“Pusillanimus” means “lacking courage and resolution; marked by contemptible timidity.”
I had to look that up. So Garry Wills has expanded my vocabulary. The rest of his New York Review of Books essay, “Contraception’s Con Men” is also educational:
Pusillanimous Catholics — Mark Shields and even, to a degree, the admirable E. J. Dionne — are saying that Catholics understandably resent an attack on “their” doctrine (even though they do not personally believe in it). Omnidirectional bad-faith arguments have clustered around what is falsely presented as a defense of “faith.” The layers of ignorance are equaled only by the willingness of people “of all faiths” to use them for their own purposes. Consider just some of the layers:
The Phony Religious Freedom Argument
The bishops’ opposition to contraception is not an argument for a “conscience exemption.” It is a way of imposing Catholic requirements on non-Catholics. This is religious dictatorship, not religious freedom.
Contraception is not even a religious matter. Nowhere in Scripture or the Creed is it forbidden. Catholic authorities themselves say it is a matter of “natural law,” over which natural reason is the arbiter — and natural reason, even for Catholics, has long rejected the idea that contraception is evil. …
The Phony “Church Teaches” Argument
Catholics who do not accept the phony argument over contraception are said to be “going against the teachings of their church.” That is nonsense. They are their church. The Second Vatican Council defines the church as “the people of God.” Thinking that the pope is the church is a relic of the days when a monarch was said to be his realm. The king was “Denmark.” Catholics have long realized that their own grasp of certain things, especially sex, has a validity that is lost on the celibate male hierarchy. This is particularly true where celibacy is concerned.
There was broad disagreement with Pius XI’s 1930 encyclical on the matter. Pope Paul VI set up a study group of loyal and devout Catholics, lay and clerical, to make recommendations. The group overwhelmingly voted to change the teaching of Pius XI. But cardinals in the Roman Curia convinced Paul that any change would suggest that the church’s teachings are not eternal (though Casti Connubii had not been declared infallible, by the papacy’s own standards).
When Paul reaffirmed the ban on birth control in Humanae Vitae (1968) there was massive rejection of it. Some left the church. Some just ignored it. Paradoxically, the document formed to convey the idea that papal teaching is inerrant just convinced most people that it can be loony. The priest-sociologist Andrew Greeley said that Humanae Vitae did more damage to the papacy than any of the so-called “liberal” movements in Catholicism. When Pius IX condemned democracy and modern science in his Syllabus of Errors (1864), the Catholic historian Lord Acton said that Catholics were too sensible to go crazy every time a pope does. The reaction to Humanae Vitae proves that.