Simplifying Sex

What Some Priests Don’t Understand About Contraception

The current debate over health insurance and contraception has raised interesting questions for people of faith, particularly Catholics. I’m past menopause, and so contraception is not an issue for me. Yet I’m interested in it—in the same way I remain interested in pregnancy or childbirth. Avoiding or embracing pregnancy is the stuff of real life—the vivid centerpiece of youth and middle age. As a woman, a mother, and a Catholic, I’m part of it. I remember the drama, the excitement, the fear. Pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding are intense experiences. For the sustained nature of the physical bond, nothing compares. But it begins with sex, and sex is never simple.

And so it is unsettling when men who may never have experienced sex feel qualified not just to speak about it but to pronounce on it with certainty. In an article in the New York Times (February 18), Fr. Roger Landry, a priest in my old diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, is quoted as saying, “What happens in the use of contraception, rather than embracing us totally as God made the other, with the masculine capacity to become a dad, or the feminine capacity to become a mom, we reject that paternal and maternal leaning.”

Well, no, Fr. Landry, we don’t. We don’t reject it. We make a decision about it. We recognize that pregnancy is a possibility, and we decide whether this is the right time for us to have a baby. We acknowledge that we are more than just potential (or actual) parents. One of the surest signs of youth—in any profession—is an unswerving adherence to literal interpretations. New teachers cling to the curriculum, whether or not the class is getting it. Young doctors focus on the clear x-ray, unable to see the patient in front of them writhing in pain. Parish priests preach the letter of the law, while their parishioners refuse to follow rules created without reference to the reality they know. But the rules aren’t just unrealistic. They are often irrelevant, based on incorrect or incomplete information.

Fr. Landry goes on to say, “Contraception…make[s] pleasure the point of the act, and any time pleasure becomes the point rather than the fruit of the act, the other person becomes the means to that end. And we’re actually going to hurt the people we love.” At one level, this is insightful and nuanced. When he laments how frequently such objectification happens to women in sexual relationships, Fr. Landry sounds almost feminist. And he is right that a relationship that’s only about the pursuit of pleasure is demeaning and ultimately hurtful.

He is wrong, though, to assume that using contraception automatically makes “pleasure the point of the act.” This is how adolescents think. Teenagers dream of constantly available sex, uninhibited by any possibility of pregnancy. That priests would talk the same way about sex between a husband and wife who have chosen to use contraception reflects inexperience and adolescent projection.

Adults understand that good sex, with or without contraception, goes deeper than pleasure. It is complex and demanding. And pleasure isn’t necessarily a part of it. Any human encounter requiring honesty and surrender has the potential for both revelation and pain. The communication, healing, and strengthening that good sex ensures is foundational to a marriage. Pure pleasure the point of the act? What is Fr. Landry talking about?

Distrust of pleasure is one hallmark of the church’s teaching about sex. This is odd because, as Catholics, we also believe that “eye has not seen nor ear heard the wonders God has prepared for those who love Him.” But that aside, what is the church’s antidote to the dread prospect of people having too much fun in bed? Children.

The thing is, children are also a deep source of pleasure, joy, and fun. The bishops, while recognizing this truth, nonetheless focus on babies as natural results of the biological act, as consequences and responsibilities—not as persons who are sought after and gladly welcomed. (Indeed, people who seek too vigorously to have children are also criticized as trying to play God, to control what should be divinely ordained.)

I understand what is behind the bishops’ anxiety over designer parenthood—the demand for too much control over what kind of children we have. And I agree that sexual license is a serious threat to happiness, order, and the good of the human community.

But every human activity has the potential to become unbalanced. Having children mindlessly, year after year, as former generations of Catholics did, is just as harmful to the social good as the refusal to connect sex with pregnancy. Visit India, Fr. Landry. Talk with the women here who are treated purely as producers of sons.

To defend contraception within marriage is not to defend sexual license. Married couples who have pledged a lifetime of commitment to each other and their families have the right and the duty to make their own decisions about contraception. The church’s role is to help them arrive at the decision that is right for their lives. It is not to dictate one-size-fits-all rules that have no foundation in practical experience.

The church has made a spectacle of itself by promoting an immature version of sexuality that is missing the sinew of lived experience. It used to frighten people into submission. Now it simply makes them smile a little sadly. I’m a prolife Catholic who practiced only Natural Family Planning. But I’m smiling, too. Because I’m sad for my church.



Commenting Guidelines

Jo McGowan's observations are powerful arguments in favor of a married priesthood.

My post never made it, never registered.  Edited by the Holy Spirit?  Or by a computer glitch?  Or by an actual editor?  I WAS unsure of it.  It was perhaps too personal.  So be it. 

Sure. Now this last one did make it.

Jim Lein,

Believe this is your prior post:

Jim Lein SUBSCRIBER04/12/2012 - 6:02pm

Adolescent thinking -- something I still have vestiges of after almost 60 years.  When I became a teenager in 1953, there were two main viewpoints on girls available to me, neither one stressing the importance of regarding them as persons, of not objectifying them.  The messages of my peer group and of my church both objectified them, although in different ways: They were sexual objects or they were occasions of sin.  Some choices.  Some ways to regard females. .....


I don't know why Ed has not responded to your question about Paul VI's Pontiifcal Birth Control Commission (PBCC). The fact is that this commission was not started by Paul VI, but by John XXIII. After he died, Paul VI expanded the PBCC to 72 members, including 16 bishops including 2 cardinals from 5 continents and 11 countries.

When the pill was invented in the 1950s and a better version became available in 1960, the issue about its morality and contraception was hotly debated. There was much disagreement among the many bishops of the world. It was descided that this issue would not be addressed by the Council, but by the pope himself (John XXIII). So, he formed a Pontifical Birth Control Commission. He died in June, 1963 and the first meeting of this commission was held four months later. At that time there were only 6 members, but as mentioned Paul VI expanded it to 72 members.

For an excellent and thorough account of the PBCC, read "Turning Point: The Inside Story of the PBCC, and How Humanae Vitae Changed the Life of Patty Crowley and the Future of the Church".



Plain and simple - actions have consequences. You knowingly and willfully eat meat knowing the Church has declared it a mortal sin, you deal with the consequences. The Church didn't pull that rule out of thin air. There's a REASON why the Church mandates Sunday mass attendance and prohibitions against meat on Friday. As for when am I going to back up what I said re/ Paul VI and Humanae Vitae, I already did.


Michael Barberi

The Church has spoken re/contraception in HV and in 2,000 years of Church teaching. It makes not a whit of difference how many moral theologians or priests accept or reject the teaching. A pope's personal saintliness, or lack thereof, has zero effect on his authority to pronounce infallibly (which is rarely done, by the way). Papal infallibility has been accepted since the beginning of the Church, even if its understanding wasn't as fleshed out as it is today. Infallibility isn't some concept that popped into existence in the 1800's. Vatican I merely expressed in writing what had always been accepted. I never said I believe in the moral certitude of encyclicals; I believe in the moral certitude of doctrine which some encyclicals state. The case you present of the woman on the verge of certain death sounds suspiciously like one of those situations a sophomore theology class concocts. It sounds too made up. You appeal to sensitivity, as if sensitivity is a determining factor whether an act is moral or not. I strongly urge you and Janet to study moral theology, the scriptures, the Fathers, the encyclicals, etc. I've said all I'm going to on these issues. 

