Practicing Catholicism

As Warren Kinsella says, you’ve hit the big time when somebody starts a blog about you. Mr. Kinsella was kind enough to lend considerable free publicity to a fact-checking blog that sprang up explicitly to keep Warren honest (and which shut down four days later, or so. Warren says he didn’t do anything).

In her second post in her fact check blog (now deleted), Gloria Condy made an interesting link between Warren’s statements on behalf of the Canada Israel Committee, and his stance on same-sex marriage. To start with Warren’s original post:

Full disclosure: while I am a practicing Roman Catholic, I am also - proudly - a member of the board of the Canada Israel Committee.

To which Ms. Condy replies:

I am amazed at Warren Kinsella’s self-identification as a “practicing Catholic”. I find this quite perplexing, considering some of his views are directly opposed to Catholic doctrine… Take for example his open support for gay marriage.

I suppose that’s a gotcha. However, I’m sure that the millions of practising Catholics who attend masses and confessions, who live decent lives, and yet who practise birth control, or who are divorced outside of the Catholic church, or who support the recognition of the legality of same-sex marriage, would be interested to know that somebody wants to knock them into the lapsed category of Catholicism.

Not that they’re strangers to this sort of viewpoint. The Lincoln, Nebraska diocese tried to excommunicate my wife Erin simply because her name was on the membership list of an organization campaigning for the ordination of women within the Church. Fortunately, Erin no longer lived in the Lincoln diocese and was thus not under that bishop’s authority. The Ontario branch of the Church has been much more accommodating to Erin’s liberal views.

But despite the intrusive actions of some conservative members of the Church, the Catholic Church does allow you far more free thought than its critics give it credit for. You catch this, ironically enough, set out implicitly in the hypocrisies of Catholic dogma.

Consider birth control.

The Catholic Church argues that since the major purpose of sex is procreation, then having sex without allowing for the possibility of procreation is a sin. For this reason, using condoms or birth control pills or diaphrams is a sinful act.

But hold on. The Catholic Church encourages married couples to have sex as much as possible, and although they’d like large families, they also talk about sex being one of the strongest symbols of love binding husband to wife (symbolic in the sense that glue is symbolic of stickiness). So, it is perfectly fine for husband and wife to have sex whereever and whenever they please (assuming it’s consentual and in the privacy of their own bedroom) — even and especially during those times in the woman’s cycle where the woman is infertile. See the contradiction?

I like to tell this story of my wife when she went to the Sisters of Mercy (horribly misnamed) Catholic high school in Omaha, Nebraska. For their sex education, the students of this girls-only school were called into assembly and were treated to a speech by a married couple that could have been subtitled: “The Rhythm Method: it really works, here’s how.”

(As an aside, I had the benefits of a public school education, where I was not only told what a condom was, but how to put one on…

They used a banana, you dirty-minded people!)

Erin wanted to know, if using condoms and birth control pills is sinful because it enables you to have sex without an eye to procreation, why is it not sinful for a husband and wife to have sex when the wife is infertile? The Catholic Church heartily endorses the rhythm method and coitus interruptus and a new Sympto-Thermal method (they taught it at my marriage preparation course back in 1998). The latter is a souped-up rhythm method that adds in temperature readings and other medical self-knowledge and which is boasting success rates of upwards of 95%.

Erin wanted to know the reason behind this discrepency, so she asked the woman speaking about it. The woman was not prepared for this deep a question and started sputtering about how there must not be a mechanical barrier in sex and that the couple must always be open to the possibility of procreation and—

At which point Erin burst out in the middle of assembly, saying “let me get this straight: it’s okay because it might fail?”

At which point the assembly ended.

Fellow students congratulated her for days, but at the time Erin was disappointed. She honestly wanted some explanation for the discrepency.

The thing is, the Catholic Church may say that birth control and sex without the intent to procreate is sinful while its actions may show otherwise, but the Catholic Church invented a little thing called Natural Law, which allows individuals to trump Catholic doctrine with a moral choice that’s still legitimate in the eyes of God.

