Thursday, August 22, 2013

Should Pope Francis "take on" birth control? A response

Hi folks, JoAnna here. I recently wrote the following post for Catholic Stand
and Leila asked if I'd mind running it on the Bubble as a guest post as well 
while she is on hiatus. 


Robert McClory recently wrote an article for the National Catholic* Reporter, opining that Pope Francis should revisit the question of the morality of birth control. As per usual for the Reporter, this dissent from Church teaching contains many problems.

Problem #1: Terminology. This is a widespread problem, so I can't really fault McClory, but his terminology is problematic. The Church does not, in fact, teach that “birth control,” when used to refer to spacing pregnancies, is intrinsically immoral. In fact, the words “birth control” do not appear in the Catechism. The closest term is “regulation of births,” about which the CCC states, “The regulation of births represents one of the aspects of responsible fatherhood and motherhood. Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception).”

In other words, it is not intrinsically immoral to use “birth control” to space pregnancies, provided that the method of birth control used is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality. The Church teaches that there are only two such methods: periodic abstinence or complete abstinence (see CCC 2370).

Contraception, however, is a form of birth control that is intrinsically immoral and is not permitted under any circumstances. As Humanae Vitae states, contraception is “every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible.”

McClory is specifically speaking about the Church’s teachings regarding the intrinsic evil of contraception when he refers to birth control. He also states that the Church “forbids any form of artificial contraception” (emphasis mine), implying that moral methods of birth regulation are some sort of natural contraception, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

Problem #2: Too Many of Them, Just Enough of Him. McClory begins his article citing Pope Francis’ general audience on June 5, in which the Holy Father laments the plight of children who are starving and encourages Catholics to do what they can to remedy that issue.

McClory’s solution is not to feed the children, or donate food, money, or other resources toward that end, or work toward reforming corrupt governments that hinder adequate food distribution. No, his solution is... wait for it… contraception!

Frankly speaking, this attitude is one of eugenics smothered with a thin veneer of false compassion. “We must think of the children!” is camouflage for this sentiment: “The hungry of the world are the poor, unfit, unwashed masses, so of course there should be less of them. We wouldn't those undesirables to breed, would we?”

If McClory did his research, he'd know that the World Food Programme – the world's largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide – states that “There is enough food in the world today for everyone to have the nourishment necessary for a healthy and productive life.“ The problem is access, and throwing contraception at people who'd much prefer to have nutritious food is not going to solve that issue. (Incidentally, a search for the term “contraception” on WFP's site yields no results; obviously, unlike McClory, they don't believe it's the magical panacea for solving world hunger.)

Problem #3: The Holy Spirit Got It Wrong. McClory claims that he's “not suggesting the pope announce he is rescinding the church's position as dictated by Pope Paul VI in his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae.” No, not at all! He just wants Pope Francis to re-examine Responsible Parenthood, which was issued by the Vatican's Pontifical Commission on Population, Family, and Birth in 1966. This document encouraged Paul VI to amend the Church's current position on contraception, arguing that the Pill should be an “exception” to the contraception ban since it didn't alter the physical aspects of the marital act (unlike condoms, which placed a barrier between man and wife).

Interestingly, it was Paul's VI intention that this document was for his eyes only, but unfortunately a copy was leaked to the press and its contents became available for public dissemination. The document caused many Catholics to believe that a change in teaching regarding contraception was imminent, as it was portrayed as the “majority opinion” of the Commission. The fact that, to quote Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, “Truth is not determined by majority vote” was a concept apparently lost to many Catholics at that time (and is a concept still lost to many Catholics today, including the entire staff of the National Catholic Reporter).

Paul VI, however, knew that the Commission was largely composed of pro-contraception advocates from its inception. According to Dr. Germain Grisez, emeritus Professor of Christian Ethics at Mount St. Mary’s University, “Paul VI was aware of the ideological leanings of those he had appointed to the Commission, and had composed the Commission in this way in order to give their argument a fair hearing.”

Their arguments did not convince Paul VI, however, and two years later he issued Humanae Vitae, restating the Church's constant, unchanging teaching on artificial birth control and making several dire predictions about the negative changes that would come to pass if contraception became accepted and widespread among the populace – predictions that have all come true.

You'd think that the fact that these predictions have come true is simply evidence that Paul VI was correct in his decision, and that his words and actions in continuing to uphold the Church's ban on contraception were inspired by the Holy Spirit, wouldn't you?

Not so, says McClory's article. He believes that the Commission was “ahead of its time,” and his implication is that Paul VI went against the "correct" teaching and instead taught error as doctrine. Moreover, using this logic, the Church has continued teaching error as doctrine – the ban on contraception is reiterated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (which is, according to Pope John Paul II, “a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion“), and JPII also reaffirmed the evil of contraception in his encyclical Evengelium Vitae.

