Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Good article by Janet Smith on election issues

Janet Smith, "Contraception, the Election and the New Evangelization" (National Catholic Register, October 1, 2012):

The coming election has shaped up to be a battle between those who think free contraceptives and keeping abortion legal should be our national priority and those who think jobs and reducing the national debt should be our national priority. (These were the self-identified themes at the summer conventions.)

How astonishing it is that Sandra Fluke should be a headliner at the Democratic National Convention, when her only claim to fame is her adolescent, narcissistic grousing that Catholic Georgetown University does not provide her, a law student almost certain to be wealthy, with free contraceptives.

How sad it is that two of the chief architects of the Health and Human Services mandate are Nancy Pelosi and Kathleen Sebelius, both Catholics.

The Catholic vote will be pivotal, as it always is. The recent effort to get the Obama administration to rescind the HHS mandate has again brought to the fore the sad fact that Catholics are poorly educated about the Church’s teaching on contraception.

The brave, visionary and remarkably candid Cardinal Timothy Dolan, in an interview in The Wall Street Journal, acknowledged that the Church has failed to teach on contraception: "I’m not afraid to admit that we have an internal catechetical challenge — a towering one — in convincing our own people of the moral beauty and coherence of what we teach. That’s a biggie."

The cardinal said the "flash point" was Humanae Vitae, which "brought such a tsunami of dissent, departure, disapproval of the Church, that I think most of us — and I’m using the first-person plural intentionally, including myself — kind of subconsciously said, ‘Whoa. We’d better never talk about that, because it’s just too hot to handle.’ We forfeited the chance to be a coherent moral voice when it comes to one of the more burning issues of the day."

The present struggle offers an opportunity to become that coherent moral voice.

The U.S. bishops are taking an important lead in this matter. For instance, they have developed a set of bulletin inserts about contraception and developed a very useful website about contraception. If there were only some way to get priests and laypeople to take advantage of these resources.

Let me here encourage laypeople to approach their pastors and encourage them to use the inserts.

A report has recently been issued by "The Women, Faith and Culture Project" that should help spur a renewed effort to teach about contraception. The report gives the preliminary results of a study done on "What Catholic Women Think About Faith, Conscience and Contraception."

It is a professional and measured report (funded in large part by the Our Sunday Visitor Foundation) and worth a close read.

We all know that the vast majority of Catholics reject the Church’s teaching on contraception. This study attempts to figure out what women really know and think about the teaching.

Actually, I found it terrific news that "37% of women who both attend Mass weekly and have been to confession within the past year completely accept Church teachings on family planning."

We don’t know what is cause and effect here — we don’t know whether those who accept the Church’s teaching are more likely to go to Mass and confession regularly or whether going to Mass and confession regularly helps people accept Church teaching — but it is not surprising that there is a pairing of these elements of the faith.

Still, although that figure is encouraging, we might ask why it is not higher.

Part of the answer is surely that few Catholics have ever heard an explanation or defense of the Church’s teaching. It is not surprising to learn that "85% of Catholic women believe they can be ‘good Catholics’ even if they don’t completely accept the Church’s teachings on sex and reproduction. And a full third are mistaken about what the Church teaches."

The study found that 72% of Catholic women state that the homily is their primary source of learning about Church teaching — and that priests and other religious leaders are the primary sources for 55% of women.

My guess is that few have ever heard a homily about contraception.

I have long been exhorting my seminarians to reflect on the fact that most Catholics get most of their understanding of Church teaching from the homily.

People in the pews tend to think that if issues are important, their pastor, who cares enough about their eternal salvation to dedicate his life to serving them, will speak to them from the pulpit about the issues that may threaten their eternal salvation.

If they never hear that abortion, greed, contraception, pornography, racism, missing Mass on Sunday, etc. are serious sins, they tend to think they are not serious sins. And if they don’t hear these teachings from the pulpit, they are unlikely to hear them at all.

Few Catholics attend conferences, read Catholic publications, visit Catholic websites or even read the parish bulletin and its inserts.

Many priests are hesitant to teach on moral issues from the pulpit, but if they don’t, they are seriously shortchanging their congregations.

It has not always been thus. In her book Catholics and Contraception: An American History, historian Leslie Woodcock Tentler reports that in the ’20s through the ’50s of the last century, in an increasingly contraceptive culture, priests regularly preached on contraception, and an impressive proportion of the Catholic faithful cheerfully embraced that teaching.

The more educated a Catholic woman was the more likely she was to accept Church teaching.

Today’s priests may not have a habit of teaching on moral issues, but they can cultivate that habit. And I suspect they will like the results.

