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March 19, 2012 | Volume 87, Number 10






– Necrology


Priest’s comments on contraception call for clarification

I am writing in response to the commentary “Birth Control Revisited” in the March 5 Catholic Virginian. While I appreciate Fr. Catoir’s description of the religious freedom principle violated in the HHS Contraception Mandate, I feel his explanation about Catholic teachings on contraception may not be complete and thus slightly misleading, and would like to offer some clarification.

Humanae Vitae (1968) was the landmark encyclical issued by Pope Paul VI in 1968 addressing contraception. In this encyclical, he reiterated the Church’s constant teaching, and indeed the teaching of all of Christianity prior to 1930, that contraception is morally wrong.

In this encyclical, the teaching of responsible parenthood is explained — that couples may have serious reason to avoid another pregnancy at a given time, and that their recourse to help in family spacing is use of natural methods of family planning (NFP.)

Contraception is a moral wrong because it separates the unitive (love giving) and the procreative (life giving) aspects of the marital act.

I feel Fr. Catoir’s article treats this consistent teaching as optional if one’s conscience tells him/her differently. The key issue here is formation of the conscience. A well-formed conscience is required to evaluate how to apply a church teaching in one’s life.

I have never worked with any priest who has condemned a couple for use of contraception, but it IS part of his calling to guide the couple to help form their conscience to realize the truth of this teaching, and to encourage them to find the correct answer to their concerns.

Nobody is trying to force anyone to do anything beyond his/her strength — the grace from the Sacrament of Marriage (as well as the other Sacraments including Penance and the Eucharist) helps couples to meet the challenges of married life.

I quote from the same document Fr. Catoir cited, “On Human Life” released by the U.S. Bishops in 1968, “We feel bound to remind Catholic married couples, when they are subjected to the pressures which prompt the Holy Father’s concern, that however circumstances may reduce moral guilt, no one following the teaching of the Church can deny the objective evil of artificial contraception itself. With pastoral solicitude we urge those who have resorted to artificial contraception never to lose heart but to continue to take full advantage of the strength which comes from the Sacrament of Penance and the grace, healing, and peace in the Eucharist.”

This is an encouragement for continual conversion and growth, not a facile acceptance of the assertion that “a very high percentage of Catholics have found it necessary to use contraception” as Fr. Catoir states.

In our diocese, we are blessed to have a very active Natural Family Planning program, offering instruction in four different NFP methodologies in locations throughout the diocese, and online.

We have physicians training in Natural Procreative (NaPro) Technology that will help couples to find licit and medically sound solutions to women’s health issues such as infertility, irregular cycles, endometriosis and hormonal abnormalities.

It has been a priority for Bishop DiLorenzo to assure that families in our diocese have access to the best and most current information on these important issues of family planning and women’s health. I encourage anyone who feels that it is “necessary” to use contraceptives to search on our diocesan NFP web page or join our Diocesan NFP Facebook group in order to get information for decision making with a well-formed conscience.

I think all would be pleasantly surprised at how far NFP has advanced over the years, and how it really does fit with a holistic view of marital sexuality in the Catholic Church.

Fr. Catoir’s commentary did not appear in the web edition of The Catholic Virginian.

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Health care priority sadly misplaced

It is tragically ironic that the highest priority for health care in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is not curing cancer, heart disease or Alzheimer’s disease, but rather forcing Catholics to help provide free contraceptives and abortifacients.

It is reminiscent of the frustration of many German troops at Stalingrad in late 1942. When desperately needed supplies were finally dropped in by the Luftwaffe, included were several crates of prophylactics!

Sadly, HHS seems to want to ignore the fact that pharmaceutical contraceptive/abortifacients do not prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Thus the HHS mandate is to promote “women’s health” by increasing the chances that they contract or spread an STD.

Sadly, Sen. Warner and Sen. Webb seem to agree with this theory of how to prioritize our health care resources.

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Rights of all citizens must be paramount

Here are my thoughts regarding the recent battle over contraception. The Vatican II document “Dignitatis Humanae” states that “wrong is done when government imposes upon its people. . . profession or repudiation of any religion.”

The assumption is that this mandate applies even when the government’s decision runs contrary to Catholic doctrine. In regards to the HHS mandate to cover contraception, the government’s prerogative is to support the rights of all citizens by requiring equal medical coverage for all employees regardless of their beliefs.

Though an argument can be made that the decision somehow repudiates Catholic doctrine, the vast majority of Americans (including most practicing Catholics) believe contraception is safe, effective, and an important part of their medical coverage.

Requiring Catholic hospitals and universities to have insurance covering contraception services for their employees is no more of an overreach of secular power than requiring a Jehovah’s Witness hospital to cover blood transfusions for their employees. Both may be opposed by the individual institutions, but the employee who may not agree with the institution’s theological beliefs should not be forced into following them as a right of employment.

This principle protects Catholics working in businesses run by non-Catholics as much as it protects non-Catholic workers employed at Catholic institutions, and is an essential premise in a pluralistic society.

In fact, another principle of “Dignitatis Humanae” states, “the freedom or immunity from coercion in matters religious. . . is to be recognized as an individual’s right when they act in community.”

If it is indeed the individual’s right to decide these matters, at what point does the Church’s vehement stance against contraception become coercive?

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Fr. Catoir column lacks Church teaching

I couldn’t believe my eyes! Fr. John Catoir (in his Commentary “Birth Control Revisited,” March 5 issue) was not only making excuses for couples who contracept (“No one in authority condemns any individual who is not able to comply with the letter of the law”), but he was reviving the distortions of “conscience” and the wishy-washy moral theories (Fundamental Option Theory and Situation Ethics) explicitly condemned in “Veritatis Splendor,” 54-105.

