Beware of the elephant

For 45 years the Catholic Church has had an elephant in the room. When it was young it trumpeted a good deal but, after a while, we decided to let it be, hoping that it would go away. But it stayed and it grew, and we can ignore it no longer. 

 We now have a deep rift in the Church. On one side we have the teaching arm. It puts its full authority behind a range of commands concerning personal behaviour which apply primarily to the laity. It insists that these are grave matters, allowing of no exceptions. The sanctions for wilful disobedience are eternal despair and eternal punishment. On the other, we have the laity, and the laity have, by and large, said no.

 The elephant stands in full daylight because the laity were consulted in preparation for the family synod in October. The results so far analysed indicate rejection on contraception, approval of pre-marital unions, doubts concerning re-marriage outside the Church, acceptance of homosexual relationships, and rejection of an unconditional prohibition of abortion.

 None of this comes as a surprise. In 2013, the religious sociologist Linda Woodhead summed up the position from her research: “What these findings show is that most Catholics under 40 now have a very different sexual ethic from their leaders… Taking into account the age trend, support for Catholic teaching is declining rapidly.” This, she commented, was not a dispute between the faithful and the unfaithful but between those who share the same fundamental faith.

One may suppose that there have been a number of contributing factors, such as the allegedly liberal reforms of Vatican II, the emphasis on personal conscience, the general lowering of moral tone in society, the child abuse scandal and dilution of doctrine in the schools. Be that as it may, I date the crucial change to July 29 1968 when, passing through Marble Arch, I picked up an Evening News. Its headline read “The Pope bans Pill”, and the strap said “Decision ‘certain to cause a major crisis’”. This was not an overstatement.

 The story of the fuss which ensued is for another occasion, but the various national hierarchies were faced with a challenge. How would it be possible to remain loyal to the teaching of Pope Paul’s encyclical, Humanae Vitae, without causing a mass flight from the Church, or at the least putting millions of serious Catholics into bad faith? For several hierarchies, the chosen method was to insert a paragraph which said (I quote from the German bishops): “[A] responsible decision made in conscience must be respected by all.” And the continued use of the sacraments was encouraged. So the idea was born that it was possible to subscribe notionally to the teaching while deciding in practice to ignore it.

 While this convenient principle at first applied only to a single issue, it was noted correctly at the time that authority is indivisible. The body of dissenters simply believed that the pope had got it wrong. Once that was tolerated, it followed that any other moral teachings, judged by conscience, might be disregarded. Conscience in many cases meant no more than opinion. Thus the way was open to question similar issues, now extended to abortion (which is a different matter altogether). The new approach has had 45 years to spread its influence. The damage has been tremendous. The bishops have been solid in their orthodoxy – indeed, anyone hoping for a crozier, or to retain one, had to toe the line. 

 What happened to the successors of the nine cardinals and bishops on the papal commission (a substantial majority) who decided that contraception was not intrinsically evil? Have they changed their minds? We do not know. But we do know that the Magisterium’s witness to the good of marriage and sexuality is seen as largely irrelevant both within and without the Church. Who would have the ill manners to ask a member of the clergy for his personal opinion on the question, when he has taken a solemn oath to uphold the formal teaching? We are aware, from such scant evidence as exists, that a majority of the parish clergy in this country is at least equivocal.

And the lay person? Even those who have dismissed the teaching, following a serious application of conscience, do not rid themselves of a background guilt arising from their differences with the Church they love. That the confessor is under guidance not to disturb the settled conscience of the penitent does not remove the sense of alienation. I believe that the sorry decline in Catholic practice, which I recorded in this column on December 7, owes much to this. To which I would add the disappearance of Confession as a common feature of a devout life. This is a strong indication of the abandonment of the relevance of the Church to the moral life of its members.

I have not debated the merits of the teaching here, But I will ask readers to consider the future of this clumsy elephant. Will it still be there in 100 years? Perhaps we will continue limping along with an awkward abyss between the teaching Church and the practising Church. What sort of Church would that be? Will the current teaching on sexual morals have slipped into desuetude, regarded by then as an historical curiosity? Will some of the teaching have been abandoned and credibility perhaps regained? Will the leash have been tightened so that a much smaller Church, to which all conform, has developed? But perhaps you have a better answer.

About Quentin

Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
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91 Responses to Beware of the elephant

  1. John L says:

    What CAN one say in answer to this issue? Yes, in the spirit of this blog, many will find a lot to say, but what of the context? We begin our belief in the Son of God taking human form and teaching us with Divine authority. We first find that a lot of what he teaches is unpalatable in human terms (divorce and re-marriage?). He then sets up a Church, which He invests with His own teaching authority and a guarantee that he will continue to safeguard and support it.
    This particular elephant appears in many guises, but if it demands disobedience to Christ’s Church, it requires close examination. Has it horns and a forked tail as well as its tusks and trunk?
    This comment stands in danger of sounding too sanctimonious for words, and Quentin presents us with a balanced discussion. My short answer is that I just don’t know. My longer answer is that I greatly fear that the elephant is there because of human error amongst the laity and its “leaders” rather than because of the Church’s principles.
    I am open to be corrected – no doubt I shall be.

  2. Brian Hamill says:

    A good question, Quentin. But I would like to push your query further. What will the Church look like in a million years time? Of course we have very little or no idea at all of the answer but I think we can at least say that it will look very different from what we see now. The ability to think ‘long’ is not really a feature of the Church. It is sometimes said that Rome thinks in centuries rather than years. If it does, it is way behind our modern culture whose cultural ‘background radiation’ thinks in terms of millions and billions of years. This requires humility before the greatness of the universe in which we live, and humility begets patience and the ability to say ‘We don’t know, yet’.

    So much of Humanae Vitae is glorious teaching. The error which Paul VI committed was to allow himself to be drawn into making a decision when the Church was not ready to decide the question. Just as at the Council he was prepared to wait for a majority of such proportions for each document to minimise the possibility of schism, so he should have realised that, with the majority of the Commission against a ban, it was highly likely that there would be serious divisions. Once spoken of course, the word could not be retracted since it is assumed that it carries with it the authority of Peter. But Peter also made a statement which is not put up in ten foot(?) high letters in his basilica, ‘I do not know the man’.

