Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Contraception, subsidiarity, and the Catholic bishops

By now you may have heard that the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under Kathleen Sebelius, a Catholic, has issued a mandate that will require Catholic hospitals, universities, and charities to pay for contraceptives, including abortifacients, for their employees -- despite the fact that the Catholic Church teaches that contraception and abortion are intrinsically gravely immoral.  The United States Council of Catholic Bishops has vigorously denounced this act of tyranny, and is working to reverse it.  That is good, and we Catholics should support their efforts.  But it would have been better if the bishops had been equally vigorously upholding Catholic teaching on contraception and subsidiarity over the last several decades, and disciplining Catholics in public life who obstinately promote policies that the Church regards as inherently gravely evil.  Had they done so, it is unlikely that this outrage ever would have been perpetrated in the first place.

For decades now, the majority of Catholics have been ignoring the Church’s teaching that the use of contraceptives is mortally sinful.  Even priests who accept that teaching rarely speak about it from the pulpit.  Theologians and professors in Catholic colleges and universities who reject it are for the most part allowed to teach and write against it unmolested.  As a result, it is widely assumed that a Catholic may in good conscience dissent from the Church’s teaching.  It is also no doubt widely thought that many churchmen are embarrassed by this teaching, and expect it someday to change.  The bishops have made no serious effort to counteract these perceptions.  Though they often issue bold statements regarding prudential matters about which they have no special competence -- economic policy, immigration policy, health care policy -- and have been extremely vigorous in promoting a strict abolitionist position on capital punishment that Catholic teaching does not actually require, they do not seem to think it urgent to correct the vast number of Catholics who flout a basic moral doctrine, the teaching and enforcement of which is the bishops’ special responsibility.  How surprised should they be, then, when those hostile to the Church’s teaching judge that Catholics will “roll over” for policies like the one now issued by HHS?  If Catholics and their leaders don’t seem to take the Church’s teaching on contraception very seriously, why should the Obama administration?  (One USCCB official has asked why the administration is allowing the Amish and Christian Scientists to opt out of its health plan, but does not show equal respect to Catholics.  Perhaps the answer is that the government has no doubt that the Amish and the Christian Scientists really believe and practice what they preach.)

The bishops have also put little emphasis on the principle of subsidiarity, according to which the needs of individuals, families, and local communities ought as a matter of justice to be met as far as possible by those individuals, families, and communities themselves rather than by centralized governmental institutions.  This is a fundamental principle of Catholic social teaching, and its point is in part precisely to shield smaller and more local institutions from arbitrary and tyrannical power of the sort the federal government is now exercising vis-à-vis Catholic institutions.  Yet most Catholics have probably never heard of the principle; worse, and as I complained in a post on the 2010 health care debate, though the Obama administration’s health care plan is seriously objectionable from the point of view of subsidiarity, the bishops took no account of the principle when commenting on the plan.  Indeed, they gave the impression that, apart from some aspects of the plan concerning abortion and coverage of illegal immigrants, it was not only unobjectionable but something to “applaud.”  How surprised should they be when government officials well known for their hostility to Catholic teaching use the power the bishops have urged them to take in ways the bishops do not like?

It goes without saying that the bishops have also done very little to discipline those Catholic politicians who publicly and obstinately promote policies which the Church teaches are gravely immoral.  Only a few individual bishops have dared to state publicly that those Catholic politicians who promote abortion or “same-sex marriage” ought not to receive Holy Communion.  But no such politician seems to have taken these admonitions seriously, and even the most conservative bishops seem to regard the harsher penalty of excommunication as unthinkable.  How surprised should they be now that one of these Catholic politicians -- Kathleen Sebelius -- has moved on from promoting abortion "rights" to actively persecuting her fellow Catholics, while other Catholics in the administration (such as Vice President Joe Biden) stand by without protest?

Suppose that the bishops had for decades consistently thundered against contraception and disciplined all priests and Catholic writers and teachers who publicly dissented from the Church’s teaching.  There would be many more Catholics faithful to the Church’s teaching than there are now, both because more Catholics would realize how grave a sin contraception is, and because they would be having far more children than they do now.  Even those Catholics who still disobeyed the teaching would be more likely to have a guilty conscience about doing so, and would be far less likely to dissent from it publicly.  And non-Catholics would have no doubt whatsoever that the bishops, and Catholics more generally, would “go to the mat” to protect Catholic institutions from policies like the one now announced by HHS.

Suppose also that the bishops had consistently and vigorously brought the principle of subsidiarity to bear on matters of public policy about which they decided to comment.  Both they and Catholic politicians like Bart Stupak would have been much more cautious about advocating policies that might give to government powers it ought not to have and which might threaten the liberty of Catholics to practice their religion.  And suppose that Catholic politicians who promoted grave evils like abortion even after being warned against doing so were swiftly punished with excommunication.  Obviously there would be fewer Catholic politicians who would dare to promote such evils, and fewer Catholic voters who would dare help to elect such people in the first place.  

And had the bishops been doing these things, is it likely that the Obama administration would be taking the course it has now decided upon?  Or is it more likely that the Catholic Church would be treated with the deference that the Amish and Christian Scientists are apparently getting?  To ask the question is to answer it.  When we fail to render unto God what is due to Him -- the promotion and enforcement of His Church’s basic moral teachings -- we should not be surprised when non-believers do not take those teachings seriously.  And when we render unto Caesar power to which he has no right, we should not be surprised when he abuses it.


  1. If people like Pelosi and Sebellius do not warrant public excommunication for enthusiastically promoting grave evils and scandalizing others by saying that the Church's teachings are optional, and in the latter's case actually attacking the Church's freedom of religion itself - I don't know what anyone can do to warrant excommunication.

    Even theologians like Häring and a few others, while dissenting, seem to have been genuinely trying to work some things out (although Küng is more or less an open heretic), but those who stand up as authorities and use their office to flout the Church's basic moral teachings and even attack it - what on earth are the bishops thinking?

  2. Maybe if ecclesiastical penalties of the tenor of the excommunication scene from the movie "Becket" had been more forthcoming in recent years, obedience would have been more promptly rendered...


  3. Thanks for the post. I agree with your general point, that the Church should more vocally promote basic Catholic morality. However, I might take issue with one thing you said, namely that commenting on economic policy does not fall under the competency of bishops. That is a common claim made today, and it gives the impression that the pastoral oversight of bishops does not extend to economic policy. Sometimes this is argued on the grounds that economics is a science, and, like other sciences (e.g., physics), the magisterium does not have the power to speak authoritatively about it. On this view, the magisterium can only speak on matters of "faith and morals." But against this, Pope Pius XI taught, "there rest in us [the popes] the right and duty of passing judgment with supreme authority on these social and economic problems.... For, although economic affairs and moral discipline make use of their own principles [as do other sciences], each in its own sphere, nevertheless, it is false to say that the economic and the moral order are so distinct and alien to teach other that the former in no way depends on the latter." (Quadragesimo anno, Denzinger 2253) The principle seems to be that the magisterium (of which the bishops are a part per Vatican I) has the authority to issue judgments concerning "economic problems" in virtue of its power to judge moral matters. This does not mean the bishops have infallibly decreed anything about capital punishment or recent healthcare legislation. (I agree with your own views on both of these issues, I think.) But it does mean we cannot dismiss what they say on the grounds that they have no competency to speak about these matters.

  4. Even closer to home on this health insurance issue: if the bishops had been prompt and bold in opposing the requirement to provide contraceptives and abortifacients , as that requirement landed on (Catholic) business men and HR execs responsible for making business choices (i.e. when it "merely" applied to non-religious institutions), their objection now would be considerably more credible.

    In my opinion, the bishops should fight fire with fire in this case. They should run up the flag and call parishioners "to arms" as it were: they should talk with all catholic business men and get these men to push back against the law, to prepare to either flout the law outright and prepare legal challenges, or refuse to buy insurance and then pay the fines. They should put together a legal war chest (both of money and pro-bono services) to support business men who refuse to comply with the law.

    The bishops should threaten to close schools, day care operations, hospitals, and nursing homes. (I wonder what NYC will feel like if 300,000 school kids are dumped on their laps?) THEN they should engage all Catholic civil servants in the HHS and IRS to undergo an enormous loss of efficiency in handling the cases: case files lost, files shredded, mis-filed. Letting cases drag through months and months of "discussions" instead of forcing results. And, when all else fails, every single one of them should recuse themselves from working on a case that deals with a an employer being forced to pay for insurance that is against his religion (not just Catholicism, either), using the (correct) standard that it can be either a conflict of interest or it appears to a reasonable person that it may be a conflict of interest. Same applies to police, FBI, Dept of Justice, and other enforcers. Oh, and let's not forget judges. If you get tens of thousands of civil servants engaging in creative non-enforcement inside the administration, Obama will have to re-think his strategy (assuming, that it, that he even remains in office long enough to worry about the problem).

    The option of excommunication is a valid one to consider, but it holds some public perception problems: it could cost the bishops a lot of good will (in this fight, that is) from people inclined to agree that this is an over-reach by the government, if it is used poorly. Outside of excommunicating Sebelius, I am not sure it should be applied to anyone (in this matter).

  5. But people like Vox Day who complain that the Church and catholics individually were complicit when the paid taxes because those tax dollars very well could have funded these immoral measures are wrong.
    Or that they specifically funded medicare and that medicare funds some of these measures.... that's not correct.

  6. This is all beside the point. Bishops don't have to be perfect to deserve respect. Catholics don't have to be perfect to have freedom of religion.

    Every time somebody makes a point about contraception somebody brings this up. That we have a tradition of ignoring this doctrine and talking about it now is unfair in the light of this tradition. I get that. But how do we fix it? Somebody has to be inconsistent when the consistency is wrong. Then don't knock them for being inconsistent. Praise them for finally getting it right.

  7. The easiest way for the Church to avoid this 'tyranny' is simply to stop accepting federal funds.

  8. I'm relatively ignorant about the rules Catholics are supposed to follow. You write "it is widely assumed that a Catholic may in good conscience dissent from the Church’s teaching".

