Should Francis Take on Birth Control? A Response

JoAnna Wahlund - Francis on BC


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.

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83 thoughts on “Should Francis Take on Birth Control? A Response”

  1. Pingback: This Week’s Miscellany: Vol. 62

  2. Robert A Rowland

    Thank you Joanna, and thank God for Pope Paul VI who prevented the Church from error and disintegration from within by ignoring dissident advisers and promulgating Humanae Vitae. You are right Guy. There is nothing Catholic about the National Catholic Reporter.

    1. Paul VI funded Ante Pavelic’s Ustasha death camps in Croatia during WWII in order to rid Croatia of all non-Catholics. Paul VI aka Cardinal Montini should have been hung at Nuremburg.

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    1. They have a need to know what dissidents are saying–and some of what is in the “fishwrap” is original news reporting. The problem is if they agree with the editorial perspective or the legitimacy of a “Catholic” newspaper editorially opposed to various Catholic beliefs. And, we need a strong faithful Catholic press. I do like the National Catholic Register, I admit I subscribe only to my diocesan newspaper. I think more of us should subscribe or donate to NC Reg (I have donated to them, though it was EWTN’s legal fund for their opposition to the HHS mandate… by NOT standing up for Catholic integrity in that kind of way, companies like “National Catholic Reporter” save money they can use to develop their publication. Companies like EWTN have the spirit of Catholic poverty but maybe need to tap in to the talents and willingness of faithful and zealous Catholics to do reporting or information gathering or other assistance, without being paid staff, for the sake of the mission of the Church).

  4. Pingback: This Week’s Miscellany: Vol. 62 | Carrots for Michaelmas

  5. “…a judge found the bishop, Robert W. Finn, guilty on one misdemeanor charge and not guilty on a second charge, for failing to report a priest who had taken hundreds of pornographic pictures of young girls. The counts each carried a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $1,000 fine, but Bishop Finn was sentenced to two years of court-supervised probation” New York Times, September 6, 2012

    Really, now, you could find a more reputable human primate to disparage the NCR as a problematic source ……

    1. Centipede Galaga

      That would change every opinion that was based solely on the testimony of Bishop Finn. That situation was horrible.

      The fact remains that the Reporter remains a bludgeon against people who want to follow the teachings of Christ and not their own imagination.

    2. Oh my gosh, CATHOLICS SIN??? Stop the presses!!! 😉

      Yes, Bishop Finn exercised very poor judgement in that matter. However, thanks be to God, the truths of the Catholic Church are not dependent upon the impeccability (or lack thereof) of its teachers. Hence why the charism of papal infallibility is so crucial.

    3. (1) Conviction of a misdemeanor is a crime that make Bishop Finn a criminal…forget the Catholics sin part. He is a criminal!!!
      (2) When were encyclicals ex cathedra and under the rubric of papal infallibility. Encyclicals are letter of guidance to bishops; catechisms are teaching documents…infallibility comes from the pope speaking ex cathedra, ie the assumption. No?

    4. Jesus was a criminal too. So?

      Yes, Bishop Finn broke the law and has been justly punished for his crime. He has apologized, expressed remorse, and is serving his sentence. Why do you think these facts inhibit him from teaching the truth?

      Do you think that math teachers who commit crimes are incapable of teaching that 2 + 2 = 4?

    5. How wrong you are and uninformed….I was a high School principal in a public school for many years before retiring. If a teacher failed to report a suspicion of any type of child abuse by law, they would be fired and lose their teaching license. Same goes for me as a principal. The teacher could apologize and be “punished” all you want….they would lose their license for life to teach anything.
      Yes, he failed to protect the most vulnerable and he should be prohibited in being in any capacity which deals with any issue of faith and morals…the Bishops’ Conference stance of zero tolerance applies to all but bishops? I think not, but policy does not always equal practice. The higher up you go, they more you are shuttled to a life of prayer and penance. Doesn’t seem fair and moral that power equals privilege.

    6. Jesus said it quite well:”If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” Matt 8:16

    7. The question isn’t whether Humanae Vitae is infallible or whether it is ex cathedra, the question is whether it is right.

