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the clash of an idea

By Diogenes (articles ) | Jul 12, 2008

"Debate over 1968 encyclical rages on," reads the headline in today's Boston Globe.

Oh, boy: a debate! The clash of wits, the competition of ideas! Can't wait. Let's get right to the story. After a quick introduction, writer Rich Barlow sets the terms of the debate:

Some contemporary critics of the Vatican's policy contend, for example, that the church could save lives in AIDS-ravaged Africa by relenting on its opposition to condom use.

Traditionalists counter that the pope was prescient in condemning a culture that seems often to treat life as a disposable soda bottle.

Not bad, really. Now let's get a bit deeper into the arguments.

The unfortunately named Stephen Pope of Boston College says that Humanae Vitae is a disaster. Leslie Woodcock Tentler says that most Catholic priests disagreed with the Pope. Gallup and Pew polls reveal that few Catholic couples follow the teaching of the encyclical.

OK, fair enough. Now how about the other side of the debate?

Hang on a minute. First Stephen Pope is back to take a couple more swats at Pope Paul. But then Father Robert Imbelli reports that he actually knows Catholic couples who follow Church teaching! And they like it! Now we're getting to the crux of the debate! And....

Oh, wait. Imbelli is gone. Pope is back. (Stephen Pope, I mean; not the old geezer in Rome.) He is willing to concede, Barlow tells us, that Pope Paul had a useful message about "the inseparability of marriage and love." That's a necessary message today, the BC professor and the Globe ventriloquist tell us, presumably because there are so many voices in today's culture recommending loveless marriage.

Funny: I thought this debate was about contraception. The "inseparability" that Pope Paul highlighted in Humanae Vitae was the natural link between the act of marital love and the process of human procreation. Break that link, the Pope warned, and all hell will break loose in human relationships, as reverence for human life declines. But after that one memorable line about the "disposable soda bottle," we've heard nothing more along those lines.

It's not just that fashionable liberals can't come to terms with the argument of Humanae Vitae. It's that they can't even state the terms of the debate accurately. It would be too embarrassing to revive the old-fashioned idea that the use of the human reproductive system might have something to do with human reproduction. So instead of summarizing Pope Paul's thesis, the squeamish journalist substitutes an inane formula: "the inseparability of marriage and love." Globe readers unfamiliar with the argument of Humanae Vitae-- and that will describe all Globe readers, if the editors have their way-- will nod in agreement that love and marriage go together (I feel a song coming on..), and never learn what the Pope said and why he said it.

Too late now. The debate is over. The defense has rested. Or rather I should say the defense is rested-- which is understandable, since the defense never got out of its chair.

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Show 11 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: - Aug. 02, 2008 9:59 AM ET USA

    The statement "Innocent victims are nothing new to humanity. They will get their justice in the next world," is shamefully callous. If Jesus thought this way, He would have allowed the stoning of the adulterous woman. Are you so virtuous that you are sure you would hop into bed with your spouse knowing it meant certain death and leaving your children orphans? The Church has to offer supportive advice to these women, and as yet, it has not. Don't confuse compassion with emotion - Jesus didn't.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 17, 2008 4:14 PM ET USA

    Emotional reactions to tragic things do not mitigate the seriousness of the immorality of certain activity. The solution is for those violating moral laws to opt to change their ways, not to change the moral prohibition. Since the Church speaks in God's place those who advocate permissiveness are saying in effect that God has made a mistake. Innocent victims are nothing new to humanity. They will get their justice in the next world.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 17, 2008 10:18 AM ET USA

    The observation that African men should stay with their wives is fine, but ignores half the problem. Wives are being infected by their husbands. Many wives die, leaving their children orphans - every Mom's worst nightmare. This is a large part of the argument for condoms. If condoms are wrong, they're wrong. But what is the Church doing to help such women? The Church's message comes across as, "Be a good wife, have sex with your faithless husband, accept your cross, and die."

  • Posted by: - Jul. 14, 2008 5:37 PM ET USA

    This is for peggyann and anyone who is looking for teen resources . As a homeschooler, I started using the Catholicism Series ,which at one time was the only HS series approved by the Catholic Bishops.(www.catholicreplies.com). Theology of the Body for Teens by the Everts (www.AscentionPress.com) is good. Lastly, the DVD What They Didn't Tell You in Sex Ed, or The Biology of the Theology of the Body, CD by Vicki Thorn backs up that good science does not contradict truth.(www.jmjmediagroup.com)

  • Posted by: - Jul. 14, 2008 5:35 PM ET USA

    This is for peggyann and anyone who is looking for teen resources . As a homeschooler, I started using the Catholicism Series ,which at one time was the only HS series approved by the Catholic Bishops.(www.catholicreplies.com). Theology of the Body for Teens by the Everts (www.AscentionPress.com) is good. Lastly, the DVD What They Didn't Tell You in Sex Ed, or The Biology of the Theology of the Body, CD by Vicki Thorn backs up that good science does not contradict truth.(www.jmjmediagroup.com)

  • Posted by: - Jul. 13, 2008 8:33 PM ET USA

    What debate? The defense never got out of its chair, because the priest who was supposed to teach about Humanae Vitae never got into the pulpit. Hello, hello, can you hear me now? hello, hello can you hear me noowooo. helloooooooo! Oh, dear! We were disconnected

  • Posted by: - Jul. 13, 2008 6:11 PM ET USA

    What is the sound of one hand clapping?

  • Posted by: - Jul. 13, 2008 8:29 AM ET USA

    Sex education in Catholic schools (Boston area) for my children consisted of pseudo-anatomy lessons from religion teachers who ignored the reproductive nature of reproductive organs. The lessons focused on understanding and appreciating their "sexuality" and using it to express love. On the positive side, the kids were told that sex was for married people; By leaving out the connection to procreation, and spending so much time saying how wonderful sex is, what's the real message ?

  • Posted by: - Jul. 12, 2008 12:56 PM ET USA

    "Where does one go (or even a group of young people) to gain an in-depth knowledge"? http://www.catholiceducation.org/

  • Posted by: - Jul. 12, 2008 11:56 AM ET USA

    It would take a satirist with gifts surpassing mine, but can someone give us the conversation between two African gentlemen about to visit a house of ill repute, perhaps even engaging in adultery, who then decide not to use condoms because to do so would be at odds with their Catholic faith? If they were such scrupulous Catholic gentlemen they would be at home with their wives or proposing to their chaste girlfriends. This kind of "argument" treats Africans as if they were moral cretins.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 12, 2008 11:17 AM ET USA

    I am constantly coming across articles arguing against the liberal points of view concerning same-sex marriage, babies out of wedlock, abortion, etc. including arguments for and against sex education. Is there such a thing as sex education in our Catholic schools? Is part of that education learning about Natural Family Planning? Why is it so difficult to find even on Catholic websites, even a hint of it? Where does one go (or even a group of young people) to gain an in-depth knowledge of sam

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