Wednesday, February 29, 2012

If you give a lesbian a blessing...

Have you heard anything about this story yet? Details:
The Catholic Church teaches against homosexual behavior and gay marriage. But when a lesbian woman was denied Communion at her mother's funeral Mass and the priest walked out on the burial service, the Archdiocese of Washington D.C., was officially appalled.

Michelle Boorstein has the details at the Washington Post. Barbara Johnson, married to her partner in Washington, D.C., was stunned when the Rev. Marcel Guarnizo of St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg, Md., blocked the Communion cup with his hand and called her a sinner in front of the church.

Johnson recalled to Boorstein on Tuesday, and again to MSNBC today, that he refused the sacrament and called her a sinner as she came to mourn her devoutly Catholic mother.

The Archdiocese of Washington, which includes Gaithersburg in southern Maryland, has apologized in a letter to Johnson. According to The Post, a high-ranking official wrote:

... the lack of "kindness" she and her family received "is a cause of great concern and personal regret to me."

and the letter said:

I am sorry that what should have been a celebration of your mother's life, in light of her faith in Jesus Christ, was overshadowed by a lack of pastoral sensitivity. I hope that healing and reconciliation with the Church might be possible for you and any others who were affected by this experience. In the meantime, I will offer Mass for the happy repose of your mother's soul. May God bring you and your family comfort in your grief and hope in the Resurrection."

[...] Johnson told an MSNBC she wanted Guarnizo removed from parish life "so no other family will experience this."
Deacon Greg Kandra has been hosting discussions of the matter.

Canon lawyer Ed Peters spells it out: apparently, it is every priest's job to help people eat and drink condemnation upon themselves, even if the person in question makes a point of stopping by the sacristy before her mother's funeral Mass to announce that she is a partnered lesbian and to introduce her "lover," and even if the person in question has also been self-identifying as a Buddhist (that is: not a Catholic) since before her days of teaching in a Catholic school. (And even if the lesbian in question is actually "married" to her partner, though most people married outside the Church know that they're not supposed to receive Holy Communion.) I do have to wonder, though: if Canon 915 had been in force in St. Tarcisius's day, would this poor boy-martyr even have been up for canonization? After all, he didn't know that the howling mob which beat him to death for refusing to give them the Sacrament he was carrying was composed of people who were obstinately persisting in manifest grave sin. Maybe his bishop should have apologized to the howling mob for Tarcisius's lack of sensitivity and failure to appreciate their diversity.

The most troubling aspect of this story is the way in which Ms. Johnson seems to be trying to force Father Marcel Guarnizo out of his parish (and maybe out of ministry altogether). In children's-book parody form, the story seems to be:

If you give an openly partnered lesbian a blessing, she will demand Holy Communion.
If you fail to give her Holy Communion, she will alert the media.
If she alerts the media, the media will begin slamming the Church in the press.
If the media slams the Church in the press, the archdiocese will apologize for her feelings being hurt.
If the archdiocese apologizes because the openly partnered lesbian's feelings were hurt, she will demand the firing of the pastor who didn't give her Communion.
If the archdiocese removes the pastor, it will send a clear message that the archdiocese cares more about the hurt feelings of openly partnered lesbians living in sin than it does about the profanation of the Blessed Sacrament. But if the archdiocese doesn't remove the pastor, the openly partnered lesbian will alert the media. Again...

Given that this particular archdiocese sent out an apology letter that characterized a Funeral Mass as "...a celebration of your mother's life..." I wouldn't hold my breath hoping that the officials of this archdiocese do, in fact, care more about the profanation of the Blessed Sacrament than they do about the hurt feelings of openly partnered lesbians living in sin. After all, we've got to have priorities.

UPDATE: Rod Dreher is posting on this, but, alas, believes that Canon 915 justifies the priest's actions, even though we've been assured by Ed Peters that it does not. I've asked Dr. Peters (in the comments) to consider heading to Rod's blog to set the record straight.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Happy Birthday, Thad!

Today is the birthday of my wonderful husband Thad! We've enjoyed our day out celebrating together, and are now looking forward to a little pause in our Lenten sacrifices to enjoy some birthday apple pie and ice cream.

I've written before about what a terrific and fantastic person Thad is--so this year, I'll let a picture stand in for the thousands of words I could write. Here he is (picture taken today):

Happy birthday, Thad! I love you! :)

Monday, February 27, 2012

The path to chaos

(Sigh.) Should I bother apologizing for yet another late Monday blog post, or should we just agree that Mondays are impossible and go from there?

Mondays may not be impossible for all Catholic bloggers, though. The latest in the Catholic blogosphere: a battle over whether or not the Pope has indicated that there might be a way for divorced and "remarried" (e.g., not annulled) Catholics to return to Communion.

Deacon Greg Kandra kicked it off with a provocative post here, in which he quotes German theologian Eberhard Schockenhoff who claims that admittance to the sacraments for divorced Catholics who attempt a second "marriage" outside the Church is an open question.

Not so fast, says Dr. Ed Peters:

The latest in a long line of calls for divorced and remarried (outside the Church) Catholics to be formally readmitted to holy Communion, this one from Austria, is an example of the proclivity of some to take the pope’s thinking-out-loud about a topic as some sort of papal ipse dixit on that topic. Here, the pope is portrayed as having opened the door (twice in fact) to Catholics in irregular marriages being formally admitted to holy Communion—first in his remarks to the priests of the diocese of Aosta (2005) and again in one of his annual addresses to the Roman Rota (2006).

We may dispatch with the Rota claim forthwith: It’s not there. At all. The pope’s comments to priests in Aosta are more complex, I grant, but they do not, I think, signal a papal rethinking of Eucharistic discipline; rather, they show his interesting openness to rethinking an aspect of matrimonial law.

In his Aosta comments the pope recognized the pain of Catholics disallowed reception of holy Communion based on their irregular marriage situation, but his ideas toward alleviating that pain did not run toward changing the rules on admission to holy Communion. When he was Cardinal Ratzinger, the pope “wrote the book” (actually, it was a letter) on the admission of divorced and remarried Catholics to holy Communion. His letter was a beautiful tapestry of pastoral solicitude, fidelity to Church teaching on marriage and the Eucharist, and appreciation for how canon law serves the Church and her members. Nothing in it suggests that any good comes from winking at the truth for, as everyone knows, the truth cannot set us free if it is not the truth. Parlaying papal remarks to diocesan priests into an abrogation of that dicasterial latter would be, to put it mildly, a stretch. [All links in original--E.M.]

Read the rest here.

The Curt Jester weighs in to agree strongly with Dr. Peters.

I may have had my differences in the past with Dr. Peters, but when someone's right, the fact that I've disagreed at other times doesn't stop me from emphatically agreeing. This is the case here. I may not be a theologian, a canon lawyer, or anybody but an opinionated redheaded Catholic laywoman, but the idea that people who are divorced and remarried outside the Church can be readmitted to the sacraments without either an annulment or the death of the spouse to whom they are putatively validly married would seem, to put it plainly, not even remotely possible.

Why? Because while the Church has the power to bind and to loosen, that power does not permit her to make morally good or even morally neutral that which is intrinsically evil. Adultery is one of those sins that just can't be defined as anything but evil; it is an offense against both chastity and justice to give the sexual gift to someone other than one's valid spouse. This is why a Church annulment is not a divorce, not at all--it is a pronouncement after an investigation by the Church which declares that what may have appeared to be a valid marriage was not one at all.

Any theological speculation as to how to deal with the very real pain of Catholics who are no longer in valid marriages but have contracted subsequent invalid ones will ultimately run up against the question: are those in invalid marriages, objectively speaking, committing adultery in their relations with each other, or are they not (assuming they are not living as brother and sister in an attempt to reconcile with the Church, of course)? If they are, then they can't receive Communion. If they are not--why, then, what is adultery, and why does this sin exist only in some who engage in sex outside of their valid marriages, but not all?

While I have great sympathy for people caught "outside" the Church's marriage laws, I think that the path to chaos is the one that starts by trying to come up with some version of "Catholic divorce" that would stop seeing marriage as an indissoluble union of two baptized persons. We have seen the wreckage of that path in other Christian churches, and should be even more wary of arguments in favor of it in our own.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Postless Lenten Fridays

I've decided not to post on the Fridays of Lent; that is, I'm not going to write a blog post on these days. Instead, I'll just put up the "postless" title with a religious image or prayer suited to Lent, and disable comments on those posts.

