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.

About the Author

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



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Wow, that final paragraph is a doozy. I can say up front that I too am an older, prolife Catholic who practiced only Natural Family Planning, and yet I too find what passes today for Church teaching on sex and marriage too often simplistic, "doctrinaire," based on assumptions, so often circular, that theologians of the past would have dismissed as opinion, not at all relevant to "natural law."   And yes, little of it helps Catholic couples forge a true and lasting marriage bond amid the financial and health-related struggles we all face over a lifetime of bearing and raising children.  Women, whose health issues have only relatively recently in history come to be treated effectively thanks to medical techniques, find it especially hard to fathom why men in the Church seem to think our bodily functions, which so often serve as a source of pain and dis-ease, must be considered the moral yardstick for what God intends, and an absolute yardstick at that.

My wife and I after 50 years of marriage agree with you exactly.   One concern is the number of Fr. Landrys pontificating authoritatively from altar, confessional, counseling room, and assorted media with irrelevant, incorrect, or incomplete information, not even aware of the damage they may have done and still be doing.    


In a related vein, a proposed amendment to Canon Law is that no man is qualified to become a bishop who has not slept every night for nine months with the same pregnant woman.   Then, let him speak to us about marriage, sexuality, and humanity.   


Bravo, Jo McGowan for a most ensightful and revealing article on the reality of marriage and procreation and the unreasonable and "adolescent  projection" of the Church in proclaiming Humanae Vitae as the absolute moral truth. I enjoyed and was impressed with its honesty, clarity and right-reasoned conclusions.

I am a retired Catholic. In 1978, my wife and I (now married 40 years) had two children and wanted no more for good reasons. I discussed contraception with my parish priest and he told me that a decision of my informed conscious along with good reasons (as Pius XII proclaimed in his Address to the Mid-wives) was sufficient and not immoral. Contraception, while a teaching of the Church, was also controversial. 

Moral philosophy has always been my interest, but about 6 years ago I began anew a thorough education in this subject. My cousin, a Challancllor of a Diocese in Florida, referred me to Janet Smith as he could not answer my questions in the detail I expected. After several email exchanges with theologian Janet Smith, I was not convinced about the Church's teaching. She offered a challenge that I wanted to prove or disprove. She asserted "if only Catholics would read Humanae Vitae and learn the Church's teachings, they would know the truth". To end a long story, I begain with the objective of reading the top 100 books on the subject of moral theology and sexual ethics. However, I needed to have mentors, so I engaged two of the most prominent moral theologians representing both sides of the theological divide. I wanted my mind to be open to each argumentation. I am now on my 67th book and an equal number of articles. I have been in frequent communications, at times several times of week, with my moral theological mentors for more than 2 years now.

My objective is to make a small contribution to my Church, to move the conversation forward, perhaps only one small step, but that was my deepest inspiration. I am near that goal, God willing.

While I write using the language of the Church, moral philosophy and theology, anthropology, etc., you write with the depth of human experience and your practical reason. Your argument is the most compelling.

I will not go into details about my own disagreements with the Church's teachings on sexual ethics, but I will offer a few additional thoughts for reflection.

1. When a teaching such as contraceptoin is in tension with human experience and deemed unreasonable and in many cases insensible to the majority of the laity, it is not received. With respect to contraception it has not been received by most of the laity and theologians, many bishops and about 40% of priests. While a teaching that is not convincing does not mean it is not true, it does mean that the teaching does not possess any power to change behavior. What is often ignored and not fully understood is this fact: All Church teachings taught for centuries as the moral truth, and not received, were eventually reformed.

2. The Church's strategy, in the case of contraception, ignores the suffereing, moral dilemma and conflict that their teaching causes most Catholics. Below are two examples.

> A young married woman who has 3 childern and whose life is threatened by another pregnancy is told that her decision to safe-guard her life by choosing to take the pill or be sterilization is immoral. She must practice "risky" NFP-Periodic Continence, or celibacy. In this case, the hierarchy of values is turned upside down. The prudent and most effective means to safe-guard her life is morally irrelevant to a decision to ensure that every marital act has a procreative meaning. 

2. A seropositive husband cannot use a condom to protect his spouse from the deadly disease of HIV-AIDS. He must practice celibacy that not only threatens his marriage but is a violation of justice and charity towards his spouse. 

3. In the above two cases, celibacy is an answer the Church believes is reasonable and moral for the sufferings of many Catholic couples. However, celibacy is a gift from God given to the very few. Many candidates for the priesthood are not blessed with this gift and drop out. Celibacy must be freely choosen; it cannot be imposed by authority. Imposed or forced celibacy does not work, yet the Church proclaims that this is a reasoned response to Catholics who suffer under consequences of this proposed teaching and the weight of the moral dilemma that it causes. Such answers are nothing more than stoic insensibility, not the absolute moral truth.

The central principle in Humanae Vitae is proclaimed to be "moral absolute" which means that the teaching is true and that contraception is immoral and intrinsically evil regardless of circumstances, intentions, or ends.

Thank God for our informed conscious and practical reason, as ilustrated by Jo McGowans article.



What some columnists don't understand about contraception -- or the Church's teachings thereon.

Talk about "promoting an immature version of sexuality."  This article of misunderstanding does that quite well.

A very well done article and a stunning rebuttal of priests after the fashion of Fr Landry. 

Fr Landry says " 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 the end'.. I guess he thinks it was God's mistake to make it so damn pleasurable.

Fr L ought to talk to the 20% of couples who are infertile and who have, in trying too hard to conceive that they have almost obliterated the pleasure and bonding that goes with sex.. 

and  God knows what he is doing  because  He has been in the creation business for a long long time. 

The scathing truth is that it was power considerations by the papacy that decided the promulgation of HV, not the merits of the issue itself, i.e. contraception. 

Jack Barry is so right about the damage the teaching has brought to so many lives.

Michael Barberi: "The prudent and most effective means to safe-guard her life is morally irrelevant to a decision to ensure that every marital act has a procreative meaning."

When pinned down, defenders of Church teaching cannot say every marital act has to have a "procreative meaning," since that can't be the case when either or both spouses are infertile, either temporarily or long-term.  "Theology of the body" moralists say only that every such act has to be left "open" to the possibility of procreation...even though, again, in reality most marital acts, even among the normally fertile, aren't "open" since a woman is naturally infertile most days of her life.   What they're really saying is that it's wrong to purposively "close off" the sexual act from long as it's a freely chosen act and within marriage: A very complicated argument.  No wonder so many on both sides prefer generalities to what the Church really teaches:  They're much easier to understand.

'Having children mindlessly, year after year, as former generations of Catholics did, is just as harmful to the social good'

Wow, patently false.  New human life can never be harmful to the social good, else abortion becomes licit.

The sliver lining of the bishops' making spectacles of themselves over contraception / religious freedom is that the faithful will finally again start illuminating the irrationality of the stand in the first place. This teaching has not been received. It is circular. It has nothing to do with natural law. It needs to be publicly challenged so it can be reformed.

To quote my daughter, speaking of the bishops, "If they want to lead in the real world, they need to live in it."

Superb rebuttal, Jo.  Miserably, there are a growing number of "Father" Landrys out there, patronzing, condescending and pontificating endlessly and arrogantly about issues they have no knowledge of.  It was funny to me to hear you say Roger "sounds almost feminist...," since it was a few personal encounters with this man that actually MADE me a feminist, and none more powerfully than when I read one of his homilies in which he says that ordination is a form of transubstantiation.  For me, that was IT.  And you are completely on target when pointing out the inherent immaturity in the stance these men take and the strikingly adolescent tone they sound when spouting what they take to be undisputed wisdom.  Sad smiles are understandable, but there is a deep, unsmiling sadness in the fact that the new generation of "John Paul II priests" are hardly the servant-leaders our fractured church so deperately needs right now.  But let's revert to something totally laughable:  does anyone ever wonder how these celibate guys KNOW SO MUCH about sexual activity and its many complexities?  They have an astonishing store of "facts" about is it that they KNOW all this???    Simply and unutterably ridiculous.  

I doubt that there are any married men who can honestly say that they understand what it is to be a woman, but we stand a much better chance than any man who has not been married. 

" New human life can never be harmful to the social good." (Bruce @9:40 am)

The implications of that statement are profound,  implying that men and women are nothing but unthinking animals -- baby factories.  This cannot possibly be what God intended. 

Goethe: Nothing is more terrifying than ignorance in action. 

Thank you, Jo McGowan.

I think I first heard the argument against artificial contraception as a teenager (I'm now in my sixties).  The question immediately raised in my mind was, why then don't we have to tear down all the dams, as rivers are patently designed to flow freely to the sea.  Well, we are breaching some dams now for environmental considerations, so maybe my teenage take on the absurdity wasn't nuanced enough.  Still, though, I think it was correct.  It will be a long time if ever before we can remove all the dams in the real world. 

On the naivete of celibate priests pronouncing on marriage and sex:  they may make up in breadth of experience (from counseling, confessions, training) what they lack in immediacy.  I doubt that as a class they are  as naive as some facile diatribes would have it.  That certain individual priests are ignorant is no more surprising than that certain politicians are.

I've often wondered if abstinence wasn't a form of birth control (at least subconsciously in the preaching of the church) in the pre-pill and pre-condom days.  I don't know how old the condom is, but latex is a fairly recent invention.  At any rate, the contraceptive options before the pill were certainly more limited.  For simplicity, I don't mention the iud etc.

Carolyn Disco, could you elaborate please?  ("it was power considerations by the papacy that decided the promulgation of HV").  Thanks.

JOH:  I have to wonder if the breadth of "experience" you mention has ever exposed priests repeatedly to contracepting couples who see their use of contraception as "objectification" and harm of their partner?  Is this REALLY their experience?  Highly doubtful.  Do you really think the "experience" of a Roger Landry includes serious encounters with couples whose married lives have been hurt by contraception?  Again, I doubt it.  These men merely parrot the party line and use as examples the minority of couples who "follow church teaching" on this issue and are fulfilled in that.   Their insistence that all couples who contracept are harming and objectifying each other cannot be beased on any real experience----of serious, adult encounter----with these couples.  Sure, anyone can figure out the mechanics of sexual intercourse; but can these men actually say with certainty that they KNOW contraception harms married sexual love in all cases and under all circumstances?  How can they possibly know this, especially when the experience of the overwhelming majority of Catholics simply contradicts it?  The teaching makes no sense to most normal people.  The fact that the experience of thoughtful, faithful married people was excluded ultimately in the promulgation of Humanae Vitae is the root of the issue:  these celibate men simply do not know what they are talking about, nor do they listen to those who do.  

Janet, I think you overlooked my exclusion of ignorant priests from the class of priests I was discussing. 

JOH:  I hardly think that the Rogers of the church see themselves as ignorant!  Do you think a man humble enough to know his own ignorance on these matters would ever attempt to write such things (in The NY Times, no less!)?  The truly "ignorant" person would seek to learn from those who DO know what they are talking about.  And methinks they would change their minds quite readily once they had heard the real experience of real people.  But if you already know everything, why would you bother even ask anyone else what the truth might be?  But don't worry:  one of his priest friends assured me, with the same smug "certainty" you see evidenced in the Times article:  "Roger WILL be a bishop."

And that's what we have to look forward to...





In response to JOH's: Carolyn Disco, could you elaborate please?  ("it was power considerations by the papacy that decided the promulgation of HV").  Thanks.

Many have written at length about the focus on papal power and its possible diminuition as a result of any change in the teaching on artificial contraception. Garry Wills comes to mind immediately. In capsule form, however, here is a relevant letter from a professor of neurology who served on the Birth Control Commission:

Truth and authority

I read your wide coverage of Humanae Vitae (26 July) with interest as I was one of the original six members of the Papal Commission on Birth Control appointed by Pope John XXIII and confirmed by Paul VI. The outstanding feature of the Commission was its dedication to the discovery of the truth. Every argument was carefully analysed and sifted to determine its weight. The other striking feature was the attitude of Pope Paul VI. Because of the international political implications of the Church’s teaching on contraception, the Commission was set up by the Secretary of State, not by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) as might have been expected. The Secretary General of the Commission, the Swiss Dominican, Henri de Reidmatten, reported directly to the Pope. When it became clear that fundamental questions were being raised, the response of the Pope was to continue the study with diligence and integrity.

It was only after the Commission had completed its report and been disbanded that the CDF swung into action, persuading the Pope not to change the teaching for <i><b>fear of the damage this would do to papal authority.</i></b> It failed to envisage the greater damage to be caused by maintaining a teaching which is unsustainable. The CDF set up a secret commission entirely of priests to produce a new report. This gives an insight into the curial mindset to think that a group of celibate priests, handpicked for their orthodoxy, would have a better understanding of marriage than a commission of cardinals, bishops, priests and lay people, married couples and single people, drawn from all five continents and embracing a wide range of sacred and secular disciplines.

The fundamental difference between the Commission and the CDF lies in the understanding of the nature of sexual intercourse in marriage. As Charles Curran (“Dangers of certitude”, 26 July) succinctly explained, the hierarchical Church identifies the morality of sexual intercourse with its physical aspects. It would hotly deny this, but the fact that a couple are allowed to choose an act that is nonprocreative but may not make an act non-procreative shows that it is the physical aspect that is sacrosanct. The Commission, looking at the evidence, took a wider view of sexual intercourse, seeing it as part of the wider relationship, expressing and fostering love.

The Commission anticipated that a change in teaching would be a great pastoral challenge and prepared a pastoral document of four chapters, one largely the work of the French Jesuit Père de Lestapis, the finest account of married love I have ever read. What a pity that none of this was ever published.

There have been many tragic consequences of Humanae Vitae, but none greater than that referred to in “A mother’s story – 1” (26 July). For the Popes, especially John Paul II, to teach, in season and out of season, that contraception is wrong and the overwhelming majority of the faithful to reject this undermines the integrity of the Church and weakens its witness in many areas. I hope that your coverage of this issue will promote more open and honest discussion which is so badly needed.

