Monday, September 03, 2007

A Clouded Sunrise, or Sunset?

Jim Muller on our "psychic space" from the institutional church
Both fidelity and open dissent are preferable to silent indifference

Photo by Dennis Jones

Call me a glutton for punishment if you like, but I spent a good amount of time in the evenings during our past week in Chatham plowing through David France's 600-page epic, Our Fathers: The Secret Life of the Catholic Church in an Age of Scandal. It chronicles in excruciating detail the sexual abuse scandal that had been occurring for decades and broke like a massive avalanche against the Church in late 2001. It was creepy and painful to read how many of the sickening details were overlaid upon the geography of the archdiocese in which I live. If not for a few twists of fate, this is something that could have happened to me or my children.

Going through the book, I was struck by what I consider to be one of the cruelest ironies of the scandal... the reaction of young Catholics in the blogging world that we've seen in the aftermath.

In the wake of the disclosures, many young Catholics just checked out in disgust, but many of those who still care strongly about the faith took an interesting if unexpected view. Rather than seeing the root cause of the crisis, which was clericalism, a clericalism which took down both conservative and liberal clerics alike, young people who still care about Catholicism seem to have bought heavily into a narrative that scapegoats homosexuals and "liberal" bishops. Leaving aside the fact that banning homosexuals from the priesthood would be counterproductive, and difficult to the point of impossibility, this narrative would actually make matters worse in that it would foster the kind of furtive, secretive, closeted behavior which tends to manifest itself in abuse to begin with. This narrative, rather than seeing the clear dangers of clericalism (the tendency of the those in the priesthood and the hierarchy to identify the Church as themselves, and to circle the wagons and close ranks to any perceived threat against them), encourages the very kind of unquestioning obsequiesness and deference to clerical figures that allowed the abuse and coverups to occur to begin with. Groups who try to keep pressure upon the bishops, and to ask for accountability and greater lay involvement in the running of the Church, like the VOTF, are roundly excorciated in these circles.

To a certain extent I can understand why this is so. It is easy for later generations to lay blame upon the Second Vatican Council because of a coincidence in timing. Never mind the fact that Boston's most notororiously abusive class was the Class of 1960, with a distinctly pre-conciliar formation. The scandals followed the Council, therefore, as far as this line of thinking goes, the abuses allowed by the Council must have been at the root of it. In other words, not only the sexual abuse scandal, but all of the current ills in the Church can be laid at the feet of the Council.

I hold a different view, perhaps because of my age and what I saw happening at the time. Whether the encyclicals were right or whether they were wrong, it looks crystal clear to me that a Council that was enthusiastically and even ecstatically received was undermined almost overnight when Sacerdotalis Caelibatus and Humanae Vitae blew two huge holes in the bottom of the Barque of Peter. After the first encyclical, a huge exodus from the priesthood began, along with a steep dropoff in new vocations. With the second, the hierarchy lost almost all credibility with the laity. The weight of papal authority has never been the same since. People stopped going to confession, and priests stopped wanting to hear their confessions. How long can a Church survive under such circumstances?

One particular passage in the book really resonated with me, because it made reference to my own parish. Jim Muller, who went on to become the co-founder of the VOTF, was speaking with our pastor, Reverend Tom Powers. It hit really close to home for me, because I remember very well the flourishing, burgeoning days that he makes reference to, and in being very heavily involved in what he describes. As for the young conservatives... I don't know if they really know and appreciate how well Jim Muller understands them...
He remembered the first time he had received communion at St. John's, as a young idealistic father. Back then, St. John's bristled with kids and teenagers and young couples. The youth ministry was active. It was not unusual to see over a thousand attend a Mass, even on nonholidays. Now his own children, who had left home for college and independent lives, would attend Mass only if their father had them in a paternal half nelson. At fifty-nine, Muller was still among the youngest parishioners at St. John's.

The problem was, he thought, the Catholic Church was out of step with young people's lives. They looked at church uncompromisingly. For some time now, Jim Muller had felt that by practicing cafeteria Catholicism-picking and choosing among the doctrines that made sense to him, and disregarding the rest-he was guilty of a sort of lazy hypocrisy. His children rejected this as inauthentic, which he knew it was. He and Kathleen both had made their compromises in small, almost imperceptible stages. They continued using birth control even after Humanae Vitae was handed down.They objected to the very notion that a church hierarchy might attempt to govern such personal matters as sexual love. But they kept their objections to themselves. As a result, they confessed fewer and fewer things, less and less often creating more and more psychic space between themselves and then church.

