Friday, 19 March 2010

Armchair moralising undermines child protection

Quentin de la Bedoyere's portrait of his hands
Quentin de la Bedoyere, who authors a weekly column on ethical and other issues in The Catholic Herald, wrote a feature article for last weekend's Herald which he says that, under the Children, Schools and Families (CSF) bill, Catholic schools
"will remain entirely free to teach full Catholic doctrine".
I have addressed the fallacy of that argument many times in recent blog-posts. Instead I wish to turn readers' attention to the background of Mr de la Bedoyere's article. (I do so in my capacity as a Catholic pro-lifer.)

Mr de la Bedoyere wrote:
  • "[A] new educational approach will bring its own advantage" 
  • "[A] Catholic school ... must also evaluate, with scrupulous fairness, the opposing arguments."
  • "[T]here are alternative views which others hold, and are entitled to hold, even though we may believe them to be mistaken."
Mr de la Bedoyere's idea of education is this area seems remarkably similar to the "values clarification" method, which (as even its inventor now admits and regrets) was invented to eradicate from education any concept of right and wrong, such as the wrongness of abortion or of particular sexual practices.

No one is "entitled to hold" that abortion - the intentional killing of an innocent human being -  is morally permissible. Nor are Catholic schools morally permitted to present arguments in favour of abortion, contraception and homosexuality as if those arguments are equally as valid as pro-life/pro-family values.

Mr de la Bedoyere claims that:
"[T]each[ing] them the facts on contraception ... is general knowledge, not advocacy of a way of life." 
That is only true if the Church's teaching on sexuality is taught, not as general knowledge, but advocated as a way of life - indeed more than that: as a truth to be believed, with an obligation to practice it.

Mr de la Bedoyere asks:
"Do we really put such little trust in our ability to present the Church’s good or in our young’s ability to recognise it? And, if so, what have we been doing as parents?"
The answer is that many Catholic bishops and Catholic schools do not present (or present an erroneous or debased version of) the Church's teaching on pro-life/pro-family issues, and therefore the ability of Catholic pupils and their parents to recognise it is frequently thwarted.

And Mr de la Bedoyere is really plumbing the depths of naivety when he writes about the CSF bill:
  • "There is nothing to lose" 
  • "[W]e can insist that secular schools give an equally balanced account of our views"
  • "[W]e may hope that our judges still remain even handed".
But we don't have to go far to find that Mr de le Bedoyere's ideas about the Church and Catholic doctrine are, shall we say, somewhat unusual:
  • "The history of the Church and sexuality is not edifying." (blog)
  • "[T]he Church appears not to offer, either officially or pastorally, good teaching on the formation of conscience" (blog)
  • "[B]ullying a gay person on the grounds of orientation or lifestyle is a sin against love far greater than any which might be imputed against homosexual acts." (blog)
  • "The ultimate result [of Humanae Vitae] has been high lapsation, few vocations, decreasing Catholic marriage, and abandonment of Confession as a regular sacrament. I would not excuse people for doing this, but I would suggest that the Magisterium has made a big contribution to this sorry situation." (blog)
  • "[T]he Church’s teaching on contraception applies only to marriage" (blog) and "[The Church] makes no statement about the use of contraceptives outside marriage; and that would equally apply to homosexual acts." (blog)
Mr de la Bedoyere's claim (above) about "bullying a gay person on the grounds of orientation or lifestyle" simply doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Even if it may be held that such bullying is driven by anger and hatred and is therefore a mortal sin, homosexual acts are also mortal sins (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2357). It is therfore false that such bullying is "a sin against love far greater than any which might be imputed against homosexual acts." [my emphasis]

Mr de la Bedoyere's last claim (above) - that the Church is silent on the use of contraceptives outside marriage - is simply wrong as a matter of historical fact. Here are some teachings from Church authorities throughout the centuries (my emphases in bold): 
  • St John Chrysostom, Doctor of the Church, A.D. 390, referring to men who use prostitutes: "Why do you sow [w]here there are medicines of sterility? ... [F]or she does not kill what is formed but prevents its formation. What then? Do you condemn the gift of God, and fight with His laws? What is a curse, do you seek as if it were a blessing?" Professor John T. Noonan, author of a famous history of Catholic teaching on contraception, has written about this sermon: "[T]he reason given for condemning contraception is equally applicable whether contraception occurs in fornication or in marriage."
  • St Augustine, Doctor of the Church, A.D. 419: "[I]f he does not control himself, let him enter into lawful wedlock, so that he may not beget children in disgrace or avoid having offspring by a more degraded form of intercourse." (De Conjugiis Adulterinis 2, 12; CSEL 41, 396)
  • St Jerome, Doctor of the Church, A.D. 384: "I cannot bring myself to speak of the many virgins who daily fall...Some go so far as to take potions, that they may insure barrenness." (letter 22 to Eustochium)
  • Second Council of Braga, A.D. 572 : "If any woman...contrives to make sure she does not conceive, either in adultery or in legitimate intercourse...such women and their accomplices in these crimes shall do penance for ten years. (Canon 77; Mansi IX, 858).
  • Decretals of Burchard, an influential collection of canon law, A.D. 1020: "Have you done what some women are accustomed to doing when they fornicate...if they have not yet conceived they contrive not to conceive? If you have done so, or consented to this, or taught it, you must do penance for ten years on legal ferial days." (num. 19; PL 140, 972)
  • Holy Office (now known as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), answer, 1853: "[C]ondomistic copulation [is] a thing intrinsically evil." (Enchiridion Symbolorum Definionum et Declarationum de Rebus Fidei et Morum n.2795, Q.2 and ad 2. ed H. Denzinger, A Schonmetzer, Romae, 1974)
  • The bishops of France, November 1968, pastoral note on Humanae Vitae: "Contraception can never be a good. It is always a disorder..."
  • The bishops of the United States, 1976: "In contraceptive intercourse the procreative or life-giving meaning is deliberately separated from its love-giving meaning and rejected; the wrongness of such an act lies in the rejection of this value." In other words, contraception is wrong in itself, not only in the context of marriage.
    Some Catholic scholars or writers who agree that the contraception outside marriage is wrong, including in the light of the Church's teaching, are:
    In short, the use of contraception in non-marital acts is an aggravation of the principle sin which is non-marital sexual acts.

    May I suggest that the Catholic Herald replaces Mr de la Bedoyere with someone who actually understands, upholds and promotes Catholic teaching on pro-life/pro-family issues? His armchair moralising undermines the protection of both born and unborn children.

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