Who’s Wrong in ‘War on Catholics’?

Exclusive: GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich claims President Obama has declared “war on the Catholic Church” with a ruling that contraception must be included in health plans for employees of church-led institutions, but Catholic moral theologian Daniel C. Maguire says it is the U.S. bishops (and Gingrich) who are wrong.

By Daniel C. Maguire

The decision of the Obama administration to ensure health care coverage including contraception in Catholic institutions has enraged American bishops who lobbied hard against it. The bishops claim their religious freedom is violated by this ruling, but the bishops are wrong and out of the mainstream of Catholic teaching, including the teaching of bishops in other parts of the Catholic world.

A number of bishops, including Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg, South Africa, have spoken strongly on the need for condoms, especially in areas ravaged by sexually transmitted diseases. The U.S. bishops are even at odds with the pope who approves the use of condoms “where the intention is to reduce the risk of infection.”

The Vatican's St. Peter's Basilica

The papal change on condoms effectively ended the taboo on condoms since it says that health concerns may require their use, and there are many health concerns aside from HIV/AIDS. The nonpartisan and well-respected Institute of Medicine, on which the Obama administration relied, says contraceptives can be used to treat reduce the risk of endometrial cancer and pelvic inflammatory disease and other diseases mainly affecting women.

Also use of contraception is linked to the decline in infant death. Obviously contraception limits the number of abortions since it prevents unwanted pregnancies.

But the American bishops say the administration’s decision on Jan. 20 was a case of religious freedom. In that, they are right but not in the way they intend it. The bishops are claiming the religious freedom to violate the religious freedom of those who are employed in their institutions or who are served in their tax-supported hospitals. By denying contraception as part of employee health plans, what the bishops seek is more like religious fascism than religious freedom.

Furthermore, traditional Catholic teaching rests on a tripod, including the hierarchy, the theologians and the sensus fidelium, the experience-fed wisdom of the laity. These three sources of teaching are, as Cardinal Avery Dulles said, “complementary and mutually corrective.” An accurate look at Catholic teaching on contraception today shows strong support for the position that contraception is not only permissible but even mandatory in many cases.

Catholic theologians overwhelmingly support contraception. Dozens of Catholic hospitals and universities cover prescribed contraceptives. Ninety-eight percent of Catholic women have used contraceptives. Only 2 percent of Catholic women use the “rhythm method” of birth control favored by conservative Catholics.

Therefore the decision of the Obama administration, rather than threatening Catholic teaching on contraception, is actually more attuned to actual Catholic teaching than are the American Catholic bishops with their idiosyncratic taboo on contraception.

Daniel C. Maguire is a Professor of Moral Theology at Marquette University, a Catholic, Jesuit institution in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is author of A Moral Creed for All Christians. He can be reached at daniel.maguire@marquette.edu

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25 comments on “Who’s Wrong in ‘War on Catholics’?

  1. Hillary on said:

    “President Obama has declared “war on the Catholic Church””

    If only it was true.

    The world would be so much better off if the mumbo jumbo beliefs of the Catholic Church were exposed as nonsense.

    Creationism ,heaven ,hell ,virgin birth , angels ,saints ,devils etc. etc.and lets not forget the infallibility of the Pope.

    • charles sereno on said:

      I mildly dispute you on your listed “tenets of the Catholic Church” in the sense that reasoned, contrarian arguments from within the theological community (although disappearingly rare) have surfaced. Take, e.g., St. Thomas Aquinas’ position on the personhood (the “soul”) of the fetus. He went with Aristotle. Your last item, however, “the infallibility of the Pope,” marks a clear line. The deafening silence of Catholic theologians (to my knowledge) to challenge this most absurd insult to human intelligence places them beyond the pale.

      • That’s simple. The Pope is infallible because he said he was. Back around 1870, I think.

        Any more questions?

    • rosemerry on said:

      Creationism is NOT part of the Catholic church teaching. However, if people like Sick Rantorum (sic), the Newt and Tony Blair are welcome in the church, I do not know how much else has changed since I gave up religion 50 years ago.

      The USA with its claimed separation of chuch and state, is a far worse theocracy than many muslim lands.

    • Wishing for the administration, or anybody for that matter to declare War on the Catholic Church smacks of hate, bigotry, and incitement to violence.

      The Church believes that contraception is contrary to natural law, that the union of a man and woman represents the union between God and his church, and must be pre-disposed towards life.

      It further believes that being forced by a government to pay for insurance that would pay for services that include contraception, sterilization, and birth control is informal cooperation with evil. Faithful Catholics (as opposed to cafeteria catholics) don’t contracept themselves, what makes anyone think they would want to pay for services that would provide for others what they don’t even pay for themselves?