In short, McClory believes that the Holy Spirit got it wrong when He inspired the Church to reaffirm the ban against contraception, which means that the gates of Hell have prevailed against the Church and Jesus was a liar. Therefore, Catholicism is a false religion. Given this logic, why does McClory bother to remain in a Church that he firmly believes teaches error as doctrine and has proven itself, by his own reasoning, to be a false church? How can he trust any of the teachings of the Church if he knows that She has taught error on one important aspect of doctrine (and if he's in favor of women's ordination, as are most of the NCR staff, that's another crucial area of doctrine the Church has allegedly gotten wrong)?

Problem #4: Pope Francis is Going to Change Church Teaching. McClory “couldn't help noting how the language of the document [Responsible Parenthood] so resembled the calm, non-argumentative, pastoral style of the current pope.”

I can't think of a single papal document issued in the last forty years or so that could be described as angry, argumentative, or non-pastoral, but his implication is that Francis' style is markedly different than that of Paul VI or JPII or Benedict XVI – yet reading any of the documents issued by any of these popes shows that they were all (or are still, in Pope Benedict's case) thoughtful, reasonable, pastoral shepherds of our Church.

I think McClory is projecting his own feelings of anger and dissent on the writings of the popes with whom he disagrees, and he's hoping that Pope Francis, whom he sees as more "liberal," will change all that by also changing Church teaching – because to accept the recommendations of Responsible Parenthood would be to do just that.

So no, Mr. McClory, Pope Francis will not “take on birth control,” because the teaching that contraception is an intrinsic evil is a teaching of the magisterium and is part of the Deposit of Faith. Pope Francis has neither the authority nor the desire to change this doctrine, and his pontificate so far has only served to emphasize that fact.

Stop fantasizing about what you hope Pope Francis will say and start listening to what he has actually said, such as in Lumen Fidei:
As a service to the unity of faith and its integral transmission, the Lord gave his Church the gift of apostolic succession. Through this means, the continuity of the Church’s memory is ensured and certain access can be had to the wellspring from which faith flows. The assurance of continuity with the origins is thus given by living persons, in a way consonant with the living faith which the Church is called to transmit. She depends on the fidelity of witnesses chosen by the Lord for this task. For this reason, the magisterium always speaks in obedience to the prior word on which faith is based; it is reliable because of its trust in the word which it hears, preserves and expounds. In Saint Paul’s farewell discourse to the elders of Ephesus at Miletus, which Saint Luke recounts for us in the Acts of the Apostles, he testifies that he had carried out the task which the Lord had entrusted to him of "declaring the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). Thanks to the Church’s magisterium, this counsel can come to us in its integrity, and with it the joy of being able to follow it fully.”

*While this publication still identifies itself as Catholic, they were requested to remove that identifier from their name as early as 1968 – and the current bishop, Robert W. Finn, has also identified them as a problematic media source when it comes to authentic Catholic reporting.



  1. Joanna, you'll never get away with this! Let her go!

    Very well done on the article. McClorys attitude gives me vivid flashbacks to my teen and young adult years when every tough question I had was answered with "well, the church teaches this, buuuuutt, nobody really agrees with that and ( wink, wink) you don't have to follow that to be a good Catholic. Besides, they are going to change that rule any day now" . Exhausting!

  2. Paul VI was a brave man in many ways, but he really fell down with "Humanae Vitae". The Commission, appointed by John XXIII, was actually representative of the voices that made up Vatican II, and its recommendation was almost unanimous (62 - 4). (It should be noted that Dr. Grisez, whom you quoted, was a close adviser to Bishop John Ford, who was among those in the tiny minority.) Paul took the position he did because he thought that he could not overrule Pius XI's hasty and uninformed condemnation of contraception in "Casti Connubii" without damaging the Pope's teaching authority. He tried his best but his reasoning was contorted and unsupported by Scripture. As a result we now have a situation where "spilling the seed" (artificial contraception) is forbidden but "spilling the egg" (natural family planning) is o.k. Few Catholics really can accept this reasoning with a straight face. Consequently after Humanae Vitae Catholics stopped listening to the Pope with both ears. 98 percent of fertile Catholics in the U.S. have used artificial contraception, and few of them think they did anything wrong. As an ironic result, with Humanae Vitae Paul greatly damaged the the Pope's teaching authority, in fact it was damaged more than by anything else any Pope has done since, a great detriment when the Pope speaks cogently about actual concerns like war, capital punishment, abortion, etc.

    As for NCR, there is much in it you would not object to and probably would appreciate. For example, Bishop Gumbleton's homily on violence and war, I assume you have a mind and won't blindly follow whether this or that bishop considers NCR "problematic".

