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‘How “comfortable” does a Church have to get before it realises that it is called by Christ to be a sign of contradiction to the world?’

The Church is not here to appease the wider world or indeed, lay Catholics

By on Friday, 28 June 2013

Pope Paul VI would not altar the Church's position on artifical contraception Photo: CNS

Pope Paul VI would not altar the Church's position on artifical contraception Photo: CNS

It seems my blog on Wednesday about Charles Moore’s Telegraph article on the dearth of babies in the West and the economic consequences of this has caused the usual lively posts. To respond to “Mitsy”: I feel for the situation you describe, but the article, and my subsequent blog, was not about particular hard cases – which make bad law- but about the general demographic situation and government attitudes. There are two camps in this debate. When some people hear of a country’s birth-rate declining, they think “Good! More space for the rest of us. Less overload on natural resources.” When others hear about this incontrovertible phenomenon, they (and I am among their number) think: “This is bad news. Children are our future. Babies are the real wealth of a country” and so on. For Catholics, there is the added question: to follow the Gospel and be open to life – or not.

In response to “JByrne24”, who is sometimes tempted to make ad hominem remarks, I am not part of a Cambridge mafia alongside Charles Moore. He was at the university at least a decade after I was, and in my student days my political understanding focused (if it could even be dignified with the word “focus”) on protesting against the Vietnam War.

And many thanks to “Jabba Papa” who always stands up valiantly for Church teaching on these blogs; indeed, he has made it a (rather fiery) form of apostolate.

To follow on from that blog, I’ll draw attention to an article I read on LifeSiteNews. Written by Fr Timothy Sauppe and entitled, “You’ve contracepted our parochial school out of existence” it is one Illinois parish priest’s lament to his bishop, when asking permission to close the local Catholic school. He writes: “Bishop, it is with a heavy heart that I request this of you. As you know, priests were not ordained to be closing grade schools…The efficient cause is simple…no children. The first cause is the habitual contraception and sterilization mentality of a good portion of married Catholic Christians – in short, the Culture of Death. The final cause is the closure of Catholic Schools and parishes. Bishop, we need your leadership to address the contraception/abortion/sterilization mentality in as forceful a way as soon as possible.”

It is significant that Fr Sauppe uses the phrase “Culture of Death” not to lambast the wicked world outside, but to criticise married Catholics inside the Church who participate in this culture. The fact that he has to appeal to his local Bishop for “leadership” is very sad. Bishops, as George Weigel writes most forcefully in his new book, Evangelical Catholicism, are meant to lead their people to holiness by preaching and teaching the truth before anything else. What is the point, as Fr Sauppe indicates, of asking for money to keep the roof on a church when the congregation has gone? Do the bishops really believe the teaching of Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI’s encyclical on the sinfulness of artificial contraception? Their silence suggests they don’t – or that they feel so hopeless about the semi-secularised state of their congregations that they have decided the only thing to do is to “manage the decline”. But that is to acquiesce in the culture of death, not confront it head-on with the life-changing truth of the Gospel.

Fr Sauppe sounds heroic. He writes: “I have modestly preached against contraception and sterilization but for many of my parishioners it is too late…Some women don’t want to hear about [it]. They decide to go to other parishes where the pastor doesn’t prick their consciences.” Ironically, the loss of these parishioners will have hastened the closure of the parish school. The late Fr Hugh Thwaites SJ, well-known in the Catholic world in this country, had exactly the same response when he, too, had the courage to challenge his parishioners on the same question; they also went to other parishes where they felt more comfortable. But how “comfortable” does a Church have to get before it realises that it is called by Christ to be a sign of contradiction to the world?

Fr Sauppe confesses that he doesn’t have the answers as to how to revive “a dying parish or diocese.” Ordained for 20 years, he uses to think that “if I just preached the faith and celebrated a solemn Sunday Mass people would turn around.” But instead “of encountering joy and submission to the natural law and the Church’s teaching on human life and its dignity, I have found Catholic Christians either complacent or complicit with the Culture of Death.” Turning to the example of the Cure of Ars he suggests that priests (and bishops) should “fast, pray, eat potatoes for his sheep, his people” – that is, set a personal example of holy and ascetic living, alongside preaching, without waiting, as Cardinal Burke comments tellingly in the same article, “for the national bishops’ conference to take the lead.” This might sound a silly question: but what is the point of bishops’ conferences?

