Tuesday, January 25, 2011

An important conversation

There's an important conversation going on over at Mark Shea's blog, about evangelization and discipleship. Sherry Weddell of the Siena Institute writes:

Here's the deal: roughly 32% of those raised Catholic have abandoned the identity altogether. An additional 38% of those raised Catholic retain the identity but seldom or never bother to show up. 30% attend Mass at least once a month. Only about 15.6% are at Mass on a given weekend. So the next time you witness a baby's baptism, think, in 20 years, 2/3 of those babies will either be gone or non-practicing. Only 1 in 6 of those babies will be attending Mass regularly.
Catholics leave the Church and the name Catholic by age 23. The majority by age 18.

And the Pew Forum showed that attending CCD, involvement in youth ministry, and going to a Catholic high school make little or no difference between those who stay Catholic, those who become "nothing" and those who become Protestant. Our primary strategies aren't making any difference. [...]

This goes so far beyond a failure to catechize. We are two generations past that. We are on the edge of a demographic precipice that is going to make the post Vatican II fall-off look like a golden age. We are going to have to (gasp) GO OUT and make disciples.

In our culture, religious identity is not longer inherited, it is chosen. And reconsidering the religious identity of your childhood has become a right of passage for young adults. So we have to evangelize when they are children and we'll probably have to do it again when they are young adults.

I've written about this at enormous length over at Intentional Disciples (www.siena.org) and we cover all this in our seminar Making Disciples. We are still spending our time debating what happened nearly 50 years ago while our future walked right out the door and we didn't notice.

I've left some comments over there, and I encourage those of you who are so inclined to jump in to the discussion (though comments read sort of bottom-to-top and then replies to comments top-to-bottom, which is a bit awkward).

But, of course (you know me!) I have more to say than I could possibly say in a mere comment box. So here goes:

I understand Sherry's frustration at the constant rehashing of the Vatican II battles on the blogosphere, but I think it's premature to say that what happened fifty years ago no longer matters or shouldn't direct our focus. We could say those things if what happened fifty years ago were no longer impacting the present-day realities in the Church, but that is very far from being the case. Catechesis remains abysmal--and people can't accept and embrace a faith when they haven't been taught that faith. The Mass is still suffering from too much invention and unilateral liturgical activism and not enough "say the black, do the red." We can't afford to sweep all of that under the rug and act as though making disciples requires neither sound liturgy nor sound catechesis; we can't profess our love for and deep personal relationship with Jesus Christ to a seeker, and then admit that we don't really pay much attention to His teachings, or care what His Church wants in the way of worship--because there are plenty of other churches out there willing to say those things, quite frankly, who will say them much better than Catholics can, since they are not tied to the Church and can be as liturgically inventive and doctrinally heterodox as they like.

However, while I think we can't afford to drop the quest for sound catechesis and sound liturgy, we also have to pay attention to the common-sense experiences Sherry is reflecting. I believe that Rod Dreher once shared on his old blog an experience he had when he was first considering the Catholic Church and an enthusiastic Catholic gave him a book on...incorruptible saints. (Of course, his present Orthodox Christian tradition admires the incorruptibles, too, but that's beside the point.) The point is that greeting a seeker or new convert with a list of one's own personal catechetical and liturgical grievances is about like handing him a book loaded with photographs of the dead and incorruptible bodies of saints: it's not exactly an attempt to meet him where he is, is it?

So, on the one hand, we do still need to work for the abolition of smile-button theology of the "Jesus is nice; you be nice too!" variety, and for the ending of the happy-clappy Mass of Father's Personal Creativity--because in the long run we can't hope to rebuild the Church in America without paying attention to those two areas of concern. But on the other hand, we need to direct our energies in positive ways toward three things of great importance:
  1. Seeking, through prayer, sacrifice, education, etc., to strengthen our own relationships with Jesus: to know Him, love Him and serve Him in this life, so as to have a hope of spending eternity beside Him in Heaven.
  2. Striving, according to our own states in life, for the sanctification of those nearest to us: our families, our religious brothers and sisters, our parish communities, and so forth.
  3. Working, in whatever ways God opens to us, for a cultural renaissance which preaches the message of hope through virtue, of healing, of the joy of being a Christian, and of the peace that passes understanding.
Speaking as a lay woman, I'd like to emphasize a point I made over at Mark's: If we want to fix what is broken in the Church, we must begin by fixing what is broken in the family. The family, the very concept of a permanent and sacrificial union of love ordered toward the sanctification of its members, is under the worst possible attack at the present time. Divorce, adultery, fornication, contraception, homosexual sins, abortion, cohabitation as a replacement for marriage--the list of ills goes on and on; yet our culture accepts all of these evils as merely matters of personal choice, as if children can thrive in unstable homes being raised by a series of pseudo-parents without any of this taking any spiritual toll at all. These days, even among stable marriages, habits like pornography threaten the happiness and permanence of the marriage (despite the cultural message that there's nothing wrong with porn). It has never been easier to walk away from a spouse and children for no reason at all than it is today; and the reaction on the parts of too many young people is to decide that marriage itself is useless and worthless, and that a series of transient relationships resulting in a couple of children is no better or worse than any other arrangement.