  3. "Paul took the position he did because…"

    Actually, captcrisis, Pope Paul took the position he did because the moral law is fixed. The Holy Spirit protects popes from teaching error. All the pope does is protect the Deposit of Faith as it is handed down over the millennia:

    Bishop Gumbleton? Oy, vey… He is a known dissenter on many issues of the moral and Church law.

    As for your last sentence, you clearly don't understand the nature of the Church. The bishop of a diocese is responsible for all the entities called "Catholic" in his diocese. It is a chief role of the bishop to ascribe or affirm the name "Catholic" only on those entities that are truly Catholic. This is to avoid scandal and confusion of the faithful, both of which the NCReporter has been guilty of for decades. NCReporter is in no way a "Catholic" paper. The hatred for Catholicism there is palpable.

    1. I will add that you are right: If there is an article in NCReporter that comports with Catholic teaching, I would appreciate it for sure. But overall, the tone there is very hostile to the Church and the Magisterium. I spend a day there last week in the combox and found so much ugliness toward Church teaching. There was someone later identified as a priest who was mocking the Church's teachings on sexuality with "LOL"s and was joking about going to Hooter's, etc. Apparently he is a regular and the others love him. It is a dark place in those comboxes and editorials. I won't be going back any time soon. Shiver.

    2. To say that "the Holy Spirit" was speaking through Paul -- and through any Pope -- is a dicey proposition, considering all the odious "teachings" Popes have given over the years. (Pius IX and other Popes instructed us not to hang out with Jews -- do you really believe that was correct?) This was in the past. What about now? The usual Vatican strategy is not to explicitly overrule, but to modify or "develop" prior positions. This might be a little dishonest but in a broad sense we must remember John XXIII's quote, "The Gospel hasn't changed -- but our understanding of it has."

      To give one example, Pius X and Leo XIII opposed giving women the right to vote. This was not just a political position but it was based on their teaching as to the roles God (supposedly) had assigned to men vs. women. In Casti Connubii Pius XI reversed this position. His rationale was that women now needed to protect their interests in a world of political instability. (The inference was that, previously, women were adequately protected by the law, a ridiculous proposition, though in the sheltered world Pius XI lived in, maybe he actually believed it had been true).

      As to HV, Paul admitted that his reason for not overruling Pius XI's condemnation of contraception was that any attenuation of the prior position would make the Pope look fallible. Fr. Ford noted that by reversing its stance, what would the Church say about all the souls it had condemned to hell? (As someone replied, "You can't be sure that God has obeyed the Church's orders.") It's notable that Paul didn't speak ex cathedra on HV. He also never issued another encyclical.

      To get back to NCR, it is in accord with Vatican policy when it comes to capital punishment, war, and providing for the poor -- issues on which "pro-life" politicians tend to be notably on the wrong side. It obviously has its own slant (and note, you can't always judge a site on the basis of the commenters), but it is a good news source on things the Church doesn't want us to know about (e.g., the Vatican bank scandal, the continuing effects of the child sex abuse scandal). NCR's John L. Allen, Jr. is also a leading reporter on Vatican affairs, and gets some high-placed interviews. (See his recent interview with Archbishop Charles Caput on why conservatives are thus far not happy with Francis.)

  4. If Paul VI got it wrong, captcrisis, what do you make of the fact that all of Paul VI's predictions in HV came true?

    Also, contraceptives have existed for 2,000+ years, and the Church had been condemning them all that time. Pius XI's condemnation was in no way "hasty," unless he was an Ent. :)

  5. Gosh, I am on my phone and I hope this doesn't post twice but I said it once and I'll say it again, this is so well done. You covered all your bases, JoAnna. I've read your article a half a dozen times. Love it! The little backhands you gave the Reporter throughout were right up my alley, too. Great job!

  6. Concerning the opinion of the author - McClory (and others on NCReporter), it really boils down to this: Is the Catholic Church a man-made institution or a Divine institution? If it is a man-made institution than we can accept what we want in regards to faith and morals, and reject what we don't like. But if it is Divine, then we must not seek to confirm the Church to our standards, but conform ourselves to the Church. The Catholic Church is a Divine institution, instituted by Christ on the rock of St. Peter, and guided by the Holy Spirit. It can not err in its teachings on faith and morals. Never has and never will.

  7. captcrisis: If you think the Church's teaching is based entirely on the idea that "every sperm is sacred", then you clearly have not been paying attention.

    Birth control pills waste neither sperm nor egg, but the Church still opposes them for contraceptive use. Why? The Pill is a form of temporary sterilization. (See Pius XII - Address to Hemotologists, 1958) Deliberately making a functional body system non-functional is disordered. Common sense tells us that using artificial hormones to suppress normal biology is probably not a healthy thing to do, especially long term.

    Yes, it is true that Aquinas's reasoning is based in obsolete ideas about biology and a questionable interpretation of Genesis 38, and isn't very convincing to modern ears. Nor is argument from authority.