  • guestguy

    Same God… but different knowledge of who he is and what he wants.

  • Julian Lord

    I can usually be bothered to track down the verse that some such as yourself use to support your inanities, but for once I just can’t be …

    The usual case is that the people who fabricate such claims lack even basic reading comprehension, and are greatly confused by the fact that though the Bible contains many teachings by individual people claiming to speak for God, not all of these are represented as being fully faithful to these divine revelations, and some of them, in the Old Testament, are specifically shown as directly misrepresenting and warping God’s teachings for their own worldly purposes.

    To make a modern analogy, the author of a biography of Adolf Hitler is NOT necessarily approving of the policies, teachings, and actions of the leader of Third Reich Germany, even though these things may be accurately represented in his writings.

  • Julian Lord

    Oh don’t be ridiculous !!!

    This is a constant tactic of yours, which is resonant of the dictatorships of the past

    This is a ludicrous ad hominem, that I have addressed directly, haven’t I, by pointing out its inherent flaw ?

    If you want to make irrelevant statements concerning dictatorships as relative to the positions that you imagine me to be “defending”, then I can see no reason why I shouldn’t return the “compliment”.

    You appear to have NO interest whatsoever in actually listening to anyone else’s point of view in the first place …

    Meanwhile, as already stated, Catholic Christianity is ordered towards the Kingdom of God, not towards the fleshly concerns of partisan politics ; and the teaching of the Church is therefore geared towards the salvation of souls, not their damnation, nor their politicised oppression.

    I was simply responding to your inconsequentialities and non sequitur “reasoning” as I felt to be appropriate, that is to say with scorn and dismissal.

  • Julian Lord

    Catholicism does so much good but has the potential to do so much more. It is just such a shame that it is so inflexible

    Moral truths exist objectively, and they are not designed to shift and move like sand.

    Furthermore, you continue, private, in your gross confusion of the Catholic Church with just another political organisation and nothing more. This is because of your willful denial of God, leading you into such false reasonings.

  • Nesbyth

    I’ve come across this view from reading the preaching of some Muslim Mullahs in this country, yes indeed….. It is what they say.
    However, I also take your point about religious apologetics not being up to the mark….especially the Christian variety. The teaching of the Catholic faith in any meaningful way has been greatly diluted, especially in schools (I’ve been an RE and History teacher for 30 years) and the preaching from the pulpit generally likewise.

  • Jonathan West

    But instead “of encountering joy and submission to the natural law and the Church’s teaching on human life and its dignity, I have found Catholic Christians either complacent or complicit with the Culture of Death.

    I think that if Catholic arguments on contraception etc are any good, then you would not need to resort to slogans such as “Culture of Death”. I suspect that many Catholics, like most of the rest of us, realise what weakness of thought and reason is betrayed by the descent to such name-calling, and have acted accordingly.

  • $20596475

    It is you who are being ridiculous because, quite deliberately, you are again choosing to attack me rather than answer the points raised. Other readers might choose to ask why, why is why I do.

    You had already made your point about “Catholic Christianity being ordered towards the Kingdom of God”. I had responded to it, with sensible comments which you ignore by trying to divert through personal attacks. Then you accuse ME of “ad hominems”!

    I find this style of debate very unattractive, and a poor example to your fellow Catholics. If I were of the faith I would feel embarrassed by it.

  • $20596475

    I have no problem at all with the Catholic Church acting just as a Church, and if you wish to campaign for a situation in which it withdraws from politics completely I would be right beside you.

    It is precisely because it seeks to involve itself in the political life of a particular country that first got me interested in it’s activities. The more I looked, the less I liked it.

    It has nothing at all with me denying “God”. What I cannot deny is what my reasoning tells me, for that would be just a pretense.

  • $20596475

    You are, of course, entitled to your opinion. However so are those who don’t share it and have other principles. If you fail to convince people, and they are in the majority, then you are going to achieve nothing.

    Principles are, of themselves, a worthless commodity in the pursuit of human progress. They have to be capable of application.

  • Frank

    “based on superstition”

    That’s a big claim to make. I don’t understand how you can judge that people who you say are reasonable and have so much that is commonsense are superstitious. Does this not seem unlikely and difficult to explain?

  • $20596475

    I did not say that though did I? I said that some Catholic morality, when it is based on a “God revealed it” claim, is founded on superstition. The truth is that most morality is actually just common sense. Which is available to everyone, Catholics included.