How, in the midst of familial breakdown, do we preach the message of Christ's redemptive love? Can children who have never known their fathers understand the concept of a loving Father? Can a woman raising children alone accept the Church's view that her marriage is a valid one, even if her husband has abandoned her and "married" someone else? Can teens, surrounded by a message of sex as entertainment, ever see anything sacred in this gift which God has ordered toward marriage? Can children who are never told "no" by their parents or teachers ever learn that a religion which proclaims God's "Thou shalt nots" is telling them the truth--a truth they have thus far been denied?

I think that a new emphasis on what the Church understands by the term "family" is in order. Solid, strong families comprised of mothers, fathers, children, and even extended family members form the backbone of a strong parish family; strong parish families create a strong diocesan family; and strong dioceses are necessary for the family of the Catholic Church in America to be strong and healthy. This is not to say that individuals are not important, of course; but our focus on the individual is sometimes too isolating--no man is an island, and a man or woman alone at Mass should be caught up by the bigger parish family, not left alone, as far too often happens today.

And emphasizing the family means providing care, listening, and support to those whose families are threatened or have fallen apart--because no person is more vulnerable to the temptation to turn his or her back on Christ and the Church than the person who has been betrayed and abandoned by the people who were supposed to offer him or her unconditional love.

These are just a few ideas of mine; what do you think? How can the Catholic Church in America evangelize and make new disciples? How can we share the full truth taught by the Church and bear witness to Christ in such an unfaithful age?


LarryD said...

The Mass is still suffering from too much invention and unilateral liturgical activism and not enough "say the black, do the red."

I would add 'horizontal liturgical activism' as well.

Good piece, Red. Lots to think about...

LarryD said...

Oh, one more thing - have you heard of Alpha USA? Looks pretty interesting. Our parish has kicked off a "chapter" - it's an ambitious endeavor.

L. said...

A post on this same blog a few weeks ago called for schismatic Catholics leaving the Church, rather than staying and leading devout Catholics astray.

I promised I wouldn't speak from a religious perspective on this blog anymore, so I will try to say this as an objective outsider: Perhaps there is a way to reach out to existing sinners, instead of just recruiting new saints? I am not the best person to offer advice on this [ha!], but I will say that "Love the sinner, hate the sin" is hard to do, but can be done.

[Also, some children -- like mine -- actually do thrive in "unstable homes" raised by "pseudo-parents." Another one of life's great mysteries???]

John said...

Perhaps this is off-topic, but your comment that "Catechesis is abysmal" raises a problem for me that has been a source of considerable frustration (and might have relevance for how to form faithful Catholics).

One of the not-so-happy results of following the various debates over at the Coalition for Clarity blog on torture or the death penalty--and such debates in other parts of the Catholic blogosphere--is that I am quite perplexed at what constitutes "good catechizing."

As far as I can tell from the argument and counter-arguments, you not only need to have attended Catholic school and/or religious education classes as a kid in order to understand what the Church teaches, you need to have the equivalent of multiple graduate degrees (in theology, church history, philosophy, etc.) simply to avoid falling into heresy. Confronted with what seems relatively straightforward and authoritative (the Catechism on torture or the death penalty, say), some serious Catholics appeal to "nuance," "interpretation," and other arguments that boil down to the notion that Church teaching cannot be trusted and taken at face value.

The legacy of these debates, for me, is to show that, for many faithful, orthodox (indeed, self-consciously and proudly orthodox) Catholics, there is no clear, unambiguous Church teaching. Everything has to be sifted, weighed, current teaching synthesized with past teaching, etc., etc. Perhaps I am too lazy, but if accurately understanding what the Church teaches is this complex, I do not know how any program of catechesis for children or adults could be adequate.

My apologies for such a long and somewhat tangential post. I suppose what I am getting at is that correctly teaching the faith is challenging when so many intelligent Catholics cannot seem to agree on what the faith really says.

Anonymous said...

John, a few thoughts:

(1) Every Christian tradition struggles with clarifying its teachings and communicating them -- Baptists, Lutherans, whatever. Other traditions have both basic theology and also complex debates about that theology.

