The Majority Dissent

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John Zmirak breaks down widespread resistance and dissent among Catholics on the issue of contraception in “The Shame of the Catholic Subculture” for The Catholic ThingThe most salient facts of the situation:

On a grave moral issue where several popes have invoked their full moral authority short of making an infallible declaration, 95 percent of U.S. Catholics (the number is surely higher in most of Europe) have rejected the guidance of Rome. They are not “bad Catholics” so much members of a new, dissenting sect – which happens to occupy most of the seats in most of the churches, and many of the pulpits and bishop’s offices, too.

I’m not sure that I agree that they are not “bad Catholics.” To the extent that they have been poorly catechized, this might be the case. Many of us know from personal experience however that there are plenty of people who say that they are Catholics, understand that Catholics must abide by the dogmatic teachings of the Church, and simply don’t. However they rationalize it is really not important to me.

On the other hand, Zmirak makes a convincing case for extending a tolerant and understanding olive branch to well-meaning dissenters (and that does not include all dissenters, mind you); they’re over 90% of the Church, perhaps over 95%, at least in the developed West. H also makes a good point about conservative/traditionalist circles that, while doctrinally orthodox, suffer from ideological stagnation and social isolation. The 90-95% need those who believe that truth is not optional to speak boldly for it, but not in a way that is alienating or unsympathetic to their concerns.

If, for instance, the problem with contraception is that an otherwise willing Catholic family feels it simply can’t handle the financial burden, then those of us who would have them hold to the teaching of the Church should be devising creative solutions to that problem. Perhaps living as self-contained nuclear families in a mass consumer society is not the way to live as Catholics. Perhaps local, voluntary, and bold projects are needed to unite people who wish to live the faith authentically, to share burdens and responsibilities – something beyond the mere handouts so often advocated by leftists. The pro-life movement has had great success with crisis pregnancy centers and other forms of relief for pregnant women; I see no reason why we can’t take it a step further and devise forms of relief for struggling parents.

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  1. I do see John Zmirak’s distinction between “Bad Catholics,” who do not follow, whilst nevertheless acknowledging, the moral teaching of the Church and “a new, dissenting sect” that rejects that teaching.

    How they contrive to do so, whilst still considering themselves Catholics may puzzle us, but we should recall Lord Macaulay’s words about another “dissenting sect,” “We know through what strange loopholes the human mind contrives to escape, when it wishes to avoid a disagreeable inference from an admitted proposition. We know how long the Jansenists contrived to believe the Pope infallible in matters of doctrine, and at the same time to believe doctrines which he pronounced to be heretical.”

    Am I alone in finding an eerie similarity between the “Truce of 1968,” as George Weigal calls it, when the Congregation for the Clergy decreed that Cardinal O’Boyle of Washington should lift canonical penalties against those priests whom he had disciplined for their public dissent from Humanae Vitæ and the “Peace of Clement IX” during the Jansenist controversy?

    In both cases, after the Church had been riven by a decade-long dispute, a papal document was issued that was intended to be definitive.

    In both cases, the original quarrel was immediately forgotten and argument raged over the scope of papal authority to decide the question. In the Jansenist case, peace, of a sort, was achieved, when Pope Clement IX brokered an agreement that neither side would argue the question, at least, from the pulpit.

    The “Peace of Clement IX” lasted for about 35 years and ended in 1705 when Clement XI declared the clergy could no longer hide behind “respectful silence.” Eventually, in 1713, he issued Unigenitus and demanded the subscription of the clergy to it. There was enormous resistance, with bishops and priests appealing to a future Council (and being excommunicated for their pains, in 1718). As late as 1756, dissenters were still being denied the Last Rites.

    Will the “Truce of 1968” end in a similar fashion?

  2. I owned and operated a Catholic bookstore for 14 years. As approximately 40% of my customers were men, it was not uncommon to find Saturday afternoon discussions concerning living a Catholic life. Artificial contraception was certainly one of the topics discussed. Over the years, ten of these men shared that they had a vasectomy and an eleventh one’s wife had a tubal ligation for birth control purposes. Each of them said, in almost the same words,”Now when I make love to my wife, I can’t get close enough to her.”
    By contracepting, they had inadvertantly destroyed the unitive aspect of their relationship. When they cut God from their relationship, the marital act became profane. It does not matter whether the contraception is the result of a vasectomy, tubal ligation, or the use of any other artificial method, the result is the same. Sexual intercourse is sacred, and self-giving, when God is the center of the marriage. Artificial contraception is a most selfish and destructive act.