      The implications of the government forcing people of faith to act contrary to their beliefs and provide what they consider evil to others is indicative of an increasingly totalitarian state.

      • Thomas Boyle on said:

        If you accept Mr. Maguire’s assertion that 98% of Catholic women have used contraceptives (which reflects my personal experience), then you’re left with a very small number of “faithful” Catholics. So few, such an insignificant percentage, that, rather than being “faithful” they would appear to be merely mindlessly obedient.

        Of course, that’s exactly the kind of Catholic the Church hierarchy loves. But this is not the 1950s. The molestation scandals and the Church’s continued opposition to married clergy and the ordination of women has shown lay Catholics that the leaders of the Church are hopelessly out of touch with reality and the needs of Catholics.

        In his book “Papal Sins”, Garry Wills proves that the Church’s stand on contraception has no basis in either natural law or Scripture. Instead, the Church refuses to change because to do so would be to admit that it was wrong in the past. And, for an authoritarian institution led by a fallible man who claims infallibility, that is unthinkable.

        The Pope and his coterie of shrivelled virgins have no idea what married life is like and they care little. What matters to them is maintaining the notion that they, and they alone, have access to God’s intentions. The more they cling to that fatuous notion, the more the Catholic Church resembles a cult.

      • Thomas Boyle on said:

        Oh, let me add something else. The Church doesn’t seem to have any problem with “informal (or formal) cooperation with evil” in the guise of unjust war. Since Benedict stated he thought the invasion of Iraq was unjust, shouldn’t he have withdrawn all Catholic chaplains and even declared Catholic soldiers who took part to be excommunicate? Where was the predisposition towards life in that case?

      • I violated natural law twice today. I shaved and I had a haircut. Not only does this offends the divine plan of showing off my curly locks and beard, but I doubt anybody else is going to mistake me for Brad Pitt in the Minneapolis airport.

  2. canary #8 on said:

    Daniel Maguire is correct in this matter. Any thoughtful person who is
    attuned to current global human problems and who has common sense must
    conclude as he does–regardless of religion-based teaching. Having
    been “smacked down” by the scandalous cover-ups of sexual abuse, the
    Catholic bishops seem sadly to be trying to regain some of their lost
    leadership by screeching about a contraceptive ban that practically no
    Catholic observes. Dear bishops, that is so “yesterday.”

    • Daniel is grasping at straws. We need “free” (paid for by skyrocketing premiums) condums to stop an AIDS epidemic in America? What? This issue shows the visceral hatred of Obama and liberals like the heretic Maguire for the Catholic Church.

  3. Read the article from Rolling Stone, September 6, 2011: The Catholic Church’s Secret Sex-Crime Files at: http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/the-catholic-churchs-secret-sex-crime-files-20110906

    It speaks volumes!

  4. wesmont on said:

    Churches evolve or they become obsolete.The Catholic Church has predictably done so.The Church follows the beliefs of its patrons who themselves have decided contraception,et.al. are proper.It’s just the way it is.

    • The Catholic Church tried to evolve with Vat. II and ended up losing about 80% or more of their flock (check Mass attendance records). The growth area is with Traditionalists. This new fighting spirit is a result of maintaining the traditional Catholic faith.

      Maguire is a has been. The hippy priest generation is old and dying. The liberal Catholics have contracepted themselves to death. The Trad movement is rising. In about 20 years it will be all over. Consider this the first shot in the revolution going on in the Church.

  5. JamesD on said:

    Think about this long and hard boyz. The Vatican has been in talks WITH THE SSPX on whether or not to gut Vatican II. The intial offer was close, and talks are ongoing. It might fail this time. But think about it long and hard. The Vatican was in serious talks about ditching Vat. II. How much time do you heretics have left? I’m going hime tonight to my five kids. My brother has twins on the way to add to his brood. Families in my Trad parish have 10 kids. The SSPX baptized over 100 infants at one parish last year, and 98 at another. Go on a keep contracepting. You days are numbered.

    • Well, since I only have one child, I guess they can squeeze enough tax money out of me to pay welfare for your family.

  6. “Most Catholic theologians support contraception.” Really? Frankly, I doubt it.

    It’s just plainly impossible for me to understand how a Catholic theologian teaching moral theology at a Catholic university can take the position and make the claims he makes in this article and still call himself Catholic. Dr. Maguire, I suggest that a little reading, study and prayer will go a long way for you.

