As a Catholic, I'm quite used to my church being criticized. And because the church is comprised of sinful people like me, I'm sure some of it is deserved. But I can handle an honest critique, not the intellectually lazy, bigoted, straw-man caricature of Catholicism that Joel Pett chose to draw and the paper's editorial staff chose to publish Feb. 15. The cartoon depicted a Catholic bishop condemning a woman for her "evil desire" for birth control while simultaneously leering at her young son.
While I don't dispute the paper's right to publish such a cheap-shot attack, I am not obliged to help finance it.
For the record, I have never heard a single Catholic bishop, or priest for that matter, point a finger in angry condemnation of a woman's desire for birth control. Yes, the Catholic Church views contraception and sterilization as morally incompatible with a rightly ordered sexuality, because sexual intercourse is naturally oriented toward the intimate union of spouses, and true spousal love is intrinsically total in its self-donation (a gift of the entire self, including one's fertility) and generously open to the possibility of new life.
Many people, including some Catholics, reject this view, largely because they have either discarded the intrinsically marital meaning of intercourse — making sex primarily about pleasure exchange — or have discarded the intrinsically procreative meaning of intercourse — viewing fertility as a disease or obstacle rather than a gift.
Yet the church holds all her children within her bosom, not screaming with pointed finger but patiently exhorting us to an interior conversion that will recognize the truth of human sexuality amid the multiplicity of false voices around us.
A clarification, however, is also in order. Using the term "birth control" is misleading because the Catholic Church is not opposed in principle to responsible family planning, per se. The Catholic vision does not require procreative providentialism, in which couples simply accept however many children the Lord will send. Couples with a serious reason to postpone or avoid pregnancy, for example, have recourse to periodic abstinence via fertility awareness, in which couples through simple observation are able to identify the seven-to-10 day fertile window in each month's fertility cycle.
Whereas contraception distorts the intrinsic meaning of sex — reducing it to the pursuit of sterilized pleasure — periodic abstinence recognizes and respects the procreative dimension of intercourse enough to abstain and develop mastery.
Those who extol the efficacy of contraception, especially the pill, are much like the liberal academics who continued to extol the virtues of communism despite the clear evidence of its soul-crushing despotism. Or like Baghdad Bob, they continue to proclaim the social benefits of contraception while the Western family disintegrates before their eyes because of the moral recklessness enabled by supposed consequence-free sex.
Just recently, The New York Times ran a story that the majority of births to women under age 30 are out of wedlock. And of course, this figure does not include the hundreds of thousands of abortions procured by women under age 30 each year. Yet self-styled "progressives" such as Pett still insist that more contraception is the answer, which begs the question, "What exactly are we progressing toward?"
The Catholic moral vision is far too rational for Pett to embrace, let alone articulate; he'd rather pluck the low-hanging fruit of anti-Catholicism, the last acceptable American prejudice. His bigotry was on full display in the second panel, an image reminiscent of Thomas Nast's 19th-century depictions of Catholic bishops as bloodthirsty, child-devouring crocodiles.
I suppose Pett was intending to illumine the bankruptcy of the Catholic Church's moral witness because of the sexual scandals of recent vintage. I will not minimize the ugliness of how some Catholics behaved, whether in perpetuating abuse or covering it up, but the connection between Catholic moral teaching regarding contraception and the clergy sex scandals is a colossal non-sequitur.
Truth is truth, whether we fail to live up to it or not. I doubt Pett would condemn the collective virtue of public school teachers because of the abuse that far outnumbers Catholic crimes, or devalue the work of journalists based on public cases of plagiarism, deceit or bias. And yet he uses human weakness as a reason to smugly and irrationally dismiss in toto the 2,000-year-old moral teaching of the Catholic Church.