Sunday, July 27, 2008

As Long As the Checks Cash

The NY times has a somewhat confusing Op-Ed piece by John Allen on the stubbornness (although he doesn't use that word) of the Catholic Church. First he notes an anniversary.

Forty years ago last week, Pope Paul VI provoked the greatest uproar against a papal edict in the long history of the Roman Catholic Church when he reiterated the church’s ban on artificial birth control by issuing the encyclical “Humanae Vitae.” At the time, commentators predicted that not only would the teaching collapse under its own weight, but it might well bring the “monarchical papacy” down with it.

Those forecasts badly underestimated the capacity of the Catholic Church to resist change and to stand its ground.

Maybe, but standing your ground while people run past you isn't terribly effective.

Today polls show that Catholics, at least in the West, dissent from the teaching on birth control, often by majorities exceeding 80 percent.

At least the hierarchy isn't losing too much sleep over it.

But at the official level, Catholicism’s commitment to “Humanae Vitae” is more solid than ever.

The reason? Good old-fashioned patronage and boot-licking.

.....three decades of bishops’ appointments by John Paul II and Benedict XVI, both unambiguously committed to “Humanae Vitae,” mean that senior leaders in Catholicism these days are far less inclined than they were in 1968 to distance themselves from the ban on birth control, or to soft-pedal it. A striking number of Catholic bishops have recently brought out documents of their own defending “Humanae Vitae.”

The end result?

So the future of “Humanae Vitae” as the teaching of the Catholic Church seems secure, even if it will also continue to be the most widely flouted injunction of the church at the level of practice.

What confuses me is the seemingly positive tone of this, as though the ability to ignore the real world and their own parishioners is somehow a good thing. Of course, as long as the church members keep sending the money the leaders can issue edicts that the parishioners can ignore and everyone can pretend everything is just fine.

Then there was this paragraph.

During his almost 27-year papacy, John Paul II provided a deeper theoretical basis for traditional Catholic sexual morality through his “theology of the body.” In brief, the late pope’s argument was that human sexuality is an image of the creative love among the three persons of the Trinity, as well as God’s love for humanity. Birth control “changes the language” of sexuality, because it prevents life-giving love.

Beyond the somewhat weird comparison of sex to the relationship among the Trinity (two of which are described as male and related), there is the fact that clergy are officially prohibited from participating in this highly-praised, image-of-God's-love activity. I do agree that birth control changes the language of sexuality, in that it allows life-giving to be a result of love rather than happenstance or coercion.

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