sufficient to elevate her tos deemed sufficient to elevate her to sainthood.

Elizabeth Comparini, who was 16 weeks pregnant in 2003 […] sustained a tear in her placenta that drained her womb of all amniotic fluid. Because a normal term of pregnancy is 40 weeks, Comparini was told by her doctors the baby’s chance of survival was “nil.” Through praying to Gianna Molla and asking for her intercession, Comparini delivered by Caesarean a healthy baby despite the lack of amniotic fluid for the remainder of her pregnancy.” [9]

The problem with this story is that it's now known that a low volume of amniotic fluid, in itself, does not seem to cause problems for the baby. However, there are many real problems which can result in "amniotic fluid insufficiency", AFl, without being caused by it. [10] A study published the year after Gianna was canonised concluded that

There was no strong relationship between AFI and neonatal complications or length of stay in the neonatal intensive care unit. Logistic regression confirmed that AFI was not significantly correlated with perinatal outcome. [11]

In other words, unless there was some other problem that was causing the loss of amniotic fluid, it was not a worry. However, there was no move to acknowledge the new medical information — the job was done and the Church got the saint whom it has been touting ever since. [12]

Today you can buy St. Gianna Molla desktop wallpaper for your computer (price only on application) with the quote “We cannot love without suffering and we cannot suffer without love”. [13] And for only $24.99 (list price $29.99), you can even have your own Saint Gianna sweatshirt  with the motto: “No mother hath greater love than this: that she gave her life for her own child”. [14] All this, of course, is a way of promoting the Vatican's “theology of suffering”. [15]

The “life-at-all-costs” campaign gets its theology

The same year John Paul II set Gianna on the path to sainthood, he published the details of the theological part of the campaign. This was his 1994 “life-at-all-costs” encyclical, Evangelium vitae. [16] This document reveals a two-pronged strategy. Not only does it effectively exhort women to bear children until they drop, it also obliges Catholic voters, judges and legislators to obey Vatican teaching in their decisions and their votes (§ 73). In other words, not content with urging women to reproduce, it also tries to ensure that the laws of the state conform to those of the Church, so that women have no other choice. 

John Paul II's “culture of life” has the effect of concealing this aim. Its consistency lets it operate behind a smokescreen. Attention is drawn away from the bans on birth control and abortion by two further bans: one on ending your own life (voluntary euthanasia) and another on carrying out the death penalty (capital punishment). Of course, forbidding voluntary euthanasia also serves to give the Church more control over people’s end-of-life decisions, but its primary function seems to be to lend the campaign a consistency which masks its reproductive purpose. And the ban on capital punishment makes it philosophically complete. (And, incidentally, this also keeps anyone from even suspecting that the papacy itself stopped executing wayward subjects only in the late 19th century when it lost the power to continue, because it lost its kingdom.)

So strategically brilliant is this “culture of life”, and so blinding is its consistency, that it has been successfully urged on an increasing number of other conservative religious groups. (The only stumbling block for US Evangelicals seems to be a reluctance to renounce capital punishment.) This, in turn, has given the Catholic Church useful allies worldwide.

The next step has been to try to get Vatican teaching anchored in the constitutions of the world, where it will form the basis of national legislation. The first attempt to do this was made in Poland in 2006. A constitutional amendment was introduced to tighten the country’s abortion laws to eliminate rape or incest as grounds for terminating a pregnancy, but it failed to pass. [17]  However, three years later the next one, in the Dominican Republic, proved wildly successful. In fact, the Vatican managed to get three of its doctrines enshrined in the 2009 Dominican Constitution. One amendment says that “the right to life is inviolable from conception until death”. Known as "foetal personhood", this has the practical effect of outlawing abortion and many forms of birth control, such as the pill, IUDs and the morning-after pill, all of which the Vatican labels "abortificient". The other two Items of Church doctrine inserted in the Dominican constitution define the family (rather than the individual) as the fundamental unit of society, and marriage as the union of a man and a woman. [18] 

And this was only the start. By 2012 clauses defining foetal personhood had also been enshrined in  the national or state constitutions of a dozen other countries. [19]


The second-last picture is after a cartoon by Ann Telnaes.

1. John Paul II, Speech, Denver Colorado, 15 August 1993.

2. Garry Wills, "The Myth About Marriage", New York Review of Books Blog, 9 May 2012.

3. "Late Medieval Canon Law on Marriage",


4. Some concordats managed to outlaw divorce for the whole society:
     1862 concordat with Ecuador (which doesn't mention Church control over marriage, since no other religion was allowed), Article 1 
     1929 concordat with Italy, article 34 
     1953 concordat with Spain, article 24 
     1973 concordat with Colombia, article VIII 
     1993 concordat with Malta, article 4.1. etc.

Where divorce had already been introduced, other concordats served to deny Catholics their civil right to seek divorce in state courts: 
     1933 concordat with Austria, article 7 
     1940 concordat with Portugal, Article XXIV
     1954 concordat with the Dominican Republic, Articles XV and XVI

See more on this topic at

5. "Pope's Morning Homily: Marriage Should Reflect Christ's Fruitful Love for His Church", Zenit, 02 June 2014.

6. Richard Owen, "Islam overtakes Catholicism as world's largest religion", Times, 31 March 2008.

7. "Bl. Eurosia Fabris, Secular Franciscan", CNA.

8. Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D., “The Medical Circumstances and Generous Immolation of Saint Gianna Beretta Molla During Her Last Pregnancy”, [undated, but apparently in support of her canonisation which occurred in 2004].

9. St. Gianna Beretta Molla, Catholic Online.

10. "Oligohydramnios: Aetiology".

11. "Reevaluation of the relationship between amniotic fluid volume and perinatal outcome". Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2005 Jun;192(6):1803-9; discussion 1809.

12. "St. John Paul II, Gianna Molla to be World Meeting of Families patrons", CNA/EWTN News, 22 July 2014.

13. Cassie Pease, St. Gianna Molla Desktop Wallpaper.


15. "How the Vatican enforces its “theology of suffering” on patients", Concordat Watch.

16. Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, 25 March 1995. 

17. “Poland debates ban on abortion on grounds of rape or incest”, Associated Press, 26 October 2006.

18. "Political deal lets Vatican in on new Dominican Republic constitution (2009)", Concordat Watch.

19.  Margie Snider, "Coming soon to a state near you? The fetal personhood movement in the U.S. and beyond", Because, Spring 2012.


Go to Notanant menuWebsite accessibility

Access level: public

This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site you agree to our use of cookies: OK