  3. Nektarios says:

    For various reasons I think the Church is and has been for some time, too tentative on the one hand, and too bullish on the other – too scared the elephant in the room. Perhaps the perspective of the elephant in the room needs closer analysis.

  4. Nektarios says:

    I hope that that last posting brought a smile to you, but there is a serious point to made here.
    Believers, especially RC believers, it is worse elsewhere, when it comes to obedience to the Church
    on personal behaviour and morality – one looks for reasons and some one to blame for the sorry state these matters are in.
    If there is blame to be levelled, it lies with clericalism within the Church that has for centuries lorded it over the people of God, whilst they in turn were, lets say hypocritical indulging themselves immorally too.

    Jesus said, ` Unless ye become like little children, ye cannot enter into the kingdom of God’.
    This infers that God will have a childlike spirit near Him, not lords!
    Perhaps the reason the Church not just the RC Church need to think deeply about is this:
    The children of God what to here the Good Shepherd of the Flock talking to them about such matters, not some baying wolves from the Vatican or in parishes – for they will not hear them.

    Yes many have gone astray in word and thought and deed, but it is only the Good Shepherd
    who goes, seeks and finds them and brings them safely back into the fold.
    These under-shepherds in many cases have shown themselves to be not speaking with the same voice as the good shepherd. If they did, the children of God who have indeed in many cases gone astray, will hear them and follow them as they are representatives of the Master. But with their baying at them, shouting and condemning them or their poor moral state from pulpits, the people react accordingly and run away.
    Perhaps spiritually they are not wise. Don’t they know, the spirit and power of Christ must be in your words when you speak to the children of God, so your hearers maybe able to observe Christ in your words and hear clearly the Voice of the Good Shepherd.

    Perhaps if this was the case in the presentation of the of the Vatican in this case and many of her clerics, the elephant in the room, like that paper elephant, could be torn down and disappear?

    • milliganp says:

      Nectaries, on just one point. Up until circa 1960 the behaviour of the people of God broadly reflected the teaching of the church. The vast majoririty of marriages were between virgins and co- habitation was almost unheard of. In Europe there was massive social and moral upheaval following two world wars and it was amidst this upheaval that an expectation that the church would also change arose.
      This is not to deny the problem of Catholic clericalism, but I don’t think it’s the root cause.

      • milliganp says:

        Nektarios please excuse my iPad spell checker.

      • Nektarios says:


        No, not unheard of, less of certainly , and less people of course. As you can see from some other postings the devastating effects clericalism and dogmatism can cause. To read some comments, one would think the RCC was perfect….. but don’t get me started on that.
        Of course clericalism is not the root cause, a fallen nature is, and those engaged in clericalism are as fallen as anyone else. These are the baying wolves, the dogmatists,
        the bully boys…. and they think they are actually the under-shepherds of Christ…. like there predecessors the Pharisees, lay it on the children of God, yet never lift a figure to help anyone.

      • John L says:

        Lest it be thought that my original contribution be an example of clericalism, I have to say find myself in agreement with Nektarios (14th 12.28pm), and have done so for some time. The condemnation of the Pharisees is particularly apt.
        Thank Goodness the entire clergy is not like that.
        My problem is to square this view with other statements, such as “What you bind on earth…” and “Behold, I am with you all days…”.
        We (and our elephant) are really walking a tightrope.

  5. Nektarios says:

    Sorry for the errors:
    2nd Paragraph, 6th line should read:
    The Children of God want to hear the Good Shepherd of the Flock talking to them

    • St.Joseph says:

      I can take an honest discussion but your remarks are insulting to Catholics by calling our clergy ‘bullyboys’
      I take it that is the ‘Authority of the RC Church that you speak of when you say ‘Never lift a finger to help anyone’!
      There are plenty of shilly shally Catholics as my grandmother used to call them who believe as you do, at least you are one less!
      We have more Catholics obedient to Holy Mother Church than those who have no faith.
      Maybe you would be brave enough to look into EWTN and learn something-but then ignorance is bliss,you would not be able to throw stones.
      The Holy Spirit is stronger than you!

      • Nektarios says:

        St Joseph
        I was very careful with my language, not to insult any of my Catholic brethren, nor good clerics. What is worthy of censure is clericalism within the RCC which cause much harm
        on their dogmatic approach over the children of God.
        No, I do not mean the authority of the RCC, but the so-called authority that clericalism takes to itself within the RCC which has been abusing Christians for centuries.
        I do occasionally watch EWTN, but for the most part that is just propaganda on the part of the RCC.
        However your last sentence is absolutely correct, the Holy Spirit is stronger than I – no question there. But to walk in the Holy Spirit is to be living in a Christ-like mind, heart, soul and body.

  6. Gerry says:

    I look at it from a different angle. In developed and developing countries Catholics can by-pass the teaching, They control their family size and prosperity starts to arrive.
    But in sub-Saharan Africa where our Church – to its very great credit – provides much of the education and medical care, our moral theology prevents these schools and clinics providing teaching about the need for family planning and providing supplies. Poverty and hunger result.
    We can see it in Uganda which is the same size as the United Kingdom. The people are about 40% Catholic and 40% Protestant. The population has increased from about 5 million in 1950, to 10 million in 1975, to 20 million in 1995, to 40 million in 2015, and to over 80 million in 2045. Disaster is on its way
    Non-Catholics react to this with exasperation. A retired German civil servant, responsible in his working life for providing family planning in poor countries, has published a book at his own expense entitled ‘The Family Planning Fiasco – How the Vatican subverted family planning in the developing world’. Reviewing the book, a very knowledgeable American, once very high up in USAID, writes “But in the less developed countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, the Vatican induced opposition to effective birth control practices still imposes excessive fertility, grinding poverty and killing fields unending”
    It is going to be hard to convert people to Catholicism when these reactions from good men become more common.

    • St.Joseph says:

      There are plenty of opportunity for fertility awareness to be taught in Africa by NFP teachers,we have had this discussion before.
      Any way it is better to be poor in Spirit than poor in faith.
      You do a great injustice to the catholic workers who are working in those countries that are suppressed by governments that keep the people poor!.
      Those people with be in Heaven before many in so called godless countries that have much in their material world-theirs is ‘not the Kingdom of Heaven’
      Heaven is not here on earth..

