Benedict XVI on Humanae Vitae

Benedict XVI on Humanae Vitae January 3, 2011

In the furor over the Pope’s comments on condoms this rather remarkable passage from Light of the World has been little discussed:

The perspectives of “Humanae Vitae” remain valid, but it is another thing to find humanly accessible paths. I believe that there will always be minorities that are deeply persuaded of the correctness of those perspectives and that, in living them, will be so fully rewarded that they will become for others a fascinating model to follow. We are sinners. But we should not take this fact as evidence against the truth, when that high moral standard is not met. We should seek to do all the good possible, and sustain and support one another. To express all of this from the pastoral, theological, and conceptual point of view as well in the context of current sexology and anthropological research is a great task to which we must be more and better dedicated.

This passage raises many questions that those Catholics who are “deeply persuaded of the correctness of those perspectives” have not been very enthusiastic to entertain.  For me, as one who has always followed Humanae Vitae and suffered much as a result, the suggestion of “humanly accessible paths” is particularly interesting.  What exactly is the Pope suggesting here?  Are there any other options for couples that find Humanae Vitae inhuman and inaccessible?  What might these options look like?  That the Pope sees a “great task” before us here seems to indicate that the currently available pastoral approaches are not the only possibilities.  I am more than intrigued.

Brett Salkeld is a doctoral student in theology at Regis College in Toronto.  He is a father of two (so far) and husband of one.  He is the co-author of How Far Can We Go?  A Catholic Guide to Sex and Dating.

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  • Dan

    Wow. This is real news – moreso than the condom furor to me.

    • brettsalkeld

      Yes. I suspect that in the long term this will be more meaningful. Or, at least, it is the application of the same kind of pastoral logic to a much broader question.

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    I remember reading this passage when the interviews were first published. It confused me then and it continues to confuse me. I am not sure I see what the Pope is driving at: before we begin to discuss this, can someone unpack this passage?

    • brettsalkeld

      Yes. One wonders whether the Pope had specific measures in mind, or if he just thinks that theoretically they must be out there.

      One of the difficulties is that it has become impossible for even the most orthodox of theologians to probe these kinds of questions. Just look what they’ve done to Rhonheimer.

      • Austin Ruse

        Done to Rhonheimer? I am sure he remains in good standing at Sante Croce and with Opus Dei. I suspect he is also tough as nails and can take whatever “they” can dish out…

        • brettsalkeld

          Rhonheimer has questioned the reading of the ethical tradition that makes insemination the measure of authentic human sexuality. I think he makes some very good points and his fidelity to the Church is beyond reproach. Many who have read the tradition in a way that so values insemination have attacked him publicly and vigorously. (Further, this reading gets a lot of pop support from folks like West and Popcak, so much so that many think (falsely) that it is something they could find in the Catechism.)

          I’ll agree that he does seem quite able to handle himself. But if I was to make the claims he makes, the fact that I do not have a long and distinguished career as an orthodox ethicist might make it very difficult for me to find employment and my books could get blacklisted. One is given pause before exploring such issues in much depth, at least publicly.

          In fact, I know of one person who was suspended from a teaching gig at a Catholic Bible College not for publicly professing this view but for mentioning it in private conversation.

        • Maybe Brett or someone can explain what “they” have done to this person Rhonheimer…who are they? and why in God’s name(?) did they do it???

          It sounds quite ominous and my curiosity has been piqued.

          Was it anything like what happened to those dangerous dissenters in the Da Vinci Code?

          Was there some kind of an Inquisition?

          • brettsalkeld

            Mostly just public accusations of heterodoxy which, in some circumstances though probably not Rhonheimer’s, can be crippling.

  • Julian Barkin

    New Human paths? As per birth control itself, how hard is it to not have sex and not take the pill? Maybe save the rare medical condition that requires it as a medication if no other suitable meds are available, fine but be chaste. Most of the time taking the thing implies knowledge of both partners to engage in sex and unknowingly or knowingly say no to children. How males are involved is when there is knowledge of the woman taking the pill he has sex anyways or he slaps on a condom knowingly.

    If any “new human path” should be considered, it should be the re-education of the populace on respecting the principle of sacred life, and it should start as early as Gr. 5-6 with our heavily sex and technology infatuated culture. Supposedly Gr. 7-8 is the new starting time for pre-marital sexual activity whereas in my generation it was beginning of high school. The children should be taught about respecting their bodies as gifts from God with girls getting a bit extra in terms of self-esteem and empowerment to resist men’s sexual advances and not need to “sell themselves out,”
    and men the same in return for girls who want to “play naughty” and to be chivalrous. This should be tied in religiously with Mary the virgin Mother of God for women, and for men Bible readings or teachings of our faith (e.g. St. Joseph, Paul’s letters dealing with families) to emphasize the connection between family and religion and also duty to your opposite sex/spouse.

    Also, parents should be educated or re-educated because they are the most powerful role models in the child’s life. They should be taught about contraception, the damage it does to society, and even show them Humanae Vitae (b/c I bet you many people don’t even know what an encyclical is!). By re-education the lost generation and the new one of younger kids, this would help to combat the tide of ignorance and self-desire that plagues the previous ones.

    • brettsalkeld

      “How hard is it to not have sex?”

      In one sense, I sympathize with this question. When I was an unmarried man and I was convinced that pre-marital sex was wrong, I had no problem at all not having sex. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the same sex drive as the rest of my cohort. I did. It was that both me and my future wife had decided that there were some things we weren’t going to do. I was often surprised to hear that one of my friends had had sex. I thought, “They know better than that!”

      However, as a married man using NFP, this question takes on a whole new meaning. It is no longer a question of doing right or wrong. I am married. There is no sin in making love to my wife. But it is quite difficult to not have sex when one has waited for months and months to get a clear sign about her fertility, when we expect to be able to make love, and, at the last moment, find that the symptoms we are reading are not as clear as they need to be.

      For people who cannot read fertility with any accuracy, NFP can be a great trial. If people knew they were in a situation where they had to be celibate (and that was my situation when I was single), they would have a much easier time than those of us who are led to expect intimacy with our spouses only to be surprised by celibacy over and over again. It is not the physical avoidance of sex that is difficult. I can do that. It is the years and years of shattered expectations that makes things less “humanly accessible.”

      I am hopeful that Benedict has something up his sleeve for those of us in such a situation. I have no idea what that something might be. I don’t expect, or desire, a wink-wink, nudge-nudge “use artificial contraception if you must because your conscience says so.”

