Consistency – UPDATED

There is an interesting conversation going on at Inside Catholic now, stemming from the “Down Syndrome Couples” post.  I just left a comment which I thought was (like everything else I’ve ever said) pretty important, and something which I did not always realize or internalize.  This is what makes our beloved Church so very different from every other Church, and so durable.

I don’t mean to pile onto Jason Negri — I really don’t.  It’s just that the Church’s teaching on human sexuality is so central to our times (and maybe to all times), and so horribly misunderstood.  Here’s what I said in my comment:

Negri said in one of his comments on his original post on Inside Catholic:

Church pronouncements on moral issues purport to be universally applicable, but are not exceptions sometimes made for extraordinary circumstances (nuns at risk of rape in Africa are using birth control, people with severely limited mental capacity are not held responsible for some deliberate actions, same for children before the age of reason, etc.)? I’m wondering – and honestly wondering – whether an exception might be made for Monica and David whose developmental disabilities might well put them right between the points of able to marry but unable to care for children.

Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that the Church does NOT make exceptions. It is incredibly consistent in developing guidelines for specific extraordinary circumstances, without ever departing from the original principle.

The nuns protecting themselves from rape (without risking an abortion) are not violating, or availing themselves of an exception to, the principle that sexual love is to be unitive and procreative — rather, they are protecting themselves from an act which is purely violent. When a mentally disabled person or child is not held morally responsible for hurting someone when he doesn’t know better, it’s not an “exception” to the fifth commandment — it’s just a different act entirely from someone who knows better and hurts someone anyway.

Sterilization of a Down syndrome couple for the purpose of separating sex from children, however, would be an exception. That’s what makes it different from the examples Negri gave, and that’s what makes it wrong.

I just wanted to reiterate that the Church does not “make exceptions” — it is a Rock.

So, come join the conversation.  It’s been a very helpful and eye-opening discussion for me.


One commenter, CC, very helpfully posted this:

From the USCCB’s “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services” (

Compassionate and understanding care should be given to a person who is the victim of sexual assault. Health care providers should cooperate with law enforcement officials and offer the person psychological and spiritual support as well as accurate medical information. A female who has been raped should be able to defend herself against a potential conception from the sexual assault. If, after appropriate testing, there is no evidence that conception has occurred already, she may be treated with medications that would prevent ovulation, sperm capacitation, or fertilization. It is not permissible, however, to initiate or to recommend treatments that have as their purpose or direct effect the removal, destruction, or interference with the implantation of a fertilized ovum.

It seems to me no different from protecting yourself from someone maniac wielding a baster full of sperm, right?  There is no particular reason you should accept being impregnated in the context of an attack.

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