In significant other ways Jim was nonetheless a church conservative, or at least a church nostalgic. He craved some of the fabulous aspects of the Mass that were done away with in the name of modernization. In his youth, Gregorian chant epitomized a church of miracles. He missed the Latin liturgy, its muffled mystery and transcendental force. He understood why these things were changed, and he even applauded the effort to make Catholicism accessible and significant in ordinary people's lives. But he felt as though the church had opened up the wrong things to the parishioners. They craved decency and democracy, and respect for their life decisions in a modern world-they craved a catechism of the here and the now; the church gave them tinny language instead.

Once he told his pastor, Father Tom Powers, that he feared for the future of a church rejected by his own offspring. "It made no sense to me," he said, "because they're extremely spiritual people. I asked my daughter, `Where did your spirituality come from? Pop culture? Madonna?' And you know what she told me? Star Wars. `May the force he with you.'" He lifted his hand as if to joust. He laughed. He found something wonderful, and desolate, about the explanation.

"We have lost the next generation," Powers agreed. "We have pushed them away."

Muller knew it was true, and it disturbed him. It was the prophet Jeremiah who said, "Shame on the shepherds who let the sheep of my flock scatter and be lost."

He had asked Powers, "What's lost if you lose institutional religion?"

"Community," the priest answered.

At the time, Jim Muller shrugged. But since learning about [the scandal], he no longer felt he had the luxury of passivity. This was a Catholic Watergate. How could he not do something to harness his disgust?

Muller makes some really interesting points here about the psychic space that we've allowed to be created, and the need for authenticity in the hearts and minds of young people. They can smell what is phony from a mile off, and it is killing us. In a lot of ways, this reminds me of a family with an alcoholic in it. There's a huge problem that no one wants to talk about. We talk around it and we talk through it, and we talk past it, but no one wants to talk about the dead elephant in the middle of the room.

I think we've let the whole Humanae Vitae thing in particular fester for too long, and it colors everything else. Over 90 percent of Catholic couples use artificial birth control, and even the vast majority of weekly-mass attending Catholics do, despite the hierarchy's persistent ban. Now, this can mean one of two things. Either this is a teaching not properly taught, or it is a teaching not received. If it is a teaching not received, the laity had better start speaking up and saying something to the bishops, because this double-life in the Church can't go on forever. Something has to give one way or the other. People either have to get in line with the Church teaching (which seems to be the Vatican's strategic line of thinking... pare things down to a leaner, smaller, more obedient Church), or the laity have to speak out.

It is one thing for a layperson to read Humanae Vitae and to form his or her own consicence one way or the other in response to the Church's argument using biblical citations, the early Church Fathers, and Natural Law. It is another thing altogether just to silently reject Church teaching a priori just because he or she doesn't feel like it and couldn't be bothered. The latter, in their own way, do just as much harm as pig-headed curial officials who don't feel a need to listen to the laity.


crystal said...

He's back :-)

That book sounds grim.

I don't understand why people equate child sexual abuse with homosexuality ... it seems that all experts have made it clear there's no connection. Or, I do understand - it's easier to have them be scapegoats then to fix the system that, as you mentioned, creates immature priests.

On a similar note, did you see the Tablet article about the book by retired auxiliary Bishop of Sydney, Geoffrey Robinson? It's also about the abuse scandal and alos papal power, the ordination of wome,n and married priests, etc.

Winnipeg Catholic said...

I've also noted that the traddie and conservative bloggers seem to equate the liberal reforms of VatII with the sex abuse scandal. It reminds me of historians arguing about the english civil war or world war I. Such wars were caused by whatever the author doesn't like.

A powerful book from the sounds of it. Of course one can just as easily attribute this author too as having an axe to grind. In this case, clericalism and the insulation of the Vatican against the sense fidelis caused a sex abuse scandal. Did it? I think that is a stretch. I agree 100% about the loss of the flock due to the rigidity and dumb pig-headedness of the magisterium. I am not quite as sure that it lead to the crisis.

But then, I have not read Sacerdotalis Caelibatus. Blockheaded protestants will assume that a man asked to not have sex for life just gets weird, or that only weirdos will take a celibate gig-for-life in the first place. I think it is just a bit more complicated than that.