He just doesn’t get it. The negative moral precepts about intrinsic evils cannot be broken (VS, 99). No one—least of all your conscience—is ‘forcing’ you to get up and go do something (in this case, to buy and to apply contraceptives).

Rather, conscience only tells you not to do things (unless there is a prior, agreed-upon obligation to act). VS was careful to specifically focus on contraceptive practices (VS, 46, 80), concluding “When it is a matter of the moral norms prohibiting intrinsic evil, there are no privileges or exceptions for anyone.” (VS, 96).

Priests should post this motto over the confessional. It doesn’t mean that you can’t be pastoral and help the weak to slowly amend; it just means that you cannot broadly ‘fudge’ the Law of God (I Cor. 6:9).

If a person shows neither remorse nor resolve to amend, then they need help and understanding, but they cannot be absolved!

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Bishops should avoid political partisanship

There is no question that the Obama administration made a serious mistake when it did not exempt religious-affiliated institutions from providing free coverage of contraceptives and other related services to their employees.

It should have been apparent that this policy would cause an uproar, particularly from the U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops. The administration made a partial compromise by exempting religious employers from the mandate directly, but health insurers would be required to provide contraceptives free of charge.

This does not solve the problem as some Catholic health institutions are self-insured.

The question for Catholics generally is where do we go from here? The Obama administration has wisely given religious institutions a year to comply with the mandate. This allows time for further compromise between reasonable people.

It is not a time for inflated rhetoric, some of it from Republican candidates on the campaign trail, who use language like “a war on religion” and suggesting that the church is under siege.

It is clear that Catholics are divided over the on-going debate. The bishops and other Catholic spokesmen would also be well advised to refrain from appearing to embrace political partisanship at both the state and national level. Political alignments by Catholic leaders would further divide the Catholic community.

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Ashes to go’ said part of ‘big lie’

I would like to commend Steve Neill for his excellent commentary “Ashes to go?” in the most recent edition of The Catholic Virginian (March 5, 2012 issue).

His depiction of an Episcopal priest passing out ashes at Starbucks (which officially supports “gay marriage,” by the way) is recommended in Diana Butler Bass’s book “Christianity After Religion” and is actually simply another variant of what is called “seeker-sensitive ministry” which is an evangelistic ministry that focuses on the needs of the person seeking God, not God Himself.

The “big lie” behind this thinking is that God accepts us as we are. Anyone who mentions any sort of Biblical discernment or appeals to Tradition is labeled a “Pharisee” and “legalistic” because, according to these contemporaries, we are supposed to accept one another without judgment or agendas.

If this sounds more like something the OWS crowd would be saying, or some songs from Woodstock, it should. It is the same fuzzy thinking. The problem is that it is not Biblical.

Jesus was plenty discerning and didn’t mind telling people when they were off base. Yes, thankfully, God is forgiving and merciful, but remember that Jesus told the harlot “Neither do I condemn you, but go and sin no more” (Jn 8:11).

It is that last part that folks conveniently forget. He also said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Mt. 7:21)

Another claim these “contemporaries” make is that traditionalists do not understand the “heart of worship.” They are legalistic and mired in tradition so they cannot understand why you cannot receive your ashes while you read your morning paper and sip your latte. The problem is that worship is exactly that. It is not about looking at ourselves and being concerned with our needs, it is about looking up at God, realizing our pathetic inadequacies, and fearing Him.

It is not about pleasing our egos but submitting to His will. It is about cleaning our houses so he will be able to dwell within us. It is about conforming ourselves to Christ, not the other way around.

C.S. Lewis once famously said that if you are walking on a road, and you find you are not getting anywhere, the best way to make progress is to turn around, go back, and get on the right road.

read the commentary »

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Immigrants need help from Church

It is also with “some dismay and concern” that I must reply to the letter of Halyna Harmaty-Morton (March 5 issue). We share a similar heritage including being a former parishioner of the Church of the Holy Child Jesus (Queens, NY) where I was married 45 years ago and have visited recently.

However, my memory of my family’s immigrant experience is quite different from hers. I remember the parishes that were established to serve specific immigrant groups. In fact, in the small town in Pennsylvania where many of my relatives settled, each group of immigrants attended their own separate Catholic churches.

graphic: rules for sending letter to editorIn the 1950s I remember the Polish, Lithuanian, Irish, Slovak, Slovenian and Ruthenian Catholic churches - all this in a town of a few thousand people. Of course, this was possible then because there was no shortage of priests.

Yes, they struggled to learn English after long workdays in the factories, mines and as cleaning ladies. Some were more successful than others. However, at least they were able to find comfort and solace in church without the constant struggle to understand that marked their daily lives.

Their children grew up bilingual and their grandchildren hardly remember the native language. Most of the separate ethnic churches which served earlier waves of immigrants have now been closed or consolidated.

Our new immigrants will become assimilated also. When I visited Holy Child Jesus Church last year, I was pleased that ONE of the SIX Sunday Masses was in Spanish. This is our Church’s modern response to the current need. They no longer have the resources to establish separate ethnic parishes, nor should they.

We are bound together in the Catholic faith by more than just language. I hope we will be more “open minded” than in the past. Yes, teach the immigrants English, but welcome them while they learn, and let’s do what we can to ease their transition.

read the letter »

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