Thursday, October 02, 2008


TURNING POINT by Robert McClory - chapter 17

The chapter is titled "Survivors" and sets out comments from those still surviving members of the commission.

The roster of the Pontifical Birth Control Commission dwindles each year. Many of the lay members...have passed away. So also have some of the leading clerical members... (p. 160)

Dr. John Marshall, in his seventies and semi-retired, lives with his wife in a suburb of London....

In a lengthy article for the
Tablet newspaper on the twenty-fifth anniversary of Humanae Vitae, Marshall wrote about the encyclical's fallout: "People formed moral judgments that the teaching was wrong and that they could practice contraception and remain in full communion with the Church. A number of surveys have shown that this is precisely how many Catholics have reacted. None of this was achieved without great anguish...which for many of the older generation still persists. This could have been avoided had the Pope listened to his commission rather than to the Curia. (p. 160-161)

Doctor Laurent and Colette Potvin, both in their seventies and in semi-retirement in Quebec, said their faith was not affected by what occurred in the 1960s. "No, no," said Laurent, "we always used our own good judgment in these matters."..."Now all we hear about is that such-and-such a technique is forbidden." The majority of the young don't go to Church or care what it says."... Added Colettte, "It will take a long time for the Church to regain the people's confidence--fifty years, maybe many more."

Mercedes Concepcion, in her mid-sixties, now retired from the University of the Philippines, remains active in demographic research. She never married....Surveys, she said, show 40 percent of women practicing contraception yet the population, now at sixty-seven million, continues to spiral."
(p. 161)

When Pat and Patty [Crowley] returned from the Commission in 1966, they shared their enthusiasm with their mentor, Monsignor Hillenbrand. But he said only, "We'll wait and see what the Pope says." After that, said Patty, Hillenbrand avoided further contact with them. In fact, it seemed to Patty that their participation in the Commission set up a kind of wall of estrangement between them and the many priests with whom they had formerly maintained warm relations. (p. 162)

McClory indicates the Crowleys set up a new forum funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. (p. 162)

CFM has never recovered from the slump, subsisting in diminished form, and, under new leadership, placing great emphasis on unquestioning loyalty to the Church as conceived by John Paul II. Some CFM leaders blamed the movement's decline on the Crowley's refusal to accept Humanae Vitae, but Patty argued that disillusionment with the Church after the encyclical drove far more couples out of CFM than anything she and Pat said....

"If Pat and I hadn't had each other, we could never have made it through this period," she said. "The Church was not right to publish this document. It would have been better for the Church to be silent than not to listen to the Commission it had appointed. Couples cried out for help....Almost all are now using their own consciences on birth control. Look at the small families. Who is kidding whom?"
(p. 165)

What bothers her most is the deeply entrenched double standard at the Church's institutional level. "I just can't stand the hypocrisy," she said. However, she finds it hard to avoid. She sees it in the clergy who rant against abortion, yet never share their own views about contraception. She sees it in bishops who allow a mistake to perdure for generations rather than jeopardize their own lofty positions by honestly confronting higher authority. She sees it in official pronouncements that assume lay Catholics understand and accept the official doctrine on birth control when in fact they neither understand nor accept. Saying what you mean and doing it has always been very basic with Patty Crowley. This absence of integrity, this little secret that no one can talk about, frustrates her and probably always will. (pp 166-167)

Did the precedent of silence on H.V. foster silence on sexual abuse? Were the bishops groomed for silence by H.V.? Was the "don't ask, don't tell" attitude, suggested by the commission, the foundation for the same response to the sexual abuse scandal? This, it seems to me, is worth considering. Will condemnation of birth control from the pulpit help to regenerate the Church, or will it further erode the numbers in the pews, since there is no valid argument that permission for rhythm can stand on which will logically exclude other barrier methods?

The Church has been in a precarious state since H.V. was promulgated. The crisis has been deepened by the scandal. Today there is no Church leader who can lead us out of our disillusionment, though Benedict is certainly trying hard to do so.

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