John Marshall

Emeritus Professor of Neurology 

University of London

I should have noted the letter appeared in the Tablet.

 implying that men and women are nothing but unthinking animals -- baby factories.  jbruns

 If humans are made in the image and likeness of God then nothing could be further from the truth.

Carolyn Disco, Thanks for elaborating.

Janet, as I agree with Jo McGowan's entry, I think I may have chosen a poor place to make the point that celibacy does not make one a stonehearted blockhead.  I've heard stories of people explaining clearly, forcefully, agonizingly to priests where the condemnation of contraception leaves them.  That no priest could learn anything there is contradicted by my own experience with what I'll call Vatican-II era priests.  My experience with what I'll call JP2-era priests is extremely limited, but I fear it would be less happy, given the centralizing and authoritarian trends.

For the young who were not around in the 60s and want to know about some background noises about the BC controversy after Vat II,  the Crowleys of Chicago and the Christian Family Movement leaders  who were on the Papal commission, voted on the majority side of the BC Papal  commission The majority side  was rejected by Pope Paul VI. Our San Francisco parish pastor was so upset by the Crowleys' vote he chased CFM out of the parish by declaring at a homily that "as far as he was concerned CFM stood for Communist Front Movement"   And these were the good ole days!         


Beverly Balley:

The definition of contraception is "any voluntary human physical act that is performed before, during, or after marital sexual intercourse, that prevents such acts, foreseen to have procreative consequences, from having those consequences, and is a decision done for that reason."

The problem is that there is little difference between NFP-PC and Contraception, as follows:

Abstaining from marital sexual intercourse, at times foreseen to have procreative consequences, and the plotting of temperature and examination of cervical mucus to determine when sexual intercourse will be infertile are deliberately chosen, physical acts that result in rendering procreation impossible during sexual intercourse.  

Contraception and PC are both programs of controlling fertility in order to avoid potentially fertile intercourse, and both are reliant upon activities that take place before marital intercourse. Thus, it is very difficult for the average person to see any difference between them.

Either both NFP-PC and Contraception violate Humanae Vitae or they do not. 

There is also the Church argument that NFP-PC treats the person and his/her fertility as subject; while contraception treats the person and his/her fertility as an object to be manipulated. It is hard to imagine how PC , with physical acts such as the plotting of temperature and cervial mucus is not itself a form of manipulation.

Finally, one last reflection. The good reasons that Pius XII said spouses could use for avoiding procreation are the same reasons most couples have who practice PC and contraception. However, when it comes to birth   regulation, NFP-PC is the only licit method based on the Church's claim that this is God's procreative plan. However, NFP-PC was only determined to be morally licit in 1951. If this was truly God's procreative plan, why did he wait thousands of years to tell us?


If Bishops paid as much attention to the real problems in the church like the abuse of power and the abuse of children as they do to preaching about sex, they might do a lot more good for the church and the people.

This is the best article on the subject of contraception I've ever read.

Sevral years ago I saw a survey conducted by Reginald Bibby (he teaches at the University of Lethbridge and specialises in surveys on religious topics) among those who consider, for reasons of faith, that procreation is the primary or sole purpose of having sex.  He discovered that they had sex with the intention of conception on fewer than 5% of occasions.  That is, 19 times out of 20, they had sex with some other intention.  We have to be grateful, of course, that, whatever their other intention(s), it wasn't procreation, or the world would be vastly more overpopulated than it is. 

Bruce, Exactly the point.  And that is why we, as thinking human beings, should apply our intelligence in all our activities, including conception.  Why would God expect us to exercise dominion over nature, except in this one instance?

Michael Barberi:

abstaining from and act is not an act.


In general, I can only offer my personal experience as a married man. I have been married almost 17 years, we only used NFP, we had the number of children we wanted, we never had any problem, we are very happy. Tell me again what's the big deal about Humanae Vitae?

Carlo:  Easy peezy.  God is perfection.  We are not God.   That we strive to be pleasing in God's eyes makes sense.  At any moment to assume "pleasing" is synomous or even close to perfection does not make sense.  It quite simply is not possible.  To suggest guilt is at times appropriate even useful in moderation is defensible.  To suggest we mere mortals parcel out damnation is ludicrous. Again, we are not God.  Perhaps you heard the rumors.  Mother Teresa had moments of profound doubt but not on the issue of her own intimate involvement with reproduction.  She chose to marry far outside what I believe I can reasonably say is for most not an option.  Just too challenging.  Wise or not, for her questions specific to reproduction were never to be among the amazing challenges she faced so well.  Short of all women following that remarkable women in her choice and short of demanding perfection, how exactly do we deal with this issue?

JOH:  I understand and certainly I agree:  there are many priests who can/do learn from others and are changed by those experiences.  Of course.  But priests like Roger (and I have had the great misfortune of encountering several of them in amazingly contentious situations) are not the ones of whom we speak.  Could they develop the humility necessary to listen and learn from others who do know better than they about different areas of human/Christian life?  Of course.  But if the general tenor of their formation is that they already know everything and only need spout the ready-made formulae (no matter how defective), why would it ever occur to them that they might have something new to learn?  Remember:  this is a guy who openly preached that the ordained are transubstantiated.  My, my!  What COULD such an exalted being learn from those so far beneath him?    Folks here might see this as unrelated to the contrqception issue, but I do not.  This is the new "vanguard" of priests.  It's what JPII wanted.  The church is all the worse for it.  Pick any topic at all; choose any difficult issue that burdens and vexes God's people and shames the Church's witness; the response will be the same:  simply a new version of pray, pay and obey.  It is miserable.  


There is nothing wrong with NFP. There is also nothing wrong with contraception for good reasons. Many couples, especially those with irregular cycles, find NFP-PC unreliable. According to the most recent research, there is a 25% failure rate with PC based on acual usage. If you have had success with PC, and were happy, good for you. Most couples who practice contraception, for spacing children and to avoid conception after having children, are equally happy.

The act of abstinence is an act, and this act is brought about and preceeded by two voluntary deliberate physical acts: the measurement of temperature and the examination of cervical mucus, all plotted with the intention to limit sexual intercourse to infertile times, rendering procreation impossible during sexual intercourse.

As for me, I have been married to the same woman for 40 years and have two wonderful children. We pracitced contraception and are happy.



In the original NYT article, the reporter writes "Fr. Landry argues that contraception can be the gateway to exploitation."  I suspect that there are few people who would disagree that contraception  can  be a gateway for objectification and gratuitious self-indulgence. That it must lead to it is not the lived experience of many in the church, both before and after Humanae Vitae. By adopting this extreme position that ran counter to what people in the midst of good relationships knew to be true, the church  ceased to speak with an effective, credible voice on any issues of sexuality or marital relations .  I wonder with sadness where we might be now had Pope Paul accepted the wisdom of those on the Papal Commission and taken the more moderate and more defensible position on responsible parenthood outlined by the Commission. Perhaps the Church would have been better positioned to speak with authority when real exploitation took place, and to do as Ms McGowan suggests is their proper role, to help families find the right decisions regarding family planning.



Who cares?  Most Catholics pay no attention to what the Catholic Church says about birth control.  And, consequently, they pay little attention to what the Catholic Church has to say about anything related to sex.  And because the Church lacks credibilty in this everyday aspect of human life, they lack credibility in so many other important aspects of Catholic moral teaching.  I remember when HV came out.  I was young and newly married.  I thought at the time that HV would drive many Catholics out of the Church and Unfortunately, I was right.  I know what the Church's reasoning is behind their decision to ban articifial birth control.  But for most people, it is abstract gibberish that bears little or no relationship to how married life is actually lived.  Can we get the Bishops to talk seriously and forcefully about economic issues?  Almost 50% of Americans are counted as either poor or low income.  People are dying without health care.  We have wasted trillions of dollars on wasteful and violence producing wars.  We have an obscene concentration of wealth in this country.  Really, who cares about some arcane arguments about natural law and the other fine philosophical distinctions? 

Infertile couples can have sex continuously and it's biologically not "open to life".  However, a woman on the pill or a man with a condom CAN be open to life if they accept that a failure of method may result in a pregnancy and they are ready to embrace that pregnancy. Many more contradictions of this sort exist.




Excellent point, Juliana.  The Church's  witness has been terribly damaged and its voice muted so badly due to the arrogance and fear that motivates so many of its teachings on sexual morality (and its obsession with those issues to the neglect of so many others).  Add to that the largely inadequate and hugely tardy response to the abusive clergy-bishop scandal...the voice is hollow and utterly unconvincing.  

The primary purpose of sex between married partners is to deepen the love between them. As for procreation, the Church teaches that artificial means of birth control cannot be used to prevent that possibility. The reason everyone should know that the use of artificial birth control is always and in every circumstance wrong is the fact that it's a doctrine of the Church. The Church doesn't "make up" doctrine any more than scientists make up the speed of light. These truths just are. They are part of God's created order. Whether or no we like bishops or popes, whether or not we like the Church, whether or not we understand the "why" of doctrine, whether or not these doctrines fit our lifestyles has nothing to do with the truth of doctrine and our obligation to assent to the truth. The Church has the authority and mandate from Christ to teach, preach, interpret, and defend Divine revelation. Having free will we can ignore God's revelation of the truths necessary for our salvation, but we do so at our peril.

Where is divinely revealed that contraception is inherently evil, and why did Paul VI even consider looking again at the issue if it is, indeed, a "doctrine"?  Sorry, Ed, but your argument is a silly loop, circling around itself with nowhere to go.  

So sex is either for becoming a dad/ mom or for pleasure? I think that this is where the problem is. I had hoped that by now the leaders of the Church would have been able to move beyond the Augustanian model of sex. The issue is much broader than what this priest seems to say. Sex can be about an expression of a deep, loving connection, even in search of that connection. It can also be about meeting a need and helping another to meet a need. To limit it to always needing to be open to creating life, I believe, is seeing sex thru a very narrow lens; one that does not take into consideration how multi-level it really is. Certainly there are dangers to sex. I don't mean to discount these dangers, but to deal with the dangers by ignoring so much that is good and healthy about sex is very troubling.

Did someone mention Natural Family Planning?  To plan not to conceive, couples must abstain from intercourse six to nine days during the wife’s fertile period. Couples normally also abstain from intercourse during the wife’s menstrual period which means another five to seven days of abstinence. So we have eleven to sixteen days per month of abstinence. These numbers are not often presented in NFP seminars.

I disagree with the implication that couples should not have too much sex. Shared sexual pleasure is central to the married life. It is blessed by God in its very act which is a key sign of their being Sacrament + the Real Presence of Christ.

I do not agree that somehow celibacy belongs in marriage. Sexual intercourse is not the only way couples can express and strengthen their love. But ordinarily, making love is the fullest way couples can nourish their marriage. As such, as another writer put it, "the vast majority of the time, couples should no more avoid intimate sexual intercourse than they should avoid celebrating an intimate Eucharist."

Michael Barberi:

I too find arguing an essential difference between NFP and contraception a fool's task, but those who do see the "act" of contraceptive intercourse purposively closed off from its creative potential while an "act" chosen during a woman's infertile period remains morally "open" to life, no matter how many physically demanding techniques are required to determine that it's, in fact, infertile. 

I think such reasoning confirms what Birth Control Commission member John Marshall said in his recent letter, "the hierarchical Church identifies the morality of sexual intercourse with its physical aspects. It would hotly deny this, but the fact that a couple are allowed to choose an act that is nonprocreative but may not make an act non-procreative shows that it is the physical aspect that is sacrosanct."

Moralists who defend HV always say they're not basing their view of natural law on the mere physical or biological functioning of sex and procreation, that this is a matter of human acts, not biology, but in the end, as Marshall says, biology seems to matter most.


All that's necessary for us ot know that a teaching is infallible is for the Church to say so. Period. If you don't understand that, you don't understand the nature of Christ-given Church authority. But the Church doesn't just leave things at the "accept or else" stage. it lays out reasons. Doctrine doesn't have to be explicitly stated in scripture. All doctrine can be derived from scripture and Tradition just as all the theorems in Euclid's 13 books of geometry can be derived from those 5 little axioms and a handful of definitions found in Book 1, Page 1. Paul VI didn't have doubts about the moral evil of artificial contraception. He gathered as much information as he could, pro and con on the issue, so that his pronouncement - Humanae Vitae - would be encompassing. On what basis do you argue against infallibility? You've reached the point of inconvenient truth? if you want to talk about silly reasoning, check out all the silly comments here on Fr. Landry, as if anything about his character has the smallest thing to do with the infallible truth of the doctine that artificial contraception is always and in every circumstance is wrong.

"The Church doesn't 'make up' doctrine any more than scientists make up the speed of light."


Seriously? All church doctrine as well as the church itself was totally made up many years ago and has been adjusted and refined by the magesterium ever since. Jesus did not found the church; his followers did; and I'm not aware that Jesus ever dictated a policy on contraception!


Wonderful article, Jo, ably articulating what so many of us Catholics think about this issue!


I disagree. NFP does not make contraception impossible, just very unlikely.

Anyway, at end of the day NFP can be as "wrong" (your choice of words) as contraceptive pills, if it is used selfishly, in order to achieve absolute certainty that a marital act cannot channel the gift of life to a new human being. The crucial moral issue is not the instrument but the disposition of the heart, whether when we give ourselves away to our spouses we are also giving ourself away to God's will, which in this case includes the possibility of a baby.

As my non-Catholic husband always said: when the Pope helps to pay for feeding, clothing, housing and educating our children, that's when he can tell us how many children to have.

I have spent four full years, 24/7, researching and writing about HV. I will not go into a lot of detail, unless asked, but these are my conclusioins.