    One of the biggest critics of this line of reasoning was Archbishop Karol Wojtyla, which is what drove him to rethink the Church's teaching in this area. The result was Love and Responsibility, which grounds the teaching in classical ethics and modern psychology. Wojtyla was appointed to the Commission, but was stuck behind the Iron Curtain in Poland. He communicated with the commission and was highly critical of both sides. His work heavily influenced Humanae Vitae.

    Wojtyla eventually became Pope John Paul II. He presented his "Theology of the Body" to the public in a series of addresses early in his pontificate.

    But what about the Church's alternative? Most dissenters can't spell NFP or if they can, they have obsolete ideas about what it is. Modern method of natural family planning are highly effective at preventing pregnancy if the couple knows what they are doing and follows the rules. With a little training, about 93% of women can easily detect their fertile and infertile times. (

    No, most Catholics don't follow this teaching. But this is nothing new. St. Bernardine of Siena complained about how common contraception was in late medieval Italy. Nor is it particularly relevant: Truth is not determined by a majority vote.

    For dissenters to prove the Church wrong, they must show that use of contraceptives is at least as good for couples as using natural family planning.

    Yes, it is true that couples are most attracted to each other during the fertile period, but this does not mean that couples aren't attracted to each other the entire month. Sex is about more than just reproduction, which is why humans do have sex all month long. If couples are only experiencing desire when fertile hormones draw them together, that's a sign of a significant relational or medical problem.

    Yes, NFP can be difficult for that 7% who have trouble with the method. However, technology is improving to help these women detect their fertile period ( so they can use the method successfully. For those who have difficulty or for those facing extended periods of abstinence, this is often a sign of a hormone imbalance. Once again, technology is improving to treat the underlying hormone imbalances that are making things difficult. (http://

    When NFP is difficult, this is often a sign of either relational or health problems. "Fixing" the problem by quitting NFP is like "fixing" a Check Engine light by disconnecting the bulb.

    As for keeping up with the times: The Episcopal Church was "ahead of its time" and has taken the progressive position over the "backwards" Catholic Church nearly every time. Yet the Episcopal Church is shrinking at an alarming rate. The Presbyterian Church USA is in an even more rapid decline. Between 2008 and 2011, the average age of a PCUSA member increased from 60 to 63. Do the math. The denomination is literally growing old and dying. How does a Church that limits family size grow, anyway? They don't.

  8. I would love more (widespread) clarification (I know you can find if you search reeeeeeeally hard on the USCCB site) on contraception and/or sterilization for the health/life of the mother. We just had our fourth baby via my fourth c-section and my uterus is in terrible shape. We are not going to physically be able to have more children, a team of doctors concludes, nor do we feel comfortable risking it. We are pretty well-versed in the catechism, even the inner-workings, but had a devil of a time trying to find anything that addressed our situation.

  9. J & A, since contraception and sterilization are intrinsic evils there is never a time or circumstance where they are morally permitted. However, email me and I will put you in touch with at least two couples who are in your type of situation and how they managed without resorting to contraceptions or sterilizations.

    Mike K., welcome! Great comment!

    And James B., wow! Please stick around here forever! Very informative (and true).

    1. There are a few circumstances where the use of contraceptives is morally permitted. The first one would be giving Plan B to a rape victim under certain circumstances. The second is a chaste person (nun or missionary) using a form of contraception in areas with high rates of rape. Neither rape victim or potential rape victim is obligated to conceive a child with a rapist.

      Of course, the two examples are outside of normal married conjugal relations. The question remains though, if something is intrinsically evil, then it can never be morally permitted. However, the church permits the use in very limited circumstances. So is contraception in and of itself evil. I'd say no, not entirely. Most use, yes. But with direct abortion it is 100% immoral. There is an ever so slight difference between abortion and contraception.

    2. Thank you, Priscilla (great name! It's my daughter's name). Agreed that there are times that those things are permitted, but that is not "contraception", which is alway intrinsically evil:

      The intent in what you speak of isn't contraception, but self-defense against an unjust attacker.

      And just to spell out for the reader, the only time it might possibly be permissible to use "emergency contraception" for a rape victim is if there is no chance that the woman has ovulated yet. This would have to be clearly determined in order to make even that very rare scenario licit.

  10. I've been reading some of the Birth Control Commission work:

    1. The teaching was very much in question in the 1960s. The Commission, as a whole, did not see Casti Connubii as infallible. I don't believe Paul VI saw Humanae Vitae as infallible either. Nevertheless, both are authoritative.

    2. Catechisis was poor, even among clergy and theologians. Pat and Patty Crowley, the head of the Christian Family Movement who advocated allowing contraception, had a complete non-understanding of Church teaching.

