Catholic bishops fight to deny health care to the 98 percent

The 98 percent, that is, of American Catholic women who use contraception.

Some 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women have used contraceptive methods banned by the church, research published [in April] showed.

[An April 2011] report from the Guttmacher Institute, the nonprofit sexual health research organization, shows that only 2 percent of Catholic women, even those who regularly attend church, rely on natural family planning.

The latest data shows practices of Catholic women are in line with women of other religious affiliations and adult American women in general.

“In real-life America, contraceptive use and strong religious beliefs are highly compatible,” said the report’s lead author Rachel Jones.

She said most sexually active women who do not want to become pregnant practice contraception, and most use highly effective methods like sterilization, the pill, or the intrauterine device (IUD).

Catholics are not opposed to contraception. Catholics are not morally opposed to contraception. Catholics are not theologically opposed to contraception. Contraception does not trouble the conscience of Catholics. Nor should it.

All of which means that it is simply not accurate in any meaningful sense to say that opposition to contraception is a “Catholic” position.

It is a bishops’ position and only a bishops’ position. And as such, it is not terribly meaningful, since Catholic bishops really shouldn’t ever have to decide whether or not they’re going to use birth control.

If one wants to know about the medical, practical, ethical, moral or theological implications of contraception, then a bunch of celibate men without medical degrees is really not the smartest place to turn. I’m sure they have opinions, but I have no idea why anyone would think their opinions — uninformed on every meaningful level — should be given more weight than the informed opinions of those who are women, or medical professionals, or both.

All the bishops bring to the discussion is their expertise and authority on theological and ethical matters. And on that point they fail miserably. Nearly all — 98 percent — of their followers have examined their consciences and found no qualm, trouble, worry or uneasiness with regard to the use of contraception. The bishops say it’s evil. The laity overwhelmingly and emphatically disagree — and unlike the bishops their assessment is based on meaningful experience. So on the subject of contraception, the Catholic bishops are reduced to telling their “followers” not to listen to their conscience. How is that a position of moral authority?

The bishops have this one wrong. The harder they dig in to defend this mistake, the more damaging it becomes to their credibility, moral authority and membership.

Does anyone doubt that what Brad DeLong says here is true?

Someday — maybe five, maybe 10, maybe 20, maybe 50 years from now — some Pope is going to say: “The fact that God gave us concealed ovulation means that birth control is completely fine. If God had not wanted humans to make love whether or not such lovemaking is ‘open to conception,’ She would have set things up so that human females went into estrus and human males were only aroused by females in estrus, the way it works with so many of our other mammal cousins. Paul VI and his successors John Paul I and II and Benedict XVI were narrow-minded misogynists who made serious theological errors.” That day is coming sure as the sun rises in the east every morning.

That day is surely coming. The only question is how many American Catholics will be left by the time that day arrives.

 

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  • http://www.blogger.com/home?pli=1 Coleslaw

    Somehow I doubt that day is coming, even more so that it will be as soon as 50 years from now.

    A older Catholic friend of mine told me that the commission of Catholic set up to decide whether the birth control pill was an acceptable means of contraception actually decided that not only was it, but that the Pope must give his okay to it. Pope Paul VI then declared use of the pill a sin. I’m not sure where she got her information, so take that for what it is worth.

  • http://vicwelle.wordpress.com victoria

    Your friend is correct.  A great book about the events leading up to Humanae Vitae (the papal document that condemned artificial birth control) is Robert McClory’s “Turning Point: The Inside Story of the Papal Birth Control Commission”

  • Anonymous

    I heard the same thing from my former pastor, who had a friend on that commission (which included not just the theologians, but input from married couples, parish priests, doctors and therapists specializing in marriage counseling), and it looks like other folks have also confirmed — so, yup, your friend is totally, sadly 100% accurate.

  • http://twitter.com/Didaktylos Paul Hantusch

    As I understand it the majority of Pope Montini’s comission favoured approval of artificial contraception. The minority group that favoured continuing the ban was led by one (then just Bishop) Karol Josef Woytyla. The majority thought they had persuaded Montini, and dispersed feeling their work was done, just before Montini went off on the Papacy’s summer retreat to Castel Gandolfo. Montini’s confessor at that retreat was … Bishop Karol Josef Woytyla.

    (edited to correct spelling)

  • Marshall Pease

    I’m sure someday some pope will call some other pope a narrow-minded misogynist who made serious theological errors. Yup.

  • MaryKaye

    I agree with the main thrust of this post, but I have to say that the leap from “98% of American Catholics use birth control” to “98% of American Catholics have no issues with the use of birth control” is unfounded.  That’s not what the survey asked, and in my experience as an ex-Catholic conflicted feelings about issues of morality and sexuality are very, very widespread in this community.  Some proportion of American Catholics, like my father and sister, see no problem at all with birth control.  Some proportion see a problem with it but use it anyway.  We don’t know the relative sizes of those proportions.

    I haven’t read a lot of Church documents, but my impression is that they seldom, if ever, say that a previous decision was wrong:  they just give a new decision and reasons for it.  But I tend to feel they have committed too heavily to this one (and to exclusion of women from the priesthood) to reverse it, and that the organization may allow itself to fail rather than changing.

  • P J Evans

    That’s about what I said in a comment on an op-ed this morning talking about how Catholics were up in arms about the requirement.
    I pointed out that the bishops and the rest of the hierarchy, who are all amale and all supposed to be celibate, really have no business telling people they can’t use contraceptives, particularly non-members. If they were to hire only practicing Catholics and limit their hospitals and other services only to practicing Catholics, then they might have a leg to stand on.
    But the laity, which is the body of the Catholic Church, apparently disagrees strongly with them and their views.

  • Patrick

    The “birth control issue” debating points Catholics tend to use when talking to liberal non Catholics go something like this:  The use of birth control is only a sin if its done to contravene the fundamental purpose of marriage, which is maximal reproduction (seriously, maximal).  Not everyone is in a life situation where they can have more children than they presently do.  Catholicism requires that people not selfishly have fewer children than they’re capable of having, but it leaves the judgment call on when that point has been reached to the married couple.  If someone is literally incapable of having more children (and that includes financially or psychologically incapable), then birth control isn’t immoral for them.  The sanctity of the individual couple’s right to make that decision is so strong that even if a Catholic priest were to realize that 100% of the married couples in his congregation were utilizing birth control, it would be inappropriate to conclude that anything hypocritical was going on.

    Its nice to have this news story put the lie to that bit of mendacity.  It was obvious from the start that these debating points were just the lies that get trotted out when liberal non believers are in the room.  But having actual confirmation?  That’s just golden.

  • Leonard Andrew Spencer

    Okay, I understand how it can be fine for a couple to avoid reproduction if they feel incapable of raising more children, but why are they still having sex? Does this mean sexual relations which aren’t intended for reproduction are now OK? Because I thought that was the main justification for opposing homosexual and pre-marital intercourse. Or are Catholics fine with those too?

  • Baeraad

    Because of a loooong bit of rationalisation about how sex is meant for both love and reproduction, and the sin lies in trying to forcibly remove the reproduction part from it. Post-menopausal sex, or sex during infertile times of the month, are fine because you’re performing the divinely proscribed baby-making acts in the sanctioned way, and it’s not your fault that nature has not seen fit to make your union fertile at the moment. I assume that the same thing is going on with the permission for birth control when you don’t feel capable of raising more children – you would *like* to reproduce, but the world just isn’t cooperating by making it possible for you. Not your fault, don’t worry about it, just carry on with the love aspect of sex.

    Really, it makes perfect sense if you come to it with the preconceived notions that these Catholic theologists have. If you look at it from a sane perspective, on the other hand, it’s painfully, painfully stupid.

  • Anonymous

     It depends on which Catholic you ask.

  • Patrick

     I’m not precisely the person you want to talk to on this.  You need a charlatan, not someone who’s talked to charlatans.

    But in general, from what I understand, Catholicism doesn’t precisely porhiibt sex for purposes other than procreation.  It prohibits sex that isn’t “open” to procreation.  So for example, if someone is infertile, they’re still allowed to have sex if they’re “open to the possibility” of children, even if they know it won’t actually happen, because you know you’re not capable of having children.

    One way its sometimes explained is to say that contraception is ok as long as it isn’t taken with a “contraceptive mindset.”  That is, if you’re open to the possibility that the contraception might fail, and your motivation for taking isn’t a desire not to have children but rather a desire to do something like protect your mental health from the hassle of a larger family, you can push and tug and manipulate Catholic “ethics” enough that you can use birth control.

    The whole thing is a sham, of course.  Not only is it obvious that there’s no way that every single Catholic in my home town is only financially or psychologically “capable” of having three children, making a mockery of the suggestion that these decisions on “capability” are being made in good faith… we also now have Catholic institutions’ unwillingness to provide health care if that health care covers birth control.  That’s simply not possible to square with the liberal Catholic birth control apologetics, which would have us believe that there’s nothing incompatible with Catholicism if an entire congregation is using birth control due to their (alleged) personal introspection regarding their “ability” to have children.

  • Tonio

    Those teachings seem to fall apart when I try to analyze them according to the ordinary consequentialist principle of morality.  “Openness” to procreation would suggest that procreation is the highest good. I had thought that the highest good was treating others how one would wish to be treated. And as I suppress the urge to sing a certain Monty Python song, the teachings imply to me that the human ovum doesn’t exist and that semen is capable of growing into babies all on its own.