(2) I think in the Catholic Church (to which I'm converting soon) that the basics are indeed intelligible, but that for the past generation catechesis in these basics has been lamentable. When Red talks about catechesis, she's not talking about the incredibly high-falutin' stuff, but basics like Jesus Christ being present in the Eucharist, which just shy of half of Catholics today don't know or understand(!).

(3) Catholicism is complex, and theologians have always debated and will always debate this and that. For me, it's one of the exhilarating things about Catholicism: it's intellectual rich. But sometimes that means disagreement.

(4) Some of the debates I think you refer to involve both (a) poor catechesis -- people not knowing that torture is wrong, and accepting current political categories for thinking about such things (and thus implicitly letting utilitarianism run roughshod over their Faith); and *perhaps* (b) prudential judgments regarding how Catholic teaching is to be applied in a given case; also (c) there's often an element of raw disobedience, wherein certain Catholics (bad Catholic, by definition) deliberately subordinate their Faith to the supposed necessities of the times.

Just some thoughts before coffee, so hopefully they're coherent enough...


JMB said...

Wow, there is a lot to think about here.

As a mother of four CCD attending children and a catechist myself, I think about catechesis all the time. Truth be told, I'm tired of teaching CCD. It's hard and I often feel like I'm not getting anywhere, my children don't know jack sh#t about their faith, and there is so much to cover that it can be very demoralizing. Besides, I don't like TEACHING. I know some of you home school and I admire you for that. I have never desired to be a teacher and have no skills in class room management. I also don't like speaking in front of a large group.

My wish would be to get priests and pastors back to the classroom. If catechesis is so important to the Church, why do they rely on volunteers? Mary & Jesus brought Jesus to the Temple, they weren't told to do it all at home or given a book and told to teach a class after school to a bunch of rowdy 5th graders.

I don't mean to sound dismayed, but I don't see any way out of this mess until the church steps up the plate and decides to teach again. Get mom volunteers out of the equation.

We do our part by trying to live the faith. We take our children to Mass every week, I frequently take them to daily mass if they are available. My brother is a priest. We don't trash talk the Church ever in front of the kids. I'm not sure what else I can do to keep them Catholic.

c matt said...

I'm not sure what else I can do to keep them Catholic.

Sounds like you are doing quite a lot. In the end, you can't really keep them Catholic - it is up to them to decide. What we can do is present the faith as clearly and completely as we can, and, as alluded to above, try to meet them where they are, but not leave them there. Unfortunately, it does take a lot of effort and time to understand the faith well, and then it takes a certain knack to be able to present it in an understandable way to different groups with varying levels of ability and temperament (a group of adult Catholics vs. adult potential converts vs teenagers vs. adolescents, etc.). There just aren't that many people with that combination of skills around available to teach. And then, you have to get teh potential groups to even be interested in being taught. Beer often helps.

Anonymous said...

but Red DOES get into the "high falutin' stuff". If you disagree one iota from the Church teachings, she is there to call you a heretic and Damn you to Hell. The Church's problem, and I have thought this all along is the same as many school systems...too much administration. I do like that the church is "the same" everywhere as far as readings, and regarding most teachings, but PUH-LEASE! I don't want to read about the church daily in order to grasp the basics of every little nitty-gritty teaching. Frankly, the more minutia I see being discussed, the more I'm completely turned off by the Church. I think it's possible to be a really good Christian in practice and to never once step foot in a church, receive communion, go to confession, etc. in other words, the ritual and practice has little to do with salvation to me. Those of you telling me that I'm doing it wrong are what's going to bring the church to it's knees. I like the ritual, and I go to Mass weekly. I am raising my children in a church so that they have a sense of something bigger than themselves, but I couldn't care less if they end up Catholics as adults. I would much rather they are good Christians. I think that a lot of times, the orthodox catholics have a superiority complex way more than they are faithful to the teachings of jesus.

Deirdre Mundy said...

JMB-- I hear you on the difficulty of teaching CCD!

One problem I see-- the kids whose parents take them to Mass, say bedtime prayers, read bible stories, and generally live an active faith don't really NEED me. I'm filling in a few tiny holes here and there, but by and large they already get it.

The kids whose parents enroll them in sacramental prep but who DON'T take the family to Mass, pray, live the faith etc. can't be taught in a mere hour a week. I think my job there may just be to give them a smattering of the Good News so that later in life, when they're looking, they can think "Hey, there's a Church! Maybe someone in there can help me!"

Since parents are the first teachers of their children, if the parents are teaching that Mass isn't important, secularism is, and we're just making first communion so you can have a party and get presents, there's nothing a catechist can do....

EXCEPT---- To pray for the kids! The job is too big for us, but we can pray for them, ask their guardian angels for help, beg the Holy Spirit to aid their parents, and hope that, someday, hearts will change.