1. The central principle of HV that changed sexual ethics for the next 44 years, was the "inseparability prinicple", that you cannot separate the unitive and procreative meanings of the marital act because it is the Divine Plan of God. This principle was taken "word for word" from Karol Wojtyla's 1960 book "Love and Responsibility", and from the conclusions of his Krakow Commission formed and directed by Cardinal Wojtyla shortly after the PBCC gave their reports to Paul VI. No other pope, theologian or bishop before 1960 has ever spoken, written or proclaimed as a teaching or moral principle a inseparability principle. 

2. One of the reason Paul VI gave for rejecting the conclusions of the Majority Report of the PBCC was that "there was not a complete agreement among the members". Yet, in contradiction, Paul VI embraced the philosophy and theology on marriage and procreation of one-man, Karol Wojtyla, and a one-country commission in Krakow limited to Polish clergy and theologians. HV also includes Wojtyla's consequences of contraception and his interpretation of Divine Law.

3. JP II claimed that his personalism, and his Theology of the Body, was not based on biology or physicalism. It was based on the order of nature, created by God, manifested in the language of the body, in its fertility-infertility nexus. God's procreative plan was based on speculation about anthropology, in the Genesis story, and symbolism. This symbolism is an exaggeration of analogy: it goes something like this...Christ's love for his Church is inseparable and one; by analogy, spouses are inseparable and one flesh, as well as the unitive and procreative meanings of their marital acts are inseparable. The fallacy of such a philosophy and theology of marraige and procreation is that speculation and symbolism is a weak moral theory and no one knows God's procreative plan.

4. A more nuanced version of argumentation in defense of HV, in particular of the thesis of Martin Rhonheimer, is that NFP-PC is a virtue of chasity-temperance; while the choice of contraception makes superfluous the choice of this virtue. How insane! According to this post-Vertitatis Spendor argument, there can be no virtue in the choice of contraception regardless of circumstances, intentions and ends. I will not waste the space in this blog for the counter-argument.

5. Lastly, as many have pointed out, the reality of marriage and procreation is anything but what the Church asserts, especially the unrealistic and exaggerated consequences of contraception. They want us to believe that contraception has caused the increase in: abortion, spousal abuse, unwed mothers, and promiscurity. We all recognize that our modern culture has grown more liberal and exploitative. However, this does not mean that all who disagree with the teaching about contraception, or who practice it, are infected with the evil of the secular world or who are invincible the Church claims.

Is it possible that the celibate Roman Curia teaches what they have not learned, proclaims as truth what is contradicted by human experience, and who claim they listen, but have not heard? While the Church repeats their narrative in the hope of an epiphany, what goes without remedy are the sufferings, moral dilemma and conflict that their teachings on sexual ethics cause millions of Catholics. In the end, it is not to enough to ignore the teachings, but to do all in our individual and collective power to move the conversation forward in the hope that our Church will solidify a divided Church and resolve a Crisis in Truth


Ed:  WOW.  Breathtaking.  Is that REALLY why PPVI called the Commission? Seriously? might want to get a little education on this.  Did you read the letter from John Marshall on Page 2 of these comments?  He was actually on the Commission...maybe he could be of help to you in getting some things straight.  Now, eating meat on Fridays and exacting interest were also once taught as intrinsically evil---as mortal sin.  Were these also revealed "doctrines"?  And if so, what HAPPENED to them?  Are they in the "revealed doctrine" trash can?  Or did the Church make a mistake?  Or what?  WOW.  

PS to ED:  IS the teaching of HV considered "infallible" under the strict qualifications of that term?  Really?  Since when?  It is my understanding that the magisterium has produced only two infallible doctrines in modern times:  the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception.  Where is it stated that HV is "infallible" teaching?  Are you super-duper, infallibly sure of this??? might be the only person in the church privy to this info.  That is special!

PPS to Ed (I am so stunned that I keep forgetting what I need to say):  the "inconvenient (alleged) truth" of the teaching of HV is not inconvenient for me in the least, as I am a celibate for God.  It has no direct impact on my life at all.  But I sure do love my married brothers, sisters and friends, and I respect their experiences and do not cast aspersion on their hearts or motives when they make adult decisions about the most intimate aspect of their lives.  Lies are the inconvenience here, and blessed be those who love the truth and listen to their consciences.  

Michael B:  Excellent post.  And while I agree that, ideally, we should all do what we can "to move the conversation forward," the reality is that there IS no conversation...when do the bishops listen and advocate for the people?  Where is the conversation happening---and happening between the true partners (in this case, married people and the bishops)?  There simply is no conversation---or even the possibilty of a conversation.  Instead, we get the pontifications of Roger Landry and his ilk.  They talk; they don't listen; and exhausted, disgusted Catholics turn away.  

Matthew 23:4

Luke 11:46

Michael Barberi:

Very interesting what you say about the connection between Woityla's thinking re the "inseparability" principle (of the unitive and procreative purposes of sex) and HV; I'd never realized the former came before the latter.  It seems to me that when Pius XII OK'd natural family planning, he OK'd separating the two aspects morally, if not physically.  So here again, even when it comes to the vaunted (but aptly named) "theology of the body,"  the physical seems to be what really matters.  Or it's come down to that, because there's nothing else left to explain the teaching.

St. Augustine would probably have gagged at the very term, "theology of the body," since, like most philosophers of his time, he found both the body and sex degrading because of "concupiscence," i.e., the body's natural tendency to resist what the spirit commands. If it weren't for original sin, he said, husbands and wives would still procreate physically, but "they would not have had the activity of turbulent lust in their flesh. (From "Against Julian")" IOW, they wouldn't have enjoyed it, which seemed to be the problem for theologians for fact, all the way up to modern times.  That's too often forgotten by defenders of HV who seem to believe the Church's doctrine on sexual morality has remained essentially unchanged since the apostles handed it down fully developed.

In fact, if the Pope were to pass on what Augustine and Aquinas and popes of previous centuries taught, Catholics today would be taught sex is for procreation, period, and if they enjoy it too much, they'd better confess their sin before attempting to receive Communion.  Aquinas said the marital act is justified only for procreation or to "render the marriage debt."  Doing it for pleasure is a mortal sin.  (Summa Theologica, supplement, Q 41, 4.) 

Pope Innocent XI in 1679 condemned the idea that the marriage act performed for pleasure alone might be free of sin. ("The Christian Faith in the Documents of the Catholic Church," ed. J. Neuner, S.J. and J. Dupuis, S.J., NY: Alba House, 1982,p. 662.)

As with slavery, usury (to a lesser extent) and religious liberty, when it comes to sex and procreation,  I think the Church's grasp of what's truly right and wrong has been weak from the beginning thanks to the thinking of the wider culture(s) it grew in.  Ironically, defenders of HV are quick to see the shortcomings of the wider culture today and how culture affects even Christians.  What they don't take into account is how much this has always been the case.








Thank you for kind comments. Yes, it is true that the Roman Curia has closed the book on the reform of contraception, but not entirely. There has been a healthly theological debate for the past 44 years, and especially since Veritatis Spendor, but admitedly, this debate has lacked much initiative during the past several years. However, recently there has emerged with some rigor a renewed debate on contraception. I call attention to the December, 2011 issue of Theological Studies (William Murphy's essay on contraceptin) and the March, 2012 issue of Theological Studies (namely, Joseph Selling's reply to Murphy's article). Great efforts and worth the read.

I also am hopeful about the Austrian Catholic Church's effort, namesly the Pfarrer Initiative (the Priest's initiative). This collective consciousness among the clergy is most encouraging. This is a bottoms-up effort to move the conversastion forward. Many issues are being pushed to the forefront: the prohibition of the sacrament of reconciliation and reception of the Eucharist for the divorced and remarried, the prohibition against using a condom by seropositive husbands to protest their spouses from this deadly disease, the prohibition of contraception for married couples who have children and want no more for good reasons, the prohibtion against taking the pill or sterilization for married women whose lives are threatened by another name a few.

We must be diligent and not lose heart.


Ms. Janet,

With a seminary background, minors in philosophy and theology, and decades of study, I may qualify as having a little education on a few things. That's not the point. The Church's laws consist of doctrine (the codification of God's word) and juridical rulings. The Nicene Creed, for instance, is a rundown of some doctrines binding on the Catholic conscience. The Church cannot change doctrine, even if it wanted to, but it can change disciplines. A male-only priesthood is doctrine, no meat on Friday and Sunday Mass are not doctrines. They are juridical rulings. The Church can impose and rescind them under its authority to "bind and loose". Under that same authority the Church has the right to say willfully eating meat on Friday or neglecting our Sunday obligation is a mortal sin. What is doctrine is the Church's right to impose a discipline that is binding under the pain of serious sin. Yes, twice in Church history has the use of the extraoridnary magisterium been promulgated, both, as you indicated, regarding the Blessed Mother. But nothing says that infallibility only results from the use of the extraordinary magisterium. The ordinary magisterium is just as infallible and binding and doesn't require a solemn pronouncement. By your thinking, "Jesus is the Second Person of the Trinity" would not be an infallible teaching. There would go the whole shooting match. The teachings of HV are infallible. The Church is the authority, the institution with the right and the competnece to decide these matters, not us. We are nor our own private mini-magisteriums despite what comes through in most of the comments. As for Michael B, the thought that "more conversation" will somehow create an epiphany within the Church and get it to change doctrine shows just how little some people know about how God speaks to his people. 10,000 generations from now the Church will not have changed what it lacks the power and authority to change. 


your interpretations of Augustine, Aquinas and Innocent XI sound awfully prejudiced:

a) since like most of us you probably have experienced the "turbulents lusts of the flesh" you should know that they are largely disconnected from sexual enjoyment.

b)  What is Aquinas's "marriage debt" about if not sexual pleasure?

c) As for Innocent XI, I would not dismiss so quickly the idea that a marriage act performed "exclusively for pleasure" tends to "use" the other person and so, yes, it usually ends up being sinful.

I bring these things up just because they are representative of a certain mentality that thinks that Christian tradition is full of sexuophobic nonsense and that people came to their lights about the beauty of sex around 1963.

 jbruns  Why would God expect us to exercise dominion over nature, except in this one instance?

Because in this one instance God is actively involved in creating a human soul.  Very different than the rest of nature. 

I find this discussion fascinating, for in my experience, the battle was decided years ago in favor of contraception. As an NFP user and teacher of 35 years experience, having worked under Catholic Charities and family planning organizations, I have come to know the dirty little secret: the practice of contraception and the smaller families that have resulted have been a boon for the church. Couples now have smaller families and the financial success to move to affluent suburbs.  The pastors no longer have to subsidize Catholic schools, which they found to be a pain in the neck. And look at any diocesan list of permanent deacons; very few have more than two children.

I am not paranoid: after working in several central diocesan offices I am convinced that the majority of priests have no interest in what parishioners do about family planning. Most of the couples in Marriage Prep are already living together, and Catholic rates for abortion and sterilization have long been higher than agnostics and atheists, according to statistical surveys. I also doubt that the majority of bishops have any idea what is going on in their dioceses in terms of how couples learn about the ethics of family planning. They are much more interested in keeping up with their corporate donors.

Summary of Categories of Belief in Professio fidei

[All quotes are from, and all paraphrases based upon, the Doctrinal Commentary
of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

I. Divinely Revealed

Doctrines contained in the Word of God, written or handed down, and defined with a solemn judgment of the Church as divinely revealed truths by any of the following:
   a) the Roman Pontiff speaking ex cathedra
   b) the College of Bishops gathered in council
   c) infallibly proposed by the ordinary and universal Magisterium

ASSENT REQUIRED These doctrines require of all members of the faithful the assent of theological faith, based on the authority of the Word of God (de fide credendi). Whoever obstinately places them in doubt or denies them falls under the censure of heresy, as indicated by the respective canons of the Oriental and Latin Codes of Canon Law.

the articles of faith of the Creed
the various Christological dogmas
the various Marian dogmas
the doctrine of the institution of the sacraments by Christ and their efficacy with regard to grace
the doctrine of the real and substantial presence of Christ in the Eucharist
the sacrificial nature of the eucharistic celebration
the foundation of the Church by the will of Christ
the doctrine on the primacy and infallibility of the Roman Pontiff
the doctrine on the existence of original sin
the doctrine on the immortality of the spiritual soul
the immediate recompense after death
the absence of error in the inspired sacred texts
the doctrine on the grave immorality of direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being.

II. Definitively Proposed

Doctrines definitively proposed by the Church on faith and morals which are necessary for faithfully keeping and expounding the deposit of faith, even if they have not been proposed by the Magisterium of the Church as formally revealed. They can be defined by:
   a) the Roman Pontiff speaking ex cathedra
   b) the College of Bishops gathered in council
   c) taught infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium of the
          Church as sententia definitive tenenda.

Such doctrines are joined to Divinely Revealed truths by a. historical relationship or b. logical connection. Even though they are not proposed as formally revealed they could, by dogmatic development, one day be declared to be revealed.