The gravamen of the Magisterium’s argument against so-called “artificial” contraception – I specifically leave out of consideration here abortifacient drugs or similar instrumentalities, which require separate reflection – is found in Humanae Vitae: Section 12.  It is the natural law argument of the form:“This particular doctrine, often expounded by the magisterium of the Church, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.”In case you’re wondering, yes, “unitive” is a bit of a euphemism for vaginal sexual intercourse.A bit later, in Section 14, Paul VI draws out the implications of this in terms of morality by saying:“Consequently, it is a serious error to think that a whole married life of otherwise normal relations can justify sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive and so intrinsically wrong.”Paul VI is here explicitly contradicting those – the majority of the experts he asked to report to him on the issue back in the 1960s in the course and the wake of Vatican II, by the way -- who argued: “OK, we agree, marriage is globally for the purpose of procreation.  But as long as there is reasonable intent to procreate in a marriage, i.e., procreation is not ‘artificially’ inhibited all the time, surely it’s OK to artificially inhibit it from time to time?”“No,” says Paul VI.  According to natural law, i.e., the order and plan for these matters set up by God, even a single act of artificially impeding procreation in the unitive-procreative context is “intrinsically,” not accidentally or consequentially wrong.It is interesting to reflect on the fact that intentional homicide, for example in war or capital punishment, doesn’t even rise to the level of being “intrinsically wrong” in the Church’s moral teaching.  It’s the circumstances which make such an act morally wrong, i.e., make it murder, not something intrinsic to the act.  Not so with artificial contraception, though.This is equivalent to saying that taking The Pill or using Trojans are intrinsically more evil acts than using the atomic bomb – if you believe that this act met the criteria for just war use.  But if you have a problem with nuclear weapons, how about bombs dropped on Hitler’s bunker?As the under 20 crowd might say: “He-e-a-a-vy!”But moving on.The most important thing to realize about the gnoseological status of this natural law claim is that it is not, in the context of Humanae Vitae, an argument based on the Church’s authority as the guardian of faith.  Rather, the Magisterium own authority in making this claim is warranted by human reason, not vive versa.  Or as Section 12 puts it:“We believe that our contemporaries are particularly capable of seeing that this teaching is in harmony with human reason.”This is key.  To say that it is a truth “in harmony with human reason” is to say that, at least for those who are smart enough and have enough time on their hands to think through the issue, this is essentially a truth of reason and only accidentally a truth of faith, i.e., needing to be taken on faith as a function of the teaching authority of the Magisterium only by those who, again, are too dull or too busy.Thomas Aquinas, by the way, consistently argued on philosophical grounds that something cannot simultaneously be a truth of faith and a truth of reason for the same knower.  A particularly lapidary statement of the point can be found at ST, II-II, q. 1 a 5, otc:’ll return to this point in a moment.There are, of course, other arguments against artificial birth control in Humanae Vitae.Most of them take the form of slippery slope consequentialist arguments and are presented in summary form in Section 17, where they are presented in a manner in which Paul VI obviously thinks it’s a slam dunk from the standpoint of reason that these consequences would all be considered social pathologies.  Who, after all, would want to defend on rational policy grounds such things as: marital infidelity, general lowering of moral standards, especially among the young, the threat of state mandated abortions, and other such depredations?Needless to say Paul VI takes it more or less for granted that there is something approaching an intrinsic causal connection between artificial birth control and these pathologies.  But I don’t want to get into a discussion here of whether, and to what extent, we might be dealing with post hoc propter hoc fallacies here.Instead, let’s revert to the fact that Humanae Vitae unambiguously presents the main natural law argument for the intrinsic immorality of artificial contraception as an argument whose truth is discoverable by human reason.  And taking this claim together with the Thomistic doctrine that something cannot essentially be both a truth of reason and a truth of faith – a doctrine which, though not explicitly discussed in Humanae Vitae, is clearly presupposed by a very non-Bernardian Paul VI – one is faced with the following rigorous truth:If the natural law argument in Humanae Vitae cannot be sustained on rational grounds, then the argument against the intrinsic immorality of even one act of artificial contraception collapses.And without going into the details here, I submit that if and when this particular conceptual dike is breached, the basic argument of Humanae Vitae is, at best, on brain dead life support.  And whether you continue to grant it any respect depends, I suppose, on how you feel about logical euthanasia.So the question is: is there a principled argument for why the natural law view ingredient in Humanae Vitae on this issue is inherently, or as we might say adopting Paul VI own language, “intrinsically” flawed?I suggest that there is.And I suggest that the basic ingredients for such an argument can be found in what some would consider the most unlikely of places, namely, in Thomas Aquinas.  And what’s even more surprising, in the very text where he arguably addressed the issue of artificial contraception, and its moral permissibility or impermissibility, in the most complete form in his entire corpus.So ….Go read Summa Contra Gentiles 3:122: if you come away from this text thinking that, were he alive today and in possession of the generally accepted knowledge that we now have about human anthropology, sociology, biology, and psychology, Aquinas would, using the principles he himself invokes in SCG 3:122, come away agreeing that acts of artificial contraception, as argued against in Humanae Vitae, are intrinsically immoral, you haven’t read him closely enough.Before signing off, let me note there is another attempt at a novel version of a natural law argument in Humanae Vitae, one which tries to argue from what can best be called a view of love in its “highest” form as being kenotic, or agapaic.  This is the “giving of oneself unreservedly because this is the true nature of love and hence the true nature of sexual love as well” argument.  It is adumbrated -- though in a somewhat confused and incomplete fashion -- in Section 13 of Humanae Vitae.There is no space here to address this argument in detail.Suffice it to say that, even though I think there is arguably a lot of truth in this argument, in no way does the argument materially bear on the issue of whether or not individual acts of artificial contraception are intrinsically immoral – except, perhaps, in the very muddleheaded thinking about the nature of human sexuality that has, unfortunately, been the hallmark of a group of formally celibate clerics who arrogated to themselves some time ago the right to be the authoritative arbiters of the nature of sexuality, even Christian sexuality if you will.

My "prior post" was hardly worth dredging up from electronic limbo or wherever it was it was.  But since it was retrieved, let me say that only part of it was posted. Perhaps the second half can also be found.  I promise this is the last I will mention this.   

Thanks Ed for taking the time to post your thoughts.  Most comments shed a lot more heat than light, and very few ever advance the discussion in the substantive way that yours do.

Ed Micca:

You obviously are pinning your entire argument on the papal magisterium without remainder. You don't know history sufficiently enough to argue this point. If you recall the first major issue the apostles dealt with after Jesus's death, was whether Jews who wanted to join the new Christian movement should be circumcized or not. The apostles were not in agreement. The judgment and conclusion that carried the day was not a decision that Peter made; it was James's judgment. It is clear that while Peter was the head of the apostes, he reached out to everyone for advice; he did not make a unilateral decision. It was only after many centuries that popes started to rule with the power and absolute authority as we see today.

