A friend of mine recently wrote me on Facebook about my post "con-dumbs." I attempted to reply in Facebook, but my post was too long for Facebook, so I've decided to post it here since it also will then appear in Facebook. I hope it works. It takes a little deciphering because I have included his words, and then my response to his words follows, and I went section by section. In Word, when I was typing it up, his quotes were italicized, but those italics didn't translate to the blog, so I apologize if it gets a bit muddled at time with regards to who is talking.
"I AM Catholic."
In all seriousness here, Perko, after reading your post, I just figured you had left the Church.
"as a member of that community, I don't check my reason and common sense at the door."
The Church doesn’t ask you to check your reason or your common sense at the door, and I certainly don’t believe that I have done that. 10 years ago JPII wrote “Fides et Ratio”, faith AND REASON; we need both. The Church is built on philosophy and is supported by it. Many of the great Catholics through the ages are also the most revered philosophers throughout the history of the world. St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Thomas More, St. Anselm of Canterbury, St. Augustine, and in our own time Josef Pieper, Alisdair Macintyre, John Paul II and Benedcit XVI – these are just some of the giants that the most atheistic thinker of all time still has to square with. Most impressively, these men (and 1,000’s like them), separated by thousands of years, still come to the shockingly similar conclusions in their thoughts.
The Church believes that when reason is used properly and honestly it leads people to the Faith. However, as Anselm of Canterbury notes, “I believe in order that I may understand.” There are certain things that make sense only from WITHIN the understanding that the Church teaches the Truth.
"I don't have to buy everything Rome is selling to be Catholic; I know many priests who are in the same boat."
It seems here you are granting some weight to what a priest has said, when you elsewhere seem to suggest that what priests (bishops, popes, etc.) say or do or teach doesn’t matter. Perhaps you grant weight to the priests who believe what you already believe?
I certainly recognize that there are a lot of priests out there who are either a) genuinely unaware of what the Church actually teaches on certain subjects, or b) are intentionally leading people away from the Church. If I were Satan, I’d spend all my effort trying to get priests to follow me, because if they follow me, then they are going to lead TONS of people to me with them. It is an utter and absolute scandal the way that some priests approach the issues of faith. One quick story from confession. I hear all the time in the confession – “Fr. will you just tell me what the Church teaches?” I usually get “well Fr. so and so said that women should be able to get ordained or this priest says contraception is okay…” What an intellectually dishonest position to take on the part of those priests – they are standing on the foundation of the Church as priests, their position, their rent, their salary, their ministry, their leadership, everything about who they are comes FROM the Church, and yet these men chop away at the same foundation WHILE STANDING ON IT. These guys should at least have the intellectual honesty to get off the foundation and renounce their vows or something, but to just stand there continuing to whittle away at the Church from within is, to me, the most dishonest, damaging, and frankly disgusting things a person can do. A layperson such as you Perko certainly has more leeway in putting questions to the Church, but a priest that doesn’t believe in the Church – I want to say to these guys “Come on!” They are usually actually upset because they got yelled at by a Bishop along the way or got an assignment they didn’t like, and so they are acting out like children. These guys knew what they were promising (who they were marrying) and need to either live out that marriage or get a divorce and quit sitting on the fence telling other people that it is okay to do what they are doing.
"Rome does not preach absolute truth on issues; if it did, there would never be any changes in doctrine/dogma, and there has been clear shifts in doctrine (e.g. Vatican II)."
The myth is that Vatican II changed dogmas and doctrines. What actually changed, though? I’ve read the documents from the Council, and I have never seen myself, nor frankly have I heard it suggested, that the Church at Vatican II changed dogmas or doctrines. So, I am really wanting to know, which teachings are you referring to?
"And the Church is wrong on a great many things. I'll pick a softball here: women as priests."