    • johnbunting says:

      According to your figures, Gerry, the population has increased by a factor of nearly eight (from 5 million in 1950 to 40 million next year, 2015), but the numbers of Protestants and Catholics are equal, at 40%. What conclusion do you draw from that?

    • Nektarios says:

      Facts are facts – perhaps the RCC will take note, the world is not oblivious to what they are doing and their self imposed so-called authority should always be questioned.
      For some to say it is not right to question it, some facts you have laid before us say we should question their so-called authority and practices in this and many other areas of human behaviour.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Would tell me what you believe that the so called authority that clericalism within the RCC Church has been abusing Christian children for Centeries.
        Quite a slanderous comment I suspect!

  7. claret says:

    I may be repeating something here but having just typed a reply that went into cyberspace I am having a second attempt !
    It was Jesus who said ( I paraphrase,) let your answer be Yes or No, anything else comes from the evil one.
    Scripture also warns us against being lukewarm and uncertain.
    I repeat something that I , and others, have raised as to the quality of the survey and of its value as a true barometer of Catholic opinion.
    How anyone could make any purposeful analysis of the survey is beyond me. In our parish of several hundred I think there were less than ten replies. Incidentally I cannot recall a single question on abortion, perhaps someone could clarify this for me. If there were no such questions then why include it as Quentin as done.
    There is also the issue of the wider Church. Who is exactly is this survey aimed at? It would seem to be Western congregations when great numbers of Catholics are found in other parts of the world.
    It was interesting to read about Uganda as it is never mentioned internationally as being in dire straits from hunger. Unlike many other African countries that are so. Is catholic teaching the cause of hunger and starvation in non -catholic Africa too? (I read that only @ 9 %of Africa is catholic.) Perhaps the causes of hunger are elsewhere. Incidentally is not Uganda one of the most successful African countries in combating Aids ?

  8. Gerry says:

    Today, the World Fact Book gives the following figures taken from the 2002 census.
    RC 41.9% Protestant 40% (Anglican 35.9% Pentecostal 4.6% Seventh-Day Adventist 1.5% Muslim 12.1% Other 3.1% None 0.9%)
    The figures are presented in an odd way – Protestant 40% could have been left out as without it the figures add up to 100%. Even a census produces only very approximate figures.
    What the percentages were in 1950 or will be in 2050 I do not know, although we can be virtually certain that by 2050 the percentage of Muslims will be much higher as they will be right across our third of the world – Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
    St Joseph. I agree with you about the likelihood of going to heaven. We Europeans can only console ourselves with the knowledge that with God all things are possible.

  9. Geordie says:

    The “Authority” of the Church is a confusing idea where morals are concerned. It’s teaching on morals is inconsistent to say the least. Here are a few examples: –

    Slavery was considered acceptable right up until the “Enlightenment” in the eighteen century.
    Capital punishment was acceptable until the last few decades.
    An encyclical in the 1920’s condemned co-education – it called it the “promiscuous mixing of the sexes”. Yet Catholic schools are almost all co-ed in the UK.
    The wife was meant to obeyed her husband. I wish.

    I could go on. However Humanae Vitae was only an encyclical; not an ex-cathedra statement. So the teaching on contraception could change. However abortion is the destruction of human life i.e. murder and that breaks the 5th Commandment. Thus there can be no change.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Are you saying that St Wulfstan Bishop of Worcester 1062-95 was breaking the Law of Holy Mother Church when he fought the slave trade in Bristol
      The slave trading did not start with slaves from Africa!

      As far as co-education is concerned ,it is a pity the Church does make it still appropriate.
      Comparing the local mixed sex schools in my area against the two Grammar same sex schools my children went to nearly 40years

      Since when did the Church teach that a wife must obey her husband.?

      What contraception do you believe the Church will change?

      • Quentin says:

        Surely, St Joseph, you are of a generation when the marriage vows required a wife to obey her husband. I certainly did, although my wife has granted herself a dispensation long since.

  10. St.Joseph says:

    Surely Holy Mother Church would not expect a wife to obey her husband against Her teachings, or the other way around
    A little common sense is needed here Catholics are not stupid!!

  11. Ignatius says:

    “Perhaps we will continue limping along with an awkward abyss between the teaching Church and the practising Church. What sort of Church would that be? Will the current teaching on sexual morals have slipped into desuetude, regarded by then as an historical curiosity?”

    Personally I agree with the German Bishops and with the Dominican priest who recently taught us on homilies and put the cat among the pigeons by stating that the bar for the CCC had been set very high. I think the same about many of the issues mentioned here and from time to time more generally.

    • St.Joseph says:

      You are right.

      Holy Mother Church will always teach what is right for us but as I said in the earlier post the other week ‘We will have a perfect Church if it became smaller’.
      It is like the parable-weeds will grow up and try to choke the good seed-however don’t pull them up hence we throw out the good seed with the weeds. Even the weeds can look beautiful they are a part of nature.
      The Lord will sort them out in the end.
      We are not a democratic Church-it is not ruled by the majority-let them have their say if it makes them feel better, but they will come home in the end even if it is in the next life. Then our eyes will be opened and things will become clear to us all .

      • Peter Foster says:

        Surely you must have faith that the Church will come through this crisis. Also we all have a duty to work to find the way. We need to recover a Christ like view of human existence. His whole life and sayings were in opposition to a life of subjection to legalistic codes and he did not spell out any moralistic structures. He related to actual people in their contexts. He wanted us to do the “will of God”. In other words in each era this is the problem that we have to solve.
        With hindsight we can see that an error was made when religious authority (references (2) & (3) in Humanae Vitae) was given to a question of so-called Natural Law when the latter was supposed by its nature to be attained by reason. When millions of the faithful disagreed with the reasoning in the context of their marriages, they were then suppressed by this misuse of religious authority.
        The disastrous inability to enter into a discussion of such matters has cut the faithful adrift in the wider sea of societal changes driven by political discourse. As St Joseph says the Church is not a democracy but neither should it be an autocracy.