      As much as I agree with you, Julian, about the need for better education on the question (heck, that’s why I wrote a book about it!), I must disagree with the basic tone of your response. Benedict is aware of the issues here that are deeper than just getting people convinced about Church teaching. I am convinced, but I still need the Church’s support from a moral and spiritual point of view. I am thankful our Holy Father seems to be recognizing this need.

      • Julian Barkin

        OH man! the book! ahhhh! I totally didn’t see this question can connect to it because it deals more specifically with the teenage/young adult population.

        “It is the years and years of shattered expectations that makes things less “humanly accessible.” Ok now I see more what you mean since you opened up about your marriage difficulties in using NFP. See without examples like this it makes it too challenging to understand what Sewald and B16 are jibberjabbing about, especially the term “humanly accesible”. Why can’t they make things more clear like you have?

        What got me in a a defensive tone is that I worry this could be another “Pandora’s Box” which is why I really hopre B16 has a plan. That’s why I suggested my re-education plan. Otherwize like many things in Today’s RCC, it could lead to poor implementation and more harm than good. Just look at the condom quote before this book was released as an example! The Liberal media wolves went ravenous! I honestly hated that and am sick of the media doing this and then every average or non-aware person still left in the pews thinks and believes these radical things contrary to their own religion when our Holy Father didn’t say it at all. I’ll admit I could have also taken a few bits out of my education plan, the quotes terms I mean.

        The thing is, what are these “humanly accesible ways” or what more could we have that respects the Church? Here’s what we got spelled out for us currently:
        Abstinence = Acceptable
        Procreation in marriage = Acceptable
        In Vitro = unacceptable (abortion part of it, see Donum Vitae)
        pre-marital sex = unacceptable
        birth control = mortal sin (abortaficients)
        abortion = mortal sin
        masturbation (to release sexual tension whether alone or in relationship) = mortal sin once you’ve read the conditions for mortal sin + CCC. Still its grave matter if you don’t know how bad it is.

        So what does this leave us with? There doesn’t seem to be much more positive things here when it comes to these tricky sexual matters. It seems like the “play it safe” approach is best in the Church.

        You know, it also kind of reminds me of something a friend of mine mentioned over Xmas break, that “the Chruch is good at spelling out what not to do” and something after like it has a difficult time explaining what to do. What you brought up makes that point a reality and in some agreement with my friend.

    • Liam

      I don’t know what generation you are, but as someone who grew up in suburban NY in the 1970s, I would say that 13-14 years old was not uncommon in the mid-1970s.

  • Brett,

    Given your existential sacramental relationship in Christian marriage, which clearly includes the suffering you have endured for having always followed Humanae Vitae, I believe that you are now in a much better position than most of our celibate pastoral advisors to provide guidance and wisdom on this topic of human life and sexual love.

    So, thank you for your wisdom and integrity and for your commitment to the pursuit of holiness through the sacrament of married love and family life.

    Your expertise, wisdom and insights are most valuable for the whole community. And we are grateful.

  • Well, I’ll offer one line of thinking, though I’m not sure it’s the one that most people who get excited about the prospect of change in the Church’s teaching on birth control want:

    In the past, rightly or wrongly, many people were considered or considered themselves to not be in good standing with the Church much of the time, yet remained Catholic not only in name but in belief and practice. For instance, up until the 1800s, many devout Catholics nonetheless only recieved communion a couple times a year, and then only right after confession and before they’d had a chance to commit any major sins again.

    Even until recently, people who were in “irregular” situations with regards to the Church remained loyal Catholics despite not being regular communicants. My wife’s grandmother went to mass at least weekly, at time daily, and brought up all twelve of her children as Catholics despite the fact that for decades (up until shortly after Vatican II) she was not able to receive communion because she’d married outside the Church. (Her husband wasn’t Catholic and had refused to follow the Church’s guidelines for “mixed marriages”.)

    This tended to fit in with the legalistic approach to sin and forgiveness which predominated, at least in popular culture, in the pre-conciliar Church. A great many things were grave sins, and you might be sufficiently attached to them as to be unable to receive communion most of the time, but you knew that you could always be wiped clean via confession, and so you could remain faithful, in your way, as a non-communicant up until the point you were ready to be reconciled into full communion — either because you were ready to give up whatever had kept to at a distance or because you thought you were about to die and so wouldn’t have time to fall again.

    Much of this legalism was wiped away after Vatican II, but at the same time it became harder to understand, culturally and pastorally, how to deal with people who were unwilling or unable to live according to teachings which the Church found itself unable to change or ignore. In the modern Church, people tend to assume that either they are in full communion, are basically “good people”, and are not doing anything which is terribly wrong according to the Church, or else they leave. So, for instance, people who are married outside the Church either ignore the fact and act as if they are in full communion even though they are (to use the traditional term) “living in sin”, or else they up and leave the Church entirely in indignation that the Church dare to refuse to recognize their union.

    The main attempts to solve this have consisted of either:

    a) Trying to redefine Catholic moral teaching to such an extent that no “basically good people” are living in a way which is incompatible with being regular communicants in good standing, or

    b) Starting wave after wave of “new evangelization” to try to get everyone living fully in keeping with Catholic teaching.

    I (like Brett, I would imagine) mostly find myself fully focused on b), however I wonder if in this passage Benedict is pointing to a need in addition to this constant evangelizing: helping to rebuild a Catholic culture and pastoral environment in which it is reasonable to understand that many people will, in point of fact, find it very difficult to live by the Church’s teachings, and yet keep them within the pastoral orbit of the Church rather than having them leave entirely.

    I don’t know that I can textually prove that this is what Benedict meant — the passage is fairly brief and fairly vague. Though it does occur to me that it has the virtue of not being entirely congenial either to the “pure Church” stripe of conservatism nor to the “we’re all sinners, so really none of us are” progressives.

    • brettsalkeld

      Thank you Darwin. I think this is a very useful set of observations.

    • Helping to rebuild a Catholic culture and pastoral environment in which it is reasonable to understand that many people will, in point of fact, find it very difficult to live by the Church’s teachings, and yet keep them within the pastoral orbit of the Church rather than having them leave entirely.


      It seems to me that if Benedict or one of the next few popes could pull this off, he would go down in history as one of the toweringly great popes of all time.

      What I find strange about many Catholics is the attitude that if you don’t accept everything, you should accept nothing. If someone believes the Catholic Church is 99% right, because of the 1% area of disagreement, he or she is supposed to reject 100% and go somewhere else entirely. If you can’t be a perfect Catholic, you shouldn’t be a Catholic at all. Yes, of course, we’re all sinners, but some sins are worse than others. If you beat your wife, you can still be a good Catholic, but if you have sex with her using contraception, you should find yourself another church or give up religion altogether.