Sister Sara Butler, a respected theologian around the world and a member of the International Theological Commission, has written a fantastic and succinct work on the matter titled, “The Catholic Priesthood and Women.” She goes through the various arguments that have been posited since John Paul II said in 1990 in his letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis that “In order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance….I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”
The main argument that the Church makes, and that Butler helps clarify as well, is that Christ chose 12 men. Since that is what Christ did, that is what the Church does. There are many arguments that people love to put up against this, most notably the idea that Christ COULD NOT have chosen women or he would have been dismissed for doing so. The answer to that, in my mind, is that the Christ of the Gospels was a man who, at every turn, upset the established order. He seems to have been going to the synagogue mostly to heal people on the Sabbath, as Chesterton notes, he was a man who threw the furniture of the temple down the front steps when he cast out the money changers, he left no stone unturned in regards to opportunities to break down cultural or religious barriers – and yet he only chose 12 men to be his Apostles. From this point Butler chronicles the many different reasons posited through the years as to why Christ MAY have chosen only men, and she lays them out beautifully while also meeting the critiques of those arguments cogently. I think you would enjoy the book and it would probably take you like 30 minutes to read if you still read as fast as you did in high school!
"as recently as mid-June, has declared that ordaining women as priests is a "grave crime" on the same order as pedophilia."
Historically, there have been 5 sins reserved to the Holy See (meaning a priest himself can not absolve a person of those sins, he must follow a process of seeking forgiveness through the Holy See). These sins have been
1) receiving or aiding someone in procuring an abortion
2) desecration of the Eucharist
3) (as a priest) breaking the seal of confession
4) (as a priest) absolving someone from having sex with the priest himself
5) planning or carrying out an attack on the life of the Pope.
This Summer, the Vatican added to the list, most notably
6) A regular priest can not absolve another priest of child sexual misconduct and
7) A regular priest can not absolve someone who has attempted to ordain a woman.
8) A regular priest can not absolve another priest who has been in any way be involved with child pornography
9) A regular priest can not absolve a priest who has participated in concelebration of a religious service other than the Mass (where the result of the concelebration is some form of Eucharist).
The Media absolutely ran with this. A google of “Vatican ordain women child abuse” turns up the SAME headline from many different places, which makes me wonder how objective the news reporting is in things Catholic. AOL, CNN, the Guardian, huffingtonpost etc. all ran the headline “Church sees ordaining women to be the same as abusing a child.”
This is not true for two reasons: a) making a list of grave offenses doesn’t mean they are all equal in every way. Some crimes are always more heinous to us than others, but nobody complains about the variance in things that our society considers to be felonies (some involve taxes and some felonies involve child abuse but you don’t hear people complaining that “The U.S. thinks tax fraud is as bad as child abuse). b) It is also important to realize that on a theological level the ordaining of women, or desecrating the Eucharist or breaking the seal of confession are HUGE HUGE HUGE issues! Certainly to our mind the abuse of a child by a priest is horrible, and no one would argue otherwise, but it is very important to realize that if a person really believes the Church is what it says it is and that the Eucharist is what the Church says it is, then all of the offenses need to be punished in a way that conveys the true damage that is done to the Church through any of these actions.
"Tradition is not a good response; the Church traditionally burned people at the stake for not agreeing with them."
Come on Perk! As the historian Regine Pernoud notes in her book Those Terrible Middle Ages, “The Middle Ages furnishes a choice field to all those for whom history is only a pretext: a period about which the public at large is ignorant, with a few recognizable names: Charlemagne, Joan of Arc, the Inquisition, the Cathars…and serfs making the frogs keep quiet. That is very much the average stock of knowledge delivered by textbooks for elementary education…It is so easy, in fact, to manipulate history, consciously or unconsciously, for a public that is not knowledgeable about it…The Middle Ages is privileged material: one can say what one wants about it with the quasi-certitude of never being contradicted.”
Have CERTAIN people done heinous things in history, even in the name of the Church, no doubt. But I see an infinite gap between saying, “certain people took things too far and sinned, even mortally so, in the name of the Church,” and saying “THE CHURCH IS FOR…fill in the blank with “burning people alive” or “torturing people in the inquisition” etc.