    What does this mean? That anyone who disagrees with the Church is therefore not a "real" Catholic?

    Are Catholics allowed to use there own reason and judgement about anything? Or are they just expected to blindly accept everything the Church teaches, even if they find the teaching morally repugnant?

  9. Ashton,

    I might take issue with one thing you said, namely that commenting on economic policy does not fall under the competency of bishops.

    It depends on what you mean. The expression "economic policy" is vague. There are moral principles, empirical issues, and economic theorizing all involved in economic questions, and these things too often tend to get run together by people who comment on these issues. I am certainly not saying that bishops should not comment on any of this -- far from it. (In fact I think it is clear, and have said many times, that Catholic teaching rules out both a hardline "laissez faire or bust" position at the one extreme, and socialism and other forms of statism on the other. That's a comment on economic policy.)

    At the same time, there are clearly economic matters that bishops have no special competence about. Hence, for example, while it is certainly within the rights of a bishop to remind the faithful that the market wage does not necessarily correspond to the just wage -- and that is binding Catholic teaching -- it simply does not follow that the bishops are competent to determine whether this or that minimum wage policy is a good idea, whether such laws can cause unemployment, what precise dollar amount employees should be paid, etc. None of that can be settled by a simple appeal to general moral principle.

    In my experience both libertarian-leaning Catholics and their critics ignore these complexities, preferring to fling at each other charges of heresy or incompetence. Much heat is generated, and almost no light.

  10. Randy,

    Bishops don't have to be perfect to deserve respect. Catholics don't have to be perfect to have freedom of religion.

    I agree completely. But it is not disrespectful to point to the failures that have led to this threat to the freedom of Catholics to practice their religion. Indeed, unless those failures are addressed, the problem won't be solved.

    It's not as if most Catholics are trying to live up to the Church's teaching on contraception and, being human, sometimes fail. And it's not as if the bishops had been facing the possibility of imprisonment or stoning if they had loudly preached against contraception over the last few decades. "Nobody's perfect" would be an apt comment in those circumstances. But we're not talking about mere sins of weakness here. We're talking about a situation where most Catholics simply dismiss the teaching on contraception out of hand, with contempt even, and are not called on it by those whose duty it is to uphold Catholic doctrine. The teaching has become, in the lives of most Catholics in the U.S., a dead letter. "Freedom of conscience" is in this context bound to ring hollow to liberals when most Catholics are saying that their "consciences" tell them they can use contraception, and when bishops and priests routinely make nary a peep about it. And my point is that those who have allowed this appalling situation to exist when they could have done much to stop it, and who have also encouraged government to accrue to itself the sort of power that makes policies like the HHS mandate possible, need to understand the role all this has played in leading up to the current crisis.

    Then don't knock them for being inconsistent. Praise them for finally getting it right.

    I did praise them for their current response. But as for "finally getting it right," I think what that would involve is returning to a loud, forceful, and consistent public call to Catholics to stop using contraception, and a new emphasis on subsidiarity when commenting on matters of public policy. Because that's what must be part of a real solution to the problem. Anything less is just a Band-Aid.

  11. Tony,

    Re: excommunication, I agree that it would pose a PR problem, but only because discipline has been so lax for decades now. If you've gone for decades letting politicians get away with murder, suddenly to bring the ax down will seem like a "political" act. But it would not have seemed so if there had been a consistent policy over the last several decades of excommunicating Catholic politicians of either party who persisted in promoting abortion etc. even after being warned.

    And if the bishops did indeed start regularly thundering about contraception and subsidiarity -- and I hope they do, but don't think they will -- then people would in that case too say "Oh, it's just politics." But that's what happens the longer you put off doing what you should have been doing all along. It makes it harder to do it at all, and it makes it easier for others unfairly to question your motives.

  12. "Are Catholics allowed to use there own reason and judgement about anything? Or are they just expected to blindly accept everything the Church teaches, even if they find the teaching morally repugnant?"

    This just sounds ignorant.

    No one's holding a gun to my head telling me to be Catholic.
    Being Catholic is more than just an intellectual assent to the notion of Catholicism.
    It's belief in practice and following the teachings of the Church on issues of morality. If I don't follow those and forge my own way OF COURSE I'm not a "real" Catholic.
    So drop the silly routine and trim up the semantics, Being.
    It's not hard at all to understand.

  13. BeingItself: Catholics should be able to do whatever they want and still remain real Catholics eventhough I think the whole of Catholicism is for the birds.

    Catholic: They can do whatever they like. Just, if they go against the teachings of the Church consistently and intentionally they won't be true Catholics.

    BeingItself: NOT FAIR!!! They should be able to do whatever they like and STILL remain Catholic.

    Catholic: You're an idiot.

    BeingItself: My mother always said that! And I hate her too!! I refused to blindly follow the "authority" of my parents. I forged my own path in everything I did.... alienating friends and annoying the anonymous along the way. But I have a RIGHT to their respect and friendship. I am ENTITLED to it!!! They're wrong!

    Catholic: Still an idiot.

  14. This couldn't be more correct. That's all I really have to say.

    Except this: how did you find such a flattering picture of Sebelius? She usually looks like a Star Wars villain. Like a female version of General Tarkin. Which, incidentally, completely matches up with the sound of her name.

    Not to be nasty.

  15. "despite the fact that the Catholic Church teaches that contraception and abortion are intrinsically gravely immoral."

    I think speaking this way can be a little misleading. The Church teaches that Natural Family Planning is morally OK. Many people consider NFP to be a form of contraception (as in, "the deliberate prevention of conception or impregnation by any of various drugs, techniques, or devices").

    Perhaps saying the Church teaches that 'artificial' contraception is wrong is more careful and illuminating.

  16. Buckeye,

    Thanks for helping me understand this. But I would appreciate you not attributing to me positions I do not hold.

    Just so I understand you, all these folks who self-identify as Catholics yet think the Church is wrong about birth control are not real Catholics?

  17. Compromise and appeasement never work, in politics, in religion, in just about anything except maybe emergency situations that are purely ad hoc.

    In the animal world, it's a signal to move in for the kill.

    Project demographic trends into the future (Barna Group and others) and there won't be -any- kind of organized Christendom in about 40 years. According to Barna, over 75% of Christian high school youth will drop Christianity within two years of graduation. That figure alone is some foreboding math.

    That last figure may pertain only to evangelical protestant/independent Christianity, but from what I've heard, in Catholicism it's even worse.

  18. BeingItself said...

    " ... What does this mean? That anyone who disagrees with the Church is therefore not a "real" Catholic?"

    Turn the question around and ask yourself what criteria you would consider as it being necessary to meet, in order for someone to be considered a "real Catholic".

    " ... Are Catholics allowed to use there own reason and judgement about anything? Or are they just expected to blindly accept everything the Church teaches, even if they find the teaching morally repugnant?"

    I can't claim to speak for Catholics on moral issues, but it would seem natural to assume that if certain persons found the historic teachings of the Catholic Church affirming the categorical value of the human person to be morally repugnant, they would not be very concerned with retaining such an identification.

    Yet some seem to. Maybe what they really like are the atmospherics; and figure they have a property interest in the real estate.

    It might be that a social affirmation club which hires speakers to periodically mouth soothing words, while it gathers in a hall featuring stained glass windows, would actually be more to their particular tastes.

  19. Machine,

    You are right that the trends are disturbing, but young adults generally don't want much to do with religion in any case and later they may come back. My Catholic brothers and I all abandoned the faith as rapidly as possible after high school. Years later we discovered that we had all made our way back to the Church. It's only anecdotal, but in my experience this pattern is common.

    Captcha: deist

  20. Machinephilosophy,

    I agree, to a point, about compromise. But I don't think compromise is the reason for those problems so much as a variety of sociological factors. Accent on sociological, not intellectual.

    Also, I think you misread the Barna statistics. It's not that 75% of Christians drop Christianity after high school, from what I read. It's that they stop being actively involved with organized church activities, etc. That's still a problem, but a different kind of problem.

  21. Dr. Fesser: Excellent piece. thank you. To your point that the Bishops do nothing while Catholic "theologians" dissent, see the letter from Daniel Maguire in Monday's NY Times. The fact that Marquette University, and their local bishop, allow him to sign his poisonous letters as a "Catholic moral theologian", is an absolute scandal. His mandatum should have been revoked decades ago.

    See the fourth letter down. He has gotten many letters published in the NY Times over the years, each signed as though he is a theologian in good standing with the Church:


  22. Thanks Bambino.

    I'm still flummoxed by "it is widely assumed that a Catholic may in good conscience dissent from the Church’s teaching".

    What does this mean?

  23. Crude,

    You may be right. I didn't have time to look at the source, and may have conflated organizational affiliation with core belief itself. The Flannagans over at mandm.org.nz have a very interesting post and discussion called The Importance of Critical Engagement, which lays the blame for abandonment of organizational affiliation (at least) largely on the fact that youth feels uneasy talking about their doubts, which only seems to confirm that, like secular culture alleges, Christian leaders don't really know---or themselves have the foggiest idea of---what the hell they are talking about when it comes to the epistemology of spiritual belief, and the typical reaction to expressed doubt within those circles is condescension, beyondananda faith notions, and patronizing attributions of some kind of moral deficiency in the doubters---solely because they doubt or are beligerently questioning of everything Christian.

    As John Rockerfeller once said abot politics, "The *real* action is in the *re*action."

    A wee bit short of a good PR/Marketing plan, I'd say. In many ways, Christendom is its own worst enemy, and at the heart of its own self-destructivness is (as Ed would say, wait for it)---anti-intellectualism.

  24. "I'm still flummoxed by "it is widely assumed that a Catholic may in good conscience dissent from the Church’s teaching"."