  • Frank

    You said “Any claim made because “God revealed it” is one based upon superstition”
    That does mean you judge anybody that is Catholic to be superstitious.

    To be honest I think if it were just common sense then it would be more common and if Christian principles are still reasonably well-understood then that is because they have been around for a long time and are still professed by so many.

  • 1Maccabeus

    Were you ever a lad?

  • Jackie

    Lay Catholics rarely heard from their priests or bishops about the terrible evils of contraception, sterilization and abortion. No wonder they fell easily to the “culture of death.”

  • Julian Lord

    The attempted involvement of the Church in the political life of any particular country is usually these days motivated by the heresy of Americanism, that has been formally condemned by the Church ; though the heresy is double-edged, and those who believe in the doctrines of that heresy also believe that the Church should accept teachings based on political ideologies instead of cleaving always and only to the Revelation.

    But this ISN’T what’s bothering you, even though you are actively promoting doctrines provided by that heresy ; what’s bothering you is the involvement of Catholics, and groups of Catholics, in the political life of nations, though there is no way that you would ever admit that publicly.

  • $20596475

    I have no problem whatsoever with anyone, Catholic or not, involving themselves democratically in politics. Quite the reverse. I encourage it, and welcome it as exactly the right way to behave and to contribute to the debate over how we do things.

    What I condemn is any interest group, including Catholic ones, seeking undue disproportionate, or direct, influence over political issues. Which is why I would remove the Bishops from the House of Lords.

    If a country chooses to follow the American model that is their business. I don’t personally like many aspects of American consumerism, and advise against it, but would never seek to overturn a democratically determined decision. In a free society people can speak and advise of the dangers they see, but they really mustn’t, as organised groups, take direct action.

    However, this is what has happened in at least one country where the RC Church has effective power, and the government has to consider their response before enacting legislation. For the foreseeable future no non-Catholic there could ever become President. The current President, and some of his Ministers,have been threatened with ex communication for him, should they decide to act against the Church’s directions.

    I have myself witnessed political rallies, held on Church property, into which the faithful have been herded in their thousands, being addressed by rabble rousing priests spouting complete lies about political issues. I have seen Nuns shepherding unaware children holding banners which were full of emotional nonsense.

    If you think this is right, I don’t.

  • Jonathan West

    My point was that your original comment seemed to accept the validity of the “out-breed them” tactic for Christians as well.

  • Julian Lord

    I have no problem whatsoever with anyone, Catholic or not, involving themselves democratically in politics” >< "I would remove the Bishops from the House of Lords

    Never mind the blatant self-contradictions, eh, I suppose that’s just how “rational” people like you think …

  • kentgeordie

    Well done Benedict for this noble apology. The first of several, perhaps. Strong faith is not necessarily best expressed via furious words, as Christian Order never fails to remind us.

  • Julian Lord

    Nope, not a “first”, and I very much doubt a “last” either.

  • $20596475

    No contradiction at all. The Bishops are not there as individuals. They are there because they are Bishops and to represent the interests of the C of E. It just isn’t appropriate any longer. By all means send people there as individuals with particular skills, but why not the Chief Rabbi, or even Archbishop Nichols? Why reserve places?

  • Benedict Carter


  • Julian Lord

    NONE of the Lords are there as individuals, except for the last remaining hereditaries, and your specious parody of “reasoning” fails to disguise your self-evident loathing of religion, Christianity, and Catholicism.

    The Catholic Church in the UK declines to accept seats in the House of Lords. ooooh that’s a bit incompatible with your “argument”, isn’t it ?

    As is BTW :

    why not the Chief Rabbi ?

    You mean Lord Sacks ?

  • $20596475

    There are many crossbench peers! I see no reason at all why any Bishops ought to be there as a right, but many why some might be there because of their potential contribution. That Catholics choose to refuse seats is shameful and an indication of their unwillingness to become part of the mainstream. Yes, Lord Sacks has now his place but he had to wait awhile. If he did, why not the Bishops? There is a complete illogicality to the system.

  • Julian Lord

    I would remove the Bishops from the House of Lords” >< "That Catholics choose to refuse seats is shameful

    I’m sorry, that’s just one too many logical incoherence for the evening, marred as it already has been by aaglaas’ copious hate speech.