    8. James,
      The issue of birth control is not a chess game. The position of the RCC is wrong and here is an example which is personal. I’ve been married 35 years with two kids and two fosters. In 1998 my son was involved in a drowning at a summer camp, 25 minutes under water…severe brain damage, non-verbal, non mobile, non everything. For the last 15 years my wife and I take care of him 24/7. Why? To preserve life and live a worthy life. Now there isn’t a merciful and loving God that I know that would want us to be abstinent (which is inhumane) for life, nor practice NFP with a failure rate hovering around 25%. Blanket birth control encyclicals like Humane Vitae and Casti Connubi cannot apply to all in all situations. God, in his right mind, would not want two parents caring for a totally disabled kid to refrain from marital relations (sex).
      I would guess that most of my brothers and sisters in RCC would agree since a miniscule percentage are abstinent (probably frigid and in need of therapy), 1.8-4% practice NFP, and rest contraception.

    9. You certainly have a very serious reason to avoid pregnancy.

      But you are grossly misinformed about NFP, just like most of the people who are ABSOLUTELY SURE that the Church is wrong.

      When used perfectly, NFP is over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. About 93% of women can easily identify the fertile period in their cycle.

      The 25% rate comes from Guttmacher, which lumped all “periodic abstinence” methods together. This included everyone from couples carefully practicing symptothermal to a couple guessing at when the woman could get pregnant. It also includes couple who deliberately took a chance and got pregnant.

      If a couple understands the method and follows the rules, NFP is quite effective. This article, written from a secular perspective, discusses the difference between perfect use and typical use. Yes, it is possible to use the method perfectly. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be a “perfect use” statistic.
      For those who have difficulty, the new Marquette Method uses a fertility monitor to detect the fertile and infertile times.

      There is certainly a lot to criticize about many Catholic NFP organizations, but the method is scientific and sound. Technology continues to make observation even easier.

      If technology could make NFP 100% accurate (this would also mean only 7 days of abstinence per cycle) then what would you say about Church teaching?

      Finally, contraception has a failure rate, too. What would you do, sir, if your contraceptives failed?

    10. The failure rate of a vascetomy is only .02%: better odds than 1%. If it failed we would have the child without a second thought because conception would be an act of a power beyond medicine and nature and ya do what ya gotta do because it is right! I am sure God will overlook the use of the knife…

    11. Women ovulate 2 & 3 times PER MONTH and sperm live 10+ days. NFP users have the most intersex gay offspring.

    12. Comments from women who conceived during additional monthly ovulations are very enlightening:

      I learned in the 1970s from a Catholic nurse that studies proved sperm survives several days longer than previously believed. Below is one discussion:

      Possible higher birth defects:

      Aging eggs being susceptible to polyspermy and womb DNA microchimerism from already born opposite sex siblings also contribute to intersex syndromes. My mom relied on NFP and my younger gay brothers have XXY Klinefelter Syndrome.

      We victims of NFP bullies are hardly bridge trolls.

    13. The results of that study were grossly misrepresented.

      Women who claim to “double ovulate” did not actually ovulate at the first peak in the chart. The last peak is the true peak.

      The fertile window is only 6 days long. This has been confirmed by multiple studies.

      This study found no effect between age of the sperm and egg and birth defects. Others have found small possibilities. There is no conclusive evidence to say that it does.

      And none of these studies were run by Catholics or NFP organizations.

    14. If you read up on what Paul VI aka Cardinal Montini REALLY DID in WWII, you will know that he was an invalid pope. Google Vatican Bank claims, Vatican rat lines, “Unholy Trinity” by Mark Aarons and John Loftus, and Ante Pavelic’s Ustasha as a rabbit hole start of hidden RCC history.

    15. Sorry, not much into sedevacantist theory and the Dimon Brothers….I have no idea of how your comment relates to this post dialogue

  6. Like Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movies, National Catholic Register has apparently been frozen in the 1960s and is completely unaware of what has happened since then.

    In 1968, there was a lot to criticize about Humanae Vitae. Overpopulation was a concern, rhythm was notoriously frustrating and unreliable, and the traditional teaching based on Thomistic thought and Natural Law was severely lacking. One theologian called a proposed draft based on the traditional teaching “stupid conservatism”.

    That theologian? Archbishop Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, Poland.

    The world had only recently developed antibiotics, polio vaccines, satellite television, and we were preparing to put a man on the moon. Technology was IN. It was the era of better living through chemistry. It was the era of the utopian original Star Trek series. In this optimistic era, Pope Paul VI’s dire predictions sounded alarmist.

    So what has happened since then?