I've never done the whole "give up blogging for Lent altogether" because blogging for me is a kind of discipline, and giving it up would mean giving me more free time, ironically. So this is an experiment, in a way; we'll see how it goes.

Today's image: my favorite painting of the Crucifixion, one which never fails to draw me into the mystery of Christ's Passion and Death on the Cross--Diego Velazquez's Crucifixion:

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Pill is not a girl's best friend

First, a brief housekeeping note: I'm a bit behind in my emails, as some of you who may have emailed me recently have probably noticed. I'm trying to catch up, and hope to do so soon--your patience as in all things related to this blog is greatly appreciated.

Now--one of the emails in my inbox was a link sent by my sister-in-law to this interesting piece (thanks, sis!):

The Pill, together with abortion as backup, appeared to provide full insurance against pregnancy risks. But as economists well know, full insurance tends to induce greater risk-taking: As people perceive sex to be safer, they pursue more of it. This applies especially to people who would otherwise be most vulnerable to the risks of unwanted pregnancy: the young, the unmarried, and those unable to care for a child. While a tight causal argument is difficult to make, correlations alone do not augur in favor of the Pill: The rapidly increasing sexual activity of the Pill era correlates with a staggering increase in non-marital births — less than 5 percent of births in 1960 were to unmarried mothers, compared with roughly 40 percent today. A counterintuitive result, perhaps, but a fairly human one nonetheless.

And this points to an unresolved difficulty with the contraceptive revolution, which was supposed to serve women above all: Women on the whole disproportionately bear the burden of the new sexual regime. They are expected to dose themselves with a Group 1 carcinogen for approximately two-thirds of their fertile years. They sustain greater emotional costs from casual sex. They are at greater risk of contracting STDs and disproportionately suffer from their long-term consequences, such as cervical cancer and fertility loss.And even after 50 years with the Pill, as many as half of all pregnancies are still unintended. Women, not men, must make the heart-wrenching choice between abortion, reckoned a tragic outcome even by its supporters, and bearing a child with little to no paternal support. After all, since children were negotiated out of the bargain by the availability of contraception and abortion, men have secured a strong rationale to simply ignore or reject pregnancies that result from uncommitted sexual relations. Nobel-laureate economist George Akerlof predicted nearly two decades ago that this would lead directly to the feminization of poverty, as it ruefully has. [....]

Authentic sexual equality requires that men understand with their bodies (as women do) the procreative potential of the sexual act. And this is exactly what natural methods of family planning do. By frequenting sex only during infertile times when a child is unwanted, men learn to coordinate their desires for intimacy with the natural rhythms of the female body. Feminist scholar and theologian Angela Franks notes that “[this] is unheard of in a society in which male desire appears to set the guidelines — especially in the ‘hook-up’ culture. Indeed, such a reorientation of desire is more revolutionary than any secular feminist project.” Those who practice this approach to family planning report that its use tends to make husbands more sensitive to the sexual and emotional needs of their wives — a sensitivity that many women have long found wanting.

Do read the whole thing, if you can. I found it to be an interesting essay exploring some of the realities of the birth-control culture and its impact on women, especially some of the negative impacts which are not often discussed...

...except in whispers. Or in comments, like this rather heartbreaking one left in the comments at that post:

This paragraph alone [note--the commenter cites the last paragraph I quote, above--E.M.] gave me a bit of a wake up call. The man I was married to (well, still married to until we finalize the divorce HE wanted), was quite demanding in terms of our "intimacy". I was, apparently, supposed to be prepared at all times, while he gave little in the way of closeness, real intimacy, romance. Obviously we were hardly unusual among couples, married or not. Women and men do not have the same "sexual rhythm", or very rarely do. It's probably always one of the biggest complaints, especially from men, who, by and large, seem to need and want it every single day, and more than once a day. That's fine. That's their biology. Women, by and large, are not like this.

I think this argument for natural family planning actually makes sense. Not of course to be mandated from the government, state or federal. But something for WE THE PEOPLE, as the individuals who make up society, to think about and consider.

I have always believed that the "sexual revolution" of the 1960s, that was coupled with the womens' rights movement, was a real problem for women, even while others were pointing out how "even men" were supportive of womens' rights. As a TEENAGER I had it figured out: sure men supported it - it meant easier access to sexually active women. Hate to be cynical, but there you go.

The Pill added to that - now apparently, we should be ready ALL the time because we're protected. Although one little thing that I've heard few discuss is that the Pill also can make your libido die down quite a bit. Add work, children, life's stresses in general and it makes for many women who probably don't really feel "in the mood" very often. Couple that with men who have come to expect women to be "ready at all times" and it's a recipe for disaster.

Although my marriage is just one of millions that have broken up, this article certainly adds some food for thought.

What's valuable about the above comment is that this is not just the experience of this one commenter; I've heard it before from men and women who gave up contraception, and even from women who are still using it. The reality is that the Pill isn't all that liberating for many women. Instead, like the woman commenting above, they find that their use of the Pill makes everyone from their first boyfriend to their second or third husbands simply assume that they are always sexually available whenever their partner desires that physical intimacy. Now that the fear of pregnancy has been "taken care of," think these men (not irrationally) what other reason could a woman have for saying "no" unless she's stingy with her body, manipulative, playing mind games, selfish, or otherwise a less than optimal partner? And if she's not available--why, plenty of other women are, because plenty of other women are on the Pill and don't mind "sharing" some other woman's partner (whether his girlfriend or wife knows there is another woman or not). "I can't get the other woman pregnant," thinks the cheating man, "so what's the big deal? It's just sex..."

And women, by and large, have been the ones to suffer. Marriages continue to break up at alarming rates, with many more divorces than the pre-Pill days. More and more children are born out of wedlock, as women discover that the Pill can, indeed, fail, and that abortion is supposed to be the backup for contraceptive failures--and that it's not really worthwhile to commit to a man anyway, given that he's likely to leave sooner or later. The "feminization of poverty" as mentioned above has become a reality in our culture.

It has, ironically enough, been the women who have been sacrificed at the altar of worship in the religion of Sex Without Consequences. But so successful has been the marketing of that sacrifice that women themselves are the ones demanding that the churches be forced to provide free birth control to them. And until women feel "liberated" enough to break ranks and admit out loud what some women still only whisper, which is that the Pill is not a girl's best friend, the sad reality will continue unabated.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday Confidential

Happy Ash Wednesday! Er. Well. You know what I mean. :)

I'm gearing up for our evening Ash Wednesday Mass, so my posting time is limited. I thought that rather than post some would-be profound meditation on our entry into this solemn season, I'd open up the comment box (though moderation will be spotty until after Mass) for people to share their thoughts about three Lenten questions. And because these questions might invite some to share more than they otherwise would, I'm lifting, for this post, the requirement to post using a name or nickname--feel free to post anonymously on this one if you choose.

So, here are the questions:

1. What do you see as one obstacle--not necessarily the biggest, but just any one--that is getting in the way of your relationship with Jesus Christ?

2. What bad habit (not necessarily something hugely sinful) do you most hope to conquer this Lent?

3. What part of Lent will help you grow closer to Christ and conquer that bad habit? What part of Lent, if any, tends to make things harder?

I obviously can't answer these anonymously, but I'll post my answers anyway:

1. The tendency to take Him for granted and to put certain things--prayer, etc.--on "autopilot" for too long. It's not that I'm not doing anything, but that I start doing those things by rote instead of with consciousness.

2. Selfishness, especially in my eating and sleeping habits when these impact my ability to do for others generously.

3. The opportunity to make voluntary sacrifices that I can "tailor" to addressing my personal issues is helpful. The temptation to feel guilty if I can't do all the wonderful things people recommend or which are available (extra Masses, Friday Stations, or even the private devotions people are enthusiastic about) is not so helpful. And fasting--can I just say that I still don't really "get" it? Maybe it's because my eating habits are too casual (see #2) but my experience the last few years has been that the Ash Wed. and Good Friday fasts make me more aware of, and stressed out by, food, eating, etc. than normal, and not because I'm famished or anything (I sometimes go on this amount of food or less just because I'm too busy to deal with eating). That can't be right, but...?