      • David,

        While I think that people can at times be too quick to pull the “If you don’t believe all this, why don’t you get out?” trigger, that’s not exactly what I’m talking about here, in that my understanding of the problem you’re laying out is where someone thinks, “The Church is right on 99% of things, but wrong on 1% (on which I’m right) but I’ll stick with the Church in the hopes it will come around to understanding the rightness of my opinion.”

        What I’m thinking of is more along the lines of, “Of course, the Church is right that you can’t get married outside the Church, but the fact is my first marriage, though a failure, was valid. And I’ve met this wonderful women who’s Baptist and doesn’t care one way or the other about a Catholic wedding. So I’ll come to mass whenever I can and sit in the back, and when my first wife dies or I’m old enough not to worry about needing sex anymore, I’ll go to confession and make it all right.”

        Of course, I think part of the difficulty here is that this view seemed much more natural in the age of ethnic Catholicism in which belonging to some Protestant denomination (or simply being “spiritual but not religious) was totally unimaginable. These days people are a lot more liable to think, “The Church is wrong about divorce and remarriage,” than to think, “I just can’t live by this rule, I need sex and companionship too much, but I realize the Church is right and I’ll make it good with God and the Church someday before I die.”

        (Which is to say, among other things, that sadly Brideshead Revisited makes no sense at all to many modern readers.)

        • AV

          These are some very insightful comments. I would have to echo that I think the vast majority of “Catholics in name only” (a term I despise) have a passive dissent in the form of “yes, to live up to all that the priest is telling me is too hard, so I will just do X”. I think those who actively dislike a certain teaching of the Church are actually very few and far between. It is more an issue of the Spanish colonial saying: “obedezco pero no cumplo”: I obey, I just don’t act on it.

          Speaking of Spanish-speakers, I think it is far more common to find many Mexican men living in this country, especially young men, who still go to Mass every Sunday or most Sundays but never receive Holy Communion because they know they aren’t “living right”. In fact, Communion was far less frequent in the past than has been communicated here. Modern American Catholics link religion with being a decent human being, so the idea that I sit in the pew as a “second class citizen” is almost insulting to us (hence the furor over certain politicians receiving Communion).

          Indeed, the religiosity of most Catholics historically might have been more of a quid pro quo kind of thing: they went to Mass or had to walk on their knees to a crucifix because God granted them the grace of finding a job, saving them in battle, healing their mother, etc. That was pretty common even amongst the non-Latino ethnics back in the old days, and many of them (we forget) were quite anti-clerical but still nominally Catholic.

          All that being said, I think self-proclaimed “good Catholics” (the few that there are supposedly) are a bunch of busy bodies who need to do a deep examination of conscience and read the Fathers of the Desert. If measuring your vaginal mucus every day is going to make you cranky, prideful, judgmental, and bitter towards all those who don’t do it, then you are better off not doing it. The answer to a question posed of “why do we make a big deal out of ‘below the belt’ sins?” lies in some sort of neurotic hysteria which thinks that we will be saints as long as we don’t fornicate or kill anyone. The higher sins, like using religion for self-justification, are really the sins against the Holy Ghost that will not be forgiven in this life or the next. There are some who don’t see this, and would rather transform Catholicism into a bizarre fertility cult, hoisting both Cross and Thermometer over the dome of St. Peter’s.

  • I myself think there needs to be a better appreciation of the difference between the objective and subjective dimensions here. The objective can be described, all well and good, but the subjective side needs to be appreciated better. Pastorally, I think dispensations can be given in ways which they have yet to be — just look to the Orthodox and one will see what this can mean — and as such, I think the best way to go about these new areas is to breathe more with an Eastern lung than the Western legalism.

    • Austin Ruse

      Do the Orthodox Churches allow for the use of contraception?

  • Charles Robertson

    It seems to me that all he’s saying is that there is still room for improving how we communicate the teaching of the church. By “humanly accessible paths” I think he’s trying to highlight the need to appeal to human reason and authentically fulfilling desires so that the truth may be more readily accepted.

    He is not saying that those who follow the Church’s teaching are more to be wondered at than to be imitated. Rather, he is saying that those who live the Church’s teaching with profound conviction and supernatural motives will indeed be blessed, and that their ardent theological virtues will be a source of inspiration to others.

    I wouldn’t read too much into this statement.

  • David

    My wife and I are part of the Creighton Model NaPro technology NFP. We are yellow-stampers, for those in the know. This means we don’t have the luxury of always-clear signs of cervical mucus. HOWEVER, with proper instruction, the CM NFP is clear and concise, even with yellow stamps. In other words, we have not had any problems living this way. Those who have problems with signs and NFP need to use the Creighton Model NaPro NFP. If you don’t have a practitioner, find one. Twin Cities Fertility Care does ours, and they were trained by the Pope Paul VI institute (Dr. Hilgers) out of Omaha, NE. Google the “Pope Paul VI institute” for more information. It changed our lives, and our sex and family life could not be better. If you are struggling, call them today.

    • brettsalkeld

      The Creighton people here in Toronto aren’t very good at returning phone calls. When we were leaving Serena a few years ago we tried and tried to contact them. We ended up with Billings, which has been slightly better for us, but we were led to expect much greater results from them than we have seen. Maybe we should try Creighton again.

      So, 2+ years of Serena and 2 years of Billings and we’re going to have to start all over again. One certainly hopes the next one delivers on its promises. Mind if I ask what you were using before?

      • David

        We fornicated (because we were living in sin and stopped going to Mass), used pills (which increased my wife’s risk of breast cancer quite a bit and worried her constantly), and used condoms (which gave us rashes and fear that they wouldn’t work). I also had a massive porn addiction and was completely irresponsible with sex. We were miserable for six years. Then, we got married and decided to do things right, because we knew we were unhappy and that we had to change. We went back to the Church and we went to a massive, yet very healing, confession. We contacted Twin Cities NFP leading up to our wedding and were taught the Creighton Model. No more sin, no more pills, no more condoms, and no more worry. Sex is outstanding because we really share it, and its not about just pleasure anymore. We appreciate our ability to create with God, and we respect it. My wife loves the fact that she keeps a constant pulse on her health and how I work with her on matters of avoiding children or having them. We have to do it as a team, which is something we never did before we were married. Then, it was just about me getting off and my wife having to deal with the “kid issue” by taking her pills. She felt used and I don’t blame her…because I did use her. We now consider our lives in two stages: Before marriage and after marriage. We would never go back to those ways before marriage and must work harder on our marriage to keep it strong as a result. I love the Creighton Model, and the Church (Humanae Vitae in particular) because it saved our relationship and strengthens our marriage.

