A few days ago I came across a challenging post by an old friend on Facebook claiming a woman’s right to free birth control. I engaged the issue with her for a bit and ended up in the middle of a female comment-ambush from her other friends (if you know how Facebook works). My only support came from a guy who clicked “like” on one of my comments and then disappeared.
Defending the Church’s teaching on contraception can be a lonely venture given that the Church herself is alone amongst other Christian religions in this regard, and within the Church, opposition and rejection of the doctrine is so endemic that the faithful remnant who adhere to it are regularly forced to creatively respond to ridicule, e.g. “Don’t you know what causes that?” (A common slur, albeit usually friendly, whenever it is learned that one has more than two or three children, or you are expecting...“Again!”)
Perhaps Exhibit A of just how leprous this issue is, is the current insistence that the opposition to the Obama mandate is not about contraception but about religious liberty and rights of conscience. Hmmm. Perhaps this is why the episcopal roar sounds no louder than a squeak to the otherwise-occupied Obama. The fact is that the only thing that makes this an issue of religious liberty, is not THAT the government is telling us what to do, but WHAT the government is telling us to do.
Churches are forced to obey civil mandates all the time on such things as building, safety, and health regulations. We don’t complain that our religious liberty is being violated because our church is forced to comply with these things, so why are we complaining about the contraceptive mandate? Answer: Because either through payment for health insurance or the fine that would be levied in the absence of insurance IT FORCES US TO MATERIALLY PARTICIPATE IN AN INTRINSICALLY EVIL ACT!
No, not just something morally objectionable, morally problematic, or against our beliefs - milquetoast terms which have been used to characterize the dilemma. No, the term is “intrinsic evil”. Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2370: "...every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible" is intrinsically evil...”
The only thing that justifies our complaint against Obama’s assault on religious liberty is the objective fact that contraceptive acts are intrinsically evil and not just intrinsically evil for Catholics, but intrinsically evil for everyone. The Catholic Church possesses the fullness of truth and if the Catholic Church teaches that an act is intrinsically evil then it is always evil for all people in all times and all places, period. And we need to say so.
If we don’t believe that then we might as well turn in our missalettes and head down the street to the First Church of What’s Happening Now where if we don’t like what Pastor Billy Joe Jim Bob is preachin’ we can fire him and hire Pastor Feelgood and contracept in peace. (Forgive my brief flight into metaphor.)
Intrinsic evil is a 10 on the 1 to 10 scale of evil. Not even homosexual acts rate a 10 as the Catechism categorizes those as only “intrinsically disordered” (CCC 2357), presumably a notch or two below a 10. Intrinsic evil puts any act that intentionally renders procreation impossible in the same category as procured abortion: always and everywhere GRAVE SIN and under no circumstance can be ever justified. With such clear teaching, one wonders how so many Catholics seem to either not know about it or not care.
Ironically, the very issues the bishops are arguing with Obama about, religious freedom and conscience rights, are the very concepts many Catholics use (albeit mistakenly) to justify their disregard for the very doctrine the bishops appear to be desirous of protecting: many Catholics simply feel that as matter of “freedom of conscience” and “religious liberty”, they are free to make up their own minds about birth control. In fact, some of us are even told to do so (as I was).
How this errant idea of conscience came to dominate the modern Catholic mind is a question we seriously need to engage given its ubiquity and the institutionalized debauchery (as predicted by Paul VI) it has wrought, not to mention the mockery it makes of the marriage vow and the consequent desecration of sacramental family life! We once again have to ask: “How did we get here?”
Father John O’Malley gives us a clue in “What Happened at Vatican II” wherein he recounts the titanic struggle at the Council over the unleashing of the idea of religious liberty, something actually previously condemned by the Church.
Many bishops warned that despite the caveat noting that religious liberty, as put forth in the document Dignitas Humanae, applied ONLY to religious immunity from governmental coercion, the very notion of religious freedom, untethered from its very narrow traditional moorings, would lead to the privatization of conscience where one would perceive a license to pick and choose one’s doctrines and eventually one’s church, or even no church at all. Sound familiar?
So while the document’s authors attempted to take great care in not letting the noble idea of religious liberty devolve into personal license, and while its defenders continue to sincerely insist that the idea of religious liberty as put forth by the Council brooked no rupture with the past, we simply have what we have: Catholics who see no problem with abortion, contraception, same-sex marriage, and a take it or leave it attitude about the sacraments, all of whom yet believe they are going straight to heaven because Jesus loves them “just the way they are.”
From the moment Dignitas Humanae was propagated, a defense of the document was needed. Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI have all attempted to show that the misapplication of religious liberty was due to a problem with its interpretation, not the teaching itself.
Benedict XVI, seeing clearly the rent in the church, both in the consequent abdication of moral teaching and the split with certain traditionalists (SSPX) with whom he is attempting to reconcile, has admitted that there is “some kind of discontinuity” in the religious liberty of Vatican II versus the religious liberty of Pius IX, but believes that the key to continuity lies in the application of the the proper hermeneutic. And of course he is correct. But meanwhile, we have a problem. A big one. And Obama has socked us right between the hermeneutic.
So what now? We are at the precipice of where forty plus years of an errant and mostly-tolerated idea of religious liberty has brought us. To win this one the bishops need their troops, but the troops are depleted, ironically by the very thing they are trying to protect: religious liberty. Religious liberty, or more correctly, the perceived idea of it, has led to both a radical depletion in family size and a mass exodus from the one, true Church. The pews are more than half empty, and the few who are left have probably never heard the words “intrinsic evil”, at least not in the same sentence with birth control.
A loss for our church leadership on this one is more than just the loss of a religious exemption. It will be a malignant manifestation of the very thing Dignitias Humanae was supposed to prevent: coercion of religion by the state. And once the state can coerce religion, then history shows that the tyrannical repression of religious people themselves is only a few short steps away.
Make no mistake, the crippling of church, and the Catholic Church in particular, is always the first step towards totalitarianism. Thus spake Karl Marx: “The first requisite for the happiness of the people is the abolition of religion.” And we have already seen how that has worked out.
In a recent interview with Vatican Radio, Bishop Robert Morlino of Wisconsin said of the Obama administration’s assault on religious liberty: “If they can do it to Catholics, they can do it to anybody.” Morlino’s warning was reminiscent of the famous statement attributed to Martin Niemoller about the unchallenged Nazi rise to power, which is here, paraphrased:
First they came for the Catholicsand I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Catholic.Then the came for the (next target group)and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a (member of said target group)Then they came for the (next target group)and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a (member of said target group)Then they came for meand there was no one left to speak out for me.
Don’t think it can happen in America? Then consider the ominous prediction of the Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Francis George, in response to the growing viciousness against the Catholic Church in America: “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison, and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.”
Depending on what happens in November of 2012, it may not even take that long.