To be honest, I’m a little tired myself of the Great Condom Debate of 2010, and had no intention of blogging about this business. Then I read this article in the Washington Post, and after almost giving myself a concussion from banging my head on the table, felt the need to vent a little. It manages to combine MSM ignorance regarding the nuances of theological debate with some casual Catholic dissidence on a great moral matter. Good times indeed.
The reporter, Michael Ruane, was getting reaction from the parishioners at St. Matthew’s Cathedral yesterday. It should be noted that until ten months ago this was my parish, and I’m still heavily involved with it. That the reporter managed to nail down a few people who disagreed with the Church on the issue of contraception is not necessarily an indictment of the Cathedral, as I’m sure he would have – unfortunately – received similar responses at most Churches.
To begin with, Ruane inaccurately summarizes the issue:
Mixed feelings were common Sunday among Catholics attending Mass at St. Matthew’s at they tried to understand statements last week by Pope Benedict XVI that appeared to ease the church’s long-standing ban on using condoms.
In a new book, the pope indicated that condoms could be used to prevent the spread of life-threatening diseases, like HIV. In the past, official church teaching has forbidden condom use under all circumstances, as part of its opposition to birth control.
Experts have been debating whether the pope’s comments, which the Vatican has sought to clarify, opened the door to discussion of the broader ban, even as many American Catholics have already indicated they disagree with it.
Sigh. As has been discussed to death here and elsewhere for the past ten days or so, this not at all an accurate depiction of what the Pope said. I’m not going to repeat what has been said on this matter, nor am I going to get into another debate about the wisdom of the Pope making the remarks in the first place. Frankly I would have ignored the article at this point as I’ve given up all hope of accurate MSM reporting on anything related to the Church. But the most troubling aspect this is the reaction of several parishioners who seem unconcerned about publicly repudiating the Church’s teaching regarding birth control.
“I don’t think there should be a ban on condoms,” said Kay Gautsch, 68, who was visiting from Racine, Wis. “The pope says use them for AIDS prevention, but I think birth control is very important.
“On the alternative, you have abortion, you have children [whose] parents can’t afford their kids,” she said. “I think that’s responsible parenthood, to use condoms and limit the size of your family.”
“I would hope the ban would change,” she said. “People are using their common sense and . . . responsible health concerns when they use condoms. It’s a good thing.”
Removing the procreative element of sex and taking on the attitude that children are simply a burden is certainly not a good thing.
And what would a public display of dissidence be without reference to Galilieo?
“The Catholic church is not that swift to recognize” the need for change, she said. “They just recognized Galileo. Quite honestly, it takes them a while, but hopefully they’re getting there.
“I think it’s about time,” she said. “Let’s be serious. Let’s jump into the 21st century. I think you’ll find a lot of people saying the same thing.”
References to Galileo run only a close second to references to the abuse scandal for those who want to defy the Church. It’s easier than, you know, thinking through an issue and making a logical argument.
Of course she’s right in a way. A lot of people are saying the same thing. Fortunately for us the Church is not a democracy.
Maximilian Meran, 27, a German student at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, said it was the pope’s job to provide guidance to the faithful. “The pope is not the Supreme Court,” he said.
“He gives a direction,” added Laurence de l’Escaille, 24, a Belgian student at the school, as the couple emerged from the 10 a.m. Mass. “He doesn’t say he expects everybody to follow it by the letter . . . He’s just saying this is in theory what should happen . . . He’s making a narrative.”
“You need a narrative,” she said, “if only to disagree with it.”
I’m not entirely sure what’s the saddest part of this comment. Evidently this Catholic seems to think that the Supreme Court is more authoritative than the Pope – a sentiment that is probably shared by too many, as is his notion that we don’t really need to follow what the Pope and the Church has to say on moral matters. This isn’t entirely different from what I was taught by Jesuit Priests back in high school, so it’s not too surprising hearing this coming out of the mouths of people as they step out of Church on Sunday. It does call to mind a billboard that I used to see when driving around down south: “They’re called the Ten Commandments, not the Ten Suggestions.”
Again, having been an active parishioner at St. Matt’s for seven years I can attest that many of the Priests there have not been shy about preaching against the use of contraception. The adult formation committee even just sponsored a series of lectures dealing with the Church’s teachings on abortion, contraception, and others similar matters. And I am pretty darned sure that there were many people in attendance there yesterday not quoted in the article who would have provided a very different viewpoint. These attitudes run very deep, and signify a greater problem than just MSM mis-reporting on these matters. It sure doesn’t help, though.
But as I think through this now I can’t help but disagree with those who think that the Pope’s comments weren’t worth making. Sure, the nuances were missed by most people, but then again these are people who haven’t really picked up on any of the nuances of Church teaching. Perhaps I am being a bit naively optimistic, but this controversy does present us with an opportunity and a challenge to confront this issue head on and look at where the divide is amongst Catholics. It isn’t something that’s going to be fixed, obviously, by just a few programs and homilies, and certainly not by blogposts. Small steps, but hopefully we’ll get there.
Update: Also see Pat Archbold’s take on the article. He notes that for an article that talks about “mixed views,” the author didn’t quote one person who supported the Church’s teachings.