        • brettsalkeld

          Thanks David, for the lengthy confession. What I meant to ask was if you had used a different method of NFP before to which Creighton was a big improvement. I’m guessing “no”?

          • David

            Nah. As arrogant academic types, we assumed NFP was a joke and stuck with pills and condoms. We were utterly surprised at its effectiveness and success, to say the least. Creighton appealed to us due to the sheer amount of research behind it. There were no smoke and mirrors to navigate through, relying purely on faith and good intentions. This really works and it has really been researched. It convinced us and it works, not only for avoiding, but also for achieving, because (ironically) after years of contraception, we could not become pregnant on our own. It worked for that, and did not cost the tens of thousands of dollars IVF would have. It also worked for spacing, when I lost my job. We cannot praise it enough, and everyone should learn it and live it. Everyone.

  • I edited the passage so as to clarify what the Pope was saying. (My edit is in brackets.)

    The perspectives of “Humanae Vitae” remain valid, but it is another thing to find humanly accessible paths. I believe that there will always be minorities that are deeply persuaded of the correctness of those perspectives and that, in living them, will be so fully rewarded that they will become for others a fascinating model to follow. We are sinners[, b]ut we should not take this fact as evidence against the truth, when that high moral standard is not met. We should seek to do all the good possible, and sustain and support one another. To express all of this from the pastoral, theological, and conceptual point of view as well in the context of current sexology and anthropological research is a great task to which we must be more and better dedicated.

    The question you are asking is, what does the Pope mean when he speaks of “humanly accessible paths”? Let’s take another look at that part of the passage:

    The perspectives of “Humanae Vitae” remain valid, but it is another thing to find humanly accessible paths.

    Find humanly accessible paths to what? This could be taken to mean “find humanly accessible paths to Humanae Vitae” — in other words, find humanly accessible paths to the lifestyle that its teachings demand. According to this interpretation, the Pope is saying that Humanae Vitae is not “humanly accessible.” The obvious implication of this would be that people do not necessarily have to follow the teachings of Humanae Vitae — after all, it would make little sense to insist that people choose a lifestyle that is not humanly accessible.

    This interpretation would have the Pope state that the teachings of Humanae Vitae “remain[] valid,” but, at the same time, are not “humanly accessible.” But fortunately for Catholics who are “deeply persuaded of the correctness of those perspectives,” this interpretation makes no sense. Humanae Vitae teaches that the use of contraception is always a mortal sin, so it would be contradictory to claim that an encyclical which teaches that something is always gravely sinful “remains valid,” while at the same time claiming that people do not necessarily have to follow its rules.

    The most reasonable interpretation of the passage you quoted would interpret “find[ing] humanly accessible paths” to refer to finding a humanly accessible path to the perspectives of Humanae Vitae rather than the lifestyle it demands of us. In other words, the Church ought to provide a humanly accessible path to the understanding of Humanae Vitae. And She does so through the actions of “minorities that are deeply persuaded of the correctness of those perspectives [contained in Humanae Vitae] and that, in living them, [are] so fully rewarded that they… become for others a fascinating model to follow” — not through the actions of those who eagerly look for any excuse not to follow them.

  • Ronald King

    Humanae Vitae references God’s grace as the source of strength to pursue such a path. The question is, does the church expect all to have that grace to endure the struggles of that path? Is the Pope stating that HV is for the most part an idealized state of marriage and the reality is far from that ideal and that his expectations have changed because his understanding of the human condition may be more influenced by compassion for the human being enduring a wide variety of suffering in which they have no control and are victims of learned helplessness and hopelessness. There are so many life threatening forces in our daily lives and the struggle for survival is intensely played out everyday. We have a world that uses us and our children to literally kill each other. People are too afraid to have children. Is he reaching out to them?

  • When the pope says, “I believe that there will always be minorities that are deeply persuaded of the correctness of those perspectives,” is he not in effect saying that there will always be majorities that will not?

    Is it really considered a mortal sin for people living in the spirit of Christian marriage to use contraception even occasionally? Is God really that eager to damn people that he made it so easy to commit a serious sin by having sex with your own husband or wife?

    • Tom

      An excellent rhetorical question, David. Another one—why have some people elevated sexual sins to the status of super sins?

      • Tom,

        Artificial contraception has clearly been taught to be grave matter. It’s not “some people” elevating sexual sins – it’s the Church teaching the truth about human life and human love.

        [I’m gonna let this go, but I want to let people know that I will not let this devolve into a discussion of the merits of Church teaching on artificial contraception in general. That discussion has been had here before and will be had here again. I’m actually interested in discussing the implications of the Pope’s comments. BS]

        • Brett – I didn’t bring this up, but it’s important to clarify confusion on this issue, because there is so much of it.

          [No worries, Zach. I was just being pre-emptive, not blaming you. Sorry for any confusion. BS]

    • Is it really considered a mortal sin for people living in the spirit of Christian marriage to use contraception even occasionally?

      I suppose mileage may vary, but my personal observation based upon marriage is that in close relationships, absolutely anything can be a grievous wrong, to the extent that doing it, however a small thing it may be, represents an absolute rejection of the desires of the other.

      In like sense, it seems to me, that it is hardly surprising that a seemingly small thing (such as skipping mass to go golfing on a Sunday) can be a mortal sin. And if something like skipping mass can be a sin, why not using contraception within marriage, if it is, as the Church tells us, directly contrary to God’s law?

  • brettsalkeld

    I think one of the difficulties surrounding the question of artificial contraception (and I think it also applies to things like cohabitation) is that is is tough to engage in them by accident or in the heat of the moment.

    David points out the incongruity between the Church’s apparent attitude towards spousal abuse and artificial contraception, but there are other factors at play here than simply “Which is the greater sin?”

    As far as I can tell, from a purely objective standpoint, both would be mortal sin. Once we get into the real muck of human relationships, however, the kinds of conditions that lead people to either behavior is usually quite mitigating. On the other hand, the two are tough to compare because the kinds of conditions that lead to spousal abuse are very different (and I suspect more personal) than those that lead to the choice to use AC (which I suspect are more socio-cultural).