      • Vincent says:

        Peter, I wonder if we could formalise part of your argument. Cardinal Newman took the view that the faith of the laity was an essential witness of the belief of the Church. So in this case we cannot say that the Church believes in the prohibition of artificial contraception. We can only say that the magisterium teaches it but the laity does not accept it.

      • John Candido says:

        Well said Peter Foster & Vincent.

      • milliganp says:

        St Joseph, you presume a smaller church could be perfect. A smaller church would have to be hypocritical if it did not accept that Christ’s wish was to save the many, not the few. In an earlier post you insulted over 60% of you fellow Catholics by calling them “shilly shallying”. Some find the church’s teaching on contraception difficult, conservatives seem to find being charitable an impossibility.

  12. Ignatius says:

    And that is a good point Vincent. You will hear it readily admitted that , when push comes seriously to shove, under persecution for example the fact that the church is largely kept alive by the laity comes to the fore. The Church is run by priests but it does not belong to them.

    • Nektarios says:

      You all make very good points, Peter, Vincent and Ignatius, as does Claret.
      To qualify on St. Joseph’s posting, the Church is owned by Christ, not the Pope, the Magisterium, or the Clergy nor the Laity for that matter, Christ is the head of the Church,
      the Life of the Church and it might be a good idea, to see historically how the Church developed initially from its Jewish roots. For I see there quite clearly, the Way of the Lord
      for His people.
      The way of some churches with their various offices starts with the Hellenization
      of the Jews around 162 BC. There is nothing radically different from then and now where such domination leads not to faith at all by a rather scary, totally formalized religious and prescriptive way which has more to do with subjection and dominance and government by a foreign power.

      Followers of the Way – those early Christian believers have much to teach us – they were not as some would have it, ignorant, they could read and write when we were little more than warring barbarians in what is now known as the UK.

  13. St.Joseph says:

    I would just like to say that ‘Not all the laity do ‘not’ accept it.
    We as Catholics ought to be thanking God that it has been revealed to us that we do have a way of planning out families in line with Gods Will as He made us in the beginning.
    When His children are in distress He gives us the answer.
    We ought not to be thinking and including others of different faiths when it come to the teaching of the Magisterium-it is immaterial as the way we live as Catholics within the Holy Sacrament of Marriage as we are expected to do. virginity before marriage holiness after marriage. it is all there for us to know how we are meant to behave ‘husbands love your wives a Christ loves His Church.
    We are very quick to criticise clergy as to how they ought to live there vocation. we ought to look to ourselves too.and our marriage status.

    Ignatius you say. ‘The Church is run by priests but it does not belong to them-without them we would not have a Church!

    • Vincent says:

      St Joseph, a couple of points. It is certainly true that not every lay Catholic dissents on the subject of contraception. But it is clear that a very substantial majority disagree. Perhaps, to be more precise, we could say “the laity as a whole”.

      While the authority of the magisterium does not apply to non Catholics, the prohibition of contraception does apply. That is because it is claimed that it depends on the application of reason to man’s nature and condition. There is nothing in Revelation which teaches it.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Was there any need to?
        God created a male to be fertile all his life, And females one ovam a month until middle age.
        That ought to reveal something!
        He did not ask us to go on having children,,Or else he would have made us that way.
        We are all made the same no matter what religion!

      • Vincent says:

        St Joseph, how would you explain to a non believer that he ought to realise through his own reason that it is fundamentally wrong to plan his family through artificial means?

      • St.Joseph says:

        The same way you would explain GOD to an unbeliever.

      • Vincent says:

        Yes, that’s a good answer. Since even the top theologians who seek to defend the Church’s ruling on contraception have had to admit that they cannot establish them through reason, you can’t expect us ordinary folk to do any better.

  14. claret says:

    Just as Quentin agrees ( concedes?) that abortion was not part of the questionnaire can I also add that I cannot recall homosexuality being a part of it either. ( Although I am happy to be corrected on that point.)
    I think we are in danger of linking a lot of issues on Catholic teaching that might be seen as ‘exclusively Catholic ‘ and therefore up for some kind of wholesale about- turns.
    The media have looked at the survey in this way but there was no indication to me of any such thing.
    For those looking for fundamental change then they are going to be disappointed.
    The yardstick though is that the Church seeks to be the voice of God on earth. So even if, as Quentin states above: “But recent surveys have shown that a large proportion of Catholics take a tolerant view of abortion in our society, ” the Church can never condone the destruction of God’s creation in the womb . Not even if there is only one Catholic left standing who adheres to its teaching on the sanctity of life from conception to the grave, after everyone else has abandoned it.

  15. St.Joseph says:

    For your info the Church Is
    The Body of Christ it is not a thing to be owned.

    • Nektarios says:

      St. Joseph

      As usual, you miss the point(s) entirely.

      • St.Joseph says:

        No I don’t think so.
        You are so keen to condemn the RC Church every chance you can get,that you can not see the wood from the trees.
        It is you and your male chauvinistic thinking forget about Our Blessed Mothers place in Salvation History..As Jesus said to St John at the foot of the Cross.
        I find with most protestant thinking She gets in the way especially when the subject of sexual relationships and contraception is discussed..
        You need to move forward with your beliefs and try to forget about the past and your personal feelings regarding the break away from Catholicism!
        You could take note of your Orthodox leaders who show respect for the Papacy when they meet.You do them no justice!!

  16. St.Joseph says:

    I am beginning to believe that most of the male population of Catholics have no understanding of family planning or contraception,the only understanding coming across is the fact that they have not worked it out for themselves and are depending on the teachings of the Church to give them a ‘clear conscience’ by changing the moral code on the subject.Because if they had they would not be putting the blame on the authority of Holy Mother Church .They ought to be be able to put away childish things which is the opposite to becoming children of God.
    Of course we are living in a man made world even our children now have the attitude of the must have now society of what we want-must have now.
    None so blind as those who can not see! God gave us common sense to work things out for ourselves.
    Unfortunately a lot of males don’t have their brains in their ‘head’.

  17. Nektarios says:

    St Joseph

    May all that is unforgiven in you
    be released,
    May your fears yield
    their deepest tranquilities.
    May all that is unlived in you
    blossom into a future
    graced with love.