    I think when Dr Feser writes this, he means it is FALSELY assumed that a Catholic may in good conscience dissent from Church teaching. In other words, it is "common knowledge" that a Catholic can in good conscience dissent from Church teaching, but in fact, it is NOT common knowledge because it is false. More like urban legend. Is that what you're asking?

  25. Bambino,

    Yeah, I understand the falsely assumed part. That is not what I am asking. Re-arranging we get this:

    "A Catholic may not in good conscience dissent from the Church’s teaching."

    So Feser thinks that statement is true.

    But what if they do in good conscience dissent? Suppose I was raised a Catholic. Also suppose I agreed with 99% percent of Church teaching, but found 1% morally repugnant. What am I to do? I cannot by the force of will agree with a teaching I find morally repugnant. So am I to stop being a Catholic?

  26. Unfortunately I have a lot of stuff going on right now, and especially given your extra details to your question, I don't have the time right now to give it the full and careful answer that your question deserves (I knew this would happen if I start in a good conversation). If anyone else would like to clean up my mess, that would be fantastic.

  27. I would think that if you don't believe one of the doctrines that are required to be believed in order to be confirmed as a Catholic, you are *not* a Catholic, ipso facto, end of story.

    Otherwise, even I, a non-Catholic, can see that it could be a very steep slippery slope. But I defer to the knowledgeable Catholics here for a more informed and authoritative view of this issue.

  28. "I would think that if you don't believe one of the doctrines that are required to be believed in order to be confirmed as a Catholic, you are *not* a Catholic"

    So is there a list or something?

  29. @BeingItself,

    >So Feser thinks that statement is true.

    It is true. If the person is a formal unambiguous heretic or schismatic then yeh.

    >Also suppose I agreed with 99% percent of Church teaching, but found 1% morally repugnant. What am I to do? I cannot by the force of will agree with a teaching I find morally repugnant. So am I to stop being a Catholic?

    If it is in regards to a matter of religious dogma & or moral teaching then yes.

    Some people may not have a sophisticated knowledge of the Faith to be in that position.

    Of course if you cold come up with some specifics we might be able to answer your questions more accurately.

  30. "It is true. If the person is a formal unambiguous heretic or schismatic then yeh."

    Yes, see, this is where is starts to get tricky (some of the stuff I tried to avoid above), but see most especially Mystici Corporis Christi http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xii/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_29061943_mystici-corporis-christi_en.html

  31. >So is there a list or something?


    It's not complete since it only deals with Theological dogma not moral teaching.

  32. Thanks Ben. That's a long list!

    The few self-identified Catholics I know frequently say things like "I'm a Catholic, but think the Church is wrong about X".

    I'll set them straight!

    The number of actual Catholics on the planet must be three orders of magnitude smaller than commonly claimed.

  33. Or is it more likely that the Catholic Church would be treated with the deference that the Amish and Christian Scientists are apparently getting?

    I don’t have much to add to the broaderdiscussion, but I’m not sure the comparison above is entirely on point. Members of certain religious sects meeting rather strict criteria can opt out of the PPACA, but this refers to the individual insurance mandate — the “tax” on those who fail to obtain insurance coverage.

    If an Amish person started a business, say, and hired non-Amish, he would be subject to the same rules as any other business vis-à-vis insurance provision.

    (Further, I don’t believe that a Christian Scientist could obtain an exemption anyway, because any qualifying religious sect must have an objection to insurance per se. If a religious sect does not meet the criteria for exemption from Social Security, they would not be exempt from the individual mandate.)

    See Snopes and a Christian Science FAQ.

  34. machinephilosophy,

    I don't think that whatever problems that exist on this front can be so easily boiled down to one or another 'and this is the cause!' claim. There's just too many factors - social factors, cultural factors, intellectual factors, and yes, personal and moral factors.

    That said, exposing teens only to what amounts to some watered down candy-ass Christianity absolutely doesn't help. At the same time, most people don't simply care to investigate much of anything too deeply, religion or otherwise. To use the opposite example, I've run into many self-described atheists and agnostics who talk about their belief in and the intellectual power of, say... evolutionary theory. And then they turn out not to be able to even give an accurate or even coherent account of evolution beyond some slogans. And I say this as TE myself.

    Regarding who is or isn't a Catholic, I don't think a person necessarily stops 'being Catholic' for disagreeing with one or another Church stance. I think there's a term for them - heretics? not sure (and no, not 'protestant', you comedians) - but it would sum up a Catholic who isn't in perfect alignment with Church teaching.

    I think generally one can tell the difference between a person who takes their identity as Catholic serious and those who don't. Likewise, I hardly see any Catholics who regard the Church's teaching on contraception as 'morally repugnant'. If anything, 'wrong', or worse, 'not keeping up with the times', one of the more stupid criticisms of anything.

  35. I just found the greatest thing in the history of the world.

    Real Catholic TV


  36. But he who dissents even in one point from divinely revealed truth absolutely rejects all faith, since he thereby refuses to honour God as the supreme truth and the formal motive of faith.

    (Pope Leo XIII, Satis Cognitum, 1896)

  37. ^Leo XIII is talking about formal heretics, not material heretics who are merely mistaken. But even with formal heretics, they are still Catholics, albeit with the theological virtue of faith extinguished in them.

  38. Can someone please help me understand why natural family planning is OK, when used as a way to avoid pregnancy, from Thomistic perspective but other forms of pregnancy avoidance are not approved.

    My understanding is that contraception is considered wrong because it thwarts the primary final cause, what nature intendedl for the sexual act, namely, pregnancy. It seems that when nfp is successfully used to avoid pregnancy its achieves the same avoidance of pregnancy as artificial contraception.

    I've read this http://www.priestsforlife.org/articles/nfpdifferences.html but honestly I don't think any of the points address the major problem that Thomism has with contraception as I understand it, thwarting the primary final of sex, pregnancy.

  39. Imagine someone hearing of Christ and his claims to be the Son of God, and goes to listen to him. Later, a friend asks him what he thinks, and he says:

    "Well, I am convinced he is truly the Son of God, but I can only accept 99% of what he ways. 1% of it I find morally repugnant."

    This is essentially what people are saying when they say "I'm Catholic but I think the Church is wrong about X." The Catholic Church holds itself to be authorized by Christ Himself to speak with His voice, guided by the Holy Spirit. If you think it can be mistaken on a matter of faith and morals, then it means you either think God can be mistaken about such things, or that the Catholic Church doesn't really speak with His voice. Either way, your difference with the Church's understanding of itself is not trivial but fundamental. It doesn't matter whether you disagree with 1%, 10% or 100% of the teaching; the percentage is irrelevant.

  40. Grrr. That's "says" not "ways. And I proofread too.

  41. The easiest way for the Church to avoid this 'tyranny' is simply to stop accepting federal funds.

    Now that is a flat out untruth. Federal funds have nothing to do with it. If they received nothing, they would still be forced to comply.

  42. Tom,

    Take a look at my recent post on "Smith, Pruss, and Tollefsen on lying":


    and scroll down to the section on the "perverted faculty argument." What I say there applies to contraception as much as to lying. Just as keeping silent is not the same as lying, so too merely refraining from sex -- which is what NFP involves -- is not the same as using contraception. It is not intrinsically wrong, as the latter is, because it is not intrinsically contrary to the natural end, any more than silence is. Nature did not build us always to be talking, and it did not build us always to be copulating.

    Having said that, the Church teaches, and natural law does imply, that there is something wrong with using NFP for frivolous reasons. And I would say that the norm is a large family, even if there are cases (e.g. danger of a pregnancy to a mother's life) where using NFP is fine. Using it merely to avoid the hassle of kids is not fine.

    IMHO even Catholics who accept the Church's teaching on contraception put too little emphasis on the fact that married people should expect to have large families. And I think they do it for PR reasons. One hears all sorts of stupid stuff about how NFP is as effective as condoms etc. Well, it is, and here's another fun fact: complete abstinence is even more effective than condoms. But they are both a helluva lot more frustrating than condoms, which is why selling NFP as a form of "natural birth control" -- as if married Catholics can have the same attitude toward children as secular liberals do, as long as the means are OK -- is silly and not convincing for a moment to anyone not already convinced that artificial contraception is wrong.

    One also hears all sorts of stupid stuff about how occasional abstinence is an occasion for spiritual growth etc. Well, yes, and so is cancer. Both are abnormal; or to be more precise, in the case of married people it is abnormal for them not to be sleeping together, at least when they are fairly young, unless there is some very unusual reason for not doing so (e.g. a special spiritual calling a la Mary and Joseph, danger to the mother etc.) Nature put strong sex drives into us and the reason is so that most of us would marry and have lots of sex and (thus) lots of kids. And if one buys the overall natural law picture of the world at all, that's blindingly obvious.

    So, it's much better just to be up front and affirm that most married people should expect to have large families and that they had better get used to the idea.

  43. Ed,

    So, it's much better just to be up front and affirm that most married people should expect to have large families and that they had better get used to the idea.

    I agree with that, though I also think most people just plain need to understand what marriage is for (as far as Natural Law and the Church are concerned) fundamentally. Oddly enough, I don't think most people fully dissent from Catholic teaching on this so much as completely misunderstand both it, and what the view of marriage and married life is according both to the Church and Natural Law. I've run into people who seem to really think the Church teaching is 'sex should never be pleasurable, it's purely to make children'.

  44. BeingItself,

    One of the central claims of Catholicism is that a purported divine revelation would be of no effect unless there were a living institution with authority to interpret and apply the revelation. It would be nothing more than a bunch of words on a paper from centuries ago, with no one to decide between conflicting accounts of what is really part of the paper and what is not, how to understand it, etc. So, if God really has revealed something, then (so the argument goes) He can only have plausibly done so while at the same time providing an authoritative Church to safegaurd and interpret it (with a chief executive to have the final say when there is disagreement within the Church itself).

