• Subscribe to Crisis

  • The views expressed by the authors and editorial staff are not necessarily the views of
    Sophia Institute, Holy Spirit College, or the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts.

    Subscribe to Crisis

    (It's Free)

    Go to Crisis homepage

    • sarto

      Ahh, how the Right loves to call the Church’s social teaching “prudential,” a weasel word for easily dismissed and ignored.

      But then, I consider the Church’s obsession with the bedroom issues to be equally prudential. As I told my young relative about to marry a lovely Catholic girl–you will be going to Engaged Encounter, which is a great thing. I have presented at several enganged encounters. But when the discussion comes to birth control, you are going to hear about Humanae Vitae, and you will hear a lot about Natural Family Planning. Now I know you both: You are thoughtful and prayerful and you are accepting your marriage as your way to live your Baptism. You arenot afraid of the cross and understand that your crosses will come. You will be living your sacrament, which is not the sacrament of any priest or pope. Within that sacrament you will be praying to hear the voice of the HolySpirit. You will also be listening to the voice of the Church. And you will maybe talk to other wise people. But when it comes to considering whether to have another child, pray, listen to God and to each other, do not try to run away from the Cross. And make up your own mind about what you will do. After faithfully, prayerfully listening, follow your conscience.

      • Jon

        My wife and I used contraception for much of our marriage. As Protestants, we didn’t think anything of it, because everyone did it.

        Around the time of the birth of our first child, we gained Catholic friends at work, and started to learn about this thing called NFP. A change in our marriage started first as an unwillingness to give birth control chemicals to our nursing daughter. With a new appreciation of the miracle of conception, we gained an unwillingness to risk an abortion through the use of the pill, the IUD or other devices. We started to learn about fertility, but we still used barrier methods at times. To me, it didn’t “feel” right at so many levels, but most of all we had a sense that we were injuring this special time together.

        And about 8 months ago, after the birth of our son, we together came to a new realization, that the marriage embrace was meant to be holy. It didn’t involve just 2 people, but also God. Our thought was that we should come together in His presence, in the way our creator made us to do so, in an act that may or may not bring a new child into the world.

        So we have practiced NFP, and it has been huge for us. Our marriage has grown much closer. We became more giving and less selfish. We gained a holy desire and expectation and joy for the marriage embrace unlike anything we had experienced before. We gained a desire for more children, and yet the grace to periodically abstain until our son finishes nursing.

        The Church’s teaching on sexuality is powerful for a marriage.

        This, among many things, helped my wife and I make the decision to seek full communion with the Catholic Church.

      • Cord Hamrick


        Since as a matter of fact leftists policies hurt the poor most of all, I suppose it truly is obligatory, not merely prudential, for Catholics to vote against leftists, in support of the preferential option for the poor.

        Thanks for raising that point; for unless I were voting for a pro-life leftist against a pro-choice free-marketer, I truly do not know how I could look my poorer neighbors in the face were I to vote for a leftist.

        So it is obligatory to assist the poor through free market reforms. But if this is obligatory, then how much more obligatory must it be, to support a teaching which is…

        (a.) far more clearly within the charism of the Magisterium (that is to say, dealing with faith and morals and uncluttered by matters of economics or politics or science); and,

        (b.) taught far more consistently through instruments of far greater magisterial authority, to the point that it is very difficult, while retaining intellectual consistency, to assert any way in which they cannot be regarded infallible?

        For of course all the encyclicals of the social teaching make a point of admonishing us to act in a fashion which helps the poor, but firmly avoid prescribing particular policies and systems to achieve that end. They specify intent, and leave a wide spectrum of possibilities as to how that intent may be achieved.

        But the teachings on contraception and abortion are not like that. It is anything but a discussion of mere intent. Instead, they say, bluntly: Do this particular act, and you endanger your soul.

        Presumably this teaching is correct, right?

        Or is the Church incorrect?

