Letters to the Editor
FAITH Magazine May-June 2006
The Truth will set you Free
Dear Father Editor,
Congratulations on your new feature: The Truth will set you free. Your handling of the thorny issue of the Church’s teaching on marriage, sex and procreation was full of subtle insights, pastoral sensitivity and useful information.
Forgive me, therefore, for pulling you up on one small but rather critical error of fact that occurred in the first footnote to the article. The contraceptive known as the diaphragm (or ’Dutch Cap’) is not abortifacient in any way. It is a simple barrier method of sperm control.
The Intrauterine Device (IUD),on the other hand, is quite intentionally lethal in its action on the developing embryo. A graphic example of its function came to light not long ago when I was offering a pregnancy test and counselling to a young married mother) who was concerned about the IUD inserted into her womb some months previously. It was causing her monthly periods to be delayed and far heavier than normal, and she was very worried that she might actually be conceiving, and losing, a baby every month. Moreover, she regarded her G.P’s advice, that it was “psychologically better” for her not to think of the IUD in this way, as patronising and an insult to her intelligence. When she came to see me, her period was again a week overdue. The pregnancy test showed positive. Shocked and angry, she rushed back to her G.P. and had the IUD urgently removed. A hospital scan later revealed that she was carrying twin boys, who were eventually delivered, safe and sound, into her welcoming arms. She was fortunate indeed. In her case the Truth not only set her free, but saved the lives of two, at least, of her beloved children.
EDITORIAL COMMENT: Thank you. Our website version has the corrected version of the footnote.
Dear Father Editor,
I hope you are now settled into your editorship and enjoying it. You are certainly maintaining the high standards of Fr Patrick Burke. My point in writing is to raise three points regarding the article under the heading 'The Truth will set you free'.
Firstly, I am not clear as to the target of the article: is it an outline for priests to draw on for sermons or a self-standing exposition of the Church's teaching for lay people to read? Or perhaps it is both? It seems to me that it is too complicated as it stands and for the ordinary 'man in the pew' it needs to be broken down further. My cousin, the late Fr John Ramsay used to say that in a sermon one can make a maximum of three points and can talk for a maximum of ten minutes before loosing the audience; he actually recommended five minutes or less and normally spoke for three to five minutes himself!
My second point, and the one that prompted this letter, is that I do not understand the exemptions in footnote one. They seem to go directly against the basic teaching that you quote in the introductory remarks: " ... the doctrine that artificial contraception is against the natural moral law" and the whole tenor of Fr Dylan James and Luke Gormally's articles earlier on. Can you explain, please?
Thirdly, footnote four brings up the question of the Eucharistic fast. I'm afraid that this opens another can of worms as many Catholics today just do not know the rules so that to raise it here would be to introduce the need for a further talk on it. By way of example my sister-in-law is convinced and will not be persuaded otherwise that there is no fast; I think a nun told her when she was at school in the heady days immediately post-Vatican II.
Fra Freddy Crichton-Stuart
EDITORIAL COMMENT: (not final published one)
- The article in question, in its original form, was four separate leaflets issued over four weeks in the parish context.
- Subject to the correction made in the previous letter the point being made by the article when it refers to footnote one is this: if one spouse immorally and with some aggression uses a barrier method of contraception this does not necessarily mean that the other person’s cooperation with the marital act is immoral. The latter spouse is not necessarily responsible for the former’s immorality or for repulsing every approach of their contracepting spouse.
- Our footnote four simply highlights the relevant truth concerning fasting. We did not discuss gravity or culpability of those who ignore it. See the Catechism paragraph 1387 for more information.
Pregnancy as Marital Fulfillment
Dear Fr. Editor,
Thank you for a very interesting March-April issue.
As the mother of a fairly large family, I found in it a lot of inspiration and much needed comfort. We can associate with some of Fiorella Nash’s experiences of pregnancy in modern England. Also my husband and I are often at the centre of arguments on sexual morality, sometimes with family and friends, sometimes strangely enough with people we have only just been introduced to.
The fact that we have many children seems to be just excuse to inquire about our intimate life, like whether we know about contraception, or to assume we are fanatics, or to make a few jokes. Even though we should be used to it by now, we can’t always think of a simple answer that is both true and charitable. The truth can seem complex. But as your editorial brings out our world suffers from the complexities of being fallen.
Whilst we don’t particularly find fault in the lives of those we meet at the school gate or in the office corridor they often seem to find clever objections to our lifestyle. We are the ones who must justify ourselves. Imagine being asked detailed questions about your financial capacity whilst standing on the pavement kerb by a mother whose only link with you is the fact the her Johnny is in your class.
Here’s a few other questions we’ve fielded:
If contraception is usually wrong, is it always wrong. Thanks to Fr Dylan James for helping us with that one and other interesting issues.
Is the prophylactic use of condoms the same as the artificially contraceptive use? That one often comes up in relation to Aids and African countries. Luke Gormally’s gives a very clear if somewhat graphic answer.
Is holding back one’s fertility morally more wrong than holding back on other aspects of our loving, as nobody is perfect?
I also liked the introduction of the shorter articles (as my attention span is not what it used to be, blame it on the kids!).
I especially enjoyed Fr. Timothy Russ’s article on the finality of marriage. Sometimes the hardest question to answer at point blank range is how many children are we planning on having? To paraphrase Timothy Russ, “marriage is more than a matter of rational collaboration, it is the recognition that we are dealing with God’s plan, with something bigger than we first understand.”
