Wednesday 21 April 2010

Archbishop Vincent Nichols goes along with prevailing ideas on sex and relationships education

On 4 April I gave my initial reaction to an interview on BBC WM (West Midlands) radio with Vincent Nichols, the Catholic archbishop of Westminster (pictured with Ed Balls, secretary of state for children, schools and families, and Oona Standard, head of the Catholic Education Service.) I offered up my Easter Triduum in reparation for his comments in that interview and said that I would write more fully about it. Here are my more detailed reflections on it.

Sex education

Archbishop Nichols said:
  • "[T]he [government's external steering] review [of sex education] is [sic] trying to set sex education much more in the context of relationships, therefore much more in a moral context...."
  • "We have secured the right that sex and relationships education in a Catholic school will be presented in a way that’s consistent with Catholic teaching."
Archbishop Nichols paints the government's intentions, the review and the Children, Schools and Families bill in an entirely positive light, when all those things enable the promotion and facilitation of abortion, contraception and homosexuality in schools, including Catholic schools. He seems not to have been correctly advised, or advised himself, that the government’s intentions were to impose an obligation on all schools to teach children that choices for abortion and contraception are reasonable choices, and to promote homosexuality as a normal, healthy life-style. The Gospel of Life requires bishops to teach that no one has a moral right to choose something which is morally wrong. Furthermore, Pope John Paul II, the great pro-life champion, teaches in paragraph 97 of Evangelium Vitae that it is an illusion to think that we can build a true culture of human life if we do not offer adolescents and young adults an authentic education in sexuality, and in love, and the whole of life according to their true meaning and in their close interconnection. The effect of the Archbishop’s positive assessment of the government’s intention where sex education is concerned is to assist and promote the government's anti-life/anti-family sex education agenda and seriously to undermine the culture of life.


Archbishop Nichols said:
  • "[If] sex is not open to transmission of life ... then we run the risk of reducing it to an entertainment, or a past-time, or simply a pleasure. Now, I know that's a high ideal, and I know that that's sometimes hard to relate into the harsh circumstances of poverty, or, I think, the rather blind circumstances of hedonism and just the pursuit of pleasure..."
  • "I think when it comes to Third World poverty, and the great pressure into which many women are put by men, I can see the arguments why, in the short-term, means that give women protection are attractive.”
  • "The use of condoms doesn't lack for champions; there are plenty of champions around giving and distributing condoms. I don't think it's the Church's role simply to add its voice to that but rather, in contrast, to keep saying, 'If we solve the poverty then consistently we know the birth-rate comes down.'"
  • "They are the radical issues that we should be addressing and not short-term intrusive fixes."
Presenting the Church's teaching on contraception as a ‘high ideal’ is seriously inadequate and therefore seriously misleading. He is obligated, by his office, to affirm and promote the Church's teaching that contraception is not just a high ideal but something that is intrinsically wrong. I have blogged before about the importance of Humanae Vitae for the pro-life movement - and how another English bishop has questioned Humanae Vitae. (And I say here arises out of my experience as a pro-life activist as well as the teaching of the Catholic Church to which I belong.)

Moreover, artificial birth control methods (ABCMs) do not, in fact, protect women. On th contrary, they contribute to the sexual misuse of women by men. In 1968, Pope Paul VI predicted that that the use of ABCMs would reduce respect for women and contribute to a range of other social disasters (Humanae vitae n 17). The evidence suggests that his predictions have come to pass. From this we know that the misguided attempt to reduce poverty by contraception simply compounds a whole raft of other evils such that the state of that society is worse for the intervention.

It is beyond doubt that ABCMs have encouraged promiscuity, unwanted pregnancies, and abortions. Promiscuity is the key factor in spread of STIs.

The Church cannot embrace a policy which explicitly endorses a means (contraception) which is malum in se (i.e. evil in itself) and which implicitly endorses immoral and destructive sexual behaviours. Nor can she cooperate in the promotion of activities which put a person’s salvation at risk and contribute to an increase in serious social problems.

Even worse, while the use of condoms may slow down the rate of HIV transmission, they cannot eliminate it. It would be irresponsible for the Church to promote condom use knowing that the use of condoms in a regular sexual relationship between husband and wife where the husband has HIV will ultimately culminate in his wife receiving the virus.