        Is the idea of Magisterial infallibility false, Sarto?

        Or is there some limitation, of which I am unaware, which places the manner and instruments with which the Church has taught against artificial contraception into a different (non-infallible) category?

        If this is the case, I’d like to know about it.

        • John Zmirak

          Cord, I believe that the teaching on contraception is binding and authoritative, but I have nowhere seen it presented that the encyclicals which taught or which later re-affirmed it were exercises of the extraordinary magisterium. Arguments that the condemnation of contraception are infallible hinge on the meaning of the ordinary magisterium, whose extent and nature are still under discussion. Pope Paul presented HV as an authoritative interpretation of natural law–that is, of reliable human reasoning, based on the code that God wrote in the human heart. If HV had been an ex cathedra statement, there wouldn’t have been nearly the tangled controversy in subsequent years. But as Cardinal Ratzinger wrote some years back, using the extraordinary magisterium to teach natural law would seem to undermine the very essence of natural law… that it is accessible to all rational men of good will.

          • Bill Bannon

            Correct. Humanae Vitae was introduced twice at its press conference as non infallible by Monseignor Lambrushini and were he speaking on his own, the Pope would have had to correct him in
            subsequent days in public …the way the statement was made in public.
            It was held by some to be infallible by way of universal ordinary magisterium ( Germain Grisez, Fr. Ford et al) and it was held not to be so ( Karl Rahner, Bernard Haring et al) and a small number held HV to be infallible ( Ermenigildo Lio, Brian Harrison).
            I personally think it needs ex cathedra because
            ex cathedra unlike UOM….stops the debate. Until then, it will drift as it is drifting while Popes go about other things and address it rarely compared to the dissent level. Ex cathedra according to Vat.II requires painstaking review of the tradition and no Pope yet seems to want to do that whatever their reasons ( see last paragraph of LG25).

            • Bill Bannon

              John ps…St. Alphonsus Ligouri in his tome on moral theology actually addressed the fact that natural law is only evident in simple areas and not in complex ones and he referred to saints taking opposite positions on some areas….I suspect he meant usury, slavery etc. or the Dominican/ Franciscan versus Jesuit fight on the Chinese ancestral rituals.

          • Howard Kainz

            Pope Paul VI discussed natural law arguments against contraception, but his main argument is in the moral theology range. He writes in Humanae vitae, “To dominate instinct by means of one’s reason and free will undoubtedly require ascetical practices, so that the affective manifestations of conjugal life may observe the correct order, in particular with regard to the observance of periodic continence.” He is going beyond discussions of right and wrong here to provide insight about the soul’s spiritual progress.

      • Lucy


        Thank you!!!! I could not agree more. Quote: “You will be living your sacrament, which is not the sacrament of any priest or pope.”

        We in my family live by that creed. We have mass in our living room every Sunday because we don’t need any priest or pope. I act as Priest!

        As far as the social teaching goes the Church is not going to be in my bedroom, or my pocketbook either.
        All these teachings from the popes and priests about helping the poor is just throwing good money after bad.

        Yes, it is good to be my own pope and priest.

        • Deacon Ed Peitler

          I hope someday you return to the Catholic Church

        • Cord Hamrick

          Deacon Ed:

          Your expressed hope for Lucy is salutary, provided that her note is sincere. But the impression I received while reading that note is that the note was satirical.

          I mean, here we have a response to Sarto whose note suggested he was telling the faithful ways they could be disobedient to the Church’s teaching. A clumsy, hamhanded, and literal reply to this, such as I might reflexively write, might include references to millstones.

          But it looks to me as if “Lucy” took a different approach: Following Sarto’s thinking to its logical end and then describing that end with ironical enthusiasm.

          Here we have a woman saying, “I act as Priest!” …as if she didn’t know what a ruckus that would cause.