    3. The era from St. Pius X's anti-Modernist crusade to Vatican II was far from a "golden era". The Church HAD become very legalistic, reactionary, and stuffy. (Many Catholics had been WAY too receptive to fascism. You still see this in some schismatic ultra traditionalist circles.) When Vatican II changed some of the rules, many Catholics didn't know how to handle it. This explains the 1970s.

    4. The "Majority Report" was a consensus position. There were significant disagreements among the majority about why contraception should be permissible, when it should be permissible, and what forms should be permissible.

    5. There were two positions against contraception: The Ottaviani/Ford position, which reiterated CC, and Wojtyla's position which developed the doctrine. Wojtyla's position influenced HV, but was not made public until recently.

    6. The original English translation of HV was terrible.

    7. The problem was resolved by Wojytla becoming Pope for 27 years and appointing nearly the entire College of Cardinals, followed by 8 years of Josef Ratzinger. Sometimes the Holy Spirit's game plan is to run out the clock. In 2013, the issue is far different than it was in 1968. Were the Church to "revisit" the issue, they would inevitably come to the exact same conclusions.

  11. James, that is fascinating! Thank you!

    I love to take the simple approach in understanding this issue (or any other regarding the Deposit of Faith): If the Church has taught something as true for, say, 1,968 years, she's not going to reverse it. This is the universal, ordinary magisterium at work.

    1. Hahaha! And I like that they DO seriously look things over and don't just rest on "because we've always done it that way."

    2. James, exactly! The Faith is as simple and deep as any one person needs. For those who need to dive to deep, we have that! And for those who want to understand things simply, we have that, too! Just as you'd expect from a good God.

  12. All I know about NFP is that it really did not work for my parents.

    Not that I'm complaining. :)

  13. LOL, I am very glad for their "user failure", ha ha.

    Contraception itself has an extremely high user-failure rate (Guttmacher, a very pro-"choice" group, reports that 54% of women who come for abortions were using contraception that month).

    Here is a weird story from my childhood. My mom used to keep a scrapbook of newspaper cartoons that she liked. One of them is seared in my memory for some odd reason: Two little boys sitting on the doorstep (no smiles), and one says pensively (paraphrase), "It's kind of unsettling to know that you might be here because your mom forgot to take a pill."

  14. I saw this just the other day comparing the difficulty of NFP to that of the Pill. Forget a pill, things can get complicated.

    Then there are issues of dosing, finding a brand where the side-effects are tolerable, drug interactions, illness (getting a stomach bug is like not taking your pills). Not easy. As a result, I know quite a few "Pill babies".

    The site also had another post on what perfect and typical use really mean.

    I suspect that much of the high "typical use failure rate" of NFP is due to married Catholic couples not being terribly committed to avoiding pregnancy.

  15. James, I love what Simcha Fisher says: NFP is the worst thing out there -- except for everything else! :)

  16. I'd like to make a teeny-weeny testimony for NFP--it forced my husband and I to communicate during a difficult time of our marriage when we were at odds on a number of different issues. We had a number of painful talks (and arguments!), but because we were forced to talk to each other and unable to use ABC to sweep our issues under the rug, we are still married today (will be 20 years this fall).
    Thank you.

  17. Mary, what a beautiful testimony! Thank you!

  18. Chris Pennanen - perhaps your parents would have a response similar to this one or this one. :)

    captcrisis - this would be my reply to your latest screed.

  19. Maybe something like that. My parents actually did want children from the beginning, but they had just been through two back-to-back miscarriages. They didn't want to risk it happening again so soon, so they tried NFP (they're Protestants; I don't know if they have a different word for it). Mom got pregnant anyway, and that time it worked out okay (and again two years later with my sister).

    My parents actually have a photo of me as a baby posed with their NFP book. If I can track it down I'll scan it and post a link.

  20. Captcrisis, you said this was a "teaching" (doctrinal, I'm guessing?):

    Pius IX and other Popes instructed us not to hang out with Jews

    Could you cite your sources, please?

    You also said:

    The usual Vatican strategy is not to explicitly overrule, but to modify or "develop" prior positions. This might be a little dishonest but in a broad sense we must remember John XXIII's quote, "The Gospel hasn't changed -- but our understanding of it has."

    Could you show me where a point of doctrine (not discipline) has been "understood" or "developed" to be the opposite of what it was? Where it went from "evil" to "good", for example?

    As for women's suffrage, I happened upon this article in the NYTimes from 100 years ago. Look at the Cardinal's first line:

    That was well before Casti Connubii in 1930 (and the supposed "reversal" of set doctrine). In light of that, how do you account for what the Cardinal said?