But, in the end, it comes down to families. BUT how do you reach the families who aren't in church anyway, or who only come when Grandma makes them? (Christmas, Easter, and Mother's Day.)

I tend to think the answer isn't more programming, outreach and advertising. Like St. Monica, I think we need to resort to prayer, sacrafice and acts of love for all our neighbors. We evangelize by helping someone with a door, bringing dinner to the sick, comforting the mourning--- not by banging people upside the head with doctrine. (That works fine for committed Christians who have started dabbling in patristics.... not so much for the lonely, aching, unchurched. They just need the good news-- that they're a beloved child of God. And we share that good news by treating them like our brothers and sisters in Christ--even when they don't realize they ARE....)

Deirdre Mundy said...

Or, to be more concise-- in this age, we're basically starting from scratch--- so we need to look at how the disciples evangelized in Acts.

FIRST the Good News (Jesus loves you so much He died for you and rose from the dead!)

THEN the epistles.

Charlotte (Waltzing Matilda) said...

A wonderful priest we know came up with an ingenious means of teaching CCD. He taught each and every class himself! He usually grouped two age groups together (ex...1st&2nd graders, 3rd&4th graders, etc...) and scheduled them once a week for 6 or 7 weeks, usually on Saturdays. Each lesson lasted 3 hours and he required a parent or guardian to sit with them during the entire lesson. So, not only was he keeping the children safe by keeping them under the watchful eye of their parent at all times, but he was also making sure that the parents were being educated or rather re-educated as well.

Red Cardigan said...

W., it's not my job to call people heretics and damn them to Hell, or anywhere else for that matter. But does that mean I can't address heresy, or warn people when they place themselves so far outside the Church's teachings as to be functionally no longer Catholic in the full sense of that word?

The problem, as I see it, goes like this:

-I say "Abortion is intrinsically evil."

-Someone says, "No, I think it's good. And I'm a Catholic."

-I say, "No, the Catholic Church teaches that abortion is intrinsically evil."

-Someone replies, "Well, the Church can say what it wants, but I make up my own mind, and I think abortion is fine."

-I say, "But the Church doesn't work that way. We're not each our own magisterium--we are bound to accept what the Church teaches, or risk being outside the Church."

-Someone says, "Well, my God doesn't tell me I have to obey the Church anymore. I can be a good Catholic, go to Mass every week, go to Communion, and support abortion. There's no problem."

-I say, "But there is a problem. The Church teaches that by doing this, you risk losing your soul."

-Someone says, "You're just mean and judgmental. You don't see that God doesn't care about abortion. He's probably fine with it. Being Catholic doesn't mean I have to think the Church is right about everything....

...etc. ad infinitum.

Though I've used abortion here because it's been a recent example of these kinds of conversations, the truth is that there are many such areas where Catholics seem to think they can invent their own truth, reject what the Church teaches, assume that there is some sort of conflict between Christ and His Church such that they can claim to be following Christ while spitting in the Church's face, and otherwise ignore, deny, subvert, and trash Church teaching.

This is not, of course, the same as being truly confused or puzzled by Church teaching; plenty of us reach that point, and work our our issues privately while still giving the assent of faith to the Church. This really is a sort of functional heresy, in which the person claiming to be fully Catholic thinks that the Church's teachings are entirely optional and don't really reflect the will of Christ--which is, in fact, heretical.

Whether someone who holds that view is actually a heretic or merely deeply ignorant or woefully uninformed is another question.

Alice said...

Sherry reminds me of the old adage that when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. She's very zealous for "discipling" Catholics, although she'd probably be a bit more successful if she learned to speak Catholic-ese, where "disciple" is a noun. I'm not sure how we can discount the abysmal state of catechesis or liturgy though. If I had never been taught about the sacraments, I would not stay through banal, senseless songs and often uninspiring sermons. Don't blame the parents of the current 20 somethings either because they were caught in the wake of Vatican II and are probably just as clueless -even if they go to Mass. *Back to lurking*

Hector said...


What about the possibility that it's precisely clinging to those teachings (that you say aren't taught about any more) that is the reason many former Catholics have left their church?

A lot of people find that what the RC Church teaches abut, say, issues of sexual morality like contraception or homosexuality, is contrary to their moral intuitions, conscience, reason and experience. They side with their own reason and conscience and make the further logical step that if Rome is so clearly wrong about contraception, maybe they're wrong about other things too, and they're certainly wrong about the idea that the church, as a body, cannot err. A church that was willing to revisit and reconsider some of its teachings might actually hang on to some of those people, but a church that sticks by its traditional view that contraception is wrong- contrary to what just seems so clearly true to more liberal believers- is inevitably going to lose them.