  3. Having taught about contraception (Humane Vitae) at a Catholic High School, where the subject was nervously ignored, even shunned, along with homosexuality, I experienced many adults who rejected the teaching (including religious) and few if any who could explain it. Nonetheless, the high school students were very open and challenged to learn the design, meaning and purpose of sexuality and it had much impact on their thinking. It should be central to marriage preparation, but again, my experience was absolute fear to even whisper it, or simply a polite chuckle for the insiders on how passé it was.
    In the past I used to speak about it at various college, parish and other venues. (Once to a panel of not Catholic medical doctors). Always lively, always surprising, always greatly appreciated and always fruitful. I have long dropped from the scene and raising my family, but have wondered how to reach out again. Not sure I know a way. It certainly is greatly needed.

  4. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen once said that many people hate what they think is the Catholic Church. Very few people hate what they know is the Catholic Church. So, it is with pure conjugal love and the use of contraceptive. The 95% of Catholics who purportedly use contraceptives must know the joy of life in truly cherishing the gift of his wife in the marital act and the difference of disfiguring that conjugal love with the barrier to life and love that is contraception. Is it possible to be married and not know the difference? Marriage consists in knowing the joy of life in cherishing the gift of a wife in the marital act.

  5. Over my sixty some odd years I have come to a realization that is a sad one. In this ‘contraceptive issue’ both those who hold to the teaching of the Church as well as those who ‘dissent’ have lost sight of the fact that God wants us to be happy-eternally happy [eternal beatitude]. We are created for this, ‘wired’ for this. This happiness is complete communion with God, participating in His very Life and Love

    I used the word ‘wired’. Pope Benedict and now Pope Francis are using the term: “human ecology’. In the past we would be speaking of this reality using such phrases as ‘natural law’ and ‘Christian anthrolopology’. However, they all speak of the same reality, the same truth, that we have been created in such a way that we reveal a certain order, law, ecology within us, that simply is. We can later become conscious of what this is and what it implies, but it is that fundamental that it precedes all human constructs, rationalizations etc

    Animals have sex to continue their species. It is a drive within them that is on the instinctual level. Something much deeper, more awesome is present within man and woman. Man and woman unite in love within a bond that is God-given.

    This conjugal love is HUMAN: it has very little in common with what takes place in the animal world. It is not a matter of instinct and or sentiment but an act of free-will, a fundamental expression of the GIFT-of-SELF intended to continue and grow throughout the life of the couple united in this bond

    This conjugal love is TOTAL It is a unique and very special form of human friendship in which the man and woman share everything, with nothing being held back or reserved from the gift of self to the other.

    This conjugal love is FAITHFUL and EXCLUSIVE until death. This at moments and for even certain periods of time might seem very difficult but it is not humanly impossible. People are indeed capable of making and keeping faithful, exclusive promises and commitments which are virtuous, meritorious and bring lasting happiness

    This conjugal love is ‘FECUND’: life-giving. This reveals that marital love does not ‘end’ with the union of the couple. Love, seeking the good of the other, is diffusive. The couple’s love does not end with itself but gives of themselves in the giving of new life

    Some of you may have realized what I just wrote, but most will not. It is the very core of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Humanae Vitae. It is both Good News and life-giving. How many Catholics who are dissenting even really know what they are dissenting against. The teaching is far richer than “Thou shalt not”. It is an invitation and a challenge to live a really human, total, faithful, exclusive, life-giving love. I believe many are actually hungering for this ‘vision’ of marriage and love that raises them above the ‘lab rats’ of the Kinsey Report.

    Donald raises an extremely important point in his comments. How can we who believe in this assist those who both struggle with it or perhaps even ‘reject it’? Certainly casting ‘condemnations’ will not help. Every person, every couple are created for, meant for “happiness”. Do we not have the Good News of Jesus Christ, “the Way, the Truth and the Life”? Now how can we share this-not just with our words but our actions and our lives-in this extremely important aspect of life?