  • Patrick

     They’re not consequentialists.  They’re natural law theorists.

  • Tonio

    That particular concept of natural law sounds like a authoritarian deification of nature. And referencing Guest-again’s point about bishops, the objection here is to these men insisting that contraception use is universally wrong, not just against Catholic rules.

  • P J Evans

    Their biological knowledge does seem to be a bit behind the times. (And it isn’t because they don’t have experts available.)

  • Matri

    Alchemy is “behind the times”. THIS is “ancient”.

  • Anonymous

    ” Catholicism doesn’t precisely porhiibt sex for purposes other than
    procreation.  It prohibits sex that isn’t “open” to procreation.”

    Exactly.  Any sex act that doesn’t put sperm cells in the right area is considered an affront to God, and I was taught in highschool that the Vatican considers the deliberate prevention of  conception to be just as much of an affront to God.  (Over and over and over.)

    It doesn’t just discourage the use of contraceptives, the Vatican actually believes that certain sexual positions are evil.  Shouldn’t that sort of thing be the couple’s business and nobody else’s?

  • Anonymous

    Nearly all — 98 percent — of their followers have examined their
    consciences and found no qualm, trouble, worry or uneasiness with regard
    to the use of contraception.

    Nothing in the study tells us that.  What we know is simply that 98 percent of sexually experienced American Catholic women have used contraception at some point.  We don’t know how many of them felt morally conflicted about it.

    That said, in a 2005 Gallup poll, 78% of Catholic respondents said the pope should permit the use of birth control, so it’s certainly true that the greater part of US Catholic laity finds contraception morally acceptable.

    “Paul VI and his successors John Paul I and II and Benedict XVI were
    narrow-minded misogynists who made serious theological errors.”

    Yeah, no, that’s not happening.  Future Pope will say that his predecessors’ policies were appropriate for the long-ago times in which they lived, and/or that his predecessors didn’t really forbid contraception, that’s just a common myth promulgated by people who want to tear down the Church.

  • P J Evans

     They’re going to retcon that like they did the popes before about 700, huh?

  • Nathaniel

    Mr. DeLong is far too optimistic. I predict that the Catholic Church will become a church primarily based in Africa and Asia, and thus a church that feels no need to cater to an increasingly small western church.

    That won’t change where the Popes come from though. They will stay comfortably European.

  • P J Evans

     Only until they run out of white guys to be cardinals. They have to appoint locals to those jobs, to maintain their credibility. At some point, the Europeans won’t have a majority of the cardinals, and they’ll have to deal with a pope who isn’t European.

  • Tricksterson

    Hey they only recently reconciled themselves to the idea of non-Italian popes, give them time.  However by the accounts I’ve heard the guy who came in second was Latino so there’s a chance.

  • Anonymous

     I was pulling for the Latino guy.  He struck me as the most Christlike of the candidates, and I figured that’s what a pope ought to be, right?

    Clearly the Vatican does not agree on this score.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio from Buenos Aires. I was going for him, too. He he turned down the bishop’s palace and chauffeured limosine for a flat and public transport, and convinced wealthy Catholics who planned to fly to the Vatican to celebrate his appointment to give the money to the poor instead.

    Rumour has it that after receiving a few dozen votes in the early rounds of the 2005 conclave he begged the other cardinals not to vote for him…which to me is a pretty good reason to vote for him :)

    Doctrinal conservative but…well, he’s 75 and a Catholic cardinal so there’s only so much I can expect in the circumstances.

    Also: a Jesuit! For those who follow Popey stuff, a Jesuit being a serious contender is a huge deal.

  • Julian Elson


    I predict that the Catholic Church will become a church primarily based in Africa and Asia, and thus a church that feels no need to cater to an increasingly small western church. ”

    Do African and Asian Catholic laity oppose contraception more than American Catholic laity? I’m wondering why, if so.

     (Incidentally, where is Catholicism doing particularly well in Asia, aside the the Philippines? (Even South Korea is less Catholic than one might think.))

  • Dan Audy

     My understanding is that the African branch of the Catholic Church is much more conservative than the North American and European branches (I’m not familiar with the Asian so I’ll refrain from comment).  This is both reflected in the ordained and the laity.  The main reason for this is the African churches were (and continue to be) founded by ‘hardcore’ Catholics that tend to be pre-Vatican II in their attitudes.  This combined with their focus on rural areas with a more poorly educated population results in a much more conservative set of attitudes.

    This conservative outlook mixes with the fact that contraception is much more difficult to access (if locally available at all) and that feminism has not yet achieved the same level of success (particularly in rural area) as in the west means that most African Catholics simply accept that contraception is wrong (when they think about it at all) and lack the experience that might show them that it benefits them and their family.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Obligatory mutter about the 100% interchangeability of “Catholics” and “American Catholics”…
    /shoulder chip

    It’s worth noting that, not only do the laity largely reject the Church’s teaching re use of contraception, but so do a significant proportion of priests and nuns. Quietly, for the most part–I haven’t come across a priest who proclaims from the pulpit “the magisterium is full of shit”, but I know plenty who, when parishioners seek their counsel on this, will talk them through informing their conscience and being free of guilt about any conscientious dissent they ultimately may arrive at.

    Bishops, on the other hand…there are dissenters among their ranks too, but as with all things the higher up the power chain someone is, and the further away from direct pastoral care, the more they tend to prioritise theological purity over real-world implications.

    The dramatic decline (some would say plummet) in participation in the sacrament of reconciliation in many countries has been linked to mass dissent re contraception. Women got sick of confessing to a priest that they were using contraception and had no intention of stopping, especially when they felt that the priest didn’t appreciate the complexities involved. So they stopped going to confession, and as the primary transmitters of the faith to the next generation, their children didn’t see confession as a regular part of Catholic life. So now we have huge numbers of Catholics, including regular mass-goers, who haven’t participated in the sacrament since childhood.

    I wonder at the display of priorities here. Millions of people are missing out on one of the core sacraments of the church over what was, to reference Coleslaw’s point, a lineball call that almost everyone ignores anyway.

    I’m all for standing firm on important matters of principle. But this really was a call that almost went the other way! It’s not like opposition to the death penalty or economic injustice or anything like that…*

    *trailing off to ponder how we don’t seem to have devalued a sacrament over Catholics supporting war, judicial murder or oppression of the poor. Way to be morally consistent, magisterium!

  • http://lightningbug.blogspot.com lightning

    Coupla things:

    *  The Catholic church is a strictly hierarchical organization.  “Catholic beliefs” are what the Pope says they are.  It’s hard for a Baptist to understand how little influence Church members, or even lower levels of the priesthood, actually have.  I have the impression that the Catholic hierarchy wants to cut the Church back to the hard core and get rid of all of the “cafeteria Catholics”.  Be interesting to see if there’s a Church left when they’re done.

    * Popes don’t make mistakes, ever.  I watched a cable program for a while where a Franciscan (normally one of the most sensible of the orders) explained this in excruciating detail.  Helped that he looked exactly like one of the stock anime villains.

  • friendly reader

    @lightningbug:disqus : how you define what “Catholic beliefs” are is a matter of opinion, I should think. In my religious studies program we were always taught to consider religion to be whatever the people who identified with it practiced, with what the elites said it was being secondary.

    I can’t remember what the title was, but I read a religiously-themed (of a somewhat Unitarian variety) fantasy book in which the American Catholic Church had actually schismed from the Roman Catholic Church over issues like birth control and female ordination. Does that ring a bell to anyone?

  • http://lightningbug.blogspot.com lightning

     

    how you define what “Catholic beliefs” are is a matter of opinion, I
    should think. In my religious studies program we were always taught to
    consider religion to be whatever the people who identified with it
    practiced, with what the elites said it was being secondary.

    This is fine for a class, but Catholic doctrine (a better word than “beliefs”, here, I think) is what the Powers that Be say it is; no argument allowed.  Try to argue with a Catholic theologian* and you’ll get “the Church has studied these issues for centuries, and the people doing the studies are smarter than you could ever be.  If you disagree with them, you’re wrong.  Asking questions is the first step to heresy, so watch it!”

    IIRC, both ordination of women and birth control have been placed in the “there shall be no further discussion” category.

    * unless you’re arguing with a Jesuit, AKA “God’s Debating Team”.  Jesuits are fun.

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    That’s the point where you call it an “appeal to authority” and they’ve lost the argument, but there’s no useful discussion anyway. 

  • FangsFirst

     

    That’s the point where you call it an “appeal to authority” and they’ve
    lost the argument, but there’s no useful discussion anyway.

    Appeals to authority are not inherently wrong; when their authority is supported, it’s legitimate.

    I’ve always been confused about Catholicism, and don’t really tend to feel the need to tell any they are doing it wrong (or right) and let any I know do it as they see fit. My SGF considers herself extremely “hardcore” Catholic (she laughs but agrees at that adjective) but is socially liberal in many ways, including ways “THE CHURCH” does not approve of (homosexuals, providing for others to make their own choices about abortion, allowing for contraception, maybe some others). She does favour the ritualistic elements heavily (possibly due to being raised under a very local pagan religion…or to her own personality).

