Sunday, July 27, 2008

Tablet Survey on Humanae Vitae: a failure in catechesis

Forgive me for making such a recommendation but read The Tablet on Sex and the Modern Catholic, the article is based on a survey of Mass going Catholics by the Von Huegal Institute, as part of the Tablet's Humanae Vitae "celebrations".
All the statistics are pretty frightening like the attitudes of most Catholics to abortiofacients or artificial contraception. They point to a serious crisis:

73 per cent of these respondents had also used or said they wouldn't mind using condoms, 51 per cent had used or wouldn't mind using the contraceptive pill, 27 per cent had used or wouldn't mind using the coil, 33 per cent had used or wouldn't mind using sterilisation, 22 per cent had used or wouldn't mind using the morning-after pill, 30 per cent had used or wouldn't mind using the diaphragm.

In fact 73% of people under 35 and 60% of under 45s seemed unaware of the Church's teaching. The majority of these, I presume, would have attended Catholic schools. They indicate a serious crisis not in the acceptance of teaching but in delivering Catechesis. The problem is with those responsible for giving catechises

I confess that I haven't preached explicitly on the doctrines of Humanae Vitae for over two years: my excuse is that whenever I do I know that few of my neighbours would not do the same, in fact most would regard me as cranky for doing so. But it is not that which deters me, it is the fact I have never heard of (let us not criticise the bishops here) a senior heirarch teach or write of these important doctrines, on the contrary it would appear that most are quite complacent and some even openly dissent from them. Which diocesan Marriage and Family Life group take Humanae Vitae seriously and are willing to help people live out its teaching? Which office of the Bishop's Conference has responsibility for its promotion, or put it another way who should be sacked for failing to carry out their function? One suspects - and hears anecdotal evidence - that anyone committed to the Church's teaching would be rejected for a job with one of these bodies because of their committment.

I hope that those in Rome responsible for the choice of the next Archbishop of Westminster read and study this survey. If they do they can only conclude how lamentable is the state of catechesis and Catholic education in this country. The knock on effect is that when the Church is called on to battle against issues like the Sexual Orientation Regulations or the Human Fertilisation and Embriology Bill, it finds itself impotent because basic principles are ignored, through ignorance and the lack of teaching.


Kate said...

Is it possible that parish priests who do preach on the doctrines of Humanae Vitae could be disciplined for a lack of 'pastoral sensitivity'?
That would certainly explain their reticence on the subject.

Anagnostis said...


There used to be a couple who went around parishes in A&B precisely to educate pre-marriage groups (among others) about true Catholic marriage. they were a very engaging and genial couple, and they did a splendid job. I believe they were asked by the incoming Ordinary to stop doing it. I can't remember their names, but Fr Dominic Rolls will, I'm certain.

Simon Platt said...

Dear Father,

It's a shame to point fingers but sometimes it should be done and I think your analysis of who is to blame is accurate, certainly in the case of catholic schools. It is rare indeed to see recent school leavers at mass at all - and it seems that most of those that are there have been deprived of the church's teaching.

One thing that puzzles me is this. As I understand it, Humanae Vitae and the speculation that preceded it were consequent on the invention of the contraceptive pill. The point being that now there was a method of contraception that did not interfere directly with the act of sexual intercouse, being separated from it in time, perhaps the church's teaching on contraception needed to be reviewed. And I suppose such a review was reasonable, asking the question "How does the moral law, which formerly only had to consider cases A, B and C, apply to this new case D which we have never had to consider until now?" I think that the answer which the then Holy Father gave was a wise and prophetic one.

What surprises me is the widespread acceptance of barrier methods by mass-going catholics (I do like "mass-going"). Surely the immorality of such methods was never in doubt?

Perhaps those who "had used" these things now regretted their actions - but I'm afraid I doubt it.

Anonymous said...

These findings from the Teblet survey suggest that even practising Catholics don't fear the Last Judgement, though they ought to know better.

If I'm not mistaken, Family Life International can confirm that the rate of divorce among Catholic couples who don't contracept is tiny, while the rate among those who do isn't much different from that in society generally.

Given that divorce has measurably adverse effects on the lives of children of divorced couples, can we really expect Jesus to accept contraception with equanimity?

Especially when you consider that all forms of non-barrier contraception, (and not just the morning-after pill) such as the IUD and the Pill that everyone knows and loves, have abortifacient properties.

Anonymous said...

Miss Book,
There is disciplining and then there is disciplining, then there is as Father says being treated as a crank.

Anonymous said...

One organisation which does take Marriage and Family Life and a correct understanding of Humanae Vitae seriously is the Maryvale Institute in Birmingham, which has recently set up a Marriage and Family Life Centre within its structures. I gather it is still in the early stages, but work is being done to redress the balance of poor catechesis on the subject in this country.

Maryvale has also recently co-published with Family Publications a new translation and Commentary on Humanae Vitae. It is well worth reading. It can be obtained (£8.95) by contacting

Anonymous said...

Although a regular poster here, I am commenting under a different name, because the subject of Catechesis - Humane Vitae in particular - is a ticking time bomb. And I don`t particularly want to light the fuse with my own dismissal just right now.