    John O’ Donohue – To Bless this Space Between Us.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Practice what you preach!!
      I have no grudge against the Orthodox as you have for mine.
      Jesus said. ‘Those who are not for me, are against me’.
      I only know you as you show yourself to me
      My first love is for The Lord.. 1st Commandment
      .2nd being ‘ I would do the same to my neighbour as I would like done to me’

      That means if I was insulting the Orthodox -you would tell me so-or I would hope so!!

      I don’t need poetry to tell me what you think-I am too old in the tooth for that!

      • Nektarios says:

        St Joseph
        Yes, it is poetry, but it is a blessing to you from me. by the pen of John O’ Donohue
        RCC Priest, Poet and Philosopher. There was no offense taken by me, so I am concerned
        that you find offence?

  18. John de Waal says:

    Question, you claim that our bishops have been orthodox on this matter of contraception. You are SO wrong I can hardly believe you said it! The silence of most bishops over the past 45 years has been deafening.

    Cardinal Hume uttered hardly a word on the subject – except at a synod of bishops in Rome in 1981(?) when he dismissed NFP as useless. The week or so before he went to the synod an Australian doctor who worked closely with Drs John and Evelyn Billings spoke in our parish in South London (at the invitation of our parish priest ). He told me that he had tried to contact Cardinal Hume with the offer of briefing him on NFP in readiness for the synod. He received no reply from the cardinal. Whoever informed Cardinal Hume about NFP it wasn’t the Austrailian doctor!

    I was a delegate at the National Pastoral Congress in Liverpool in 1980 – in the Sector on Marriage. – and contraception was a central controversy then. There was great division. One motion calling for a change in Church teaching received 39 percent in favour. Another motion in support of Humanae Vitae received 43 percent in favour. I know because I put forward that motion. In the subsequent press coverage the support for those opposing Church teaching was widely circulated. The support for Humanae Vitae didn’t get a mention. Also, there was a good majority in favour of the bishops encouraging NFP. In The Easter People – the final report from the Congress it didn’t merit a mention from our bishops.

    No doubt even with episcopal support for Humanae Vitae the trend among Catholics would have been along lines similar to what has happened. On the other hand, given that there has been barely any teaching on the subject – including the reasons for it (based on Natural Law) I think I am justified in claiming that the Laity has been badly let down by our bishops in this most important matter.

  19. John de Waal says:

    My comment was to “Quentin” – somehow “Question” came up instead!

    • Tricia says:

      Exactly John de Waal! When we teach marriage preparation sessions and natural fertility awareness with all its benefits our listeners ask why they never heard this before in Catholic schools, from pulpits etc. Most laity reject what they think the Church teaches and most Bishops do little to deliver, explain and extol the beauty of the Church’s teaching. What a sorry state of affairs! Humanae Vitae didn’t stand a chance given the prevailing climate of the day and now even in the light of further Papal teaching to enlighten us further (Theology of the Body for example) Bishops still seem unwilling to be of the Church of Christ rather than of the world. Catholics are really up against it.

      • Singalong says:

        I totally agree with your comment, Tricia. The full and real teaching of the Church in this field is inspiring and right, and brings great benefits to those who follow it. It needs to be much more widely available in all Catholic schools and parishes, A whole generation at least has been deprived, which is a disaster as great as any that the Church has experienced in her history.

    • Quentin says:

      I don’t mind being called “Questions” at all. Rather flattering I think.

      I think you have misunderstood me. When a bishop raises no objection or query on an authoritative moral teaching, he is entitled to the assumption that he accepts the teaching. Indeed the statement of the bishops following HV made clear their acceptance.

      Whether or not they were properly active in promoting the teaching, or its ancillaries such as NFP, is another question, which I did not address.

      • John de Waal says:

        Quentin. I think you are being a little disingenuous. If the Laity have not been taught properly by the bishops (or at all!)then there is a serious question mark against them. At the Pastoral Congress a certain young Fr Vincent Nichols preached at the Marriage Sector Mass. He is a very fine speaker. Alas, he made it clear which side of the argument he was on re. Contraception. I do not know if he has changed his views since but I am not aware of any positive statement in favour of Humanae Vitae.

      • milliganp says:

        I’m reminded of an alleged GK Chesterton quote. “The problem is not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting, but that has never been tried.” The teaching on HV definitely falls into this category. Today is the feast of St. Joseph, who practiced chastity in his marriage to Mary – but this is a virtue we, as church, don’t have a meaningful narrative about.

      • milliganp says:

        Until 2 years ago I was part of our area marriage formation team. We had a nurse who also taught NFP do a presentation on contraceptive methods in such a relativist way that most of the couples ended up reassured that condoms and the pill were hardly a sin at all and only the coil, the morning after pill and abortion were grave matter. I wrote to the priest in charge saying that it was impossible to present the moral aspects of the church’s teaching after such a presentation. I was removed from the team and the nurse continues her role as our Archdiocese’s main expert on family life.

  20. John H says:

    There is a difference between being nice and being kind. The C of E is nice; she gives her people what she thinks they want. In the 1920s it was contraception, then came divorce, abortion, women priests, gay relationships and so on. In fact C of E bishops are constantly urging their colleagues to keep abreast of popular ethics and to endorse them. The Catholic Church is very different – she is devoted to finding out the truth and, when she has found it, declaring it to the faithful however difficult it may be for them to accept. Humanae Vitae is a difficult teaching but, until the Church in her wisdom decides to overturn it, we should accept it as the truth and act accordingly. (It is worth remembering that Elizabeth Anscombe was certain that Humanae Vitae was right and that, in her opinion, the Church could not have said anything different.) The Church is an adult institution for adults. If she were nice, like the C of E, she would scrap Humanae Vitae and throw in the towel. But she is not nice, she is kind and sometimes being kind means being tough. Paul V1, in Humanae Vitae, paid us the great compliment of treating us as adults rather than spoilt children It is time we grew up, ourselves, our priests and, (see John de Waal), our bishops.

    • RAHNER says:

      Dream on…….
      By the way, if contraception is intrinsically evil how could the Church ever “overturn” it?