    Another friend describes herself happily as “cafeteria Catholic” and identifies more with Jesuits than Franciscans (she was trying to find my SGF a better congregation by proxy, keeping their differing views in mind, which was a hilarious conversation, as the two never talked and I just carried messages and ideas back and forth) and suggested this meant a greater openness to alternate truths about what Catholicism is or requires.

    Now, with the preface of “I know two people, happily call both Catholic at their own requests despite their opposing viewpoints, because I feel it’s their call” I was given to understand that the Pope and his declarations (and so on) were necessities to identify as Catholic. Obviously the two closest examples I have don’t seem to agree, so there’s that…but I wonder on some level how Catholicism is defined as a denomination,¹ then, if it doesn’t require the hierarchy. Transubstantiation? Other details? Or is it kinda mushy like the Protestant denominations, which I’ve found have very little consistency between bodies under a single title umbrella? (I don’t suppose anyone can tell me what the definition is, or that there simply isn’t a clear one, for sure?)

    ¹Pardon if my terminology fails. I was raised protestant, have always been basically an agnostic atheist (who dabbled in identifying with deism, wanted to be Satanist for shock value but just couldn’t get behind the tendency toward any sect of it to identify with “might makes right,” even the legit Satanist I knew, who hated LaVey, etc and was of an actual group that I’ve long since forgotten the name of but who was reluctant to talk about it, out of exhaustion with stupid conversations on the subject) and never paid a ton of attention. The two above are the only Catholics I’ve had lengthy enough religious discussion with to identify, and one hates talking about religion, the other doesn’t in theological or denotative senses, and both are converts. Which isn’t near as bad as my only exposure to Judaism: an ex-girlfriend and current friend, who had to ask her father when “exactly” Shabbat was. Wow, he was pissed. My fault: I’d asked her out of curiosity. Little realizing she didn’t actually know. Oops!

  • Anonymous

     As a Catholic-turned-Pagan, it’s fascinating to hear about people who went the other way round. :)

    But yes, there is a strong implication that one must follow lockstep with the Vatican or be a heretic.

  • FangsFirst

     

    As a Catholic-turned-Pagan, it’s fascinating to hear about people who went the other way round. :)

    It was an eye-opener. Most of the Pagans I’ve known have been the kind who chose the beliefs deliberately to be contrarian and perpetually offended. When they would meet up, there’d be one Greek Reconstructionist, one Wiccan, one
    Ásatrú, so on, and they’d spend most of their time talking crap about Christians, then treating their various beliefs like a checklist–“Okay, now it’s time for us to have this festival. But back to how Christians suck…”

    Met a handful of sincere people in my time at Borders, which was helpful, but for years I thought, “How do you stumble into a belief system no one around you practices and has been largely abandoned and decide actually, no, it was right all along, and do so sincerely?” I didn’t think that was fair and tried to sort out why for years, trying to avoid the subject otherwise.

    Then along comes someone who was raised Pagan¹ and turned Catholic² and I thought, “Wow, I’m an idiot. Any conversion requires stumbling into a belief system you already do not inhabit. For commonly practiced religions to honestly and sincerely make sense to converts to them or even between them, there’s no real reason why a conversion to a less common or less well known faith wouldn’t make sense.”

    But that’s what happens, I guess, when you are trying to understand something you have zero experience of. People can and have told me about their beliefs, but being devoid of any supernatural or unearthly ones (none make sense to me personally, in terms of how I see the world), I can’t really understand it beyond the abstract. I was trying to understand by hypothetically dropping a framework on my own absence of belief. Which–small wonder THAT doesn’t work…

    ¹Don’t ask me what the name of her faith was. I imagine the name (which I heard once, twice tops) is Scots Gaelic, but it could be even older for all I know. She’s afraid of being judged for it sometimes, so she doesn’t talk about it much. Not that she likes talking about Catholicism…for the same reasons. Lots of Southern Baptists and asshole atheists will do that, I guess.

    ²And did so by “shopping around,” if you will. Sounded like Judaism actually fit better to her, but she said she was told flat out that she cannot convert, birth only. I asked further out of curiosity and she got a bit irritable so I dropped it. Don’t suppose anyone has thoughts on why this might have been told to her?

  • Madhabmatics

    @FangsFirst:disqus
    Being turned away a few times when you try to convert is part of the tradition, it’s how they prevent people from “shopping around” into Judaism. For the most part if you want to convert, they want you to be hardcore ready – after all, it only gets harder when you’re expected adopt 613 regulations that you didn’t have to follow before.

  • FangsFirst

     

    Being turned away a few times when you try to convert is part of the
    tradition, it’s how they prevent people from “shopping around” into
    Judaism. For the most part if you want to convert, they want you to be
    hardcore ready – after all, it only gets harder when you’re expected
    adopt 613 regulations that you didn’t have to follow before.

    Aha, that makes sense.

    She does have a bad habit of taking people at their word–so long as their word is “rejection”…
    (“acceptance”…not so much. That, one needs to fight for. Long and hard. I’m stupid enough to believe that eventually the fighting gets to stop.)

    Shame (because she would have been, well, “hardcore” about it, for sure, so ironically the very reason to do it for most people would be one of the very qualities she’d bring to the table) one of her best friends who was raised Jewish did not mention this to her–but maybe they never talked about it anyway.

  • Anonymous

     1. Ugh, the anti-Christian crowd.  “How many Pagans does it take to change a light bulb?” “Lightbulbs NEVER went out until those pesky Christians came along!!”

    2. I basically tried to be a good Catholic until it nearly killed me.  When your parents’ faith is not a good fit for you, it’s much healthier to leave than to keep trying to change yourself to fit that religion.

    3. Re: judging, I like to joke that I grew up in a religion that people falsely believed worshiped statues and Satan….and then converted to a religion that people falsely believe worships statues and Satan.  So really, nothing has changed in that regard. :P

    4. As for the Judaism thing, I think it depends on the denomination.  I’ve heard of people converting to Judaism, so some of them have to accept converts.

  • friendly reader

    But the inclusion of Jesuits just reinforces my point, doesn’t it?

    Besides, “beliefs” are not the exact same as doctrines. Doctrines are, yes, what is the official promulgated statement of a church’s theological/ethical positions. “Beliefs” are what people… believe. And if there are Catholics – self-identified Catholics – don’t believe the official church doctrine, then there is a variety of Catholic belief. I think that’s true of every religion.

    I hope that makes some sense…? I’m Lutheran, so it’s not like I have warm fuzzies for Catholicism when I defend Catholics here. I’m just trying to elaborate an overly simplistic statement.

  • Mackrimin
    And if there are Catholics – self-identified Catholics – don’t believe the official church doctrine, then there is a variety of Catholic belief.

    The problem is that this makes the word “Catholic” basically meaningless. What does it mean to be Catholic? Believing in some doctrine? No, because anyone who self-identifies as Catholic is Catholic, even if they don’t believe in said doctrine. Belonging to a certain organization? No, because anyone who self-identifies as Catholic is Catholic, even if they don’t care what said organization says (and thus are effectively independent of it). So what does it mean?

    In other words, does “Catholic” refer to something that can be observed from the outside, or is it merely a label with no observable implications one might apply to oneself?

  • Anonymous

    So what does it mean?

    It means…someone who self-identifies as Catholic?  Yes, that’s not the same meaning as one based on doctrine or official membership, but it’s a meaning nonetheless.  In fact, it’s the meaning underlying most research into Catholic beliefs and attitudes, like the stuff discussed in Fred’s post.  And since self-identified Catholics turn out to be statistically distinctive in all sorts of ways, it’s apparently a useful meaning.

    In other words, does “Catholic” refer to something that can be
    observed from the outside, or is it merely a label with no observable
    implications one might apply to oneself?

    Why would self-identification as a Catholic be especially hard to observe from outside?  Just ask them what religion they belong to and see what they say; if you’re worried they might be lying, see how they respond in different contexts and when asked by different people.  You’d have to do the same sort of thing if you defined Catholicism in terms of doctrine.

  • FangsFirst

    Why would self-identification as a Catholic be especially hard to
    observe from outside?  Just ask them what religion they belong to and
    see what they say; if you’re worried they might be lying, see how they
    respond in different contexts and when asked by different people.  You’d
    have to do the same sort of thing if you defined Catholicism in terms
    of doctrine.

    I don’t think lying is the concern, as its only use would be for pranks. Really really stupid pranks:

    “I’m Catholic!”
    “You identify yourself as Catholic?”
    “Not really! Ho ho ho! I got you!”

    If there’s no further meaning, there’s no point to the lie whatsoever. Because, well, there’s no further meaning.

  • Anonymous

    If there’s no further meaning, there’s no point to the lie whatsoever. Because, well, there’s no further meaning.

    But meaning is subjective.  Our outside observer may decide to use “Catholic” in a way that has no further meaning, while understanding that the word may have further meaning for the person they’re observing.

    If you’re a pollster asking people about their religion, and someone says they’re Catholic, they almost certainly mean something more than just, “I like to use that label for myself.”  There are a variety of things they could mean, from “I believe this set of doctrines” to “I’ve had these sacraments administered” to “I attend the following church on Sundays” to “I feel guilty when I do things the Pope wouldn’t like” to “I’ve checked the appropriate box on my tax form.”