    I had an experience of deja vu when reading your third paragraph. Can you give me your source(s) for what you said? Regarding Paul IV not speaking ex cathedra, that is of no import, as most of the Deposit of Faith (revelation) has not been declared ex cathedra, including the proposition that "God exists". When something has been taught by the Church from the beginning, as part of the unchanging moral law, that is an exercise of the ordinary universal magisterium, meaning infallibly taught. Ex cathedra is very rare (only twice, I think, with two Marian doctrines), unlike the ordinary universal magisterium. You can do a search on infallibility on this blog to get to those posts. I am too tired tonight, as I spent the day taking my son back to college. Wiped out.

    He also never issued another encyclical.

    So? I'm not sure what this has to do with anything? Poor Pope Paul was such a sweet and tender, holy soul, and the unholy rage that came at him by those who would have seen the sexual revolution adapted within the Church led him to a nervous breakdown. My heart goes out to that poor man. He was ravaged, and his tender heart could barely take it.

    To get back to NCR, it is in accord with Vatican policy when it comes to capital punishment, war, and providing for the poor

    Well, yes, but that also aligns with any number of philosophies, including modern secular liberalism. It might as well be the NYTimes on those issues, right? They could be indistinguishable! :)
    The problem with NCReporter is that it seems to reject particularly Catholic teachings, you see?

    I will grant you that Allen is respected on all sides.

  21. Church teaching on contraception, or the use of the gift of sexuality as I prefer to call it, is very beautiful when clearly articulated.Excellent article and very interesting commentary. I too would be interested to learn the sources of the statements made by Captcrisis.

  22. @leila

    Piux IX put Jews into the Ghetto; they were not supposed to live elsewhere and Catholics were certainly not allowed to hang out with them there. He also publicly called Jews "dogs" and kidnapped a boy from his Jewish parents so that he could be raised Catholic. (He did tell Catholics to "shun" certain people, but when I looked that up it was his 1875 encyclical concerning the Church in Switzerland.)

    Certainly up to the time of the Holocaust it was Catholic teaching not to associate with Jews personally. Pius XI's unpublished 1939 encyclical (it was on his desk the day he died) condemned anti-semitism but noted that the Church has always warned against "an over-familiarity with the Jewish community" and "the spiritual dangers to which contact with Jews can expose souls, or make her unaware of the need to safeguard her children against spiritual contagion". This attitude, fortunately, has changed 180 degrees. In kindergarten in our local Catholic school my kids learned about Hannukah and were taught how to make dreidls. Whether it was a reaction to the Holocaust, or a result of Vatican II, this change is good to see.

    Vatican II did (to answer another question) change doctrine in some ways, though (per the quote I gave from John XXIII) it didn't, I think, say it was overruling anything. We no longer believe that non-Catholics are going to hell, for example.

    As for women's suffrage, I got both my dates and my Popes wrong. Pius X, probably following the lead of Pius IX, said he opposed it in 1905 but Benedict XV finally approved of it in 1919. The account is given in the Vatican's own newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano. See
    Cardinal Gibbons, whom you cite to, was speaking in 1913 and was at that point what you would have called a "dissenter". He probably saw the writing on the wall, that suffrage was going to be approved in the entire U.S. Once that happened, the bishops, realizing what a disaster it would be if all Protestants but only 51% of Catholics voted, immediately started encouraging Catholic women to get to the voting booth.

    As for NCR and "specifically Catholic positions", the Catholic hierarchy is not alone in opposing abortion, same-sex marriage, and (to a lesser extent) contraception. Politically these are positions of most evangelical Christians, although in their case their ministers are preaching to congregations who actually agree with them. NCR represents the Catholic Left, and it is obvious from their articles that they are churchgoers and participate in the sacraments. The Catholic Church is a very big place.

    Finally, I note James B's comment that the original English translation of Humanae Vitae was "terrible". I suppose that's the one I read, from "The Pope Speaks" (1968). I wonder what the differences were between that and a more correct translation? (Reading this blog has made me, for the first time, read these encyclicals. Very few Catholics ever do this -- at least none where I was growing up. They're not as long as I thought.)

  23. The most infamous problem with Humanae Vitae was the term "grave reasons", which, in English, made it seem like the encyclical was discouraging the use of NFP and simply wanted couples to have children unless they absolutely couldn't have any more. As a result, some NFP groups were very stingy with information and went as far as to discourage couples from using the method.

    The second is that with any translation, concepts get lost, especially from Latin->English. English is not a primary or even secondary language of the Church, and there is often a bit of language that has to be unpacked in explaining Catholic concepts. As clare put it, Church teaching on sexuality IS very beautiful when clearly articulated, but it takes a bit of work to articulate it clearly in English. (The idea that infertile sex can be "procreative" makes no sense in English.) One of the most difficult things for American Catholics to deal with is that the Church does not consider the United States to be the center of the universe.