          Next, because Sarto’s own spin on Catholicism seems to focus largely on achieving social justice through government compulsion (as if there weren’t far better ways), “Lucy” hoists him on his own petard, saying, “As far as the social teaching goes the Church is not going to be in my bedroom, or my pocketbook either. All these teachings from the popes and priests about helping the poor is just throwing good money after bad.”

          And as if that weren’t over-the-top enough, “Lucy” very nearly quotes Mel Brooks, declaring, “Yes, it is good to be my own pope and priest.”

          It’s so perfectly over-the-top I wouldn’t be surprised if it were Mark Shea writing it. But whoever wrote it, it’s still just a recipe for serving up Irish children “stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled.”

    • Michael PS

      Am I alone in finding an eerie similarity between the “Truce of 1968, in which the Church declined to discipline dissenters from Humanae Vitae ” 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?

    • Bill Bannon

      The essay lost me when it suddenly saw a widespread attack on Humanae Vitae among politicians. According to the USCCB, 96% of Catholics dissent from Humanae Vitae so why would non Catholic pols even have it on their consciousness since few are following it.
      “Evangelium Vitae” is the encyclical that infallibly (not simply definitively) condemns abortion in section 62 in a brand new manner of exercising infallibility by polling all Bishops world wide by mail and email rather than through a physical Council and then using a shortened modified form of the ex cathedra wording. I would think that is the encyclical secular pols would worry about but even there….why worry…if Catholic pols vote pro choice often?
      I liked the first history part of the essay but to think that non Catholics plot and worry in respect to ignored encyclicals is odd and seems out of touch with reality. It’s as though the author wishes non Catholics were reading encyclicals so strongly, that he is now imagining it. He ought to find out first if Catholics are reading encyclicals…and proceed from there.

      • Rebecca

        Bill is right. Most non-Catholics aren’t even aware of the existance of encyclicals.

    • pammie

      What a wonderful way to start out this Thanksgiving week– a Christopher Manion piece in “Crisis Magazine”.

      We as Catholics are supposed to be the salt of the earth. And to do so we must follow as nearly as possible the Faith handed down from the Apostles. To do otherwise is to lose our purpose, our flavour, our real influence in this world. Unfortunately we live in a time where a majority of our clergy are full of more psychobabble than plain talk. I do long for those days when one could make heads and tails of it all without a M.Div behind one’s name .

    • Deacon Ed Peitler

      #1 When the house of cards called the federal government comes tumbling down and the wherewithal to assist the poor is non-existent, we can place some of the blame on big-government, liberal bishops who have habitually been in the pocket of the Democrat Party.

      #2 Reading Bonhoffer for the first time, I conclude that it would be wise for the bishops collectively to read him too – for his ecclesiology. Bonhoffer, because his primary identity was in Christ, went to the gallows because he sought to undo the evil totalitarian government of his day. Will any of our bishops be so willing in defense of Christ and his Church? Tell me which bishops will be in the back of the line in offering his life for Christ?

      #3 It is high time that ALL Church entities get out of bed with the government. It would be charitable to say that at best the government is amoral. But noting 50 million dead babies in the past 45 years, immoral would be better suited. What is so different between the Nazi’s annihilation of 6 million people and the US government’s support of the death of 50 million? Only 44 million! It’s high time that we severed our relationship with Satan instead of endorsing his politics.

      • Nick Palmer

        Deacon Ed, I always appreciate your thoughtful and orthodox commentary. It helps crystalize key issues for me when I lack the training or reading to get there myself.

        Question, if I may, and it relates also to some comments in Mr. Manion’s article. The Church teaches that homosexual acts are proscribed. Recently, a journalist in Boston’s Catholic paper, The Pilot, wrote that homosexual urges are somehow connected to Satan. He was roundly excoriated and issued a somewhat circumspect apology. Was he wrong to do so? Was his initial commentary, in fact, correct?