A fantastic book that I would also recommend to you is Atheist Delusions by David Bentley Hart (a non-Catholic) who regularly writes for First Things and other philosophical and historical journals. He notes, “Once upon a time, it went, Western humanity was the cosseted and incurious ward of Mother Church; during this, the age of faith, culture stagnated, science languished, wars of religion were routinely waged, witches were burned by inquisitors, and Western humanity labored in brutish subjugation to dogma, superstition, and the unholy alliance of church and state; …inquiry was stifled; the literary remains of classical antiquity had long ago been consigned to the fires of faith, and even the great achievements of “Greek science” were forgotten till Islamic civilization restored them to the West. All was darkness…Galileo almost invariably occupies an honored place in this narrative, as exemplary of the natural relation between “faith” and “reason” and as an exquisite epitome of scientific reason’s mighty struggle during the early modern period to free itself from the tyranny of religion…to be fair, serious historians do not for the most part speak in such terms. This tale of the birth of the modern world has largely disappeared from respectable academic literature and survives now principally at the level of folklore…sadly, however, it is not serious historians who, for the most part, form the historical consciousness of their times; it is bad popular historians, generally speaking, and the historical hearsay they repeat or invent and the myths they perpetuate and simplifications they promote that tend to determine how most of us view the past.”
Perk, I’m not saying you’ve not read your history, but that can’t really be a true rejoinder can it? “The Church has traditionally burned people at the stake”? I’ve read scores and scores of historical books (I’ve developed a real love for history since the days we spent together with Mrs. Helbing!), and most of what I’ve read would not be described as being skewed toward the Church. In the history that I’ve read up on about the Church I see saints and sinners, some good people and some bad who have carried the mantle of the Church through time, but I find almost all of the classical historical digs at the Church (Galileo, the crusades, the inquisition, the bad popes, etc.) to be utterly lacking as a real critique of the ability of the Church to have been or to continue to be what Christ and the Scriptures say it is.
"The fact is, the Pope does not have God appear to him every day in his chambers and list off what he should do. And the Church is highly fallible -- look at the recent child abuse scandal. No, the pope was not ordering kids to be raped, but clergy up and down the hierarchy knew about it for years and did nothing about it; actually, they did do something about it -- they actively tried to hide it and deny it. And this organization is supposed to be my moral guide?"
I hope it is clear at this point that I am no apologist for all priests (or bishops or popes) throughout history. The scandal has been a scandal in every sense of the word. I do think, out of fairness, we ought to admit that thirty and forty years ago no one understood pedophilia for what it truly is. Some of the moves, I believe, were made by bishops in hopes that guys actually would outgrow it in a new environment. Please don’t hear me as saying that the scandal isn’t a scandal, I just think that is one thing to keep in mind.
The Pope in his new book talks about the scandal as a volcano that has erupted from within the Church spewing as and dirt and fire on all involved – the Pope has gone around and at every opportunity has acknowledged what happened as highly damaging and awful. Again, for me the question is can the Church teach the Truth even if people within the Church do evil? For me, the answer is yes.
Neither Christ nor the Church nor the Scriptures ever taught that the Church will keep people from sinning, not even horribly so. That, to me, is key to remember when we think about Galileo/Inquisition/The Crusades/abuse of children by priests/etc.
"I was not saying in my response that I know "better" than the Church, I am saying that my mind and moral compass is just as good as anybody else's."
Yes, but is it as good as a moral compass that is guided by the Holy Spirit and the experience of 2,000 years worth of human beings that have lived before us.
"We're adults -- "because I said so" just doesn't work for me anymore."
There is general agreement that over the last two or three generations catechesis, (the teaching of the faith) has been virtually non-existent. I think our teachers in school and many of the priests we grew up just didn’t give us the answers to life’s important questions. Either those teachers didn’t know the answers or didn’t think we cared to know about them – so even though we were in religion class together for 10 years, other than the classes we had with the sisters at Nativity, we usually colored or meditated or watched crappy videos from the 1960’s that featured Jesus prancing through fields of wheat. We got no substance whatsoever. I still look back on the catechesis we got at our Confirmation and just shake my head.
