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Catholic Education Daily


Dissident Notre Dame Theologian: Crackdown on Contraception has “Chilling Effect”

Cathleen Kaveny, a law and theology professor from the University of Notre Dame, bemoans in Commonweal Magazine that recent ecclesial actions have created a “chilling effect” on theologians and other Catholics who dissent on the Church’s teaching on contraception.

Apparently, she pines for the days before Humanae Vitae when “the use of contraception by married couples was still seen by most prelates as a matter on which people of good faith could disagree.”

Despite assertions to the contrary by Kaveny, the Catholic Church’s teaching has always been clear and consistent on contraception.

Fr. John Hardon, in his piece Contraception: Fatal to the Faith, wrote, “It is infallible Catholic doctrine that contraception is a mortal sin? Yes! How do we know? We know this from the twenty centuries of the Catholic Church's teaching. Already in the first century, those who professed the Catholic Faith did not practice either contraception or abortion, which were commonly linked together.”

In A.D. 195, Clement of Alexandria wrote, "Because of its divine institution for the propagation of man, the seed is not to be vainly ejaculated, nor is it to be damaged, nor is it to be wasted.”

Kaveny also blames Blessed Pope John Paul II for warning that contraception often acts as the doorway to the culture of death. She writes:

Proponents of his ‘Theology of the Body’ maintain that spouses who use contraception are lying to one another with their bodies and withholding themselves from one another in the sexual act. This hardly encourages respectful conversation with Catholic couples who find contraception morally acceptable.

She cites ecclesiastical actions taken against Charles Curran, Elizabeth Johnson, and Margaret Farley as having a chilling effect on academic discussion of sexual morality.

In 1985, then prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, informed the Rev. Charles Curran that he could no longer teach Catholic theology in the name of the Church unless he retracts positions on contraception, homosexuality, abortion, and euthanasia. He subsequently lost his teaching position at the Catholic University of America. Since then, he’s become a full tenured professor at Southern Methodist University.

In 2011, the Committee on Doctrine of the U.S. bishops’ conference stated that Elizabeth Johnson’s book Quest for the Living God was filled with “misrepresentations, ambiguities and errors” and “does not accord with authentic Catholic teaching on essential points.” However, no action or disciplinary measure was taken against Johnson whatsoever. In fact, the National Catholic Reporter even named Johnson its person of the year.

Last year, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated that Sister Margaret Farley’s book Just Love: A Framework for Christian Social Ethics was not in conformity with Church teaching on sexual ethics such as masturbation, homosexual acts, homosexual unions, indissolubility of marriage, and divorce and remarriage.  In her first public address following the statement from the Vatican, Farley received a standing ovation from the Catholic Theological Society of America.

Kaveny said that “most progressive Catholics” believe they will “eventually win the day” on contraception.

Kaveny previously wrote in Commonweal that the Obama administration is not attacking religious liberty with its HHS mandate at all and attempts by the bishops to say otherwise is a “canard.”

Kaveny wrote that the bishops’ criticism “is rooted in a mistaken assumption about how our law operates” and that the mandate “makes sense in our pluralistic society.”

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