    I simply REFUSE to carry on this parody of a “discussion”.

    Bottom line, in EVERY case where Catholics do ANYTHING, it’s “wrong”.

    If Catholic Bishops had seats in the Lords, you KNOW and I KNOW very well that you’d be ranting about how awful it was ; BUT you’re also prepared to rant about how awful it is that they decline such seats.

    That’s IT — I can no longer bear your ludicrous double standards.

  • $20596475

    I have to wonder if your failure to comprehend the relatively simple point being made is deliberate, or as a result of some pre-conditioned response mechanism.

    Let me try to explain again. I don’t want ANY Bishops, or anyone from other interest groups, having reserved places in the House of Lords. I want to see people sent there entirely on merit. Not elected. On merit. How we determine such merit is a matter for another debate.

    The point about Catholic, or Jewish, representation was simply as a counterpoint to highlight the unfairness of a situation where the established church has representation and others do not.

    If a Catholic Bishop was sent to the second chamber on merit, because he had demonstrated outstanding wisdom from which our legislators could benefit, you would not hear any protests from me. If the Catholic Church had reserved places you would.

  • Nesbyth

    Not necessarily…but the contraceptive mentality of today’s society should try to be eschewed by Christians, who should be generous and open to life….although the political and financial climate make it very difficult. BUT, central to this, the Church should provide strong and full teaching of the Faith, in schools as well as in Churches.
    Because the latter rarely happens then the former is not likely either!
    And on these two points (the good teaching being the most important) rests the future of the Christian faith. Having more babies is a useless way of promoting the faith if no-one practises their faith.

  • Jonathan West

    Is contraception a moral issue or a matter of faith and doctrine? In other words, do you think that non-Catholics should eschew contraception on moral grounds? If so, what is your reasoning?

  • Nesbyth

    According to all the Papal teaching on contraception and that of the catechism, it is a moral issue relating to the Natural Law.

    In all the teaching on this subject, going back to the early Fathers of the Church and continuing to the present day in the encyclicals of Paul VI and John Paul II, the wording goes something like this:

    In terms of the three fonts of morality, a sexual act is only moral if it has the 3-fold moral objects of the marital, the unitive and the procreative. This comes up in the Catechism and in the encyclicals and you can look them up on the internet. If one of these three is absent then the sexual act is no longer moral.

    I suppose this is also a matter of faith too. Most Catholics find it difficult to follow, especially in the West today, with tiny flats, poor income and potential poverty, although there are many who heroically do, whether through abstinence or natural family planning (which has the chance of being open to life).

    But right from the beginning of Christianity, the pagan Roman Empire into which they were born practised abortion, contraception, infanticide and concubinage. In contrast, Christians practised monogamy and did not contracept, nor indulge in abortion or infanticide. These were grave sins. (still are). But I suppose one could say that many Christians have gone full-circle, have squared that circle, and now carry on as the pagan Romans once did.

    Their get-out-clause is “conscience”. It can be applied to one’s individual circumstances, like mothers having to go out to work nowadays or families in cramped surroundings, although many of these larger families are very often the happier ones. Each person has to make a serious examination of conscience on this. If you are married to a practising Catholic it is a whole lot easier to discuss abstinence or Natural Family Planning.

    As for non-Catholics eschewing contraception on moral grounds….it is up to them I suppose. They are not bound by Papal Encyclicals, although these teachings are based on the Natural Law which is worth everyone following, or finding out about.

    Hope this is vaguely helpful!

  • Jonathan West

    Thank you. I was debating this point with a Catholic on another forum who claimed that it was an issue of faith and doctrine only.

  • Ben

    But where are the conservatives Republican Catholics in promoting pro-family programs, such as extended maternal and paternal leave, in order to support a large family culture? Our current American system does not allow for stability in maintaining a large family while also living comfortably.

  • horselord

    What is the purpose of religion? Is it an exclusive fan club for the deity only open to the Chosen Elite in which he is referred to as “Lord”? Membership requires blind Faith; brooks no questions; offers no explanations and where the Chosen are happy that Might is Right Or Else however alien the demands. The atmosphere is one where fear is a virtue and fun is a sin and which attracts the spiritual masochism of the Penitentes. Or is it some kind of friendly support group where the deity is called “Father”. The word “father” should not be misused: it implies some kind of tolerance of inquisitive and unruly kids by teaching them to behave in the name of Charity in a way they can understand. What is it, exactly, that you want?

