Sunday, April 20, 2008

"Silence" on contraception

As Pope Benedict's triumphant visit comes to a close, the excellent NYT blog has asked its panelists to weigh in with final thoughts. One already has. Dr. Rosemary Radford Ruether gives a rather tired tirade against the alleged "silence" of this Papal visit on contraception.
If Catholicism in the U.S. and worldwide presents the appearance of a hierarchical leadership which has lost credibility with much of the laity, the most important cause of this is the failure to rethink its teaching on sexuality and birth control.
Yawn. So, let's change the teaching (and become like good old liberal Protestants), 'cause then everyone will come flocking to us. Sure. Like doctrine is entirely about utility. Has she paid any attention whatsoever to what the Holy Father has said this whole week? Quite possibly not. Her template is set. And it will be repeated, like a broken record, no matter who is listening, while God's truth marches on.

Silence? Like the Church's teaching is secretly buried somewhere? (It's another issue altogether that in most US parishes one will rarely hear this issue addressed from the pulpit, but I seriously doubt that this is what she means) Or silence like Pope Pius XII was allegedly "silent" about the Holocaust?

Or is she simply mad that the Pope didn't thunder against contraception, so that she could gleefully trot out the outrage? Well, he didn't thunder. At all. He spoke in the most gentle manner, yet most forcefully, about eternal truths. Perhaps that might be why she isn't happy. He blasted the stereotype to smithereens. Yet, the outrage had to be trotted out.

Of the 14 comments so far in response to her post, most are overwhelmingly from people who are living the Church's faith. They take her, rightly, to task. Here's a fantastic sample:
"Over 600 theologians signed a statement rejecting the encyclical. Many lay people simply decided that this was a teaching they did not need to follow in order to be Catholic. Yet the Vatican under Pope John Paul II, as well as Benedict XVI, has continued to insist that the teaching is unchangeable."

If the Church were a democracy, it would have dissolved into the oblivion of irrelevancy long ago. The Catholic Church's greatest strength is its unfailing fidelity to the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Praise be to God for these faithful Popes!
And here is a paragraph from another commenter that echoes my own sentiments closely:
As a practicing Catholic who is not yet thirty, born ten years after Humanae Vitae was promulgated to a woman who took the pope's teachings seriously, it is sometimes difficult to suppress feelings of bitterness against those forces in the Church who have systematically taught the practice of disobedience to my generation. Rather than shepherd us toward holiness, they have spent their careers advocating new dogmas based on their own questionable authority- opinions which directly contradict the teachings of the legitimate shepherds- and they continue to insist that they speak for the future of the Church. As someone who will be a member of the Church for the next forty years, I think it is about time they surrendered the floor.
Amen! It's uncharacteristic of me to be so explicit on here, but I am sorely tempted to say: your generation had your time. You created a mess. Every attempt of yours to be "up to date" simply let the spirit of the age more and more into the bosom of the Church. With the Scriptures, you taught us to question the reliability of everything (except your own wildly contradictory theories). With the Church you taught us to distrust this "male, celibate leadership" and kept on and on about how they were out of touch, while all around you, the faith was imploding, and you kept (and keep) going on and on about "relevance." With sex you taught us that everything that was modern was good, and that all that had gone before had been darkness and repression, and that we were no better than our animal instincts. With catechesis you boiled down the faith to some version of "be nice," the results of which I saw every day and every year with the college students I was so privileged to work with. With architecture you deified the most spectacular ugliness in the name of the new revolution. With Christ you suggested he was a sweet guy, or a revolutionary, or a gay rebel, or really one who talked the same line that any liberal academic at an American University would. You went so far as to suggest that, really, God was unnecessary, as long as we had "love" or the "values of the kingdom." With the liturgy you suggested that the Church really began in the 1960s. With everything you suggested that Pentecost actually occurred in 1965 when the Council ended, and would continue to occur only when the Church was remade into this weak, anemic, hollowed out, empty shell, a veritable shadow of anything substantive, and then, with everything perfectly ordered, with all the correct, inclusive formulas, with all the proper correct demographics mentioned (and all the wrong ones suitably suppressed), finally, they'll all come flooding in.

And you know what, when I first came into the church some 14 years ago, I bought it. (My catechesis in the year leading up to baptism, was based on Richard McBrien's Catholicism, the 1960s Dutch Catechism, and scripture-study classes that used the Jesus Seminar for their text), I bought it. Hook, line and sinker.

It is a miracle that my faith survived. That is a separate story, of deeper conversion, of the wonders that prayer, and the grace of the Lord have wrought over the past decade, that lead to a real submission to the Lord, that invited him into every part of my life (a process that continues, for sure), that lead me to understand that I was called (to echo my hero St. Paul), to the "obedience of faith."

I cannot convey just how much hope the Holy Father's visit gives me, (and I suspect many of my generation, and more so, the one after me). Hope that the Church in this country might finally be turning a corner, and stemming this destructive, corrosive tide of accommodation, surrender and defeat that is eating it from within.