    As for the Popes:

    The Pope has many jobs. He is Bishop of Rome, Patriarch of the West, and the monarch of Vatican City. His role as successor of Peter and head of the Church is actually fairly limited.

    What Pius IX did to the Jews was part of his role as the monarch of the Papal States. He was as subject to bad decisions in this role (and Pius IX made quite a few of them) as any other secular leader.

    The direction to avoid Jews was a pastoral one. The Church's attitude toward Protestants at the time was similar and often even more strongly worded. Catholics were encouraged to burn Protestant Bibles if they found them because they contained heresy. This was strictly a religious matter: The Church never bought into the racial antisemitism that was pushed by the Nazis and many ethnically Jewish Catholics, including St. Edith Stein, were murdered by the Nazis because of their race.

    The Church's attitude did make a 180 during Vatican II. Catholics, Protestants, and Jews all bled together during WWII and the Holocaust and Vatican II recognized that what we all have in common is greater than our differences.

    (IMHO, it went too far, at least with respect to Protestants. Naive ecumenism has undermined the Catholic faith and left a lot of people very confused about what the Church really teaches. But that's another discussion.)

    The Church's position on women's suffrage was based on a certain political theory, not a matter of faith or morals.

  24. @captcrisis
    "NCR represents the Catholic Left, and it is obvious from their articles that they are churchgoers and participate in the sacraments. The Catholic Church is a very big place."

    The Catholic Church is a big place, however one can not be a Catholic in good standing with the Church, and oppose Her teachings. If I support things such as abortion, contraception, so called "same sex marriage", ect, then I am separating myself from the Church by my rejection of her teachings. Faithful Catholics accept all that the Church teaches because we believe that the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit and can not err in faith and morals.

  25. Thanks James and Mike for really stepping up!

    Captcrisis: NCR represents the Catholic Left, and it is obvious from their articles that they are churchgoers and participate in the sacraments.

    Yes, and no one is to partake in the sacraments if they do not assent to the Church and revelation. Participating in the sacraments when one opposes the Church herself is a scandal and a grave sin. Everyone is welcome to Mass, of course (and Catholics are obliged to be there), but unless the soul is in union with the Catholic Church, one should not approach to receive the Eucharist.

    The Church is VERY diverse, yes... but not doctrinally. There is "one faith" and it is defined by the Church, not individuals.

    1. What if you're not opposed, just unconvinced? Should you still avoid sacraments?

    2. As long as you are living as a faithful Catholic, not obstinately or openly opposing the Church (causing scandal), not willfully rejecting Church teaching, then it's probably just a difficulty that you are working out, and you would still be in good standing with the Church and in a state of grace (assuming a sacramental confession for any previous mortal sins). But honestly, I could never judge a subjective case like this. Best to find a sound and faithful spiritual director or priest who can advise you privately if you are unsure.

  26. Very well said Leila. The Church really is the best of mothers. And sometimes we are like rebellious children who say, "But I want this or that! Give it to me." And the Church replies, "No my child. That would not be good for you." The Church's mission is to lead us to Eternity.

    There usually comes a time (there did for me) when a person realizes that their parents really weren't just out to "spoil their fun", but knew and wanted what was best for their child. And loved their child enough to tell them the truth, no matter how unpopular! That is the Catholic Church.

  27. Mike, exactly!! You would like what I said on another post:

    Despite the utterly predictable, clearly unwavering (and sometimes too-quietly stated) teachings of the Church, her opponents are often violently emotional in their quest to change her mind or silence her voice or run her out of existence. Though they would like to claim an oppressor/victim model here, it's really more like a classic parent/teen showdown. "Give me my way and let me do what I want or I will scream at you and call you obscene names and tell you you are power hungry, irrelevant, out-of-touch, full of sin yourself, and just plain mean!"

    And the Church, as a good Mother does, looks on her children with love and concern, even sadness, but stays steadfast, consistent and confident. The rules of life don't change. Truth does not change. Love does not change.

    That's from this post, fyi:

