Much of the HHS mandate debate has been sidetracked on the issue of contraceptive use by Catholics. As if less-than-faithful Catholics invalidate the rights of faithful Catholics. The 98% figure bandied about by the Obama Administration and their excusers has been pretty well debunked, notably by statistician and SF writer Mike Flynn.
Regardless the percentage of Catholics who either use contraceptives or have a contraceptive attitude seems to be rather high and more than likely involving a majority of Catholics.
While the issue of contraception and sterilization is tangental to the issue of the HHS mandate and its trampling of religious freedom, it is not tangental to the life of the Church.
The attack on conscience in regards to contraception and sterilization did not originate from the Obama Administration. The attack came from within the Church in the confessional and elsewhere. Consciences were deadened by those who misrepresented the Church’s teaching and promoted the idea of an individualist conscience divorced from being informed by the Church. It was not that the majority of Catholics who dissent on contraception and sterilization had thoroughly looked at what the Church taught and then rejected it. Rationalization working from sin to excusing of the sin is nothing new and these difficulties are magnified in the sphere of human sexuality. It is certainly a great evil that those who sought advice about this were often lied to.
One of the things you often hear Catholics complain about is about the lack of teaching in homilies concerning contraception. This is often said as if homilies that addressed this would have fixed the problem. You will also hear complaints about the same thing in regards to bishops, Catholics schools, etc. There is certainly some truth to the complaint and a lot of blame to go around.
Lacking a time machine there is little use in critiquing the past other than evaluating failure with a goal correcting the problem. We must understand this history, but not dwell in it. The fact is the current situation involves a lot of dissent on the subject and the contraceptive attitude is a disaster for families and thus the society. The fact that such a large number of Catholics are in objective sin and receiving Communion is a horrible fact that must be more than just lamented.
The pro-life battle has in some ways been much easier and one where a growing number of people are coming to the truth of abortion. The same problems involving teaching about contraception and sterilization were also true for abortion as it was largely ignored from the parish to the diocese to the bishop’s conference. But the natural law understanding of what abortion truly is is able to be more easier understood and passed on. Plus reinforcement from science and the ultrasound makes the argument against abortion stronger.
While there is also the natural law argument against contraception and sterilization it is much more difficult to understand and there are a lot of factors for this cultural and otherwise. With marriage under attack from so many quarters it is easy to see why the two ends of marriage also get lost in the shuffle. The denial of final ends contributes to this confusion. But even the consequences of the embrace of contraception can be noted in a business journal such as the article Time To Admit It: The Church Has Always Been Right On Birth Control.
Right now fertility is seen as something to be controlled or fixed. Like so many things problems are to be solved with either a pill or surgery. Children are seen as the negative weight on a cost/benefit scale. A family is seen as a zero-sum game where an increase of children throw the equation out of balance. Pleasure and materialism is to be maximized and children are seen as a threat to this. The contraceptive culture only reinforces this as time goes on.
The real question is what can be done about the current situation and how can we teach Catholics and thus the world the truth of the Church’s teaching?
I’m only just another pundit blogger and I don’t pretend to have all the answers about this, or any real answers other than a general direction of what must be done.
Just introducing contraception as a topic in homilies is not going to change things. The USCCB issuing another document about contraception is not going to change things. They issued a very good document on the subject a couple of years ago, but very few Catholics actually read these documents. There has to be a more fundamental change that is not going to happen overnight. Since this is a topic that is not easy to grasp and one which the culture constantly contradicts we as Catholics must do everything we can to teach the truth at every level. At the parish, RCIA, every level of Catholic schools, and most importantly individual Catholics living the faith. Faithful Catholics must be ambassadors for the Culture of Life providing a sign of contradiction. Sure the self-appointed fertility police will continue to smirk and ask parents “don’t you know what causes that” when they see more than the socially allowed family size. Future Catholic educators and others who teach and live the truth will be grown from such families.
The U.S. Bishops have been very good in reaction to the fallout from the HHS mandate. I hope they also see this as an opportunity to evaluate what can be done in education Catholics and the culture about contraception and sterilization and really about what marriage is as everything else flows from it. The term “A teachable moment’ is often thrown about as a cliche. But even a cliche can point to the truth in which it arose. I hope this does become a teachable moment and that we use our talents to take advantage of it to live and teach the truth of the beauty of the Natural Law and Church teaching. For many the issue of contraception has become a settled issue with little reflection.
This debate is going to awaken some consciences to ask “why does the Church oppose contraception and sterilization?” Part of my Lenten discipline this year will be to fast and pray for those individuals. The prayer of a righteous man avails much, well in my case I just hope God amplifies my meager efforts.