I tend to think that the celibacy requirement attracts a very unique subset of people who wish to protect the celibate enclave, and its reputation, at all costs. I do agree that could in turn create some clericalism and secrecy that contributed to the scandals.

Without clericalism, gay or straight, there would have been no secrecy. Without secrecy, no cover-up. No cover-up, no diocese level consipracy. No diocese-level conspiracy, no massive lawsuits.

And what you get from all that is a lot of wasted energy and resources. Wasted energy and resources poured into demanding a sexual ethos from people, sometimes ignoring how they handle things like wrath and charity.

Anyway, I could go on ad nauseum. I enjoyed your write up on the book, thanks for sharing.

All the Best, B

jackjoe said...

liam, this is ALICE HAYNES. excellent posting but i disagree a little bit with last paragraph. my husband, JOHN HAYNES has said for the last several years that the Baptist were a political arm of the Republican party and the church was becoming a one issue party: the sex is nasty party. but the average person can't fight 'learned' theologians on natural law, early church fathers and clerical sophistry. No, they just ignore them.all the way from masturbation to birth control to abortion the church is only looking at sex.
with the scores of issues that face our world, moral issues, yes, who does the church threaten with loss of the sacrements except prochoice members. "the seamless garmet"-what a joke. i'm waiting for a bishop or any cleric to ban a death penalty advocate from communion. or those who openly advocate torture, or those who oppose aid to starving africa or those who say our job is to seek out and "destroy" our enemies in iraq or those who call medical aid to others 'socialist".Can your readers name one? but i'm getting carried away. i'll keep going to mass, be friendly with the clergy but not really pay attention to sex is nasty tirades, which thank heavens in my parish i seldom here. ALICE HAYNES

jackjoe said...

sorry, jeff, i called you liam. ALICE HAYNES. post seemed more like liam.

Jeff said...

Hi Crystal,

That was a fascinating article. Thanks for running it my way. I'm not sure I'm on board with everything Robinson has to say (regarding apostolic succession and the Creed, for example), but I'm very much in agreement with the other things that he had to say. It's good to see that there is a voice being listened to "down under" besides Cardinal Pell's.


Thanks for the comments. I didn't mean to conflate the encyclicals to the scandal directly; sorry if it looked that way. I was referring more to the current state of the Church and the charges levelled against the Council by some groups within traditionalism.

Excellent analysis on your part, breaking down the progression from secrecy to wasted resources, etc... That was very good.

Hi Alice,

You mistook me for Liam briefly? :-D That is quite a compliment. Actually, if you were to read my entire history here, you might not find this post to be out of character for me at all.

I'm in complete agreement with you in regards to how issues like the death penalty, torture, war and economics are not being treated as seriously as they should be compared to the curia's emphasis on "below the belt" issues. The only place where I might disagree with you is on the abortion issue. I don't see that so much as a sexual issue as a human rights issue. Some people here agree with me, others do not.

You are correct in saying that the average layeperson cannot compete with a theologian on many of these points regarding Church Fathers, Natural Law, etc..., but I think a lot of us could make the effort to learn more than we already know and to make our opinions known to those who do have that specialized knowledge. A church where the laity just ignores its hierarchy is not a healthy church that can survive. I think we need more dialogue and engagement between laypeople and the bishops.

Mike McG... said...

Alice, I wonder if there might be some points of convergence here:

...that we are all hypocrites to the extent that we publicly espouse values that we don't fully live up to;

...that since most of us are hypocrites it is both futile and unjust to confine discourse to the few purists among us;

...that it is more appealing to caricature and dismiss contrasting perspectives than to understand them from the point of view of those who espouse them;

...that true believers of any/every stripe have the barest contempt for those who hold dissenting points of view and aren't even remotely interested in respectful dialogue;

...that the seamless garment is equally dishonored by those who invoke it to address abortion only as by those who fail to invoke it to address abortion;

...that there ought to be space for the tiny minority of genuinely seamless garment folk to converse without derision;

...that how you frame an issue dramatically influences the conclusions you draw. If you decide that abortion fits under the heading of sexual repression so that the critical question is who decides, the logical outcome is a prochoice sensibility. On the other hand if abortion fits under the heading of human rights so that the critical question is what is decided, the logical outcome is a prolife sensibility.

You mention that you rarely hear 'sex is nasty tirades' at your parish. I never hear them at mine and haven't heard them for going on 40 years now. I wonder if there isn't some 'urban legend' factor at work here. The clergy I know are infinitely more likely to speak about the panoply of justice issues than pelvic issues.