  21. fule4luv says:

    Quentin ended the post –

    “I have not debated the merits of the teaching here, But I will ask readers to consider the future of this clumsy elephant. Will it still be there in 100 years? Perhaps we will continue limping along with an awkward abyss between the teaching Church and the practising Church”

    I think the conversation has become about the merits of the teaching. The only attempts to look in the crystal ball seem to have been – 1) Haven’t got a clue 2) the premises are faulty because most catholics are supporters of HV.

    I also don’t have but can entertain the following predictions-

    – Christianity survives at an individual level but the institution shrinks (Bonhoeffers religionless Christianity)
    – The church expands without any change to the leader-faithful disconnect
    – Something really dreadful happens in the world and the relative unimportance of the issue in those changed circumstances mean the teaching can be jettisoned without too much angst
    – a lay movement succeeds in driving out non-conformist lay brothers and sisters and a smaller more consistent church emerges (with some rather unimpressed former brothers and sisters on the outside)

    Anyway, thought-provoking stuff thanks Quentin

    • Peter Foster says:

      To be asked to predict the effect of the Elephant in the Room without analysing the Elephant is of course an evasion.

      The future I pray for is that the Church will turn towards the example of Christ and try to find His Will in relation to the problems posed for actual people by their actual contexts which now range far beyond Humanae Vitae. It is an enterprise fraught with difficulties because it will necessarily be messy and shift the most of the vast intellectual structures underpinning the Elephant into the history books. Man is condemned to analyse and reason about everything AND to sometimes get it wrong.

      PS: St Joseph March 14 at 11.35 h offered the thought: “We will have a perfect Church if it became smaller”. What would St Paul say to that!

  22. Two quotes from the Mass today which set me thinking.

    From the Epistle:-
    “If you are willing to obey;
    you shall eat the good things of the earth.
    But if you persist in rebellion,
    the sword shall eat you instead.”
    [This is from Isiah 1 verses 19-20. The Vulgate version “volueritis et audieritis” is not quite obviously to be translated as “obey” but I think it is reasonable enough]

    then from the Gospel [Matthew 23: 2-3] l:-
    “The scribes and Pharisees occupy the chair of Moses.
    You must therefore do what they tell you and listen to what they say;
    but do not be guided by what they do;
    since they do not practice what they preach.”

    In both cases there is a clear admonition to obey (although famously qualified by Jesus “dicunt enim et non faciunt”).
    This emphasis on unqualified obedience is very much contrary to the assumptions of our present culture!
    Should we be guided by Scripture or by our own opinion?

    • Peter Foster says:

      Read a few lines on and we might be tempted to identify the leaders of the Church with the Pharisees: “They fasten up packs too heavy to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; they themselves will not stir a finger to lift them.” Matthew ch.23: v.4. But of course such phrases do not constitute valid formulae to settle questions.

      “Obey” is nowadays used as a shield to deflect rational criticism. What is it to be human if not to enquire? There never was a greater need now that the human mind has been applied to the investigation and control of life itself.

  23. Nektarios says:

    I am glad among my RC brethren, there is not only common sense, but some spiritual sensibility
    as these last posts of Peter and Horace.

    Regarding the Elephant in the Room – well the elephant will only stay in the room as long as we want it and feed it.

  24. Nektarios says:

    Line 3 should read: as these last posts from Peter and Horace demonstrate

  25. St.Joseph says:

    Who told me -I don.t know. Definitely not the teaching of the Church,as I can say I knew nothing much at that time what the word .’contraception’ meant.
    What I did know and that was that sexual intercourse was wrong until I was married to someone I fell in love with and wanted to spend the rest of my life with,and please God have children and bring them up as a Catholic .
    Then when the act of sexual intercourse would take place on my wedding night that would be when. we became one. I had no knowledge of pregnancy or babies but did understand that the first act of intercourse was to be the start of whether I became pregnant or not and it would be in Gods time that it happened. I did understand that the first time that sperm entered my body it was the right time for any children God would give me from then on .How innocent was that.
    We had no money, we lived in a furnished flat and built our married life and family from then on by getting pregnant on honeymoon in Ireland.
    So how did I know all that- definitely not from obedience or questioning!

    • Peter D. Wilson says:

      I don’t remember any teaching of the Church about “falling in love”, at least as a necessary prelude to marriage which for much of history has been essentially a matter of business or convenience: love, in something like the romantic sense, might with luck and good will develop later. Much of the modern confusion over marriage seems to have stemmed from the predominance of emotion over reason in personal relationships. Given the notorious volatility of emotion, that is bound to cause trouble.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Peter.D Wilson.
        I did not learn falling in love by the teachings of the Church either,but I expect in was from the Holy Family-I don’t know why but I always loved the whole idea of Mary Joseph and the Child Jesus,and remember when I was young an Irish Gypsy knocked at our door and I answered it and she held a small statue of the Holy Family and asked my mother to buy it for me, my mother said no and I remember I kicked up a fuss, so the woman said buy it for her it is only a half a crown 2/6 in those days, she did and I have it still on my shelf.

        I did not get any romantic ideas from my father either as to what marriage was all about.If anything it was from that statue.!
        Strange as it may seem-I always see the face of the unborn in the baby in the Crib at Christmas.
        I would consider myself as more of an optimist than an emotionelist.

