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A Partisan Power Play Won't Redeem Bishops

Memo Pad

A Partisan Power Play Won't Redeem Bishops


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.

Gene Lyons

Gene Lyons is a political columnist and author. Lyons writes a column for the Arkansas Times that is nationally syndicated by United Media. He was previously a general editor at Newsweek as wells an associate editor at Texas Monthly where he won a National Magazine Award in 1980. He contributes to Salon.com and has written for such magazines as Harper's, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Review of Books, Entertainment Weekly, Washington Monthly, The Nation, Esquire, and Slate. A graduate of Rutgers University with a Ph.D. in English from the University of Virginia, Lyons taught at the Universities of Massachusetts, Arkansas and Texas before becoming a full-time writer in 1976. A native of New Jersey, Lyons has lived in Arkansas with his wife Diane since 1972. The Lyons live on a cattle farm near Houston, Ark., with a half-dozen dogs, several cats, three horses, and a growing herd of Fleckvieh Simmental cows. Lyons has written several books including The Higher Illiteracy (University of Arkansas, 1988), Widow's Web (Simon & Schuster, 1993), Fools for Scandal (Franklin Square, 1996) as well as The Hunting Of The President: The 10 Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton, which he co-authored with National Memo Editor-in-Chief Joe Conason.

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  1. Kencahill February 15, 2012

    I am 74 years of age..Whew!! Born a Roman Catholic–will die an Episcopalian. Why!! 7 years ago, I found a church and a community that made me feel comfortable. Today I am on what is referred to as the Vestry–actually the Junior Warden–one of the officers that administers the church. I wrestled with the RC’s birth control issues; divorce; no women in the clergy; unmarried priets for most of my years..As a youth, the church was my everything. My wife, of 52 years , and myself virtually lived there–me as an altar boy and she on the altar guild. Not to bore you but as a late teen, my dad died and my Mom remarried a divorced man–a very gentle and good person. My priest told me I couldn’t recognize him as a relative in any way–not even through greeting cards on holidays.
    When my wife and I married in 1960, we truthfully hadn’t given much thought to how many kids we would have–we kiddingly said 7. Then , after two in 13 months (Irish twins), we thought about it. Condoms just always seemed evil. WE tried the roulette of taking temps etc,. etc. and we lost that one to child #3. Six years later #4 came along and , against my wishes, (STUPID) my wife had her tubes tied..We love our kids. Three go to RC and one is as far from an organized church as you can get. The issue that always got tome was the fact that the priest would never listen to reason–if it didn’t originate it Rome, it didn’t exist. This whole issue with Obama is right where you pointed it–the Bishops are fearful of losing more power . It’s all about Power, that’s it..AND, all this coming from a product of 8 years of Jesuit education!!

  2. maggie church February 15, 2012

    I was brought up in a Irish Catholic deeply religous family. We went to Mass on every Holy Day of Obligation and Easter when I was a child was a week full of Mass. Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and of course Easter. I became pregnant before mariage and my parish priest told me he would marry us only after we were married for a year civilly. He made the point that marraige before GOD was to be taken very serious and not a quick fix for out of wedlock pregnancy. We did just that. Although I couldn’t accept communion, I still attended Mass regularly. I had given birth to 3 more children before I was 25. I had my tubes clipped, not cauterized. I lied and was married in Church. The guilt was horrible. After 11 yrs of marraige we divorced and we had a real reason for an annulment. I remarried and had my tubes fixed, I had 2 more children with my 2nd husband. My last child was born premature because my uterus split open. She is 8 and perfect. I refused to use birthcontrol and my husband had a vasectomy behind my back. My priest told me that since I suffer from a mental illness (I was a victim of a horrific crime) and suffer from PTSD. I could not get married in church with an annulment since mental illness initself is grounds for an annilment. He told me I am allowed to receive communion now. Thank You

  3. clarence swinney February 15, 2012


  4. Itsjustmeagain February 15, 2012

    I am a Catholic. The issue is how does the church conduct business in a public institution like a hospital, clinic or school. There are many employees who are not Catholic, or have become more an agnostic like me. The Church is discriminating against its employees by refusing something outside a theological discussion that should be made available to all.
    I’ll certainly think twice before entering a Catholic hospital, knowing the best and brightest may no longer be there.