    1. Fertility rates have fallen significantly since the 1960s.
    2. Pope Paul’s dire predictions have largely come true.
    3. Modern methods of natural family planning, first discovered in the 1960s, have made natural methods far more reliable. A lot has changed in only the past 10 years with electronic charting, internet instruction and affordable home fertility monitors. Modern technology will make it both easier and more accurate.

    4. Contraceptives have not been the problem free miracle drug that were promised. Many women do suffer from significant side effects.

    5. Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II and gave the Church’s teaching a much more solid theological and ethical foundation.

    But what do I see in the comments at NCR’s website? Complaints about the “rhythm method” and complaints about Aquinas and conservatives in the Vatican. It’s like nothing has happened over there.

    1. Centipede Galaga

      I think you mean to say the “National Catholic* Reporter” instead of “National Catholic Register”. The Register is faithful to the Church’s teachings. The “reporter” is the mouthpiece for the irrelevant, aging movement against Papal authority from the last century.

    2. “1. Fertility rates have fallen significantly since the 1960s.”
      Wouldn’t you agree that the reason for this fall in fertility rates is BECAUSE contraception is widely practiced? Overpopulation would once again become a concern if contraceptives were no longer available. Anyone who thinks technology has made NFP a snap should talk to some couples who practice it. In addition, if it were as easy and effective as contraception, more than 2% of fertile U.S. Catholic couples would be using it.

      I agree that at this point it’s pretty much impossible for the Church to backpedal on its teaching about contraception, but I also think Catholics will continue to ignore it, and that priests in the scrum that is parish life will continue to leave it to individual consciences by not bringing it up during the Sacrament of Reconciliation–assuming a parish member bothers to participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The NCR will continue to wish that this cognitive dissonance could be resolved because its prevalance will continue to reinforce Catholics in their confidence that they can choose to follow their own consciences rather than Church teachings. Oh well. I see no remedy.

    3. I’ve talked to quite a few Catholics who practice NFP and we practice it ourselves. The couples who struggle with the method usually either have a hormone imbalance or are trying to learn the method while breastfeeding. Occasionally (as happened with us) getting a new instructor/new method can make a big difference. One of my biggest criticisms is that often Catholic NFP groups spend so much time pushing theology or pushing their “brand” of NFP that they don’t give couples who are struggling the medical support they need, but problems with NFP organizations are not problems with the method or problems with Church teaching.

      As for the abstinence, it’s learning self-control which IS difficult. This is also why secular couples who use NFP, often with condoms, have far fewer complaints. Still, there are significant relational advantages to doing things the Church’s way. (I am well aware of the difficulties of “hard cases”. I am also aware of the need for very personalized spiritual guidance in such situations, which is rarely mentioned.) The Church isn’t going to do away with teaching self-control just because self-control is difficult. Are we perfect about it? No. But that doesn’t mean the Church is wrong.

      Contraception has been around since ancient times. It’s nothing new.
      Likewise, Catholics have been not following Church teaching on contraception for centuries. The cognitive dissonance is caused, not by Church teaching, but by our culture’s unquestioned treatment of contraception as a virtue and sexual pleasure as the measure of a marriage. This is not a matter of whether couples sin, but whether the Church calls contraception a positive good or an intrinsic evil.

      I think a major reason for the sexualization of society is US a reaction to Puritan repression. In Catholic circles, much of the reason for dissent on issues of sexuality is a reaction to various forms of moral rigor in previous generations. (Especially among Irish-Catholics in the US.) This is not an issue of the theology of sexuality, but one of the theology of sin and grace.

      It is absolutely correct for a priest not to bring up contraception in the Sacrament of Reconciliation if the penitent does not. That’s Pastoral Theology 101. (Better to let someone continue in ignorance than to inform them into formal sin.) Of course, one of the spiritual works of mercy is to instruct the ignorant, but this is a matter of catechesis, not a matter for the confessional.

  7. Off topic but perhaps he and the bishops should focus on attempting to restore a sense of the sacred back into our churches and chapels and liturgy. It’s difficult for the average person to believe in the Real Presence when almost all external signs of reverence have been removed.