Okay. Your turn. Comments will be approved for the next hour or so, and then again later tonight.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

It must be nice in the bubble

Well, I'm back! Did you have a nice weekend--even if it ended yesterday instead of today? I apologize for taking so long to get this post up; apparently my poor neglected computer decided to exact revenge on me for staying away by freezing up when I was in the middle of composing this post, so I'm only just now (10 p.m. Central) wrapping it up in preparation to post.

I used our long weekend to get started on a massive spring clean-out. It wouldn't be massive except that last year we had actual winter, followed by 100-degree temps for what felt like forever, and somehow we seemed to have skipped over spring altogether. So I had more to do this year.

But enough chitchat--let's get down to business.

During a break in my cleaning efforts, I happened to see a blog post that made me a tad bit frustrated (to be fair, both the post itself, and some of the comments). As you know, I've been writing about the HHS mandate and about Church teaching against contraception both here and in the comment boxes at other blogs for much of the past two weeks. In the course of those conversations I have found myself repeating, over and over, two important points:

1. The Church does not hate women.
2. The Church does not teach that Catholic mothers are required to have every child they can physically bear or drop dead trying; nor does the Church teach that families must be willing to be destitute to the point of starvation before they can grudgingly be permitted to use NFP.

Now, the Church's documents pertaining to NFP and natural means of child spacing or birth regulation do use words like "serious" or "just" reasons for parents to have recourse to these methods. But the Church's documents also use words about "responsible parenthood" and "prudence." Simcha Fisher's great post from last year went through how difficult, if not impossible, it is for anyone outside of a marriage to determine the proper balance between the call to be generous and loving in welcoming children to one's family and generous and loving in seeking, for a time, to avoid adding to one's family; in fact, there is no definitive "list" from the Church which couples must consult in order to determine if their particular reasons for using NFP somehow pass the "not-selfish/not-using-NFP-with-a-contraceptive-mentality" test that some Catholics seem to think must exist somewhere.

Which is why it was so annoying to read Dr. Marshall's blog post insisting that, in fact, there is a list, and that anybody not following it is probably sinning by using NFP selfishly and in a contraceptive attitude:
The Church allows married couples to practice periodic continence only for serious reasons. These reasons were explicitly listed by Pope Pius XII in his “Address to the Italian Catholic Union of Midwives" from 1951.

NFP or periodic continence can only lawfully be practiced without sin for serious reasons or "just causes," which he lists as “medical, eugenic, economic, and social” reasons. [Emphasis added--E.M.]
Um, no. The actual quote from Pope Pius XII is as follows:
Serious motives, such as those which not rarely arise from medical, eugenic, economic and social so-called "indications," may exempt husband and wife from the obligatory, positive debt for a long period or even for the entire period of matrimonial life. From this it follows that the observance of the natural sterile periods may be lawful, from the moral viewpoint: and it is lawful in the conditions mentioned. If, however, according to a reasonable and equitable judgment, there are no such grave reasons either personal or deriving from exterior circumstances, the will to avoid the fecundity of their union, while continuing to satisfy to tile full their sensuality, can only be the result of a false appreciation of life and of motives foreign to sound ethical principles.
Three things about this passage strike me at once: first, the Holy Father's words are translated--one presumes accurately--as "Serious motives, such as those which not rarely arise..." The use of "such as" would seem to indicate that Pope Pius XII was not intending to write down a definitive list of every reason for NFP that would constitute a grave reason, but rather to give examples within the context of a broader address. The second thing is that the passage as quoted comes from a larger section of the address in which His Holiness was speaking to the question of whether or not it would be possible for a couple to be married while intending and acting upon a committment to avoiding, for a very long time or even for the whole marriage, the possibility of pregnancy, even by moral means; in other words, this specific passage does not speak just to the question of the morality of periodic abstinence as that is ordinarily understood. And the third thing that leaps to the eye is that the Holy Father said that these "serious motives" are not rare--that is, they are things "...which not rarely arise..." So it would seem to me to be opposed to charity to assume that most, or even many, NFP users are using NFP from motives of selfishness or with a contraceptive mentality.

But there is a fourth thing, which is important: these are words from a papal address, and while not unimportant, they do not automatically constitute some sort of for-the-ages infallible list of the only types of situations in which a couple might justly use NFP. To determine whether or not such a list exists, we would have to consult official Church teachings and documents--and any examination of those indicates that no such list exists on any official level. Couples are merely reminded that reasons to space or regulate births must be serious or just, as opposed, of course, to frivolous or unjust. That frivolous or unjust reasons to use NFP might be possible is by no means an indication that the vast majority of NFP users are guilty of these sorts of reasons--in fact, it is deeply unjust, and even possibly a case of rash judgment, to make such a claim. But in any case, the list of four rather large categories prefaced by the words "such as" in a papal address are not some sort of official catalog of the only possible circumstances in which the use of NFP might be just. To make such a mistake is akin to thinking that the same pope's remarks on the subject of modest dressing in 1940 to Italian schoolteachers constituted a "for the ages" rule that all Catholic women thenceforth had to follow under pain of sin--which, alas, is the sort of mistake some Catholics are all too prone to make.

As I said, the post annoyed me, as did some of the comments in it, because this is exactly the sort of thing those outside the Church will read and, without understanding the questions of authoritative teaching and so on, will declare, "See! I told you the Church is anti-woman. This Dr. Marshall fellow grudgingly admits that a woman on chemotherapy might be excused from 'paying the marriage debt,' but only because the child might be hurt by the drugs, not because the woman is--HELLO!--suffering from cancer and struggling with illness and pain and the possibility of death. And then in the comments--oh, boy, did you see that man who thinks that women who don't have every child they can physically bear are probably sinning? Forget what those people who talk about NFP say. Clearly the attitude on the ground is that women either have big families or they might as well go to Hell using the Pill as go to Hell using NFP..."

Which is not anywhere close to what the Church actually teaches.

As I wrote in a recent comment over at that blog, a recent Get Religion article pointed out that the same percent of Catholics in America accepts Church teaching against contraception as attends Mass every Sunday: about 22%. (And thanks to the reader who sent me that link!) Of that 22%, what percent is made up of married couples who not only agree with Church teaching but use NFP? Is it really the case that so large a percent of that percent of a percent are "abusing" NFP (in the words of a commenter at Dr. Marshall's blog) that this is a great tragedy and one of the most important moral issues the Church faces in America (or even the world) today?

Man, I wish I lived in the sort of bubble where I could believe that, even for a second--that one of the, if not the, biggest marriage-related crises in the Church here in America today involves validly married couples chastely practicing NFP but doing so for perhaps less than the most serious of reasons, such that it's crucial to write scolding blog posts all about how selfish it is to think that your family's need for a physically or mentally healthy mother and actual floors instead of dirt ones are good enough reasons to postpone the birth of your next child. Meanwhile, the Obama administration pushes forward with its attempt to force Catholics to pay for birth control, sterilization, and abortifacient coverage as "health care" and the 78% of Catholics who don't show up for Mass and/or dissent on contraception are convinced that the Church just hates women and/or thinks all married Catholic women have a moral duty to bear as many children as they physically can. Or, as I said above, drop dead trying.

It must be nice to live in the bubble.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Brief blog break

Hi, all! It's been a pretty crazy week, hasn't it?

I'm taking a brief blog break over the Presidents' Day weekend holiday. No, we're not going away for a nice little relaxing pre-Lent vacation--I wish! But there's a lot going on around here this weekend, and Thad has a little time off which we want to enjoy by catching up on some things around here.

Back Tuesday! Have a great weekend!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The anti-reproduction insurance policy (with radio ad)

I've been having some nice chats with my mom about this HHS Mandate business. When I say "nice chats" I mean, of course, that we are achieving harmoniously similar and mutual levels of wrath over the notion, which is really nice in that mother-daughter bonding sort of way. :)

Mom has an idea that I suspect she'd like me to share; I think it's not a bad one, all things considered. She pointed out that when you buy a car (for instance) you buy car insurance. Nobody forces you to pay for motorcycle insurance for all those people who want to own motorcycles (or boat insurance, or RV insurance, etc.). It is understood that the choice to own and ride a motorcycle is a lifestyle choice which includes some built-in costs, and one of those costs is special motorcycle insurance which is separate from your ordinary car insurance. Motorcycle insurance isn't all that expensive and is pretty accessible to most people who want to own motorcycles.