Now, of course, that isn't a reason why the RC church should change its teachings. They should stay faithful to what they sincerely believe, and not change for the sake of hanging on to people. All of us have the obligation to stay faithful to what we believe is right: I think my (Episcopal) church is right on issues like contraception and homosexuality, and clearly you think the same about yours. But we should also remember that holding on to our beliefs comes with a cost, and one of those costs is that we are going to lose the membership of people who disagree with you.

My church has already lost a lot of its membership within the last decade, after it decided to fully embrace gay people and gay relationships. It's sad, but it's worth it. I think the same will be true of the RC church: if you're convinced that your church is right on issues like contraception, then losing the membership of people who disagree with you on that issue should be worth it.

Red Cardigan said...

Hector, I think the vast majority of those Catholics who have rejected the Church's teaching on contraception do not in the least understand what the Church teaches on sex, marriage, and the family, or why she teaches what she does--or, indeed, for that matter, why every Protestant church taught much the same thing until the Lambeth conference in 1930.

The fact is, all the ills Pope Paul VI predicted in Humanae Vitae have come to pass--and unless one thinks the destruction of the family was a *good* idea, then one has to accept the social and moral cost of one's approval of contraception, and somehow reconcile that decay with what Christ really wants for people. It's a pretty difficult argument, if you ask me--but most people aren't making it; rather, they're taking the intellectually lazy approach which says, "Well, contraception is good for me, and the fact that it has led to abortion and divorce and the slow destruction of the natural family and coercive governments like China mandating one-child and so forth isn't my fault--and who says the destruction of the natural family is a bad thing, anyway?"

L. said...

I respectfully disagree that the "vast majority" of Catholics who reject the Church's teaching on contraception simply don't understand what the Church teaches.

I am not speaking personally here, since I know I'm a poor example myself -- but among my most fervently devout Catholic friends, contraception is the teaching I think is questioned most often, by people who are otherwise striving to live according to the teachings of the Magisterium.

(Even I, the token heretic commenter, has read Humanae Vitae.)

L. said...

...and blaming the existence of contraception for the coercive policies of China's government is like blaming Alfred Nobel for every destructive explosion. Contraception is not a catalyst in itself -- it is a tool, and like all tools, it can be used for good, or for irresponsible and harmful purposes.

Red Cardigan said...

L., can you explain here to everyone why the Church teaches that contraception is wrong, and how that teaching relates to the Church's understanding of marriage?

I know, you could Google(tm) it, and I'm not trying to put you on the spot. But most people who say what you say (e.g., they've read HV, they know what the Church teaches, but they choose to reject it) really don't know the why of the teaching; they may know the what, but even that's not a given.

L. said...

Okay, without resorting to Google -- my undertanding is that HV spells out that according to natural law, the sexual act MUST be open to the possibility of procreation. This is one of the intrinsic purposes of sex, and it's a mortal sin to artificially remove one of these intrinsic purposes, even if the other intrinsic purposes (marital bonding) are present.

L. said...

Okay, without resorting to Google -- my undertanding is that HV spells out that according to natural law, the sexual act MUST be open to the possibility of procreation. This is one of the intrinsic purposes of sex, and it's a mortal sin to artificially remove one of these intrinsic purposes, even if the other intrinsic purposes (marital bonding) are present.

L. said...

[Sorry, I don't know what that comment posted twice -- it told me I had incorrectly typed the verification word and asked me type in another one.]

As for the "why" -- because it opens the door to use of the sex act entirely for pleasure, which objectifies the participants and destroys their dignity as humans.

Hector said...

Re: or, indeed, for that matter, why every Protestant church taught much the same thing until the Lambeth conference in 1930.

I'm not sure what the point is of this argument, which I often hear made. My church doesn't hold that it's infallible, or that we can't err. We were wrong in what we believed prior to 1930 (and I'd say, wrong in a lot of what we used to believe about human sexuality), and we know better now.

If Rome doesn't want to change and revisit their teaching that's up to them, but telling my church 'you've changed your teaching' just makes me scratch my head. Well, yes, of course we have. We were wrong then, and being consistently wrong isn't a virtue.

I have read 'Humanae Vitae' as well as Charles Gore's dissent at Lambeth; I have a lot of respect for Charles Gore, as well as for Paul VI, but I respectfully disagree with them. You seem to think that someone can't understand the Roman Catholic case against contraception (which I think isn't even really held anymore by the Orthodox) and disagree with it, but many of us do. And I think contraception is the biggest issue over which a lot of people decide that they can't in good conscience remain within the Roman Catholic church any more.

bathilda said...