Sure, you have scripture when it comes to shaping the difference between doing the right and the wrong thing, but scripture isn’t the only thing you have. You also have the intellect God gave you. You have your understanding of the natural way of things. And given that nature, being created by God, is ultimately good, sin only comes when you have to twist something against its nature in order to make your decision.

St. Thomas Aquinas said this. And in this respect, he came up with his objective opinion that sex should be codified as remaining within the bounds of matrimony only. Because at the time there was no effective birth control to speak of, and there was a need for children, and the institute of marriage was, by far, the best means with which to raise children.

So, St. Thomas Aquinas said, since the natural purpose of sex is procreation, having sex without the intent to procreate ran counter to nature, and was thus a sin. At the time, it made a lot of sense, but I and plenty of Catholics dispute St. Thomas’ original premise. Sex is more than just a means to have babies; it is also an incredible symbol of love between a man and a woman — possibly the most powerful symbol that can be expressed. God would not have wired us this way if he didn’t intend that bond to be there; if sex were purely about procreation, he would have had us mating in seasons, like almost everything else on the planet.

The problem then is not that people are having sex out of wedlock or are using birth control, the problem is that some people are using sex frivolously. Sex is a gift from God, and should not be used frivolously. Sex is also the best way we know to make a baby, and every time you have sex, you run the risk of creating another human being, who has rights and needs and whose care should be at least partly your responsibility, unless you want to frivolously deny your natural obligations, thus committing another sin.

From this, I say that any couple engaging in sexual activity is not engaging in sinful activity, regardless of their marital status, as long as their actions are bourne out of true and deep love, hurt no one, and accepting the potential consequences, even while not actively trying to have a baby.

With the Catholic Church backing a 95% effective sympto-thermal method of birth control, it’s worth noting that condoms have a 94% success rate — meaning that out of a hundred couples engaging in regular sexual activity over the course of a year, six will be pregnent by the end of that year. Even the pill boasts a 99.9%, rather than a 100% success rate. Short of full abstinance, there is always the possibility of major consequences to your actions, and you’d better be prepared to accept those consequences if you want your love not to be a sin.

But if you are willing to accept the consequences, then using birth control methods such as the condom and the pill is not sinful, even if you use Catholic reasoning and Natural Law to come by your decision.

Extending this matter to homosexuality, it’s worth pointing out that there are examples of homosexual behaviour in animals. Whales and dolphins do it. Now one can argue that human beings are not animals (though I’m unclear on how one can do this without running counter to Natural Law), and we show that humanity by working against our animal urges all of the time, but I point to the question of who does it hurt? What damage does it do? If this act is not unnatural and is between two consenting adults and is bourne out of genuine love, where is the sin?

And how can it be against Catholic teaching to accept a legal contract between homosexual couples under the law when we aren’t asking the Catholic Church to change who they can marry? Does not Jesus say, render unto God what is God’s, and render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s?

It’s also worth noting that Papal Infallibility hasn’t been invoked, here. Although Papal Infallibility is one of the few remaining reasons why Anglicans such as myself aren’t reunited with the Catholic Church, I think it’s significant that the Pope hasn’t come down as hard as he could on the issue of same sex marriage, or the matter of birth control, or even the matter of the ordination of women (though here, paradoxically, he’s pretty close).

Even if he did, at best all he would do is bring about another small schism in the Church. Despite the threat of excommunication in Nebraska, there are still people campaigning there for the ordination of women, and they firmly believe themselves to be Catholic.

Let us return to Natural Law. God gave us our intellect and our individuality. He gave us the ability to make moral judgements, and he gave us the ability to disagree. For this reason, we are not bound to the dictates of an artificial organized religion, and that is a good thing.

Yes, if one pulls far enough from the principles of such an organization, one is better off leaving it. But I have enough trust in a person’s moral judgements regarding the same sex marriage issue that I believe somebody can disagree with the church on that issue and still be a part of it. If you don’t believe so, then go all the way; kick out all the Catholics who are divorced, who have had sex outside of wedlock, or who believe that Mary Magdelene, Phoebe (Romans 16:1-2) and Priscilla (Acts 18:26, 1 Corinthians 16:19, Romans 16:3) are scriptural proof that women can act as priests just as well as men.

I suspect the Catholic Church would suddenly get a lot smaller.

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