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Wednesday, May 15 2002

Dogmas IV - birth control and divorce

It's my impression—my personal outsider's opinion—that several Roman Catholic dogmas—banning artificial birth control and divorce—tend to weaken the commitment of the laity as well as clergy because they're unrealistic in their expectations of human nature and because of that they are widely ignored by typical Catholics and can't realistically be "enforced." Futhermore, because they are dogmas similar in kind to prohibitions of gay sex and general fornication, if there is ambiguity about dogmas about birth control and divorce, that ambiguity makes the church's disapproval of gay sex and fornication seem murky or ambiguous, too.

And my guess is that, in the minds of many of the priests who've engaged children and adolescents sexually (even those who've had affairs with women), the maelstrom over these issues causes them to look for "wiggle room" or easy absolution from their confessors (which apparently in the past they have received) when they sin (or have sinned) in such ways.

Both studies using polling techniques and population samples and simple observation of population patterns since Vatican II (c. 1963) find that the the vast majority of serious Catholics in the West, and possibly the whole world, virtually ignore the ban on artificial birth control. Whether they entirely ignore it or observe it to the extent of identifying it as a sin that has to be confessed and then is easily absolved, I don't know (though there are, no doubt, studies of that question).

Likewise, the dogma banning divorce by Catholics, though more complicated, has become almost a source of mockery of the dogma and the church, when decades-old marriages with children and grand-children produced are annulled, declared to have never happened, to accommodate a spouse or, in some cases, both spouses, who want to be faithful to the church even if they've found it impossible to be faithful to their marriage vows. Virtually as many Catholic marriages are annulled by the church and granted civil divorces as those ending in divorce in Protestant and Eastern Orthodox marriages.

Like the dogma discussed yesterday (prohibiting marriage for priests), no other Christian communion (neither Protestantism or Orthodoxy) takes a dogmatic stance on artificial contraception or civil divorce. Perhaps the preponderance of Protestants writing on the issue consider artificial contraception a blessing and among Orthodoxy there is some counsel against practicing it, but the church's attitude is one of non-interference in the lives of members who have no personal conflict over it. Virtually all consider divorce a sin, a missing of the mark, but unlike Catholics, neither Protestants nor Orthodox excommunicate those who eventually end their marriages, especially if they are trying to be faithful to Christ and the faith community.

It's human nature, even though most consider it wrong, to compare oneself with one's peers. If I as an RC priest give easy absolution for married couples flouting the contraception guidelines, or the hierarchy gives easy annulments to those who've been living as man and wife, in violation or at least reinterpretation of their marriage vows, why should I not be allowed to enjoy some latitude in my ordination vows? Why should I be deprived of human physical intimacy? My guess is this is a significant factor in what's been happening. What's your take?

Ironically, while I was preparing today's entry, I received the latest Catholicity newsletter by Bud Macfarlane, which entirely coincidentally takes up today's two "dogmas" (birth control and divorce) but, understandably, comes to much different conclusions. If you'd like to get a Catholic apologetic take on these topics, check his latest letter, here. Scroll down to the paragraph beginning 3.

—Webmaster Jon Kennedy

Democrats do it, too

Ann Coulter, author of a book intended to disclose lies the mass media present about American conservatives, defends President Bush and other Republicans (Dan Quayle?) who have been accused of intelligence gaps by citing embarrassing but rarely quoted goofs made by the Democratic opposition. For example...

Bill Clinton: "This is still the greatest country in the world, if we just will steel our wills and lose our minds."

—Reported by Matt Drudge

Thought for the day

Kindness is the noblest weapon to conquer with.


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