Hector, I think that's true, and I also think that a fundamental disagreement with the church on contraception opens the door for a complete dismissal of Rome for many Catholics. If only my husband had been Episcopalian when I met him! I have read Humanae Vitae, and found it somewhat offensive, but certainly out of touch, especially reading the "predictions of the future" resulting from it. To blame contraception for a soaring divorce rate, etc. is taking statistical data and making it say whatever you want. LOTS of societal changes took place in the 60's, just when contraception came in Pill form and became the go to method for women to take charge of their sexuality. There's been contraceptive methods abound since antiquity. Not reliable, but hey, people have been trying to prevent pregnancy since they figured out what causes it. Men have cheated on wives, women have cheated on husbands for millenia. The 60's only brought a lot of that into the light. It also brought a lot of women out into the workplace, and eventually, women fought for equal earnings. Does it surprise anyone that women started seeking divorces more and more when they were no longer bound to the home and could support themselves? Without contraception, and good paying jobs, etc., many women remained subordinate to Men. I am cynical, but I can't help but wonder if the Church's stance on contraception is to keep women in their place. An old celibate man certainly isn't one to tell me what constitues a great marital relationship, and who is giving wholly of themselves, etc... It's mind boggling. I get the Why and the What. I really do. I just fundamentally disagree with it.

L. said...

"This really is a sort of functional heresy, in which the person claiming to be fully Catholic thinks that the Church's teachings are entirely optional and don't really reflect the will of Christ--which is, in fact, heretical."

When I read those words above, I didn't think they applied to me, since I don't claim to be fully Catholic, and I realize many of my views are heretical and out of line with the Church's teachings.

But those words do apply to some Catholics I know, who really believe in their hearts that they are devout believers of the One True Church, and that its teachings are not "entirely optional" -- but they struggle with them. I see them struggling. (Maybe that's why they want to befriend a heretic? Someone who's even worse off than they are?)

How can their fellow Catholics help them with their stuggle? I don't know if accusing them of "spitting in the Church's face" is really helping anyone. I mean, it's fine to say it to someone like me (who lobs it right back) -- but I know some of the people Hector is talking about above, and they seem (to be, at least) to be the kind of people the Church needs to figure out how to keep.

Hector said...

Re: I am cynical, but I can't help but wonder if the Church's stance on contraception is to keep women in their place.


I don't think that's the intention, and I have no doubt that Paul VI meant well. I don't believe there was any conscious intention of 'keeping women in their place'. But that has certainly, historically, been one of the biggest effects of not having reliable contraception.

I'm not really seeing where contraception 'increases' abortion (??). The reality seems to be more the contrary. Those countries which have the lowest documented abortion rates (like in Northern Europe) tend to be the ones with heavy use of contraception. Latin American countries, which have traditionally had high abortion rates, are seeing the rates decrease in the last two decades as contraception use becomes more universal. The vast majority of abortions could have been prevented through careful and assiduous use of contraception. If no one even considered starting a sexual relationship without making sure they were using an effective contraception method (unless they, you know, actually consciously wanted to have children) then the rate of abortion would be very low.

melanie said...

Okay, a lot of what y'all are saying is true. The church's teachings on sexuality are a huge sticking point for a lot of people. However, there is so much more to the Catholic faith than that. And that's the problem right? Nobody is learning it. So like everything, a few hot button issues get talked about and because we're all ignorant on every other aspect of our faith, we get ourselves worked up over those and throw the whole thing out the window. You are profoundly making the point.

The Church is so richly layered and complex in it's fundamental understanding of Christ's teachings with years of historical theological, and philosophical intellectual and spiritual pursuit of those teachings. Things like grace, sacraments, true prescence, the trinity, the existence of the pope, saints and their relationship to us, salvation...and then even more specifically, what each sacrament means and constitutes, and conveys, especially confession, the Eucharist, which distinctly differ from most other religions, but every sacrament...again which many faiths don't even have. Suffering. Suffering and Christ's death on the cross, and our relationship to His suffering. The significance of suffering in this life, what it means to share in Christ's death. Mary. Her unique and special role in salvation. Her power as a mediator of grace, her special relationship to Christ. His very first work on this earth was at her request, to change water into wine at a wedding.
I could go on and on and on and not even yet touch how and why the Church holds on to it's views on sexuality. We have to teach the whole of it. Without that, people get caught up in the matter of the faith and completely miss the form.

Deirdre Mundy said...

I think a lot of the reason people 'struggle' with Church teachings on things like pre-marital sex is plain old fashioned Concupiscence.

The order of events is NOT usually "I dont' understand this church teaching. I've researched it carefully. I respectfully disagree. Therefore, if and when I start dating, I will have sex with my boyfriend and move in with him."