When teachers are reprimanded for beginning registration in a Catholic school with a prayer in the morning,(happened to me this last term) you will appeciate that starting to fly the flag for Papal teaching could amount to dismissal. Many Catholic teachers are openly dissenting to Church teaching these days, and encouraging others to do so. The ones who don`t, get no support, or worse, derision (often from those who hold the specific office of upholding Church teaching) We are also usually being mentored/ academically tutored by Liberals posing as Orthodox, who mark us down/undermine us/ignore us for being pro-life or even pro Catholic. I know I am. It has been a revelation.

I wouldn`t say it was lonely, more frightening; and a path which requires quite a bit of nerve to stand firm, play the game, and say the "right" things until one (God willing) gets into a position to effect some kind of change. I do believe the corner is being turned on Humane Vitae, amongst other things, but we need to pray that the current momentum will not stall, and that God will continue to place holy, brave, truly Catholic people in our educational institutions, and in the meantime Grace us with stamina and tenacity. And, a sense of humour, because some of it, you really couldn`t invent. (Yet, they do.)

I am keeping a good diary, which may one day prove useful.

Bonnie said...

Fr., I'm very sorry you have been treated like a crank, but I do encourage you to preach on NFP anyways! My husband and I are in our mid 20's, living modestly and completely open to life. And we feel so alone in our parish when it comes to our love of the Church's teaching on human sexuality. It can be a challenge at times to NOT have a contraceptive mentality and a little help from the ambo in the form of encouragement and reiteration would be most welcome. Of course, I'm not a member of your parish, but it's still nice for me to think that there are priests who preach on these things.

Anonymous said...

St Philomena Fan, tell me something I don't know.

Daphne McLeod of Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice has enough accounts like yours to fill a train.

Chris said...

I think HV is correct but difficult to live out in 'mixed marriages'. My parish priest would appear to be embarrassed if I confess any failings in these areas. The diocese has absolutely nothing to say on these matters.

I am also a very experienced RE teacher who, sensing that all was not right with Catholic teacher training colleges and the way RE is taught in Catholic schools, decided to take a BA (div) in Catholic Theology with Maryvale.

Both my personal faith life but also my confidence in transmitting orthodox Catholic teaching have been immensely enhanced by this superb course. Why is Maryvale not being promoted more by our Cardinal and bishops?

We are, however, losing Catholic schools. Most Catholic schools allow school nurses to deliver 'sex education' courses. On appointment as head of RE at one school I was horrified to hear one such nurse promoting the morning-after pill and telling pupils that they could do this without their parents knowledge. Fortunately after Maryvale I had the faith and confidence to demand that this stopped and took on the programme myself.

I could go on ... please pray for me

GOR said...

Miss Book: there was a recent case of this here in the US. The priest, recently ordained but an older man, was removed after preaching on the subject. Some parishioners objected and the bishop reassigned him! Which bears out Fr. Blake's comments on the lack of catechesis. It is still going on.

The late Father John Hardon, S.J. in a defense of Humanae Vitae, had this to say:

"People can witness to many things. Some Catholics have been witnessing to their independence of the Church’s teaching in the morals of marriage, as seen from the numbers who remarry after a previous sacramental marriage. Some Catholics have similarly witnessed to their independence by practicing contraception. But not everyone who calls himself a Catholic is a true one, and not every witness by a nominal Catholic is a witness to true Catholicism."

And on the subject of the numbers of dissenters (beloved of the media and liberals) he went on to say:

"Yet numbers are not the question. No matter how many Catholic couples might practice contraception, this does not make it right – no more than the mass defection of a beleaguered Catholic laity in Reformation England made their action right. Thomas More was canonized because he remained loyal to the Church when all around him thousands were pressured into rejection of Rome."

And even today it is still hard to keep one's head when, all around, others are losing theirs.

Anonymous said...

If it's any encouragement, I've been a priest for 12 years now and have always preached about the truth of HV at least annually. I have not had a single complaint (not that I would let that deter me anyway!).

Also, it's been my experience that young couples coming to me for marriage preparation are amazingly open to the idea of NFP when explained within the context of the Church's pro-life theology. I think it's all to do with how things are explained - and not being afraid to be upfront about the Church's Teaching.

People don't want excuses being made for what the Church believes and teaches - they want something to believe in and they want their shepherds to teach it authentically.

Anonymous said...

Sadly this is only part of the failure of Catholic teaching.

Someone should try another survey - what percentage of Catholics at Mass on a Sunday believe in the Real Presence or the Mass as Sacrifice.

I suspect you would get similar figures - a majority, but not an overwhelming one, for the first, and largely blank looks for the second.

Red Maria said...