    There are all sorts of qualifications and complications, but that's the basic idea. Now, it follows that there are going to be certain things this institution will have divine authority to bind its followers to. It doesn't follow that it can bind them to just any old thing -- far from it, and there are many things, even where morality and theology are concerned, on which Catholics can disagree. But there are other things that are considered binding. (What distinguishes these categories, the different levels of authority different teachings have, etc., is complicated, and would require a mini course in theology to explain. I'm just trying to give you a very basic idea.)

    Now the Church's teaching on contraception is standardly understood to fall into the "settled" category. Even Catholic dissidents who don't like it admit that there is an unbroken tradition condemning contraception. (The fact that a certain moral teaching has been absolutely consistent across time is very important in Catholic theology, for to reject such a teaching would seem to be to imply that God has allowed the Church to teach grave moral error for 2,000 years -- which He cannot have done if the whole Catholic view of things is right in the first place.) There is also the fact that the highest authorities in the Church have consistently reaffirmed the gravity and binding nature of the teaching, rather than treating it as something about which Catholics are free to disagree (as they are free to disagree about all sorts of political, economic, and even moral and theological issues).

    Hence to dissent on the issue of contraception is implicitly to reject the principles without which the whole Catholic understanding of divine revelation, the teaching authority of the Church, etc. are unintelligible.

  45. "Imagine someone hearing of Christ and his claims to be the Son of God, and goes to listen to him."

    Imagining and claiming.... I think you've got it.

  46. Crude,

    I think that's right, but of course a lot of people have no interest in being disabused of straw men. That's why (for example) you can explain to the New Atheist types 'til you're blue in the face that they completely misunderstand the cosmological argument, and they will still hit you with the stupid "What caused God?" objection etc. They don't want to understand what they are criticizing. They are only looking for new occasions to make snarky remarks and high-five their friends.

    Same with many critics of Catholic teaching on sex. They want the straw man to beat, and have no interest in hearing about anything else.

  47. "Nature did not build us always to be talking, and it did not build us always to be copulating."

    Ed, maybe it didn't build You to always be copulating.

    No, I'm quite single...

  48. "Nature did not build us always to be talking, and it did not build us always to be copulating."

    Nature also builds things like viruses, pinworms, and staphylococci areus. Yuck. Why should I take my marching orders from "Nature"?

  49. Nature also builds things like viruses, pinworms, and staphylococci areus. Yuck. Why should I take my marching orders from "Nature"?

    For reasons argued for and explained in other posts on this very blog, as well as The Last Superstition and Aquinas both.

    Go read.

  50. Why should I take my marching orders from "Nature"?

    The sentence you quoted is not a marching order but common sense. It's like saying that nature did not build us always to be running.


  51. Now I'm confused. I thought all Christians believe that Nature is partially corrupted due to the Fall of Man (hence things like viruses, bacteria, and parasites). How can a partially corrupted Nature be a sound guide to what is good and what is not good?

  52. A huge percentage, on the order of 98%, of Catholics choose to ignore the church's teachings on contraception. How does one square this fact with the church's authority? Apparently only a few percent of avowed Catholics are actually Catholic? Doesn't that make the whole enterprise into something of a sham?

    Re the insurance mandate, the fault is in our ridiculous system of health insurance. If we had a fully nationalized plan, or a wholly private system of insurance, there would be no issue. But because insurance is run through employers (now and under Obamacare), these tempests occur, which would not if you didn't have one institution simultaneously trying to be a catholic university, an employer, and health insurance provider.

  53. Now I'm confused.

    No, you were confused from the start. Nor do the articles referred to require, much less insist upon, a lack of death and predation before the fall.

    Go. Read.

  54. How does one square this fact with the church's authority? Apparently only a few percent of avowed Catholics are actually Catholic?

    People sin? I'm shocked. Shocked, I say.

    Next you'll tell me that the majority of Catholics have to make use of confession. Frankly, I'm shocked.

    Re the insurance mandate, the fault is in our ridiculous system of health insurance.

    No, it's the fault of an idiotic presence who seeks to push an agenda he and many of his supporters endorse, regardless of whether it is at all right. This is the problem of people, not our imperfect health care system.

  55. I'm Catholic, and I assent to all that the Church teaches, but one of the difficulties I have is that our views on sex and family do not seem to be conducive for women that have ambitions and careers beyond being mothers. My younger sister is in college right now, studying to be an engineer or doctor. She's Catholic as well, but I wonder if, down the road, her career goals will conflict with her Catholicism.

    What do you think, Dr. Feser?

  56. goddinpotty, that figure is appalling, but it did not always used to be that way. The state of modern Catholicism is the result of many factors - historical, sociological, and theological. In my 22 years of going to Mass weekly, I never heard a homily on artificial contraception.

    Frankly, I never heard that Catholicism even claims it is the religion established by Jesus Christ until I was 20 - and even then, I read that in a book from a Protestant convert to Catholicism, not in any homily.

    So there ya go. We have problems.

    But none of that really affects the claims of Catholciism, since many Catholics do not even know what those claims are. How are they supposed to accept the authority of the Church if they do not even know that the Church has such authority?

  57. Hello PermanentMarker,

    What I think is that there is no one answer to fit every Catholic woman who has such ambitions. Some opt to delay marriage for a time, others wait until after children are older, yet others find ways to raise many children while at the same time pursuing a career (like Elizabeth Anscombe, who managed to become one of the greatest of 20th century philosophers while raising seven children). If anything, I think it is easier these days given modern technology etc. But that is not to say it is easy full stop. It isn't. The details, though, really depend on a woman's individual circumstances.

  58. “Now the Church's teaching on contraception is standardly understood to fall into the "settled" category.

    Hence to dissent on the issue of contraception is implicitly to reject the principles without which the whole Catholic understanding of divine revelation, the teaching authority of the Church, etc. are unintelligible.”

    Non-sequitur, since by ‘settled’ you presumably mean moraliter certum not theologice certum. The latter would require that dissent be an error in theologia, which is impossible because the doctrine hasn’t been formally defined (though taught in an authentic manner as true). Even a theologically certain proposition is deduced from revealed truths and its rejection need imply nothing so hysterical as the unintelligibility of ‘the whole Catholic understanding of divine revelation’. The rejection of a moral certainty, while (in this case) a mortal sin, is less immediately deduced again. It questions the authority of the ordinary magisterium in moral matters, but hardly amounts to the collapse of reason you infer.


    “It's not complete since it only deals with Theological dogma not moral teaching.”

    No. The link includes various non-dogmatic, non-theological teaching, up to and including credibilia sed non stricte credenda which are entirely a matter of free opinion.

  59. Both are abnormal; or to be more precise, in the case of married people it is abnormal for them not to be sleeping together, at least when they are fairly young, unless there is some very unusual reason for not doing so (e.g. a special spiritual calling a la Mary and Joseph, danger to the mother etc.) Nature put strong sex drives into us and the reason is so that most of us would marry and have lots of sex and (thus) lots of kids. And if one buys the overall natural law picture of the world at all, that's blindingly obvious.

    (For clarity: I am the James who posted errata concerning the eligibility of Amish and Christian Scientists opting out of the insurance mandate, not the James who posted directly above this.)

    As a non-religious persons with Catholic sympathies I’ve long wondered about the Church’s teachings with respect to large families. As a thought experiment, allow that every person in the United States converted tomorrow to traditional Catholicism, and every family began conceiving children well above replacement rates. If this continued unabated would we not eventually reach some kind Malthusian crisis — or if not, at least run out of space at some point? Then it seems like some kind of sexual temperance would be required. In such a case would the Church’s recommendation to families be materially altered?

    And on a more personal note, I may as well throw it out there: I and my girlfriend of twelve years have been chaste for the majority of that time. We love each other very much and I should never wish to be with anyone else, but we’re just … not very sexually-inclined people, I suppose; speaking for myself I’d rather have a good cappuccino than sex any day of the week.

    When I converted from atheist to some kind of quasi-Aristotelian theist, I investigated Catholicism and even attended most of an RCIA course. Part of what scared me off was the implication that I’m not normal — maybe even arguably sinful — for wanting neither sex nor children. That part of myself likely won’t change, and it doesn’t feel the slightest bit wrong.

    So I dunno. Another anecdote, anyway.

  60. Rephrasing that a bit … clearly I’m not normal in this respect. What throws me off is the claim that I am either morally in the wrong or on the edge of being morally in the wrong.

  61. Hi Ed,

    A timely piece. Thanks for saying what needed to be said.

  62. Mary Catelli: "Now that is a flat out untruth. Federal funds have nothing to do with it. If they received nothing, they would still be forced to comply."

    It's not an untruth at all. If Catholic hospitals would stop accepting federal funding they would become private hospitals, and therefore free not to perform abortions. It's because they accept federal funding that they are forced to comply with federal law.

  63. If Catholic hospitals would stop accepting federal funding they would become private hospitals, and therefore free not to perform abortions.

    No, you’re still wrong. The issue at hand involves a mandate for employers to offer insurance that pays for contraceptive services, a mandate which affects pretty much employer (except churches, I think). It has nothing to do with whether the employer accepts public funds.

  64. A nice change of pace from most of the other articles I've seen on the topic. Most of them focus on Obama overstepping his bounds and enforcing a tyrannical policy over faithful Catholics. That's certainly true. But there's definitely some blame on our end. Obama is doing this partly because he knows he can get away with it: one reason being that he's surrounded by 'Catholic' politicans who are supporting him in his actions, and another is that he sees all of the 'Catholics' who don't care about the Church's moral teaching in the first place. Remember when he spoke to all of the 'cool' Catholics at the Notre Dame graduation while the 'mean' Catholics protested outside? Remember this being AFTER the bishops' 2004 ban on honoring public officials opposed to Catholic teaching. And what came of that? Was Fr. Jenkins ever reprimanded? See the article above for the answer.

  65. Edward, you might be just the person for me to ask! I very much want to understand philosophically the Church's stand against plain old, inside of marriage, not abortifacient, contraception. I don't get it. I get why abortion is wrong. But any discussion of birth control diverges into things that have nothing to do with it.