    1. The concept of the Real Presence is a true mystery. The Church’s allegiance
      to this dogma is well founded and conceived. However, the rules laid down
      a millennium ago by pre-Inquisition popes and doctors of the church were
      exclusionary. But once again our brilliant leaders, motivated by the Holy Spirit, slipped in an all important caveat. “ Happy are those who are called …” The Real Presence of 30 AD healed the daughter/servant of a State that would make Obama’s government look like the rein of JP II. Talk about granting the wish of a centurion who worked for one most cruel, unjust and intolerant empires on earth. Today, pro choice political men and woman approach the Real Presence in much the same manner. See, Jesus ate and walked among sinners to influence their thoughts and actions, today you have to be a member of an exclusive organization to obtain that right. The Real Presence is real whether you believe or not. We believe that Jesus heals. So, if someone who
      is not a Catholic, but would be “happy to be called” – like Zacharias up in the tree – then who knows what the Real Presence could accomplish. Anyway, this is for a future church to ponder.

    2. I believe it was Zacchaeus up in the tree. Zacharias was one of the Minor Prophets of the Old Testament, and Zechariah the father of John the Baptist and husband to Elizabeth. Otherwise, yes on the Mystery aspects of the Real Presence, and yes on the need for more and better understanding and reverence for it.

    3. Centipede Galaga

      I invite you to return to Sacred Scripture and pay close attention to the people that Christ “could not” or chose not to heal.

      Also, from the very beginning, no person was admitted to the Agape meal (the first Eucharistic Liturgies) who had publicly and gravely sinned without doing public penance.

      The scandal caused by people who claim to be faithful followers of Christ and at the same time do things that are objectively prohibited is at issue. The good is exclusive. The Church is the most equal opportunity institution in all history. Any repentant sinner can be come a saint. Repentance is integral to the Christian life. Modern western relativistic pluralism is not part the doctrine of Christ.

  8. I think the fate you all deserve is to have no one ever challenge you – your choir
    would soon go deaf with silence. You are such a small minority of Catholics due
    to your inability to extrapolate : history, science, theology, the very nature of sin.
    History will dilute your rigid dogmas until you would not even recognize it as a
    catholic concept. At least the priest reading the Register is aware that the Holy
    Spirit is working in ways you are afraid to explore. At some point, the evil of
    abortion will end with science – with the perfection of knowing to the hour the
    times of fertility and not. It is interesting that a full 20 % of the ten commands
    have to due with adultery – don’t do it, don’t think about it. In the centuries to
    come marriage will not longer be the preferred style ( even Jesus postulated
    no marriage in heaven ) which means that you will have to take fornication by
    the horns – and it would be futile to say, don’t even think about having sex. You
    really should see the G rated movie of decades ago called Cocoon. The Church ( the people, as the nuns taught us) will be melding into a world concept of God
    that would crank up your ire to the boiling point. The good news is that Catholics
    will be leading the way. Into a far future we humans will go – and if your little choir could be there as you are today, you would be rendered mute – as well as deaf.
    At some point the Holy Spirit is going to call it a wrap with humanity – and we will
    be perfected.

    1. even Jesus postulated no marriage in heaven

      He didn’t postulate it, he stated it as fact. There will be no marriage in heaven, because there will be no more human procreation. All the souls ever created will be created before the Second Coming. No need for marriage where there is no more procreation.

      Let me ask you, James. Are you saying that the Magisterium is not the authority for Catholics? That Christ did not found a hierarchical Church?

      Clearly, what you are saying here is your opinion, and not the position of the Catholic Church.

    2. As seen thru history the church is very political. Paul’s leaked draft is
      evidence of how the magesterium reads its members. I have all the
      respect for it because, like humans, it is an evolving body of thought.
      This preoccupation with sin is now shifting into a reminder of all the
      consequences of sin. It’s not, don’t touch the stove because you’ll
      go to hell, it’s, be careful, you will get burned. I am still a Catholic because I sincerely believe that Rome will lead the way – hundreds
      of years from now when things will be not as we could imagine them.
      But you can live in the day, nothing wrong with the moment. It’s just
      that a few of the observations from those you debate have some substance. Your rigidity is both commendable and vainglorious.
      But then again it’s your blog and site – and for that we appreciate
      the tolerance.