ASSENT REQUIRED These doctrines require firm and definitive assent based on theological faith in the Holy Spirit's assistance to the Church's Magisterium and on the Catholic doctrine of the infallibility of the Magisterium in these matters. Whoever denies these truths would be in a position of rejecting a truth of Catholic doctrine and would therefore no longer be in full communion with the Catholic Church. There is no difference with respect to the full and irrevocable consent which must be given to teachings set forth as I. divinely revealed and II. those proposed as to be definitively held.

a. historical necessity
the legitimacy of the election of the Supreme Pontiff
the celebration of an ecumenical council
the canonizations of saints (dogmatic facts)
the declaration of Pope Leo XIII in the Apostolic Letter Apostolicae Curae on the invalidity of Anglican ordinations ...
b. logical necessity

the doctrine on the primacy and infalliblility of the Roman Pontiff prior to Vatican I's definition [The primacy of the Successor of Peter was always believed as a revealed fact, although until Vatican I the discussion remained open as to whether the conceptual elaboration of what is understood by the terms jurisdiction and infallibilitywas to be considered an intrinsic part of revelation or only a logical consequence. On the other hand, although its character as a divinely revealed truth was defined in the First Vatican Council, the doctrine on the infallibility and primacy of jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff was already recognized as definitive in the period before the council. History clearly shows, therefore, that what was accepted into the consciousness of the Church was considered a true doctrine from the beginning, and was subsequently held to be definitive; however, only in the final stage - the definition of Vatican I - was it also accepted as a divinely revealed truth.]

the doctrine that priestly ordination is reserved only to men. ["The Supreme Pontiff, while not wishing to proceed to a dogmatic definition, intended to reaffirm that this doctrine is to be held definitively, since, founded on the written Word of God, constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium. As the prior example illustrates, this does not foreclose the possibility that, in the future, the consciousness of the Church might progress to the point where this teaching could be defined as a doctrine to be believed as divinely revealed."]

the doctrine on the illicitness of euthanasia (Evangelium Vitae) ["Confirming that euthanasia is 'a grave violation of the law of God,' the Pope declares that 'this doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is transmitted by the Church's Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium'. It could seem that there is only a logical element in the doctrine on euthanasia, since Scripture does not seem to be aware of the concept. In this case, however, the interrelationship between the orders of faith and reason becomes apparent: Scripture, in fact, clearly excludes every form of the kind of self-determination of human existence that is presupposed in the theory and practice of euthanasia."]

the teaching on the illicitness of prostitution

III. Authentic Ordinary Magisterium
Teachings presented as true, or at least as sure, even if they have not been defined with a solemn judgment or proposed as definitive by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, whether of the Pope or of the College of Bishops.

ASSENT REQUIRED  Religious submission of will and intellect.

teachings set forth by the "authentic ordinary Magisterium in a non-definitive way, which require degrees of adherence differentiated according to the mind and the will manifested; this is shown especially by the nature of the documents, by the frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or by the tenor of the verbal expression" (Vatican II,Lumen gentium 25)

I. & II. Defining and Non-Defining Acts

The Magisterium teaches doctrine to be I. divinely revealed, or II. to be held definitively, by acts which are either defining or non-defining.

Defining Acts teach infallibly by solemn papal definitions ex cathedra and actions of an Ecumenicam Council

Non-Defining Acts teach infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium of the Bishops dispersed throughout the world who are in communion with the Successor of Peter. Such doctrine can be confirmed or reaffirmed by the Roman Pontiff, even without recourse to a solemn definition, by declaring explicitly that it belongs to the teaching of the ordinary and universal Magisterium as a truth that is I. divinely revealed  or II. of Catholic doctrine.  "Consequently, when there has not been a judgment on a doctrine in the solemn form of a definition, but this doctrine, belonging to the inheritance of the depositum fidei, is taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, which necessarily includes the Pope, such a doctrine is to be understood as having been set forth infallibly. The declaration of confirmation or reaffirmation by the Roman Pontiff in this case is not a new dogmatic definition, but a formal attestation of a truth already possessed and infallibly transmitted by the Church."

Geesh, talk about creeping infallibility.

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

 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." 

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) 

Thanks to Joseph Jaglowicz for the citation.

And when the Pope sneezes, I pull out my hankie.  

So at one time "the Church" could assure people that God would send them to hell for eating that burger on a Friday, but later "the Church" could reassure them that God had changed the divine mind and that that burger was a-OK after all?  Can't you see the stupidity of this sort of power-play ?  Ridiculous.  "Doctrine" or "discipline," the result is the same: an exercise in authority that is about controlling people and harming their relationship with the God who has endowed them with reason and given them the freedom and joy of redemption, along with an utter disrespect of the primacy of conscience.  If "the Church" could be so silly and unthinking about meat on Friday and lend it such weight that one was in fear of  perishing without God if they ate the burger, it's a tad hard to trust that that same authority has a clue about the serious, deep things of human life.  They have not been faithful in the small things, but have made huge burdens out of them and laid them on the shoulders of the people they are supposed to love.  And their handling of the abusive priest-bishop scandal, from the pope on down, has revealed once and for all a profoundly disordered understanding of human sexuality.   So I am not buying it.  Thanks for the lengthy document below; no time to read it now, but my guess is that I probably read it during my own seminary days.  

Oops...meant the "document above." :)

I'd still be interested in seeing proof of what you said about PPVI's reasons for organizing the BC Commission.  

The insistence upon celibacy for family planning insures its own demise. How many marriages have been ruined and become cases of economic room-mates when the fear of another pregnancy drives people apart? Do priests really believe that all those small families among their congregants are simply due to infertility? Do they even have a clue about the tension and misery their rants, especially from the authority of the pulpit, have caused? The decision to practice NFP is just as 'unnatural' as the decision to use any of the preventative birth control methods.  Does the church really expect a woman (even a priest's sainted mother) to have 10 or more pregnancies in her child-bearing life? If we had a non-celibate priesthood and married bishops (of both sexes), this teaching would be quickly reformed. And the result would be millions of disaffected and alienated Catholics streaming back to church. And that would make the 'celibate' vocation crisis a much more overwhelming problem. Full churches or empty pews??

Mike Evans:

I think rage is clouding your good judgment.

"How many marriages have been ruined and become cases of economic room-mates when the fear of another pregnancy drives people apart?"

Since, as many commenters have assured us, the overwhelming majority of Catholis disregard the Church's teachings on contraception, I would imagine the answer is "very few."

"Does the church really expect a woman (even a priest's sainted mother) to have 10 or more pregnancies in her child-bearing life? "

No, just use NFP.

"And the result would be millions of disaffected and alienated Catholics streaming back to church."

Right, like the tens of millions of happy Episcopalians, Methodists and other types of liberal Protestants who have been abandoned their contraceptive-friendly denominations since 1960. Have you considered that people join the Church to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, and if they leave it because of something as trivial as their desire to use the pill it probably means that maybe, just maybe, their faith was not especially strong to begin with?

Sorry Carlo. Those who use NFP are called "parents." And it seems diabolical to suggest that people who are dismayed and disillusioned by the church's teaching on contraception are somehow less faithful, less worthy, less commited to Christ. And the church simply does not make sexuality issues "trivial" - they have become a central teaching and a turn-off because they make no sense in the wider human experience. The fall off of church attendance is mostly because people find the organized churches increasingly irrelevant and unauthentic. People no longer are ignorant and uneducated and scared to disagree. And if you survey kids 15 - 40, you will see them voting with their feet.

Mike:  People no longer are ignorant and uneducated and scared to disagree.

Perhaps people today arent as smart as they believe.  This generation didnt suddenly learn truths about God that weren't know to previous generations.  We have learned much about how to make computers and human biology but our knowledge of philosophy and theology still relies on Aristotle, Plato, the Apostles and Doctors of the Church.

Come to think of it, my grandparents werent ignorant and uneducated but they were quite devoted to Christ and His church.  Hmmm

I understand the outrage against an insensitive male priesthood, but you're letting that blind you to the simple fact at hand.  The government is narrowing the definition of "religion".  That's it.  That's the issue.


Ed Micca's document  doesn't mention BC at all but I bet he can 'infallibly' tuck it in somewhere. Didn't these guys  have 'democracy and religious liberty stinks' tucked into the  infalliblity bucket before BC? 

Through the "pre-pill" era of 2500 years, birth control forms and practices have been used and documented, including oral, chemical, barrier, and other techniques.  Philosophers and physicians such as Aristotle and Hippocrates (c. 400BC) worked on it, and some explicitly addressed family size planning.  The notion that somehow the pill (1955) or the new secularism has any special responsibility in the matter is difficult to support.   (See for quick summary   and  Wikipedia  Birth_control#Early_history )   


Today, the theory of the "Natural" method has become plausible because of its scientific foundation using modern, clinically obtained knowledge of temporal, thermal, and viscous variations which are statistically correlated with a woman's ovulatory cycle and are externally observable.  It focusses on reproduction-related biological factors approximately analyzable by informed ordinary people to point to a generally unnatural practice as means to an end  -  avoiding pregnancy.  For many, it manages to separate unitive and procreative aspects of marriage as little else but disease and disability do.   


Jo McG. tells with stark clarity and others have amplified the centrally important factors that are determinative _in combination with_ the use of externally visible organs which Church teachings as promulgated tend to end up emphasizing.  When the Church teachings as pronounced reflect understanding of the non-biological consequences of procreation and the multiple meanings of "unitive" in marriage as lived, some credibility may be restored.  


Meatless Janet,

Let's see what you know about Catholic basics. QUESTION: Does or doesn't the Church have the authority to mandate meatless Fridays under pain of mortal sin? ANSWER: Yes, assuming the requirements are present for an act to be a mortal sin - 1. serious matter, 2. knowledge that it's serious; 3. full consent of the will to do it anyway. Your opinion that this is silly makes no difference. What you should be asking is if eating meat on Friday is so friviolous yet be very serious, then why in the world would anyone eat meat on Friday? It's such an easy sin to avoid and such a grace to obtain. For the record, the law of meatless Fridays was never abrogated - in essence this sacrifice is still in effect though we are free to substitute another sacrifice in place of not eating meat.


You misread what I wrote. The words I used are the ones the Church uses, in particular the late JP II, to describe those that disagree. He used language and lables such as: dissenters, the culture of death, invincibly ignorant, those who distort the truth, to name a few. If you read what I wrote carefully, you wil notice that I objected to these descriptions of those who disagree with a church teaching, such as contraception.

Incidentally, invincibly ignorant does not mean simply ignorant as used to describe those of our great grandparents who were illiterate. Invincibly ignorant means one is not aware that he or she is wrong. You can be highly educated and still be invincibly ignorant.

Also what I wrote had nothing to do with ones spirituality, like those of your good grandparents.

We have gleaned much from Aristotle, Aquinas, and others including some of the greatest moral philosophers during the period 1600-1800. Most of them were not Catholic. History has taught us that our understanding of the truth is progressive. Not the fundamentals of our faith, but what we consider moral norms and what is immoral. We continue to learn. This does not mean that there are no moral absolutes. Killing the innocent is immoral and intrinscially evil and this will never change. We have also learned much from scientific knowledge which continues to help us undertand the cosmos, human nature and ourselves as well.

However, it is clear that it was only after Vatican II that moral theology became a doctoral curriculum in many Catholic and non-Catholic Universities. Before Vatican II, most theologians were clergy, male and celibate. Today, most theologians are non-clergy, female and married. This has profoundly changed our view point. Before Vatican II, moral theology was taught using the scholastic or neoscholastic method. This method of moral discernment did not significantly change from the 1500s. Then, there was an exposion of moral theologican thought after Vatican II. A quick study of the many books and essays written over the past 50 years, dwarfs those of past centuries, and we are better for it.

It is also true that those clergy, theologians and the laity since 1968 are not afraid to disagree because they can argue using the language of the Church as in moral philosophy, theology, anthropology, and the like. Others can use their critical thinking ability and inform their consciouses properly so they can decide, giving respect for the Church teachings and their spiritual advisers, what is right and wrong, good and evil. This does not mean that those of us who disagree with a chruch teaching are practicing individualism or relativism. It also does not mean those who disagree are picking and choosing what they want to belive or not. Most are only following their informed conscious especially when a teaching is in contradiction with human experience, as contraception is.

I hope this explanation provides more clarity about what I wrote.

Ed Micca:

You wrote....As for Michael B, the thought that "more conversation" will somehow create an epiphany within the Church and get it to change doctrine shows just how little some people know about how God speaks to his people. 10,000 generations from now the Church will not have changed what it lacks the power and authority to change. 

Ed, where in scripture and revelation does it say anything about what HV proclaims as "God's Procreative Plan"? Popes have erred in the past, and in some case greviously.

You misread what I wrote and I will take responsiblity for it. Perhaps I was not clear. I was referring to the fact that the Church believes that by repeating the narrative (e.g., the doctrine and justificaion for HV), that an epiphany will ocurr among the laity....not the Church! My reference to "more conversation" is exactly what we need today. For the past 44 years, theologians on both sides have not been talking to each other; they have been debating and talking past each other. At the same time, the Vatican closes its ears to the subject of least for now. However, as I mentioned, there is hope and movements within the church to change many teachings for good reasons. I am a devout Catholic and I refuse to allow disagreement with a few Church teachings affect my relationship with Christ. I attend weekly Mass and work to do my part, perhaps a very small part, in moving the conversation forward. We have a divided Church and a Crisis in Truth. Repeating the same narrative is not working.

You may be right that 10,000 generations from now the Church's doctrine on contraception will be the same. If that be the case, it will also be true that 90+% of married female Catholics will be practicing some form of contraception condemned by the Vatican as intrinsically evil. All teachings proclaimed as the moral truth and taught for centuries by popes, bishops and theologians, and not received, were eventually reformed! There is a theology of reception. When a teaching is not received it does not automatically mean that the teaching is wrong. However, it does mean that the teaching possesses no power to change behavior. Humanae Vitae is a dead letter.

Your appeal from "authority" where the bishop of Rome and his encyclicals and teachings must be obeyed, withour remainder, is according to most schools of Catholic teaching, the weakest argument.

What you fail to discuss or recognize are the many complex ethical cases where the doctrine of contraception has brought about suffering, moral dilemma and conflict. The Church believes that NFP is difficult for many Catholics, but they must step up to the plate of "heroic virtue" Christ suffered, one must offer up these difficulties for God. In the case of contraception, this amounts to nothing more than stoic insensibility. No one today is throwing themselves into the thickets like St. Francis did.

Ed Who Sees Not Silliness:  so we can trust that the Friday burger-eater in 1950 who died in the street immediately after leaving Mickey D's went straight to hell for transgressing in such a "serious matter," but today the same would not be the case?  And where is our good God in all of this?  Is your understanding of God really so small as to believe that God and God's judgments is enslaved to such man-made nonsense?  This, my brother, is pitiful indeed. 

