Why did the Obama administration believe that they could attempt to undermine, distort and pervert our religious liberty and conscience rights? The attack was aimed at an area of seriously weakened Catholic adherence to moral virtue. They went after contraception because Catholics have been poorly catechized in this and related areas, perhaps cripplingly weakened in their resolve to object strenuously. Again, why?
Initially, administration spokespersons made the absurd claim that 98% of Catholics practiced some type of contraception or birth control.1 They neglected to explain that this data was based on open ended questions like “Have you ever practiced some form of birth control?” Hidden in the data was the inclusion of Catholics who practiced the rhythm method, Natural Family Planning and NaPro Technology to space their pregnancies. We Catholics are all sinners in many domains. When some Catholics are unable to meet the moral standards established by Divine Revelation, Tradition and the Magisterium, it shouldn’t justify denying the Catholic Church and its doctrine from its constitutionally endowed religions freedom.
Still, if one studies the incidence of divorce among Catholics it is nearly the same as that of secular society, probably 50% of marriages. Not a great record from a Church that deems marriage a Sacrament, a holy state. In that population, one can imagine that a majority of them practiced immoral forms of birth control, i.e. oral contraceptives, diaphragms, IUD’s and condoms to name several.2 Have any of our priests or clergy addressed these worrisome, possibly devastating statistics?
There is an extent to which our Catholic clergy, from its highest to its lowest ranks, is complicit in making our political and secular enemies sense a weakness in our resolve to object to various immoral HHS mandates or ObamaCare3 objectives. This will be explained below in more detail.
To explain this more clearly, one needs to examine three areas of poorly observed Catholic morality: contraception, sterilization and in vitro fertilization (IVF).
Why do admittedly practicing Catholics utilize contraception, despite Church teaching? Why also do this rather than use effective Church approved methods that do not actively prevent conception. There are generally three reasons: ignorance, inadequate or no specific catechesis, and uniformed or malformed consciences, including simple unsubmissiveness or frank rebellious disobedience.
In today’s information laden Catholic educational print and electronic society, it is hard to imagine true inculpable ignorance. It has been said, even preached that a habitual vice makes one less culpable, despite sin. However, the natural and divine laws are written on our hearts, so guilt is an accompaniment that should drive one toward seeking the truth, thus providing a path to overcoming a vice. Yet we are all aware of the liberal progressives in our midst who are unwavering in their kind of faith. Secular members of society might even vociferously look down their noses at young married people with more that two children or mother’s with teenagers who are told they are ignorant if they don’t protect their children with contraceptives.
When was the last time you heard a mentioning of the sinfulness of immoral contraception from the pulpit. Most of us have too many fingers on one hand worth counting. If a young, unenlightened priest dares to bring this up you get to watch several people leave Mass. Our Catholic youth and young adults have been poorly catechized if at all. Much today is said about instruction in Theology of the Body, but still too few have adopted these programs for teens. Some say that these subjects must be addressed in the Sacrament of Confession. If the sinners feel they are not sinning, then no opportunity to be pastoral exists (because no such sin will be addressed unless a confessor asks penetrating questions).
Finally we have the poorly formed conscience. For many years we were warned that we had to follow our consciences. First, we have to be willing to seek the truth. Today, many people are too busy to seek moral truth, being distracted by cell phones, texting, computers and tablets with hundreds of accumulating e-mails and television. Still there are always those who “will not serve” or will not submit to infringements on their idea of personal freedom.
In this day and age, especially in the culture of death in which we live, we need to develop a good or severe case of conscience. Perhaps we need to catch it like a virus. In the distant past, our then Holy Father John Paul II had to re-emphasize the forming of a correct conscience. With regard to Church teaching on the dignity of human life and the integrity of marriage, he admonished that it is “pretentious” to suggest that the teachings of the Church could conflict with the rights of a well-formed conscience. While there is no sin involved when someone follows his conscience, the Pope conceded, any action which violates the teachings of the Church is still “objectively a disorder.” He cautioned that individuals have a moral obligation to form their consciences properly.
In 1993, Pope John Paul II emphasized these and other themes about conscience in his encyclical, Veritatis Splendor. As an ophthalmologist, I especially appreciated his quotation from the New Testament. He said Jesus alludes to the danger of a conscience being deformed when he warns: “The eye is the lamp of the body. So if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great the darkness!” (Mt 6:22-23).