The magisterium has become the papal magisiterium without remainder starting in the late 19th century, and was the absolute rule of law in he late 20th century. JP II never looked to ecumenical councils or synods of bishops of the world for advice as many popes in centuries past did. The synod of bishops on the family, held in 1980 was a farse. At the conclusions of this synod, JP II declared that all the bishops of the world were in agreement with HV. Nothing could be further from the truth.There is much written on this subject and one thing is clear. Many bishops argued courageously about reforming HV during this synod. JP II simply ignored the arguments. This is the problem we have today. We have a Church with a head but no body. We have a church divided and a crisis in truth.

The example of the young married woman whose life is threatened by another pregnancy is anything but a sophmoric make-up. There are millions of women who have difficult birth deliveries that have caused serious and dangerous medical conditions. Many women are told by their physicians that another pregnancy will be life threatening. This is a concrete case of human experience where the application of HV demonstrates stoic insensibilty because these women cannot take the pill or be sterilized to safe-guard their lives; they must practice risky NFP-PC or celibacy. So much for the "moral absolute" of contraception.

Any argument that you have no answers for and that threatens the "divine law" you proclaim, such as HV, is dismissed as adolescence nonsense.  




Ed Renno:

Thank you for excellent argument. If you permit me some liciense, the more contemporary arguments the Church is using in suport of Humanae Vita (VS) is grounded in the post-Vertitatis Spendor debate.

As you know in 1993, John Paul II wrote Veritatis Spendor (VS) and moved beyond the traditionalist view of natural law as the non-violation of natural ends, and beyond the question of a certain technique of birth regulation. He used a different approach to the important areas of natural law, moral action and intrinsically evil acts which differ significantly from appeals to nature in much of tradition. With respect to the philosophy of the moral act, VS appealed to the moral analysis according to Aquinas. 

In 1993, it was clear to JP II that the heated debate since 1968 was going nowhere. The arguments and counter-arguments such as the claims that HV was based on physicalism, biologicalism and legalism, while obvious from a factual reading of HV, was over-powering the discussion. Germain Grisez and company, then formulated the New Natural Law Theory (NNLT) in an attempt to move the conversation to a discussion about fundamental human goods. This went nowhere as well.

The debate finally turned to Richard McCormick's Proportionalism as a new moral theory, arguing that a pre-moral evil can be tolerated as a means to good intentions and ends. The pre-moral evil in this case was contraception. McCormick argued that a pre-moral evil such as "killing another human being" can be morally permissible, if it is used to safe-guard one's life, as in self-defense. The Church argued that there are no criteria to evaluate all pre-moral goods and evils, and in proportionalism there could be no moral absolutes. Any voluntary human actions could, theoretically, be justified as moral. The arguments and counter-arguments went nowhere as well. Nevertheless, it was clear to JP II that proportionaism and its nuanced versions made more practical sense than the Church's argument in support of HV.

So, in 1993, JP II condemned proportionalism in VS as a erroneous and exaggerated moral theory. He then made a bold move. In an effort to demonstrate the moral specification of an act of contraception, as immoral and intrinsically evil, he asserted "his interpretation" of Aquinas by proclaiming:

“the morality of the human act depends primarily and fundamentally on the object rationally chosen by the deliberate will, and that object is the proximate end of a deliberate decision which determines the act of willing on the part of the acting person." (VS 78). 

 Unfortunately, there is a specific problem with the definition of terms such as object and what morally specifies a human, voluntary action. The claim about the object as the proximate end of a deliberate decision is unsubstantiated because VS 78 is primarily based S.T. I-II, q. 18, a. 6 which never mentions the concept of a “proximate end”. The less-tradition-minded say the answer is found in S.T. I-II, qq. 8-17 and the two movements of the will: namely, formulate where you want to go (i.e.., S.T. I-II, qq. 8-12) and then figure out how you are going to get there (S.T. I-II, qq. 13-17). The church's position also discounts the role of reason and deliberation in choosing an appropriately right means-to-end, asserting that it is distorted reason if one rejects PC for good reasons (i.e., the ‘good reasons’ for avoiding fecundity promulgated by Pius XII in his Address to the Midwives).


I refer readers to Joseph Selling's contraception article in Theological Studies, March, 2012 that was a response to the error made by JP II and many other theologians about "the proximate end" controversy; and to William Murphy's contraception article in Theological Studies, December, 2011 that is an excellent example of the traditional-minded (and Church's) argument.

While the foregoing is a theological and philosophical argument, it does not make irrelevant the many practical arguments put forth by the many people in this thread...and most importantly, by the outstanding contribution of Jo McGowen in writing this article for Commonweal. 

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I could not make heads or tails of your latest response. You mixed up several issues. The point was Carolyn claimed Catholic tradition is sexuophobic. I denied that to be true. You then basically claimed that the Church has alwasy been worried about sexual sin, as if that refuted my statement. But why?

One can very well respect the great value and significance of sexuality and recognize that precisely because of its value it is also greatly exposed to the possibility of sin. In fact, one should expect the two things to go together. As Aquinas says, sin is worshipping a creature instead of the creator. That kind of confusion can only happen for very attractive things, like sexual love. So, I really think your reply did not make any sense.

Michael Barberi:  belated thanks for your post and for the reference for more info on the PBCC.  I will definitely try to find and read it.  There seem to be two layers to the debate as framed here:  whether or not the teaching can be claimed to be (and must be received as) authoritative; and how church authority is excersised and hence rendered effective or ineffective.  The fact that this teaching is widely non-received SHOULD, ideally, make the authorities take a second look and continue to work at reasoned debate and dialogue; the fact that this does not appear to be happening is, to me, the reason that the authority itself is ineffective.  If the church is convinced that this teaching is true, and indicative of God's will for the married, then discussion should not be squelched and the married above all should be invited to participate in looking at the teaching, refining it and helping the church to make it vital and relevant and life-giving.  But if all we get is the "because we said so" attitude so beloved of Ed Micca and others, then I suspect that fear, and not true authority, is at work.  Same thing with the idea that all discussion of the ordination of women should be silenced:  this is a dictate of despotism, not the free and confident stance of one who is convicted that the teaching is true and that discussion will only serve to deepend and vitalize that truth.  If we are convinced of the truth of something, then all comers should be welcome and all discussion should be embraced.  So there is the "stuff" of the teaching itself, and the way that teaching is promlgated.  In this latter layer, the church's increasingly centralized and somewhat paranoid exercise of authority lays bare a sadly dysfunctional and dangerous flaw----more the stuff of a worldly tyranny than of "the servant of the servants of God."



God didn't give any reason to Adam and Eve not to eat the apple (allegorically) other than "I say so". They blew it. They bought into the lie that they could be as gods. In a nutshell, Genesis states the most fundmental choice each of us makes - are we God or is God God? When Catholics become their own mini-Magisteriums who trash and unendlingly question unchangeable doctrine as taught by God's presence on earth, the Church, and decide for themselves what's what, they set themselves up as God. The point of inconvenience mentioned earlier is the point at which the Church gets in the way of what WE want to do. This is the point at which we decide we know better than what God wants us for us. It's a false divide to see Catholics as conservative or progressive, as if political lingo applies. The reality is you're either Catholic or you're not.