  7. John Rapach on said:

    The church just is in a bad dream world. Most women use birth control.Having their Insurance cover it is more economical. If a Catholic Doctor does not want to giver her a prescription, then she will go to a doctor that will. It is much to do about nothing.Would you like your loved one or daughter become pregnant at 16 or 18? Certainly not! What if you can not afford to have more children? The ranting is nothing more than a bunch of celibate men who have no clue about family problems. They do know how to molest children. Some I hear have girl friends. I am sure that they do not want to Father a child while being a priest or bishop. Sounds like crying wolf.

  8. Well, then it seems the bishops are attempting to establish their own authority in both church matters and non-church matters (which they view as church matters).

  9. Pingback: Ginning Up ‘War’ on the Catholic Church | Consortiumnews

  10. Think of the logic traditionalists.You practice the “rhythm” method when having sex.That means you are having sex exclusively for the purpose of pleasure.Now comes the pill,which does the same thing only much better.As well as having a variety of health benefits,it prevents pregnancy much more reliably.So how can that be wrong?The Church will indeed evolve to incorporate new ideas and new scientific developments.The people have decided it is okay to use the pill.The Church will follow ,or will become increasing irrelevent.

  11. Robert Charron on said:

    Many traditionalists regard the rhythm method as they would the practice of granting annulments instead of allowing divorce. They represent modernist influences. But at the same time there is need here to clarify a misconception about the use of the rythym method. While it is only permissible under certain conditions according to the Church. Of course it is abused. And of course the Church can be criticised for the errors and sins of its members including the hierarchy. Yes it should have made stronger objections against wars of aggresion, yes it covered up for sexual abuses of priests and bishops, but Church teaching has not been wrong, people have not lived up to it. The Church is made up of human members, who can sin as we all do. In reading the history of the Church there are several periods in the past in which one would come to the conclusion that the Church was done for, that it the leaders were hopelessly corrupt and venal, so much so that the only conclusion was that the Church would fade into the trash heap of history, but somehow an someway the Church would inevitably come back stronger than ever. So don’t get your hopes up, those of you who are Catholicphobes.

  12. Robert Charron on said:

    I see where I did not complete a sentence in my previous comment, which was intended to state that the Church does not permit the use of the rhythm method simply to avoid the chance of conception, that is as a birth control method unless there are serious medical reasons for doing so. So it is an error to suggest that traditional Catholics employ this as a method of birth control.
    One more thought, I haven’t read Gary Ills book where he supposedly shows that there is no basis for the Church’s stand on birth control. I have read Garry Wills and he is extremely facile and clever and sometimes he is absolutely right. But I am reminded of the play Antigone by Sophocles and updated recently by Jean Anouilh in which he points out that sometimes one needs to say “NO” in answer to all the persuasive arguments marshalled against an action.

  13. The reason that this seems to be an issue to American Catholics and no one else is that the US is one of the few civilized nations that doesn’t take care of its citizens. I taught for twenty years at a state university that provided health care and we had an excellent clerical staff who wouldn’t dare leave because their spouses were farmers or independent professionals. Only the university would give them the security of health coverage for the entire family…and cursed be you who have two breadwinners with two different employers, and the insurers would pass the buck back and forth. Look north of the border. Queen Elizabeth takes care of her subjects, as do most nations in the world. Church or atheist, the employers shouldn’t have to shoulder the burden. This Catholic thing is just a pinprick of the greater dispute over provision of health care.

  14. As a trained instructor of Natural Family Planning, I’m really amused by the reference Professor Maguire made to the rythm method. The rythm method used the average number of days in a woman’s cycle, cut the time in half and proposed that was the date of ovulation. If a couple abstained from intercourse around that time, they would theoretically avoid pregnancy. It was about 50% effective becuase it didn’t take into account that every woman is different and that women do not ovulate in the middle of their cycle. Also, NO ONE HAS USED THE RYTHM METHOD IN 50 YEARS unless you consider the “ovulation calculators” on pregnancy test company websites. Maguire needs to “get with the times” and learn about the 98% effective Billings Ovulation Method or the 99% effective Creighton Model which uses daily observations of a woman’s fertility to help a couple plan their family. I also find it important to point out that taking hormonal contraceptives is extremely dangerous to a woman’s health. In 2005, the World Health Organization listed hormonal contraceptives as a Group 1 Carcinogen (definitively carcinogenic to humans through statistical correlation AND through knowing the exact mechanism that causes the cancer) for breast, liver and cervical cancer…the same group that tobacco is in for lung cancer and asbestos is for mesothelioma. Before you assume that birth control is good for a woman becuase the talking heads on TV want you to think so, I suggest you check the facts first. I personally believe the Catholic Church, particularly Pope Paul XI who wrote Humane Vitae, is AHEAD of the times in showing us the dangers of contraception: moral, physical and social.