The Pope reminded the Bishops of New York State, in 1988, that pluralism in theology is limited by the unity of faith and the teachings of the Church’s authentic Magisterium. He said, “It is not conscience that freely establishes what is right and wrong.” Conscience does not determine moral truth, but only detects it (Cardinal Newman). In 1983, Pope John Paul II reminded us, “It is not sufficient to say to man: ‘Always follow your conscience.’ It is necessary to add immediately and always: ‘Ask yourself if your conscience is telling you the truth or something else, and seek untiringly to know the truth.”4 “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (Jn 8:32).
From the cross Christ said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” This was not said as a license to continue in a mistaken state of knowledge or a state of ignorance.
One can bet that Catholics have never heard a dissertation on sterilization from the pulpit. Certainly this writer never has except decades ago at a Jesuit university. Again ignorance often plays a role as discussed in the case of contraception. In recent years, our parish adult education opportunities have skimmed over some of these subjects, but never in depth. Usually these presentations are to the “choir” not to those that need to be enlightened.
In the case of women, often Catholic and non-Catholic physicians offer this to Catholic patients (particularly during other surgeries) because they may justify it for a variety of usually unfounded reasons or because of personal attitudes or inclinations. Years ago, a medical colleague, an obstetrician was performing sterilizations on his patients either feeling obligated to do it because others in his practice expected it and also because as a Catholic he didn’t know better. After his handsome young son was killed in an auto accident, he became motivated to seek the truth. He now speaks out to fellow Catholic physicians about the immorality of sterilization. In the case of men, similar reasons apply, but perhaps more often it is a matter of unsubmissiveness, rebelliousness or “conscience” seeing nothing wrong. Certainly the informed conscience needs to be addressed here as well, as do the opportunities to confess a sin that seemingly doesn’t exist.
INFERILITY/IN VITRO FERILIZATION (IVF):
The profound collateral damage associated with this moral conundrum and the attendant moral dilemmas are generally unappreciated even to the most informed Catholics. Here the problems that arise can more often than not be sufficiently counted on the fingers and toes of both hands and feet. Again often the consensus of Catholics and secular Christians question the immorality of this solution to childlessness among the poor couples who suffer so much from their inability to conceive. This attitude prevails despite the fact that morally acceptable alternatives exist such as adoption and NaPro Technology.
How many, rather few times has one noted our Church’ efforts to overcome the ignorance that surrounds these topics? The pulpit is silent about these issues. They are sensitive issues to be addressed in private or are felt not to affect a sufficient number of the pew sitters. However they are integrally intertwined with issues such as embryonic stem cell debates, contraception and abortion. Infertile Catholic couples often do not approach their priest for spiritual guidance in these matters. They are often steeped in the process before they even have an inkling of what is involved, especially from that point of view of Catholic morality. How many priests are well versed in the science of IVF to offer sound information and guidance?
In May 2003, an inventory of 430 U.S. fertility clinics revealed a conservative estimate of 398,526 accumulated frozen human embryos “on ice,” most being ultimately deprived of their spiritual development and eternal reward. Storage fees for parents average $1,500 a year and clinics worry about accidental meltdowns and insurance. Parents of at least 11,000 embryos or three percent have given permission for their embryos to be made available for research. Two percent are earmarked for destruction. The vast majority, about 87%, is being held for future use by their parents or until they are no longer viable.
Opponents of the concept of the sanctity of embryonic human life, consider embryos left over from artificial insemination or other reproductive services as valuable for stem cell research, since they are frequently destined to be discarded. In reality, these are budding, viable human beings in cryogenic suspended animation housed in the frozen orphanages of in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinics.
Recent evidence shows that only 20-25% of IVF embryo impregnations actually successfully implant. The rest are effectively aborted, thus about 75% of IVF’s never have a live birth. Fertility doctors frequently offer the option of selective abortion (called fetal reduction) when multiple pregnancies occur to increase chances of survivors or decide the sex of the fetus. Contrast this with the fact that some of the women involved consented to a tubal ligation (sterilization) after many caesarian deliveries; even though the risk of subsequent pregnancy is probably low due to prior infertility, so the prospect for additional life could have been left up to God. Thus in the case of IVF the number of additional abortions that occur is multiplied when some of the implanted embryos do not take or when they are purposely reduced (add this to the 54 million abortions since Roe vs. Wade). This is morally worsened by the sterilization procedures that sometimes follow those pregnancies resulting from IVF.