Yes, a *small* number of bishops garnered great publicity for threatening to withhold communion. But they certainly didn't sway my vote and I very much doubt they swayed yours. My guess is that they swung more votes *toward* prochoice politicians than away from them, so raw are the distant memories of 'sex is nasty tirades.'

jackjoe said...

mike, i don't do much blogging. JACK HAYNES is involved in rebutting what he considers a 'nasty' attack on him by this blogger. you probably never look at JACK's blog, but I believe you are indirectly involved in the dispute. JACK will be back in a day or two and will answer you either here or on his present blog.
your dichotomy---ALICE is opposed to sexual repression and Mike favors "human rights" does seem to have a touch of stacking the deck.
JACK's new blog : Catholic Sin {sex is nasty} should be up and running within a week or two. ALICE HAYNES

Jeff said...

When Anna analyzed the incident and concluded with the remark...

That is what I think happened.

...she pretty much had it right, although I wasn't angry about anything. As far as abortion controversies are concerned, I've had people throw Nazi salutes in my face screaming "sieg heil!" and telling me that I don't care if women die. I thought the exchange between Jack and I was quite dispassionate in comparison. Water off a duck's back, as far as I was concerned.

A lot of people aren't comfortable with anonymous posting. I know for example, that Garpu does not allow it. The anonymous option leaves a blog vulnerable to obscene comments and harassment from internet "trolls".

Therefore, I had anonymous posting turned off on my blog. Jack indicated to me that he had something that he wanted to tell me that was confidential, and wanted to know if he could use the 'Anonymous' handle. I told him that was OK with me, and Jack put up an autobiography of sorts. We had a great exchange of views. So far, so good.

Several weeks ago, according to Alice, Jack had a seizure while he was reading my blog, and he was offline for several days. Due to the fact that my website was up on his computer screen, Alice was able to peruse my posts over the course of the following days without having to navigate here. Even though Jack's posts were under the 'Anonymous' handle, I knew that they would be recognizable to Alice just because of the autobiographical details and his writing style. I don't think Jack realizes the lengths that I went to to make sure that what he told me in confidence stayed that way. I thought I was watching his back.

I don't have a very wide readership. There are only a dozen people or so who visit on a regular basis, and fewer than that who post. After several weeks, I began to feel uneasy about the anonymous posting option being available. I figured that everyone who reads this blog (including Alice) pretty much knew that "Anonymous' was Jack. I didn't think that he had anything confidential left to tell me at this point. I like my correspondence to be in the clear. I just prefer everyone to say who they are, unless there is a compelling reason not to.

Anyway, that's all there was to it. There was no knife.

jackjoe said...

jack will be back later today i hope. just two questions. one. jack believes in the hundreds of comments he has left only 3 or 4 have been anon. tell us if that is wrong. two. what is the difference between using anon.and 'disguise' names as everybody else uses? let me add a couple of more. has not jack given more information as to his identity than almost anyone on the blogs? some give no information at all. and i remember when you agreed to take some 'confidential' information from jack, how he was so overcome emotionally. again in your response here are you not suggesting jack would use "obscene" comments? well it was a good run while it lasted. alice haynes

Jeff said...

If I can't be taken at my word, there's nothing left to say. I have no intention of discussing this matter any further.

jackjoe said...

please do not respond. i assume jack CANNOT be taken at his word. alice

Charles of New Haven said...

Thanks for the post, Jeff. I felt it in my heart. I was recently interviewed by my college alumni newsletter and they asked to elaborate on the hardest thing about being ordained priest. A stock question, of course, but my answer was clear. It's the sexual abuse crisis. Not only that I consider myself heir to these men (and hope to find humility in that), but also that I'm not comfortable with what we are doing about it.

Sure, we have programs and checks and workshops going all over the place. I know; I am an administrator of such things in the parish where I work, and I make them a priority.

On the other hand, the psycho-sexual world of the catholic clergy needs a lot of healing. There's a lot of unwellness in it. Part of it is homosexuality, but it's not the whole thing or even the primary thing. It's more an internal culture of power and patronage and networking that is often sexually charged in disturbing ways.

Anyone is free to argue with me, but this is only my experience as an insider.

Oh, and I do consider myself one of the young traditionalists, though in my case I think my growing up as a punk gives it a good overlay of populism and anarchistic tendencies. :)

Jeff said...