    3. Centipede Galaga

      Rigidity? Sacred Scripture calls cleaving to God and the authority He provided (the Magisterium, Tradition, and Sacred Scripture) love (“If you love me, follow my commandments” John 14:15). “If you believe what you like in the Gospel, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself.” St. Augustine.
      It sure seems that you are following an imaginary future magisterium that you have created in your own mind that doesn’t synch up with reality. Truth doesn’t evolve into falsehood. There is the problematic part of your thinking. Doctrine can develop, but it develops in continuity with known truth and Sacred Tradition. The main difference that you are omitting when talking about the Magisterium is the promise of Christ to keep the St. Peter and Apostles from error by giving them the gift of the Holy Spirit. If you believe in Christ, you have to believe that He still guides the Church through St. Peter’s successor and the Apostle’s successors. The truth sets you free, not imaginary future hypothetical conjecture. Rome, meaning the Magisterium, will only lead to further disclosure of the Truth that is already revealed in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Humility and docility to the Holy Spirit entail accepting what the Church teaches, not creating conflicting realities that have no purchase of divine revelation and natural truth.

    4. The first thing that came to mind upon reading this was the blog post called “In defense of Things” by Bad Catholic:

      What then, is an ever-evolving religion? An ever-evolving religion, taken at its word, is a series of beliefs forever changing into other beliefs. Now I may be wrong here, but I’ll nevertheless stake my claim: A belief forever changing negates itself. One cannot hold an ever-changing conviction that something is true, or else it is by definition not conviction. It is a non-Thing.

      If you were to say “I am a square forever becoming a circle”, one thing is absolutely certain — you’re not a square.

      Read the whole thing, here:

    5. An evolving concept is not forever changing – it is forever refined. Rocks didn’t move and were solid – then rocks were
      discovered to be moving – atomic matrix – and far from solid.
      The first concept is still true. By perception rocks still don’t
      move and are very solid. – drop one on your toe. the moving
      rock is as real as the solid. It’s just the transcendental refined knowledge that allows it to coexist. Someday the church will
      teach that Purgatory is really the transmigration of souls. Its
      still purgatory and the souls are still migrating. Both remain
      true. And despite what you think is the inflexibility of councils
      and post iron age theologians, our church will find a way to
      break on through to a refined spiritual dogma that satisfies
      both concepts – to include hell since there are souls that will
      never find their way off the endless cycle of birth-life-death..

    6. “there are souls that will never find their way off the endless cycle of birth-life-death” — james

      And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment — Hebrews 9:27 (the Word of God)

      These two statements are mutually exclusive. That’s where you run into problems with your philosophy of “forever refined”.

      Truth cannot contradict itself. It cannot become its own opposite the more we “look” at it.

    7. Oh Leila, one last time, and I do mean last. Get over Paul and his off the cuff letter to the Hebrews. Study the words in red
      instead. Open your mind. Your giving Summa Cum Laude a
      bad name. 33

    8. That’s your response? Ignore some of the Word of God because you don’t like it? Sorry, what authority do you have to determine what we should or should not “get over” in Scripture? And on what authority do you believe the “words in red”?

      Your response is a cop-out. You’re giving Christianity a bad name. (But I can’t remember if you are a Christian? Sorry. Remind me?)

    9. JoAnna, I take that as a loaded question coming from someone whose
      bio presumptuously refers to herself as a lifelong Lutheran. But of
      course, I’m mainstream Catholic – as opposed to someone who has
      fallen into the fringe element. With all due respect, what can one expect
      from someone who leaves their faith to embrace the concept of Limbo.

    10. James, you need to read my bio again. I am a lifelong Lutheran who converted to Catholicism over a decade ago. However, I was baptized, raised, confirmed, and married in the Lutheran church (specifically, the ELCA). How is it presumptuous to honestly portray my faith heritage? I don’t understand.

      Regarding your comment about “embracing the concept of Limbo” – I don’t understand what you mean by that. I believe Limbo is valid theological speculation, but personally I believe and hope that unborn babies are mysteriously saved by God working outside the sacraments. I actually wrote a blog post about this several years back; you can find it here:

      I did not leave my faith, actually; I have been a lifelong believer in Jesus Christ. When I converted to Catholcism, I came home into the fullness of faith, which I was only receiving imperfectly as a Lutheran (as the Church acknowledges, there are elements of truth in other ecclesial communities; they just lack the fullness of truth).

      You see, I left the Lutheran church after much study, research, and critical thinking; I was no longer convinced that the Lutheran church had been given the authority to teach truth. I also came to believe that the Lutheran church taught error as doctrine. I could not, in good conscience, remain in a church that taught error as doctrine, so I joined the Church that taught the whole Truth, and nothing but the truth.