    But in most polls, all that is irrelevant to your decision in how to classify them.  You mark them down as Catholic because that’s how they answer your question.

    So, getting back to the lying possibility, there may certainly be a point to it.  In Extras, Andy Millman lies about being Catholic–lies in the self-identified sense, because he doesn’t normally call himself Catholic.  As a viewer, I might not consider “Catholic” to be anything more than a label–and it might be that Andy doesn’t either–but I can still recognize that he has a reason to lie, because the people he’s talking to do take it to mean something more than that.

    That said, you may be quite right that lying isn’t a big concern of Mackrimin’s; I just raised it as a hypothetical obstacle for an outside observer.

  • FangsFirst

     

    But meaning is subjective.  Our outside observer may decide to use
    “Catholic” in a way that has no further meaning, while understanding
    that the word may have further meaning for the person they’re observing.

    Of course. But that means it has no external definition, which means that its usage becomes rather irrelevant externally. If the external definition is “it means whatever he/she/they think it means,” then it means nothing to anyone else. (the hypothetical) You could mean anything from that set of possibilities you gave or something else entirely.

    Language is a social construct, so removing all external definition of a word makes the word kind of useless. Okay, this person says, “I’m a Catholic.” All *I* can know from that is they identify as Catholic. That’s it, under this principle. It’s useless information. There’s no grouping between people in this assessment who call themselves Catholic except that they call themselves Catholic. If “Catholic” means “whatever they want it to mean,” the word is meaningless, because it tells you absolutely nothing–except that they use it for themselves.

    And my point before was that if we accept Catholic as being defined by “whatever someone who identifies as it says it consists of,” the lie is stupid and pointless, because it has no meaning. The value of the lie is predicated on an assumed value (“They follow the Pope,” “they’re very socially conservative,” “they are way more socially liberal than their Bishops,”–whatever it happens to be that I think “Catholic” means)….but now we’re getting into the practical application of such labels, which is grossly ineffective, no matter what the label is.

    My point now, I guess, isn’t that Catholic should be strictly defined, so much as acknowledging it as not strictly defined basically tells us that any statistics or percentages of the “Catholic” population are arbitrary and meaningless, because it’s a self-identified trait with a wide range of meaning. If the grouping itself has no clear definition, the collective beliefs of an unidentified group are of no specific value, because the only identifying marker is “I call myself this.”

  • Anonymous

    Of course. But that means it has no external definition, which means that its usage becomes rather irrelevant externally.

    No, it doesn’t; it just means that the word’s external definition is context-dependent.  

    “Catholic” is defined in terms of self-labeling when sociologists and pollsters and religious studies folks are discussing survey data.  It has another definition–maybe more than one–when bishops are discussing sexual morality. People can be aware of several different external definitions, so that they can follow both of these conversations, regardless of what they personally think makes for a Real True Catholic.

    If the external definition is “it means whatever he/she/they think it means,” then it means nothing to anyone else.

    But no one has advanced that definition.  friendly reader’s definition was “someone who identifies as Catholic.”  That definition is meaningful to pretty much everybody, whether or not they choose to use it.  We all understand the concept of a person saying “I’m Catholic!”, and writing down “Catholic” on personal information forms, and so on.

    And it is not the same definition as “whatever the self-identified Catholic thinks ‘Catholic’ means.”  Indeed, it obviously can’t be the same, because a ton of self-identified Catholics don’t think “Catholic” should be defined in terms of self-labeling.

    Language is a social construct, so removing all external definition of a word makes the word kind of useless. Okay, this person says, “I’m a Catholic.” All *I* can know from that is they identify as Catholic. That’s it, under this principle. It’s useless information.

    Useless?  If this person says “I’m a Catholic,” then–as per Fred’s original post–you can know that they’ve almost certainly used contraception if they’re a sexually experienced American woman.  You can also know that they’re almost certainly theist, that they probably attend church at least a few times a year for services beyond just weddings and funerals, that they probably pray at least once a month, that they probably don’t subscribe to the literal inerrancy of Scripture.  You can also know that they have a better-than-even chance of accepting evolution, being married, and having no children.  

    You can know all these things because other people have researched them, using the self-identification definition of “Catholic.”  This knowledge is statistical, of course, and none of it is 100% certain.  But it’s still useful.

    The value of the lie is predicated on an assumed value (“They follow the Pope,” “they’re very socially conservative,” “they are way more socially liberal than their Bishops,”–whatever it happens to be that I think “Catholic” means)

    Sure, but I don’t have to agree on that value to detect and explain the lie.  I definitely don’t use the word “Catholic” to mean “a trustworthy and moral sort of person who’s worthy to be in public office and date our daughters.”  But if someone else does, I can understand why they might call themselves Catholic in public and atheist in private.

    My point now, I guess, isn’t that Catholic should be strictly defined, so much as acknowledging it as not strictly defined basically tells us that any statistics or percentages of the “Catholic” population are arbitrary and meaningless, because it’s a self-identified trait with a wide range of meaning.

    I think you’re still confusing the observer’s definition of a trait with the meaning its possessors may assign to it.  The observer’s definition can be strict even if the possessors assign a wide range of meanings.

    Let’s take a particularly arbitrary trait, like a preference for wearing green shirts.  That could mean anything or nothing, as far as the people with that preference are concerned.  Maybe they’re environmentalists, maybe they’re Irish, maybe green is their favorite color, maybe they happened to pull ten green shirts out of the bargain bin at the dollar store.  Who knows?  But “wears a green shirt” can still be very strictly defined–either you’re wearing a shirt falling in some particular range of hues, or you’re not.

    And observers could potentially find out all sorts of valuable statistical facts about this group of people.  For instance, if 95% of green shirt-wearers vote Republican, and 95% of the population of Iowa wears green shirts, then we’ve just figured out something significant about the next Iowa election.  Even if we still have no idea why any given person is wearing a green shirt, or what mechanism links that to their state of residence and party preference.

  • FangsFirst

    Sure, but I don’t have to agree on that value to detect and explain the lie.

    Oops. I meant “value of the term,” in other words: “I say I’m Catholic because people assume it means _____, and I am better off if they think I am ____, which they think Catholic is shorthand for.” But then it’s playing on someone’s internal definition, not an external one (as there doesn’t seem to be one), and could easily backfire.

    Useless?  If this person says “I’m a Catholic,” then–as per Fred’s
    original post–you can know that they’ve almost certainly used
    contraception if they’re a sexually experienced American woman.  You can
    also know that they’re almost certainly theist, that they probably
    attend church at least a few times a year for services beyond just
    weddings and funerals, that they probably pray at least once a month,
    that they probably don’t subscribe to the literal inerrancy of
    Scripture.  You can also know that they have a better-than-even chance
    of accepting evolution, being married, and having no children.

    This is what bugs me. None of those are really exclusive to “Catholic,” and “Catholic” is not defined by them (especially considering they are, of course, all “probably”s).

    In context (I’m getting a bit abstract and general, because I have difficulties grasping an amorphous group of people, in that I instinctively see things as groups of individuals, with variance, which is doubtless not helping me here) the issue is defining “Catholicism” under the umbrella of “Christianity,” wherein the information you gave isn’t terribly exclusive. Up to “inerrancy” and “evolution” there’s not much exception to what is probable with a decent chunk of Protestants. Even those cover plenty of Protestants. Hell, short of the obvious exception, you described my ordained Methodist mother.

    In other words: what value does “Catholic” have over “Christian” if nothing defining it is exclusive to Catholicism? The “I identify as Catholic,” leaves you as, “Okay you basically just told me you’re Christian and nothing else,” so what the hell is the use of it?

    Sidenote: I already find half the Protestant delineations (externally) valueless for this very reason, as I rarely even see in-congregation consistency, having been through, let me think here…eight or so Methodist churches, nevermind the people I’ve known outside of churches. I didn’t even know Methodists were “supposed to be” opposed to alcohol and dancing and stuff for YEARS. Which, of course, is my exact point: why bother “specifying” when the “specification” has no specifics included?
    Oh, and if someone finds personal value in identifying as one or another, obviously that’s different–that’s personal value and I have no interest in removing that from any person. Thus, internal definitions are a separate issue. What Catholic X believes is important to Catholic X, and that’s cool with me. If the lines around their beliefs define Catholicism for them, awesome. But until I know their own personal definition, I have no idea what them telling me “I’m Catholic” means.

    And yes, technically I have this problem with “Republican” and “liberal” and most terms used in such fashions. I want specific terms to actually have specificity, dammit!

  • http://twitter.com/Rhysdux Rhysdux


    what value does “Catholic” have over “Christian” if nothing defining it is exclusive to Catholicism?

    Well, for one thing, if someone says, “I’m a Christian,” that person is almost certainly NOT Roman Catholic. The term “Christian” does not mean merely “follower of Christ”; it has been co-opted by Protestants, especially those of a more evangelical or fundamentalist stripe. (For example, the Episcopalians that I know generally describe themselves as Episcopalian, not as Christian.)

    Let’s say that we have a woman named Elizabeth. Elizabeth describes herself as a Catholic. From this, you can conclude the following:

    She was baptized as an infant. She’s also probably made her First Communion and was confirmed by a bishop as a teenager or young adult. She also adopted a new name on receiving Confirmation. And it’s quite possible that she’s never tasted Communion wine in her life.

