Monday, September 13, 2010

The Catholic Route to Birth Control

"Ego te absolvo."

H/t Illigitimi non carborundum

The following article was written by Sandro Magister, a respected Catholic writer for Chiesa expressonline the other day, and gives some of the history of the birth control CRISIS that we have faced in Catholicism for what is actually longer than the sexual revolution of the 60's.

Humanae Vitae is a wonderful teaching on human sexuality, and openness to life, unless of course it challenges your own view of sexuality.  Unfortunately, the attitude that existed prior to its writing has continued to permeate the faith of the Church, and so the encyclical has been viewed as an archaic view of what sex is for.  I remember when HV came out thinking that the Pope was out of touch, since HV deals with sex as being out of context except in a marriage and where there is respect for the transmission of life.  Lest anyone have any doubts or even care about my position on the matter, I was wrong, seriously wrong.

However, I was not alone, and the priests and many of the leaders of the Church did not really know how to balance the faith, and the sexual revolution, such that they could keep Catholics at home in the Church.  The result is that a lot of Catholics have left the practice of the faith, many for other churches, and many for inertia.  Really, the laity were lied to often, more so by silence than by actual words.

In a series of communications I had the other day with a Catholic young man that I know, we were discussing a deception that occurred in our communication.  It struck me that there had been a deception, and I called him on it.  He replied with acknowledgement of what had happened, and an apology.  I responded forgiving him.  In that note to him I indicated that it is more difficult to be honest than not, by which I meant that we so often tell people what we think they want to hear, rather than the real unvarnished truth.  Of course, once an untruth has been perpetrated, then it gets to be harder to come back to the truth, and the lie takes on a life of its own.

The path of human sexuality in recent times has been fraught with lies and deceptions that have been put forth by those who have an interest in perpetuating them, either those who have no control over their own sexuality and do not wish to exercise control, or by those who stand to profit from immoral sexuality working its way into the main stream.

So, here is an article displaying how small deceptions of the faithful by priests who were afraid to speak only the truth, led to a decline in faith.  The easy route turned out to be fraught with lies and deceptions.
The Church forbids contraceptive methods. But it has always been more indulgent in the confessional, not only today but also in the past. Here is what priests did in the first half of the twentieth century, in one of the most Christianized areas of Italy  
by Sandro Magister

ROME, September 8, 2010 – It is believed to be one of the most reliable proofs of the relentless advance of secularization: the contrast thought to have been created between Church teaching on contraception and the actual behavior of the population, including observant Catholics.

In reality, the divergence between the teaching, for example, of "Humanae Vitae" and the contraceptive practices in use among the faithful is by no means a new development in recent decades.

A divergence just as wide existed a long time ago, and even in places of widespread Christian belief and the generalized practice of the sacraments.

One of these "study cases" is the Veneto region during the first half of the twentieth century. Rural Veneto was at the time the most Catholic region in Italy, with an extremely solid, grassroots presence of the Church.

But even in Veneto in the first half of the twentieth century – where almost everyone went to Mass on Sundays and to confession at least once a year – the birth rate was cut in half in the span of one generation. It went from 5 children per woman in 1921 to 2.5 children per woman in 1951 because of generalized recourse to contraceptive practices, the most widespread of which was coitus interruptus.

A book has been released that analyzes and thoroughly explains for the first time – with documents never studied before – why the Church did not stop the spread of contraception even in "friendly" territory like Veneto in the early twentieth century.
The author of the book is Gianpiero Dalla Zuanna, professor of demography at the University of Padua.

The documents he has taken into examination for the first time – and published in a painstaking translation from the original Latin – belong to two segments.

In the first segment are the cases of morality discussed in the periodical "gatherings" of the priests of the diocese of Padua between 1916 and 1958. In these "gatherings" – four per year in the countryside, and eight per year in the cities – the diocese presented cases to the priests of each zone, asking them to submit solutions in writing. After a few months, the correct answer was printed in the official bulletin of the diocese, written by a professor of moral theology at the seminary.

In the second source are the answers from priests to a question about birth control, on the occasion of a pastoral visit made to the diocese between 1938 and 1943 by the bishop of Padua, Carlo Agostini.

The cases examined in the "gatherings," 23 of which concerned contraception, were used to ascertain the guidelines that the diocese gave to priests entrusted with the care of souls.

The answers given at the pastoral visit were used, on the other hand, to determine how the priests actually dealt with their faithful. The question about contraception, in fact, asked them to indicate "if the faults involving the limitation of offspring are being carefully combated."
So then, one constant guideline emerges from the solutions given by the diocese of Padua to cases of morality regarding contraception: that of employing the "theory of good faith" taught by Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori. According to this theory, in the presence of a penitent who is suspected of committing contraceptive actions but appears unaware of the gravity of the sin and in practice incapable of correcting his behavior, it is best to respect his silence and take his good faith into account, absolving him without posing any further questions.

The Liguorian theory was dominant for many decades, not only in the seminaries and in the care of souls, but also in the guidelines given by the Holy See in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It even appeared in the code of canon law of 1917, in force until 1983, which said at canon 888: "The priest who hears confessions should be very careful not to pose curious and useless questions, especially concerning the sixth commandment, to anyone with whom he deals, and particularly not to ask younger persons about things of which they are unaware."

Not only in the confessional, but also in the pulpit priests were urged to be cautious, prudent, reserved on these matters. In rare instances it was suggested that men and women be spoken with separately.

A change took place in 1931 with the publication by Pius XI of the encyclical "Casti Connubii." From then on, at the behest of the hierarchy, conjugal morality became a bigger part of preaching. And therefore the room for inculpable ignorance was reduced. A few priests wrote about this: once it has been said in public what is good and what is evil between spouses, "good faith can no longer be admitted."
But decades of silence, interpreted by most of the faithful as consent to their contraceptive practice, had left its mark. In their answers to the question about birth control – a dozen years after "Casti Connubii" – some priests recognized that their preaching on this matter made no impression: "We are in front of a wall that seems unassailable." And another wrote: "Even seemingly good persons cannot be persuaded."
In the meantime, in Catholic Veneto the birth rate had fallen to levels near zero growth (and in the last decades of the twentieth century, they would end up well below it). But the distance between Church teaching and the use of contraceptives continues to be perceived by most of the population as neither a sin nor a rebellion.
Even afterward – and this brings us up to today – the condemnation of contraceptives would be the subject of papal documents, but already at the level of the bishops it would hardly appear in preaching. The clergy, for their part, would be almost completely silent on it. And would continue to be very understanding and indulgent in the confessional.

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