So you make NO distinction betwen the living God and the magisterium of the church?  If this is what you are saying, then you are an idolater.  This is VERY serious sin, Ed.  

And does "God's presence on earth, the Church" include the people who make up the actual church, or is "the Church" only the magisterium?  

PS to Mike Barberi:  just ordered the Crowley book from my library.  Thanks again for that reference!



The Church is the society of believers in Jesus and includes, but is not limited to, Catholics, even though only Catholicism contains the fulness of God's revelation. Other Christian denominations along with other religious persuasions may contain elements of the depoeit of faith. The Church is multifaceted - it's the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, etc. It's also a hierarchical institution; as Vatican II's Lumen Gentium points out, without a hierarchy there is no Church. Magisterium is just another word for teaching authority - the Church, under the Pope, the Vicar of Christ, in communion with the bishops, has the right, duty, and authority to interpret and preach God's revelation. When Christ ascended into heaven he didn't leave us bereft of guidance. He insituted a Church to be his presence on earth (no, the Church isn't God), guaranteeing it would be free of error for all time on matters of faith and morals regardless of the personal holiness of those in authority. God speaks through his Church. All we need is the Church's word on God's revealed truth to believe it. Those who say "prove to me that thus and such is a doctrine of the Faith" are often operating in bad faith and a misguided notion of what's necessary to accept the Church's teachings. Often they cop out of accepting what they don't like by saying "well, my conscience tells me otherwise." You cannot speak out of both corners of your mouth. If you accept the basic premise the doctrine MUST be accepted for the simple fact that it comes from God and therefore must be true, you cannot in the same breath withhold assent because you don't understand the doctrine or you find it inconvenient. God doesn't say to us "first see and understand it, then you can believe it"; rather he says, "first accept on faith, not on suredness, what I'm telling you through my Church - then your eyes will be opened and you'll see the truth."

I havent't seen that statement of God's so I guess I am at a loss :)

You are a fundamentalist.  I am not.  We are speaking from two entirely different worlds.  That's fine with me.  You may not think there is room in RC for both of us, but there sure is. 

Ed, just curious:  are you a married man with children?


Ed Micca is truy an extreme fundamentalist. He only sees the authority of the Church in the magisterium, most importantly, the papal magisterium. Ed does admits that the magisterium is only one part of the Church, the body of Christ. Unfortunately, the magisterium cannot claim more certain or direct guidance from the Holy Spirit than the church community taken as a whole. Jesus promised the guidance of the Holy Spirit to his church in totality. Vatican II made clear the definition of 'church' as the 'people of God'. This means the ecumenical communion of communion, and not the Roman Catholic communion alone.

As Jean Porter said "the authority of the magisterium can only be operative insofar as it is grounded in and excercised in the service of the authority of the chuch taken as a whole. This has not always been the case....the natural law tradition has been truncated or reformulated out of all recognition in order to maintain very specific teachings at the level of sexual morality."

Ed does not see the suffering, moral dilemma and conflict that some of these sexual teachings are causing millions of Catholics. He only repeats the narrative that God entrusted Peter and his successors with the power of divine revelation, interpretation and juritical rule. What the pope says is doctrine is doctrine, and doctrine is the absolute moral truth. Unfortunately, no one will convince Ed that his idealogy and belief system may be not completely true.

The pope does want he wants. This was obvious when Paul VI rejected the conclusions of his 72 member PBCC....because "that there was no complete agreement among the members." In contradiction, Paul VI accepted the philosophy and theology on marriage and procreation of one-man, Karol Wojtyla, and a one-counry commission in Krahow limited to Polish clergy and theologians! Paul VI hand-selected 16 bishops including 2 cardinals to make the final decision about the PBCC, but a 75% majority was not enough. The limited, restricted opinion of the few was sufficient.

We can only conclude that the Holy Spirit was not working in the 72 member PBCC for 3 years. Somehow, Satan distorted their reason. Fortunately, the pope had a direct pipeline to God and that was enough for him.

JP II closed the book on contraception and Benedict XVI will never listen to his world-wide bishops, theologians or the laity for fear that they may persude him to unravel the Gordian knot to the truth about marriage and procreation...called repsonsible parenthood.




Ed, I didn't think any modern Catholic believed in the inerrancy of the Bible, Old Testament or New.  I haven't since I noticed that the Gospel of Matthew says Jesus was born in Bethlehem, then went with Mary and Joseph to Egypt and later to Nazareth, while the Gospel of Luke says Jesus, Mary and Joseph went from Bethlehem to Jerusalem to Nazareth without mentioning Egypt at all.  The most ardent defender of inerrancy ought to have trouble reconciling these two accounts.

Where you and I and a lot of other posters part ways is that you apparently trust that the everything popes and bishops say and write must be infallible because they're guided by the Holy Spirit.  Really?  Was the Holy Spirit telling popes and bishops to hide pedophile priests and lie about their undergoing "treatment," and to ignore the victims?

History records atrocities committed by people of all religious faiths in accordance with what they were sure was God's will.  Since popes and bishops have normal human frailties, surely some have "heard" a voice of the Holy Spirit that wasn't actually there. 

Michael and Janet,

First, learn the meaning of fundamentalist before tossing the word about incorrectly and making fools of yourselves. I'm orthodox. I understand what the development of doctrine is and i know the difference between doctrine, discipline, and papal opinion. I know when it's fair game to question a pope and when what he says reflects an unalterable divine truth no longer in doubt, when the question has been decided. None of your posts indicate either of you do. You think conscience trumps doctrine. How convenient. You remind me of James Randi (The Amazing Randi - google him) who told me the reason he doesn't believe in God is because he doesn't want there to be a God. An honest atheist. You offer no better reasons for eshewing the Church's teachings on mearless Fridays or no artificial contraception. Your main debating tools are mockery and the sophomoric ad hominem attack. Lay out the defenses of your positions. Then we can talk.

The fact that you would give the meatless Fridays rule and the ban on contraception  the same weight shows that you might be the one having problems makng the proper distinctions.  Doesn't matter; I have a feeling even the pope might find your ecclesiolatry troubling.  Or maybe it's "magisteriolatry.". Makes no difference; both are rooted in fear and in an insatiable craving for security in the wrong things.  


I try to be respectful of your orthodox views despite my disagreement with them. I don't believe Janet or myself have written anything foolish as you claim. I have been studying moral theolgy for more than 4 years, full time, and have two prominent moral theologians as mentors. I may not be an expert, but I do know what I am talking about and can substantiate my argumentation. Most importantly, I study the moral theories and argumentation put forth by both sides of the theological debate.  

It is not I alone who believes that conscience trumps doctrine, it was Vatican II that reminded us that an informed conscience, giving respect and adequate reflection to Church teachings, constant prayer, frequent receipt of the sacraments and an opennes to further education and the guidance of one's spiritual the ultimate moral authority. There is legitimate philosophical and theological arguments that are a sound basis for a disagreement on certain Church doctrines, such as contraception. According to you, there are none and you believe it is not fair game to question the doctrine of contraception. 

It is obvious to me that you don't know what you are talking about when it comes to the underlying principles and history of contraception, or the theological debate that has been going on for 44 years.