In real life, it usually goes more like, "I slept with my Boyfriend. I feel guilty. But if I stop sleeping with him, he'll dump me! I love him! Love is good! The GUILT is the problem! The Church teaching on this must be wrong, because it's making me feel bad!"

It's like the old joke about the priest who goes to his confessor and says he's having doubts about the real presence and wants to leave the priesthood. And the confessor replies, "Blonde, Redhead, or Brunette?"

First comes the sin, THEN comes attempts to rationalize continued sinning.

Which again, is why the re-evangelization is a job for the Holy Spirit-- how do you teach about a Savior to a people who deny the possibility that anyone would need saving from anything except "Feeling Bad?"

bathilda said...

I think that evangelical churches aren't having much trouble at all in recruiting new disciples...just look at how they are building and growing. The Catholic church doesn't get new blood because of the restrictive nature of the church, and the difficulty level in being able to practice it "correctly". I'm not saying religion shouldn't be something to study, but there is so much to being Catholic, and "doing it right", as many of you evidence here so often. Why wouldn't more people be drawn to a more welcoming church community where you can explore your faith, and not get bogged down in practicing the "religion".

L. said...

"First comes the sin, THEN comes attempts to rationalize continued sinning." -->

I don't think this is true. I don't mean Concupiscence isn't a problem for some people, but when I talked above about "struggling," I was talking about married people struggling with contraception, not people who "deny the possibility that anyone would need saving from anything except 'Feeling Bad?'"
(And I have to say, my own attitudes on premarital sex and contraception go back to before I even kissed a oboy.)

What Melanie above says it true - there is more to the Church than its teaching on sexuality. I think this is why many people who are struggling DO stay, and continue to struggle.

Chris-2-4 said...

I guess I can understand/comprehend how people may actually study the contraception and other issues and come away unpersuaded by the mountains of exegesis behind the Church's position. For some, it is a hard saying.

But do people honestly believe that the arguments FOR contraception are just super compelling? That God actually considers contraception a GOOD thing?

L. said...

Chris-2-4 -- yes. I don't claim to be a devout Catholic, but from a secular viewpoint, I think contraception can be a GOOD thing. I agree it can be used to facilitate irresponsible and dishonest behavior, but it can also be used similar to the way NFP is used by some couples -- to attempt to avoid pregnancy for some reason (economic or grave health risks), and even be open to the new life if the contraception fails. Some people don't think removing the potentially procreative aspect of sex renders the act sinful if the marital bonding aspect is present.

Hector said...

Re: But do people honestly believe that the arguments FOR contraception are just super compelling? That God actually considers contraception a GOOD thing?

Sure, why not? I think that God intended sexuality to be an expression of love and bonding, as much as the means of procreation. And if a couple genuinely loves each other- even if they're gay, or unmarried, or not ready for a child- then I think that sex can be perfectly legitimate for them, and a true and genuine figure of God's love. Contraception made it possible for many people to have loving, joyful, and healthy relationships even when they weren't ready or able for children, or for more children. I can't in good conscience believe that God sees that as a bad thing. Rowan Williams said it best in his essay 'The Body's Grace', back before he was the head of my church.

I'm not RC, so it's not really a problem for me, but there are even a fair number of Catholics who would answer in the affirmative, as well.

My view of the Catholic arguments about contraception is something like my view about the Quaker arguments for pacifism: it's an interesting argument, and I can admire the complexity and beauty of the intellectual edifice from outside, but ultimately it's based on premises that I don't share, and so of course I don't accept the conclusions either. that's not to say that I think people who propound that view are necessarily anti-sex, anti-women, or anti-environment. I worked in Africa for a couple years, and occasionally talked to women's groups and youth groups about family planning, and in the interest of intellectual honesty I went into some detail about natural family planning and how it can be highly effective. I don't agree with your position, but neither do I think it should be mocked or despised.

Re: (And I have to say, my own attitudes on premarital sex and contraception go back to before I even kissed a oboy.)

Me, too. You might be surprised how many people with fairly liberal views on sex, are not personally all that sexually active (for whatever reason).

Hector said...

Re: and even be open to the new life if the contraception fails.

For the record, I think that anyone who has sex, whether or not they use contraception, should be 'open to the new life if the contraception fails'. Ideally by getting/staying married and caring for the child together, but if that's not the case, at least by having the child and then choosing adoption (with the obvious caveats in cases where the pregnancy is genuinely medically dangerous).

That alone should be a good reason for people not to have casual sex, with people that they barely know, or don't genuinely love.

c matt said...