Same old, same old, but The Tablet still cheekily billed it as its "surprising" survey on contraception. Even more appalling than the predictable responses to the equally predictable contraception questions were the responses to the marriage and divorce questions. They revealed that a staggering proportion of respondents are just wilfully dumb. Consider their contradictorary replies: yes marriage is a lifelong union but yes a divorce or separation is better (eh?) than an "unhappy" (snort) marriage between an "incompatible" couple. Now both responses cannot be right at the same time. And to wilfully dumb we can also add wilfully ignorant. There really is no excuse for anyone now opining that a divorce is better than an "unhappy" marriage now that a veritable man mountain of research has demonstrated beyond resonable doubt just how bad divorce is for everyone, especially children. Unsuprisingly, then, these dumbos then went on to say that "remarried" divorcees should be able to receive communion.They should have been asked some further questions, just to force them to think a bit:


Is adultery always wrong?

Are you aware of Jesus Christ's clear, unequivocal teaching that divorcees "remarrying" are adulterers?

Do you accept the teaching of Jesus Christ, yes or no?

Do you consider Jesus Christ to be the Son of God?

Should a married man who is knocking off a woman who isn't his wife, or a married woman who is engaging in regular bouts of horizontal jogging with a man who isn't her husband be permitted to receive communion?

Do you consider some kinds of adultery to be permissible but not others? If so, explain why you do so. Explain the difference betweeen them.


Yes, that there's been a massive failure of catechisis in the years since Humanae Vitae is blindingly obvious. A phenomenal number of practising Catholics are unaware of some of the most basic teachings of Jesus Christ, never mind the complexities of Papal encyclicals. That this dumbness and ignorance is so frequently referred to in flattering terms as "dissent" is, I submit, part of the problem. We're not dealing with "dissent" here - dissent presupposes knowledge - we're facing religious illiteracy on a massive scale. And the hierarchy must, I'm afraid, take responsibility for this dire state of affairs.

A number of corrective measure recommend themselves and on the basis that a fish rots from the head down these should start at the very top.

For a start, the hierarchy must stop employing establishment toady pseudo-Catholic shmucks as expensively remunerated advisors, supposedly because they come with oodles of "contacts 'n' experience", when they know that they have scant regard for the Magisterium. For a start they're not worth their generous pay packets (if I had my way these parasites would only be employed on a strict payment by results basis) and secondly they have a tendency to denounce Church teaching in ludicrously self-serving screeds once they've moved to a different employer.

Next, the bad habit certain church agency bureaucrats have of publically offering their own bizarre views of marriage and family life which are plainly at variance with Church teaching must end. The bureaucracy must be brought under control as a matter of urgency. We must see no more examples of the directors of supposedly Catholic marriage agencies opining that say, cohabition is equivalent to marriage. We must have no more books published under the aegis of the Bishops Conference containing self-indulgent essays by privileged girlies wittering on about open, feminist models of the family and such like. If I want to read a penetrating assessment of the family under capitalism I'll read Engels' classic, thankyou very much.

People should be appointed to the boards of Catholic institutions like, say, hospitals on the basis of their proven commitment to Catholic teaching, rather than whether their surname appears in Debretts. Ordinary working pew Catholics should be promoted to these plum positions over members of the elite recusant caste wherever possible. There must be no more cases of empire-building peers holding Cardinals to ransom over the future of Catholic hospitals.

The editors of Catholic periodicals should not be able to use them as platforms for their own bizarre hobby horses, particularly those which the Church has long opposed. Catholic publications are not supposed to be propaganda organs for reactionary Green population-control rubbish.

Parishes routinely hold bereavement support sessions. They should be strongly urged to hold spousal desertation and abandoned children support sessions.
Repeated contact with the casualties of divorce and aquaintance with the blatant injustices of family law, just having to face children crying because daddy has run away, would focus minds on the inspired wisdom of Jesus' teaching on the indissolubility of marriage.

Catholic marriage agencies should educate couples seeking marriage about the religious reasons for the prohibition on divorce and post-divorce adultery as well as the practical costs of divorce, in clear unambiguous terms. Literature should detail the deleterious effect of divorce on children, with references to the copious research on the subject. It should be augmented by harrowing pieces written by children from broken homes which describe their agony when daddy walked out or mummy installed another man in daddy's place.
It should also include information about the financial costs of divorce expressed in pounds sterling and set against what such expenditure would otherwise purchase the couple.

Priests opining that "remarried" divorcees should be able to receive communion should be sent to minister in tough, inner city parishes where fatherlessness is endemic. There they could ponder their "compassion" at length while confronted with female parishioners abandoned by male good-for-nothings struggling to bring up fatherless children and battling with the CSA for a pittance to pay their bills each month.

Catholic schools should be exactly that. Intellectually rigorous catechesis should be ubiquitous and mastery of the basics of Church teaching - measured by regular examinations - mandatory. Any parents objecting to Catholic schools teaching Catholicism should be invited to take their progeny elsewhere.

There is also something to be said for the Church finally confronting the tiny grouplets of pseudo Catholic wreckers in her midst. I think its past time that members of We Are Church (WAC) are formally excommunicated. There are clear links between WAC and the porn-funded anti-Catholic abortion front "Catholics" for Choice. These people aren't Catholic or indeed Christian in any meaningful sense of the word but in the absence of action against them some people might be confused.

These are just a few suggestions. Much more needs to be done.

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