Birth rates

Archbishop Nichols said:
“If we solve the poverty then consistently we know the birth-rate comes down.”
On the face of it, this is a true statement. Richer countries have lowered birth rates having first become rich aided by higher birth rates. Developing countries are being asked by rich countries to depopulate in order to prosper, the opposite of what they themselves did.

It is not clear that Archbishop Nichols supports decreasing birth rates as a good thing. We should assume he does not in light of the fact that Catholics in Britain and Ireland are only too aware of how the Scottish Highlands were depopulated in the mid-18th century and how Ireland was depopulated during the 19th century.

And the Archbishop would also have been aware that:
  • People in poor societies and developing countries have what seems in modern Western eyes to be large families, when in fact it is the historically small size of modern Western families which should be remarked upon. The trend in recent decades for Western couples to only have one or two children mirrors the decline of ancient Greece, as Plutarch, the Greek historian noted.
  • People in poor societies and developing countries choose to conceive children above replacement level (two children per woman of child-bearing age) for many good reasons:
  • natural conjugal and parental instincts
  • love of family
  • a desire to preserve and increase their native population
  • fidelity to religious precepts e.g. "Go forth and multiply and fill the face of the earth."
  • high child mortality rates
  • a need to provide security in old age
  • Birth-rates in developing countries are falling to dangerously low levels. As long ago as 2005, the United Nations Population Division (UNPD) reported that:
"In the least developed countries, fertility is 5 children per woman and is expected to drop by about half, to 2.57 children per woman by 2045-2050. In the rest of the developing world, fertility is already moderately low at 2.58 children per woman and is expected to decline further to 1.92 children per woman by mid-century."
  • In addition, the Population Research Institute (PRI) has reported that:
  • "The birth rate in developing countries like Mexico and India has plummeted to just over three children per couple today from about six in 1950." [26 Oct 2005];
  • "Mexico is committing suicide. Her birthrate is now below replacement level." [6 Oct 2006]

(I emphasise again that my comments below, both as a Catholic and as a pro-lifer, are motivated and inspired by John Paul II’s words in Evangelium Vitae, paragraph 97 that it is an illusion to think that we can build a true culture of human life if we do not offer adolescents and young adults an authentic education in sexuality, and in love, and the whole of life according to their true meaning and in their close interconnection.)

Archbishop Nichols said:
"[W]here government and Church part company is that government legislation identifies people by their sexual orientation ... Catholic moral teaching is not concerned with sexual orientation".
In the context the Archbishop is rightly rejecting the idea that a human being should be described, in a reductionist way, by same-sex attraction. Is a person who has same-sex attraction, but abstains from homosexual acts, a ‘homosexual’? The moral question concerns homosexual activity, not orientation. This does not mean the Catholic Church is unconcerned that some people are burdened with the temptations that come from a disordered inclination. In her pastoral concern for people the Catholic Church is always conscious of psychological factors affecting moral choice. So it is that the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches  that:
"Homosexual acts ... do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity" (n. 2357)
and that
the homosexual "inclination ... is objectively disordered" (n. 2358).

In 1986 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the pastoral care of homosexual persons" was approved by Pope John Paul II and published. The document teaches that:
  • "Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder." [n 3]
  • "[I]ncreasing numbers of people today, even within the Church, are bringing enormous pressure to bear on the Church to accept the homosexual condition as though it were not disordered ... The Church's ministers must ensure that homosexual persons in their care will not be misled by this point of view, so profoundly opposed to the teaching of the Church." [n 8]
  • "[T]his Congregation wishes to ask the Bishops to be especially cautious of any programmes which may seek to pressure the Church to change her teaching, even while claiming not to do so. A careful examination of their public statements and the activities they promote reveals a studied ambiguity by which they attempt to mislead the pastors and the faithful. For example, they may present the teaching of the Magisterium, but only as if it were an optional source for the formation of one's conscience." [n 14]

The message from Archbishop Nichols is clear: yes, the Catholic Church teaches high ideals of sexual ethics, but in practice the Catholic bishops of England and Wales will go along with prevailing ideas in government and society which deviate from those ideals.

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