        • Phil

          I think you will find your answer here:

          Go to, or make your Home page, http://www.mycatholic.com

          Under Catholic World News, click on:

          Boston: Cardinal Stands by Editor Who Printed Column on Homosexualilty

        • Deacon Ed Peitler

          Homesexual urges are not in themselves sinful because they are the result of our human nature disordered as a result of original sin, since ‘in the beginning it was not so.’ So, yes, homosexual acts are gravely sinful since they violate scripture, as well as the natural law. Homosexual lustful urges are in sinful but can be the occasions of sin if they are not countered with virtue.

          • Deacon Ed Peitler

            I meant to write” “Homosexual lustful urges are NOT in themselves sinful but can be the occasions of sin if they are not countered with virtue.”

    • sibyl

      Interesting discussion. I’d like to answer the question raised in the headline, though — can the bishops win this fight? And my answer is, no. This battle is already lost because we have almost completely lost the sacramental view of marriage.

      It’s not just that people have to be told what a sacrament is and how important it is to be faithful to vows; it’s that people don’t even have a sense of sin anymore, so that broken vows become embarrassing and depressing, but not reasons to fear for one’s immortal soul.

      I really believe that the bishops have a much more fundamental job before them: to realize that they are dealing with huge numbers of spiritually illiterate people, even those that went through the Catholic schools and were raised in Catholic homes. Catechesis, certainly. But at an even more basic level, to begin to waken people from the properity-induced slumber of American life, to see that the spiritual world is a real world, and that what you do there really matters as much as what you do in the material.

      This is, in my opinion, why so many Catholics seem so at ease with the liberal/radical agenda. The words sound so good, and the overt claims sound so nice, and God’s law just doesn’t seem as real as the political voices that want “change”, with all its phantom promises.

    • A R Kearney

      I do not know how Paul Ryan, a follower of Ayn Rand, can be considered a good Catholic.

      • Kevin

        Paul Ryan also voted for ENDA, which would make gay rights an imperative of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and all sorts of other government branches.

    • Deacon Patrick Mongan, MD

      Our Church history is replete with examples, both good and bad, to guide us in our relationship with the “World” (Mk. 12:17, John 17:16, 18:37; Rom. 12:2). The constant tension between transforming the World (Our Mission) and the deforming of the Church by the World has been present from the very beginning of the Church as evidenced in the Epistles. How the Holy Spirit was guiding that history only God knows, but we know in faith that the Church was guided even tho at times we did not seem to listen. With the loss of the Papal estates the Church could more easily proclaim the Gospel with less corrupting influences by the involvement in “politics”. Yet our Bishops seemed to forget these lessons and were too cozy with politicians with Boston as perhaps the “poster child” for these errors (read “The Faithful Departed”). Yes, it is a legacy that will be difficult to extricate ourselves from, but with God possible, and it will happen!!! Did the Church make a serious error in ever expecting the “government” (esp. federal) to aid in the “corporal works of mercy”?

    • Stilbelieve

      Can the bishops win? Of coarse they can – they hold all the cards. They talk to their flocks every week. All they have to do is inform their congregations of the damage this Administration is doing to the mission of the Church and to couple that with teaching of intrinsic evil. Then hold up their Profession of Faith and the Lord’s Prayer as mirrors and ask them to look at themselves in it to see if they really believe what they say they believe and pray for. Remind them that each of us will have an accounting before Jesus and will He be able to say, “Christ truly reigned over our heart?” At that moment will we hear these words, “Come you who are blessed of my Father and inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world?”

      At that point, announce that volunteers will be outside church helping people who want to for spiritual reasons remove their names from the political organization that is attacking the mission of the Church in the world and is diabolically opposed to what they say they profess to believe and pray for. When tens of millions of Catholics remove their names from the Democrat Registration Rolls and stop voting for them – the attacks on the Church will end. And the bishops and priest should be first in line to remove their names from the Democrat Party.