You have a right to your opinion, but don't disparage those that disagree with the Chruch over the teachings about contraception. Despite what your think, those that disagree can love God and be faithful Catholics. I have laid out my arguments against contraception. You have looked but have not seen, you have read but have not understood. You have ignored all examples I have laid out to demonstated how the moral absolute of contraception, inclusive of its pastoral practices, is a doctrine of inconsistency and insensibility. 

I even laid out some of the issues in the post-Vertitatis Spendor debate regarding contraception in one of by blogs, and referenced for further study and detail two most recent outstanding essays, by William Murphy and Joseph Selling published in Theological Studies, the most prestigious Catholic Theological Journal in the U.S. Both essays represent the best of scholarship from both sides.

As for your references to meatless Fridays, and some of your other assetions of certitude, I will let those that have read your comments to be the judge about who has made foolish arguments.

If you want to have a discussion, go back and reread the many comments I have made that directly addressed your remarks. Then, we can proceed to have an intelligent conversation.


The book I referenced was not written by Patty Crowley. The author is Robert McClory...his book is "Turning Point: the inside story of the PBCC and how HV changed the life of Patty Crowley and the future of the church."  It is a great read.

Michael J. Barberi,

"Ed does not see the suffering, moral dilemma and conflict that some of these sexual teachings are causing millions of Catholics."   How do you know what I see and don't see? You don't. So I'll tell you. The morality of an act is intrinsic to the act, independent of whether someone who commits the act is aware of it or has a tough time living the Faith. I never judge the person, just the act in light of the Church's teachings. Christ never promised an easy life, just a marvelous afterlife for those who listen. You misrepresnt what I do say and infer what I don't say. Not everything the pope says is doctrine. Paul VI rejected what the majority said because they were wrong. Doctrine isn't decided by a show of hands but by its internal truth. What you have going for yourself in these discussions is an ignorance of the nature of the Church, the papacy, doctrine, infallibility - these for starters. I give you the benefit of the doubt that your defense of your claims doesn't arise from a hardened heart, the sin aganst the Holy Spirit. There's a lot more hope that those who don't know what they're talking about will see the light than there is for those who refuse to see the light.

Angela Stockton - inerrancy of the bible; infallibility, etc.

The bible as the inspired word of God is inerrant by its very nature, but this inerrancy has nothing to do with how the underlying truths of scripture are expressed. The bible is a library of books written over the course of 1,000 years by many authors, inspired by the Holy Spirit, using a variety of literary styles - allegory, history, poetry, song, parable, apocalyptic writing, etc. The literal truths of the bible lie behind the printed word. Genesis has two different creation accounts that talk about the cosmos being created in 6 days. How to explain the seeming discrepancies? Simple - the writer (or writers) used allegorical language that people of the time would've understood in order to state a deeper truth, that God created everything from nothing. including a first set of parents who somehow disobeyed God bringing death and suffering into the world. Whether or not they lived in a garden with a serpent and an apple tree nearby isn't the point or literal truth of the story. If you and I witness the same sporting event and you say there were 40,000 people in the stands and I say there were 50,000, does that have any bearing on the fact that the event took place? When Christ says faith is like a mustard seed, does he mean it literally looks like a mustard seed or is he using a metaphor to teach the lesson that even a small amount of true faith can do great things?

As for infallibility, I'll say it again - I never said that everything a pope or bishop says is infallible. Far from it. Technically it's the Church as a divine institution that's infallible when it comes to matters of faith and morals. But when the Church says something is a doctrine, it is saying that this something is part of God's eternal truth necessary for our salvation and not something made up by the Church.


Yes or no - does the Church have the right to make binding laws under its Christ-given power to bind and loose? If you guess the right answer, then you'll know where meatless Fridays, no artificial contraception, no abortion, women priests, etc, stand in the grand moral scheme of things.


I wouldn't place too much faith in the vast majority of American moral theologians. Many of them think they're a co-existing magisterium. I've been studying theology since before HV hit the headlines. But time spent with one's nose in books doesn't mean beans if one's guide isn't Christ's gospel as understood through the teaching authority of the Church. Look at sad Hans Kung. You uttered three very important words - an informed concience. We must always strive to conform our consciences to the mind and heart of the Church. You keep bringing up the debates on settled issues. Once a moral question has been decided, what is there to debate? Doctrine isn't about to be undone. I'll ask you one question - what's it like to take a doctrine for the purpose of finding a loophole that convinces you that you're exempted from heeding it? 

Michael B:

Your patience is Job-like.

I suspect even quoting Ratzinger about the primacy of conscience cannot persuade, but no matter, really.

“Over the pope as the expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority there still stands one’s own conscience, <b>which must be obeyed before all else, if necessary even against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority.</b>

This emphasis on the individual, whose conscience confronts him with a supreme and ultimate tribunal [God], and one which in the last resort is beyond the claim of external social groups, even of the official Church, also establishes a principle in opposition to increasing totalitarianism. Genuine ecclesiastical obedience is distinguished from any totalitarian claim which cannot accept any ultimate obligation of this kind beyond the reach of its dominating will.”

Joseph Ratzinger, Part I, Chapter 1, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Vol. V of COMMENTARY ON THE DOCUMENTS OF VATICAN II, ed. Herbert Vorgrimler (New York: Herder and Herder, 1969, p. 134)

Thank you for your education on so much in these posts. I profit immeasurably.


Michael B:  I have the right book...just referred to it as the "Crowley" book because it is centrally about their experiences on the PBCC.  Thanks again.

Excellent quote, Carolyn.  

Final answer to Ed Micca, since we are speaking from  two very different orientations within the church and have opposing views on everything discussed here:  based on what the church has also said about the dignity of the baptized, the place of reason withn Catholic discourse and the primacy of conscience, NO, I do not think the church has the right to impose teachngs that cannot be questioned, that are not open to further discussion with those who are most affected by them, and that appear to be entirely arbitrary and that do not reflect, or enable people to live according to, the Gospel.  These sinful men are supposed to be servants, not tyrants, and if they really were convinced that all of their positions are unimpeachable and true, there should be no fear of questions, discussions, etc.  Our discussion needs to end here since, as I said already, we are coming at this from two entirely different---and opposed----orientations.  If you feel the need to assure everyone that yours is the only true "Catholic" one, more power to you.  Having that badge doesn't interest me in the least.  God bless and help us all. 

As a stopping point approaches, mention of Patty Crowell is fitting as a reminder to me of Jo McGowan who started this days ago.  And Patty Crowley always reminds me of courage  --  hers in going to Rome to do what she did, the cardinal's, or whoever it was, that dared to bring about invitations to a few lay (!) people to participate, and the assembled celibate experts who dared to listen and hear what she told them.  Can history repeat itself again?