So why (asks Mom, and I agree) can't we remove what is essentially lifestyle insurance from ordinary medical coverage? Why can't insurance companies offer special anti-reproduction insurance policies to people who want lots of sex without the possibility of conception? Why can't these policies be purchased entirely separately from one's health insurance?

Employers wouldn't, in this scenario, be forced to provide anti-reproduction insurance to their employees at all, though some of them could certainly (and would certainly) choose to offer it as a "perk," just as some employers offer life insurance or accidental death insurance and the like. And just like those insurance "add-ons," employees could choose to select anti-reproduction insurance or not, depending on whether or not they actually needed it. Religious believers, the elderly, the infertile, the chaste, or those who already have anti-reproduction insurance through their spouse's coverage could opt out, saving themselves money instead of being forced to pay for something they truly don't need and don't intend to use. And employers who didn't wish to make anti-reproduction insurance available would not have to do so, protecting not only the conscience rights of religious employers, but also the financial rights of employers not to be forced to provide coverage for a so-called "health care" package of pills, prophylactics, implants, devices and surgeries which are not necessary for health, but only desired in order to facilitate recreational sex.

For that tiny handful of people whose doctors tell them (rightly or wrongly, depending on medical evidence) that hormonal contraception is their only solution for a legitimate medical issue, medical insurance could step in and cover it (the way that medical, not dental, insurance will cover some tooth-related problems when there's an underlying medical issue). But for the rest of the people who just want these things to facilitate their Sex Without Consequences lifestyle and practices, the anti-reproduction insurance policy would suffice.

The insurance industry would be motivated to create their own anti-reproduction insurance policies to compete with the big policies offered by corporations; in that way, a man who has pretty much decided to get himself fixed can buy a sterilization policy with a set number of premiums he must pay to get the surgery while avoiding having to subsidize someone else's girlfriend's Yasmin (tm) prescription. This open-marketplace approach would encourage competition and lower prices, making the dream of Promiscuity Without Consequences for All an achievable one.

Now, it will be objected that some small number of people may be too poor to buy their own anti-reproduction insurance policies, and may not be fortunate enough to work for an employer who chooses to provide one. But our nation is committed to the idea that no one is too poor to engage in mindless, meaningless, immoral fornication or sterile sex of any kind, and thus I'm sure that it will be a priority for our leaders to insist that those who qualify for Medicaid be automatically given anti-reproduction insurance as well. For the working poor, low-cost anti-reproduction insurance policies with the possibility of tax rebates to cover their purchase might be an option; and a government anti-reproduction insurance plan that anyone could buy might be discussed, too, though private insurance would probably beat such a plan on price and flexibility of options.

But the bottom line would be that no employer would be required to purchase and pay for anti-reproduction insurance for their employees, who would have plenty of other ways to get anti-reproduction insurance policies to cover their choice of the Sex Without Consequences lifestyle.

To me, there is at least one serious drawback to this idea: if insurance companies really did create and sell such policies, they would probably advertise them. Imagine hearing this ad on the radio:

MUSIC: Sad violins in, up, and under.

ANNOUNCER: Is your anti-reproduction insurance policy leaving you cold?

GIRLFRIEND: Not tonight, hon--I'm due for my next Depo-Provera (tm) shot.

BOYFRIEND: Aww, not again! Doesn't your anti-reproduction policy reimburse us for condoms when that happens?

GIRLFRIEND: No. My company bought (beat) bargain anti-reproduction insurance.

BOYFRIEND: You know I hate having to spend my own money on condoms! My last girlfriend's anti-reproduction insurance paid for them. Maybe you should switch to her company...

GIRLFRIEND: Hmm, maybe I should. What was the name of it again?

BOYFRIEND: You remember...NoTykes Insurance!

MUSIC: Bright orchestra, in and under.

ANNOUNCER: Here at NoTykes Insurance we understand your need for constantly available sex without reproduction, and have created a wide variety of anti-reproduction insurance policies sure to please every consumer. We offer comprehensive birth control plans, abortion riders, sterilization policies, and even condom-only plans for our male customers. We believe that you have the right to sex when, where, and however you want it, with no messy complications who will want you to feed, house, and educate them for the next eighteen years. Because sex is supposed to be fun, feel great, and happen when it's good for you, not when it's good for your anti-reproduction insurance policy provider!

SECOND ANNOUNCER (low and very quickly) Not all policies are available to all consumers. Sterilization plans require minimum premium purchase which varies depending on whether you want your reproductive organs surgically crippled or completely removed. If you are being treated for sex-addiction or have ever been convicted of rape or sexual assault our low-cost multi-pack condom plan with delivery guarantee may be unavailable. Other restrictions may apply; speak to one of our representatives for details.

BOYFRIEND: Now that she's switched to NoTykes, I'll never have to wait for sex again! Thanks, NoTykes!

ANNOUNCER: For the best in anti-reproduction insurance, choose NoTykes. Because your sex our business!

MUSIC: Up and out.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

So, a bishop walks into a bar...

...and he and his group are told, "Don't come back." Details:

On Jan. 26 Bishop Conley spoke to hundreds of young adults at the bar, which is less than five blocks from Denver’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. His topic was “Atheocracy and the Battle for Religious Liberty in America.”

Shortly after the talk, however, organizers were told to find a different location for the program because of its “controversial” content and the fact that that some of the bar staff said they would refuse to work the event again.

“It’s ironic that the talk itself pertains so well to what happened,” said Chris Stefanick, director of the archdiocese’s office for youth, young adults and campus ministry who helps run the event.

Rod Dreher's hosting a good discussion of the issue here.

My first comment at Rod's, which I'll share here because I've had a vicious migraine all day and am thus too lazy to come up with something different, is as follows:

You know, Rod, I think people are totally missing the point of this story.

The bishop and his group were told they’re not welcome to come back. Okay, they said. The bar has the right to exclude us, they said, and we have the right to go to other bars. We’ll be at Katie Mullen’s Irish Restaurant and Pub on the evening of Feb. 15 (today!) for our next talk.

You don’t see sanity and good manners like this when a gay couple is told that a wedding photographer or inn or florist or baker doesn’t want to accommodate them. You don’t see sanity and good manners like this when some member of a professionally aggrieved grievance professional group gets told to take his or her grievance elsewhere. No, you see lawsuits and public hissy fits and media blitzes about how awful the business in question was for refusing service.

The Catholic group will probably have more fun at an Irish pub anyway. :)

A commenter over there who also reads this blog on occasion challenged me to come up with links to the above examples--insinuating that I'm just making that stuff up. I was in the process of doing so when I realized that I hadn't blogged here, so I figured I'd kill two birds, etc. So, without further ado, here are some of the examples incidents in which the gay rights community has failed to act with the sanity and good manners demonstrated by the bishop and his group:

1. By suing a wedding photographer for refusing to photograph their "gay wedding." Elaine Huguenin of New Mexico refused to photograph a lesbian commitment ceremony, was sued by the lesbians, and had to pay $6,000 because the state's Human Rights Commission found her guilty of discrimination. Nobody said that the lesbians should just have gone and found a gay-friendly photographer, though everyone seems to think the bishop and the Catholic group should simply move to a different bar.

2. By suing inns, wedding venues, and others for refusing to host their "gay wedding." Sued thus far include a Methodist group who owned an open-air pavilion, the Timber Creek Bed & Breakfast in Illinois, and the Wildflower Inn in Vermont. Only in the first case could any claim that the pavilion was quasi-public property be made (though the church disputed this); the second and third are no different from a bar deciding it doesn't want to host a Catholic group. Right? (Not according to gay activists, who only seem to recognize discrimination when it involves them.)

3. By threatening, boycotting, and harassing an Iowa baker and a Canadian florist for refusing to provide a wedding cake and flowers, respectively, for two different "gay weddings." Lawsuits were mentioned as possibilities, as were complaints to civil rights commissions, but apparently these have not yet materialized.

So the bottom line is this: a bishop gets thrown out of a bar, refuses to make a fuss and simply goes elsewhere; and we can all see the double standard at work.