    • Phil H

      Our bishops have traded the lives of the unborn for the comfort of the poor. YES! “comfort of the poor”. Our poor here in the United States live better than the poor in most nations. During the Bush vs Clinton election cycle, the USCCB all but endorsed the democrats. The Bishops turned their backs on the unborn and the teachins of Church o what is truly evil vs what they believed was in the best interest of the poor. It takes an intelligent person to overcome simple reactions to complex problems. i.e. someone is hungry so feed them. intelligent people ask why do they not have food. will we have to feed them again tomorrow

    • Phil H

      oops, fat fingers……………tomorrow?
      Tomorrow should not be a problem for Christian. BUT Everyday for the rest of their lives is a problem, Our Bishops have failed us. They had good intentions. How does that old saying go? The road to hell…..

    • Mr. Marx

      Can the bishops win this one? No way, they have already lost. By accepting government $$$, they have to (as in, go to jail) if they do not comply with federal/state rules.
      Only option that allows the church to be true to Rome is to walk away from ALL, repeat ALL government funding. Burn your state license to perform marriage. Give up your tax-free status. In short, retreat from this world.

      Will the church be persecuted by the state? Count on it.

      Google “Obama repeal of faith based initiatives”.

      You will see as far back as 2009 that pagans and Protestants were demanding that the State dictate how the faith organizations work, hire and fire. Catholics need not apply.

      Shekels always, always become shackles

    • Matt

      Most of history’s holiest men have come out of environments of persecution, from Moses, John the Baptist, and Jesus of Nazareth, through the Christian martyrs of both the pagan Roman empire and the European “reformation”, down to both our current pope and his immediate predecessor.

      Can “the Bishops” win? Depends on what you mean by “the Bishops”. If you mean the crowd that currently occupy most American dioceses, then I have to suspect the answer may be “no, they’ve made too many expedient compromises with evil…there may be hope for their individual souls, but they cannot lead the Church to victory”. But the continuing Magisterium of the Church will win. New men will replace the current ones, and they may succeed where the present bishops have failed.

      Indeed, recent signs are already trending in a positive direction. 20 years ago a good and orthodox man such as Timothy Dolan could not conceivably have been elected to the head of the American episcopal conference.

      In the meantime, if our earthly Church loses some of its special privileges, we should recall that it has in the past faced far, far worse than is ever likely to occur here in America, and come through it all the stronger.

      “Upon this rock, I shall build my Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.”

    • Observer

      As far as I understand it, no lay person has the authority to teach what is Sin, and what isn’t Sin. To say that HV was just a suggestion and not grounded Church teaching is not only absurd, but also leaves it to the individual to figure out what is right and what is wrong; it would certainly come was a surprise to many Bishops and Priests. Sarto, you may have expressed a pleasing sentiment to your relatives concerning marriage, but what you teach is heresey and potentially could lead other(s) into Sin.

      When it is all said and done, philosophical categories, theological systems, and human constructs are not the final arbiters. The Church set fairly clear foundations about what is and what isn’t allowed. Artificial birth control is never allowed; NFP is allowed under certain circumstances (it was never meant to be “a way of life” as some Catholics believe). Couples can practice abstinence (many must for health reasons); but most priests will tell you that abstinence should only be used in the more dire circumstances. Most of this is easy to understand. But, the vast majority of Catholics, for a variety of reasons, chose not to obey. Unfortunately, many Catholic lay have taken it upon themselves to speak with authority on this issue.

      What is ironic is the fact that those who teach that ABC is not a Sin, and every Catholic couple should limit thier family size, are the same people who demand generous entitlements that only a nation with large families can provide (Germany had a birthrate of 5.8 children per female when Bismarck introduced the first Social Security pensions). Non-Hispanics females in this nation average only 1.7 children, and by 2025 there will be only 1.52 workers for every 1 retiree.

    • Pingback: Georgetown Alumni Politicians Dissent on Abortion, Marriage « Campus Notes