Hello Friar,

It's really nice to see you. I missed you while you were on pilgrimage in Italy. I hope that it was everything that you and your brothers wanted it to be. If I send you my address, do you have any of those medals left that you can pass along?

Yes, I bet your punk days and anarchist tendencies put an interesting gloss on how you practice your Franciscanism today. :-)

Thanks for the front-line perspective on celibacy and various aspects of formation. My brother-in-law is a Jesuit scholastic, and a friend of mine will be leaving the Dominicans at some point, They echo very much what you have to say.

All I can say is that I hope that various aspects of formation are better than they were in the old days when many priests went right into minor seminaries during adolescence, and had their sexual maturity stunted and frozen at that adolescent level. Maybe it's a good thing that vocations are often delayed now, when people have been in the world for a while, and have resolved those issues on their own before going into a seminary.

Thanks for the comment. Missed you here.

Garpu the Fork said...

I agree with what you've written, and I don't think the push to teach NFP to engaged couples that a lot of dioceses are doing these days is the answer, either.

The internet is both good and bad--anyone can have a soapbox, but it's also easier for fringe groups to find each other and think they have a consensus. The rad-trads are a good example of this.

Jeff said...

Hi Garpu,

I don't begrudge them for trying with NFP, at least it helps to move the conversation that I'm talking about along in a sense, but, yeah, I think that NFP has some problems with it. It doesn't work well for everyone. I suspect that not a few people who say they are using NFP may actually be using a combination of methods.

Very true what you say about the internet and soapboxes. I confess that sometimes I loose hope in it as a vehicle for bringing people together. In some ways it actually may be more adept at driving people apart, by allowing smaller and smaller niches to form, as you describe. I learned long before there was an internet that getting to know people by writing to them is a harder way to get to know people than it initially appears. It is far easier to offend people inadvertantly, for example, than it is in dealing with people face to face.

Garpu the Fork said...

It's not so much the concept of NFP I have a problem with, but a lot of the attitudes surrounding it. For instance it's not easy to be told that you don't love your spouse enough, if you don't want to use NFP, and that you can't possibly have as good of communication with your spouse, if you contracept. How does anyone other than the couple involved know anything about their relationship? That love is mysterious enough, without other people casting aspersions on it. It's my opinion that if a couple needs to have temperatures or some other bodily fluid to be able to talk in an honest and open way, then they probably aren't mature enough for marriage.

Meh. Sorry to dump. This subject area and marriage is something I've considered leaving the Church over.

Jeff said...


I understand how you feel. Patty Crowley (serving on the Papal Birth Control Commission), told them very much the same thing in 1967. She left Rome thinking that her arguments and those of the rest of the majority on the commission (bishops and lay) were going to prevail.

Garpu the Fork said...

Looking up on Patty Crowley...didn't know much about her beyond her name. Sounded like one hell of a person, and someone I would've liked to have had a beer with. ;)

Jeff said...

There's a great book that I recommend everyone to read. It is called Turning Point: The Inside Story of the Papal Birth Control Commission, & How Humanae Vitae Changed the Life of Patty Crowley and the Future of the Church. It tells the story from Patty Crowley's point of view of the whole commission's proceedings. It includes the (rejected) majority report of the commission.

Garpu the Fork said...

Ooooh, thanks. :) I'll have to keep an eye out for it...

crystal said...

A question - I don't really understand about NFP. If the idea is that it's wrong to avoid getting pregnant, how is NFP not an effort to avoiding getting pregnant?

Garpu the Fork said...

Hey Jeff, could you email me? Think my email's in the profile. Tanks :)

Jeff said...

Hi Crystal,

Well, as far as I understand it, that all sort of goes back to 1930, when Casti Connubii was issued shortly after the Anglicans first loosened up on birth control at Lambeth. Although it countered lambeth, there was movement made with this encyclical. A concession was made, where there had been none before. There was a recognition of the importance of marital love between spouses, and not just arranged social contracts as in ages past. I think there was also a recognition that in industrial societies (as opposed to traditional agrarian societies), that the issue of urban poverty and the imperative to be able to educate children were very important. In that encyclical it said,

Nor are those considered as acting against nature who in the married state use their right in the proper manner although on account of natural reasons either of time or of certain defects, new life cannot be brought forth. For in matrimony as well as in the use of the matrimonial rights there are also secondary ends, such as mutual aid, the cultivating of mutual love, and the quieting of concupiscence which husband and wife are not forbidden to consider so long as they are subordinated to the primary end and so long as the intrinsic nature of the act is preserved.