UPDATE: Welcome, New Advent readers (and thank you again, Kevin Knight, for the link)! I've been a bit slow approving comments today--your patience has been appreciated.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Six more things

From the USCCB website (Hat tip: Father Z.):

Six More Things Everyone Should Know About the HHS Mandate

1. The rule that created the uproar has not changed at all, but was finalized as is. Friday evening, after a day of touting meaningful changes in the mandate, HHS issued a regulation finalizing the rule first issued in August 2011, “without change.” So religious employers dedicated to serving people of other faiths are still not exempt as “religious employers.” Indeed, the rule describes them as “non-exempt.”

2. The rule leaves open the possibility that even exempt “religious employers” will be forced to cover sterilization. In its August 2011 comments, USCCB warned that the narrow “religious employer” exemption appeared to provide no relief from the sterilization mandate—only the contraception mandate—and specifically sought clarification. (We also noted that a sterilization mandate exists in only one state, Vermont.) HHS provided no clarification, so the risk remains under the unchanged final rule.

3. The new “accommodation” is not a current rule, but a promise that comes due beyond the point of public accountability. Also on Friday evening, HHS issued regulations describing the intention to develop more regulations that would apply the same mandate differently to “non-exempt, non-profit religious organizations”—the charities, schools, and hospitals that are still left out of the “religious employer” exemption. These policies will be developed over a one-year delay in enforcement, so if they turn out badly, their impact will not be felt until August 2013, well after the election.

4. Even if the promises of “accommodation” are fulfilled entirely, religious charities, schools, and hospitals will still be forced to violate their beliefs. If an employee of these second-class-citizen religious institutions wants coverage of contraception or sterilization, the objecting employer is still forced to pay for it as a part of the employer’s insurance plan. There can be no additional cost to that employee, and the coverage is not a separate policy. By process of elimination, the funds to pay for that coverage must come from the premiums of the employer and fellow employees, even those who object in conscience.

5. The “accommodation” does not even purport to help objecting insurers, for-profit religious employers, secular employers, or individuals. In its August 2011 comments, and many times since, USCCB identified all the stakeholders in the process whose religious freedom is threatened—all employers, insurers, and individuals, not just religious employers. Friday’s actions emphasize that all insurers, including self-insurers, must provide the coverage to any employee who wants it. In turn, all individuals who pay premiums have no escape from subsidizing that coverage. And only employers that are both non-profit and religious may qualify for the “accommodation.”

6. Beware of claims, especially by partisans, that the bishops are partisan. The bishops and their staff read regulations before evaluating them. The bishops did not pick this fight in an election year—others did. Bishops form their positions based on principles—here, religious liberty for all, and the life and dignity of every human person—not polls, personalities, or political parties. Bishops are duty bound to proclaim these principles, in and out of season.

Here are USCCB's first "six things" on the HHS mandate.

This is clearly a grave threat to religious liberty; to label it partisan politics is to bury one's head in the sand. The results of this fight will determine many things in the years to come, as the battle over religious liberty collides with such things as the push for gay "marriage" and other attacks on Christian freedom. The warning signs are clear, for those with eyes to see.

Fool me once, shame on me; fool me twice--I'm a progressive Catholic

I've been reading some of the comment boxes over at the National Catholic Reporter today, under articles like this and like this. In the comment boxes, I have learned much; those enlightened progressive Catholics are amazingly wise and omniscient, after all! They have discerned the following from the HHS mandate debacle:

1. That Obama really is the wise, benevolent, and merciful God-King and that they, his unworthy servants, were wrong ever to have doubted him for a second when he only has the Good of the Nation and Hope and Change and the Oceans Healing and so on in mind.

2. That the USCCB is made up of die-hard, bitter, guns-n-religion Republican clingers, who have never liked Obama at all, who have always been right-wing conservative talk-radio types, and who never ever ever speak out on issues dear to progressives like immigration, health care, unjust war, torture, etc., but are only concerned about stopping the spread of lasciviousness, promiscuity, objectification, immoral sexual behavior and similar vices people having good fun mindless sterile sex--to which end the bishops are actually medieval enough to think that contraceptives are some kind of problem instead of the Greatest Invention of the Twentieth Century (St. Margaret Sanger, ora pro nobis!). Even this guy--whose progressive Catholic bishop card has been revoked and burned, apparently.

3. That Sister Carol Keehan is the bestest Catholic ever, just like those martyrs of old who gladly accepted martyrdom rather than pour out libations to the pagan deities to meet their demands to put the worship of the State above the worship of, wait. Strike that. Anyway, she's awesome, and the bishops should learn from her how one can be a Catholic while still being totally cool with contraception, sterilizations, and even abortifacients--'cause, hey, women have their stories, and journeys, and some women just need the right to kill off their unborn daughters in order to be fully human.

4. That John Allen (John Allen!) is a closet conservative who probably gets his talking points from Glenn Beck. Because he has failed to be totally tribally enthusiastic over the God-King's benevolent shell game--er, compromise--and thus that reveals his secret loyalties. Oh, and that he also thinks Dolan will be pope some day and so is starting his lickspittle sycophantic toadying early, to beat the rush.

5. That the bishops, in addition to being everything outlined in point 2, are also enamored of the rich, are secret Republican party lobbyists, hateful of the president, openly misogynistic in that they hate women's natural fertility and think it must be chemically assaulted for society's good hate for women to exercise their fundamental human right to free birth control shots, pills, inserts and devices and/or free sterilizations which a truly loving, Christ-like Church would gladly provide to all women to discourage reproduction make them truly free (remember, kids, it's not the TRUTH that sets you free, it's a condom and/or a diaphragm, and some lubricating spermicide! All of which should be provided free of charge by the Church).

6. That progressive Catholics need to stay and fight! Er, choke on the Creed and march out! Er, start an American Catholic Council to counter Rome! Er, join Call to Action or Voice of the Faithful (as if anybody who subscribes to NCR hasn't been a member of at least one of those organizations for at least 35 years now)! Er, risk being excommunicated! Er, pray for a schism! (And yes, each of these suggestions was made in the National Catholic Reporter comment boxes in response to the bishops' continued criticism of the HHS contraception mandate.)

7. That since so many of Our Sort of Catholics totally reject Church teaching against contraception, sterilization, and even abortion, the Church should just throw out 2,000 years of moral teaching and declare that the sensus fidelium has spoken. (Hint: when a group of self-indulgent people decide they don't like the difficult teachings and stomp their feet demanding change, that's not the sensus fidelium; that's the sensus asinorum.)

Isn't it amazing?

For years, the bishops have been welcomed by progressive Catholics in their vocal speech concerning progressive issues; John Allen was known to be "one of us," and while progressives deplored the bishops' speech against abortion, they took it to be a sort of weak nod to Rome to keep their good episcopal friends out of trouble rather than anything the bishops would be so rude as to actually mean. But now that the bishops are not knuckling under the God-King's decrees the second President Obama pretends to have come up with a compromise (and as some have pointed out, it's only a compromise when both sides agree; otherwise it's still a quite-likely unconstitutional mandate in compromise clothing), they, and any progressive Catholic who sides with them, are suddenly The Enemy.

Progressive Catholics should beware, though. There is a risk one takes when one kneels to worship Caesar; it is that Caesar has a tendency, when his kneeling worshipers are no longer necessary to his success, to kick them in the face.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The 98%: a follow-up post

Sorry for the late posting; I've had a busy day.

I wanted to revisit last week's wildly popular (thanks again, New Advent!) post regarding that misleading statistic that tries to suggest that 98% of all Catholics (or of all Catholic women of childbearing age) are totally fine with contraception. As we discussed, the question actually asks whether a woman has ever used contraception, not whether she now agrees with and lives by Church teaching; there's also no differentiation between women who were baptized Catholic and show up at a church every now and again on those CAPE occasions (Christmas, Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Easter) and faithful Catholic wives and mothers who attend Mass every Sunday and live according to all of the Church's teachings.