Testimony to True Love
Dear Father Editor
Thank you for the last issue of Faith . It was humiliating for me some twenty years ago to discover how misleading our mixed up feelings really are. With the help of prayer and debates I learnt that while sexual activity arouses and exchanges feelings, it's only focussing upon the twin ideas of Creator and procreation which frees us for loving union and communion. When we're influenced by these two deep truths of conscience our feelings are astonishingly changed from being egocentric into joyful, more enduring peace which gravitates around and unites with others. Agape magnificently transforms Eros . In bewilderment I was forced to change my former rather compromising outlook.
Percival Lowell once said that the greatest disappointment in making a discovery is at first to find so many not believing you. Cardinal Ratzinger (as he was at the time), the late Father Edward Holloway and two former seminary professors were among a few who encouraged me to continue writing.
Love is our greatest need whatever our sexual tendencies, married, single or celibate. For each of us, it's only generated by these twin concepts, breathing in deeply the Gospel and Humanae Vitae (1968). Since the Fall, Eros deeply hungers and thirsts for Agape .
There's more to say and ask but in trying to live by this on the way to eternal life, we find answers and spiritual rewards more in the region of a hundredfold. The tango of Agape with Eros can only lead to amazing, astonishing love. Recalling tragic experiences of broken vows, if for no other reason, it's vital to keep up the testimony - welcome or unwelcome.
Fr Bryan Storey.
Tintagel Catholic Church
Dear Fr. Editor,
The recent articles on artificial contraception were too theoretical, full of stale Thomism and were of little relevance to a practising Catholic layperson.
The point, which seems to be ignored, is the terrible damage done to a healthy Catholic sexual morality by the Jansenists in the 17th and 18th centuries. Their arrival at Maynooth in the 1790’s injected a poison into Irish and British Catholicism from which it has never recovered. This has caused many unfortunate scruples to which the letters page of the Universe, for instance gives witness. Sometimes every sexual misdemeanour is seen as a mortal sin. Unfortunately poor old St. Augustine is always unfairly blamed.
We need of course to remember that though any sex outside of heterosexual marriage is gravely wrong you must have full knowledge and free consent in order for this to become a mortal sin. Otherwise impossible expectations are laid upon people.
Regarding artificial contraception the ideas of primary and secondary ends result in theological conundrums and are meaningless to married couples who cannot have children. In this area, as in others, a better approach would be to show the damage artificial contraception causes such as increased immorality, strains on marriage due to impossible demands regarding sexual gratification, increased abortion, legitimisation of homosexuality, sexualization of children, procreation without sex (e.g. IVF) and the moral decline and confusion experienced by protestant churches since they allowed artificial contraception.
Evolution and Natural Theology
Dear Father Editor,
Congratulations on your excellent editorials. I would like to make two observations on the theory of evolution. How do we explain in terms of evolution the fact that God arranged for Adam not to die? Surely this goes against the process of evolution as his ancestors would all have died while Adam only died as a result of original sin. It seems probable that evolution is responsible for the doctrine of original sin being discarded by many in the Church and it is taught in “Here I Am” as sin in general and “Icons” gives it very short shrift.
My second point is to make the distinction between micro and macro- evolution. There is no problem with micro- evolution which has been demonstrated in laboratories testing mutations in the fruit fly and significantly a fruit fly still remained a fruit fly at the end of the experiments. However there appears to be no factual evidence for macro-evolution that is in the strict scientific sense. Weiz and Keogh state: “Science is useless as a tool to discover or evaluate any truth that cannot be tested experimentally.” Instead in macro-evolution we have theories, hypotheses, educated guesses, speculations, assumptions, extrapolations and non scientific words such as random and chance. “There is no problem in considering these projections for what they are as long as they do not sneak into the false clothing of a fact.” (Bonner). So I am saying that macro-evolution may be true but we cannot be dogmatic about it as it is a theory not a fact.
It has been said that science will eventually point to the existence of God. Meanwhile miracles can be tested in laboratory conditions. For example Madame Bire who was blind regained her sight at Lourdes although her optic nerve was still withered and the cloak bearing the picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe was also tested under laboratory conditions. Both are totally inexplicable by science. These and the miracle of Fatima demonstrate that the laws of nature have been suspended and the only person who could do this is their Creator. Rather than saying evolution is true and seeing how God can fit in, should we not say God exists and let us demonstrate how He could use evolution to bring about His creation.
EDITORIAL COMMENT (not final published one)
1. The human species, the only one with a spiritual soul, is, as fulfilled by the Incarnation, the purpose of creation in our theology, The breakdown of the individual physical thing is part of the dynamic of evolution across time as it aims at its goal. Christian tradition witnesses to the fact that it was not meant to be part of the human life cycle. Sin has intrinsically wounded our constitution, and so our orientation to Life in God through Christ. To some extent our physical bodies revert to the purely relative state of matter in its pre-human state, in its ‘woundedness’ it actually falls ‘below’ the harmony of animal life. Death and corruption become part of our lot, necessary now before we can be fully reintegrated, body and soul into our original dignity and destiny.
2. Experimental knowledge is one very powerful form of disciplined observation upon which humans reflect and infer. This general epistemological process does not support a radical division between micro and macro evolution. The interconnectedness of all is profoundly supported by numerous areas of human observation, and is profoundly supportive of the Existence of God.
3. This normal, natural reflection upon God's natural revelation is the basis of human knowledge. It is in this context that miraculous events and their accompanying revelations make sense.