In other words, it opened the door to rythym.

With Humanae Vitae in 1968, the references that were made in the 1930 encyclical about the Genesis story of Onan were dropped, because with critical biblical scholarship it was generally recognized that Onan was not killed because he spilled his seed on the ground, but because he used a loophole in the law to use Tamar as a sexual plaything, with no intention of raising up children for his deceased brother. The Humanae Vitae argument was based mainly on a natural law argument rather than a biblical argument.

That's a little background, but as far as the specifics of your question goes, I'd say the thinking goes like this... NFP, although it is ostensibly being used to prevent pregancy, is still open to the possibility of life, as anyone who has used it for any length of time can well attest. No barrier exists between husband and wife, and there is no abortaficient or anything unnatural that would prevent implantation after fertilization. I believe the thinking goes, if a couple does conceive using NFP, that they will accept God's will in the matter and will be willing to go through with the pregnancy and carry it to term.

Let me say right here that when Anne and I married, we wanted to be fecund and to have a large family. There was so much death that had occurred in our families shortly prior to our engagement, that we wanted to be open to life and to be surrounded by new life. We've always been surrounded by large Catholic families, and have always admired the dynamic in large families of all kinds. You might say we very much buy into the Church's teaching about life. At the risk of giving too much information, we don't use artifical contraception, but as far as being in 100% accordance... Each and every act...? Well, never mind, enough on that... I exercise my conscience in my own way. I don't judge people who are in a different situation from myself. I can't ignore where most of the laity are on this and pass judgement on them.

Now, you know that I'm not the biggest fan of Augustine and Jerome. :-) For all the great things they wrote, in my view, they brought too much Manichaeism and Stoicism into Christianity. In addition, with limited scientific knowledge, it was thought that sperm were actually tiny people. In my opinion, too much of Church teaching, to put it bluntly, is concerned about where the ejaculate lands. I don't think that should be the case, especially since we have outgrown that mistaken scientific view, and what it all has to do with female sexual response, which is completely ignored, is beyond me.

crystal said...

Interesting history of the teaching.

I've read that the unitive reason for sex is being more appreciated now, along with the procreative purpose. I think this is important because sex without a chance of procreation = a lot of people, like those over childbearing age, those who are sterile, gays and lesbians, etc.

My upbringing was so different than yours. When I was in highschool, my mom took me to the doc for birth control pills, and I never looked back. Sex never seemed to go along with love exactly.

I was really afraid to get married or have kids, given the child abuse and that my mom was married a total of 4 times (not counting an affair with one of my college teachers). But once I was married, I did want to try ... just not in the cards for me, I guess.

I think it's great that you have such a large family - I can't think of many better things than being happily married with kids.

Jeff said...


My mother was a nurse, including a a stint at a girl's private High School, one at a home for unwed mothers, and another at a college. She saw a lot, and was very good with young people. She had progressive views about certain things, and traditional views about others (sort of like me, I guess). She used to leave a lot of pamphlets and other information about birth control, sex ed, and STDs lying around the house.

I'd be tempted to say it's an east coast - west coast thing (My brother and I have both known people ranging from Arizona to Hawaii who consider us hopelessly square in a eastern sense), but your story is not unfamiliar here either of course.

Sorry about the children, and of course, as always about the abuse. You are very courageous to bring it up in public. I keep you in my prayers over it.

Regarding children.. It is not without its challenges, but it is also most rewarding. Parenting is without a doubt, the hardest thing I've ever done.

Charles of New Haven said...

Hi Jeff, I have medals left. Just drop me an email and let me know!

Jeff said...

I will Friar, thanks!

Jeff said...

Oh, and Crystal,

Prayers for your mother too. I know how much you and your sister miss your mom. I miss mine too.

Paula said...

Jeff, I hesitated before commenting this post...I speak only from my experience...the life experience of an ex-atheist and ex-agnostic who grew without religious education...from the experience of a divorced woman who was sexually abused before her marriage and who dated "like everybody" after the from this "extensive" and bitter experience I say: I stick with what the Church teaches about contraception and sexual morals. I had a long time to think what choices I have 2 years ago and I chosed this...after I read Mulieris Dignitatem, Letter to Women by JPII, Love and Responsibility Humanae Vitae etc...and after I took a hard look at my life and at other people´s lives.