If you recall, these were the questions I asked last week:
a) Do you attend Sunday Mass every week unless impeded by a serious reasons such as illness or the care of infants, etc.?
b) Do you participate fully in the sacramental life of the Church?
c) If you are married, are you validly married in the Church?
d) If the answer to a-c is "yes," do you presently accept the Church's teaching against artificial contraception and avoid its use in all circumstances?
Provided I haven't accidentally overlooked anyone's comment, I calculated the following responses:

"Yes" to all four questions, indicating acceptance of the Church's teaching against contraception by faithful Catholics: 48--or 49, if you'd like to count my answers, as well. :)

"Yes" to A-C, but "No" to D, indicating a rejection of the Church's teaching against contraception by Catholics who consider themselves to be otherwise faithful: 7

There were two respondents who said "Yes" to all but C because they are not married--but as unmarried Catholics they wished to indicate their full support for Church teaching against contraception. And it was pretty obvious that the two priests who responded (thank you, Fathers!) are fully supportive of the Church's teaching against contraception as well.

As I said, this is an unscientific survey. Blog readers in general are not a huge audience; Catholics who read this blog or came here from New Advent are probably a small percentage of American Catholics as a whole, and so on. Nevertheless, I'd like to see a scientific survey of Catholics who attend Mass each Sunday as to their attitudes about contraception, because I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that my responses aren't really all that far from the truth--that is, that while dissent regarding the Church's teaching against artificial contraception is certainly present at the parish level, it does not come close to involving 98% of those Catholics who actually bother to show up for Sunday Mass and to be involved in parish and sacramental life.

An experience I had with a former pastor might be noteworthy: this good priest would preach against contraception a few times a year (which is something I wish every Catholic pastor would do!), and each time he would mention the next Sunday that he had received a few complaints about it, either in person or by letter. He never had a massive walk-out of parishioners; he never mentioned receiving an overwhelming number of complaints; and I know this priest well enough to be certain that if at any time he even remotely suspected that some 98% of the married couples in the pews were dissenters regarding contraception he would have made it a prerogative to preach and teach about it every week until the situation improved. So I think that the narrative which suggests that American Catholics (especially those who attend the Ordinary Form) are all a bunch of contracepting dissenters is not the truth, and is, in fact, a potentially dangerous and damaging false impression.

Why do so many Catholics have that impression? I think that the media is partly responsible; they survey "Catholics" about birth control and fail to mention that most of the "Catholics" they are surveying haven't been to Mass in twenty years (with the possible CAPE exceptions). I also think that the decline in family size in the pews has created the impression--but bearing in mind that many Catholics (and non-Catholics) are marrying later than people used to, that more women seem to struggle with infertility problems, and that NFP methods are, indeed, a blessing to those families who have good reasons to use them, the decline in family size as seen in the pews tells us less than we think it does.

The important thing, I think, is that those of us Catholics who do take our faith seriously enough to accept the Church's teachings in all areas and to attend Mass weekly should realize that those who dissent regarding contraception may be present--but it's not a given that they wildly outnumber us. The reality may be the opposite, and in that case the opportunities for evangelization, faithful witness, and discipleship may be much more urgent and compelling than we even guessed.

UPDATE: Get Religion explodes that "98%" statistic once and for all. It meant even less than we thought it did. (Many thanks to the reader who sent the link!)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Catholics: don't be fooled

If, like me, you signed the White House Petition protesting against the HHS Contraception Mandate, you have probably received a copy of this in your email:
Protecting the Health of Women While Accommodating Religious Liberty

By Cecilia Muñoz, Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council

Thank you for using We the People to make your voice heard about the Obama Administration's decision to ensure that women have access to free preventive care with no co-pays, including contraceptive services, no matter where they work.

As background, the Affordable Care Act requires insurance companies to cover preventive services, including preventive care for women, without charging a co-pay, starting on August 1, 2012. These preventive services include well women visits, domestic violence screening, and contraception, and all were recommended to the Secretary of Health and Human Services by the independent Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Science.

The policies we have proposed exempt churches, other houses of worship, and similar organizations from covering contraception on the basis of their religious objections. But some religious organizations have raised religious liberty concerns about providing contraception in particular in recent weeks.

Today, President Obama has announced that his Administration will implement this policy in a manner that fully accommodates religious liberty while protecting the health of women. As the President said:

Nearly 99 percent of all women have relied on contraception at some point in their lives –- 99 percent. And yet, more than half of all women between the ages of 18 and 34 have struggled to afford it. So for all these reasons, we decided to follow the judgment of the nation’s leading medical experts and make sure that free preventive care includes access to free contraceptive care. Whether you’re a teacher, or a small businesswoman, or a nurse, or a janitor, no woman’s health should depend on who she is or where she works or how much money she makes. Every woman should be in control of the decisions that affect her own health. Period. This basic principle is already the law in 28 states across the country.
Now, as we move to implement this rule, however, we've been mindful that there's another principle at stake here –- and that's the principle of religious liberty, an inalienable right that is enshrined in our Constitution. As a citizen and as a Christian, I cherish this right. In fact, my first job in Chicago was working with Catholic parishes in poor neighborhoods, and my salary was funded by a grant from an arm of the Catholic Church. And I saw that local churches often did more good for a community than a government program ever could, so I know how important the work that faith-based organizations do and how much impact they can have in their communities.
Video of his entire statement is available here.

Here are a few basic facts:

Under the policy, women have access to preventive care with no co-pay that includes contraceptive services.
All churches and houses of worship are exempt from the requirement to provide coverage for contraception or refer for contraception.
If a woman's employer is a religious non-profit organization, such as a charity hospital that has a religious objection to providing contraceptive services as part of its health plan, her insurance company -- not the hospital or charity -- will be required to reach out and provide her contraceptive care free of charge if she chooses to use it.
There are tremendous health benefits for women that come from using contraception. Contraception is a safe and effective way of preventing unintended pregnancies which can be associated with increased health risks, and doctors also prescribe contraception for medical and health reasons, including helping to reduce the risk of some cancers, serious infections and cysts. Yet many women skip contraceptive care because of cost.

President Obama is also committed to preserving religious liberty and he listened to the concerns raised by certain religious organizations and took them seriously.

You can learn more about the policy here.

This is an issue where people of good will on both sides of the debate have been grappling to find a solution that works for everyone, and the policy announced today has done that. The right to religious liberty will be fully protected, and a law that requires preventive care without co-pays will not discriminate against any woman, anywhere. Here are a few statements from groups involved in the issue:

Catholics United:

President Obama has shown us that he is willing to rise above the partisan fray to deliver an actual policy solution that both meets the health care needs of all employees and respects the religious liberty of Catholic institutions.

Catholic Health Association:

We are pleased and grateful that the religious liberty and conscience protection needs of so many ministries that serve our country were appreciated enough that an early resolution of this issue was accomplished.

Planned Parenthood:

The Obama administration has reaffirmed its commitment to ensuring all women will have access to birth control coverage, with no costly co-pays, no additional hurdles, and no matter where they work.


Today's announcement makes it clear that President Obama is firmly committed to protecting women's health.
Thank you again for participating in the We the People platform to make your voice heard on this important issue.

My response: Catholics, DON'T BE FOOLED.

You notice that while including the "Oh, how nice of the President" cooing from the kept sycophants and purring toadies from the so-called "Catholics United" and the "Catholic Health Association," this email does NOT include the much-more cautious statement from the bishops (let alone hinting at their private, and serious, concerns about the impact of all of this on religious liberty).

It is insulting to insist that women receive "tremendous health benefits" from using contraception. Frankly, women might receive actual health benefits from chastity, which would include abstinence before marriage and life-affirming practices within it. No woman I know of has ever received health benefits from living in an unchaste, immoral, promiscuous, or sexually deviant manner--and no man ever does, either. But for the religion of Sex Without Consequences, there is no such thing as chastity or virtue; contraception is a sacrament; and every woman is a temple prostitute--and she simply MUST get free anti-child pills that attack her healthy fertility for the convenience of the man who is using her if she is to be a truly liberated member of our society.

We must remain firm in opposing this travesty. The Federal Government of the United States of America should not be allowed to erase religious liberty in their slavering haste to impose upon the populace the secular religion of Sex Without Consequences as a replacement for the worship of God. We will not surrender our religious freedom to these monsters of unchastity, these hobgoblins of harlotry, these venomous vampires of virulent vice. If the secular citizens of our nation wish to conduct themselves with so little regard for the Divine Image they carry, so sneering a contempt for His existence, let alone His will, that is their problem--but we Catholics should not be forced to become their pimps and the enablers of their unchaste and immoral lifestyles. If freedom of religion means anything at all, it means refusing to pay directly for what is gravely, vastly immoral without fear of consequence--and no real Catholic will accept this pseudo "compromise" for anything less than the mockery it is.