    For her, the Pope is the head of the Church. She may not always agree with the Pope–she may not even LIKE him–but she does know that he’s the leader of the Catholic Church.

    She belongs to a church that is not expecting the Second Coming any time soon.

    She has most likely asked a saint for help or intercession at least once. She’s probably run into the concept of Catholics worshiping Mary and the saints as well, either in fiction or in person, and been rather irritated by it.

    She’s probably used the Rosary at least once in her life as a tool of prayer. Even if she hasn’t, she knows what a rosary looks like–and that you hold it rather than wear it.

    She was taught that Mary remained a virgin her entire life, that Mary only had one child and that Jesus’s brothers and sisters who are mentioned in the Gospels were, in fact, cousins of Jesus, not siblings.

    She’s probably familiar with Lent, Lenten sacrifice, Advent, Holy Week, Vatican II, novenas, seven sacraments, patron saints, feast days of saints, the idea that the Communion wafer is literally the Body of Christ, and Purgatory.

    Abortion, contraception, the ordination of women, gay rights, gay marriage and the pedophile priest scandals are likely to be hot button topics. She may agree or disagree with the Church hierarchy on these subjects, but she is unlikely to be indifferent.

    I think that most of these beliefs and attitudes are peculiarly Catholic. So I do think that “Catholic” is a distinctive description and VERY different from “Christian.”

    However, this only works if you know something about both faiths. While I’m familiar with “Christian” as a Protestant term, I’m not entirely sure what experiences or beliefs would be particularly Protestant and most likely evangelical. Ideas, anyone?

  • guest

    I guess I’d always thought ‘Catholic’ means ‘having been baptised into the Roman Catholic Church.’

  • Anonymous

     Yeah, but then what about us apostates?  By that definition, we would still be Catholic and….well.

  • Anonymous

     No, but I’d read it.

  • The Lodger

    Can’t help you there. I remember a reference in another SF book to an American female pope named Chris Silverman, but the name of the book itself escapes me. Drat.

  • Helena

    That’s only since 1870. Before that they couldn’t speak ex cathedra (i.e. with the same authority as a council).

  • Tricksterson

    !:  There will be but, as Nathaniel said, it’s will be mostly a non-white (although I would add Latinos to the africans and Asians) church.
    2:  Which is really funny because the doctrine of papal infallibility IIRC only dates to the mid/late 19th century.

  • JohnK

    I haven’t
    read a lot of Church documents, but my impression is that they seldom,
    if ever, say that a previous decision was wrong:  they just give a new
    decision and reasons for it. .

    Ha, sounds like the Supreme Court!

  • Ah

    Problem is, these Pill-taking Catholic women who don’t accept their bishops’ right to tell them what’s best about contraception, simultaneously (by proclaiming themselves to be Catholic) espouse the doctrine that bishops actually do get to collectively decide all these things for them. So clearly there’s some deep cognitive dissonance going on somewhere.

    To put it another way, there’s a word for someone who, while accepting most parts of the central theology of Catholicism, does not believe that the Catholic magisterium has necessarily got it all right about issues of lifestyle morality…. and that word is not “Catholic”, it’s “Protestant”. So, the headline might as well read, “98% of American Catholic women are secretly heretics”.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Nope. I was baptised Catholic and until and unless I renounce my baptism, I’ll be Catholic. That’s it.

  • Anonymous

    And even if you do renounce it, they’ll still count you in their numbers.

  • Kiba

    I was going to write about how you can formally leave the Catholic Church, but it seems that sometime in 2009-2010 the Church made changes to the Canon Law and no longer allows for acts of formal defection. Prior to the change it was possible to formally leave the Church and have your defection noted in the baptismal register.  

  • Anonymous

    Darn.  I became an apostate around 2008 and didn’t know defection paperwork existed.

  • Kiba

    Yeah, I left the Church for paganism back in the 90’s and didn’t find out about formal defection until early 2009. I did all the paperwork and hoop jumping when I found out about it though. I think I made it before the new rules went into effect since none of the people I talked to said anything about not being able to formally leave at the time. 

  • Anonymous

     Guess I’ll have to play-act ordaining a woman, then, so I can get excommunicated. :P

  • Kiba

    They funny thing, now that they have stopped allowing formal defections, is that you can’t even officially commit an act of apostasy in order to be kicked from the Church. Count Me Out (coutmeout.ie), an organization in Ireland that helped people there defect from the Church, tried doing that as an alternative to formal defection:

    The Act of Apostasy allows someone to declare themselves an apostate to the faith, i.e. one who rejects Christian teachings. Canon Law stipulates that an apostate to the faith automatically incurs a latae senteniae excommunication. In response to the 16 Acts of Apostasy which were sent to the Archdiocese of Dublin in June 2011, a spokesperson stated that they would not be accepted. Furthermore, it was stated that excommunication does not mean that somebody is no longer a member of the church.

    So even excommunication isn’t an official way out. 

  • Matri

    So this way they really can claim to be the “persecuted majority” with a straight face and be technically “not lying”.

  • Anonymous

     No, but if enough people deliberately commit excommunicable offenses, and inform the Vatican of such, eventually they will have to pay attention.

    Rome has its head in the sand about people leaving the church and the severe shortage of priests.  We need to wake up the Church authorities to the fact that people are not happy with the current state of the Catholic Church and are leaving as a result.  Until the Vatican wakes up and realizes that people are leaving the Church deliberately and frequently, they will not address the issues that are making people leave.

    Granted, Ratzinger et al. may still decide not to change anything.  But at least the ex-laity will have tried.

  • Kiba

    Don’t get me wrong, if someone wants to inform the Church that they no longer consider themselves Catholic and why I’m all for it. I was just pointing out that it no longer is an official way to leave the Church. 

    According to the old version of Canon Law, the version that used to allow for formal defections, once one formally told the Church that they were no longer Catholic and why it “supposes, therefore, an act of apostasy, heresy or schism.” Which meant you got excommunicated anyway. I would guess that the same would apply now; you get the excommunication just without the formal notice that you are no longer part of the Church.

    Mind if I ask what Path?

    Druidism. =)

  • Anonymous

     Mind if I ask what Path?

  • http://reshapingreality.wordpress.com/ Aidan Bird

    Defection paperwork exists?  I was just thinking of doing something so awesome and challenging that the Church is desperate to excommunicate me.

    As I’ve been baptized and confirmed, I’m still counted as part of the Catholic Church, even though I’ve drifted away from it years ago. 

  • Anonymous

    Dude, I was so sheltered when I was confirmed, I did not even know that there were Americans, in America, who practiced non-Christian religions other than Judaism.  I made that choice based on limited information and false assumptions, and deeply regret making it.

    Oh well.  “Simulating the ordination of a woman” is still an excommunicable offense.  Wanna get together and play-act ordaining me so we can both be excommunicated? :P

  • Quinnthebrain

    Yes, Popes don’t admit errors, especially not quickly.  Witness taking until 1992 to “forgive” Galileo, with essentially a “mistakes were made” argument for why the Catholic Church is reversing their opinion.

  • Helena

    The current positions against abortion and contraception are historical accidents. You’ll notice they were both promulgated in 1870. They wanted to be sure that Catholic France had a chance of out-breeding Germany before the next war.

  • Anonymous

    The hilarious thing I realized in my Women’s History course during college is that both fundamentalist and extreme-Catholic groups *do* progress in their understanding of marriage and sexual affairs. They just lag about a hundred years behind the times.

    The “complementarian” position endorsed by the more extreme fundamentalist churches is essentially that which was endorsed by the (far more liberal) North at the start of the Civil War. And the position on birth control — that ‘artificial’ methods are immoral but the rhythm method is fine — is one that (officially) was advocated by the majority of first-wave American feminists. (It’s unclear what they did in their own lives.) We have a handful of surveys on sexual practices within marriage (aimed at women, at least) conducted in the early 1900s, and a large number of middle-class and upper-middle-class couples had sex only a few times a month, largely due to fear of pregnancy. During the 1800s, the fertility rate dropped from about eight children per family to about four — all without any real improvements in contraception.

    So, in both cases, the religious position isn’t something that’s been eternal. It’s something that’s been slowly advancing.

    Abortion … is a bit more complicated. The Catholic church has always been opposed to abortion per se — but abortion meant something very different before, oh, sometime between the 1870s and 1920s. Before then, “abortion” explicitly referred to the period after quickening — prior to quickening, women had a “menstrual blockage” which could be alleviated by the use of a range of patent medications or herbs. (This doesn’t seem to have been a euphemism — it was a different concept of pregnancy.) I’ve seen at least one article which implied that some of the traditional medications taken by Latino immigrants are explicitly advertised to treat said blockages, implying that the old concept of pregnancy has persisted in some areas of the world.

    Sorry for the wall of text, but I find this sort of thing (concepts that are eternal only if you ignore the redefinitions that have occurred with time) fascinating. (The “axe of my grandfather” speech in Pratchett’s _Fifth Elephant_ gives me chills every time I read it.)

  • Anonymous

     Helena, that’s not really true.