    There is the further complication that most people, including abusers, believe spousal abuse to be wrong, while most AC users have no moral qualm with that behavior. I think we’ve got apples and oranges here.

    Nevertheless, I am sympathetic to the concern that sexual sins are somehow greater kinds of sins than other sins. I think this is a grave misrepresentation of the whole tradition of Catholic theological ethics (see Dante), and I try, in my own writing at least, to avoid representing sexual sins as somehow more serious than other types of sin. I suspect there are good cultural reasons for this misapprehension arising – in short, it is the area where the Church has the least in common with the explicit expectations of western culture – but we still need to work to overcome it.

    I am actually hopeful that Benedict’s tone in this recent book is a step in that direction. That some of Benedict’s “allies” have responded in such a panic indicates that we’ve got a long way to go.

  • David Nickol: When the pope says, “I believe that there will always be minorities that are deeply persuaded of the correctness of those perspectives,” is he not in effect saying that there will always be majorities that will not?

    Look at the entire sentence:

    I believe that there will always be minorities that are deeply persuaded of the correctness of those perspectives and that, in living them, will be so fully rewarded that they will become for others a fascinating model to follow.

    The Pope’s minority status comment referred to people who are both deeply persuaded of the correctness of the perspectives and who are so fully rewarded by adhering to them that they become a model for others. He never said that all people who believe in Humanae Vitae will forever be a minority. The only class of people who will necessarily always be a minority are those who both believe in it and, as a result, become models for others.

  • grega

    Brett IMHO do not get your hopes up too much – from all what I read when you so eloquently describe (and circumscribe) your pre and postmarital ‘struggles’ it seems to me that you and your wife fall squarely into the “always be minorities that are deeply persuaded of the correctness of those perspectives and that, in living them, will be so fully rewarded ” category. And in so openly describing your very personal struggle you perform the kind of ministry that Benedict in my reading predicts as”that they will become for others a fascinating model to follow.” Of course Benedict as the former Professor that he is after all would like to find a ‘scientific’ way to drive those points home beyond the ‘look at those fine impressive couples’ and hopes that “in the context of current sexology and anthropological research is a great task to which we must be more and better dedicated.”
    One can always hope of course – in my opinion ‘science’ clearly points away from what our Popes desires.
    I see our Pope as a man of his time and circumstances with no particular divine insights – thus I do not hold my breath to have him point me and my wife and our children into the ‘ultimate’ direction.
    By the way It seems to me you and your wife should end your angst and accept the possibility of children – you are more than ready for it.

    • brettsalkeld

      Thanks Grega,
      We already have two kids, and we are hopeful for more. Our current situation does not allow for it, but we are getting closer. It is a rare day in our house where the future children/siblings are not discussed. You can be sure that we will wait no longer than is absolutely necessary. 😉

  • Austin Ruse

    Following the teachings of the Church on HV are hardly onerous. I truly do not understand it when you say you have suffered for it. Is it so onerous to avoid intercourse for a few days a month? Neither do i understand that you have waited months and months for a sign of your wife’s fertility.

    It seems that many are waiting breathlessly for the Church to bless the condom. This is the real puzzle. Folks are waiting to get the go ahead for a system of fertility avoidance that is not just alienating but unreliable to boot. The Guttmacher Institute says that something like 97% of the women who have had abortions were also using some form of contraception. I mention this not to bring abortion into the conversation but to emphasize that contraceptives are far from a “cure” for fertility.

    I think the Pope was getting at the need for a more robust understanding and explication of the Church’s prophetic and human teaching on HV.

    • brettsalkeld

      I’m not sure how you can write “hardly onerous” if you have read my comments (or Humanae Vitae itself for that matter). We have constantly been told the lie of “avoiding intercourse for a few days a month.” We must avoid intercourse for months at a time, but without knowing which months in advance. It is only at the end of each month, often after months of waiting, that we discover that, alas, this month is also a no-go. We, like most, were told that you can only get pregnant 3-4 days per month and NFP tells you which days those are. One day I put our Billings instructor on the spot and asked, “In a perfect month, how many days would be available?” She was hard pressed to find 10. For us, yellow stampers, a great month is every second or third day for the last week of the month. We have not had a better month than that in 3 years. The last time we had a better month than that, we got pregnant.

      Also, I can assure you, I have no desire for the Church to “bless the condom.” None.

  • “People often say, ‘It is better to be a good Protestant than a bad Catholic.’ That is not true! That would mean that one could be saved without the true faith. No. A bad Catholic remains a child of the family, although a prodigal, and however great a sinner he may be, he still has a right to mercy. Through his faith, a bad Catholic is nearer to God than a Protestant, for he is a member of the household, whereas the heretic is not. And how hard it is to make him become one!”

    -St. Peter Eymard

    • What a perfectly appalling quote.

      • brettsalkeld

        Indeed. Ratzinger has written some interesting things about how “heretic” is an inappropriate term for Protestants. I think it’s in The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood.

        • Speaking of our separated brethren, can Catholics and evangelicals agree about purgatory and the last judgement? Can you recommend any good books on this topic? The issue seems to be strangely absent from Vox Nova.

          • brettsalkeld

            I know of one such book. Right now, I can only find it on Amazon. As I always recommend people buy direct from the publisher or from their local bookstore I have yet to advertise. But definitely. Go to the local bookstore and get them to order a copy of Can Catholics and Evangelicals Agree About Purgatory and the Last Judgment? by Brett Salkeld. Promises to be a good read.

  • Austin Ruse

    But this is just false:

    “We must avoid intercourse for months at a time, but without knowing which months in advance.”

    It is a medical fact that the woman is fertile for only a few days a month. You say she is fertile for months? Constantly for months? That is just false.

    I think someone has truly confused you….

  • brettsalkeld

    Of course she is not fertile for months at a time! I never said any such thing. I am really quite astonished at what you manage to read into other’s comments.

    It seems that you are the one who is confused. Someone seems to have told you that NFP actually and unfailingly tells people exactly when they are fertile. This is very common misinformation, and perpetuating it contributes to the huge attrition rate among couples that try NFP and then quit. I highly recommend you inform yourself so that you can speak more credibly about something rather important in your line of work.

    Our issue is not that Flan is fertile all the time but that we cannot tell when she is fertile and when she is not because her symptoms are impossible to read. And you should be able to guess NFP protocol for what to do when you can’t discern fertility.

    • Austin Ruse


      Before you get indignant. I just do not know what this means:

      “We must avoid intercourse for months at a time, but without knowing which months in advance.” For months at a time? I just do not get that.