Most Catholics haven’t heard the faith presented in a clear, straightforward and attractive way. I believe it was Archbishop Sheen who said, “It isn’t that Catholicism has been tried and found wanting, it is that it has hardly been tried.” I think when people hear the faith presented clearly and unabashedly it draws them in and answers questions that they’ve been asking for a while.
"In my profession, when somebody makes an assertion, it had better be backed up by proof and solid reasoning; even then, we are never 100% confident about any conclusion, and that must hold up to subsequent testing and reflection. I hold the same in my spiritual life."
Which is precisely why I go to the Church for guidance. The Church has been teaching fundamental truths for 2,000 years. Billions of people have tried out those truths, and usually, and I respect the heck out of that wisdom, and I’m even able to say it is a greater wisdom than my own. I’ve never heard anyone stand up and say “I tried living out of those truths, and I found them wanting.” I’ve heard lots of people huff and puff about the behavior of certain members of the Church and their sins, but I find great comfort in the teachings of the Church.
As Br. Guy Consolmagno, a scientist who converted to the faith and now conducts his science at the Vatican observatory notes in his work God’s Mechanics (you’d like this book to – VERY readable) “Like science, the practice of religion is fundamentally the work of an individual but is guided by a community. I spend most of my scientific working hours at my computer; I am alone, yes, but more often than not, I am responding to observations or inspirations or just the daily email of my colleagues around the world. When I go into some deserted church to pray, I face God alone, but I am surrounded by an edifice that’s been built up (figuratively and literally) by countless people before me.”
"Jesus himself was not much of a rules person -- he was much more of a moral philosopher who pushed, above all, to "love one another.""
I get this one a lot. Jesus is purported to have been really just a guy about love and he supposedly despised rules as obstacles to authentic conversion. Chesterton once noted that, despite the popular opinion, the Church doesn’t make Christ seem more difficult to follow, the Church makes Christ MORE accessible and soft and approachable. Christ talks an awful lot about hell, and he said that “not one letter of the law would pass away until he comes again.” Certain laws do go away with Christ because he calls us to a HIGHER standard. For example, people always say “did Christ mean that we should still stone prostitutes?” Of course not; prostitution is still as grave a sin as it was before Christ, but he now says we should love our neighbor as ourselves and that we should forgive people 7 times 70 times if they ask for forgiveness. So the law about stoning prostitutes goes away because of the higher standards Christ came to call us to, but those parts of the law that are not elevated to a higher standard do not go away.
"When I look at the Church's social teaching, I ask -- what about monogamous gay sex is not "loving one another?""
Here is a post on my blog where I go into the Church’s teaching on homosexuality. I think it does a nice job of explaining where the Church is coming from as quickly as possible. I’d be happy to go more in depth later if you like.
"What is it about women that makes them unfit to be priests?"
That Jesus chose 12 men, and that he must have had a reason for doing so.
"What is it about using contraception in marriage (to maintain strong love ties) to prevent creation of a life that cannot be financially supported that does not entail love?"
At the last Supper Jesus says “This is my body, given up for you…this is my blood shed for you…do this in memory of me.” This goes for sex to. Give your body completely, unfiltered, in memory of me. Don’t flush part of you down the toilet, don’t give your spouse 99%, only all of you will work, otherwise the dignity of the act is compromised. Eating is pleasurable, but if I vomit my food up after eating, that is not good. God has made things pleasurable that are important in the order of creation – and sex is no different. A decision to enjoy the physical pleasures of sex apart from an openness to life has been held to be wrong for that reason since the beginning of the Church. Here is a nice concise listing of the Church’s unbroken line of teaching on this:
"So we get to abortion and contraception. First, yes, contraception reduces abortion rates. See: Shears, K.H., "Increasing contraception reduces abortion", Network: 21(4), 2002; Westoff, "The substitution of contraception for abortion in ...Kazakhstan in the 1990s", DHS Analytical Studies #1, OPC Macro 2000; Rahman M, DaVanto J, Razzaque A, "Do better family planning services reduce abortion in Bangladesh?", Lancet, 2001:358(9287):1051-56.