  6. Zmirak writes: “We need to stop treating people who don’t “get” the Church’s teaching on contraception as if they were clones of Judas, or heretics like Arius whom St. Nicholas rightly slapped.” He frames the issue almost as if people with lots of kids are ostracizing others. As a father of eight children, I can assure you it’s the reverse. The 95% tend to look down their noses at people like me. This includes priests who ask if we’re in some sort of competition to parents at the parish school that we can’t afford who think if we would just sacrifice a little more we can come up with tuition. If you send them to public school you’re damaging your children, and if you homeschool them you’re weird and isolating your kids. Or the people who during the sign of peace comment with some dismay “Um… there sure are… um… a lot of you.” I think if I became Southern Baptist I’d probably have more and better friends at Church.

    While I appreciate much of his work, Zmirak is completely off the mark here. The parents of large families aren’t pushing people who contracept away from Church teaching through snottiness. They are making real material sacrifices and ruining much chance at a social life and while enduring both subtle and overt discrimination by the majority.

  7. Alphatron,

    You are to be commended not criticized or condemned. As for Zmirak I did not see him attacking large families-but maybe I missed it. I did see him call for an end of ‘condemnations’ and working toward both sharing the Good News and assisting/gently challenging those who dissent. Donald asked if we do not have a responsibility to actively reach out and assist those Catholics struggling with this issue.

    I would add however that we need to reach out and assist families such as your own. For example, there are parishes in America where the weekly income is over fifty thousand (most will gasp at that) They completely finance their own Catholic schools and members of the parish can send their children there tuition free-all in the parish sharing the ‘load’-sharing all things in common, This is not just an ideal it can happen and is already happening

    I want to keep the focus on the actual article and Donald’s statement but I do think we Catholics owe families such as your own a great deal of gratitude and support.

  8. There may be a middle ground for contraception, without changing any of the Church teaching. One possible first step is to convert the pro-abortion/pro-contraception camp, into the pro-life camp, even if they still hold pro-contraception views. Doing this could save millions of babies in utero. The way to do this is to teach the concept that when birth control fails, as it will eventually in a significant number of people, no matter what BC method they use, that they keep the child. This is the attitude used in NFP. In other words, teach that artificial contraception is a sin, but that abortion is murder.
    Otherwise it will be much harder to decrease the still tragically high numbers of abortions, as over ½ million abortions in the US are performed because birth control failed, and ½ million did not use birth control.
    If one has to chose battles, abortion is the one to work on first.

  9. I think Alph’s comments very pertinent to the issue, although I did not catch any slight by Zmirack myself. I happen to be one of 17 children and had I not married so late, probably would have had a large family myself. As it is 3, and my wife unfortunately was culturally prejudiced against a large family. But he is quite correct in the negative attitudes expressed even by Catholics, let alone others. And it is directly related to the contraceptive issue, as it is considered “responsible” unlike the “irresponsible breeders” to be anti-life and avoid “too many” by contraception. We say and teach the right things about family, but I never thought we were true to these teachings in actual support for family and marriage.

  10. In the Novus Ordo Church we also have encountered quite scandalous responses from ostensible Catholics over 4 kindern (let alone Alpha’s 8). Here in the ever so intellectually profound San Francisco Bay Area, in our parish, we actually had a self-identified Catholic woman of some “rank” and much more chutzpah say to Mrs Phoenix: “Oh, my GAWD, you have four CHILD-REN?! Couldnt you STOP yourself!?” (I kid you not.)

    Suffice to say that the glacial gaze she received from said-same lady of the house had absolutely no effect: The aforementioned woman of social rank and chutzpah proceeded to explain the usefulness of contraception. (Can you spell “t-o-ne d-e-a-f”?)

    At the diocesan approved TLM, a family with several children receives smiling faces and implicit approval, even on bad-hair days. I am sure the notorious SSPX Churches are the same.

  11. The original article addressed the isolationism of the more orthodox Catholics. I have likened it to a small circle of people in the center of a crowd, who at their best are facing outward and trying to pull people in, but at their worst can be facing inward and trying to push people out. Of course the more orthodox may be sneered at; that’s just part of following Christ, although it is more irritating when it comes from fellow Catholics. But the priority has got to be increasing the number in the circle.