Plain and simple, there are laws of God and laws of the Church that bind us to obey. The Church has the right to obligate us under pain of serious sin to attend Sunday mass. The filter thourgh which we see these laws has no bearing on whether they apply to us. Once upon a time meatless Fridays was just such a law. I never equated eating baloney on Friday with using artificial means of contraception. They are not morally equivalent just as robbing the Bank of England isn't the moral equivalent of abortion. Yet all are serious sins. I also never said we obey laws through a blindless faith. We all have powers of reason and an innate sense of right and wrong and the free use of an informed conscience. "Informed" is the key word. When we find ourselves in disagreement with a teaching we look to our consciences and the mind of the Church to guide us. We are always to pray and search for ways to a clear understanding and aceptance of the Chuch's understanding. When I read through these 100+ comments I see people who just don't feel like listening to the Church when it's inconvenient for them. They spout ridiculous arguments such as the scandals to justify ignoring Church teachings. One other thing, not everything a pope or bishop says binds us. We're free to disagree with the pope's position on the war in Iraq since he didn't speak infallibly about the war. Popes rarely invoke infallibility. But once something has been accepted as an infallible truth, as the word of God, the conversation as to whether it's infallible is over. Truth cannot be changed. We can discuss these issues for purposes of clarification and deeper understanding, but we risk giving scandal if we insist that, say, a male-only priesthood isn't an infallible teaching.

Carolyn Disco,

There's a difference between what we feel about things - which many call a conscience but which often isn't - and an informed conscience striving to meet the mind of the Church. It's in the latter sense the the primacy of conscience holds sway. If you want to pick on me, don't misstate what I say or infer what I don't.

Response to Ed Micca's 10:29 am comment,

You "see people who just don't feel like listiening to the Church when it's inconvenient for them.  They spout ridiculous arguments . . . to justify ignoring Church teachings." 

That's  true of all of us including you, unless you are one of the very rare saints among us, who isn't a cafeteria Catholic, who is life-affirming and love-affirming across the board, who doesn't prioritize sins, discarding or de-emphasizing those they find inconvenient. We all have different weaknesses and different gifts of the Holy Spirit, different pespectives of equal value.  We are not called to march lockstep, but to offer what we can and to ask each other for help in overcoming our weaknesses, in enlightening our blind spots (which we all have). Even Jesus listened and learned.

It seems appropriate to go out on the words, if not the music, of the hymn refrain: "We are many parts, we are all one body, and the gifts we have we are given to share.  May the Spirit of love make us one indeed; one, the love that we share, one, our hope in despair, one, the cross that we bear." 

Jim Lein,

How is following Christ's commands marching in lockstep? You think that listening to God speak through his Church is a mindless activity? I don't know the crowd you hand out with but most Catholics I hang out with are not cafeteria Catholics, people who decide for themselves which Chruch teachings are right and which are wrong. Yes, we're all part of the Body of Christ. What does that have to do with being a cafteria Catholic?

Before I leave this thread, I would like to commend to anyone interested a positively brilliant lecture (by Michael McCarthy, prof at Vassar) from the Bosrton College Church in the 21st Century initiative that touches on many of the issues raised here and generally in today's fractured church:

Both video and audio versions are available.  It is at once hopeful, constructive, impassioned, immensely learned and faithful in the best sense of that word.  Don't miss it. 

Bye :)

Cafeteria Conscience

Cafeteria Catholics decide for themselves which teachings to follow and which to ignore. Truth is subjective. if I think something's right, then it's right, wrong then it's wrong. Let's apply this m.o. and see what we get. Many child molesters don't think they're doing anything wrong. Their consciences are clear. Besides, they were "born that way". Are they right or wrong? Hitler's conscience wasn't bothered one bit when he sent 6 million Jews and 5 million others to their deaths. After all, they were the enemy and it was within German law to exterminate them. Was he right or wrong? And if he and the child molester were wrong, by what standards are they wrong? After all, their consciences said what they were doing was OK. Just how do they differ from cafeteria Catholics in deciding what's right and wrong?


Ed Micca:

This will be my last comment. 

1. You stated "the morality of an act is intrinsic to the act". Nonsense. You don't know Aquinas or the morality of an act. The moral specification of an voluntary human physical act is based on: a good end and intention-to-end (of the agent), circumstances, and the object/act. The act must be appropriate as a means to the good in the end and intention. Many acts have some type of evil in them, the lack of a good. However, an evil is not necessarily a moral evil. Killing a perons is evil, but if it is done in self-defense it is a pre-moral or ontic evil, not a moral evil. 

The Church calls contraception intrinsicall evil and a moral absolute. This means it is morally evil under "all" circumstances, ends, and intentions. 

I offered you 2 examples where the application of HV to concrete cases is clearly a case of unreasonableness, stoic insensibility and wrong. The young seropositive husband who wants to use a condom to protect his spouse from a deadly disease and to preserve his marriage; and the young married woman whose life is threatened by another pregnany. These are not "loopholes" in a doctrine of the Chruch, they are examples of suffering, moral dilemma, conflict that the doctrine causes. These examples are not solved by "heroic virtue", to deal with a difficulty or a human inconvenience. They demonstrate, along with many other examples of human experience how a doctrine can and must be questioned...even doctrine as you say is closed to debate, full stop. 

2. The Church asserts as a moral absolute, that the marital act has two dimensions, unitive and procreative, that can never be separated. If the marital act is not procreative, it cannot be unitive. This makes no sence because most acts of sexual intercourse in a married life-time are not procreative, they are infertile. This teaching also short-changes the breath and multidimensionality of the significance of sexual relations within marriage, that include other obvious unitive love aspects of sexual intercourse such as: "relieving stress, improving intimacy, boosting self-esteem, and helping couples to bond and build trust. The marital act has other aspects of unitive love including the expressing of becoming one-flesh, respect, affection, appreciation and gratitude. 

If contraception violates the unitive meaning of the marital act, because spouses are holding back their fertility during sexual intercourse (as JP II claims), then spouses who intentionally and willfully perform acts of abstinence based on upon the plotting of temperature and cervical mucus to limit sexual intercourse to infertile times, are also holding back their fertility, as well as ignoring the important role played by sexual relations in a healthy marital relationship.

2. You also assert that Paul VI rejected the Majority Report because it was wrong. Your only argument is: "if the pope said so, it must be the work of the Holy Spirit in truth". If you studied the PBCC without such a closed mindeness, you would learn that there are an abundance of evidence that demonstrate that Paul VI had an exaggerated fear of going against tradition, especially Casti Cannubii. In his own words, clearly written in HV, he gave two reasons for rejecting the Majority Report: (a) it was in tension with the constant teaching of the Church about marriage; and (b) there was no complete agreement among the members. The doctrine on marriage was never a constant teaching, the ends of marriage evolved and changed over centuries. HV also changed it, but introducing for the first time that a marital act has two meanings that could not be separated. Also, since when was any papal commission or ecumenical council, synod of bishops who deliberated about a complex issue, such as the pill, ever reached a 100% agreement? 

You minimize the fact that the Majority Report represented the judgment of a world-wide cross section of bishops, theologians and the married laity. Yet, Paul VI embraced a distorted philosophy and theology on marriage and procreation of one man, Karol Wojtyla. The few theologians and bishops who supported the Miniority Report did not offer, nor did they propose, or did they have, any adequate theory in support of tradition. That is the reason Paul VI accepted Wojtyla's theory and the conclusions of his Krakow commission that was limited to Polish clergy and theologians. While a teaching, a doctrine of the Church that does not have a convincing moral theory is not necessiarly wrong, it does not possess any power to change behavior. What doctrine, not received, was not eventually reformed?