    Right back to the Fathers, there’s the position that a man who has sex with his wife while using contraception is basically treating his wife like a prostitute, and this attitude was more or less “baked in” by the time that the Church started systematizing its doctrine in the twelfth century.  I can’t remember if it’s Augustine or pseudo-Augustine who’s quoted when it appears, but that particular statement appears in Peter Lombard’s Sentences, the theology textbook of the later medieval universities.  IIRC the argument also appears in Aquinas but from a teleological perspective on sex rather than citation of Augustine.

    Speaking of patristics, was Hapax one of the community who refused to move over when Fred went to Patheos?

  • Anonymous

     Still, the Catholic position on contraception wasn’t made official until much more recently.

    It’s like how the idea of the perpetual virginity of Mary was a common one back in the Middle Ages, but didn’t become official Church doctrine until the late 19th century.

  • Anonymous

    Well that’s because what the Church officially believes (and has officially believed for all time!) is something of a slippery beast, especially when you get canon lawyers involved in the mix.

    Perpetual virginity of Mary, btw, is another one of those things that’s both pretty thoroughly baked in to Rome’s thinking and also reflects a deep discomfort with sexuality that makes it much harder for Rome to reverse or alter course and keep up the claim of being a timeless universal Church.

    (OTOH, Rome no longer holds that the enjoyment of sex with one’s spouse is a venial sin, which is actually a big step forward from the Church in days gone by.)

  • Lori

     
    Speaking of patristics, was Hapax one of the community who refused to move over when Fred went to Patheos?  

     

    She’s primarily at the other site, but she’s around here too and does comment occasionally.   

  • Anonymous

    When you look at the history of the Catholic Church, it becomes obvious that they are perfectly comfortable with massive discrepancies between doctrine and action (look up “Banquet of Chestnuts”, for example).

    I don’t see that changing short of some sort of cataclysmic event within the church.

  • Elizabby

    If the bishops are telling everyone not to use contraception, but nearly everyone who is female and actually has to make that choice is ignoring the bishops – surely this is a fairly stable situation? Why should it change? Surely the bishops can go on saying what they’ve been saying, and the women of the church will just go on ignoring them. Why should any Pope be troubled to recognize the inherent misogyny of this position? It doesn’t seem to have bothered them so far…

  • Nathaniel

    If you want a good mixture of hearty chuckles and painful face palming, look up “Natural Law” aka “Ad hoc rationalization of Catholic theology with the bits mentioning God strike-throughed.

  • http://twitter.com/Rhysdux Rhysdux


    Someday — maybe five, maybe 10, maybe 20, maybe 50 years from now — some Pope is going to say: “The fact that God gave us concealed ovulation means that birth control is completely fine. If God had not wanted humans to make love whether or not such lovemaking is ‘open to conception,’ She would have set things up so that human females went into estrus and human males were only aroused by females in estrus, the way it works with so many of our other mammal cousins. Paul VI and his successors John Paul I and II and Benedict XVI were narrow-minded misogynists who made serious theological errors.” That day is coming sure as the sun rises in the east every morning.

    No. That day is NOT coming–not in five years, not in ten, not in twenty, not in fifty. Popes are very aware of the implications of going against the precedents set by those who came before them. I do not see any pope stating that their predecessors were narrow-minded, misogynistic or in error. I do not see a pope arguing that contraception is okay because humans are, in the words of Cole Porter, “merely mammals.”  The Catholic Church has a habit of changing very, very slowly and not altering when problems or situations alter. 

    For example, the Church currently has a shortage of priests. They could open the doors to women being priests and double the pool of candidates that way–but the all-male Church hierarchy is quite dedicated to protecting itself. So the hierarchy continues to claim that Jesus–and, by implication, God–wanted men to be in charge in religion.  I was told in middle school, high school and college that there were no women disciples and no women apostles. I didn’t find out that this was untrue for decades.

    Or, for another example that’s a bit closer to Mr. DeLong’s topic–I can remember when AIDS was a new disease and an automatic death sentence. Some of the nuns from my college went to various homeless shelters on a regular basis; a few of them started handing out condoms, explaining about the danger of AIDS and how anyone could get it, so please use these condoms as they might save your life.

    The nuns who handed out condoms got in trouble. A LOT of it. Someone in the hierarchy (I forget if it was the bishop or the  archbishop) didn’t approve. To their mind, it was a health issue; to his, it was a sex issue and they were encouraging promiscuity and worse by distributing prophylactics.  To him, the fact that the condoms were contraceptives was more important than potentially saving lives. (At least one nun was very bitter about this.)

    I have heard more sermons than I can count about how no good Catholic woman should EVER use contraceptives for any reason.  The problem is that “any reason” covers a lot of ground. Well, I have friends who need contraceptives for their health. For example, one is prone to uterine cysts, and the Pill can help keep the cysts from becoming cancerous.  I used to work with a girl who had endometriosis and she got contraceptives as part of her treatment. And so on. I suspect that a lot of women are taking contraceptives not because of babies (or not just to prevent babies) but because they, too, want to stay healthy, functional and alive.

    I have never heard any priest acknowledge this. I have heard three or four say that any woman who uses contraception is effectively killing babies and working against God’s will and is therefore going to Hell.

    I do not believe this drivel for one nanosecond. I state it to illustrate the Church mindset–that facts, reason, health and reality are secondary to the Church’s opinion.  And the Church hierarchy–the ruling 1%–sees no reason why it should not be this way forever and ever, amen.

    This is why I do not believe that things will change, at least not before the next millennium. The Church hierarchy likes things as they are.  They like the power. They like the authority. They do not want to admit that their predecessors could have been wrong, because that opens them and their actions to challenge.  And as far as they’re concerned, there’s too much of that now. There is a reason why the more orthodox Catholics  regard America as approaching or being in schism.

    I’d like to believe that things will change for the better in a hurry. But I don’t feel that the Catholic Church’s attitudes and behavior support this theory.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    At least one nun was very bitter about this

    There isn’t a number large enough the quantify the number of nuns who are bitter about sexist shit from the hierarchy.

    I have never heard any priest acknowledge this.

    As I said earlier, I know a lot of priests who are good, decent guys who say that forcing women to live in fear of becoming pregnant is not a loving attitude. So they don’t.

    I’ve never heard a priest object to women using the pill for other-than-contraceptive health reasons. I know they exist, but they’ve been silent, of not absent, in my (prest-saturated) life.

  • Wednesday

     For example, the Church currently has a shortage of priests. They could
    open the doors to women being priests and double the pool of candidates
    that way–but the all-male Church hierarchy is quite dedicated to
    protecting itself.

    Also worth noting that they seem to be trying to discourage gay men from priesthood, with Benedict’s announcements a few years back (which seemed mostly a matter of trying to make gay priests scapegoats in the whole child rape scandal, especially given that some US Catholics have been explicitly told by their local clergy that all of the victims were teenage males, contrary to facts).

    This is not exactly helping their priest numbers, since I’ve seen estimates that 30% of men in seminary identify as gay. Given that the Church insists that gays and priests must both be celibate, priesthood is an understandable calling for gay Catholic men who accept that doctrine…

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    [Edited]

    You know what, never mind. I’m not going to make a post about things half remembered from a class I took years ago.

  • Tonio

    I’m probably going to piss off even the Catholics who have no moral qualms about contraception, and say that people who refuse to use
    contraception have no moral right to insist that contraception is
    universally wrong. That’s because its use by an individual or couple is no one
    else’s business and poses no harm to others. All such people should do is refuse to use contraception
    themselves and remain neutral on its use by others. Private behavior that poses no harm to others, so as a default it’s
    exempt from judgment by others. Refusing to make such judgments is
    simply respecting the personal boundaries of others.

  • Anonymous

    Standing right here is one Catholic who isn’t remotely pissed off by anything you said. (I tried, I really tried — That Tonio! Being all… reasonable! Him and his damn… willingness to respect the privacy of other people’s moral decision-making! That… thoughtful, empathetic bastard! — but I was frankly totally unconvincing, even to myself.)

  • Toniocorelone

    Funny! I expected an angry reaction because it would normally be provocative to say that one has no right to an opinion about something. My post wasn’t an attempt to troll but an attempt to defend personal privacy.

  • Anonymous

    Saying that one has no right to an opinion, definitely provocative. Saying that one has no right to cram legislation based on one’s opinion down the entire nation’s throat in total disregard of the fact that one’s own opinion is an opinion, totally fair.  And warrants frequent reiteration.

  • Anonymous

    The bishops aren’t “uninformed on every meaningful level” – they are informed about Catholic theology, which is exactly the point at issue. (Whether they are right is another question.)

  • Guest-again

    ‘It is a bishops’ position and only a bishops’ position.’
    And not only that – they are Catholic bishops, who, not so coincidentally, just happen to run the Catholic Church. People who disagree with those bishops may still be Catholic, of course – and ignoring thier proclamations has a long tradition.

    As does actively opposing them – which then leads to schism in the eyes of those bishops, and little things like the Protestant Reformation. Heard any apologies from any pope about how the Catholic Church was in the wrong during that time? No? Color me anything but surprised. (Actually, if you speak German, Benedikt has had a few things to say on his last visit to Germany about Luther – none of them implying that Luther was correct on a single theological point, but then, popes tend to have long memories when it comes to grudges.)

