By Gene Lyons
For the record, the priest who married my wife and me in 1967 advised us that we could in good faith practice birth control. He reasoned that as Pope Paul VI was then preparing an encyclical regarding faith and sexuality, young Catholics could reasonably assume that church dogma regarding contraception would soon change to reflect contemporary realities: specifically that a couple intending to bring children into their marriage might legitimately seek to do so in their own time.
A university chaplain, he no doubt understood how the combination of Rome’s authoritarianism and theological nit-picking tended to drive educated young people from the church. Anyway, everybody knows how that worked out. Next came Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI’s 1968 doubling down on the church’s blanket condemnation of artificial means of birth control — a blast from the medieval past as most American Catholics now see it.
“Vatican Roulette,” we called it, and like the vast majority, declined to play. Surveys have shown that approximately 13 percent of the faithful agree with the Roman Catholic Church’s categorical ban on birth control; a mere 2 percent actually practice what the bishops preach. For most, it isn’t a serious personal issue. Sure, Your Grace, whatever. …
Coarse jokes about priests, altar boys and contraception virtually wrote themselves. I’ll spare you. But while we’re at it, let’s light a candle for Sinead O’Connor, an eccentric woman in combat boots with a shaven head, who tore up the pope’s photo on “Saturday Night Live” in 1992 to protest clerical sexual abuse of children in her native Ireland: wrecking her U.S. career to make a point entirely lost upon most viewers at the time.
In a bankruptcy proceeding last week, the diocese of Milwaukee listed 8,000 claims of sexual abuse among its liabilities. I’m with Esquire’s Charles P. Pierce, who writes that the great contraceptive kerfuffle with the Obama administration represents a fairly obvious power play by “the institutional American church to regain the power and influence in the secular government that it lost when it was exposed to be a multigenerational conspiracy to obstruct justice.”
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