3. According you Ed we will all see the light of truth when we stand before God on judgment day. Then, our minds and hearts with be open to the truth and we will all see the foolishness of our ways....we will then proclaim that Ed and the pope was right all along! You want us all to believe the the collective consciences of the majority of Christ's Church on earth is nothing than a distortion of reason. We are not all invincibly ignorant Ed. Look at all Christian Churches, not just the majority of Catholic Church members, and the theological, philosophical and anthropoloical arguments that support their understanding of the truth about birth regulation. Wake up! 

4. Theologians such as Hans Kung, Charie Curran and Bernard Hering, just to name a few, were not acting, intending or bringing about a "co-existing magisterium". You implicitly and explicitly disparage and condemn all theologians who disagree with a Church teaching, especially contraception. Your remarks imply they are "dissenters", "distorters of the truth", "members of the culture of death", and "those who do harm and scandalize the Church". Get a grip on yourself. In the same breath, you discount the sins and distorted reasoning in the name of God, that many popes and bishops proclaimed as the truth over the ages. Pius IX's Syllabus of Errors and his kidnapping of a young Jewish boy from his parents because a mid-wife baptized the boy (in secret and without the permission of his Jewish parents)...yet Pius IX's judgment about papal infallibility was divine truth?; the Cardinals and Bishops whose judgment was to covered up the sexual abuse of minors, all to defend against tarnishing the name of the Church...yet we are to believe their judgment about contraception is the divine truth? Are we also to believe that the pope and Cardinal Ratzinger knew absolutely nothing about the sex abuse scandal and the coverup?

Look around you and see the suffering that the doctrine of contraception, and of other sexual ethical teachings, has caused: HIV-AIDS husbands who must practice "imposed" celibacy...celibacy cannot be imposed, it must be volunaritly chosen and is a gift from God for only the chosen few...many seminarians drop out because they did not receive the gift; the divorced and remarried who want to come back into the Church and to receive salvation through reconcilation and the Eucharist, but cannot; Catholics who have fertility problems and want to bear children through their own in vitro fertilization, but cannot; the millions of young married women whose lives are threatened by another pregnancy, but cannot take the pill or be sterilized to safe-guard their lives; and mothers whose lives are threatened by a fetus, that cannot survive under any circumstances, yet cannot terminate the pregnancy....somehow the death of two lives are better than one...I am referring to the Phoenix case.

Even the most orthodox of magisterial theologians, Germain Grisez and Martin Rhonheimer, disagree with the Church's teaching in the Phoenix case. 

You conveniently dismiss any argument that questions a doctrine the pope closed to debate, and you nuance the difference between a teaching, a pastoral practice, and even teachings that have been taught for centuries by popes, bishops, and theologians as the truth...even some of them were claimed to be divine law (usury) but were reformed. Yet, according to you, contraception will never be reformed. If you are right, neither will the doctrine of contraception change behavior and the judgments of conscience of most Catholics. Ed, do you want us all to believe that the divine truth is given to the few, and the collective majority are invincibly ignorant?

Ed, I will pray for you. Christ's gospel and the Holy Spirit is indeed our guide.





One last comment to Ed -- about cafeteria Catholics.  We all are they.  Unless one is against: unjust war, unregulated capitalism, welfare cuts, capital punishment, harsh immigration policies, as well as abortion, birth control and gay marriage, for a few examples, and one is for wealth redistribution by progressive taxation, for another example, even if this might be called socialism or communism.  Christ and the apostles certainly lived this way, as described in todays first reading, Acts 4:32-33.  Maybe by orthodox you don't mean you're largely alligned with the Republican party, as the bishops seem to be these days. But if you are so alligned, then you are in the cafeteria with the rest of us, selecting your particular fare.     

Jim Lein,

Abortion and war are not moral equivalents. War cqn be justified -  abortion, artifical birth control, gay marriage never. You're mixing apples and oranges. Doctrine isn't a function of what anyone believes. Cafeteria Catholics pick and choose what doctrines they'll accept, actingas if they know better than God. Thank you for your contributions, especailly when you toss Republicans into the mix. I was holding my breath waiting for you to toss in those who suffer from prickly heat. You're a fine example of what is meant by a little knowledge can be dangerous.

Welcome to the club of cafeteria Catholics.  You and I and the other persons commenting, we all pick and choose and at times act as though we know better than God.  Let us pray for each other, that we recognize we are fellow pilgrims.      

Michael Barberi,

Thanks for your prayers. Pray too for your professors of moral theology if they haven't signed on to Ex Corde Ecclesiae. Was Hitler's extermination of the Jews evil? He didn't seem to think so. By your "conscience is supreme" guidelines I guess he was OK. Same with slave traders, pedophiles, tax cheats, the guy getting it on with his neighbor's wife. They had no problem doing what they did. You seem to spend a lot of time inferring what I mean in my posts. You're batting pretty poorly, just so you know. First you say I'm a fundamentalist. My gut reaction is you can't possibly know what the word means just as Jim Lein can't know what a cafteria Catholic is if you judge by what he says. I'm no fundamentalist. After all, I don't believe in a 6-day creation, an ark, a woman made from a rib, a 900 year old Methuselah, while I do believe evolution rightly understood could account for our presence. So I ask you, pray tell, where's the fundamentalism? I'm not disparagaing Hans Kung or Charlie Curran. Hell, I might even enjoy a beer with them. One of my best friends was excommunicated for letting Abp Milingo "consecrate" him a bishop even though he was a married grandfather. I don't disparage him but i also don't pretend he's in good stead with the Church, if that even matters to him. Some moral theologians have a bit of the gnostic in them when it comes to, say, contraception. They believe that their studies place them in the air of a secret society that knows the real truths of the Faith, while the rest of us hoi polloi who make up the mindless sheep who blindly follow an old fool in Rome are decades behind the times. One time a moral theologian confided in me - hush hush - how most of the folks in the audience she was speaking to were out of the loop on the exceptions to the ban on artificial birth control. She assumed I was on her side. But once I said the magic words - Humanae Vitae - she turned on me like a cornered rat, saying I didn't have the qualifications even to talk to her. I laughed. Here's this angry broad who doesn't even know my name, has never met, yet who knows my qualifications. Must've been my ponytail and pierced ear.

One more comment re: what I meant by "fundamentalist" in this context:  it is not biblical fundamentalism, but ecclesiastical findamentalism:  a slavish, highly literal and extremely rigid view of the authority and "inerrancy" of Church authority, similar to what biblical findamentalists do with Scripture.  No need to defend yourself again Ed Micca:  you have already said that this is not true of you, but I believe that it is true, at least based on the comments you have made in this thread.  


Abortion is intrinsically evil. Does saying that mean I have a slavish, highly literal, extremely rigid view of the inerrancy of Church doctrine, or am I just telling it as it is? Far from making one a slave, the truth sets us free. I've never said the Church is inerrant in all her utterances. Most papal pronouncements don't carry doctrinally binding weight. I'm free to disagree in good conscience with much of what's said. Yet the Faith is more than an aggregate of well-reasoned, well-intentioned statements. There are truths that are independent of time, place, and circumstance which form the framework of our ticket to salvation. The meaning of these truths and our understanding of them is revealed and deepens over time, but the kernel of truth around which the revelation and understanding swirl never changes. I unapologetically accept this while at the same time struggling to live it. In consideration of you, I printed The Loss of Effective Authority: A Crisis of Trust and Credibility by Michael McCarthy. When I finish it I will share my thoughts which, perhaps, you might care to read. It's OK for us to disagree, not so to do so disagreeably.       Ed


Thank you for the artical "The Loss of Effective Authority: A Crisis of Trust and Credibility", by Michael McCarthy.