I am tempted to shout, and I pray the Lord forgive my lack of charity, in that sarcastic Hindi idiom, Chullu bhar paani me doob maro! (May you go drown in ankle deep water!)


Let those who followed, pick up the pieces, and pick up their crosses, and follow in this great adventure that is discipleship, and learn how to die to self, so as to rise again to new life in Him, who is indeed, the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Far away from your latest relevant fad.

[End of rant.]

:: UPDATE :: Welcome, readers from "Charlotte was Both." I just put up another post, qualifying these thoughts a bit in a little less rant-like mode. :)


Saul said...

Isn't it clear by now that all these doctrines that people want to do away with are as fundamental to Christianity as, say, the Trinity?

I still find it difficult that in this day and age, there are folks who believe in the Trinity and yet find a way to explain away teachings on the right faith, sexuality, etc. If you approach the Bible and tradition from the angle required to remove these teachings, surely you've got to question the fundamentals.

Purely from an intellectual standpoint, isn't Bishop Spong's agnostic position far more tenable than the shallow cafeteria position?

St. Izzy said...

Those who think that Papa Bene did NOT address the issue need to go back and re-read the text of his address at the Ecumenical gathering on Friday night. Here's a relevant paragraph:

"Too often those who are not Christians, as they observe the splintering of Christian communities, are understandably confused about the Gospel message itself. Fundamental Christian beliefs and practices are sometimes changed within communities by so-called "prophetic actions" that are based on a hermeneutic not always consonant with the datum of Scripture and Tradition. Communities consequently give up the attempt to act as a unified body, choosing instead to function according to the idea of "local options". Somewhere in this process the need for diachronic koinonia - communion with the Church in every age - is lost, just at the time when the world is losing its bearings and needs a persuasive common witness to the saving power of the Gospel (cf. Rom 1:18-23)."

pritcher said...

I haven't read any Ruether, but my religious studies professor and most of the stuff we're reading in that class think she's just about as good as Catholics get.

That class is a weekly occasion for me to pray for charity.

I wonder, though, if she would want to nuance the distinction between liberal Christianity and herself. It seems like most of this class has been geared towards making liberal religion a punching bag (which I'm fine with, in the abstract), with liberationist theology as the good guys, and the orthodox Protestants either left out (left behind?) because they're assumed to be too sexist and elitist to matter.

One impression I don't get from reading about Ruether and her ilk is that their goal is to get people flocking into the Church. That, for them, would seem to reek of evangelical zeal. Perish the thought.

I could be wrong--like I said I haven't read her, even on the NYT blog--but it seems like her crowd's refrain about how the irrelevant church is driving people away in droves sounds more self-satisfied than regretful.

God must get so frustrated with all of us.

St. Elizabeth of Cayce said...

The "let's remake everythng in our image, oh dear, where did everybody go?" trend didn't just hit the Catholic Church. Witness the state of many of what are called "mainlne churches."

As we watched the address to the Bishops at CUA on Wednesday, the question was put to the Holy Father about declining attendance & involvement. Izzy's answer, yelled to the TV and intended for the Bishops, was "stop trying to be culturally relevant!"

As you know, the remnant from the previous era has no intention of yielding the floor. Pendulum swings take very long tmes.

Great rant, BTW.

Gashwin said...

Read the post at Godspy that Amy and Sherry W linked today. I'll be blogging on that in the near future.

Specifically @ pritcher: The "you" in the above rant is actually "y'all." For once my penchant for Southern didn't shine through, and the impoverishment of standard English in this regard might lead to a misunderstanding. The "you" is really a whole generation of leaders, thinkers, theologians, priests and so on. Ruether just happened to be the catalyst for the rant.

It's a rather sweeping indictment, and once my irish settles, I'll probably throw in some disclaimers.

For now, let it stand.

As to their goals: I have to remind myself, in charity (remember where I just spent so many months in formation), that these aren't bad people. They were responding to something for sure.

I'm sure there is something self-satisfied and smug about these types of responses now, but I suspect back then, they had just discovered the next best thing since sliced bread and couldn't wait to run with it ... and in the process ... well, that evocative phrase of the Bard comes to mind ... we have "bare ruined choirs."

Gashwin said...

Oh, @ Saul: Hmm. Well, the problem I saw with Bishop Spong (and I recall this one time I visted a Presbyterian church where he got a standing ovation for eviscerating the Christian faith. The friend I was with and I were the only two people who sat glued to our seats) is that he still wanted to call his creation "Christianity." My response, which I didn't get to tell to his face, was, "Well and good Bishop. Why don't you take off your mitred, back your bags, and go home?"

Mary Martha said...

I just read your response on that thread and it was WONDERFUL.

I get so very frustrated with Ruether and her like. They have had their chance and were a DISASTER.

Here is my response on that thread (which I doubt will be posted...)

I was born 5 years after Humanae Vitae. I was taught in Catholic schools (K-college) variations on the theme in this post. "The mean old Pope says no birth control... but don't listen to him - follow your conscience." Of course those teachers never took the time to help me to properly form my conscience.

