Friday, September 21, 2012

Why Do Catholic Women Reject Catholic Teachings?

Caroline Kennedy's speech at the DNC earlier this month was a prime example of what has come to be called "Cafeteria Catholicism." In a cafeteria line you can pick and choose what you want to eat, and leave behind things that are not so appealing. Similarly, Cafeteria Catholics pick and choose the teachings and practices that fit their schedule or routine or whim, and leave the "meat" behind. Perhaps they should be called "Vegetarian Catholics" instead. Or, they are often called CINOs -- Catholic In Name Only.

Whatever the name given to the phenomenon, the most notorious example of this in recent years is Catholic women and men who reject the Church's teaching on birth control and abortion. I have never understood how women in particular can call themselves Catholic while, as Ms. Kennedy does, brazenly rejecting the Church's teachings. A new study has come out that purports to answer this question. I don't think there is a one-size-fits-all answer, but this study does dig deeper than anything that I have seen to date on the subject.

 Remember back in February when the Democrats were trying to justify the mandate to provide contraceptives, abortafacients and sterilizations to women free of charge? They kept repeating the talking point that 98% of Catholic women used birth control. That number was never substantiated. Indeed, there was no way to refute it because it was made up. (It's kind of like the fictitious "jobs created or saved" statistics that the Democrats love to spew.) Anyway, that figure was debunked by a number of sources, but the mainstream media and Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and Kathleen Sebelius--both CINOs--continue to push it. They use their government jobs as bully pulpits to promote abortions and to denounce Catholic teaching.

But back to the study. The two things that it identifies as being responsible for Catholic women who reject the teachings of the Church are the influences of culture and the lack of education in Catholic teaching. LifeSiteNews explains a portion of the study:
Mistakenly or not, 53 per cent of all women in the study who dissent in part or completely from church teaching cite a couple’s “moral right” to decide which method of family planning they will use. This makes it the top reason given for rejecting church teaching on the matter.
Two other reasons are cited frequently among this group: 46 percent say couples have “the right to enjoy sexual pleasure without worrying about pregnancy”, and 41 percent think that natural family planning is not an effective method to space or postpone pregnancy.
The authors perceive two main dynamics shaping these views: the influence of a cultural mindset that divorces sex from procreation and promises “sexual pleasure without consequences”, and a deficit on the church side in presenting Church teaching.
The latter can be deduced from the fact that 72 per cent of women surveyed said they rely mainly on the homily at Sunday Mass for learning about the faith, and yet just 15 per cent of that group fully accept the Church’s teaching on sex and reproduction. The weekly Mass homily, the authors say, “seems to represent a lost opportunity when it comes to conscience formation on the contraception issue.”
As for cultural influences, they seem likely (although the authors don’t say so) to account for at least some of the scepticism about natural family planning given the systematic bad press NFP [Natural Family Planning] is give by mainstream family planners and the media.
I personally know a priest who promotes the "conscience" exception to Church teachings. He tells women (and men) that they can follow their consciences when it comes to morals. Naturally, those who think that they are not ready for a child for whatever reason will convince themselves that their conscience is telling them that contraception is okay or, if they do get pregnant, that abortion is acceptable.

My parents used to tell my siblings and me as children that misery loves company. They explained that when someone holds an opinion that they know is not right, or if they do something that they know is wrong, they want others to join them in order to make them feel justified, or to make them feel less guilty. Often times this leads to bullying. Those who hold the "right" or truthful belief are ridiculed or bullied by those who must try to lessen their own guilt. This is what I see happening amongst Catholics today.

Karen Handel

And it is happening on the political front as well. Planned Bullyhood is a new book that just came out on September 11. It was written by Karen Handel, who was senior vice-president at Susan G. Komen for the Cure  earlier this year when that organization announced that it was parting ways with Planned Parenthood. Handel reveals that the decision not to provide any more funding to the abortion-providing organization was long in the making. The lightning rod organization has been under investigation for quite some time for a number of violations. Handel's book exposes the hypocrisy and bullying that took place in the battle between the two well-known organizations. 

To order Karen Handel's Book, go to


  1. I'm not Catholic, and frankly the whole epistemological framework of Catholicism is confusing to me, but as far as I see, its an open question whether anti-contraception is "church teaching". Certainly it is a widely help opinion, even among popes, but that does not rise to the level of dogma. Witness what a lot of popes said about salvation outside the church compared to what they say today. Who knows what popes in 500 years from now will say on the contraception question.

  2. Thanks for your comment, John. The Catholic faith and teachings are confusing even to Catholics. I can tell you that the prohibition on contraception is indeed a Church teaching. It has been since the earliest days of the Church since marriage has always been understood as a sacred union. To go into a full explanation would not be possible here, but if you are interested in learning more you can find a great deal in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. An online version is available at Since sex outside of marriage is a sin, then the Catechism speaks in terms of the use of contraceptives within marriage. Part 2370, which falls in the section on "The fecundity of marriage" says:
    "Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality.157 These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom. In contrast, "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:158

    "Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality.... the difference, both anthropological and moral, between contraception and recourse to the rhythm of the cycle . . . involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality.159"
    Part of this is a quote from John Paul II's 1981 Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio. You can also find it on the Vatican website.
    The fact that contraception is called "intrinsically evil" in the Catechism means that the practice in and of itself, by its very nature, is the antithesis of good. So, unless the Church changes its understanding of marriage (which would mean the Church is no longer the Catholic Church), then that teaching on contraception is not going to change - tomorrow or 500 years from now. The Church does not change her beliefs just because people do not want to be bothered with living the faith. No one said it would be easy to be faithful. That's why we are merely human.
    Thanks for the inquiry.

    1. Yes, but it's not as simple as that. Firstly none of the documents you cite, including the catechism are considered infallible by the church.

      Secondly, even for seemingly infallible statements, the Roman church gives itself considerable wiggle room in reinterpreting the issues at a later date. An example would be when Pope Boniface VIII stated (seemingly with the full force of papal power, and infallibility if such a thing existed), "...we declare, say, define, and proclaim to every human creature that they by necessity for salvation are entirely subject to the Roman Pontiff." Now days no Catholic understands that statement the way people did at the time. In fact one might say with a reasonably good argument that the official position of the Roman church is today is seemingly, on any reasonable level, actually the opposite of what it was. Even if one can through contortions reconcile this with the current position, it doesn't alter the possibility of envisaging future contortions on the subject of contraception.

      If one wants to argue that the modern Catholic understanding of salvation outside the church is a lot more nuanced now due to better understanding of issues, one might make the same argument that a better understanding of human reproduction might allow the church to one day make a more nuanced and relaxed position about contraception in the future.

      Concerning what the church supposedly "always taught". If you carefully read what the church fathers said on the topic (which wasn't really that much really, but anyway… ), most of their statements would just as equally rule out Catholic style NFP. If the Roman church can ignore this very simple fact, who knows if one day it might use the same nuances to allow some forms of contraception one day. Statements about what is "intrinsically evil" can be nuanced away, just like the fact that Catholic NFP is contrary to the church fathers, is ignored and nuanced away.

      Statements about "respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom." is pure opinion and waffle. The church can easily discard such fluff at a future time.