    This article reminds me of a recent discussion about the Jake Tapper interview, specifically: when did people stop expecting the truth? Actually, now that I think about it, it reminds me of a reply I wanted to make to the Pope Wunnerful article. I think the same thing applies, that people aren’t worried if the Pope says a few things against abortion because, they suppose, he probably doesn’t mean them. We’re at a point in our society, thanks to spin doctors or modernism or whatever, that people don’t assume that the person they’re talking to is being honest. They don’t judge you harshly for lying – I wish they did! – but they just assume that you’re not being honest. My guess is, you show up with a family of ten, they know you’re serious. But most of the time, people just sort of nod along when you talk about morality and assume that you’re as kinky or kinkier than most.

    That’s I think the new hurdle we face. You have to convince people that you really believe what you’re saying. Or maybe it’s not a new hurdle. Maybe people have always just sort of nodded along, just now they’re admitting it to the pollsters. I don’t know.

  12. One thing that is not really clear to most people, at least until one talks with the 95% of women who use artificial contraception, is that many are not really engaged in a ‘hard’ dissent with the Church.

    Yes, most feel justified in what they are doing, many feel they have no choice. Yet when you ask them what do they think of the 5% who use NFP, you get variations on what is really admiration. Many if not most of the women who are in the 95% admire the 5% and wish they could be like them. They know sanctity when they see it.

    This is why these women do not leave the Church. Their dissent is a ‘soft’ dissent. They do not question the basic truths that are to be found in the Church’s teaching. They just cannot bring themselves to adhere to it.

  13. Let me partially answer my own question. After the SOTU, Limbaugh echoed a lot of the comments I saw under the Tapper thread. He also said that speeches are given to evoke emotions, not present facts. I think that’s a lot of what I’m seeing. People don’t trust each other’s content because they assume it’s spin.

  14. Wow! I hadn’t read any of the comments before I posted mine. I really believe these comments are accurate and that there are chutzpah contraceptive Catholics out there. I do believe Mrs Phoenix suffered what she suffered, and I believe that we all suffer with her.

    But, my experience is that they must be in the minority, at least as far as active parish life is concerned, and at least outside of San Francisco. I really believe, based on my experiences, in the facts on my first post.

  15. A family of three or four or five or eight ought to be finding nothing but support and affirmation within the Catholic Church. The question remains from the article and Donald’s comments, how can we who believe the Church’s teaching reach out to struggling families, those beyond our own comfort zone etc.?

  16. Too many women today are developing breast cancer; it is epidemic.
    The World Health Organization has identified the contraceptive pill as a Class 1 Carcinogen. Ingesting the Contraceptive Pill causes breast cancer.
    Is it really worthwhile for any woman to assume the risk of developing breast cancer and not being available to raise one’s children just to satisfy a cultural zeitgeist that is anti-children. From a purely temporal perspective, contraception is deadly to a woman’s well being and that of her entire family.
    Practical, fact based, health disclosures dissemintated in parishes will assist women who may not be aware of the risks of contraception.
    If one prints out the above linked article and leaves it next to the Sunday bulletins (with your pastor’s consent), I believe you will perform a great service for many women and their families.

  17. Actually, Botolph, I am to be criticized because I didn’t start out as a faithful Catholic. I was with the 95% and came around after a few years of marriage. I have the advent of the internet to thank for my reversion. I was able to read the Catechism, and papal encyclicals for the first time. Poor catechesis in my youth left questions unanswered, so I rejected it. I am hopeful that others will come around as well. The Church provides mercy and forgiveness, for which I am grateful. I found nothing but support from orthodox Catholics who bore with my struggles and deficiencies with patience and love. It was the 95% from which I had come who put barriers in my way.

  18. Pinky wrote, “He also said that speeches are given to evoke emotions, not present facts.”

    Λόγοσ ούδέν κινεί – Reason moves nothing – Aristotle

    Orators have always known that if one wants people to actually do something, rather than just nod in approval, it is necessary to “call the passions to the aid of reason.” If one wants them, for example, to make war on Philip or impeach Warren Hastings, then inspiring indignation and (moderate) fear is the way to move them to action.

  19. “how can we who believe the Church’s teaching reach out to struggling families, those beyond our own comfort zone etc.?”

    A more liberal political site would call for government programs. I think the answer here would be to do it the Republican way. Private donations, say to the local Catholic school, encouraging a multi-student family discount. Support for the parish. Or just talking – “outreach”, I guess it’s called. Become friends with a big Catholic family. There are a lot worse families your kids could be hanging out with. Babysit, playdates, whatever.