Instead of being formed as a Catholic with all that tuition money my parents were spending I (and many in my generation) was thrown to the wolves of secular society to be formed into a product of the larger world.

No surprise when the only Madonna we were exposed to was singing lewd songs (and not the mother of God) that we all jumped on the 'contracept and have whatever sex you want' bandwagon... With DIRE consequences.

In my late 20s I got in a debate with someone on this topic and I decided to read Humanae Vitae for the first time (I thought to prove that it was stupid - as that is all I ever heard about it). I will never forget that day. As I read Humane Vitae - a document written by an old man Pope 5 years before my birth I could see that he diagnosed the problems of my generation. Women not valuing themselves, men treating them as disposable things to be used, relationships falling apart and more. I started crying and that was the moment that I realized that the Catholic Church really knows and teaches the truth. And more improtantly that it was my responsibility to go and find those truths taught by the Church... because Catholicism was NOT what I had been taught growing up.

I returned to that Church because of Humanae Vitae, and I now am mostly angry not at the Church so much as at the dissident theologians, and professors, and religious ed teachers who thought that they knew better than the Church. Those people who decided that instead of teaching Catholicism to my generation they would teach heresy and how to make felt banners. Those are the people who were complicit with secular society in leading my generation down the garden path to destruction.

Woe to them when the time comes to answer for what they have done... leading a generation (or more) of Catholics away from the true teachings of the Church under the guise of being Catholic is a grave sin.

Anonymous said...

As a cradle Catholic who was born in 1950 & graduated from h.s. in '68, I agree with your rant. Poor Rosemary et al got stuck on the pelvic issues & can't seem to lift up their eyes to Christ our Hope.
My hope for you, my children & every person of the "post-Humanae-Vitae" generations is that each of you can move beyond the Culture of Complaining & follow B16 where he's trying so hard to lead us, into the waiting arms of the Trinity, our real family.

Anonymous said...

For those though who equate this issue with the Trinity, please check with the strictest priest you know. A writer who would attack the Trinity would be quickly in heresy proceedings in Rome because it is de fide dogma. No writer on birth control has been summoned into heresy proceedings because it is infallible only in the opinion of some theologians but not in the opinion of all.
On the alleged generation gap of older as weirder, check polls on the millenials. They seem to side with Rome against the death penalty more than any generation but greatly diverge from Rome on abortion.
Check with the strictest priest you know on these matters.

Gashwin said...

@ anon just above: I read the analogy Saul made with the Trinity above as: "you deny all this stuff, it's a wonder you don't deny the Trinity."

Yes, the dogma of the Trinity is at a different order in the "hierarchy of truths" than the teaching on contraception. This does not make dissent from the teaching of the ordinary and universal Magisterium any less serious. (So, the common lament among some theologians, that Rome keeps "cracking down" on dissent from "non-infallible" teaching. And as to "silencing" -- as someone quipped: "She's still talking!" [with reference to Ruether specifically]).

Nor is it that infallibility is simply about a proper majority of theologians agreeing on the infallibility of a proposition. This is a rather fundamental misconstrual of the teaching of the infallibility and indefectability of the Church, the Magisterium or the Papal Magisterium.

As to the millenials: I don't think anyone claims that the entire millenial generation is more orthodox and faithful. It's definitely a minority. A small minority. But a vocal one, an energized one, and one that is disproportionately going to be the next generation of leaders (clerical, religious and lay) in the Church.

The rest of the millenials are not even bothering with the church. Which, to me, is a direct result of the corrosion of the previous generation. And not because the Church hasn't watered itself down to some lowest-common-denominator hip act.

Anonymous said...

Two areas are being confused dogmatically on this topic: obedience and belief. Vatican II's document... "Lumen Gentium" section 25 commanded religious submission of mind and will...obedience... on non infallible issues that are repeated seriously by the Popes.

Birth control is a mortal sin not under unbelief and heresy but under obedience to seriously presented positions that are "theologically certain" but not yet infallible in the ordinary line with the clarity demanded by Canon Law (see749-3). However, Church approved moral theology tomes subsequent to Lumen Gentium and imprimatured and used in seminaries allow for sincere dissent that is the result of prayer, counsel and study....that is one partial reason why so many theologians who dissented were not brought to heresy proceedings.
The layman can dissent but not casually nor simply with his own brain but he need pray,seek counsel and study the matter at the morally possible level for him....but he better have a very good reason or confidence to present at his particular judgement once he leaves this life and is judged. In short, using NFP is much easier than the requirements for sincere dissent.
Rash dissent on the matter is not permitted in any way shape or form and is mortal sin of simple disobedience on a serious topic.

Check all of the above with your strictest priest. Rome should station a dogmatic theologian on St. Blogs to patrol mistakes in these areas but she does not so always seek counsel of a strict priest unless he seems to be extreme in some manner to your conscience...not my conscience...your conscience...since errors on the strict side exist also as we saw with the Jansenists centuries ago.
Laxity and rigorism are opposite mistakes...but both are mistakes.