A much more effective and fundamentally moral form of pregnancy for infertile couples, frequently IVF failures, is NaPro Technology. In this process, married couples engage in normal sexual intercourse after extensive evaluation of their infertility and achieve successful pregnancies in 20 to 32 % of cases, depending on how long they continue in the program. One practitioner had a success rate of 50% in his best case scenario. In addition, these are singleton pregnancies (twins in only 4%) compared to the multiple pregnancies from IVF (28% twinning; leading to increased complications and prematurity).
Before the last election, our bishops through the USCCB issued a guide entitled “Faithful Citizenship.” Though basically sound the document was flawed to the extent that is suggested or led many to believe there is equality between providing for the poor and the intrinsic evil of contraception. As a result, 54% of Catholics voted for a man with a 100% record of favoring abortion and Planned Parenthood. He also supported infanticide in the case of infants who survived abortion and suggested he wouldn’t let his daughters be punished by an unintended pregnancy. This equated to saying “I would recommend the abortion of my own grandchild (one can find this clip on You Tube). In addition, many bishops would not allow laity to distribute a pamphlet entitled “Voters Guide for Serious Catholic” published by Catholic Answers because it suggested that it would be a sin for any Catholic to vote contrary to the moral teachings of the Church. These teachings were referred to as the “Five Non-Negotiables” even by the Holy Father himself. These are abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning and same-sex marriage.
If one has studied the current president’s administration closely, one sees that he has insidiously and purposefully selected members for his administration who are Catholics in name only. Why would he select Catholics who are always pro-choice and in addition have no true understanding of their religious faith? Each has proven this by public statements of their ignorance (VP Joe Biden). Kathleen Sebelius has a pro-abortion record as Governor of Kansas and was financially supported by a now deceased late term abortionist. She was denied Holy Communion by her own bishop. Obama then allied himself with Nancy “Pontius” Pelosi (What is truth?) to further his political and anti-religious aspirations. In his audacity, he knowingly accepted Notre Dame’s invitation to speak and receive an honorary law degree. A review of his speech easily demonstrates why and how he would undermine our religious faith, freedom and conscience rights with duplicitous rhetoric. The morally defunct graduating class of that august university gave him a standing ovation.
Finally, our Bishops, backs against the wall, have decided to fight. However the loose, slippery, dangerous footing of their previous neglect (as sited above) already puts them at a disadvantage. Yes, they are talking courageously about the administrations desire and attempts to undermine, distort and pervert our religious liberty and conscience rights. They now know our moral courage is being impaired, trampled and misrepresented, but they still haven’t become determined to educate the laity from the pulpit about sexual immorality and life issues. They have now issued a pamphlet entitled “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty” addressing how as Catholics we have been at the forefront of liberty. They still however do not openly tell us that the solution to all our problems depends on the decisions we make in the voting booth in November. They are afraid to say that a Catholic with a properly informed and educated conscience can not abide by the likes of the present administration. Not using the current debate as an opportunity to educate the laity makes bishops and priests derelict in their duty to teach the moral truth.
As St. Paul tells us “For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (Eph 6-12). Think about the numerous multibillionaires who are financially supporting the present presidential administration and worldwide anti-life propaganda.
1 Guttmacher Institute Report – “Countering Conventional Wisdom: New Evidence on Religion and Contraceptive Use.” April 2011. (The report said 99% of all women in the sample).
2 The Guttmacher report suggested at least 31% of admitted Catholics (not using natural family planning) used contraceptives; also 31% used male or female sterilization). The data was based on interviews of 7,256 women of childbearing age (15-44 who had sex in the 3 months prior to the survey, some of whom were never married), only 25% of whom were Catholic. The report is this possibly skewed since 11% used no method, the nature of the questions was not revealed, how the participants were selected is not described and it was notably biased against the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. This author is unaware of any Church sponsored studies to determine the extent of Catholic non-compliance to Church doctrine regarding birth control or sterilization use after sacramental marriage.
3 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and The Health Care for America Plan.
4 From an excellent discussion, “The Gift of Faith and the Magisterium”, by Father Paul A. Duffner,O.P., in the Rosary Light & Life, Vol. 50, No. 2, Mar.-Apr. 1997.