      Of course it not just a simple thing to magically know the fertile period. It has to do with temperature and mucous viscosity. To be absolutely sure of avoiding pregnancy, you must avoid more than a few days, perhaps as much as two-thirds of a woman’s monthly cycle (given the length of time sperm may live in a woman’s body). But that still leaves one-third of every month when its can be pregnancy free whoopie time.

      Unless, of course, which you now reveal the problem is that you have unusual and serious problems determining the fertile/infertile periods. But this is certainly not the norm. It is to be regretted, certainly, and sympathized with, but this is not the norm.

      I also write as someone who married late in life, 47, and who therefore used NFP to zero in the fertile periods, which worked as we are blessed iwth two girls, 5 and 2.

      • brettsalkeld

        I’m sorry if I sounded indignant. I am struggling to understand what is so difficult about my statements.

        I will try to say it as clearly as possible:

        We often go for months without being able to discern whether or not Flannery is fertile. In our current situation this demands abstinence. We cannot predict in advance what will happen each month as each month is different.

        Does this make sense yet?

        And yes, we know we are exceptional, though my pastoral experience convinces me that we are less and less exceptional than originally thought.

        As for 1/3 of the month worst-case scenario, we have been told that one as well. But every second or third day for one week amounts to a maximum of 4 days out of the theoretical 28. That’s 1/7. And that’s actually pretty good for us. Our best-case scenario is every day available for one week. I.e. our best case scenario is 1/4, less than the advertised worst-case scenario. Our worst case is zilch.

        • Austin Ruse

          Yes, finally clear. I get that now. But surely she is infertile during her actual menstrual cycle?

          • brettsalkeld

            Not according to Billings.

          • Austin Ruse

            And you should be saluted for your perseverance. You are a great example of faithfulness to the teaching.

          • brettsalkeld

            Thanks Austin.

            The goal is to get through the current situation and then live like old school providentialists for a bit.

          • Austin Ruse

            A friend of mine runs Billings in Canada. I am going to ask her that.

          • Austin Ruse

            You are right…my billings friend confirmed that you can get pregnancy during a woman’s period…who knew!

      • Austin,

        My wife and I don’t have the irregular signs problems that Brett and his wife do (and though we know one other couple that does, most of our peers we graduated from college with and who got married, like us, in their early 20s, have not had such problems — my highly subjective impression is that this may afflict 5-10% of couples) but we are young enough to be using NFP to try to space children rather than achieve them, and so I think I can claim to understand what he’s talking aboout here charting-wise. What they’re dealing with is actually pretty similar to what my wife and I have dealt with a number of times (including right about now) during the 6-12 months it takes for cycles to regularize after a birth.

        What the problem is, the signs of fertility (for a couple like Brett and his wife all the time, or for a couple like us with early return of fertility after birth) are very confused. Temperature goes up for two days, then it goes down. Mucus dries up, then it comes back. Maddeningly, this often seems to happen just as things are about to be “in the clear”. So you’ll see a drying pattern in mucus for three days, and then on the fourth (which ought to be your available day) it suddenly increases again. Etc. This can be additionally combined (certainly with post-partum return of fertility) with very irregular length of cycle. So one will be 20 days, and then the next will be 50 days. Also, you sometimes get no clear signs of when fertility occured (or if it occured) during a cycle until the wife’s period starts. Which gives you maybe 3-5 “safe” days until you need to start abstaining again — and it’s often not days that are particularly romantic for conjugal relations.

        Obviously, there are still only about five days during the cycle when the wife can get pregnant, but since you have no idea when those days were until afterwards, that doesn’t really do you much good in these circumstances. More frustratingly, often the couple will have nights when it is very, very hard for them to abstain, but they do so because they don’t believe it would be prudent to get pregnant at this time, only to realize a week or two later, when they once again really want to be physically united but the signs are unclear, that they would have been fine then but they don’t know if they are now.

        So I can definitely see Brett’s point that this puts more stress on a relationship than the pre-marital period when the rule is very simple: you know that you cannot have sex, period.

        [Darwin and I have agreed to discuss some things that went into some more personal detail here over e-mail. I really would rather discuss the implications of the Pope’s comments than my wife’s cycle. I am conscious of being perhaps a touch immodest here and worry I might sound whiny. I wish I knew of a better way to convince readers that NFP can be a trial than to broadcast details of my wife’s cycle to the public, but I don’t. BS]

        • brettsalkeld

          As for the rest, Darwin: Bingo!

          The worst is finding out after the fact that things would have been OK. That really stinks.

          • Melody

            I hear you, Brett. We went through similar frustrations when I was going through perimenopause. I know you and your wife are not at that stage yet and have different issues. But there are similarities in that there is often a lack of signs that one can rely on with confidence. I used to wish I had some kind of GPS for the body so I could tell where in the heck I was. I tried the Ovulon indicator which measures conductivity, which is supposed to go up around the time of ovulation. But if most of your cycles have become anovular that’s not much help. As my doctor emphasized, because most of them are anovular, doesn’t mean all of them are. And you don’t know they are until after the fact and it’s too late.
            The ClearBlue indicator sounds interesting, and if it had been available when we were younger we would have tried it. If they can make i-phones they ought to be able to figure out a good back-up method for discerning fertility when the body’s signs are not all that clear.

        • Austin Ruse

          Many thanks for the clarification. Very helpful. And yes, Brett, perhaps we have gotten a tad to detailed!

          • Austin Ruse

            Wow! Got a very very very complicated answer from my Canadian Billings friend..will try to clarify…

  • brettsalkeld

    Furthermore, our instructor is the head instructor who trains all the other Billings instructors in Toronto and area. We were referred to her because of our “yellow sticker” status. If she has confused us, there are a lot of confused people in the NFP world.

    Assuming a few days a months and acting accordingly without reference to the individual woman’s actual symptoms is called the rhythm method. And Catholics are rightly indignant when the rest of the culture uses this description for NFP. Please don’t give them more ammo.

    • Charles Robertson

      For some reason, this discussion reminds me of this article I read some time ago. I believe it was in Crisis magazine in 2004:

    • OK Brett,

      This topic has generated a lot of interest and some rather quaint, even somewhat offensive or insensitive comments, including that triumphalistic quote from the obscure St. Peter Eymard. This frankly calls into question what we are actually trying to discuss here.

      Perhaps it would help if you could inform us exactly what you mean by your “yellow sticker” status, Brett.