    What do you think? Philosophically that is. You did say, "both because more Catholics would realize how grave a sin contraception is" ... and you are philosopher. So, why is it a grave sin.

    I'm Catholic and might be able to accept "we don't know either, but the Church says to believe it, so we will" if that is necessary. But then it will be the most resistant-to-logic belief I've ever encountered.

  66. Sue, the reasoning is ably laid out in Humanae Vitae.

    I'm a Protestant, so "the Pope says so" doesn't move me. But I think that Humanae Vitae is just about the most sensible document about sex that I've ever read.


  67. @Beingitself

    >The number of actual Catholics on the planet must be three orders of magnitude smaller than commonly claimed.

    I think you are conflating knowledge with fidelity.

    Maybe that number equals those who are educated or took the time to educate themselves on the doctrinal particulars.

    But the simple mentality that says to God "Thy Will be Done" afforded by Grace is sufficient even if a person holds errors threw no fault of his own.


  68. This particular doctrine, often expounded by the magisterium of the Church, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.

    Well, I am pulling the above quote from Humanae Vitae out of context, but it is manifestly untrue if taken literally. People break this "inseparable connection" all the time, and have since humanity existed. Modern technology makes it easier to break so it happens even more frequently.

    I am half-impressed and half-appalled by the efforts of Feser and his predecessors to try to square this nonsense with the rationality. The Greeks at least did not have a problem with contraception or non-procreative sex, far from it, so I'm not sure what happened to poor old Aristotle once the churchmen got ahold of him.

  69. Part of what scared me off was the implication that I’m not normal — maybe even arguably sinful — for wanting neither sex nor children.

    Well, if you're a man and you'd "rather have a good cappuccino than sex any day of the week", you are not normal. No need to "imply" that: it's blindingly obvious. But I don't see why you (or anyone else) should attach any moral significance to it, sinful of otherwise. It's a personal preference, no (morally) different than a commitment to have sex exclusively on Mondays.

  70. "I'm not sure what happened to poor old Aristotle once the churchmen got ahold of him."

    Better to have a churchman get a hold of a person than to have an atheist do so. Just sayin.'

    Atheists are the most cruel, despotic, and capricious people in existence - as the historical record amply confirms.

  71. Great post Ed. I concur!

  72. Sue, Please see my question above and Dr. Feser's response. The intent of my question seems to mirror yours nearly perfectly.

  73. Well, if you're a man and you'd "rather have a good cappuccino than sex any day of the week", you are not normal.

    Right, which is why I clarified afterwards. :) There are at least two senses of “abnormal” — a factual claim about the frequency with which something arises and a pejorative claim that something is wrong for having arisen. (Thus great genius is abnormal but admired; and I suppose a natural lawyer might say that artificial conception is abnormal/unnatural even though its use is very common.)

    I was thinking of the second — not that I and my relationship are unusual, but rather flawed.

  74. goddinpotty said...

    ... I am half-impressed and half-appalled by the efforts of Feser and his predecessors to try to square this nonsense with the rationality. The Greeks at least did not have a problem with contraception or non-procreative sex, far from it, so I'm not sure what happened to poor old Aristotle once the churchmen got ahold of him.
    February 9, 2012 11:49 AM "

    You might try showing just exactly what it is in this particular regard that happened to some doctrine of "old Aristotle once the churchmen got ahold of him", that appalls you.

    I say this because although Feser's interest is in one aspect of the philosophy of Aristotle, you seem to be implying that "old Aristotle" the philosopher, can properly stand as a metonym for "the Greeks" and their attitudes as you envision them. In other words, whatever baseline sensibilities you might attribute to Sappho or the characters in the Lysistrata, conversely applies to Aristotle the reasoner as well.

    That is, I can't imagine why else you would take the pains to deploy the terms interchangeably, and imply a conclusion as following.

    Sometimes, you know, when people go on about the Greeks and their sexual attitudes, they seem to be taking their own historical cues from the back-story of "Rival Lovers"; never realizing that Plato's "The Laws" for example, also existed, much less ever having read it.

  75. Anonymous suggested I read Humanae Vitae, so I did. It did not have my desired effect of letting me understand the rationale behind the rule against birth control. I ordered a couple of books that Wikipedia suggested. Wojytla, Janet E. Smith. I'll try harder.

    But, it did have an unexpected effect of making me have compassion for the pope who wrote it. The whole of H. V. is mostly about how hard a decision it was, who weighed in, why it is best to go along with his ultimate decision, what factors he considered, a framework that reflects accurately what we in the audience are thinking ...

    So, probably there is something here that does not meet the eye. I might take his word for it after all and stop looking for logic. I feel sorry for him.

  76. Sue,

    Ed writes about this issue quite often. I recommend you read The Last Superstition. He lays the metaphysical and moral justification for claiming that contraception is gravely immoral in that book---even if only briefly. Specifically look at page 150, but know that these arguments (which are the Church's arguments) rely on Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics. I would simply quote the small section, but it would make no sense outside of the context of the metaphysics as a whole.

    Put quickly, though, contraception frustrates the natural end (as defined by a thing's metaphysical end---its "final cause") of the sexual act. It is like eating then vomiting up the food. This is the "perverted faculty" argument. Incidentally, this is the same reason why homosexual sex is wrong.

    It is "Gravely" disordered because sex is so important to the human being and human beings as a whole. And that is Naturally (in the metaphysical, not genetic sense) important---not subjectively important to one particular person.

    These are moral claims based on age-old, time-tested metaphysics; they are not just arbitrary commands from the Church. If I get the time, I will link you to some of the blog posts he has written on the topic---even if only in passing.

  77. Sue,

    I see that Ed actually links to a recent post that is right on point. Go to


    Hit control-F on your keyboard and type in "perverted faculty." When you see the sentence "“Perverted faculty” arguments are very widely misunderstood," start reading. It's a very good introduction. As he notes, though, it's not a full defense, and an understanding of the metaphysics is just flat-out required to really understand it.

  78. Sue,

    And finally. Don't "feel sorry for him." There's a lot of logic here. Sexual morality is not just a pathetic appeal to tradition.

  79. I guess saying I felt sorry for the pope came out differently than I meant it. I meant that he was bending over backwards to convey something to me and I was not hearing it. I meant that the pope's overall answer is on a different level than my question was. I meant that I realized my truth but also realized that I shouldn't step on his careful work in beating it over the head with my demand for logic.

    I see the answer. Humanae vitae allows both for me to find my own way with the addition of lots of Catholic wisdom and to understand why to refrain from criticising the Church. It is kind and attentive to my dismay over not getting it. It wants me to read between the lines. I heard it saying, "grow up and shut up." But in a nice way.

  80. As a non-religious persons with Catholic sympathies I’ve long wondered about the Church’s teachings with respect to large families. As a thought experiment, allow that every person in the United States converted tomorrow to traditional Catholicism, and every family began conceiving children well above replacement rates. If this continued unabated would we not eventually reach some kind Malthusian crisis — or if not, at least run out of space at some point?

    I suppose it all depends on whether you really believe that fertility and family size is in God's hands. Either one trusts that He won't leave us all to starve in a runaway population explosion or one doesn't. I imagine that if everyone actually followed Church teaching on openness to new life, we'd find that God does a fine job keeping fertility levels where they ought to be.

  81. Matteo,

    Either one trusts that He won't leave us all to starve in a runaway population explosion or one doesn't.

    I'd note a few other issues as well.

    * The Church doesn't frown on celibacy. Obviously.
    * We're not necessarily limited to this planet's resources alone.
    * Related to the above, the issue is partially (perhaps largely) one of better resource and technology.

    Frankly, I'm surprised - for all the discussion of overpopulation I've run into over the years - I've run into comparatively little urging for research on how to support larger families or growing populations. Everyone wants to talk about not having more children and the importance of small families. Ways to support larger families are hardly mentioned in comparison (and when they are, never with the mention of 'larger families' to go with it.)

  82. http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/304319-1

    ^Probably the best source you'll get on this controversy. Well worth the time.

  83. Excellent post. You Americans need to watch this and realise that you are not just fighting this particular outrage, but also the next one. In the UK religious freedom is routinely trampled upon by secularists, because we appeared compromised when the secularists first started to infringe our freedoms. This is a long battle - certainly as long as someone like Obama is running things.

  84. "So am I to stop being a Catholic?"

    Yes, beingitself, you are now what is called a Protestant.

  85. Ed, I would like you also to come out and call for the excommunication of all Catholic politicians who immorally ignored the Church's teachings on just war and were complicit in the deaths of several hundred thousand Iraqis -- surely a much, much worse sin than advocating the use of contraceptives, right? I look forward to that post.

  86. That's real cute, Gene. But dishonest, since you know that:

    (a) The parallel you want to draw is completely spurious. In Catholic moral theology, abortion and the use of artificial contraception are wrong always and in principle. There is no question here of dissenters merely disagreeing over the application of a principle; the dissenters dissent from the principle itself. In the case of just war teaching, though, no one dissents from the principles. The disagreement is over whether the Iraq war met those principles. And that sort of prudential dispute is something the Church allows. As then-Cardinal Ratzinger (who disagreed with the war) famously said in 2004, at the height of the controversy over it:

    Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

    Awful luck for Catholic Rothbardian types of the sort you were hanging out with back in the day (don't know if you still do), who would like to accuse Catholics who supported the war of dissent -- even as they dissent from Leo XIII, Pius XI et al. on the just wage, the legitimacy of government, the condemnation of dogmatic laissez faire, etc. -- but there it is.

    (b) As you also know, I argued at length at the old Right Reason blog that the war was clearly defensible from the point of view of traditional natural law theory and Catholic moral theology, even if a reasonable person could also disagree with it. I never got a single serious response from the Catholic Rothbardian types, most of whom (as always) eschew rational argument in favor of juvenile epithets ("Neocon," "Fox War Channel," "National (Socialist) Review," etc.) (Those interested in those posts should be able to find them at the Wayback Machine's archive of my Right Reason posts:


  87. Ed, and when I use that condom, I am not differing from the Catholic principle: I actually believe it enhances the chance of pregnancy.