      Do you believe the Catholic Church currently teaches error as doctrine, James?

    11. ” I believe Limbo is valid theological speculation …”

      Then you are as far from able to critically think as I am to
      objectively dialogue with you. BTW, I interfaced very closely
      with the Lutheran Church (Missouri synod) and not only felt
      the Real Presence but marveled how they began a ministry
      (worship service) for the developmentally disabled.

    12. Why do you believe I am unable to critically think? Do you read the blog post about Limbo that I wrote? Have you ever read “The Hope of Salvation For Infants Who Die Without Being Baptised” and the arguments contained therein? It seems to me that critical thinking involves researching all sides of an issue, and then using logic and reason to decide which argument is most persuasive based on the evidence provided.

      Given that I have done this, and you have not, why am I the one who cannot critically think?

      The ELCA is quite different than the LCMS, so I can’t comment as to their ministries and practices (although I fully support ministries for the developmentally disabled — my oldest daughter has autism). I do know they don’t have the Real Presence as they do not have valid apostolic succession, so I’d advise you to base your beliefs on something more grounded than a mere feeling. Feelings can be deceptive.

      Do you believe the Catholic Church teaches error as doctrine, James? You haven’t yet answered that question.

    13. Once again, JoAnna, I cannot bring myself to dialogue with someone who can wrap their mind around any conception
      of spiritual abortion. So I will especially dodge loaded questions about my faith as a Catholic. You know as well as I we have so little common ground to speak of so why wade into a quagmire of rhetoric. I come to visit these fine sites to comment and not necesarily parlez. You can infer anything you wish based on what I have to say on the many topics offered. I do respect your position on faith and morals and hope you do mine.

    14. “Spiritual abortion”? What are you talking about? I know of no such teaching in any Judeo-Christian religion that could be described as such.

      It’s not a loaded question at all. It’s a quite simple one, and it’s puzzling to me that you can’t answer it. Do you believe the Catholic Church teaches error as doctrine? Yes, or no?

      I don’t know what your position on faith and morals happens to be because you won’t answer my questions about it.

    15. Please, JoAnna, lets move on. I’m sorry everyone has strayed
      so far from the original topic of the blog.

    16. Combox discussions often go down rabbit trails, and I’d really like for you to answer my question.

      I’d also like to hear more about this so-called “spiritual abortion” you claim that I believe in. I’ve never heard any such term before.

    17. JoAnna,
      The first and only statement james has made that makes any sense is last comment. He’s lost in space and the more you engage the more you will be as well.
      I think he and Henry, while presumably saying different things are intellectually shadow-boxing. When people spend too much time in their own heads they struggle as badly as these two in making sensible statements.
      My advice is to ignore them both in the future. Each seems to specialize in making statements designed to draw you into a rabbit hole, but once there you become entwined in a sticky web, like Frodo bound up by Shelob the evil monster-like spider.

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  10. Thank you for this truth Joanna! Unfortunately, I know of a pastor who subscribes to the Reporter and I’ve known for a good while that it isn’t Catholic in the same sense that as Catholic Stand, the Catholic Register, or the Big Pulpit. I really like that you said this: ‘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.’ Very good article indeed!

  11. Excellent, barring one quibble. Contraception refers specifically to those methods which prevent conception. These are basically only the barrier methods. Hormonal methods, many (if not all) of which have as a secondary action to prevent implantation, effecting an early abortion, are more properly termed birth control since they do not always, only and exclusively prevent conception.

    1. Not according to Humane Vitae, which says, “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.” Proposes = attempts, even if it doesn’t succeed.

    2. I’m familiar with HV, but I think the language is unclear and should be revisited somehow. With the increasing emphasis on hormonal forms of birth control and the newer push for morning after-type pills, its going to increasingly obscure the many, many early abortions that are a consequence.

    3. Both abortion and contraception are intrinsic moral evils, so I don’t really see how it matters. That is, non-abortifacient contraception is just as intrinsically evil as abortifacient contraception.

      Humanae Vitae is here; see #14.

    4. It matters because language matters. It obscures the reality that we are talking about, in some cases, one intrinsic evil resulting in a second intrinsic evil.

      BTW, #14 doesn’t include the language you have above. It is actually clearer on this point than I had thought.

    5. I took the quote directly from the Catechism (the footnote cites HV 14). I’m guessing those who penned that portion of the Catechism used a different translation?