      This is but one glaring example of the somewhat arcane language and bewildering techniques which have turned so many people off from natural family planning, whichever mode you choose.

      Following the 1968 promulgation of Humanae Vitae, the Canadian Bishops with their “Winnipeg Statement” and several other national conferences of bishops, including those of Belgium and France, issued pastoral statements which provided the necessary practical “humanly accessible” guidance for millions of couples around the world.

      Essentially they affirmed the sanctity of life in accord with the papal Encyclical, while teaching in their own jurisdiction that the conscience of the married couple must ultimately make the decision how to proceed in the matter of sexual intimacy and family planning. This led to a brief period of Catholic focus on the fundamental importance of formation of conscience.

      Here we are more than forty years later, still in the dark about certain core issues in building a culture of dynamic mature conscience rather than simply dictating blind obedience to authority, which may have served well in medieval times but is absolutely inappropriate in the twenty first century.

      Benedict appears to be skirting that issue with these comments, which after all are not to be taken as some kind of new official papal statement. Remember folks, this quote and the book where it is located is just the result of a series of interviews with a foreign journalist.

      Consequently, we ought to put the words in some realistic context.

      I still believe that an informed conscience is the supreme guide in all moral conflicts. That is the teaching of the Catholic church, so far as I know.

      • brettsalkeld

        Yellow stickers are what you put on your chart when you can’t discern fertility.

      • brettsalkeld

        Also, I am all for the formation of conscience, but too often this has led to a relativistic approach to morality. In your own work in peace-making, you would never blithely suggest that someone not engage in acts of war unless their conscience so dictates. Being convinced that acts of war are actually incredibly damaging, you would say they must not be done – though you might acknowledge that someone doing them in good conscience was less subjectively culpable for the resulting evil than someone who knew they were doing something wrong.

        Our consciences determine what we must do. This is clear in Church teaching. But it does not follow that our consciences determine what is objectively right. I am grateful for your work of forming consciences on the question of war and peace so that what people must do subjectively is more likely to be in accord with what is right objectively.

        The fact that this aspect was often lost to view is what has caused the Church to pull back a bit in its emphasis on conscience. Though some conservatives questioned the wisdom of it, Leah and I included a section on conscience in our book. You might be interested in it.

        • Recognizing the role of conscience and the formation of conscience is crucial when considering any moral question, particularly when it is necessary to find some practical resolution in our terrestrial biosphere, such as human life, including human sexuality.

          Isn’t this what the Christian doctrine of incarnation is all about?

          Whether it be making love or peacemaking, we are guided by the law of Christ. We do not live our lives in some abstract universe, but in the very real world which God has so loved.

          Because of the current ethical challenges facing our generation in so many global issues affecting survival of life on the planet, I hope the Catholic church resumes it’s former emphasis on the formation of conscience.

          What is lacking in our modern society is a consistent commitment to the ethic of life. Furthermore, I cannot imagine publishing a book on sexuality without a chapter on conscience. Good for you and Leah for doing the right thing and including it in your publication.

      • grega

        “Here we are more than forty years later, still in the dark about certain core issues in building a culture of dynamic mature conscience rather than simply dictating blind obedience to authority, which may have served well in medieval times but is absolutely inappropriate in the twenty first century.”
        “I still believe that an informed conscience is the supreme guide in all moral conflicts. That is the teaching of the Catholic church, so far as I know.”
        Larry in my opinion you cut to the heart of this. While I can deeply appreciate and respect the path that Brett and others choose I honestly do not think they have a moral leg up on the other 80% (?)of Catholics who concluded that NFP is just not for them. Morally either side seem to pursue the same goal – space children, decide on the desired total number of children etc. I can not see the fundamental moral difference between Brett and his wife pursuing this the natural way or us others using any sort of combination of other means.
        For me this is a bit like the difference between walking vs. using ‘unnatural’ means of transportation like bikes, cars, planes.
        Sure it can be extremely satisfying and uplifting to walk and certainly if done consistently it will set the tone for a certain way of life. Just look at the Amish – very wonderful and fine folks with a great culture – but it is not mainstream –
        reading what Brett describes convinces me even more that that sort of thing will solidly stay with a dedicated minority.
        And not surprisingly a little subculture develops with all the usual suspects – some folks run “Billings”, others are ‘yellow stickers’ etc. and a good number hope for salvation from this from some higher up –
        not much new under the sun really.

        • grega,

          Doubtless you know this, but since this is a Catholic site it is probably just as well that someone says it explicitly: While you may not be able to see that there is a moral difference between using NFP and using artificial contraception, the Church does in fact teach that there is a very large moral difference between the two. It is certainly an unfortunate fact of our time that a majority of Catholics either are ignorant of or reject this teaching, but that does not in any sense make the teaching less real or less important — nor does it absolve those who are aware of the Church’s teaching on this matter from moral responsibility for obeying it, or else explaining to their consciences and their God why they reject the teaching of a Church which they profess to believe to be true in its teachings.

          It is all very well to cite conscience, but surely conscience is not merely a rubber stamp of “I’d rather do this” or else moral teaching has no meaning at all. And while those who dislike a given teaching are often eager to cite conscience as their reason, they are often less likely to see this as a good excuse on those teachings which they feel passionately about. We are responsible for forming our consciences according to God’s truth, and if we routinely find ourselves convinced that God’s truth is something other than what the Church teaches, we perhaps need to ask ourselves whether we have made our desires our god.

  • brettsalkeld

    100 years ago, very few Catholics would have dreamed that modern NFP could exist, nevermind that it would be advocated by the Church!

    Those who think that my hope for something new means nothing more than an unexpressed desire to use AC strike me as having little imagination and less historical sense.

    The Holy Spirit may well have something for us who struggle. And that is not the same thing as saying “The Church can and should change course on artificial contraception.”

    “Changes” in Church teaching rarely, if ever, take the form of, “Whoops I guess the culture had it right all along, sorry guys.” They are much more likely to appear as a heretofore-unimagined-because-unimaginable-response to new situations and information. Suggesting such things are possible is not even close to advocating that the Church adopt the broader culture’s view.

  • ben


    If you have trouble interpreting the signs for NFP, buy the Clearblue fertility monitor:

    It is EXTREMELY EASY to interpret and VERY CLEAR about the phase.

    It is something of an expense, but not so much that it could be considered overly burdensome for those who have a serious reason to avoid pregnancy.

    Several families in our FSSP parish use one for spacing pregnancies.

