Friday, November 26, 2010

Contraception Confusion

One of the things getting lost during the recent condom controversy is the more general lack of teaching on contraception in the Catholic church. Why do people parse a few paragraphs by the pope? Maybe because they are obsessed with sex. But part of it is because there are so few priests and bishops who regularly explain and defend the church's teaching on contraception. If that happened more often and more effectively then nobody would think the doctrine could be changed by the pope just saying the word. There would be more of a sense that this is the faith of the church and not just the faith of the pope. Not that 100% of Catholics are going to believe it but many more would if it was taught. But people would get the problem. That Catholics have been saying this is gravely immoral for 2000 years. That we have been basing that teaching on the revelation of God given by Jesus which we claim to understand. To say we got it wrong  is essentially to say we don't understand what God revealed through Jesus. That essentially means we are clueless about the gospel of Christ.

People don't get that because the church has not actually been teaching it very actively for the past 50 years or so. So few people would be shocked if their local priest and bishop accepted contraception because the majority of Catholics have never heard their local priest or bishop speak against contraception. So they don't feel this is part of the core of the faith. This is the shame of the church that there are so many moral cowards that even Catholics who want to know and live the fullness of the faith often have a hard time finding someone who will teach it. There is an such epidemic of niceness that prevents us from even discussing the topic. So when the pope mentions it Catholics are too shocked to be able to process the comments intelligently.

Pope Benedict often does this. He tries to focus on the positive. He wants people to understand Catholics do listen. We know the situation with AIDS and condoms. We don't just dismiss new realities and new thinking about it. But we don't dismiss the old thinking either. Certainly the morality of condoms has become harder to live out in recent decades. But saying something is hard does not make it any more or less moral. The question remains the same. I can not have sex or have sex with a condom. Both will prevent pregnancy and disease. Not having sex is the moral choice because it does not desecrate the sex and and turn it into mere orgasm exchange. That moral reasoning remains as valid today as ever.

But what about somebody who is not living a moral life and is spreading AIDS freely? Pope Benedict shows he does think about such people. But he does not want them to take one small step towards morality. He wants them to embrace all of what God has called them to. Can condom use represent a first step? One can imagine it. In some ways it is like embracing the religion of the secular west. Condom use is a value they preach. What if they joined an African tribal religion that preached chastity and they changed their behavior because of that? That would be a step in the right direction too but we would still want them to embrace the full truth of Christ.

The point is such moral reasoning is hard enough when you have a basic understanding of the church's thinking on contraception. The reality is not many people have that. Why? Because the church has failed. They have not boldly proclaimed the gospel of Christ. So when the pope does it he sounds weird. But it is the priest who fails to teach the faith that is the true weirdness. Like a beaver who does not make dams or a vine that does not grow grapes. They are not being what they are.This is common but it is not natural. Priests, starting with the ministerial priest and extending to the priesthood of all believers, priests must teach the faith. Especially those parts of it that society most ridicules.

1 comment:

  1. I find that I cannot disagree with your conclusions, much as it is painful to talk of moral cowardice in the Church.