  20. Pinky,

    I believe it was Chesterton who said Christianity has not been tried and failed, it has not been tried. How about a Catholic approach-first of all renewal of our parishes in which large families would not only not experience what has been reported above, but the person attempting to sneer at them would be the one who would be seen as ‘not with the program’. Certainly as you say, and I had said in the post above, a greater sharing of resources of parishioners etc within the parish etc. so that no family etc will ever be left high and dry, etc

    I would take this further however. Encourage (don’t push) priests to bring the good news that the CHurch indeed has concerning marriage and marital love more to the fore in their preaching, If a Catholic is challenged for having a large family or believing in the Church’s teaching on this subject, turn the table around-ask that “Catholic” on what Catholic grounds do they base their argument. This will get them to begin to think and hopefully begin to see that the basis of their position is an ideology that belongs ultimately to the culture of death [it might not be the same as abortion but behind both contraception and abortion is an anti-life, anti-human ideology-the contemporary form of the god Moloch

  21. You’re right about the pulpit. I think a lot of priests are embarrassed to talk about sex, and it makes them come off as embarrassed by the Church’s teaching. I also – pet peeve here – am tired of the way “vocation” has come to mean “please, kids, consider the priesthood”. I respect the priesthood, and it’s important to get kids to think about the consecrated life. But we’ve got to get kids, and adults, to realize that the married life is also a vocation, a lifelong commitment to an important, sometimes difficult, state of witness and service.

  22. Pinky,

    I totally agree that being ‘married in the Lord’ is a Christian vocation which also needs to be put out there and prayed for.

  23. As a man who came to the Church somehwat later in life, after the birth of my kids and a vasectomy, I am genuinely curious about what, if anything, the Church would be able to do to restore my “wholeness?” I do not mean this as a petulant challenge; reversals are expensive (as in there’s no way I can afford one,) and after a time not medically recommended, so what is somebody in my position to do?

  24. Wk Aiken,

    If you haven’t already done so, the Sacrament of Penance: “Confession” And if you have not done so, ‘be not afraid’

  25. Botolph-

    That I did, the first time just before Easter upon finishing up RCIA; I did not hide the topic then and was granted absolution. I have continued to avail myself of that Sacrament on a regular basis in the dozen-ish years since.

    However, an old and uncomfortable chord was struck by Victor Claveau’s words: “Over the years, ten of these men shared that they had a vasectomy and an eleventh one’s wife had a tubal ligation for birth control purposes. Each of them said, in almost the same words, ‘Now when I make love to my wife, I can’t get close enough to her.'”

    I know that Reconciliation absolves me of sins past, including my ongoing sterile state. But I am now celibate, in a sense, without being called to celibacy by service in Clergy. There is an inherent wrongness to this.

    I will talk to my parish priests. They’re good, trustworthy men; the younger one graduated college in 4 years with a 3.9 GPA carrying 5 majors: History, Chemistry, Physics, Theology and Philosophy.

    And thanks – I do appreciate your concern and input.

  26. “I do not mean this as a petulant challenge; reversals are expensive (as in there’s no way I can afford one,) and after a time not medically recommended, so what is somebody in my position to do?”

    I had a friend in a similar position. I advised him to ask a very good priest I knew. He came back and said that there was no requirement to reverse the vasectomy for forgiveness.

  27. Thank you, Phillip. That is comforting. I’ll still have a chat, if for no other reason than to get it off my chest, but it’s good to know others have found answers. Thanks again!

    And thanks, Botolph, for the prayers. It is impossible to obtain too many of those graces.

  28. Mr. Aiken,
    I recall some time ago viewing an EWTN television show “Women of Grace” which is hosted by Johnnette Benkovic in which she discusses in detail the issue of vasectomy reversal with a Catholic surgeon who performs these procedures as an apostolate for a very reduced cost. Some of the experiences raised by you and other men in this thread are addressed by Johnnette and the surgeon.
    Here is a link to the tv program:

    Vasectomy Reversal: Taking Care of the Damage, Part 1

    See, “Lifesite News” article pertaining to same:

    “Texan surgeon gives hope to sterilized men seeking wholeness”
    Hope this is helpful to you.

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