Human life cannot be experimented with, even in cases where the motive is a good one, such as to help childless parents, Gozo Bishop Mario Grech said.

"Life is sacred and whoever gives life on the one hand but discards numerous others in the process is making a grave mistake," he said, in relation to the recent debate on in vitro fertilisation.

During an evening pontifical Mass at the Xagħra Basilica to usher in the New Year, Mgr Grech referred to the Vatican's 32-page document Dignitatis Personae (Dignity of the Person), which delved into artificial fertilisation, designer babies and embryonic stem cell research among others.

He said that, since the Church's conclusions were built on natural law, those truly seeking the truth should at least weigh its position before commenting on the document and shooting from the hip. "Nobody can get along without ethical principals," he stressed.

Mgr Grech said that in the coming year there were three aspects that people should commit to: being in favour of human life from the moment of conception until a person died a natural death; marriage, the family and the Church in Malta and Gozo.

It was crucial to strengthen the stability of marriage and politicians had to ensure families were not weighed down unnecessarily. Families too had to safeguard themselves against any behaviour or lifestyles that contrasted with married life.

He felt there was the danger that the Church in Malta was choosing to be "lazy and passive", and as a result it did not have an effective presence in society. Everybody had to work to ensure that those seeking the truth got answers.

Meanwhile, in a separate Mass on New Year's Day, Mgr Grech chose to speak on poverty in all its guises.

He touched on the low birth rate and said one of the reasons couples were choosing to have one child was because they would go out of pocket if they had more.

"We are becoming misers with life. If the money spent on publicity campaigns on birth control was pumped into encouraging married couples to have children, society can invest in overcoming poverty," he said.

Mgr Grech also delved into the subject of sexually-transmitted diseases, which he felt were the result of promiscuity.

"Although there are those who try to prevent these diseases by facilitating access to illicit means, there is no guarantee that these remedies are absolutely safe. The remedy is a moral one: there is a need for sexual ethics that was in synch with a person's dignity," he said.

He added that prejudices against Catholic morals should not lead to renunciation of any ethical debate.

He reiterated the importance of strengthening the family and the government's role in providing the necessary supportive structures. "It is very worrying that in Gozo, if a minor is under a care order, he can find himself in a mental hospital because there are no adequate structures in place."

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