  28. Yes, that is excellent! The more I read, the more I really enjoy this blog.

  29. I absolutely hate the issue of NFP. It makes my skin crawl. If we are allowed to prevent conception through abstinence, we might as well use contraception, as my husband and I have proven we are open to life, with having 7 children, right? That's what a priest told us. I have had *two* priests now okay us using contraception, one okayed permanent sterilization since we have clearly "done our duty" and been open to life. So which is it? Some people argue that NFP is good for the marriage because it teaches self control. Well, if we really wanted to use "self control" (is that needed in a marriage for sex, when we are to be one?) we would abstain during non-fertile periods, since the clear purpose of abstaining during fertile times is to prevent a pregnancy.
    I am also frustrated because my husband and I struggle with the mixed messages we are getting on where children really come from (lol). Let me explain. If God creates each individual soul, why worry about ever preventing pregnancy at all since clearly God wouldn't create a child if He didn't WANT one to exist, right? That's a pretty big deal to dictate when WE think a child should or should not be created, when that is God's job. OTOH, if we are to be prudent and "responsible" in our parenting, we must stop as we are completely maxxed out with the 7 we have, unsure how we will provide for them with braces and increasing food costs and increasing costs overall as they grow. I have been having increasing health problems the more we have, etc (although thank God nothing really serious). Have we been "irresponsible" with having so many? I'm sure many would think so.
    Also, my husband and I got married to begin with because we were being immoral and I conceived our daughter. It was the best and only option we had at the time. We did not marry in the Church, as we married before converting. Our marriage is not super strong for many reasons. I do not desire relations at all when breastfeeding, and with having 7 children in 11 years and breastfeeding for an average of 2 years each, I have had very little desire for our entire marriage. I only desire to be intimate when I am fertile, and I usually get pregnant within a cycle or two (of course I give myself to my husband whenever he wants, but I never really enjoy it at all unless it's those few windows I've had in the past 11 years when I've been fertile). To look out for the rest of our life and see that we will never again be able to be intimate during the ONLY time I ever want to (when I'm ovulating) is very bleak and discouraging.

  30. Kristi, first, I am sorry that your priests have been unfaithful to their vows and are counseling you to sin. That is awful. I am guessing their are priests in their 60s?

    Second, I really hope and pray you will get and read Simcha Fisher's upcoming book called The Sinner's Guide to NFP. I previewed it and you will love it, as it speaks to many things you said here.

    We can't really just say, "hey, let's do (or don't do) this thing sexually because God will make the kids he wants", since that would okay rape, etc. But we know this is not right. Does God allow his natural world to work a certain way, and does he bring good out of evil? Yes, but that is not our concern. Our concern is to do good. To that end:

    We can't be more Catholic than the Church, and the Church says it's not immoral to space or prevent pregnancies for a just reason. Avoiding pregnancy is NOT inherently immoral, but the means of doing so must be moral. Please see this article:

    Honestly, I think Simcha's book was written just for people like you. Hang on till November and then read it. I know that for many folks, NFP is a struggle. But as has been said, "NFP is the worst thing out there...except for everything else."

    Also, how old is your oldest? Things have a way of changing once the oldest kids turn into teen and babysitters. Did you read these, two? You could probably relate, or take heart:

    1. *I am guessing they are…

      (Sorry for any other typos!)

  31. Leila, thank you for your response, and for those links. I HAVE read both of those in the past, and I love them just as much as I did when I first read them. One thing that stood out to me in the second link, was the guilt you advise to let go of. That is a huge, huge issue for me, as I've always struggled with scruples (read your post on that, too! Loved it!) and I struggle with a lot of guilt anytime *I'M* not the one doing everything. :( I could relate so much to the "faults" you shared- my husband takes over many dinners, which is such a blessing, but guess what? I feel guilty about that too! I've started my kids on chores and ask my oldest for help more with the baby (she's 11) and she is a fantastic help, so that gives me hope for when the others get a little older. My next oldest is 8, then I have 5 little boys. But again, anytime she helps me, I wonder if it's too much, if she'll be resentful someday or hate me, if she'll think I'm a lazy slob, etc. So yeah, I deal with a lot of guilt here. I will check out Simcha's book when it comes out.

    I did not read your article on "a follow up to natural family planning" yet, and I will do so. But I guess I have to somehow become okay with continuing to have more children as my husband and I don't have a great track record for abstaining, and in order to not have anymore we're going to have to be very militant about it, and we are just not militant people at all. So barring some horrible disease (please, God, no) I could have children for the next 10+ years. At this point, my husband is STILL saying he doesn't want more, and I'm feeling okay with being done too, so I very much feel stuck between a rock and a hard place.

    1. what is worse? Using "immoral" contraception that millions of Catholic use and being "Responsible" parents, or not using contraception, kidding ourselves that we will do NFP, having even MORE children and being "Irresponsible" parents?

  32. Kristi, yes, let go of the guilt. We moms have that in spades. :) I wish you had a faithful priest or spiritual director to talk to.

    As for what is worse: Sin is always worse. Contraception is sin. Having children is not. But if you fear you are sinning by having more, then really the only answer is the third very viable option: Use NFP and use it correctly. Can it be a challenge? Yes. But if you and your husband are on the same page about this, it can be done.

    By the way, my oldest has done a ton of helping, and she herself wants to have ten kids, ha ha, so I promise that it's okay (and in fact, natural and historically the norm) to have older children help with younger ones. All my kids still want a new baby. Dean and I are the holdouts (gosh, I am OLD), but the fact that they still want more siblings even with all the chaos and work is amazing to me.

    I will be praying for you!! And yes, hang on for Simcha's book!


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