Certainly, they will meet with some resistance, but they will also be the recipients of an outpouring of gratitude. I also suspect they will experience a newfound source of satisfaction in their priesthood.

When my seminarians preach on moral topics, there is a strangeness in the room; neither they nor I am accustomed to hearing homilies about greed or immodesty or laziness or contraception. But after the strangeness wears off, it is quite inspiring. The young men come alive when they speak from the heart about something they care about.

It is hard to think a congregation wouldn’t be moved by their zeal.

One of my seminarians, as a deacon, gave a homily against contraception based on the story of Jonah. He asked the congregation to consider what sins Jonah would be inveighing against were he alive today and suggested to them that contraception would be high on the list.

With trepidation, I asked what kind of response he got; he said he got a standing ovation. I doubt that even the majority agreed with him, but I think they were impressed with his courage and concern for them.

 I strongly suspect that there have been more homilies about contraception in the last year than there have been since Humanae Vitae was issued (1968).

One homily, of course, won’t do the trick. There will need to be follow-up, with more homilies and conferences and inserts, but the homily will likely jump-start the whole process.

Moreover, priests also need to exhort their parishioners to be faithful in Mass attendance — even to take in a daily Mass on occasion — and to go to confession.

Providing the occasion for Eucharistic adoration would undoubtedly increase that effect of receptivity as well. Combined, everything will have a profoundly positive effect.

All of this is the work of the New Evangelization; it will galvanize Catholics to share their faith.

Jesus himself was a tireless teacher. He traveled from synagogue to synagogue; he taught on the hills and in the plains and from the water.

The great apostle Paul could not have clocked more miles; John Paul II spoke on natural family planning in nearly every country he visited. In 1999, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a document, "The Priest and the Third Christian Millennium: Teacher of the Word, Minister of the Sacraments and Leader of the Community." At one point it states: "From a pastoral perspective, the primary action of evangelization is, logically, considered to be preaching."

The homily is a marvelous vehicle for teaching; the congregation deserves and needs to be fed by their pastor.
Janet E. Smith holds the
Father Michael J. McGivney
Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit.




I remain surprised at how fixated the Catholic side seems to be on contraception as is this awful evil when it has been and remains rather stunningly silent on fornication and what is now the status quo of living together. Reminds me of trying to teach about the necessity of chastity in the priesthood after decades of admitting gay men. There seems to be a very large disconnect. Smith is right, but her rhetoric also creates cognitive dissonance for someone who exists outside of a seminary. Birth control? Ha! How about simply trying to be consistent about the broader topic of sex outside of marriage. Sandra Fluke may be a narcissist, but her larger problem is she is immoral in her "need" for b.c. "Nice girls" and "good men" shouldn't be contemplating having sex outside of marriage. But this concept is being wholesale lost. Reminds me of the gay marriage arguments, trying to talk about how wrong gay marriage is without ever talking about how wrong gay sex is. Won't work. Tacit approval of the one brings about the inevitability of the other.

Scott W.


Except for the embarrassing fawning praise of Cardinal "This isn't about contraception" Dolan, not bad.

Pertinacious Papist



I'm consistently appreciative of your insightful comments. This one is right on target, IMHO.

Even both of the two camps within the "Catholic side" are perhaps too fixated on contraception. Granted, this has been the elephant in the room that has been the most under-catechized Church teaching since Humanae Vitae, and it certainly has played a decisive role in getting us to the point where Obama could count on most Catholics siding with him against their bishops.

Nevertheless, it misses the whole culture of unblinking acceptance of recreational sex that ensued since Griswold v. Connecticut, which occurred several years before Humanae Vitae saw the light of day.

There is clearly a progression here -- from the Anglican acceptance of contraception in the 1930s to the legalization of contraception across the board (with implications for recreational sex) in 1965 to the legalization of abortion and the declassification of homosexuality as a mental illness (for political, not medical, reasons) in 1973, to the advent of same-sex 'marriage' in recent years.

As to your main point, it reminds me of a short story I have long had in mind to write about an adulterous Catholic couple who have no qualms about their immoral liaison, so long as they can keep it secret and they're "not hurting anyone," but at each trysting they argue and agonize over whether they should contracept or not. Go figure. Must be my perverse sense of humor, but I could find that rather amusing.

Scott W.


I'm not aware of any government mandate requiring Catholic churches to pay for hotel rooms so people can fornicate. To wit: contraception and fornication go together like pornography and masturbation.




Ralph Roister-Doister


"I’m not afraid to admit that we have an internal catechetical challenge — a towering one — in convincing our own people of the moral beauty and coherence of what we teach. That’s a biggie."

