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.

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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 centuries....in 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Janet:

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 pregnancy...to 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. 

Beverly:

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.

EXAMPLES
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.

EXAMPLES
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.

EXAMPLES
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  http://www.bmj.sk/2007/10803-12.pdf   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.

Bruce:

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 contraception...at 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"...as 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.

Carlo:

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 evil...tax 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?

Beverly:

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”<--

-->“...men 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 (www.popepaulvi.com) 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 

 http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1252/is_2_128/ai_71578789/?tag=mantle_skin;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.

Janet,

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 me...you 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. 

 

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? "

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 days...as 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.

 

Bruce:

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 contraception....as 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. 

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About the Author

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