By the way, still looking for your evidence for why you say PPVI called the Commission...

Ed wrote:  It's such an easy sin to avoid and such a grace to obtain..

I never have nor ever would think that eating/not meat on Friday could/would/should be considered "serious matter" and the stuff of mortal sin.  A God who cares for such trivia is a God I might just want to spend eternity separated from anyway, so I win, either way, and get to have that burger.  Read what Jesus said about the leaders of his "church" who destroyed the lives of people by straining at fruit flies while swallowing elephants. 

Your God seems frightfully tiny, small-mided and somewhat like an idol. 

I have cut and pasted this passage from Brett Salkeld's interview with James Alison (Commonweal, 03/06/12).  It is one of the most articulate and strangely hopeful visions of what is wrong with the current state of affairs in the Church and why discussions such as the one we are having here are so contentious and difficult.  Alison's assessment is theologically sound and biblically-based; it is a vision with the living God of Jesus Christ at the center.  I was very moved whan I first read it and still am.  I only wish I had his grace and patience! 

Spending time, as I do, with people on both sides of the Reformation divide, I find strict parallels between the temptations to which either side is prone. Protestantism is tempted to bibliolatry, and Catholicism is tempted to ecclesiolatry. Both are forms of idolatry that involve some sort of grasping of security where it is not to be found. This grasping ends up by evacuating the object grasped (whether the Bible or the church) of meaning, turning it instead into a projection of the one grasping. The nonidolatrous approach is when we allow ourselves to be reached and held by a living act of communication from One who is not on the same level as either Bible or church, but of whose self-disclosure those realities can most certainly become signs. A sure sign of a pattern of desire locked in grasping is the speed with which we collapse into invidious comparisons such that we acquire our identities over against others in our own group, rather than receiving them together patiently from the one calling us into being.

As a Catholic I am fully committed to the notion that, the Word having become flesh, the living act of communication is an ecclesial one, made available through bodily signs. In addition, I take it for granted that the church is prior to me, and that if something is church teaching, it is true. The presumption is on there being some sort of truthfulness at work in the stated teaching until it becomes clear that this is not the case. The real question for me, as a Catholic trying to think toward the future, is this: we know that we have only one Magister, the Incarnate Word of God, and that the authentic teaching office in the church is not above, but serves, this Living Word. Furthermore, this Living Word has chosen to address us at a level of fraternal equality, making of us his brothers and sisters who have only one Father, God, and are not to call anyone else our father. So, how do we hold fast to the experience of Jesus teaching us in and as church as we become aware of how often the bishops, those who have been consecrated sacramental signs, seem to allow the richness of the faith to become secondary to culture-war imperatives, institutional self-interest, and the search for corporate approval? I think that reimagining the ecclesial shape of Christ teaching in our midst, exploring the sort of act of communication genuine divine teaching is, and understanding better the relationship between the Teacher, those taught, and those charged to be signs of truthfulness is going to be one of the real challenges of the next generation.


So you're saying "the Christian tradition" regarding sex and marriage has remained essentially unchanged for the past 2,000 years?  Obviously, I think that's assuming too much.  To wit:

1.  No one disputes that Augustine upheld procreative sex in marriage as a "good", but when he simultaneously warned against concupiscence, or the "turbulent lusts of the flesh," it's hard not to conclude that, to him, the pleasure involved was at the very least an occasion of sin.  The tendency toward sexual puritainism that afflicted Christians for centuries came from somewhere.  As a former Manichee, Augustine may have been victim as much as cause of this problem, but the very fact that he found it virtually impossible to consider marriage without warning against concupiscence exemplifies a certain mindset, a mindset that got passed on so that, even if when marriage has been accepted as "good," the sex involved seemed tainted.

2.  To Aquinas, the "marriage debt" meant the procreative act, period.  A spouse was owed the act, period.   If spouses were owed "pleasure" as well, let's just say that wasn't exactly a universal interpretation.

3.  When Innocent XI condemned the idea of performing marital intercourse out of a desire for pleasure exclusively, he was thinking in terms of pleasure vs. procreation, not the more modern juxtaposition of pleasure vs. love, wherein "exclusively for pleasure" might be seen as "using" the other person.  IOW, "love" didn't have anything to do with it, nor did "using."  He meant pleasure wasn't a good enough reason to justify sexual intercourse, you had to, above all, desire procreation, which might make pleasure OK, but still, as Augustine pointed out, dangerous because of the possibility of concupiscence.

Fwiw, I'm not sure how enlightened Christians today are about sex and marriage.  I only know our views have changed over the centuries.....on the one hand (considering the old tendency to hold marital sex suspect unless performed for procreation), for the better; on another (considering the modern tendency to separate sex and marriage), for the worse.  Hopefully, there are more than two ways to go.

Ed, I grew up in the Midwest with no access to fresh fish or seafood because supermarkets didn't yet sell fresh seafood, and we had no friends or relatives who engaged in freshwater fishing.  Fridays were a dreary succession of tuna casseroles and tasteless deep-fried fish squares from church-run fish fries.  

Moving to the Gulf Coast, where we have lived since 1978, was a revelation; we learned that NOBODY who had access to fresh-caught fish and seafood ever suffered on the Church's meatless days.  The person who, inadvertently or defiantly, ate a bologna sandwich on a Friday in Lent during the Fifties was "atoning" far more than someone who devoutly chowed down on flounder stuffed with crabmeat--yet the Church said that the former had committed a mortal sin, and the latter had not.  

If I step back from a philosphical and theological argument, I am left with pragmatice ones. Some people call these "kitchen table arguments", others call them practical arguments. If you want to write and publish a essay about a church teaching, you need to use the language of the church, or academic, theological or moral philosophical logic and jargon. However, the pragmatic arguments, IMO, are the thinking of the common people. They are accessible to everyone, If understanding the truth was based on intelligence and education, only the few would be enlightended by God. 

We all heard the stories of the rich man who contributes a hundred dollars to the church each week, and the poor woman who drops a penny in the collection box. Jesus says that the woman who gave the church her last penny was closer to God. Here are some pragmatic questions and comments that continue to haunt my understanding of the truth about contraception and other sexual ethical teachings. 

1. If contraception is truly intrinsically evil, regardless of circumstances, intentions or ends, and the Divine Truth, why would God allow the majority of His Church to reject it? If the battle for the human soul was like a baseball game, would it be irresponsible or unreasonable to view the "score" as: Satan: 90, Church: 10...reflecting the fact that about 90% or more of Catholics don't believe that contraception is always morally wrong?

2. Vatican II proclaimed that Christ's Church on earth is much broader than the Catholic Church, and ecumenism is a call to Christian solidarity. In fact, the Catholic Church signed what I call memorandums of understanding between itself and other Christian Churches. Unlike what was taught to me in elementary school during the 1950s, that you can only be guaranteed salvation through the Catholic Church, today the Catholic Church does not deny that Protestants who follow their faith can gain eternal salvation.

If this be true, most non-Catholic Christian Churches, and most Jewish religions, do not believe that contraception is always immoral, while the Catholic Church believes it is always intrinsically evil. 

To the horror of Christian Churches that "thought" the Catholic Church was finally changings its arrogant posture, only to realize that the ecumenical document/memo of understanding they signed together professed one thing, only to find out that the CDF (under questioning by the Press) repeated the same old argument that the Catholic Church is the only Church that possesses the fullness of truth. Are we to believe that non-Catholic religions do not possess the fullness of truth, as the Catholic Church asserts?

3. Lastly, Jesus never condemned the sinner. In fact, he always welcomed sinners and those who society believed were collectors, lepors, prostitutes. He taught us "if you seek me, you will find me; knock and my door will be open to you". He never denied salvation to anyone who was sorry for his/her sin and wanted salvation in His name. Yet, there are millions of divorced and remarried Catholics standing on the outside of Church doors seeking salvation, knocking but the doors to the Church are closed. They are denied the sacrament of reconciliation and absolution and they cannot receive the Holy Eucharist.

The Church gives absolution to habitual sinners, such as contraceptive couples, under the principle of gradualness in the sacrament of reconciliation. Contraceptive couples, by definition, have no firm purpose of amendment. Nevertheless, the Church believes that by constant prayer, and frequent receipt of the sacraments, they will "gradually" reform. But, other habitual sinners, such as the divorced and remarried, are denied the principle of gradualness and absolution. How do we explain this contradication between the letter of word (doctrine) and the deed (pastoral practices)?

4. If NFP is God's procreative plan, then spouses who want to practice birth control must abstain from sexual intercourse for a maximum of 6 days per month, because this is the maximum fertility window for most women. For many women, it is closer to 4 or 5 days. However, the symtothermal method, the method endorsed by Georgetown University's Center for Reproductive Health, calls for 12 days per month...twice the number of fertile days that God made. The reason for this is a fact: there are no easily accessible methods that Catholics can use to accuracy determine the moment of ovulation, either prospectively or retrospectively. If it is true and God never asks us to do the impossible, why can't we do what God wants us to do? Is not 12 days excessive in terms of a maxium of 6 days?

When it comes to birth control, does God want all spouses to measure temperature and examine cervical mucus every day to determine the number of fertile and infertile days, and limit sexual intercourse to only infertile days? If so, why would he want us to abstain for 12 days per month when he only made 6 days fertile?


no, I am not saying that there were not variations over the centuries. I am saying that overall the Christian tradition about sexuality is remarkably balanced and positive, and that your interpretation of those three examples as necessarily sexuo-phobic was unfair.

I wish there were a clearer way to do this than one uniformly-spaced combox post, but since that’s the tool I have at my disposal, I’m going to do my best. Reading this article also made me sad, ironically partially for the same reason as the author, but for a few others as well. I’m sad because of just how profoundly this article simplifies the priesthood, the men who comprise its ranks, and even sexuality. I feel like I need to respond to it piece by piece because that’s the only way the response will make any sense, so since I can’t write my responses in a different color or indent them in any special way, I’m going to put the quotations from the article between arrows and in quotations -->”like this”<--

-->“ who may never have experienced sex feel qualified not just to speak about it, but to pronounce on it with certainty.”<--

To hone in even further, -->”may never have experienced sex”<--. This was the first part that made me feel a little bit like I’d been punched in the stomach. How many married couples would you say you know? Do you think the author knows? Do you think the average person knows? Of those couples, what percentage of them have trusted you with intimate details about their marital life and sexuality within it? Less than half? Maybe fewer than 10%? Even if you count 50 married couples among your friends, do you know intimate details about the sexual and marital relationships of more than five of them? How broad, really, is your, my, the author’s, or the average person’s “experience of sex”? It’s incredibly narrow, and therefore incredibly nuanced and biased. Your individual sexual experience, complete with all the personality traits and features that make your relationship with your spouse unique, is overwhelmingly the most defining “experience” you have of sex. And it’s unique to you.

On what grounds does that make any married individual more qualified to speak about sex than, for example, Pope John Paul II, who wrote the Theology of the Body? Or Pope Paul VI who wrote Humanae Vitae? Not only does he have the “experience” of having been trusted with intimate details of thousands upon thousands of marital and sexual relationships over the course of his priesthood and papacy, but his assessment and understanding of them is not skewed by his own unique, individual, un-duplicatable, personal experience. Even ordinary parish priests have incredibly broad “experience of sex” relative to the average married person.

Equating “experience” with “intercourse” is such a drastic oversimplification of sex it’s painful. Instead, I would argue that because a priest is NOT married, he actually has a much BROADER “experience of sex” to draw on and to use to make conclusions about what is and isn’t good for the human person and human development. That’s not to say there won’t always be nuance as, obviously, sex only exists between real living people, but it is a great basis for someone to “feel qualified not just to speak about it, but to pronounce on it with certainty,” certainly relative to the limited sexual experience and exposure of a married individual.

-->“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.”<--

You may not be rejecting it in the aggregate. But the “decision” being made in the particular sexual act, if it’s contracepted, is one of rejection. You may very well value your spouse as an actual or potential parent on the whole of his or her life, but in the particular instance of making a decision whether to have sex *right now,* even if you “recognize that pregnancy is a possibility” and you’ve decided this is not “the right time for us to have a baby,” means that in this instance, you *are* rejecting your spouse’s capability to become a parent. You don’t want the “becoming a parent” part of your spouse right this moment. And there’s nothing wrong with knowing there are times when “becoming a parent” *is* irresponsible or undesirable. In those times, rather than participating in an act that bodily communicates a *total* gift of self and receptivity to the self of the other when you really mean you want to give your whole self *except* your “becoming a parent ability” and receive the whole of your spouse’s self *except his/her “becoming a parent ability”, choose not to engage in the act until your body language can match what your heart knows to be true about the situation.

When you’re willing to give yourself completely and receive your spouse’s self completely, by all means, do so! But when you’re not willing to give yourself or receive your spouse’s self completely, why enter into an act that, in the intense vulnerability she describes later, requires a complete gift and reception of self to support the relationship instead of undermine it?

-->“But the rules aren’t just unrealistic. They are often irrelevant, based on incorrect or incomplete information.”<--

This goes back to the initial point about the “experience of sex.” Who is more likely to have incorrect or incomplete information about sex: The individual who knows his/her own experience in extreme detail and the experiences of a few very close friends in detail, or the individual whose judgment is not swayed by the extremely detailed knowledge he has of his own experience, but instead can make a conclusion based on the detailed knowledge of thousands of people who have trusted him with it?