I don't believe the Church's reason for opposing contraception is to "outbreed" the Muslims -- I'm not really sure what the true reason for sticking so hard to this one is, but I am sure that it is grossly irresponsible. Lack of access to any sort of family planning (and an establishment of moral/social guilt for using family planning) is a major burden on families in the third world, especially women in the third world. Access to contraception, along with education and economic mobility of women, is what allows people to invest more money into fewer children, improving their prospects for the future and limiting the cycle of poverty. While there are examples of large families that are both economically and socially successful (your own comes to mind), that is the exception rather than the norm, especially in the third world and in the poorer parts of the first world. Add to this that the world is already overpopulated; the rate at which we use resources is not sustainable, and as the third world (China/India/etc.) aspires to our standard of living, these resources will be run down even faster. We are 30 years away (or less) from running out of oil that is economically accessible to most of the people in our country. As energy stocks become scarce, so will food (yields depend strongly on fossil energy), and massive conflict, famine, and suffering become inevitable. The way to avoid this is through increased standard of living and fewer resource users -- the first will beget the second, but only so long as family planning is available. I think anyone would agree that contraception is a better form of this than abortion."
The idea that contraception reduces abortions in third world countries is still hotly debated, and the people doing research on both sides are mostly driven by a priori decisions that their way of viewing the issue is correct. What I look to is the example, again, of Mr. Teresa’s sisters work in Africa bringing down the AIDS numbers dramatically – and the numbers of countries where condoms are being pushed have remained unchanged or worsened.
If you are curious in looking at evidence from the other side I would point towards these
http://www.usccb.org/prolife/issues/contraception/index.shtml - great compilation of analysis from doctors on the link between contraception and abortion
http://www.calcatholic.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?id=d9a51aa8-7139-4ddc-a36c-7985744ce6ba an article detailing the Guttmacher Institute’s study on contraception and abortion
I want to include a brief snippet of some of the information that is to be found on the Bishop’s webpage which shows, to me, a very scholarly approach to the issues you raise from the other side
Fact 1. Contraceptive use is already “virtually universal among women of reproductive age,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI) reports that 89% of reproductive-age women already are using contraception and 98% have used it in their lifetime. There are still unintended pregnancies and abortions because with typical use, the risk of pregnancy over 12 months is 9% with oral contraceptives and 15% with condoms. (http://womenshealth.about.com/cs/birthcontrol/a/effectivenessbc.htm.)
Fact 2. Contraceptive researchers and social scientists measuring effectiveness in large-scale studies have reached (often reluctantly) the same conclusion: increased availability of contraception, and even emergency contraception, fails to reduce rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion. Studies examining the impact of emergency contraception
(EC) are reviewed at http://www.u sccb.org/prolife/issues/abortion/FactSheetEC9606.htm. Research in the U.S., Western Europe and China produced remarkable unanimity:
• “No effect on abortion rates was demonstrated with advance provision of EC. … [W]idespread distribution of … EC through health services may not be an effective
way to reduce the incidence of unintended pregnancy” (Glasier et al., Contraception 2004);
• “We did not observe a difference in pregnancy rates. Previous studies also failed to show significant differences in pregnancy or abortion rates among women with advance provision of EC” (Tina Raine et al., JAMA 2005);
• “This study adds to the growing literature casting doubt on the increased use of EC as a quick fix for rising abortion rates” (Hu et al., Contraception 2005);
• “Another commonly held view for which there is no documented evidence is that improving knowledge about and access to Emergency Contraception will
reduce the number of teenage pregnancies. Experience of use so far does not give any evidence of effectiveness” (Williams, Scottish Council on Human Bioethics, 2005).
Even AGI’s own 2006 “Contraception Counts” report, which ranks states on policies improving contraceptive access as well as on abortion rates, shows no correlation between better access to contraception and lower abortion rates. U.S. researcher Douglas Kirby concludes: “Most studies that have been conducted during the past 20 years have indicated that improving access to contraception did not significantly increase contraceptive use or decrease teen pregnancy” (“Reflections on Two Decades of Research on Teen Sexual Behavior and Pregnancy,” 1999 Journal of School Health 3:69).