      BTW, John Paul II discusses abortifacient contraception and its evils in more depth in Evangelium Vitae.

    6. JoAnna, I notice that you cite Grisez, who explicitly asserts that NFP can be abused as a contraceptive. Therefore, your link to Leila’s explanation, which denies this, seems a recipe for the serious ambivalence from which McClory is suffering.

      Leila says that “contraception fundamentally changes the very nature of sex,” but this is false, and nowhere does Humane Vitae propose it. Grisez argues that contraception is not a sexual sin, since it can be enacted by doping a water supply, and as I’m sure you know, Humane Vitae gives only 2 reasons for contraception’s intrinsic wrongness: (1) It’s playing God (and this reduces to holding a contra-life will), and (2) it commits the sin of dualism against the intimate partner, whether married or unmarried. But coitus is coitus whether barriers, pills, and chemicals are used or not. We need to uphold that fact, because it’s precisely what we claim same-sex couples cannot achieve, while married (even contracepting) couples can.

      So what I think McClory really needed here was some relief from the idea that ‘artificiality’ is something bad. It’s not.

    7. Hi Henry, I was citing Grisez in a very limited purview (see the linked source) which was an interview he gave regarding the historical context surrounding the document “Responsible Parenthood.” I did not cite him as a moral authority regarding NFP or contraception. I’m sorry to hear that he dissents from Church teaching in this area, because the Church does not teach that NFP is contraceptive.

      The Church DOES teach that NFP can possibly be used selfishly (hence why She states that it should be used for just reasons, when discerning the duty of responsible parenthood), but She does not teach and never has taught that NFP is a contraceptive. (It’s actually impossible, since NFP is simply information and the couple merely discerns how to use that information — if NFP was inherently contraceptive, it’d be impossible to use it to achieve pregnancy, but many, many Catholics (including myself) have used it for that purpose as well.

      Humanae Vitae is not the Church’s sole teaching regarding contraception. You should also read Casti Connubi (Pius XI) and Evangelium Vitae (JPII), among others, for a fuller teaching.

      Your (or rather, Grisez’) point about contraception not being a sexual sin is ridiculous. The element of intent is crucial for ALL sins. If a contraceptive is put into a water supply, the persons having sex are indeed not guilty of any sin because they were UNKNOWINGLY (without intent) ingesting contraception, so the sin is not theirs. But if a couple knowingly ingests contraception with the INTENT of foiling the procreative aspect of the marital act, then it is indeed a sexual sin.

      You say, “But coitus is coitus whether barriers, pills, and chemicals are used or not.” By that definition, rape that occurs within a marriage is also coitus. Do you think that marital rape is acceptable?

      When one of the purposes of the marital act (unitative or procreative, or both) is foiled (or the attempt is made to foil it), then the act is not as God intended it to be between a married couple. Therefore, contraception is a sin against Him, because it is an attempt to thwart the purposes of an act that He created for our ultimate good. It is a rejection of His gift to us, and it’s a rejection of part of our spouse as well.

      “Artificiality” is not always something bad, but there is no such thing as “natural” contraception, so in that respect McClory was wrong. Contraception is by its nature and design artificial. Since the infertile periods in a woman’s cycle were created by God, they are the very opposite of artificial — they are completely natural. And since couples who utilize NFP are doing nothing at all to render procreation impossible (since the infertile periods are God’s design, not ours), it’s also impossible for NFP to be defined as contraception.

    8. Thanks JoAnna, I have much to comment on your statements, but we need to first absolve Grisez of your uncharitable label of ‘dissenter.’ The Church never states
      that NFP is impossible to abuse as a contraceptive. It similarly declines to pronounce that marriage can be abused as a weapon of coercive fornication and lust. You’re the one arguing from silence here, not me, and not Grisez.

      The debate is a philosophical one, from which the Chruch strictly exonerates herself in Fides et Ratio and Veritatis Splendor, leaving philosophy to the philosophers. The Church safeguards conclusions, viz. that contraception is intrinsically evil, and Grisez agrees with that conclusion. So let’s not make this debate something it isn’t.