No Cdl Dolan, you're not afraid to say it -- you're just afraid to do anything about it, other than flog the putative V2 "saints" of the laity to put THEIR butts on the line. Having over the past five decades reduced the idea of sainthood to a kind of narcissistic posing, our current leaders now say, "go out there and do OUR jobs!"

I recently spoke to a priest who told me about an RCIA instructress who admitted, on the occasion of her retirement, that she had long had doubts about the divinity of Christ. That regular guy Christ may be the only One who knows how liberally she dispensed her opinions over the course of her teaching career -- which spanned 38 years -- and how many souls were affected by it.

Thirty eight years of obliviousness on the part of pastors and associate priests about what was being taught in the catechism classes they were ultimately responsible for overseeing. Thirty eight years of errant V2 "sainthood," responsibility for which must ultimately be placed at the doors of those priests and laymen who were apparently either too lax to deal with it, or too ignorant to recognize heresy in the first place.

Who will teach the teachers?

Yeh, Cdl Dolan, another "biggie." With breathless anticipation I await your next fearless pronouncement.

bill bannon


Contraception did not begin with Lambeth. The French Jesuit Theologian John Gury writing in 1850 wrote:  " In our days, the horrid plague of onanism has flourished everywhere".  

Pertinacious Papist


Hi Bill,

"Onanism," of course, refers to the Onan of Genesis ch. 38, who spilled his semen on the ground rather than fulfill the law of a levirate marriage and impregnate the widowed wife of his deceased brother.

Other contraceptive methods of birth control are also old as the hills, including infanticide, popular in ancient Mesopotamia and currently making a comeback under policies championed by our blessed Barack.

The Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church in 1930 was the FIRST Protestant church to approve of birth control through unspecified artificial means, though "complete abstinence [was seen as] the primary and obvious method."

bill bannon


Speaking about Infanticide, did you know that the Stoics were totally against any sex that was not for procreation thus they were against birth control but...they approved not only infanticide but also some of them gave fathers the right of execution over their children to about the age 14 because they saw full rationality as only being present then. So if were acting a little irrational at 15 or 16, you could still be up the creek.

Pertinacious Papist


Hello Bill,

No, I did not know that, but it figures: you can find almost anything in ancient history.

Where I grew up in Japan, there were little "Kokeshi" dolls that households had in their home. Only after I was in my thirties did I (slow as I am to catch on) put two and two together and realize what these were. "Kokeshi," when taken apart, can be discovered to mean "Ko"="child" and "keshi"="erase." These were dolls created as mementos of infants that were abandoned on hillsides when families had more children than they wanted.

Lesson: there's more than one way to skin a cat (or kill progeny).

bill bannon


That is fascinating. I admire them way too much from afar. They are one of the safest nations on earth in respect to adult murder and have the death penalty ( an issue on which the last two Popes and Archbishop Chaput (recently) gave us our own Lambeth....ie...we caved into Euro values and NY Times values ( please...the hierarchy like Fr.Z reads it voraciously on the downlow)). But our first Lambeth was abandoning wifely obedience in order to meet the surrounding secular world....or was it the disappearance of usury which for centuries was the sin of all sins. Now Cardinals in Rome are paying 19% on their debit card overdrafts.
Abortion though. That has always been denounced in Catholicism. There we are consistent.

Anonymous Bosch



You're right about the trends. I don't know of any explicit Church teaching that has overturned the traditional proscriptions of usury. The same with the traditional teaching about the husband being the "head" of the wife. Now flaky wannabe theologians speak about "mutual submission" of husbands and wives to each other, which is about as absurd as giving every member of a family an equal vote and trying to run it like a Democracy.

bill bannon


     The source of your theologians' mistake on husband headship began in John Paul II in TOB ( General Audience of Wed., 11 AUGUST 1982....#89) and in
"Mulieris Dignitatem" VI/24 on wifely obedience.  
    John Paul II erred on the death penalty in the same manner in which he erred on wifely obedience which as a result is no where in the catechism despite being 6 times in the New Testament. What he did in both cases was: he did not quote those scriptures that opposed his viewpoint. So on wifely obedience both in TOB and in Dignity of Women, he did not quote Col.3:18/ I Tim.2:11-12/ Titus 2:5/ I Pet. 3:1/ ICor.11:3.
He only quoted Ephesians 5 in its " be subject to one another" and the result was that no one in the couple has final say.
He did the identical editing technique in EV on the death penalty. He never cites Genesis 9:6 nor Rom.13:4... despite citing non death parts of 9:6 
repeatedly...which means he saw the death penalty part and withheld it from the reader.
     That's why the Church herself does not affirm that Popes are always correct outside the parameters of infallibility.

bill bannon


Last post should be addressed to Anonymous Bosch.

Anonymous Bosch



I quite agree, sad to say.