    The Old Testament makes a big thing about Faith but not only is Charity hardly mentioned but it contains some pretty vicious stuff. The New says Charity trumps Faith. Yet we are expected to believe the logic and sentiments of both.

    Faith only has value to God. Charity benefits both God and Man. Charity enhances survival to ensure that that life continues long enough to fulfill his plan. Men killing
    each other in the name of Faith is counter-productive.

    Of course the Old Testament, like any history, will be full of people taking God’s name in vain, but that is not the point. The point is that religion should not have adopted it as holy writ for that very reason. To continue your analogy: by doing so, they have foolishly changed a biography of a people into Mein Kampf itself and they are stuck with it. This is, at best, bad public relations and, at worst, the stuff of heretic burning. But I can’t see them rectifying the matter: Faith, by definition, is never believing you can be wrong.

    If you claim that the Old Testament is holy writ, then you must accept every dot and comma; good or bad; nice or nasty – as God-approved. If you are going to bring
    the skeptic back into the fold, you will need to explain why the bad bits are Good. On the other hand, if you tell him to be selective, how does he know which is which: especially when a passage claims to quote God directly? Surely Faith, caveats and discretion are mutually exclusive? The sages that edited the original document many times saw fit not to explain. I guess, like you, they saw no problem or couldn’t be bothered to look up the

    For example, troops are currently bringing back Taliban fingers as souvenirs. David brought back two hundred Philistine foreskins (1 Samuel 18:27). Which are the barbarians and which are the champions of the Lord to be a glowing example to us all? Do you have to be a genius to see the problem now?

    So your average inquisitive man would like a little clarification before he joins. Is that
    too much to ask? Does he get a fatherly chat about his eternal health or does he just get bounced at the club door for lack of reading skills and just told to shut up and burn? What is the point of being given intellect and discretion if you are not allowed to use it for
    better or worse? If the Apple was the App, why not use it?

    You will, of course, dismiss me as godless. No, I’m not an atheist. I am just saying that religion must be made to sound more logical, practical and kindly. Why must you burrow among the unlovable gods of Old Testament times to find yours? I guess it’s probably because gods are supposed to be Ancient with a capital “A”. But the old records were
    full of ignorance whereas now we know more about the wonders of the Universe and have a better perspective. What was the point of creating such a marvelous engine if it is to be so lightly discarded on the way to heaven? Seems rather a waste of effort: yet Religion regards Science as the Devil’s Advocate. Faith is just knowing What; enlightenment is knowing Why and Charity is probably the How. Why not write off the arcane stuff and think anew? It demeans God as well as Man. The Reincarnation and some of the teachings of Christ make some sense within this philosophy – why not start from there?

    Let’s get this thing into stark perspective. If I see an ant drowning in my swimming pool,
    I fish it out, put it in the hot sun and blow on it to revive it. Why do I do it? I do not do so to prove my superior power or benevolence; nor does the ant exist to make me feel smug and to scurry away and write a bible about me. I do so because I have nothing better to do at the time. If there’s one definition of God, other than having infinite resources,
    is being that entity that supremely has nothing better to do. My priorities and perspectives are totally alien to the ant’s – indeed, cynically so. If young Miss Smith next door is out in her bikini, the ant has no chance. Nevertheless, if I was such an animal lover and wished to dedicate my life to saving the elephant, I may be willing to risk being shot by poachers as some other men and women have done. So you do not have to be divine to be a savior. If finite man is capable of doing such selfless things, would an all-powerful deity do any the less? However mysterious and non-manifest I am to the ant, I still scientifically exist. However detached and academic my feelings towards the ant may be, they still benefited it and, therefore as far as Brother Ant is concerned, it is still love.
    An all-powerful and all-self-contained God would be benevolent almost by definition as he has no other needs or distractions. What master artisan would go to all the trouble to produce masterpieces and then be happy to smash them or see them misused? Care of such art is Charity. So why do people need so much histrionic drama in their religion and make God so emotional, demanding and unscientific? Just give God some credit for horse-sense; help in the workshop by practicing Charity and hope you will end up on his

    But I guess that’s too boring for you – it’s more Geek than Gospel. You like the Hollywood drama, great poetry, paintings and music. But given the choice of poetry and stark survival, which is best?