I don’t mean to say that every priest knows a married couple’s sexual or marital relationship better than they know it themselves. But think about what married couples do when they reach an impasse within the marriage and they don’t know what to do. They seek out professional advice, often from a marriage counselor. Why? Because they recognize that the breadth of that professional’s experience of marriage makes him/her better able to help the couple than the couples’ own deep experience of only their own marriage. Furthermore, the counselor’s impressions and advice aren’t unduly swayed by personal and emotional engagement in the couple’s problems. The objectivity is an *asset,* not a hindrance. The objective professional has a more level-headed, clear-sighted perspective than the couple in the depths of their very human experience. The same is generally true of priests. There will always be exceptions, but generally, the priest is also an objective professional with a more level-headed, clear-sighted perspective to offer.

-->“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.”<--

Whether the average young married man has actually matured beyond adolescence is a topic for another day (obviously many of them have, but whether it’s enough to be a majority is debatable). But let’s focus on this idea of “constantly available sex, uninhibited by any possibility of pregnancy.” While condoms or any other contraceptive procedure that requires a decision whether to contracept to be made at the same moment as the decision whether to have sex might be able to avoid this “constantly available sex, uninhibited by any possibility of pregnancy” mentality, long-acting or permanent methods of contraception cannot. Their whole purpose is to be able to make a decision for months, years, or even lifetimes at a time whether there should be any possibility of pregnancy specifically *for the purpose* of making sex constantly available without having to make the decision about pregnancy in that moment. What is the purpose of contraceptive sterilization other than to say, “I want to be able to have sex whenever I want without the possibility of having a child”?? The idea behind anything that is inserted for long periods of time or a pill that becomes routine is that the decision whether to have sex should not be influenced every time by the possibility of having children. It’s fine to make that decision monthly, or quarterly, or just once.

So who’s projecting here? Is this really a case of a priest projecting inexperience and an adolescent understanding of sex onto sexuality within a marriage, or a married woman projecting her own extremely limited conception of what “sexual experience” means and doesn’t mean onto priests? The priest can look at the objective reality that a decision to use long-term or permanent contraceptive techniques *does* have as its goal “constantly available sex, uninhibited by any possibility of pregnancy” and recognize it for what it is.

-->“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.”<--

She uses two kinds of pleasure interchangeably in this paragraph, but they really can’t be so easily switched for each other. Yes, to some extent, the Church distrusts earthly pleasure. Why? Because every pleasure we can experience on earth has been tainted by the fall. It is no longer possible for us to enjoy them as they were created. There are times we can come extremely close, like in the presence of an exquisite sunset or surrounded by the sounds of a symphony, but death is now a characteristic of all the pleasures we experience on earth. The sun finally goes down. The symphony ends. So it *is* dangerous to grow too attached to earthly pleasures. If we condition ourselves to be attached only to things that die, we leave ourselves unprepared for Heaven. It’s too much for us. We don’t know how to embrace it. And we run the risk of choosing *not* to embrace it because it’s just too hard a change to make. We weren’t made to be attached to things that end. We were made, first and foremost, to be united with God, who doesn’t end. That’s why we’re to love Him with all we are. But we’re also made to love each other, not just in our earthly lives, but as beings who are also made not to end. That’s why it hurts so much when we lose someone we love. We weren’t made for that. So it’s not odd in the least that we should be distrustful of earthly pleasure in the light of the heavenly pleasures for which we were created. Being too attached to the temporary ones conditions us against accepting the eternal ones.

And, yes, children are a safeguard (not an antidote) against growing too attached to the pleasures of sex, not because they make us miserable and are burdensome, but because they remind us that we were made for eternity, not for death. They are like an arrow reminding us that the pleasures we experience on earth exist to point us to the eternal ones that await. The most intense earthly pleasure we can enjoy brings about a new eternal being. Why? Because we were created for pleasure that’s eternal.

-->“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.)”<--

Who fights the hardest to protect newly conceived children, to welcome them, to create a culture in which all newly-conceived children are embraced as a joyful blessing instead of a burden or a consequence, and to make sure the youngest of the young children can’t be killed before they’re even born? If it’s not the bishops, it really isn’t fair to keep criticizing them every time they turn around for their pro-life efforts. Pick on the people who are really doing that more consistently and insistently than they are. But you can’t have it both ways. Either they seek after and welcome children too enthusiastically, or they consider them as burdensome consequences, but their critics really need to pick which. It’s disingenuous to keep accusing them of both.

Since she recognizes at least some of the dangers the bishops are trying to safeguard against by resisting “assistive reproductive technology,” I’m not going to get far into it except to point out that the Pope Paul VI Institute ( is and long has been a leader in NaPro technology that tries to correct conditions that cause infertility to restore the individual’s natural fertility rather than circumventing the conditions and finding ways to bring about children without having to take the time to heal the parent. They’ve been hugely successful, so it isn’t as though they’re saying people who struggle to conceive should just get over it and accept their fate. They’re pursuing ways that better respect the complete human dignity of the parents AND the children.

-->“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.”<--

First of all, the accusation of mindlessness is an unfair ad hominem attack. I’m sure there were many women who had no mindful engagement in their reproduction (some by their own fault and some without it), but it isn’t fair to paint with such a wide brush over the large Catholic families of generations past. In the instances where there was mindless reproduction, yes, that is just as harmful to the social good as refusal to connect sex with pregnancy. Certainly the instances in which women are not *permitted* any say in their own reproduction are just as harmful too.

But that isn’t what the bishops are proposing. It’s not an either/or dichotomy--either we mindlessly reproduce or we refuse to connect sex with pregnancy. That’s a more drastic oversimplification even than what she accuses the priests of. The bishops are proposing a profound integration of sex with pregnancy, and a recognition of the beautiful ways women’s bodies work and tell us when they’re fertile and when they aren’t. They’re encouraging us to respect the way our reproductive capabilities naturally work and integrate our sexuality into an understanding of ourselves in our fullness. If two spouses determine this is not the time to have children, let them wait to have sex until a time when the sex will not produce a child. Why suppress something that’s healthy and functioning properly so as to have sex without children? Whose dignity does that raise, exactly?

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.”<--

Every human person has a moral right to follow the dictates of his/her conscience. However, with great rights come great responsibilities. In this case, the accompanying great responsibility is to make sure that conscience is properly *formed.* It’s not enough to say, “My conscience tells me to do/not do this particular thing,” without asking whether that’s because the thing is evil or because the conscience is in error. The Church’s role is to help them arrive at the decision that best leads them to *holiness,* not the one that fits most comfortably with their consciences. Oftentimes it’s the conscience, not the guidance, that needs to be changed. Yes, this requires great care for nuance on the part of the priest, since there are millions and millions of factors that shape the conscience (just ask your nearest Catholic psychotherapist), but the Church’s responsibility (not just in sexual matters) is to help those entrusted to Her care to form their consciences in such a way as to love and find joy in holiness--not happiness. Holiness. “Happiness” is connected etymologically to “happenings.” One of the greatest errors in our modern philosophical discourse is that words that carry connotations of enduring, ongoing, everlasting joy in other languages end up being rendered “happiness” in English, which is unfortunately extremely misleading.

And not to beat a dead horse or anything, but “no foundation in practical experience” is a drastic oversimplification of both sex and the priesthood. “Practical experience,” in her usage, ends up being reduced to “personal experiences of intercourse,” ignoring completely the breadth of experience of sexuality priests do have. Ironically, it’s her own portrayal of sex and what it means to have “sexual experience” that is simplified to the point of being sad.

-->“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.”<--

If the Church has made a spectacle of Herself, it hasn’t been by promoting an immature version of sexuality. It’s been by failing to explain the depths of it as well as they deserve and leaving most people’s consciences immaturely formed. It’s a huge error to overcome, but I had to take the time to start trying.

I am positively groaning after reading Lindsay Wilcox, and refer readers to Luke Timothy Johnson's critique of TOB in Commonweal, 2001 at;content

That may help explain why JPII or a Paul VI have not the competence to set standards for married couples. TOB roams in abstraction, lost in the ethers, removed from lived experience as if "human sexuality is observed by telescope from a distant planet." 

In response to Michael B:

Your information on days per month has further complications for those whose periods vary significantly. Hardly everyone runs on the same cycle every month. Variations may range from 28 to 35 or more days, in which case knowing when to stop before ovulation becomes an almost impossible guessing game.

Some sperm can live up to a few days, and to be completely sure, five days of abstinence after ovulation becomes the margin of marginal certitude. Rounding out the number of safe days becomes a very meager prospect, especially in light of a partner's business travel schedule and family obligations.

The Crowleys had numerous letters from families about the hardships involved. Celibates dismiss the realities at their peril. The pain of so many couples cries out for redress, particularly those where a genetic disease passed on to several children led to maternal breakdown and tragedy for the entire family.

Re: "Christian tradition about sexuality is remarkably balanced and positive." Surely,  Carlo jests. For centuries, pleasure taught as sin instead of joy, an attitude of marriage as permission to sin, constant questions about what is sinful and what not? 

The church has much to account for in the ravages of its destructive teaching on sexuality. Thank God so many people have grown up and moved on from the control and fear instilled by clergy in times past.


What made eating a burger on Friday a serious matter was that the Church said it was a serious matter, the same as the Church says Sunday Mass obligation is a serious matter. Case closed. Why that's not good enough for you is between you and God who gave the Church the authority to make just such pronouncements. You keep staring at the burger; look at the Church. I don't presume, nor should any of us, to know or judge the soul of someone who keels over after eating a burger on a Friday. As for what God thinks of all this, I quote from Him as He addressed the Church - what you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, what you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. As for the poor fellow who died following a Big Mac dinner, I ask you this - if he knows the Church clearly tells him not to have the burger, then why in God's name would he eat one anyway? Was Moses treated harshly when he tapped the rock twice instead of once as God asked, the result being he was not allowed into the promised land after faithfully walking the hot desert for 40 years? Was the extra tap such a big deal? Well, it was. We don't have to know the why of these commands, ours is to be faithful to them.

Michael J. Barberi,

My guess is nowhere in scripture or revelation (and don't forget tradition) is HV mentioned. Neither is nuclear war or gay marriage or embryonic stem cell research for that matter. They don't have to be mentioned directly for the Church to declare definitively on them. it's sufficient that the Church can deduce or infer its binding teachings on these and a host of other issues. Popes have never erred in matters of doctrine. When it comes to questions of faith and morals, Christ guaranteed that the Church will be free of error in this regard until the end of time. Papal infallibility does not depend on papal indefectibility. Bad popes can enjoy infallibility. As for the Church closing its ears on discussions re/contraception, perhaps you've heard the expression "Roma locuta - causa finita" - Rome has spoken, the case is closed. This means that once doctrine has been declared, the matter is settled and is no longer open to debate. Scientists no longer debate if the moon is made of green cheese. Yes, there can be discussions that deepen our understanding of a teaching in the deposit of faith, but we no longer question the veracity and binding power of the teaching. Well, some dissenters do claim that theological green cheese actually does exist. Finally, doctrine isn't determined by a show of hands. If 100% of Catholics ignored 100% of the teachings in the deposit of faith, that would have no effect on the truth of the teachings.

Though more could be said, I thought I would stick to just a few points.  The idea that the sexual act can become about pleasure alone with the exclusion of its procreative component is meant to reflect the reality of the act itself not the intentions of those participating.  It is understood that the actual reality of the act will affect the way we think about it, if undertaken wrongly over time, but the implication of the claim is that there is meaning in the act itself, which we who undertake it do not provide.  So sex is a communication of sorts, a giving of self that is not defined by what is intended, but in fact requires the proper intention to be entered into licitly.  Contracepting is placing a physically and spiritually stunting barrier between the selves who could otherwise give fully.  This is not biologism--which coincidentally is making a division of man into components not unlike Manichaeism does.  I am my body, as Aquinas said.  So the point is what we do with our selves matters.  

I think the priest in question, who sounds like a thoughtful fellow, would probably agree that there is more to sex than the procreative and the pleasurable.  He might use the language which is fairly commonly used and refer to the other aspects than the procreative as the "unitive."  This wouldn't change the thrust of the point being made really, since unity is thwarted by the barrier to the procreative.  The act is incomplete.  

I imagine most people would agree that the tendency to objectify "intentionally" is less in the case of married persons using artifical contraception, but we can use our spouses in actuality without intending or meaning the act "that way."

This article and its comments seemed rather disrespectful and ill conceived, not to mention condescending toward priests and bishops.  For the record, I for one appreciate being given the challenge of the expectation to be a man and live up to heroic virtue.  So to, I presume, do all of the wonderful new seminarians streaming into traditional and orthodox seminaries.  If you are bothered now, you will be really annoyed by the coming, joyous, torrent of young catholicity, who will with resounding voice take up the call of the bishops.

If anyone is interested in exploring the difference between artificial contraception and NFP  there really are some very good discussions to be had on the subtle distinciton.

If anyone is really  making the claim that they just don't have to listen to the bishops when they don't like what the bishops say about something.  They are embracing an odd Catholicity, to be sure.  All this talk about them imposing profound hardships on everybody is a bit rich; they are celibates.

Why not just embrace what they are asking in humility?  You might find out something profound and rejuvinate your faith, which we could all use.


Ed and KJR:  your idea of the church sounds dangerously close to the "ecclesiolatry" James Alison describes in the passage I quoted above.  Mindless fundamentalism, or the "orthodoxy" to which KJR refers are very attractive in this frightful world we live in.  But that does not make such a stance truly evocative or supportive of the church envisioned by the Gospel.  If the arrogance and intransigence of the way church authority is now structured and exercised pleases you and gives you a sense of security and safety, good for you.  How you manage to see such a pattern in the Gospel is beyond can hope for me that if the Lord comes to find me on a Friday, I won't have just polished off an Angus Deluxe.  And if he comes for you, I can hope that he will not find you worshiping an image of the pope. 

Wow! Sex sells.

I reckon if Jo had written on her experience of the intimate and mysterious relationship between Christ and The Bride of Christ there would have been few comments.

But when she writes, based on her own experience and that of others, on the intimate and mysterious sex relationship between married couples she gets nearly 90.