No time to blog today... some things to do this afternoon, and by the time I get done--well, it's Friday; you all will have better things to do than hang around here!

But I didn't want you to miss this. Nota bene: it's in a secular paper:

Here's the thing, though: the Catholic Church is the world's biggest and oldest organization. It has buried all of the greatest empires known to man, from the Romans to the Soviets. It has establishments literally all over the world, touching every area of human endeavor. It's given us some of the world's greatest thinkers, from Saint Augustine on down to René Girard. When it does things, it usually has a good reason. Everyone has a right to disagree, but it's not that they're a bunch of crazy old white dudes who are stuck in the Middle Ages.

So, what's going on?

The Church teaches that love, marriage, sex, and procreation are all things that belong together. That's it. But it's pretty important. And though the Church has been teaching this for 2,000 years, it's probably never been as salient as today.

Today's injunctions against birth control were re-affirmed in a 1968 document by Pope Paul VI called Humanae Vitae. He warned of four results if the widespread use of contraceptives was accepted:

  1. General lowering of moral standards
  2. A rise in infidelity, and illegitimacy
  3. The reduction of women to objects used to satisfy men.
  4. Government coercion in reproductive matters.

Does that sound familiar?

Because it sure sounds like what's been happening for the past 40 years.

As George Akerloff wrote in Slate over a decade ago,

By making the birth of the child the physical choice of the mother, the sexual revolution has made marriage and child support a social choice of the father.

Instead of two parents being responsible for the children they conceive, an expectation that was held up by social norms and by the law, we now take it for granted that neither parent is necessarily responsible for their children. Men are now considered to be fulfilling their duties merely by paying court-ordered child-support. That's a pretty dramatic lowering of standards for "fatherhood."

Read the whole thing here.

Catholics should be wary of abandoning the truth about artificial birth control just as the secular world is waking up to the fact that it's been a nightmarish mistake all along. We have work to do.

(Please feel free to discuss in the comment box, but be aware that I'll be away from my computer for the next several hours and won't be able to free up comments until later.)

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Contraception: an extreme analogy

I'd like to begin this brief post today with a look at what, exactly the Church teaches about procreation, natural means of birth regulation, and the evils of artificial contraception:
2368 A particular aspect of this responsibility concerns the regulation of procreation. For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children. It is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood. Moreover, they should conform their behavior to the objective criteria of morality:

When it is a question of harmonizing married love with the responsible transmission of life, the morality of the behavior does not depend on sincere intention and evaluation of motives alone; but it must be determined by objective criteria, criteria drawn from the nature of the person and his acts, criteria that respect the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love; this is possible only if the virtue of married chastity is practiced with sincerity of heart.156

2369 "By safeguarding both these essential aspects, the unitive and the procreative, the conjugal act preserves in its fullness the sense of true mutual love and its orientation toward man's exalted vocation to parenthood."157

2370 Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality.158 These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom. In contrast, "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" is intrinsically evil:159

Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality. . . . The difference, both anthropological and moral, between contraception and recourse to the rhythm of the cycle . . . involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality.160

There has been some talk in the comment box to yesterday's post about how the Church's teaching seems, to some, to ignore the importance of the unitive aspect of human sexuality. But if you read the above passages carefully, you will learn something, something I would like to illustrate by the following, rather extreme, hypothetical example:

Suppose a young married man and woman are discussing their intimate life, and the man admits to his wife, "I do love our life of intimacy, but there is one thing I really, really hate about you. I've never told you, because I thought I could get over it, but--I hate your hands. They are big and awkward for a woman, and you have knobby knuckles. Unless you agree to cut off your hands, I don't want to engage in marital activity with you any more. But our intimacy is important, so I'm sure you'll see how necessary this is."

The wife nods (remember, this is an extreme analogy) and says, "As long as we're being honest, I have to admit that there's something I hate about you, too. Your nose is too big. It gets in the way when I'm trying to kiss you; oh, and your ears are really ugly, too. But our intimacy is, as you said, important--and we need that unitive aspect of marriage, right? So I'll continue marital activity as long as you cut off your nose and ears."

Sounds terrible, right?

But that is what the couple is doing when they say to each other, in the "language" of contraceptive sex: "I love you totally, completely, absolutely and I want to give myself as a total gift to you and accept yourself as a total gift to me. Oh, except for our fertility. I hate yours and want it controlled or neutralized, and I won't participate in this act of love unless you agree; I also hate mine and want it controlled or destroyed, and I won't let you love me unless you agree."

And by controlling or destroying their fertility, the couple is turning what should be the unitive aspect of marriage into a complete and utter lie. They are no longer fully united; they are holding back something so integral, so essential, so important to the marriage act that they are rendering it something ugly and untrue instead of something positive and life-giving.

So why does NFP, or other natural means of fertility regulation, not do the same? The Catechism has the answer, above: "Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality.158 These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom." In other words, these methods don't speak the language of hate and rejection that contraception does (or that, in my extreme example, the cutting off of various body parts does). They foster respect for the mystery of life-giving love; they help the couple to continue to see God as the one ultimately in charge of their fertility; they help the couple strengthen their unity both when they abstain together and when they engage in sex together.

Those who say that their embrace of contraception is not speaking the language of hate and rejection might consider whether they see no difference between two people trying to lose weight: the one exercises, abstains from fattening foods, and seeks to eat what is necessary without overindulging; the other practices bulimia, eating without regard to health or temperance and then forcing himself or herself to throw up in order to avoid the natural effects of food. On the surface, the bulimic might seem to love food more than the dieter does, because he or she is not restricting his/her appetite in any way, but passionately embracing the offerings of the table. But it is not a true love of food to abuse it and vomit it purposefully to avoid calories; and it is not a true love of one's spouse or the marriage act to abuse them via contraception, either.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

That 98% thing

I'm getting just a little tired of hearing that "98% of American Catholics use contraception."

In the first place, it's such a dam' silly fake statistic. To buy it, you'd have to believe that 98% of the Catholics in America were sexually active people of childbearing age. I can vouch that this isn't the case in any parish I've ever attended.

In the second place, even if the statement is amended to "98 of sexually active American Catholics of childbearing age use contraception," we're still missing a ton of information. I'd like to see the following questions asked of self-identified Catholics:

a) Do you attend Sunday Mass every week unless impeded by a serious reasons such as illness or the care of infants, etc.?
b) Do you participate fully in the sacramental life of the Church?
c) If you are married, are you validly married in the Church?
d) If the answer to a-c is "yes," do you presently accept the Church's teaching against artificial contraception and avoid its use in all circumstances?

Now, there are still those who will insist that we add an "e" question, to wit: "Have you ever at any time violated the Church's teaching against artificial contraception?" But I think that question isn't needed; it encourages people to tell us about their private past sins, for which they are presumably repentant; it doesn't tell us if they only used it once or used it habitually for years, etc. A "yes" or "no" answer to "d" is the best measure of how many active, practicing, participating Catholics in otherwise good standing actively reject Church teaching against contraception.

Are there still going to be "no" answers to "d"? Probably. Church teaching against contraception could be taught more vibrantly and embraced more fully by lots of people. But I have a feeling that the number of those who answer "yes" to a-c, but still say "no" when it comes to "d", would be significantly, perhaps even dramatically, less than that oft-cited 98%.

Just for fun, because there's no way for me to do a scientific poll, I'd like to ask my Catholic readers to respond to questions a-d if they'd like. If you're uncomfortable attaching your real name, you can post anonymously on this one--but please "tag" your comment at the bottom with either a number or a world city (e.g., "London" or "78" or some such thing) so I can approve it.

UPDATE: Welcome, New Advent readers (and thanks to Kevin Knight for the link!) I do moderate comments on this blog, but am trying to approve them as quickly as possible. Your patience is appreciated!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Missing the golden opportunity

In a decision that surprises absolutely no one, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that voters in California do not have the right to stop the redefinition of marriage:

A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday found California's gay marriage ban unconstitutional in a case that is likely to lead to a showdown on the issue in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Proponents of the ban said they would appeal the ruling, and the Protect Marriage coalition that sponsored the ban called the judgment "out of step with every other federal appellate and Supreme Court decision." The appeal is likely to keep gay marriage on hold pending future proceedings. [...]