  88. I guess Gene is trying to make the clever point that going to war in Iraq to ensure just war is like wearing a condom to ensure non-perverted sex.

    Which is a dumb comparison, for the reasons Ed already pointed out. You Can fight a just war in Iraq (even if it didn't happen in the war that did occur), but you can't Ever, fundamentally, have non-perverted sex with a condom---which exists for the sole purpose of frustrating the end of sex. Of course, unless it were some special condom that somehow helped to fulfill the end of the sex act, but that's obviously not what you mean.

    Unless your only point, Gene, is that the Iraq war was just really, really unjust. If so, alright; not really very deep. Doesn't really address the underlying philosophical point.

    There may be a person, though, who wears condoms because he thinks it does somehow help to ensure the appropriate end of sex. Of course, he would either be Lying (because he knows quite well that it does nothing of the sort) or very seriously mentally disabled. In the former, he'd be doing something immoral, despite his ridiculous assertions; in the latter, the woman probably would be doing something immoral, taking advantage of someone that severely disabled.

  89. Ed, you know what really bugs me about this thing? Even if the USCCB manages to carve out an exemption for officially Catholic organizations, individual business owners who happen to be faithful Catholics will still have to pay for contraceptives and abortificiants for their employees, in violation of their right to free exercise of religion.

    And what's more, this isn't some sort of recent revelation like the mandate on Catholic organizations. It was known to be the case all along. Where was the USCCB then? They raise hell when their ox is gored and their own organizations are forced to pay for contraception in violation of their religious liberty, but they're just fine with it, even enthusiastic about it, when individual members of their flock are being forced to do the same thing?

    Like you said, how is anybody possibly supposed to take their opposition to contraception seriously? No wonder Catholics violate that teaching so easily. What message are they supposed to take home when the bishops themselves pay lip service to the wrongness of contraception, but then turn around and advocate for a law forcing their congregations to be complicit in it?

  90. Deuce, you do realize that the bishops have been fighting for a conscience exemption for everyone since the beginning, right?

  91. Actually, I didn't realize that until just a few minutes ago, when I saw their latest letter in reply to the "compromise." It's very encouraging. They're quite forthrightly speaking out against the mandate altogether, and in favor of religious liberty for everyone.

    But for the past two years, they've been pretty mealy-mouthed about it, to the point that an average person would guess that they just didn't care much, or didn't care enough to make much noise in light of all the stuff they liked about Obamacare. It wasn't until the past week or so that they've caught fire. I hope now that they're riled up, they don't stop till it's killed dead.

  92. Hi Deuce and Brian,

    Here's a problem with the appeal to religious liberty, though. What if some atheist objected to contraception on some non-religious moral grounds? I admit that there are few who would do so these days and that the case is hypothetical, but since the wrongness of contraception is supposed to be (and I think is) a matter of natural law knowable in principle apart from revelation, it is a real possibility. But then it would be unjust for government to require such a person to provide contraception, and religious liberty has nothing to do with it.

    To appeal to religious liberty is really to play by the liberal's rules -- it effectively treats religion, J. S. Mill-style, as some non-rational preference that we have a liberty to indulge as long as it hurts no one else, rather than as something with rational credentials of its own that have a right to be heard in the public square. And then when it can be made to seem that the preference is imposing a cost on others, curbing religious liberty starts to seem reasonable. It's all downhill from there.

    That's not to say that appeals to religious liberty shouldn't be used, but they don't get to the root of the matter. Only boldly, rigorously and relentlessly making the natural law case for traditional sexual morality itself can do that. And that requires a return to the serious Scholastic philosophical and theological tools necessary to spelling out natural theology and natural law (and to laying the intellectual foundations for sacred theology too). That's a long term project, but it's what the bishops should be doing and calling on other Catholics to do if they want to deal with this in a fundamental and long term way.

  93. I feel like I agree with you too much, Ed, but I think you are absolutely right about what you said above, and I'm really glad you said it. It's really what's underlying the whole issue to begin with, but no one really sees it. Citing "religious liberty" is just playing the liberal's game. And you can ultimately never win on these terms.

    All that said, we do have an inherently liberal form of government, and all anyone speaks is liberal. (In the philosophical sense, not the dumb political party one we have going on now, of course. American "conservatives" are really ultimately just liberal; that's what they were born from anyway.) And there's really not a whole lot anyone can do to protect against liberalism's or modernism's natural consequences. Most Catholics I know speak liberal as well. There are rare exceptions, but the status-quo Catholic is a pretty egalitarian, democracy-loving, "sensitive" liberal.

    I mean, imagine trying to argue on non-liberal terms in front of Congress, in front of the Supreme Court, or in front of the people of the United States. You'd be speaking a whole different language. You'd be More than hated; you'd be an absolute anomaly. Unfortunately (or fortunately) non-liberal ideas don't really start revolutions either (revolutions that change governments anyway; those are always about the "people" "coming together"), so I doubt anything's going to ever change on anyone else's terms.

    In this way, I am ultimately very torn on what to do with things like the contraception mandate. These are real moral threats, and they exist because of the modern, liberal mindset that pervades everything, but the only way to defend against these threats is by taking up the liberal cause to "defend freedom"---even though doing so might push the whole thing further in the wrong direction.

    The contraception mandate is more-than-likely an "infringement on religious liberty" or whatever, but as you pointed out, Ed, this is giving away too much from the start. But if you don't defend against it with a liberal argument, it gets passed and more immorality spreads. If you do, you keep the whole broken system going strong.

    And really at the bottom of it, no one wants to stop and listen to anyone talking about Thomas Aquinas. All people care about are rights and freedoms.

    This is more of a practical issue than it is a philosophical one (though in a lot of ways it's absolutely not), and I know that you are a philosopher, but I would love to hear your more-practical suggestions on this stuff, Ed. I don't know that that's really a fair question, but there's certainly a lot more to be said about this.

  94. Hi Ed, I agree, but at the same time, making the legal argument requires appealing to the right to religious freedom. They should be doing both.

  95. This post is rapidly descending into incoherence. At first I thought Ed was objecting to Catholic hospitals, universities, and charities being required to provide pay for insurance coverage for services that are contrary to Catholic teaching, with the objection being a first amendment issue. This point I could understand and respect, even though I may not fully agree with it. But no, reading further I find that Ed is also objecting on the basis of a violation of the principle of subsidiarity. Huh? Requiring organizations to provide mandated insurance coverage (or requiring people to purchase insurance) violates the principle of subsidiarity? Really? So is Ed arguing that drivers shouldn’t be required to purchase auto insurance, or employers shouldn’t be required to pay into workers comp insurance on the grounds that "the needs of individuals, families, and local communities ought as a matter of justice to be met as far as possible by those individuals, families, and communities themselves"? Well, who needs auto insurance after all? If you get injured by a drunk driver, well hey, your family can take care of paying for your injuries. And if you’re injured on the job and can’t work? Well, tough luck. Let’s hope you’ve saved some money (well, make that a *lot* of money) because, after all, it’s a matter of *justice* that you pay for your injuries, even if it’s not your fault.

    And it gets worse than this. In Ed’s most recent addition to the thread, I see that he isn’t making a first amendment objection after all, because in theory an atheist could have the same objection on moral but non-religious grounds. Apparently, it’s unjust to force someone pay for something that conflicts with that person’s version of natural law, religious beliefs or no. So if people are morally opposed to war (and one can certainly make a natural law argument for pacifism, although Aquinas didn’t do so) then they shouldn’t have to pay income tax because the government is using some of this money for waging war?

  96. Jake,

    He addresses a number of those initial criticisms here: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/03/stupaks-enablers.html

    But his point that an atheist may object to paying for contraception is valid. If your starting point is that all moral knowledge is (mostly) unknowable and merely a matter of individual preference, then it makes sense that you would be more convinced by arguments related to individual rights. Since we can't really know after all, we may as well let everyone make their own, personal choices (but make sure they don't stop one another from doing so (for whatever reason, I have no idea)).

    But if your starting point is that moral knowledge Can be attained through reason, then you would be unconvinced (and ultimately frightened) by appeals to individual rights. If the purpose of the government is to protect and ensure that citizens flourish (which is determined by the aforementioned moral knowledge), then it is incredibly unreasonable to allow the government to spread immorality. Immorality surely frustrates this flourishing. Even more unreasonable and destructive is for the government itself to support, spread, and force those citizens trying to avoid immorality to support it. This has nothing to do with religion though. And it has nothing to do with individual rights.

    And no, you can't make a natural law argument for across-the-board pacifism. Not a convincing one anyway.

  97. "then it is incredibly unreasonable to allow the government to spread immorality" is supposed to read "then it is incredibly unreasonable for the government to allow immorality to spread."

  98. Jake,

    The point of the original post was to note that had the bishops consistently been emphasizing certain neglected Catholic teachings, the Obama administration would have been much less likely to take the action it did. One reason is that the seriousness with which the Church takes the ban on contraception would have been much more obvious, so that the administration would have been more likely to show the sort of deference it is (apparently) showing the Amish and Christian Scientists. Another is that Catholic politicians like Stupak would have been less likely to cave in, the bishops less likely to support big government solutions to problems, etc.

    That's it. The post was not trying to give reasons why the administration's actions are unjust, though of course I think they are. Neither (contrary to what some other people think I should have been doing) was it trying to convince non-Catholics or anyone else that contraception really is wrong. Why anyone would expect that I have to address all of that too if I'm going to discuss this subject at all, I have no idea.

    Later, in the combox, people raised different issues, some of which I responded to. Why you think a blog post or a combox discussion of it has to focus on a single point, and that it had better be the specific one raised in the original post, again I have no idea. But the "incoherence" is all in your mind, not in what I wrote.