    ‘If one wants to know about the medical, practical, ethical, moral or
    theological implications of contraception, then a bunch of celibate men
    without medical degrees is really not the smartest place to turn.’
    Unless, unfortunately, you consider yourself Catholic, in which case those bishops are the one who decide, not you. No one needs to be Catholic, of course – it is even possible to be an Old Catholic, part of a schism that sees themselves as true Catholics, formed in major part in the German speaking world (the Old Catholics are broader than that, though) through opposition to the idea of papal infallibility –
    ‘Old Catholicism’s formal separation from Roman Catholicism occurred
    over the issue of Papal authority. This separation from Rome occurred
    in The Netherlands in 1724, creating the first Old Catholic Church. The
    churches of Germany, Austria, Bohemia, and Switzerland created the
    Union of Utrecht after Vatican I (1871) over the Dogma of Papal
    Infallibility.’
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Catholic_Church

    However, even the Old Catholics (who ordain women, it must be added – leading to a further schism with the Polish National Catholic Church) aren’t ‘Catholic’ – that designation is reserved for a group of old men called bishops to decide. Those are the rules – not wanting to play by them means not being Catholic. Though the bishops are pretty laid back in some ways – pay them enough subservience (and some cash), and you can live pretty much as you wish. Oppose them publicly, after you are told to stop? Well, you will find out who gets to call who Catholic.

    ‘At some point, the Europeans won’t have a majority of the cardinals, and they’ll have to deal with a pope who isn’t European.’
    Well, looking at recent centuries of Catholic papal politics, the real question is when Italians (forget Europeans – both John Paul II and Benedict were true exceptions – if wikipedia and my scrolling through it are to be trusted, the two were the first non-Italian popes since 1522 – yep, more than 4 and 1/2 centuries ago) won’t be sitting wherever it is that popes like to sit.

  • Guest-again

    ‘Speaking of patristics, was Hapax one of the community who refused to move over when Fred went to Patheos?’
    I believe she has posted here occasionally, though she may be too busy deleting comments at the old Slacktivist site to spend any time writing comments here.

  • http://www.nicolejleboeuf.com/index.php Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    @7b2b014a9ea13334c7bcd6596b6dd5aa:disqus : I believe she has posted here occasionally, though she may be too busy
    deleting comments at the old Slacktivist site to spend any time writing
    comments here

    Well, that exceeded my recommended allowance of passive aggressive snark for the day. I need a unicorn chaser stat!

  • Guest-again

    ‘Nope. I was baptised Catholic and until and unless I renounce my baptism, I’ll be Catholic. That’s it.’
    Oddly, it can be more complicated than that, since the Catholic Church isn’t as universal as we (people baptised on two different continents) probably believe, at least for part of a third continent.

    I live in Germany, and though my basic attitude towads being baptized Catholic is close to yours, the German Catholic Church does not, in any sense, agree with me. Being American, I don’t pay any church tax – no government has any right collecting money for a religion is my basic belief, along with the fact that there is no way I can support the Catholic Church in its present form. (And birth control is just a part of it.)

    But by not checking the box on my German income taxes (it is a bit different than that, but details are not important) to pay the Catholic Church, I am automatically not Catholic – no sacraments, for example. It is a simple pay to play deal – literally, with the government conveniently doing the record keeping of who is and is not Catholic merely based on who is providing money to that institution. Hard to imagine, and yet the reality of being or not being Catholic in Germany. The Lutheran churches are much the same, though more flexible – and the one in this region allows believers to pay the church directly, without having the government involved – but again, that pay to play element is at the absolute forefront of being a member of either of the two institutions in Germany.

    Of course, the second I go to France (about 10km), I’m Catholic again, if I want to be. As for returning to the U.S. – well, the parish/diocese undoubtedly still has records.

  • rg

    “How is [telling their ‘followers’ not to listen to their conscience] a position of moral authority?”
    When it comes to matters of sex, I’m sure there is much about me any number of Bishops would find problematic, so there’s that. But to this questions, that’s almost exactly why there is a class of people who are purposed with not just facilitating but also mediating divine work: the rest of us just don’t get it.
    I can’t affirm Catholic dogma on contraception (but do see it as a critique of the view that our bodies are little more than machines and pleasure might be an isolated product. “Don’t try to separate babies from sex” could be a valuable point of accountability to a people too good at pretending under the Modern delusion that acts can be separated from their context.  Sex isn’t just for reproduction, of course, but it is one of the pieces. I know that’s not its intent nor origin, but in a world of “at leasts”- at least it could be that.
    In any case, that the overwhelming majority of people ever do anything- even based on meaningful experience- without qualm, trouble, etc… shouldn’t be where one finds goodness or moral authority. 

  • Anonymous

     I…can’t grok this.  I’m trying to understand what you’re saying, but I’m not quite able to get the gist.

  • Tonio

    a critique of the view that our bodies are little more than machines and pleasure might be an isolated product

    Ugh. That’s the repulsive assumption that contraception is nothing more than pleasure without consequences. At its core, contraception is about social equality of the genders. It may be possible for women to have that equality without the ability to control when they conceive, but I strongly doubt it. The lack of that control made it very easy for societies for most of human history to restrict women to the roles of baby-bearer and baby-nurturer. Nothing wrong with those roles, but they shouldn’t be compulsory.

  • Anonymous

    Oops. I meant “value of the term,” in other words: “I say I’m Catholic because people assume it means _____, and I am better off if they think I am ____, which they think Catholic is shorthand for.”

    Oh, ok, I see.

    This is what bugs me. None of those are really exclusive to “Catholic,” and “Catholic” is not defined by them (especially considering they are, of course, all “probably”s).

    Oh no, it’s certainly not defined by them.  It can’t be.  “Catholic” must be defined by you, a priori, before you can say anything about the characteristics of Catholics under that particular definition.  The definition most researchers use is based on self-identification, but if you prefer to define “Catholic” in terms of a particular set of beliefs or a particular sacramental history or something like that, you’re certainly free to do so.  The downside of the latter definitions is that figuring out whether a given person qualifies as Catholic under them is a much longer and more difficult process, but if you can live with that, rock on.

    Up to “inerrancy” and “evolution” there’s not much exception to what is probable with a decent chunk of Protestants. Even those cover plenty of Protestants. Hell, short of the obvious exception, you described my ordained Methodist mother.

    Totally true.  But isn’t that, in itself, a worthwhile fact to know?  Isn’t it interesting that in the US, self-identified Catholics are almost indistinguishable from mainline Protestants on almost every social and political issue?  That’s not what people used to believe–sixty years ago, a lot of mainline Protestants thought they had more civic attitudes in common with Jews than with Catholics.  And it’s not what, say, Bill Donohue would like you to believe today.

    In other words: what value does “Catholic” have over “Christian” if nothing defining it is exclusive to Catholicism? The “I identify as Catholic,” leaves you as, “Okay you basically just told me you’re Christian and nothing else,” so what the hell is the use of it?

    Well, Catholics are plenty distinctive from Protestants in other areas, like which churches they attend and what holidays they’re likely to celebrate, no?  And I’m sure they tend to have some theological differences.  As to which of these factors motivated the person who just told you they’re Catholic…better ask them!

    Oh, and if someone finds personal value in identifying as one or another, obviously that’s different–that’s personal value and I have no interest in removing that from any person. Thus, internal definitions are a separate issue. What Catholic X believes is important to Catholic X, and that’s cool with me. If the lines around their beliefs define Catholicism for them, awesome.

    But then what’s the problem?  Almost anyone who identifies with a given religion is going to find personal value in doing so; it’s not like people choose their label out of a hat.

    But until I know their own personal definition, I have no idea what them telling me “I’m Catholic” means.

    Then why not ask them?  Assuming you’re talking normally with them rather than administering a survey, “I’m Catholic/Muslim/Zoroastrian” is probably just the start of the conversation.

    (Yes, yes, I’m speaking rhetorically here.  I know that you personally don’t just wander away in bafflement when someone tells you they’re Catholic.)

  • FangsFirst

     

    (Yes, yes, I’m speaking rhetorically here.  I know that you personally
    don’t just wander away in bafflement when someone tells you they’re
    Catholic.)

    No, I definitely do.

    Tends to throw most people off. Only gets worse when they repeat it to me and I have to wander away baffled again.

  • FangsFirst

     

    But then what’s the problem?  Almost anyone who identifies with a given
    religion is going to find personal value in doing so; it’s not like
    people choose their label out of a hat.

    Totally true.  But isn’t that, in itself, a worthwhile fact to know?

    Absolutely! But to me it almost suggests, “why are we bothering with these labels again? Why not just say ‘Christian’ for statistical purposes, then, as there is no apparent difference?” I realize (see @twitter-16599842:disqus ‘ post) there are some life-experience differences of course, but–well, I dunno.

    Well, Catholics are plenty distinctive from Protestants in other areas, like which churches they attend and what holidays they’re likely to celebrate, no?

    This is probably where I should point out that, having a preacher mother who started preaching when I was 8, I have really weird, skewed perceptions of a lot of religious things. I bounced from “member of huge congregation” (Missouri United Methodist Church in Columbia, MO, just for fun, as I’m thousands of miles from there now) to “son of the preacher in a church whose building is half the size of the last sanctuary.”