  26. Brendan says:

    Taking up Quentin’s earlier point … ” Qui tacet consentire … “. I don’t particularly care whether Pope Paul V1’S pronouncement is to be regarded as infallible doctrine or changeable tradition. The fact that the Vicar of Christ in conjunction with fellow Bishops of the Church have given their stamp of authority should make every Catholic sit up and with good conscience , taking note and be ready to obey. For the Bishopsof the time this Latin precept ironically spoke volumes !
    Saint Thomas More new that the Henrician regime would not leave him alone — he was too big an elephant throughout Europe to be ignored ! By his ‘ living example ‘ he just prolonged the doubt, so if the Universal Church was to be changed in England he had to be silenced – — at all costs. So in our day, Christ gave us the ‘living example ‘ of Peters’ Successor !
    If there was any doubt about the potentially damaging fallout ( obviously not foreseen by many except the Office of Pope ) from the Universal Church accepting artificial contraception into the mindset of the Faithful, it surely has been graphically displayed ‘ in spades ‘ in the ‘ behavior ‘ of the Christian West since. When I first read it in the 70’s it struck me as a complete revelation in the mid’st of darkness – my own darkness. I new instinctively with the certainty that The Catechism of The Catholic Church professes that this was ‘ truth ‘.The prophetic nature of Humanae Vitae is amply displayed today in what it tried to uphold and sustain in the Christian life at the time.The Spirit of God that rests with the Pope and the Bishops, irrespective of the fact that they have been largely meekly silent on the issue since, speaks volumes. Yet like in More’s day, that Tower of Babel we would rather build of ‘ human ‘ design, continues to fascinate us while we dance around this Bull Elephant rather than confront it by destroying it with our ‘ right living ‘. We know Pelagius will never be far from the surface, but Christ gave us the Office and Authority passed through His Apostles to trump any would-be heresy that threatens His Sovereignty
    If Pope Francis is telling us anything , it is by coming to ‘ faith ‘ – to accept Christs Church and get on with the process of ‘ being ‘ Christs to the world. Then there will be no room for the so-called self- proclaimed prophets of the ‘ swinging sixties ‘ . Like Henry’s Chancellor, it is Christs Vicar among us who will be remembered for what was true and right and good. This way we won’t need in future to confront this ‘ elephant in the room ‘ by playing The World at its own game.

  27. St.Joseph says:

    The teaching of Humanae Vitae since 1968,has become more clear with the teaching of ‘The Theology of the Body’ by Pope John Paul 2nd,,then explained more by Janet Smith’s ‘Contraception Why Not’ which by the way my grandson at 15 yrs sent a CD which he acquired through the internet and received from USA 5 years ago to the Bishop of my Diocese on his own initiative-and we also have Janet Smith’s ‘The Moral use of Natural Family Planning’ it can be found through the web- all easy to understand..
    He is now 20 at University and has sent a letter to Cardinal Vincent Nichols with instructions along with information from me to put forward at the September meeting of the Family.
    We need more young people to be encouraged by their parents and grandparents also in Catholic schools to tell the world that the Truth is our future.
    Your comment above has a great deal of Spiritual insight greatly needed in today .

    • Brendan says:

      Thank you for that Saint Joseph. We have no children, grandchildren or much input into ‘ youth culture ‘. How heart-warming to hear this example of ‘ positive ‘ youth ‘ action especially not afraid to speak out and encourage our Bishops, who need the help and partnership of the laity more than ever. Straight out of Saint Paul !
      I always felt that Blessed Pope John Paul ‘s great devotion to the Mother of God – Totus Tuus – and his solidarity with human suffering had given him a special grace of insight into the complete human sexual state. Thus he could well receive and confirm Pope Paul’s Encyclical for the Church and the World.
      I imagine you are aware of the present Pope’s encyclical ‘ Evangelii Gaudium ‘ which forms the basis of the Lenten Series – Walk With Me. The Holy Spirit is surely pointing to the next stage of ‘ metanoia ‘ for us in this Pontificate in our ongoing integrated ‘ Theology of the Body .’
      May god Bless you and your Family.

      • RAHNER says:

        “given him a special grace of insight into the complete human sexual state.”

        He didn’t have much insight into Fr Maciel did he?

  28. St.Joseph says:

    Thank you for your comment and I wish all on SS a very happy feast day on the Feast of St Joseph-Defender of the Faith.

    Contraception is not the only sin, you fail to understand what the sentence means, Holy Mother Church is perfect,one could say it us as humans in our fraility from Pope down who are the sinners -you and me included
    Shilly shally catholics was a word my grandmother used, she would not be slow to insult those who she felt insulted God… You could include in your comment too those who find it difficult to understanding attending Holy Mass on a Sunday or the yearly Sacrament of Confession or Holy’s days of obligation- it is not all contraception when we think of sin.
    Perhaps if Catholics find it difficult to understand Fertility Awareness maybe you could teach it yourself!
    It is greatly needed!

    • St.Joseph says:

      ‘You say ‘He didn’t have much insight into Fr Marciel did he?
      How could he? Or are you saying he did and he ignored it.
      I don’t understand the point you make
      Are you asking a question or are you making a statement..

  29. John Nolan says:

    The Church has always had strict rules about sexual morality, and people have always broken them, not least churchmen themselves. Louis XIV was personally devout, heard Mass daily and confessed regularly, yet had a string of mistresses and numerous illegitimate children. However, if the king was gravely ill, mistresses were banished from court so that the king could make his peace with God in case he should die. When he recovered, things went back to normal. There is no reason to assume that such repentance was insincere, or that he believed that since he was king the moral law did not apply to him.

    Before the 1960s the moral authority of organized religion (not just the Catholic Church) was reflected in the values of society as a whole and underpinned by secular law. In 1957 the Wolfenden Report recommended the decriminalization of homosexual behaviour. It was shelved for ten years because ministers feared a public backlash. Parliament voted in 1967 to legalize abortion because MPs were assured that the measure would not allow abortion on demand. It is now a moral principle of the liberal left (and we’re not talking about the lunatic fringe here, but those who read The Guardian and dominate the BBC) that women have a right to unrestricted access to abortion. The other paramount issues are LBGT ‘rights’ and absolute sexual equality. James Bloodworth criticizes those liberals who profess to admire Pope Francis:-
    ‘We should, however, reject the notion that someone who can rescind the Church’s stance on gay sex and chooses not to do so is a figure worthy of admiration. Nor, if he won’t countenance women priests, is there a reason to suppose the Pope has anything of note to say about poverty’.

    David Cameron, Nick Clegg and even Nigel Farrage would no doubt endorse the sentiments although they would be less forthright in saying so. A recent survey of practising Catholics in the USA indicated that only one in three believes in the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist, so one can hardly expect them to accept the Church’s moral teaching.

  30. Nektarios says:

    Where is the `elephant in the room’, if not lodged deeply within us.
    I see the dependency so many have to the externals of religion that feeds our vanity and pride
    If we really want to deal with this intractable elephant in the room, I refer you to a short paragraph from the pen of William Law.
    May it lead you within the church denomination one is in to truly live that spiritual life and beware of such teachings that hauls one way from the Lord and the Spirit of God.