      I want to first highlight that you’re leaning toward the same false dichotomy that is too common in these debates: that NFP is either 100% infallibly non-contraceptive, or “inherently contraceptive,” to use your words. My position is neither of these. I agree with you that NFP is the gathering of information followed by what is essentially a non-action, i.e. abstinence, the not-trying for a child. But layered inseparably over the non-action is some other action that the couple does
      instead of embracing, and while this action, too, may be innocuous like washing the dishes, we are still not yet at a point to evaluate what species of action this instance of washing the dishes constitutes. As Veritatis Splendor 78
      highlights, the specification of a human act requires consideration of the 1st-person perspective. So I am claiming that the aforementioned instance of dish-washing, which is inextricably linked to the NFP endeavor, _could_ be
      performed with a contra-life will, and thus be contraceptive. This may sound unintuitive, but that’s all the more reason to omit it from encyclicals, and besides this is a point of philosophy and not of faith; the Church has already rightly concluded on the moral status of contraception, and has also taught that we need to consider the 1st-person perspective to know when contraception, or any specific human action, transpires.

      To close, I don’t understand how the “purpose” of an act can be “foiled,” since acts require specification in the 1st-person. I cannot simultaneously foil the purpose for which I act, so I think you are more correct when you say “attempt to foil.” But furthermore, I don’t understand how any nature of an act could be foiled. Coitus is directed to an end, as we all understand, but how essentially natural is coitus if a mere condom can throw its nature off course? That doesn’t
      sound like the powerful nature that the Christian God would design, and evidently designs in trees, bears, saints, and volcanoes. I think instead that it is impossible to foil nature; we rather act reasonably or unreasonably toward other persons, foiling the ends of persons without foiling their inviolable natures. The wickedest sinner still has a good
      human nature, even if his ends and habits have all fallen to
      perdition. The good of marriage is not sex qua sex, so your harrowing rape analogy doesn’t apply. The good of marriage is sex in the context of emotional sharing, commitment, and openness to life: human fulfillment that could be achieved even without fecundity. The nature of sex is not impugned by a bad marriage or by bad behavior, but the nature of a marriage may be impugned, as HV states, because
      marriage is an irreducible human good, open-ended and mysterious and therefore never completely realized in one instance or by any particular action.

    9. If your stance is that the Church DOES teach that NFP is the same as contraception, then surely you can back up this claim by citing official Church teaching. Please do so.

      “It similarly declines to pronounce that marriage can be abused as a weapon of coercive fornication and lust.”

      What? The Church absolutely speaks to domestic violence and marital rape as being sins. I can cite the Catechism if you need the references, but surely you don’t believe the opposite?

      I would recommend that you read this article, which addresses all your points about abstinence for any reason somehow being contraceptive:

      I really don’t understand what you are trying to convey in your last paragraph. God gave us free will to sin against Him, so of course we can use the sexual act to sin against Him just as we can use anything in our lives to sin.

    10. Now you’re just deliberately mis-characterizing my position. I said I perceive a middle ground in the philosophical debate about how the act of NFP may be variously specified, and you wish to foist upon me a claim I didn’t make, about a position I don’t hold. Since when was Church teaching the debate? I’m debating terms like ‘artificial’ and ‘natural,’ along with action theory, which is the job of philosophy and not of religion. But I’ll repeat that HV14 and VS78, taken together, support my claim.

      Nevertheless, I didn’t have to go far into the article you suggested to read this: “Neither before, nor during, nor after sexual intercourse has a couple practicing NFP done nothing [sic] at all to prevent procreation or to render the act infertile.” How does the author know this without knowing the couple’s 1st-person perspective? If you reject Veritatis Splendor 78, then you are the dissenter.

      Erlenbush has fallen into the same quagmire from which I’ve tried to extract this forum. He somehow believes we even _can_ intend to render an act infertile, when the fact is that every sexual act is reproductive in type, or by nature fertile. It’s like saying the bulimic tries to render herself non-digestive; it’s absurd, linguistic nonsense. The sin of contraception is acting on a contra-life will against the coming to be of a person.

  12. Joanna, you could get a spot on Mike Rowes “Dirty Jobs” show for having suffered through an entire article from NCR. Great work that many of us don’t have the intestinal fortitude to finish reading. Thank for taking one for the team.

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    1. enness, you are so right. Such wasted time and energy.

      I’ve just spent a long time reading and analyzing Pope Francis’ Lumen Fidei. I wish that were required reading for all the folks at NCReporter. Our Faith (all of it!) is so beautiful. It is a joy and a gift, not a burden or an imposition.

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