This essay captures all the relevant issues that have caused a crisis of trust and a crisis in truth that plagues Church Authority today. I would like to suggest, for a deeper and more comprehensive insight into this problem: "The Crisis of Authority in Catholic Modernity", by Michael Lacy and Frances Oakley. 

McCarthy does a good job in highlighting and adequately explaining the important issues that have caused a divided church and a crisis of trust. I cannot do justice to the depth of McCarthy's expertise by listing a series of pithy causes or solutions to this crisis. However, some, but not all of them, are:

> Classicism versus Historical Consciousness

> Authoritarianism versus Collegiality

> The War on Moderism versus A Collaborative Teaching and Learning Church 

> The Magisterium versus Appropriate Co-Responsibility with The People of God 

> An Exaggerated Fear of Change versus Intellectual Openness and Exploration

> Male Celibate Patrimony versus Justice and Equality

> Absolute Moral Certainty versus Intellectual Humility

> Church Power and Authority versus the Word and Spirit of Christ

As McCarthy rightly pointed out, Catholics have not abandoned Christ and his gospel; they have lost faith in the governance of His Church. They have not lost faith in the Office of the Papacy, but have lost faith in the credibility of those who occupy the Papacy, and how papal responsiblities are envisioned and exercised. Catholics give respect to the papal teachings proclaimed as doctrine, but question unintelligible authoritative teachings as doctrine, and the demands for absolute obedience.

When it comes to issues of marriage and sexuality, not issues of faith per se, that are in profound tension with their reason, human experience and informed conscience, Catholics rely on the Holy Spirit who guides them to the good and the truth. Sincere disagreements with certain doctrines, is not cafeteria Catholicism. Despite authoritative pronouncements that call any disagreement with doctrine akin to heracy, if you disagree for good reasons in conscience, you can remain a faithful Catholic. Exaggerated examples of the primacy of conscience (e.g., Hitler thought his conscience was right) distort the truth of about the primary of an informed conscience, as defined in Vatican Council II.

In the vision of Vatican Council II, Catholics are awaiting internal reform and renewal, and a leader in the spirit of John XXIII. 

Thanks again Janet for sharing with us this important article.





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I am a little disappointed in the article and all of the discussions that have taken place to date.

The only discussion of the pill relates to contraception. Yet in fact, the original studies for the use of the pill were to help Porto Ricans have children. And as I recall, there was a Catholic Nun and Doctor involved in the early studies. It was designed to regulate the cycle for children not against them. It did not become a contraceptive issue until the studies moved to Boston.

The term hysterectomy was not used at all. There was one reference to sterile folks, who were open to have children. This is an interesting Church based phenomenon. I would love to see the statistical evidence that was the basis for the concept “open to have children” as being physically or theologically sound.

This is not true of hysterectomies.  There are 600,000 hysterectomies performed each year in the United States. I would have a very hard time believing that all these operations were performed on Non Catholics., As far as I know the Church has developed a wall of silence concerning hysterectomies.. There will be no children with a hysterectomy. Is sex permissible, must be as it is a hysterectomy is not grounds of annulment.

The saddest comment of all involves the simple word family. You know, like just people. Oh, there was plenty of family planning, family life. My definition of family consists of parents and children. My wife was one of 20 births and I was an only child. When we got married I bought a Volkswagen bus for we planned to fill it. It was not to be. Early in the marriage my wife nearly died and she had to have a hysterectomy. I am sure you are not familiar with some of the rules of the Catholic Adoption Agencies in the 60 and 70’s. You could be turned down for adoption if you were sick, if you didn’t keep your house neat, or if you didn’t have a fence. The year s crept by and our marriage became a thing of convenience. It was clear that the Church was not going to do anything about it, except recommend prayer. We gave all that up to God’s will.   But, our lives turned around when we were afforded the opportunity to have a “gray” adoption. And the change was immediate. We became a family and the Church had nothing to do with it., We have been married for 50 years and family still means more than just the two of us. We have Grandchildren now and they’ve give meaning to why we ever lived.

If family is only two people what is the point. Is economics really a basis for marriage? Maybe so, but if it is then that makes me very sad.

As you can see in all of this, the Church holds the position that they have all the answers that God has in store for us. I beg to differ, When it comes to sex the Clergy and the Hierarchy are way above their pay grade.


Dear John:

You posting about your family life was indeed touching and real. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. We are all blessed to know that family, marrage and procreation is not merely philosophical and theological arguments, but the inner strivings of the agent to the good, the truth and happiness, using his or her will and practical reason, and appropriate right actions. This is simply the work of the Holy Spirit in us. 

You touched on a most important issue when you mentioned that your wife nearly died and had to have a hysterectomy. There are millions of women who have had difficult birth deliveries with complications, whose physical tells them that another pregnacy will be life threatening. The Church tells these women that taking the pill or sterilization is immoral. They must either practice "risky NFP-PC" or celibacy. The hierarcy of values in these cases are turned upside down. The prudent and safest way to safe-guard one's life becomes morally irrelevant to the decision to practice risky PC or "imposed celibacy" in order to ensure that every marital act is open to procreation. 

Other spouses have fertility problems. They can take fertility drugs to alter, manipulate and increase the procreative potention. Yet, they cannot take a drug to regulate their fertility to space children or to avoid more children for good reasons...if the drug temporarily suspends ovulation.

Many other spouses have fertility problems where drugs are not helpful. Yet they can bear children through in vitro fertilization; using the male seed and female egg of each spouse. In these cases, they are told this is immoral because the male seed must be deposited in the female virgina during sexual intercourse, even if procreation will be impossible. They must adopt children if they want them. 

These are examples of how a Church teaching, Humane Vitae, becomes unreasonable and a form of stoic insensibliity in concrete cases of existential reality. The Church is stuck in its own distorted narrative about marriage and procreation. They claim that their teaching is God's procreative plan. Unfortunately, no one knows God's procreative plan and symbolism and speculation is a weak moral theory.

The Church's focus, and exaggerated fear, is the sin of the world. They do not see the good in the world. It is the Church versus the secular world, good versus evil, a war at all costs. The moral tradition becomes the truth without remainder, irreformable and definitive. They fear any change because this may diminish the power and authority of the magisterium. They forget that our understanding of truth is progressive; not issues of faith, but moral issues involving humanity, sexuality, ethics and marriage. One day they will wait up and it will take the courage and enlighted spirit of another John XXIII.


If deacons ever get the opportunity to vote in papal conclaves Jo Mc Gowan gets my vote. This is one of the best things I've read on marital sexuality and contraception in my lifetime and thats 70 plus years with 52 years of marriage.



About the Author

Jo McGowan, a Commonweal columnist, writes from Deradoon, India.