  99. Speaking of the idea of atheists who oppose contraception, they do in fact exist, or at least one I know of did, that being the pre-conversion John C Wright: http://www.scifiwright.com/2012/01/contra-contraception-2/

  100. I enjoyed that link quite a bit. Thanks, Deuce.

  101. Prof. Feser,

    After reading “Last Superstition” on a recent vacation, I used your arguments regarding final causality in preaching against contraception this past weekend (Feb. 12). I think it effectively helped to illustrate that contraception is immoral not only for Catholics, but for all members of the human race. Thanks much!

    But I join with Tom’s post of Feb. 8 (6:19 pm.) in the concern that the promotion of NFP is problematic in this regard (diluting the argument against artificial contraception, especially when it immediately trails the condemnation of contraception). Periodic continence is not merely “being silent” (refraining from sex) during the fertile times. It is the exclusive use of sexual relations during the infertile times for the purpose of avoiding (preventing) children. Thus it involves prevention in all the meticulous attention given to taking temperatures, reading mucus, charting cycles, etc.

    In this sense, periodic continence seems to be like putting your foot on the accelerator, while also using the brake pedal. It is birth regulation; therefore it necessarily involves prevention and is accurately described as contraceptive, even though individual acts of sexual intercourse are not being corrupted.

    Additionally, the requirements for the licit use of periodic continence (serious reasons) do not seem to change the preventative nature of periodic continence.

    I also wonder if the reason that Pope Paul VI did not use traditional natural law argumentation to explain the immorality of artificial contraception in Humanae Vitae was to allow for the justification of the use of periodic continence. Thus the Pope wrote of the inseparability of the two meanings of sexual intercourse, rather than referring to the primary end of sexual intercourse, procreation.

    The problematic implication of the promotion of NFP is that children are desirable only if they are intended, or planned (that is, if are they planned to be the fruit of particular acts of sexual intercourse). President Obama and Planned Parenthood share this mindset. On the contrary, the traditional Catholic approach that opens the door to generosity in marriage is purity, wherein implicit in every act of sexual intercourse is the hopeful desire for children. No regulation. No prevention. But a loving readiness to be surprised by joy! And if this is not possible, then total continence during that time period (like St. Joseph & the Virgin Mary). This purity is the approach that needs to be held up as virtue; while also keeping in mind the conditional licitness of periodic continence.

    Fr. W. M. Gardner

  102. Fr. W. M. Gardner,

    NFP is definitely one of the most difficult issues to address when dealing with natural law. You mention the virtue of chastity. But I think that the virtue of prudence is always applicable to sex.

    That is, if a married couple is getting amorous but stops before it gets started, saying to one another, "We have to stop; we cannot afford another child right now," I think they are doing something very prudent. And right. Similarly, if the same couple says, "We cannot afford another child right now, but we don't have to stop; I can just slip on this condom," I think they are exercising the Same prudence. Even though they are doing something wrong. The virtue of prudence is still being exercised, and I don't think there's Necessarily anything wrong with recognizing that part of the act as good. But in the first case, no immoral act has occurred because nothing has been perverted, while in the second case, sex has been very perverted, and a gravely immoral act has occurred.

    I think virtues are strange in this way. That is, they can be actively employed even though the overall act is still immoral. You can have a courageous burglar after all. All the same, I think it's always important to distill out the virtue with any act---even the immoral ones. If you don't, you undermine the virtues as a whole and force yourself into difficult scenarios.

    Elizabeth Anscombe wrote a bit about this here: http://www.orthodoxytoday.org
    /articles/AnscombeChastity.php. I'll try to identify the relevant parts that may address your concerns that a couple should be "surprised by joy." I think that that is true to a point, but it also is simply wrong to be so imprudent as to burden or harm your family. Her notions of "further intention" are simply what I am calling prudence:

    "Here, however, people still feel intensely confused, because the intention where oral contraceptives are taken seems to be just the same as when intercourse is deliberately restricted to infertile periods. In one way this is true, and its truth is actually pointed out by Humanae Vitae, in a passage I will quote in a moment. But in another way it's not true.

    The reason why people are confused about intention, and why they sometimes think there is no difference between contraceptive intercourse and the use of infertile times to avoid conception, is this: They don't notice the difference between "intention" when it means the intentionalness of the thing you're doing - that you're doing this on purpose - and when it means a further or accompanying intention with which you do the thing. For example, I make a table: that's an intentional action because I am doing just that on purpose. I have the further intention of, say, earning my living, doing my job by making the table. Contraceptive intercourse and intercourse using infertile times may be alike in respect of further intention, and these further intentions may be good, justified, excellent. This the Pope has noted. He sketched such a situation and said: "It cannot be denied that in both cases the married couple, for acceptable reasons," (for that's how he imagined the case) "are perfectly clear in their intention to avoid children and mean to secure that none will be born." This is a comment on the two things: contraceptive intercourse on the one hand and intercourse using infertile times on the other, for the sake of the limitation of the family.

    But contraceptive intercourse is faulted, not on account of this further intention, but because of the kind of intentional action you are doing. The action is not left by you as the kind of act by which life is transmitted, but is purposely rendered infertile, and so changed to another sort of act altogether.


  103. Continued...

    In considering an action, we need always to judge several things about ourselves. First: is the sort of act we contemplate doing something that it's all right to do? Second: are our further or surrounding intentions all right? Third: is the spirit in which we do it all right? Contraceptive intercourse fails on the first count; and to intend such an act is not to intend a marriage act at all, whether or no we're married. An act of ordinary intercourse in marriage at an infertile time, though, is a perfectly ordinary act of married intercourse, and it will be bad, if it is bad, only on the second or third counts."

    I think you are right though in pointing out the strangeness of a Catholic couple who keeps constant charts so that they can get all the fun sex they want without any of the responsibilities. I think it'd be immoral for Different reasons than perverting the nature of sex, though. And it definitely looks like an offense to chastity. It may be a perversion of the nature of marriage (which is inherently aimed at making a sustainable family), but it wouldn't be a perversion of sex itself, which is really what's being addressed when dealing with artificial contraception.

    There are other issues here, obviously; I just thought I'd throw in my two cents here. I hope that it may be helpful in some way.

  104. I have some questions for those involved in the debate on this issue:

    -Many are saying that 28 states had similar mandates prior to this, and no one raised their voices then. What do they mean by this, and what is our response?

    -Many are also saying that Catholic organizations such as schools already offer contraceptives, sterilizations, etc. Is that true, and what is our response?

    -People today, especially on the left, see our prohibition against artificial birth control like they see the Jehova Witness' prohibition on blood transfusions. The comparison is supposed to suggest that religious liberty cannot be absolute. I think this is the most interesting objection, and how do we answer it?

  105. Brian,

    I'll try to field a couple of those questions. There are states that have similar mandates. California is the example that comes to mind. I believe the Church found a way to avoid directly paying for contraception in that state, but someone in California may be able to answer that more directly.

    Further, and this should be noted, state law and federal law are Different on this issue. The Free Exercise right guaranteed by the First Amendment is very convoluted, even if it seems simple at first. I'll try to explain.

    The current standard for determining whether a STATE law infringes on the first amendment is Different than the standard for FEDERAL law (which this health care act is). There are two important cases to really look at. One, Sherbert v. Verner, and two, Employment Division v. Smith. The former is older and laid out the original test for determining if a law (any law) infringes on one's free exercise right.

    Sherbert Test (1963): A woman, a Seventh-Day Adventist, was fired from her job for refusing to work on Saturday. She was ultimately denied unemployment because she refused to work on Saturday. In other words, the government didn't think she had a legitimate reason for not working and denied her benefits. She sued and claimed that denying her unemployment amounted to an infringement on her free exercise right. In other words, she claimed she should be able to practice her religion and receive the same benefits every other citizen receives. The Supreme Court agreed and established the rule that “governmental actions that substantially burden a religious practice must be justified by a compelling governmental interest.”

    This was the standard by which all government action was to be measured, and it stayed this way until Smith in 1990. Note that this Sherbert standard is VERY HIGH. (In my opinion, too high, if applied across the board for all religious actions or inactions.) That is, if you choose to do or not do anything because of your religion, the government cannot punish you for it, deny you anything, or compel you to do anything unless they have a very compelling interest (stopping human sacrifices would be a compelling interest) and the government actions are the Least restrictive means of realizing this interest.

    Employment Division v. Smith (1990): In Smith, two Native Americans smoked peyote for religious purposes. They were ultimately fired from their job, and like Ms. Sherbert, applied for unemployment. The state denied them unemployment because smoking or possessing peyote was/is against state law. Following Sherbert, they claimed that denying them unemployment infringed on their free exercise right to practice their religion (which included smoking peyote) AND receive unemployment like everyone else. The Supreme Court didn't like it and effectively struck down Sherbert. This lowered the free exercise standard significantly. In Smith (and now), the standard is as follows: the citizen must show that the government action Specifically targets his or his religion. It cannot be a law of general applicability. For example, here, the law was that ANYONE who broke state drug laws and was fired for breaking said laws could not receive unemployment in the way these men wanted it. Because the law was applied generally to All citizens, the Native American men couldn't claim a free exercise infringement.


  106. CONTINUED...

    And this is where the Court wanted to stay. It's more of a passive standard that says the government has to avoid actions that target your religion, but that as long as it makes neutral laws that apply to all citizens, there's no free exercise issue. What follows is really the most interesting part of the whole story, though. Remember, there is another branch of government: the legislature.

    In 1993, the Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the RFRA. Congress was unhappy with the standard the court established in Smith, and it wrote this law to effectively establish a much higher standard. Remember, the legislature can pass any law that Increases protection of fundamental rights; it just can't pass any law that lessens rights. The standard they picked was effectively the Sherbert Test mentioned above. You may be thinking, well jeez, then what was the point of mentioning Smith if the Congress just changed in back?