With regards to the issue of contraception reducing poverty, I can only say that your argument is exactly in line with the work of Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood. Most of her quotations are horrendous, but her work on population control is widely believed to have been embraced by Hitler and others or her time. One of the best talks I’ve ever heard is called Contraception, Why or Why Not, (the talk has sold over 1 million copies) and she goes through and talks about a lot of the issues you’ve raised, and I think you would find it worth wrestling with. Going back to Malthus, the argument has been made that the population is growing geometrically and the resources are growing arithmetically – but this assertion has been proven wrong time and again since then. Aren’t you working on alternative fuels? Don’t you think we’ll find something besides gas in the next 30 years? I do, and I think God will provide, and I don’t think we should do something that is intrinsically wrong because of consequences that we THINK will happen thirty years from now. Also, a lot of the famine that we see is related to war and policies that our government and others have put in place. Everything I’ve ever read or heard is that we posses enough resources in the U.S. to feed and cloth and house the world’s population. Have you seen or heard different?
"But what is the Church's problem with contraception? Is "every sperm sacred", as Monty Python lampooned? What is wrong with sex for sex's sake? I've yet to hear a good answer to this. If the people involved accept the responsibility for the potential consequences (and using contraception is a responsible act to avoid those consequences), what is the harm? Does the church know better than a husband and wife what is right for their marriage? I don't know, but I wouldn't go to a mechanic if I had a heart problem; I'm not going to ask the church what I should do in my sex life, because those issuing decrees don't have sex."
Does every OB/GYN have to have a vagina? JPII said very beautifully in his book titled Love and Responsibility (the best book I’ve ever read), which is all about sex in the eyes of the Church, said in the introduction that although married couples have an infinite depth of knowledge of sex with their spouse, priests also have a different but very important form of reference as well – the thousands and thousands of people who come to confession discussing issues of sexuality and also the millions (or billions) of people through the ages who have said “We, as a couple, have tried other ways and we have tried the Church’s way, and the Church’s way is the truth.” Those two reference points together give me confidence in continuing to talk about sexual things as a virgin priest.
"But I will say one thing -- when you hear something from the Church, ask "why?" I need reasons, solid foundations of thought that stand up to questioning and testing, not assurances or answers."
Wow – pretty bold to say that the Church doesn’t offer that – that it doesn’t offer solid foundations that stand up to questioning. The Church’s teachings HAVE stood up to questioning and testing – our ancestors in the faith have not all been mindless robots
"And I'm likely to meet the first line of reasoning with more questions. These questions bothered me for a long, long time throughout my childhood and young adulthood, and the explanations were just not sufficient."
Again, as a child and teenager, these questions bothered me as well, and the explanations, from my vantage point, were not only not present, they were non-existent. I guess we found answers to our questions in different places – I do mourn the fact that so many of us never heard, in 12 years of Catholic schooling, one reasonable defense of the faith, but instead heard watered down and completely neutered theology. All I can end with, I guess, is that I stand within the Church as a sinner, but nonetheless I’m welcomed, and the answers I find there jive with my reason. I know some will say, as they’ve always said, that an orthodox Catholic is someone who has to have everything spelled out and needs everything black and white and is to mentally deranged to admit that there is gray in life. I think that, personally, is a major cop out. Of course I think there is gray in life – my Dad almost died this Spring, and had he died I would have had no answer as to why that happened. I have no answer as to why most of the world is infinitely poorer than I am, I could go on and on about the things that I DON’T know. For me, there is freedom in the laws of the Church, not the comfort of never having to decide anything for myself, not the comfort that the laws of Judaism provided to the legalistic Pharisees, there is a true freedom I feel when my heart beats in unison with the heart of the Church. As G.K. Chesterton once said about the laws of the Church, “The laws are walls, but they are the walls of a playground.”