Opponents and supporters of same-sex marriage both have said they are ready to appeal the decision all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Opponents of gay marriage have not decided whether to ask a larger 9th Circuit panel to hear the matter, or appeal directly to the Supreme Court, Andrew Pugno, general counsel for Protect Marriage and a lawyer on the team defending Prop 8, said by email.

The 9th Circuit Court apparently decided that the Equal Protection Amendment requires that marriage be redefined to include pairs it never actually included before; there's no word, though, on how the Court will sleep at night knowing they have still excluded the marriage rights of groups larger than pairs and of incestuous couples, who have yet to have marriage redefined to include them (though I'm sure California politicians are ready and willing to start issuing group marriage licenses in defiance of current law).

Like I said above, though, this decision surprises no one. Rumor has it that some members of the 9th Circuit have, indeed, actually heard of the Constitution; but that gratifying notion is depleted of its value somewhat when we consider that of the justices who have heard of it, two of them are rumored to think (incorrectly) that it might have been a cheesy prop in a Nicholas Cage movie, and the third, alas, even more confused, allegedly thinks it was a cheesy prop in The DaVinci Code.

Whether they've heard of the Constitution or not, though, the members of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals seem to be unanimous in thinking that actually consulting it would be noxious to the liberty which Americans hold dear, at least if the general tenor of their decisions gives any clues as to their philosophy. So I'm more surprised that the 9th Circuit didn't take this golden opportunity to declare marriage itself to be unconstitutional as well as patriarchal and just plain not groovy than I am that they would side with those who seek to define it out of existence.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Father Ad-Lib and Lay Ad-Libbey

You've probably already seen this, but I think that Catholics of my generation will see in it a sad commentary on the times in which we grew up in the Church:

MOUNT CARMEL -- After 47 years as a priest, and at least two decades of straying from the Roman Catholic Missal by ad libbing parts of the Mass, the Rev. Bill Rowe of St. Mary Church has resigned under pressure from the bishop.

Why? Because he doesn't agree that a priest should be restricted to the exact words of the Missal, including new changes in the Mass that were intended to more closely interpret earlier Latin versions.

The changes were ordered by the Vatican and took effect in late November.

Rowe, 72, said he was called to a meeting in October at the Belleville home of Bishop Edward Braxton. Rowe said that Braxton told him he could not change even small parts of what a Catholic priest is supposed to say during the portions of the Mass that are controlled by the Missal.

Rowe said Braxton told him to "think about it" for three days and then write him a letter. Rowe said he sent the letter on Oct. 12 stating he could not accept what Braxton wanted but did not want to resign or retire. He said he did not receive a response from Braxton until a few days ago, accepting his resignation.

Rowe will leave his parish in June after a successor is installed.

Now, it's very sad indeed that a priest would give up his ministry for such a silly reason. Essentially Father Rowe is saying that if he can't just make up the Mass, if he has to bother learning the actual prayers and praying according to the missal, he will just quit. No doubt that he is of the generation which believed that ritual was part of what was wrong with the Church instead of understanding that ritual is a necessary component of worship--but to me, what I find most ironic of all about priests like Father Rowe is that they don't understand one fundamental thing which I think would horrify them if they truly did grasp it, and it is this: their ad-libbing of the Mass is the single largest obstacle to the Second Vatican Council's vision of a laity engaged in full, conscious, and active participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

That's important, so let me repeat it: Father Rowe's ad-libbing, and the ad-libbing of other priests who think as he does, at Mass, is the single largest obstacle to the Second Vatican Council's vision of a laity engaged in full, conscious, and active participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

What do I mean by this?

It's simple. At every Mass (and this is true of the E.F., too, except that the people's responses are made on behalf of the people by the servers) there are times during the Mass when the priest directly addresses the people, and they respond, before he resumes the prayers addressing God directly. Now, I don't mean any disrespect by this comparison, but it's a little bit like dialog at a play where a large chorus replies either in speech or in song to the main character's dialog--and the way they do that is via cues. For instance, when the priest says, "The Lord be with you," the people respond (now, in the new translation) "And with your spirit." If Father decides instead to say, "May the good Lord smile upon everybody who's here on this glorious Sunday morning!" there will be--and I've witnessed this myself--a lot of hesitation, a lot of mumbling, and perhaps some garbled version of "And with your spirit," in response.

The fact is, it's extremely rude and unfair for the priest to do such a thing (letting alone whether it's anything more serious, which I, a laywoman, do not wish to take upon myself to say). The "chorus" can't change its lines on a whim. If the priest, instead of saying "Lift up your hearts," to the people at one point, says instead, "Let's lift up our hearts to the Lord and root out all our selfishness and sin!" the people still have to say, "We lift them up to the Lord," making it ambiguous as to whether we're lifting up our hearts, our selfishness, or our sin to the Lord--and the last two, of course, make highly inappropriate offerings to the Lord or to anybody else. I mean, sure, some clever person or other could say, "We lift up our hearts to the Lord whilst rooting out selfishness and sin and anger at random ad-libbing!" but I doubt he or she will be heard amongst the crowd.

I myself heard an example of the kind of thing that can happen, just this past Sunday. An elderly priest who occasionally says Mass for us when our pastor can't be with us slipped up--and I do, in all charity, really think this was unintentional--and used an odd form of the words that precede the people's "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof..." Now, those words are a pretty big change for us in the pews, and we're still getting used to them, and Father's use of the odd words beforehand had people confused. There was a noticeable hesitation, a lot of mumbling, and finally a few brave souls chimed in with the right response while others followed. That sort of thing tends to break up one's focus on what is really happening on the altar, on the presence of our Eucharistic Lord, and on the reality that we are about to approach and receive Him--in other words, it tends to disrupt that full, conscious, active participation and replace it with a "What the blazes was that?" moment instead.

And a Mass prayed by a serial ad-libber is a Mass in which "what the blazes?" moments abound. Pretty soon, the people, especially the very young, the elderly, the new Catholics, the not-yet-Catholic-but-interested, the people who don't speak English as their first language, etc., get lost in the "script," so to speak, put their prayer books or missals away, and simply give up on making any of the appropriate responses--because why, indeed, should they, when Father has made it clear that he doesn't respect their efforts at all, but, instead, wishes to tyrannize over them by creating all of his parts out of thin air, rendering their responses silly, inappropriate, or dull compared to his narcissistic "Look at me!" ad-libbing? They don't just give up--one doesn't have to make all the responses aloud to be participating, after all--but they disengage completely; there is, quite literally, no rhyme or reason to the Mass anymore when this happens.

I've sometimes wondered what would happen if a lay person acted like such a priest at one of that priest's Masses. Suppose that a lay person wandered out from the pews, stood in the center aisle, and to each of Father's ad-libbed prayers simply ad-libbed something in return? I think we'd see something like this:
Father Ad-Lib: May the good Lord smile upon everybody who's here on this glorious Sunday morning!

Congregation (mumbling) And with your spirit.

Lay Ad-Libbey: And may the good Lord smile upon you too, Father! And I'd like to ask Him to smile on my garden, because this glorious weather hasn't included nearly enough rain.

Father Ad-Lib: Now, my sisters and brothers, let us remember the times when we've not quite been nice to each other.

Choir: (begins singing) Lord, have mercy...

Lay Ad-Libbey: You know, I wasn't all that nice to this young girl at the grocery store yesterday morning. I mean, she was being sort of rude, too, but now that I'm here and feeling all churchy I'd like to apologize...

Father Ad-Lib: Libbey, I know you mean well, but don't you think that you're disrupting the Mass? I mean, you're just saying whatever you feel like saying, instead of making the proper responses. I can't help but feel as though there's just a bit of disobedience and disrespect with you...

Congregation: And with your spirit...
I don't think it would take long for an ad-libbing priest to become annoyed, irritated, or even downright angry with a lay parishioner who acted this way. He would think, and rightly, that the person who did this sort of thing was rude, arrogant, an attention-seeker, totally unconcerned with the Church's prayer of the Mass and how it ought to be prayed...

...and then, perhaps, he might think to look in a mirror.