Rebuilding After the Collapse of Catholic Conviction

April 2011By Kenneth D. Whitehead

Kenneth D. Whitehead is the author, most recently, of Mass Misunderstandings: The Mixed Legacy of the Vatican II Liturgical Reforms (St. Augustine’s Press, 2009); The New Ecumenism: How the Catholic Church After Vatican II Took Over the Leadership of the Worldwide Ecumenical Movement (St. Paul’s/Alba House, 2009); The Renewed Church: The Second Vatican Council’s Enduring Teaching About the Church (Sapientia Press, 2009); and Affirming Religious Freedom: How Vatican Council II Developed the Church’s Teaching to Meet Today’s Needs (St. Paul’s/Alba House, 2010).

Much has been made of the fact that Catholic politicians and public figures who favor abortion are able to pass themselves off as “good Catholics” while, judged by the standard of Church teaching, they are engaged in formal cooperation with evil. The U.S. Catholic bishops have not failed to make it clear that enabling the performance of abortions by legislative votes or judicial decisions is gravely immoral. Yet these same bishops have been reluctant to impose on these pro-abortion Catholic public figures any penalties or sanctions, such as denying them access to Holy Communion. In the absence of any such penalties, these public figures maintain the pretense, both in the public mind and apparently in their own minds, that they remain Catholics in good standing. They are not, however, alone in their delusion.

The sad reality is that today’s pro-abortion Catholic politicians have been accustomed to seeing others in line for Holy Communion who do not always and invariably follow Church teachings on other serious issues. They too are regarded as Catholics in good standing despite the fact that they have abandoned Church teaching. It is common knowledge, for example, that the Church teaches that the use of contraception is morally wrong. Yet contemporary polls consistently also show that more than eighty percent of Catholic married couples — to speak only of those who are married! — use contraception.

Here, then, is a case where large numbers of Catholics, perhaps even a majority of them, are clearly not following the teaching of the Church. Yet there is no call for Holy Communion to be denied to them. For the most part, what amounts to mass disobedience to the teaching of the Church is scarcely ever noted but just seems to be taken for granted as the way things are today. It is true that these contracepting Catholics in the pews are generally not public figures, and so the scandal of their disobedience is not the same as that provoked by the spectacle of prominent Catholic public figures who are advocates for abortion. Nevertheless, the disconnect between what the Church teaches and what many Catholics are generally doing is glaring. How did we come to this sorry state?

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At a NOR Meetup in Boston last evening we discussed this article and I suggested that many married middle class Catholics use artificial means to limit the number of children because we live in a culture in which not to limit the number of children is a seen as a foolish and irresponsible act. Certainly there is selfishness, but there is also a sentiment arising from a mistaken sort of selflessness that says, "Yes, we'd love to have more children but it would be unfair to the few we have who need our limit financial resources to put them through college." What is needed is support for families to enable them to care for more children. Look at who has large numbers of children in America: it is groups such as Hasidic Jews, break-away Later-Day Saints groups (who practice plural marriage), and other "fringe" groups that choose to live in ghettos where traditional families enjoy the support of the entire local community. When Catholics still followed the Church's teaching they, in many cases, still lived in the old ethnic neighborhoods, essentially Catholic ghettos. It is no coincidence that rise in use of artificial contraception was coincident with the flight to the suburbs (ironically, often done so "the children will have a better place to grow up"). Posted by: trumbulld
April 20, 2011 04:50 PM EDT
Mr. Whitehead sounds a positive note in his article and one can only hope that it is true that “a new course has been set for the Church in America.” In the US today, the Church can and must be a radically counter-cultural institution. There is no better way to ensure that mission than by restoring and emphasizing the consistent teaching of the Church against artificial contraception and proclaiming it boldly to US Catholics as well as the society at large.

The use of artificial contraception enslaves us and our children. It is the “gateway drug” to the addiction of the sexual revolution.

It hardly seems plausible that Catholics would become ghettoized and that all Catholic parents would be forced to have 14 kids. The church teaching on marriage and the family is beautiful and ennobling, not punitive, and it allows for Natural Family Planning. It is the one sure way to begin the long overdue counterrevolution against the decadence and selfishness which are overwhelming the US and other Western countries.

Doug Fuda
Boston NOR Meetup
Posted by: dougfuda
May 02, 2011 05:25 AM EDT
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