I think you do misunderstand Paul VI's reasoning - it is the separation of sex from procreation, of marriage from rearing children, of which contraception is the "tool", as you say, which has lead to the sky rocketing divorce rate as he predicted. Separating sex from procreation cause the mindset that allowed for separating marriage from raising children. Marriage became (in society's mind) primarily for the personal fulfillment of the spouses - no fault divorce laws followed (if I am not "fulfilled" why should I have to stick around?).

But, in the end, I do agree with Henry - better for the RCC to lose members rather than cave in to the modern experiment (cutting of your hand ratehr than sinning takes ion a whole new meaning when the Church is viewed as the Body of Christ). I am sad for those who leave, but, it is their decision.

c matt said...

LOTS of societal changes took place in the 60's, just when contraception came in Pill form and became the go to method for women to take charge of their sexuality.

Hmm...take charge - sounds a lot like non serviam.

There's been contraceptive methods abound since antiquity.

Which seems to undercut your argument that the teaching aainst contraception is a way for keeping women in their place. Sounds like they weren't much "in their place" to begin with.

And if anti-contraception keeps them there, what about pro-contraception? Cui buono? Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free, so to speak?

c matt said...

Some people don't think removing the potentially procreative aspect of sex renders the act sinful if the marital bonding aspect is present.

From a secular viewpoint, why should the marital bonding aspect need to be present? What is sinful about causal hookups from a secular perspective as long as both parties enjoy it?

bathilda said...

C.Matt, the orthodox answer to L. You just like to stir the turd.

btw, 1962 called, and it wants the "buy the cow" saying back.

and your "non serviam" comment? even heretics know some latin...or can google it. (though I did take Latin at a public high school)

I wonder if you like being offensive, or if you don't even know that you're doing it.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Hector, well said. When we aren't totally talking past each other, I am your firmest admirer. (Which reminds me, since I am not allowed to converse with you at Stuart's little soirees, feel free to post about saints days at
I just need an email address to open it up to you. Catholics also welcome.

My parents never had an unplanned child in their marriage, and they celebrated their 50th ten years ago. They may make 75. Sometimes it was so rocky that as a child I wondered why they didn't divorce, but they didn't. Marriage can be about children, without leaving the number or frequency open-ended.

But this wasn't originally about contraception. It was about evangelism by the Roman Catholic Church. I suggest that is a relatively fresh concept because, for many centuries, the church became used to being the Established Church. Why evangelize? Everyone belonged, and those who didn't were generally enemies, worthy of death by military or other means. Conversion in the colonies was an exception, but, not at all what Erin has in mind.

So, the world is a bit more settled, there are plenty of people with no church at all, or not moved and inspired by the one they have. Why not simply offer "This is what THIS church stands for, if it's what you are looking for, welcome"?

Hector doesn't accept the primacy of Rome, but believe me, he can wax eloquent on the Holy Angels, the saints days, most of what High Church Anglicans and Roman Catholics do have in common. As for me, Jesus said "All the law and the prophets" hangs on two commandments. I find those quite sufficient, and taking them seriously, quite impossible to fulfill without a full measure of grace - certainly not on my own merit. If I need more, there is Micah 6:8.

L. said...

Okay, C Mat -- you ask, "From a secular viewpoint, why should the marital bonding aspect need to be present? What is sinful about causal hookups from a secular perspective as long as both parties enjoy it?"

And I ask, why would a secular person be worried about being "sinful?"

There are secular people who are trying to lead healthy, honest lives, and there are those who simply don't care, and live for the moment. But since they're not in a religion that bans contraception, I somehow doubt any of them ever struggle with its moral implications.

Hector said...

Siarlys Jenkins,

Thanks for the hat tip, and the invite. Stuart has disallowed you from writing your own posts, but has he really banned you from posting? That's disappointing...I would have hoped he wouldn't be so childish.

Erin Manning would, herself, be quite a welcome addition to Alexandria, I think. They need a social conservative perspective.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

c matt, there is something to be said for making a firm commitment to another person, for better or for worse, even if one's world view is purely secular.

I have noticed that the clearest and most persistent divine commandments have very practical reasons behind them, not excluding the instructions to Moses on how Hebrew armies and hunting parties were to build latrines, and to "turn back and cover that which comes from thee." Armies lacking that instruction tend to die like flies of some infectious pandemic or other.

Anonymous said...

Liked your idea about marriage and vulnerability of the abandoned.

It is spot on. But there is no desire to reach out to
the abandoned other than giving the appearance, which practice tells me is only what is operative here(the appearance), of caring for them.

I am not going to stay here and be hacked to pieces as usually happens. I just wanted to say what I said and to thank you for at least mentioning abandonment.

I have been lead to believe, I deserved it, by a sizable group of "good catholics" on various blogs.
I do not seem to have gotten that message from what I have read in the scriptures.

bye and thank you.