    I went to a single Lutheran service with a friend, I went to a few odd “neighbor” churches when my mom was invited around (including a black Southern Baptist one, so I got to experience the more involved congregation, rather than the dead silent one¹), I went to a few Masses with my SGF, we drove by a mosque every Sunday on the way to church when I was growing up, and I think a synagogue somewhere in there too, and my parents told me (basically) what they were then. They always basically described any building of worship as the equivalent church for whoever went there. As a result, details of service seem less important to me, so it may be just further evidence that it’s my own experiences confusing me here. It made the details of worship irrelevant to me, in that sense. So I don’t (and this is probably my failing, I guess) see the (external) importance of the elements Rhysdux mentioned. They can definitely (and completely justifiably) be important to those who practice them, but when one starts blurring all the variations within denominations and sects and so on, and there’s tons of cross-over, it just stops seeming like there’s an external importance to me.

    ¹Except me. I’d spend most services reading books, but I’d occasionally correct my mom. Yes, really. Mid-sermon. Mostly when she made pop culture references. In retrospect, The X-Files might not have been the most relevant metaphor for a rural church in central Missouri…but I was willing to pipe up with the name of the super bright flashlights anyway (which were the crux of the metaphor). She always said she appreciated it, and she likes having conversations with me now, as she says I test her faith when I question the logistics of prayer or whatever.

    And, yeah, I spent my youth being one of those people. I’m trying to curb the habit. The correcting one.

  • Amaryllis

     Catholic doctrine (a better word than “beliefs”, here, I think) is what the Powers that Be say it is; no argument allowed.

    No. It isn’t.

    Catholic doctrine is the consensus arrived at between the hierarchy, or PTB, the theologians, and the faithful.

    The issue of contraception won’t go away any time soon, because in the U.S. at least, the hierarchy is saying one thing, the laity is saying another, and the theologians are split. This ain’t over yet.

    And a lot of the current kerfuffle in the US could have been avoided if we had a decent health-care system not tied to employment. It would be nice for both employees  and administrators if people could work for Catholic institutions without asking the bishops what kind of health services they were allowed to obtain.

    —-
    here’s a word for someone who, while accepting most parts of the central
    theology of Catholicism, does not believe that the Catholic magisterium
    has necessarily got it all right about issues of lifestyle morality….
    and that word is not “Catholic”, it’s “Protestant”.

    Well, speaking personally, I part company with Henry VIII because I recognize the authority of the Pope to appoint bishops, the power of the bishop to ordain priests, and the power of the priest to… invoke whatever “magic” happens in the sacraments, in particular the sacrament of the Eucharist. (Side note to whoever referred to “charlatans:” don’t be rude.) And I have a Catholic understanding of that sacrament, which, right there, that’s the core. everything else is up for discussion.

    YMMV.

    —–

    There isn’t a number large enough the quantify the number of nuns who are bitter about sexist shit from the hierarchy.
    Quoted for bitter truth.

  • Tonio

    Catholic doctrine is the consensus arrived at between the hierarchy, or PTB, the theologians, and the faithful.

    Why is that the case? It would be easy to assume that the PTB could simply pull rank and claim to know better than the laity what their god wants from followers.

  • Guest-again

    ‘Well, that exceeded my recommended allowance of passive aggressive snark for the day. I need a unicorn chaser stat’
    Well, I certainly can’t post that at the other site – it would disappear down the same sort of memory hole that a certain Prof. DeLong maintains. I didn’t bother to check to see if the comment that noted the fact of silent deletion is still there – there is no more reason to visit there than Delong’s site, at this point.

    Of course, I stopped decrying Delong’s consistent personal maintenance of a comment section which never contradicts his worldview (or challenge his facts) a while ago – it isn’t as if Delong is going to stop at this point, and I assume most reasonable people realize he is doing it (one occasionally runs across comments indicating he is still doing it), often on a wholesale basis. And since I failed to again note that Delong does that, even when his name was mentioned by our host, let me again point out for those who don’t know, Delong has been consistently massaging his comments for years to ensure a consistent viewpoint – his, of course. Hopefully, that was repetitive enough to give a feel of how often the Delete key is, or likely will be, pressed at some places.

    It isn’t exactly censorship – but it is something that tends to grow into something impossible to distinguish from censorship over time, since there are always abundantly good reasons to censor things that are harmful to others, in the eyes of those able to erase whatever they determine needs erasing.

    Just look at Catholic history to get a taste of how that works. Always for the good of the true believer, of course, and to protect the innocent.

  • http://reshapingreality.wordpress.com/ Aidan Bird

     I spent some time thinking about Fred’s post here and about my time growing up in the Catholic Church, and I find that last quote to be wholly inaccurate for three reasons (one already mentioned by someone else here):

    1. The Catholic Church would never call someone in their past out like that.  Instead they would phrase it as: “The theology as they knew it in that time period was sound, and thus for that time period, their actions were appropriate.  However, in our time period, it was discovered…. blah blah blah…”

    2. The main problem with the entire abortion debate stems from the theological question of when is a human being given a soul by God?  The Catholic Church states it is at the moment of conception, and thus through the act of abortion, that human soul is murdered, never given the chance to live life on Earth.  It is unlikely this stance will change any time soon.

    3. What happens to the soul after abortion?  There’s two schools of thought.  One school of thought maintains that the soul is in heaven automatically since it was never given the chance to be born. The second school of thought says that the soul is in purgatory because it was never born, and thus never given the opportunity to be baptized into Christ’s Church.  The second school of thought, regardless of whether all pro-lifers accept it, seems to be what is making the fight against abortion more desperate, for in their eyes they are literally trying to save these souls from damnation or purgatory.  (I can’t even tell you all how many times I’ve seen pro-lifers desperate to stop abortion in order to save those souls.  Their justifications always tended to be rooted in number 2 and 3 of this list.)

    These theological questions troubled the priests at my Church I went to as a kid.  They saw the harm these thoughts caused to women, but they couldn’t find a way theologically to say that the soul is given to the embryo at some time other than conception.  Until this theological question is solved, the Catholic Church will maintain its stance against abortion and their near militant pursual of eradicating it. 

    Which leads to another problem.  The Church sees the only way to stop abortions and save those souls by making it illegal.   Thus, they live with this denial of the fact that abortions would still happen regardless of the legality.  Another issue is the idea that sex must be open to procreation, but that’s already been discussed in other comments.  So from a theological standpoint, priests and bishops are at an impasse.  If the soul is given to the human body at conception, then abortion is indeed the murder of those souls.  However, if this theology is wrong somehow and the soul is given to the human at the onset of thought (which is an idea I first heard said by a priest at the first college I went to), then abortion is not murder. 

    The contraceptives issue challenges the Catholic’s doctrine of being open to sex, which is a slightly different issue.  (Though there is claims that the abortificients and other contraceptives that might flush out eggs that have already been fertilized should be categorized as abortion.  In my eyes, that’s for political reasons rather than biological or theological reasons, and is more of a ‘refusing to properly educate oneself’ stance.

    Now, I don’t know if all the bishops struggle with these theological questions.  I just know that the ones in my childhood diocese did, and it really, really bothered them to have to tell any woman such things.

  • Tonio

     

    They saw the harm these thoughts caused to women, but they couldn’t find
    a way theologically to say that the soul is given to the embryo at some
    time other than conception.

    There’s no way to prove or disprove the existence of the soul, and there’s no way to prove or disprove any claim about when the soul is given to the embryo. So it seems to me that the whole subject amounts to academic speculation. How saddening that people like the priests are torn between doing right by their fellow humans and maintaining fidelity to some theological abstraction.

  • http://reshapingreality.wordpress.com/ Aidan Bird

    It is actually.  But then, they  probably have some cognitive dissonance going on in their attempt to justify what they’re saying.

    About souls in general: In the eyes of the Catholic hierarchy, the Bible and the writings of the fathers of the Church prove the existence of a soul.  There’s whole books dedicated to proving the existence of a soul, the existence of God, and so forth through the use of scripture and Aristotelian logic/reason.  When you’re that far down the rabbit hole, sometimes you can’t even tell you’re in wonderland, for the odd and bizarre become commonplace, and you lose track of reality.  It often seems like that’s what’s happening when I look back and read the bizarre logic put forth to try to prove the truth of each and every possible Catholic doctrine that currently exists.

    Side note: when I finally climbed out of that rabbit hole, it was like I entered a whole new world.  I lost my blinders and could actually see.  The irony here is that as a child the priests at my church encouraged me to ask questions, to prove how Catholicism is right, but that instead, led me out of the Church.

    Anyway, back on topic: if you wanted to understand where their desperation and determination to ban abortion comes from, it’s from first the theology concerning the existence of the soul and when God grants it to human flesh, and secondly, sex has to be open to the idea of procreation.  Combine the two and you have some crazy stuff that’s bound to lead people on desperate and angry pushes to ban abortion and/or contraception and so forth.

    It’s depressing. This is one of the reasons I left the Church.  Their stance with women’s rights is still kinda crappy.  Their stance with LGBT rights is beyond crappy; it’s downright inhumane.  (No matter how many times a priest tells me it’s okay to be gay just be chaste all your life, I still call it homophobic rhetoric.  And transgender people? Abominations.  Or else ignored entirely.)  Those three issues drove me out of the church.

  • P J Evans

     I seem to recall reading that Thomas Aquinas considered the soul to be embodied at quickening, so somewhere in the 5th month. He’s a Doctor of the Church: his view ought to count for something.


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