  5. fordneri February 15, 2012

    Catholics are running scared. There was the Vatican banking scandal which sent a massive amount of tithers running for the door like their hair was on fire. Then came the child molestation scandal and the revelation the American Church was paying out about 500 million dollars a year in hush money while not addressing the problem or removing the priests. More tithers fled en masse. The new Catholic strategy is to go ultra conservative to look credible while they beat on the doors of the US treasury with hat in one hand begging for handouts and a list of demands in the other outlining Catholic guidelines for taking the billions in welfare payments provided by tax payers of all faiths. All of this is being done by the largest Christian denomination on earth. The Hollier the Thou money laundering child molesting clergy that will ruthlessly lock the doors and board up the windows of any church, school, hospital, orphanage or anything else that cannot support itself. So this paranoid hyper vigilance against secular attacks is just shadow boxing. They see the shadow is in the full on attack mode so they attack ever harder, because they know, if they let up or drop their guard for one second, the shadow will attack and destroy them. Their consevative friends in Congress play the same game. It’s getting real old and real expensive and turning good people against each other.

  6. clammer February 15, 2012

    There was no razor wire in the Garden of Eden. Ever since Roe v Wade the RC Bishops have tried to get the government police to enforce the Bishops’ idea of a moral code. If they were in the Garden of Eden they would have surrounded the tree with razor wire, state police and the National Guard to prevent Eve from picking that apple. That would have been interference with God’s Will – what we humans call free will. God taught that it was wrong but He gave Eve the freedom of choice. Although the Obama Administration and the Supreme Court refer to a woman’s constitutional right of choice they are really talking about Free Will.
    The Bishops did not get the pedophile problem right; they do not get this right; they do not get women right; in short they are immoral for preventing the free exercise of free will. They trot this moral indignation out every four years because they espouse the Republican party’s candidate – they had no problem with George Bush’s stand on capital punishment. They have a right to support any candidate they choose but they should leave trumped up morality out of it. Burke parlayed his avowed denial of communion for John Kerry into a cardinal’s hat. Tim Dolan, on his way to pick up his hat opined that Obama’s change was a step in the right direction. What a howl went up from the un-named Bishops. No question but that they are political and not pastoral.

  7. Howz 1 February 15, 2012

    Not being Catholic I can look at the situation concerning the church’s stand on contraception from a different view. This is basically a fight between women who want to control their own reproductive rights and the men of the church and the Republican party who think they still should. The war on women for control goes back to your St Thomas who equated origional sin with lust, and began a 2000 yr war on women where hundreds of thousands were burned alive at the stake. Or other Church activites like the Iqusistion where 100,000 were tourtured to death by the Dominican order, or the conquest of South America where 11 million indian men women and children were slaughtered, or the crusades, or having the Pope stand silent during the holocost, and then having the Vatican smuggle the high ranking Nazi’s to South America, or having millions live in poverty and the church offcials in Rome bathed in gold. This is how someone who has not been brainwashed sees the Church. Over the last few decades we see the rape of thousands of defenseless boys covered up and priests protected to move from parrish to Parrish to do it over and over. So history belies any moral high ground the Bishops are trying to climb to

  8. PatrickHenry February 15, 2012

    Our country was founded by a moral, Christian People, and Liberal Federal Government policies slowly eroded this, but Obama’s health care mandate is to further weaken our Bill of Rights that he said himself, “Get’s in the way of his policies”, to “fundamentally transform America.” Our 1st. unalienable right is religious freedom, freedom of speech and peaceful assembly. That means it is our rights NOT to be changed my Government of man. Forcing religious organizations to go against their principles is a violation of our 1st. amendment rights. This isn’t just about birth control, it is about abortion as well. If you are willing to give up this freedom, which other are you willing to give up next?

  9. Al February 15, 2012

    We live, or did live, in a free society where government had no place in dictating our religious practices or beliefs and did not dictate whether, where, or how we provided health care insurance for our protection. This president is ignoring our constitutional rights and pushing socialism on us with no concern or care about how it affects our way or life or the quality of that life. He must be stopped.

  10. PatBrown February 15, 2012

    “Our country was founded by a moral, Christian People”?? Really? Maybe you ought to go back and read the truth about the founding fathers. Washington wrote that Muslims were the same as Christians in his new country. Jefferson never even classed himself as Christian. The goal of the founding fathers was a country where no one’s religious beliefs were ever imposed on another. The Bishops and the Evangelical Christians are trying to remove those rights and impose their own on all Americans.

    If you don’t want to take birth control or mammograms and you want to follow your church’s laws, go ahead and do so, but don’t you dare think for one minute you have any right to tell ME I have to follow those rules too. That’s what this country is about.

  11. Sleipnir February 15, 2012

    If the catholic church or any other religion injects themselves into politics they should lose their tax exempt status on their schools, hospitals, and churches. They should have to pay property taxes on the mega-churches they are building and all the money they get from tithing. All the taxes they are not paying now could go towards reducing the deficit. They need to decide if they want to influence politics or retain their tax exempt status.


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