    This is the reason: this was the United States Congress. And the United States Congress can ONLY pass federal law. In other words, the RFRA applies ONLY to federal actions. States still look to Smith to determine whether or not a particular State government action infringes on the first amendment. This is why there are states that have passed state contraception mandates without any trouble. Smith wouldn't protect a citizen against them. Look at City of Boerne v. Flores (which said that the RFRA cannot apply to state laws) and Gonzalez v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao do Vegetal (which said that the RFRA still applies to federal law---there, a Brazilian Church that used a Schedule 1 substance won when claiming that seizing and charging them infringed on their free exercise right under the RFRA). Also note, interestingly, that many states (I think 16) have passed their OWN "mini-RFRA's." Which work exactly like the federal RFRA, but apply to State law.

    What's most interesting is that people think that "deeply-rooted First Amendment Rights" are uniform across the board, etc. They aren't. At least not in the way people think. They are, in that Smith is the Minimum standard, but they Aren't in that the standard is higher for federal law.


  107. CONTINUED...

    At any rate, the contraception mandate is federal law. As such, the RFRA Would apply to it, and standard would be very high indeed. If the Church (or any Catholic) sues, the Church would have to show that such government action substantially burdens its right to exercise its religion. I think this would be easy to show. "Break your religious conviction or break the law and be fined" is a pretty substantial burden. That's actually the definition of substantial burden: getting the option between doing what you want to do/think is right or breaking the law and being punished. After the Church showed this, the government would have to show it has a compelling interest in applying the law. It may be able to show that if it can argue that every woman having access to contraception is a "compelling interest." (There's more nuance to this, but yeah.) The problem they will likely run into is in the final requirement: showing that the methods they use are the LEAST BURDENSOME alternative. It's not this. The government could find a way of getting free contraception to women without forcing Catholics to do it.

    I'd also finally like to note, though, that this law is Very different than the other government actions mentioned above. That is, this law Mandates action; it does not restrict action. This law requires that citizens actively break their core religious convictions. It does not, like drug laws, Stop citizens from doing something that State thinks is ultimately dangerous for the nation. The Court may view mandated action very differently from reactive restriction. We've never really had a law like this that mandates immoral action that runs contrary to religious belief. The closest you may get is conscription law. But that's a completely different analysis and really a different thing altogether.

  108. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=yZV7wFYeVK0

    ^Fr. Barron comments on the HHS mandate.

    Pattsce, that's a wonderful set of posts. I hope you put your knowledge to good use to further the cause, if you know what I mean.

  109. Pattsce, do you mind sharing your contact info? I would like to speak with you!

  110. Brian,

    No problem. Let me figure out a way to get my information to you without putting all of it online. I may be able to make an account. I'll get right back with you.

  111. Hey Brian,

    I couldn't really figure out a way of getting in touch with you without posting an e-mail address here. So I made this fake e-mail account. If you still want to get in touch with me, e-mail me at pattsce@gmail.com.

    Let me know if you do so I can remember to check it.

  112. I agree that the situation in the USA is a result of a number of factors, including poor catechesis over the decades. I'm only 26, so I am ignorant of a number of many things, so I won't try to sound arrogant on judging the past. All I know is that after receiving catechesis on H.V. and JPII's TOB, the Church's teaching on NFP and Contraception makes a lot of sense from a theological point of view. Further from the authority of the Church alone - it makes sense, and lastly, from natural reasoning it makes sense.

    I am of the belief that while it is tragic that this has come about, the grace I see potentially being unveiled in all this is that a starker line is to be drawn between Catholics (and other Christians - with regard to the abortion issue) and secularism. There is no way the RCC will relent on thsi matter, and as a result the government of the United States of America will have to deal with it.

    Unfortunately in Canada (my home and native land), taxes citizens for abortion, as it is publically funded. This results in "material-cooperation" for us in an issue that is apparently a matter of choice. We will all be held accountable as a nation, and this Kantian separation of ethos from the political sphere is coming to an end, but not without suffering and being set apart from the Church. As a result of this, I believe God is ultimately purifying his Church. Catholics who stand on the fence with regard to abortion and contraception are now given a real chance to make a decision before this decision is made for them.


    Deacon Chris

  113. Three points:

    1. Talking about the principle of subsidiarity and similar details of religion tend to make us lose sight of Christianity itself. More basic than that principle is Charity, which includes being our brothers' (and sisters')keepers. US society has become increasingly corrupted by the accumulation of a vastly disproportionate wealth by a tiny number of its citizens. That fact--and the need to challenge it--ourght to be paramount.

    2. Christ had more important things to do than try to run family planning issues. So should the Church. Even Aquinas thought differently from what the Church now says about abortion. His science was primitive, yet he knew that once conception occured, a baby was the end of the process; knowing that, he still allowed for abortions at some stage in the post-conception process. He might have made a similar argument today.

    3. The principle of sensus fidelium applies to the practice of contraception. Most Catholics reject the stated view by the bishops, rendering it null and void.

  114. Literally every line of Anonymous' "3 points" post is ignorant partisan poppycock. In order:

    1. Talking about subsidiarity is one way that we put basic principles into practice, so it's necessary whether you like it or not, and whether you happen to think it's particularly important or not. Charity is a crucial thing but it isn't the only thing, so waving it around as though that somehow qualifies as an argument against the principle of subsidiarity isn't going to fly. You obviously care very deeply about the fact that some people are richer than others, and that's fine, but 1) simply asserting it's what people should be talking about reveals that in the end, you just want the Church to shut up and take whatever spinach the administration is serving it, and 2) you're pretending that the Church is the one who raised the subject in the first place, as if the Church hierarchy had not already demonstrated fifty thousand times that they'd rather be talking about almost anything else than contraception--this was shoved onto them whether they wanted to discuss it or not, so quit being ridiculous and crying foul, as if it was the Church who decided they'd really like to have big fight over this issue (more on that below).

    2. You say that the Church has "more important things to do," but I'm not sure what that has to do with the Obama administration commanding the Church to do his bidding on an issue where the Church's teaching is unchangeable. Like all leftist partisans, you speak as though it is the Church who picks these fights with secular authorities, as if it was the USCCB who decided to "run" these "issues," whatever might be meant by running an issue. Probably the most offensively stupid thing to come out of the mouths of Obamaphiles over these last weeks is this idea that the Church is running around trying to snatch people's birth control from them, when the reality is the Church is notoriously limp-wristed in its activism on the issue, and when in fact this entire crisis was deliberately ginned up by the adminoistration so that mouth-breathers everywhere would sit up and say, "Hey look, the Papists are trying to take my pills!"

    As for Aquinas, you can argue that until you're blue in the face, but the Church's teaching is what it is and it is entitled, under Gd's law as well as under the Constitution, to promulgate and administer itself in accordance with whatever teaching on contraception and sterilization that it darn well pleases. This is still America, and it is still God's own Church, however inconvenient that might be.

    3. Your rather, ahem, novel view of sensus fidelium bears practically no conceptual relationship to what is meant by that phrase. If a majority of nominal Catholics happen to dissent from some core teaching of the Church, it most certainly does not thereby become null and void, and I have no idea where you could have gotten such a silly notion. Besides which, it just isn't true that the majority of the faithful so dissent, even assuming your presmise to be true, because sensus fidelium refers to the constantly held traditions of the Christian faithful from the birth of the Church, not to some Pew opinion poll data about Catholic voters in the U.S. in the year 2012.

  115. Ed, I know you didn't _exactly_ say that the vast majority of Catholics flout Church teaching on contraception. (The words "vast" and "majority" occurred in the main post, but not together.) But just for the record and in case anyone's wondering: It isn't true that the vast majority of Catholics do flout Catholic teaching on this. See my most recent post on a rather careful data analysis on the subject. It looks like maximum something like 60%, and some of that includes women who claim to be using birth control pills for purely medical reasons. The numbers go even lower when restricted to Catholics who attend church once a week.

    So anyway, yes, from a Catholic perspective even 55% is 55% too many, but still...

  116. Hi Lydia,

    Do you mean only 55% of Catholics worldwide? Or in the U.S., specifically? If the latter (and it is U. S. Catholics whom I had in mind in the post), I find that very hard to believe. But I'll go read your post on this.

  117. Yes, read the post and also if you're interested do follow the link to James J. Heaney's analysis, which has much more good stuff.

    It looks like in a very large survey of women ages 15-44 in America, approximately 60% of self-identified Catholic women (including those who don't even go to Mass once a week) were using artificial contraception at the time of the survey.

    It's actually a little less if you take seriously the honesty of the approximately 1.7% who insisted that they were taking birth control pills for strictly medical reasons, so 60% is a high number.

    When you go to women ages 15-44 who attend Mass at least once a week, it goes down to 56%.

    This is including all women in the survey in the age category--that is, including those who are not sexually active or who are pregnant, for example. But I think that is quite fair and actually informative, because if you want to know what Catholic women are doing, then if the answer is, "Well, such-and-such percent of them are are presently not sexually active or are presently pregnant" that should be taken into account in deciding how "pessimistic" to be about Catholic women's adherence to Church teaching about contraception.

  118. It may not seem so remarkable when one considers this: The CDC already reported, from the same study, that among women in the age category in question (15-44) they found 38% of what they called "non-users" of contraception for various reasons. This was not broken out by religion; it was in the sample as a whole. Moreover, the CDC was treating NFP _as_ a "method of contraception," which makes the 38% non-user number even more striking.

    So unless one thinks Catholic women are likely to be using contraception _more_ than the population at large, the percent of Catholic women using contraception isn't going to be more than 62% anyway. It should be lower than that, of course, once one stops counting NFP as a "method of contraception."

    I think probably television, etc., gives a skewed view and it's easy to forget that there are plenty of people out there who just don't like contraception and are willing to take their chances, who are naturally sterile without having to do anything and therefore don't worry about contraception, who aren't attractive to the opposite sex, or whatever, and therefore who are not using contraception for more or less amoral reasons. And since Catholics are probably not going to be contracepting at a higher rate, that sets a kind of baseline.

  119. Hey, is it really true that the catholic church teacing is really thay you should have very many children?

    Pope francis recently said about three children per family is a good number, are you suggesting the pope contradicted the church teacing?

    Grateful for answers.