Jeff said...


Thank you, also, very much for the frank and open perspective. You know that your views are always respected here and well-considered. No need for you to hesitate.

It is true that sex is not a just a lark; a harmless activity without consequences. It goes right to the very heart of who we are and hits us at our deepest vulnerabilities, when we offer ourselves to someone else. When that vulnerability is abused, or when it is thrown in the dirt at our feet like something worthless, it can deeply wound.

I can't believe the number of people who have been sexually abused out there. It's mind-boggling to me, sometimes, how pervasive it is. I'm sorry.

God Bless.

Paula said...

Jeff, thanks.

I had the opportunity to check my new vision in practice.
Recently, I did end-up a relationship because I saw clearly the danger lurking behind.

The Paula before the conversion would have not been able to see it. Very recent events, confirmed that my perceptions and my decision were right...

On a more general note...I may be on the way to become a reactionary traditionalist.:-). The liberal approach simply does not work for me.

Jeff said...


I'm sorry to hear about that relationship going south. It sounded like it was going well. Glad that you were able to read the signs though.

crystal said...

I'm sorry too, Paula.

Anna said...

Jeff and Crystal,

I wouldn't say that the teaching about NFP being ok is because it has a greater chance of resulting in pregnancy. Contraception isn't wrong because it's wrong to avoid having children. Contraception is wrong because it violates the way God designed us. Our fertility is a gift, not a sickness; deliberately acting against our fertility is vaguely like giving yourself a black eye. Some things, like dyeing our hair, are within the authority over ourselves that God has given us. The choice to act against our fertility is not something God has given us the authority to do, because it is so central to our personhood, and because it relates to the creation of a new being made in the image of God.

NFP, on the other hand, uses the infertile times that God built into a woman's cycle. It doesn't violate God's design; it works within it.

You may still disagree... but I think a lot of people think it makes no sense because they think the Church is being inconsistent on whether it is ok to avoid having children, when that's not what the argument is supposed to be about.

Paula said...

Thank you guys.I do not say it only to make you feel better :-), but I am OK.

Jeff said...

Hi Anna,

You said..

Contraception isn't wrong because it's wrong to avoid having children.

I have to take issue with you slightly there, in regards to the Church's teaching. Maybe it's just a matter of semantics, so you are welcome to clarify. As you know, NFP isn't contra-ception. When we take marriage vows as Catholics, we are asked to pledge to be open to new life. NFP is meant for the regulation and spacing of births, not for their outright prevention throughout marriage. As far as I understand the Church's teaching, if a couple was to use NFP to prevent conception thoughout the entire duration of their marriage, there would in fact be a problem there.

Anna said...


If a couple goes into a marriage planning to use NFP to avoid ever having children, that would be a problem. (As I understand it, that would not be a valid sacramental marriage).

A married couple may use NFP to avoid having children indefinitely, if they have a well-grounded reason for doing so.

It could be that a couple is wrong to use contraception in a particular instance, not only because contraception is wrong itself, but also because that couple should not be avoiding children right then. But I was trying to make the point that the reason the Church says contraception is always wrong is not because avoiding children is always wrong. It's because contraception always violates God's design. Is that clearer?

Jeff said...


I think so. When you mention well grounded reasons, that echoes, or is even a certain way of translating seriis causis (serious reasons) as used in Humanae Vitae and Evangelium Vitae. In A Discipline That Ennobles Human Love, John Paul II spoke of the importance of having a "procreative attitude". Therefore, I think the Church would say in its teaching that a Catholic couple cannot feel morally justified and at ease in using NFP (as opposed to contraception) strictly because of the method being used alone. The motivation matters too. They can't merely say, "others contracept, but we are OK because we use NFP", if the reasons are based upon similarly selfish motives.

crystal said...

Do I understand correctly that one can't be a good catholic who wants to have sex but not children?

Jeff said...


According to whom? Who is the Church?

Anna said...


Ah, definitely. The method used is not the only consideration in whether one is committing sin in one's attitudes and actions regarding sex and children.


I guess I don't really like labelling people "good Catholics" and "bad Catholics". I can say that Catholic teaching certainly takes issue with married people intending to never ever have children, (or with non-married people having sex). But to call someone I don't know a "bad Catholic" on those grounds alone... that seems judgemental to me, I guess.

crystal said...

It's interesting - I joined the church with almost no idea of many of the teachings. They never mentioned this kind of thing in RCIA class :-)