When Christ wanted to describe how much he loved Jerusalem and its people He compared Himself to a mother hen (Matt 23:37)

Being the great teacher and prophet that He was I like to think He chose an analogy that was not culture-bound. Whatever the dynamics between the sexes in family life in Jesus' time I doubt if they were characterised by unconditional love. So He chose an example that all could picture without embarrassment or confusion - a hen gathering her chicks under her wings.

I think preachers should bear in mind the example of Christ. It is not just enough to state the truth as they see it. They must try to convey it in a way that gels with the lived experience of their audience - captive though it be.

What Jo wrote made sound sense to me but then I am a 75 year old grandfather with two daughters (only two because of a medical problem) and five grandchildren, whom I'd love to gather under my wing, but their mothers don't want them to grow up to be sooks, so I have to love them under conditions set down by their parents.

Now why do my daughters' attitudes remind me of some church authorities?

The old shibboleth "Father knows best" no longer applies and I must accept that.

Michael Barberi

Thanks for your long response.  My quote wasnt from your writings.  It was from Mike Evans on 4/11 at 9:10am


I will however make the following observation.  I always remember my father discussing an issue and finally responding "Well, I dont agree with your decision, but I respect your right to make it and will abide by it."  I find that around many issues Americans seem to have forgotten the end of that statement, me included.   Instead, it's more like "I dont agree with your decision and I wont abide by it."  That includes American Catholics, who often retreat to the 'I'm following my conscience' defense when in many cases there is more defiant ignorance than moral discernment happening.  I appreciate your observation that more are well-educated in the language of the church and published; that, unfortunately, does not guarantee its quality.  My belief in Christ, and by extension his Church, leads me to assume that Truth more likely lays there than in any individual's or group's expression of conscience.

Michael Barberi,

Your argument comparing contracepting couples and divorced/remarried couples holds no logic.  Each act of contraception is its own sin and people remain free at any moment to stop.  In the remarriage situation, (its the remarriage that is sinful, not the divorce) the sin is continual and ongoing.  If at any point the person stops the sin by moving out or divorcing, then confession and communion become available.  So, in my kitchen table argument, recurrent but discrete sinful acts are immediately reformable in a way continual and ongoing sinful acts are not.

Lindsay Wilcox, Thanks for taking the time and effort to write your well-composed, thoughtful post.  I especially appreciated its maturity and rationality.

Holy moly did this one get the traction!  Perhaps those who have someone in their lives with whom are they are daily (and nightly) living something that for them seems more than a bit of a divine mystery cannot understand anyone would need a "doctrine" to define the bounds of its reality much less that such a thing can in fact exist in a mere mortal's life.

Several reflections of this artice:

Since when does procreation have to be "breeding." I create love, stability, love, and divinity with my husband when we have sex.

I think it is a naive assumption that the male clergy making the decisions do not have sex. 

Finally, and a pet argument of mine: Having a BA and MA in theology, I must state that I was taught that the first point in determining the morality of an act is the intentionality. I have argued with many, many theologians on this point when it comes to Natural Family Planning. Planning? Is that not deciding when to have sex and "not" get pregnant? Isn't that saying that I want this act not to result in a child? Is that not an inital intentionality of Not having children? Is this not a choice against having a child? I cannot reconcile this form as preferable to contraceptive means. 



"Surely,  Carlo jests. For centuries, pleasure taught as sin instead of joy, an attitude of marriage as permission to sin, constant questions about what is sinful and what not? "

Sorry, but that's purely mythological view of Church history. That may be true of some times and some places, but it is obviously false of other times and places.

Anglea Stockton and Janet,

One more time, from the top...

Christ gave the Church the power and authority to bind the faithful to certain rules under pain of mortal sin. 

Meatless Fridays was one such tule.

It makes no difference how silly or ridiculously unfair you or I think this is - God speaks through his Church, and when he speaks it's our job to listen, not whine like teenagers.

In Genesis, God allegorically forbade Adam and Eve to eat from the tree.

They ate the apple anyway.

The upshot was they were booted from the Garden, they lost their preternatural gifts, they brought death and suffering and the effects of original sin into the world, effecting every human for all time, necessitating a savior to be born, suffer and die in order to reunite us with a God we are separated from, all because they ate one measly apple.

Think about that when you talk about eating meat on Friday.


Ed Micca:

You believe in the doctrine of infallibility, in all its principles, and conclude that contraception is intrinsically evil regardless of circumstances, intentions and ends. Good for you. Yet you directly imply that those that disagree with a doctrine of the Church, such as contraception, are dissenters, infected with the evil of the securlar age, abiding not by a truly informed conscience, or if so, such a conscience is distorted. By your assertion of moral certitude, most theologicans and the laity, and many bishops and about 40% of priests that disagree with HV fall into one these categories as well. You also proclaim that bad popes can issue teachings that are infallible. Perhaps, but if a pope offends morality, it is hard to imagine that such a pope has any  credibility in other moral pronouncements. I draw you attention to Pius IX. He kidnapped a young Jewish boy from his parents and keep him in the Vatican until adulthood because a mid-wife baptized the child under fear of death during delivery...without the parent's permission who were Jewish. This is the same pope issued the infamous Syallabus of Errors and proclaimed himself and other popes infallible.

There is profound disagreement about sexual ethics within our Church for more than 50 years. Despite any argument, you believe, as the Church does, in the moral certitude of papal encyclicals. 

All you have done Ed Micca is repeat the narrative of the Roman Curia on these issues, especially contraception, but have not addressed any of the concrete cases that demonstated insensibility and unreasonableness. I repeat not these examples but call your attention in brief to the case of a married woman whose life is threatened by another pregnancy. She must  practice risky PC or celibacy. She cannot take the pill or be sterilized to safeguard her life. The hierarchy of values in this case is turned upside down by the moral absolute that one must ensure that every marital act must be open to procreation. 

Somehow the answers to the unnaturalness and unreasonableness of NFP-PC as the only licit method of birth regulation is "heroic virtue" taken to any extreme in order to preserve and defend HV. 

The great Bernard Hering rightly said that there was no moral difference between NFP-PC and contraception. Each is a form of manipulation. Do you really believe that God's Procreative Plan is for spouses to measure temperture and examine cervical mucus each day in order to determine those days that are infertile and limit sexual intercourse to only those the only licit method of birth control. Think about it. Apart from its obvious unintelligibility, you claim that this very fact does not make the teaching wrong. If contraception is the absolute moral truth, and Divine Law, what power does it possess to change behavior if it is unintelligible, unreasonable and not convincing to most Catholics? 

Perhaps you believe that a moral teaching proclaimed to be Natural and Divine Law, and taught for centuries by popes and bishops, and not received, continues to be the truth. I ask you for one example.



I also believe that the truth is in Christ, and not in the collective consciences of Catholics. However, you missed my point because I was referring to the Theololgy of Rececption that is often ignored by the Church. I was also referring to the fact the Holy Spirit moves us to the truth in what is claimed to be necessary things, but also in doubtful things. This is part of the Theology of Reception.

You also agrued about the example I used, namely, the divorsed and remarried. You rightly claim that each sin rests on its own merits. I agree. However, the divorsed and remarried may be guilty of two sins: remarriage and contraception. They are habitual sinners. The Church selectively chooses what "habitual sinners" will be given absolution by the principle of gradualness in the sacrament of reconcilation. Married couples who practice contraception can be given absolution and receive the Eucharist regardless of a firm purpose of amendment. Yet, other habitual sinnners are denied absolution and the Eucharist, such as the divorsed and remarried. I hope you can see the contradiction.

Another contradiction between doctrine and pastoral practices is this: every priest knows that most young married couples practice some form of contraception, yet these couples stand in line each week to receive the Eucharist. You never hear anything from the pulpit or in weekly Church bulletins about the requirement to confess this sin, receive absolution, before receiving the Eucharist....otherwise you commit the grave sin of sacrilege. This is called the "silent pulpit" and it applies to parish priests and bishops.

I had a long conversation with the pastor of a local Church a few months ago about this. He pointed to an occasional bulletin that called attention to HV....but also admitted it did not address the issue I mentioned above. He also admitted that many priests don't speak about sexual ethics, especially contraception from the pulpit because, they have no convincing answer to the many questions and comments from their parishioners. Many fear they would lose parishioners and their weekly contributions. 

Another priest, in a separate discussion, told me that I should never allow a disagreement with a teaching to distract me, in any way, from my relationship with Christ...that was the most important thing for Catholics to do. He also admitted that contraception continues to be a controversial teaching. Nevertheless, I also know of priests that repeat the narrative of the Church and are strong supporters of HV. My cousin is the Chancellor of a Diocese in Florida. He said when my parish priest told me 35 years ago that contraception, after I had 2 children and wanted no more for good reasons, was an issue of my informed conscience....he said that priest gave you bad advice...he was "wrong". I asked him to explain to me why 40% of priests do this. His only answer was that those statistics reflected mostly older priests, and that newer priests were being trained differently. I respect my cousin, but he is dreaming. Priests today are given the same tools and tired narratives that have not worked for the past 44 years. There is nothing new about the doctrine of contraceptoin. The latest survey by the late Dean Hoge showed that when it comes to sexual ethics, the youngest Catholics hold to their individual consciences on certain issues more so than a papal encyclical that does not make sense to them. 

So, when you assert that a teaching, not convincing or received, does not make the teaching untrue,... I say.. nor does it make it true, simply because the pope said so. This is especially relevant if there is contradiction and inconsistency between doctrine and pastoral practices....and between doctrine and human experienc (meaning what is assumed to be true regarding the marital and sexual relationship...versus the reality as clearly demonstrated by Jo McGowan).


To those who insist that the teaching of HV is true, complete, etc., and to be followed to the letter lest one incur the penalty of mortal sin: 

What IS the difference between NFP and other forms of birth control?  Since you find Roger Landry's defense of HV so satisfying and convincing, how is a couple practicing NFP any LESS rejecting of the "call" to be a mom or dad?  Are they not engaging in sexual intercourse during the infertile times of a woman's cycle with the intention of NOT becoming pregnant, hence seeking everything inherently potential/available in the sexual act EXCEPT pregnancy?  Aren't they also seeking sexual expression for reasons other than procreation and, in fact, by their careful planning, deliberately doing so?  God forbid, but could they be seeking PLEASURE itself as an end?  And if they are seeking pleasure in itself (which one must admit since they are distinctly seeking to avoid pregnancy by practicing NFP), how is this less "objectifying" or "harmful" to the partner than if they were to use a condom, the Pill or an IUD?  I know others have already posed this in different ways, but I haven't yet read a satisfactory reply here.  It would also be great to hear from faithful married couples whose lives have been harmed by the use of contraception...methinks they are rare to non-existent.  If anyone is harmed by contraception (and surely many are), it is not the thoughtful, faithful married folks who know what it means to discern what's true and follow their consciences. 

Ed Micca:  Still waiting for evidence for what you claim to be PPVI's reason for calling the BC Commission...or maybe there isn't evidence; maybe you heard some pope say it (so it must be true).  And by the way, your "from the top" reply above is just more of the same:  irrational, unconvincing and yet another signal that you perhaps have turned the institutional church into an idol.  This is very, very dangerous.  In Scripture, idolatry is THE sin.  I would be very careful if I were you.

Carolyn: "Surely, Carlo jests. For centuries, pleasure taught as sin instead of joy, an attitude of marriage as permission to sin, constant questions about what is sinful and what not? "

Carlo: "Sorry, but that's purely mythological view of Church history. That may be true of some times and some places, but it is obviously false of other times and places."

Of what "other times" do you speak, Carlo? The testimony of the fathers, the scholastics, popes and council decrees, not to mention popular examinations of conscience from medieval times on show a preoccupation with the potential for committing a "near occasion of sin," if not sin itself, at every turn when sex is involved.  Even though the Church never condemned marital sex, as certain heretical sects did; a fear of the potential for sin in sex has always been paramount.  The focus on concupiscence as a major consequence of original sin is both symptomatic and causal. 

This has been true in every age, except perhaps the present, but even today there are scrupulous Catholics who worry about every random sexual thought and seem to fear they'll be implicated in others' sins as well.  (The bishops' claim to concern over a "potential" for material cooperation in sin with regard to provisions of the health care law certainly does nothing to ameliorate their state of mind; and note that the "sins" involved are sexual; no similar concern with a potential for material cooperation in sin has been voiced with regard to Catholics participating in wars the bishops have called unjust,  interrogation techniques that include torture, capital punishment, etc. Only sexual issues elicit that scrupulous concern with minutiae or becoming even remotely involved.)

I know the enemies of the Church are fond of pointing out this problem, and for years I tried to do as you and justify what could be justified.  But that's not in the Church's best interest.  Look at the worldwide priestly child-abuse scandal and the sexual deviance of leaders of movements to "save" the Church such as the Legionairies of Christ.  Denying there's a problem, or problems, just hasn't worked.


PS to Ed Micca:  God forbad the eating of the fruit for a REASON and explained it to them!  How resepctful and humble of God to do this.  It wasn't simply an arbitrary "because I said so."  My goodness, even the Lord Jesus debated and discussed things with others.  And please don't put the Genesis story on the same level as the prohibition against eating meat on Fridays...Your view of the institutional church is downright scary. 

Janet and Beverly...bravo for your most insightful comments.

Ed Micca:

If we trace the doctrine of contraception to its root, we find ourselves with the Onan story in Genesis 38. The Church teaches that God killed Onan because of coitus interruptus. Anyone familiar with this story knows that Onan promised to marry and give children to his widow sister-in-law. This was Levirate Law. Below is part of an essay I wrote awhile back about how Biblical exegesis can shed light of a different interpretation of the "Onan Story" which was carried forth from ancient times to Augustine. Note how I start with the profound error about reproductive biology that was accepted as truth for thousands of years...namey that the male seed contained all that was necessary for human reproduction; the woman's womb was only considered a vessel so that the male seed could grow into a fully human being. She contributed nothing else. Therefore spilling the seed in a place not suitable for reproduction was considered quasi homicide. 