    • Hey Ben,

      Translation please for “FSSP parish”… we really need to use inclusive and humanly accessible language in these discussions, just in case there may be a regular human person interested in joining the dialogue or learning more about the topic. That would be wonderful, wouldn’t it?

      • Juniper


        FSSP is the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter, an order established to offer the Mass and other sacraments according to the 1962 Missal. They are in union with the Holy Father.

      • Austin Ruse


        FSSP refers to the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, an order of priests created to say the Mass of Blessed John 23rd and to try and keep folks from fleeing to the Society of Pius 10th.

        • Thanks, Juniper & Austin, for the explanation. – I recall a priest from that fraternity who celebrated a Latin Mass at the chapel of the Newman Centre in Toronto a couple of years ago, as an opportunity for folks to experience the liturgy in that mode.

          It was arranged by our pastor as a one-time-only event, and I don’t recall whether the liturgy presented was the so-called Tridentine rite or the John XXIII version mentioned above here by Austin.

          During the discussion which followed in the Newman Centre and later in the community, most comments I heard indicated that although it was an interesting experience, those who attended and participated really do prefer to pray in the vernacular and participate more actively in liturgy.

          The most helpful observation I recall, was from a theologian at St. Michaels College who reminded us that this mass is from another era with a very different ecclesiology and worldview from that of Vatican II and the modern world which we now inhabit.

          Is it possible that an “FSSP parish” would have more couples who practise the forms of Natural Family Planning we are discussing here? I wouldn’t be surprised if that is the case. However, these things are not normally discussed in the public forum or blogs, as far as I know.

          • Austin Ruse

            When Benedict XVI gave universal approval for the “Tridentine” Mass, he gave it a new name, the Mass of Blessed John XXIII. He did this because the last approved Missal for this Rite was 1962.

            I used to attend the old Mass every Sunday at St. Agnes Church in New York and found this High Mass quite remarkable.

            When I did attend a Low Mass, what most people likely attended in the 50’s, I did get the feeling I was only a spectator. It was Father’s Mass and I only watched. People from those days will recall all the private devotions that went on during Mass rather than participating in the Mass.

            Having said that, I think all of that could have been fixed without the broad-gauged vernacular that was imposed on the people and without all the attendant craziness.

            Are FSSP people likely faithful on HV. More than likely.

  • David

    I believe the Holy Spirit was at work with Dr. Hilgers and those researching the Creighton Model, because its effectiveness is far greater than artificial means for both avoiding and achieving pregnancies.

  • Ronald King

    Brett, I also admire and applaud your spouse and you for your faith. My Wife and I have two grown children ages 31 and 25 and they are the greatest gifts we could ever imagine.
    We did not have more children because I was a weak man at the time who had no faith. Both of us were out of the faith due to my influence. I had a vasectomy in 1987 and the words that haunt me the most are from my wife when she said at the time, “No more brown-eyed babies.”
    Other reasons for the vasectomy were physical problems with the birth control pill and she was going to have a tubal ligation. I did not want her to go through that.
    When I returned to the Church in ’05 and made my 40 year confession I began to mourn the loss of the potential children we could have had.

  • Ronald King

    Isn’t theology theoretical and abstract in nature? Isn’t it a projection of imagination by the hierarchy to establish what is to be practiced between loving couples? Isn’t there something wrong here?

  • Julian Barkin

    Hey Brett, I just thought of something from my line of work I’m qualified to do that maybe could be an “accesible human path.” NFP from reading this post sounds darn awful and difficult especially with “yellows.” Could this be a viable “accesible human path?”

    The standard way that we test for proof of pregancy is with cards or sticks for the product Beta-Human chorionic gonadotropin, B-hCG for short. These can be bought from a pharmacy but the technology of detection used is also part of test kits in the hospital. It uses antibodies on a part of the stick that captures hormone if present in serum or urine and then there’s an enzyme reaction that cleaves a coloured product to say “positive” in the part of the space if B-hCG is captured.

    Unfortunately other hormones associated with pregancy such as LH, FSH, and progesterone are traditionally tested using immunoassay analyzers and by my knowledge not found either at all or in high enough concentrations in urine for testing. For something to be testable in urine, it either has to be so high in concentration in the body that it has to spill over or is normally not adsorbed/metabolized by the body it has to be rid of somehow.

    Perhaps an avenue of research that should be looked at by both secular scientific laboratories and even maybe the Vatican’s own scientific academy are new biomarkers for the state of pregnancy pre-conception that would not require drawing blood for serum hormones. While the creation of the hypothetical “fertility test card” wouldn’t alleviate all the moral conundrums of sex, it could be useful in increasing overall moral awareness in the choice of sex (e.g. better not do it cause I’m fertile for both partners), and for those with difficult NFP issues it could be even more reliable than the methods out there.

  • Brett:

    You indicated that the measures or tactics against Rhonheimer are:

    “Mostly just public accusations of heterodoxy which, in some circumstances though probably not Rhonheimer’s, can be crippling.”

    To be quite fair and transparent about it, I would be interested in knowing whence comes these public accusations?

    What is more alarming, since you mention that in some circumstances it can be “crippling”, I would ask if this is how we as a community are going to tolerate such a blatant contradiction and travesty of the evangelical counsels in the twenty first century?

    It actually sounds more like the politics of fear and the practice of despots and tyrants, than anything we might expect from the disciples of the crucified saviour of humankind, who is also known by many of us as universal Prince of Peace and the Incarnate Son of God, God’s Anointed One, the human embodiment of Nonviolent Love.

    If what you say is true, then it must be resisted and corrected by the community of believers who are true to the gospel.

    Orthopraxis requires that we apply the teaching of Christ, not just demanding strict adherence to abstract “orthodox” doctrines.

    • brettsalkeld

      The place to follow the Rhonheimer bit is a Sandra Magister’s Chiesa blog.

      I personally don’ like the way it has all gone down either.

      Here is a detailed summery:

      • Charles Robertson

        The debate between Rhonheimer and other Thomist ethicists has been going on for a few years now. His position on intention is much like that of the new natural law crowd, and the latter have been in the line of fire of many ethicists for at least 20 years. The exchange that has occurred in light of the “condom controversy” is unsurprising to me.

        • Thanks to Brett, and all who have contributed to this lively discussion on Benedict XVI and Humanae Vitae.

          It has been informative, quite fascinating and thought provoking for me.

          For some reason, I find the connection with liturgy and prayer in this process quite intriguing.

          Faith which seeks understanding will often be found in prayer & praise of the God who created all things with such wonderful love.

          Caritas in Veritate!