    “What now is become of this true Church, or where must the Man go, who would fain be a living Member of it? — He need go nowhere; because wherever he is, That which is to save him, and That which he is to be saved from, is always with him. — SELF is all the Evil that he has, and God is all the Goodness that he ever can have; But Self is always with him, and God is always with him. — Death to Self is his only Entrance into the Church of Life, and Nothing but God can give Death to Self. — Self is an inward Life, and God is an inward Spirit of Life; therefore nothing kills That which must be killed in us, or quickens That which must come to Life in us, but the inward Work of God in the Soul, and the inward Work of the Soul in God. — This is that Mystic Religion, which, though it has nothing in it but that same Spirit, that same Truth, and that same Life, which always was, and always must be the Religion of all God’s holy Angels and Saints in Heaven, is by the Wisdom of this World accounted to be Madness. As wisely done, as to reckon him mad, who says, that the Vanity of Things Temporal cannot be or give Life to the Things that are Eternal; or that the Circumcision of the Flesh is but as poor a Thing, as the Whetting the Knife, in Comparison of that inward mystic Circumcision of the Heart, which can only be done by “that WORD of God, which is Sharper than any two edged Sword, and pierces to the dividing asunder of the Soul and Spirit,” Heb. iv.1. — Now fancy to yourself a Rabbi-Doctor, laughing at this Circumcision of the two edged Sword of God, as Gospel Madness, and then you see that very same Christian Orthodoxy, which at this Day condemns the inward working Life of God in the Soul, as Mystic Madness.”

    “Look at all that is outward, and all that you then see, has no more of Salvation in it, than the Stars and Elements. — Look at all the good Works you can think of, they have no Goodness for you, but when the good Spirit of God is the Doer of them in you. — For all the outward Works of Religion may be done by the natural Man, he can observe all Church-Duties, stick close to Doctrines, and put on the Semblance of every outward Virtue; thus high he can go. But no Christian, till led and governed by the Spirit of God, can go any higher than this feigned, outward Formality of this natural Man; to which he can add nothing, but his own natural fleshly Zeal in the Defence of it. For all Zeal must be of this Kind, till it is the Zeal of That which is born of God, and calls every Creature only to that same new Birth from above. — “My little children,” says St. Paul, “of whom I travail again in Birth, till Christ be formed in you.” This is the whole labour of an Apostle to the End of the World. He has nothing to preach to Sinners, but the Absolute Necessity, the true Way, and the certain Means, of being Born again from above.”

    [ A Humble, Earnest and Affectionate Address to the Clergy: 1761 ]

  31. Singalong says:

    Peter, the miracle was exceptional in the sense that the person of Christ in the Eucharist usually retains the forms of bread and wine, but on this occasion, God chose to demonstrate the reality of transubstantiation. I think it is unexceptional in the sense that this IS the reality of every consecration of bread and wine, and it helps to confirm our belief in the Real Presence.

    • Peter D. Wilson says:

      Singalong – I agree, and had not thought otherwise.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Have you read the Eucharist Miracles by Joan Carroll Cruz.
      On numerous occasions in the history of the Church, God has seen fit to offer miraculous
      visible proof of the Catholic Teaching that at the sacred words of Consecration in the Mass, the bread and wine upon the Altar are truly changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ’
      Joan Carroll Cruz’s book recounts 36 such major Eucharistic Miracles in Church history.
      She tells of Hosts which have turned to visible flesh, Hosts that have bled and levitated etc;
      It is still available on Amazon and contains photographs.
      It has a Nihil Obstat and a Imprimatur 1986.,

  32. lochain says:

    I am of the generation of Catholics who were young and just married when Humanae Vitae was published and, as my confessor told me it was up to my conscience, so… my conscience easily decided that the Pope couldn’t be right; after all, we were poor and had already had one child. Some years later, I heard about the change in the abortion law which, by some chance, had never come to my attention before. This made me question whether I was right to reject Humanae Vitae. The question I asked myself was: “Am I being asked to do something which is sinful? When I stand before the Throne of Grace will I with a clear conscience be able to say that, knowing the Church’s teaching, I could decide better than the Church what was right?” The answer to that seemed to me too much like the decision made by Eve before she ate the apple so, I decided to obey the Church and trust to God’s providence. My husband, though a baptised Anglican, was a strong believer in conscience and we adopted NFP to regulate our family. We eventually had seven children, though God called one back to Himself in infancy. Recently my husband said to me, ” Why didn’t we have twice as many?” I think that shows that we believe that HV has enriched our lives in ways we never dreamt of when we were young and foolish. In all the 45 years, I never heard any homily or teaching from the pulpit except for a line in a pastoral letter from Archbishop Murphy of Cardiff that the Church would never change her teaching on contraception. In fact, I recently gained a new insight into why contraception is going against the will of the Creator when reading Steven Mosher on the subject. He said that contraception is a greater sin than abortion because, at least, those aborted go to eternal life whereas with contraception we are saying, “No!” to the Creator.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Your comment is a wonderful testimony to your trust in God. Also your marriage has been so blessed like mine to have a husband who was a Methodist a believed
      in God’s WIll for your Marriage.Also you have shown your proper use of Family Planning. NFP.That is for spacing. Thank you.

      • St.Joseph says:

        lochain.I apologise for spelling your name incorrectly. I was using my Kindle and it is new and I am not used to it yet.
        Also welcome to Second Sight.

    • milliganp says:

      Contraception being worse than abortion is the most specious moral concept imaginable. If it were true, natural family planning would also be evil. It’s almost a silly as every sperm is sacred.

      • Ann says:

        Abortion would be better than contraception, because the aborted can go to heaven were as contraception is saying no to God??? Oh so its better to abort a life from pleasure than it is to prevent it through pleasure………..

  33. St.Joseph says:

    Maybe the young man did understand what Jesus was asking him to do then he would be ‘assured of gaining Eternal Life’. but knew he was not able to go that ‘extra mile.
    Perhaps that message is for us too-it won;t always be easy. but we must persevere!
    Just a thought.

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