From ancient times to at least the fourteenth century, coitus interuptus was akin to quasi homicide.[1] Could these earlier beliefs fueled the reason God killed Onan? Onan also defrauded his father and widowed sister-in-law, coveted his brother’s property and violated a sacred vow before God. Could God have killed Onan for these reasons since a violation of the spirit of Levirate law was punishable by public infamy, or a harsher penalty, but not death (Deut. 25: 9)? Additionally, coitus interuptus was not prohibited by the codes of ancient law. Therefore, it seems unlikely that, in the absence of a clear prohibition, coitus interuptus was immoral.[2]




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Consider a broader biblical context. Lot was willing to allow his daughters to be raped, a despicable sin (Gn 19: 8). Lot's daughters also slept with him and conceived children (Gn 19: 30-38). This was a sin of incest. David lusted after Bathsheba, committed adultery and eventually murdered her husband (2 Kgs 25: 23-42). Yet, God did not kill any of them. If God did not kill Lot and David for actions that were clearly prohibited by Natural and Divine law, then coitus interuptus, which was not explicitly prohibited by ancient law, may not be the reason God killed Onan. While these conclusions are plausible, it is by faith that we accept the fact that in Genesis 38 coitus interuptus was condemned by God. This continued to the twentieth century.

During the 1950s, the issue of contraception was turned upside down when the first pill was introduced. Unlike the condom or coitus interuptus, the pill was not physically interfering with the marital act per se. It was temporarily suspending ovulation.

[1] John T. Noonan, Jr., Contraception: A History of Its Treatment by the Catholic Theologians and Canonists (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1986) 1-581, at 235, 364.

[2] Ibid., 35.

 As you can probably discern, when a narrative is repeated for thousands of years it becomes the absolute moral truth. The question is: Is the above interpretation plausible? Notice how HV turned the entire history of this so-called doctrine about immoral sexual acts into a new theory of contraception. Suddenly, the Onan Story became a prohibition against spilling the male seed in an improper place for reproduction.   This made some sense when the condom was widely availablle around 1850. When the pill was invented, it was not interfering with the sex act. The male seed was being desposited in its proper place. The answer: HV turned the Onan story into a new and novel moral absolute. The Onan Story was really about preventing procreation and most importantly, there was now 2 dimensions of the marital act that could not be separated....because it was claimed to be Divine Law. Thanks to the spiritual insight of Pius XII and proclaimed again in HV, there was only 1 morally acceptable method of birth control..called...NFP-PC. 

Unfortunately, for most Catholics and theologians, and many bishops and priests, there is little difference, if any, between NFP-PC and the many blog comments in this tread has made clear.

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. 

Thank God I didn't enter the seminary in 8th grade, as was common then, and as I had considered.  I shudder to think of this. Now, after almost 45 years of marriage, three daughters and two grandkids, I am mostly rid of adolescent thinking.  But reading Jo McGowan's excellent article made me realize how such thinking is hard to completely eradicate.  Speaking strictly for me, I might well be stuck in it if I had gone into the seminary and seen it through to the priesthood way back then. 

It is good these days to see concerns about objectification being discussed.  Yet in discussions about birth control and abortion too often the woman's personhood is insufficiently considered.             

Lindsay Wilcox writes:

If two spouses determine this is not the time to have children, let them wait to have sex until a time when the sex will not produce a child

How is this different from the practice of artificial contraception condemend by the church?  Is it because it's natural vs. artifical?  That does not seem to be Roger Landry's point...for him, not being open to the possibility of life is the problem, and it seems that the NFP-ers are simply doing the same thing as the artificial contraceptors...both are seeking sexual union and "rejecting" their call to be moms/dads.  Is THIS the sin, or is it the latex and chemicals that make one method sinful and the other not?  The church needs to get this straight, don't you think?  But perhaps if they did try to get it straight, they would soon see the folly of allowing NFP as well, since it, too, is contraceptive and could never be upheld as moral in the framework they have already established (that every act of intercourse be open to life..).  Not to mention that they would have to then pronounce that post-menopausal sex and infertile sex are also immoral.  Hmm...not sure that would work too well. 

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.

Thank you Jo McGowan you've put into words what we and so many married couples know.  Bishops, for the most part, have no idea what married life is.  Many have no pastoral experience at all having come from administrative offices.  Even bishops who know better are constrained by threats and very few speak out about Vatican pronouncements.

Edicts on behavior from the Vatican are like a blind man telling an artist she/he must use different techniques and colors.


have love! sex is a means to love and also to creat. Have love, then do what ever you want, said saint Agustine. pleasure is part of love and procreation. the church project Love and procreation. that's great. that is the goal. action and pleasure are means. church wants that the means should not be demeaned. some regulations are said for the beginners. those who are advanced in love, please forget about such teachings. all church teachings are means to reach us the state of pure love. when u reach there, what is the relevance of the means then? In theory and in principle Church opposes many things. Church has to. But in practice Church cares for all. If u find confusion make a confession. that's never a humiliation but a humble step to glory. Halleluia. confession is not for those who are able to obey all the teachings of the Church. (that's impossible),so we can't say there should not be teachings!!! visible church is the human side of the real Church. as there is limitations and lackings in man so in Church. that's why we say Pilgrim Church, growing Church and so on. we are the church. first we the branches reach top then the stem become more strong and more mature, Halleluia, by Saju Avi

This is an interesting opinion. By like most they lend themselves to drift beyond validating ones perspective to misguided slander like the comment about "mindlessly" having kids. I think you portray a general lack of an understanding about how Catholic teaching works. First, a teacher teaches the facts. I get your attempt to link a novice with obedience, but an argument like tht only "preaches to the choir" it rarely convinces anyone of differing perspective. and being an expert doesnt mean i get to change the laws which govern chemistry, for example - a field ive been an expert in for 20 years. no. the fundamentals really dont change.

 Lets call your opinion what it is. An opinion. You, like all of us fall short of the teaching of the Church. But when my students make mistakes in the lab, I don't change the physical laws of chemistry so their failed experimental setup will work next time. Not like I could change these laws anyways, but if I could...what would I teach them about chemistry. Nothing. And that's what I think you understand about Catholic teaching. It's not about you trying to make your difficult life choices easier. Nor should it be changed to accommodate you. That's arrogant and not what our faith is about. It's tough. I, like anyone reading this, know its tough. But I can't ask God to change because things don't fit in my schedule. Hence prayer. Try asking what you can do for God, and not what God can do for you....and stop blaming those He gives teaching authority.

What started out as a discussion about sex quickly morphed into a debate between the orthodox Catholics and the cafeteria Catholics.  It's a debate which can never be resolved through reasoned argument, supported by always debatable appeals to Scripture and Tradition. It goes to the definition of The Church.  Who is empowered to define The Church?  Who "owns" The Church?  What is The Church? I think that this is really the essence of most of the debate on this thread.

I will say that there is a cognitive disonance when people in opposition to the principle of Magesterial authority recite their own "qualifications" ("years of study," etc.) to enhance the credibility of their own pronouncements. It would seem preferable let one's arguments speak for themselves, if one rejects the concept of "authority."  I like the analogy between Internet discussion boards and an overheard subway conversation. Both may be valuable for stimulating thought and reflection and further research.  Neither should be received as an epiphany.

The following are the ruminations of this particular subway stranger.

My favorite psalm is the 27th.  Real goose bump stuff.The things in which I believe are those which speak to my heart.  I don't consciously pick and choose; that's a trivialization of what's going on.  That in which I believe can either be proven true or else touches my soul in a manner which compels belief.  I'm not wired to believe what I'm told when it can not be proven, when it seems implausible, and when it neither speaks to my open heart nor touches my soul.  My faith in Catholicism is by now very real, but it is not based on a belief that Magesterial teachings are inerrant.  The clergy are essential, but not authoritative. They are guides like a GPS is a guide.  They almost always get you to the general vicinity, but you are ultimately responsible for getting yourself where you are trying to go. 

Will I ever be a true Catholic?  It depends on what the definition of "true" is.  It's a definition which may be debated by humans but determined only by God.

I continue to ponder the 1969 quotation by the Fr. Ratzinger:

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

He was only a theologian, back then. But if Fr. Ratzinger could himself be capable of thinking in such terms, then it should be understandable that people like me do receive official Church teachings with varying degrees of acceptance.

- Larry Weisenthal/Huntington Beach CA

Keeping marriages intact is a priority. If using contraception frees a couple to have good sex often and enhances their closeness then fine. Marriage should include the intent to have children. Have as many as you can within time, economic and physical constraints. Do what you can to keep your marriage strong. Aren't these goals the bottom line?

It is heartening to see so many new voices emerging to challenge the myth that the sexual revolution and contraception have been a good thing for society.Collen Carroll Campbell, "What Women Want" Joseph, "Serving an Epidemic of Sexual Excess: Free Contraceptive Coverage -- A Bad Joke Played on Women" Fulwiler, "The Contraception Trap": Eberstadt, "Has the Sexual Revolution Been Good for Women? No.": Rose, "Battle hymn of the anti-abortion feminist:" Hoopes, "The Truth About Natural Family Planning:" H, "Why the Catholic Church Opposes Contraception:" Smith, with the classic "Contraception, Why not?" Giesler, "Contracepting America: the real war on women"

Ms. McGowan states that sex is never simple. Actually, it's the most simplistic activity human beings could possibly engage in. For anyone to suggest that another human being must first have had sex in order to speak about it is ridiculous. Does one have had to be pregnant in order to deliver a baby; or to discuss what a woman will probably experience during her pregancy? No, because that would eliminate make obstetricians. Likewise, neurosurgeons discuss brain tumors, and have never had one.

Marriage is what is complex, not sex. It's the human relationship between a man and a woman--the two totally different natures representing the two halves of the human race, spending a lifetime together in understanding and appreciating the differences of the other. Love in a marriage comes from a deepening of admiration and respect for the other and a tempering of needs and desires by virtue of the respect for the other's nature. One doesn't have to have been married to understand and counsel a man and a woman in their relationship. Problems they have are not new--they are part of human history.

Part of Ms. McGowan's attitude toward sex seems to come from feminism. Theories of feminism are clueless when it comes to understanding a woman's relationship with a man or visa versa. If one believes these theories, one is likely to create problems where none exist. The operative word when it comes to feminism is believe--those theories are all wrong and wrong because they seek to make a woman equal to a man.

Women were never equal to men. In order for a woman to be equal to a man she would have to be dragged backwards down twenty-five steps of a ladder. If you're a feminist, you believe that women were twenty-five steps below a man--that's just insulting. No man believes that--boys and girls who never mature believe that. And, there's the disconnect. Fr. Landry is a man, not a boy and Ms. McGowan is a girl not a woman.

Contraceptives should be a private issue, she says, for a married couple to decide. Although Ms. McGowan thinks her sex life is private, it's not. Every word one utters and every gesture made in public towards your husband and/or wife lets the entire world know how much you actually care for each other. For Ms. Gowan's focus of marriage to be on herself, women. pregnancy is an indication that her husband is lost in her shuffle for center stage. If he's even still around--she didn't mention him, just used the royal "we." 

Then she moves in for the kill with this gem: "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." Is she equating sexual pleasure with the wonder of God's love? Dear God, I hope I misunderstood that one because equating love in that sentence with a basic physical  act similar in nature to eating is grotesque--unless one worships the act to the point of believing it's the whole purpose of life and thast all we are is sexual beings. That too is an insult to any thinking human being--especially a woman.

So, contraceptives. What do I think? I'm married 20 years, three teenagers--they're a blast. We have the coolest family and the greatest relationship, T.G. I've never taken the pill or used contraceptives--tmy husband either. No, we don't do NFP. We know biology--it's pretty basic. The magic numbers are 24 hrs, 72 hrs and that's about it. 

Sex, like any other behavior--sucking your thumb, picking your nose, scratching your body in public--requires awareness and self control. Contraceptives are marketed by advertisers to simple minded women who they've convinced need to constantly entice men with sex in order to be loved. These women do not know why men fall in love with women--it's never about sex. 

Sex is nice--but it's certainly not what life is about. That this is a Catholic forum and women are shouting about their contraceptives is actually pretty funny. Isn't the point of life in Catholicism to direct your mind, spirit and body towards a more spiritual plane? Isn't our body a sacred temple--a woman's to a greater degree than a man's even, because she potentially houses the development of another temple to God--a child? 

Where's the self-respect for being a woman--where's women's God given wisdom gone?

I think the misunderstanding Ms. McGowan has with the Church is that she is hearing consequences and responsibilities of sex as if they are talking about children. They are talking about her formation of her conscience and character--that's the consequence of thinking of sex as she does. 

We all have free will and choice--I refuse to pay for, be a party to or condone women's irresponsible behavior, irresponsible and disrepectful behavior towards themselves, towards men,  children,  pregnancy, the Church, religion in general, neighbors and God.

On a final note, she mentions India and the women having boys. How about the fact that people in the US are buying a woman's uterus in India for $5,000 to house a baby and then treating that woman like dirt? Where are the feminists voices there? Where are they when women have abortions are suffer from depression? Contraceptives don't prevent diseases, heartbreak, or self-hatred--they increase the possibility x 100.




The Church has never been against family planning (or contraception) as long as it is done "naturally." That is better known as Vatican Roulette. 

I am very "pro-life" but I can assure you that there is nothing "natural" about natural family planning.

My wife and I have nine children.

That should be proof enough that natural family planning is not natural.

It might be more persuasive if the discussion were elevated above -- or perhaps might resist the temptation -- name calling.  Characterizing the clergy as immature does not address the issues.  This may or may not be the case, but it adds little to the dialogue.  And the notion that one must have subjective experience in order to have a point of view is pitch perfect for the age of narcissism. 

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