The former abbot of Glenstal, Fr Mark Patrick Hederman, has suggested that the Church’s teachings on sexuality need to be dramatically modernised, and he has provided a list for this agenda including celibacy and the subjugation of women.
Any campaigner for change needs to beware of taking too broad a brush to an agenda. I love those idealists who wear a button saying ‘World Peace Now’, but admirable though this is, it’s too big and too vague to be successful.
Some years ago, a newspaper I worked for suggested that I attend a tutorial on how to make a point in TV discussions – since I sometimes appeared on the box identified with their publication.
I was despatched to a studio where a group of us were lectured by a veteran TV executive on how to get our ideas across in TV debate. “How many points should you make in a TV discussion?” he asked. Some suggested “six”, some “four”, some “ten”.
The guy held his index finger aloft. “One,” he said. “You can only make ONE point effectively.”
So, in consideration of Fr Hederman’s suggestion of an overhaul of the Catholic Church’s attitude to sexuality, I would just like to make one point – one single issue should be reviewed seriously, I believe. And that is the ban on contraception.
“Look,” a Loreto nun said to me this week, “people follow their own consciences on contraception anyway. The smaller size of Catholic families is the proof.”
That is as may be, but the theoretical Vatican ban on artificial contraception remains in place, and I believe it is time to review it.
This subject is much more important than celibacy, or wider, grand agendas about sexual ethics. This is about women’s health, and the health of mothers throughout the world. Too much and too rapid child-bearing really can affect the health of mothers, and we absolutely must respect, and care for maternal health. It’s fundamentally Christian too: healing and health are central to the Gospel story.
When the British National Health service was launched in 1945, doctors were shocked to find that huge numbers of women were suffering from prolapse of the womb (after 1945 they could visit a GP without paying a fee). Prolapse of the uterus is associated with frequent pregnancies and it was evident that these mothers needed attention to their health. (Even so, family planning was not included in the British NHS until 1958, as it was not considered ‘proper’.)
I have read Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae – the papal document which played a part in banning artificial contraception – and it is a beautiful and poetic invocation of conjugal love and family life. We would do well to consider its values.
Natural family planning is also, surely, an ideal, blending conjugal co-operation with the natural rhythms of the female cycle and mutual respect. But a prohibition on using any other method to regulate fertility surely requires, in the light of reason, to be revisited.
On a polemical point, Planned Parenthood and its global outreach are constantly seeking to conflate contraception with abortion, lumping them together as “reproductive choice”. It’s vital to make a clear distinction between the two.
“The subjugation of women”, as Fr Hederman puts it, is a big, big issue, ranging from the horrors of female circumcision in many parts of Africa to the under-representation of women on corporate boards. But the matter of contraception and women’s health is one, specific point which he, like other influential churchmen, might usefully campaign to review.
Heavenly sounds at Easter
Ever since I first visited Poland back in the 1980s, I have loved stringed instruments in church services – the Polish churches regularly had string quartets accompanying Mass. So it was heavenly to be present at Easter Sunday Mass at University College Church (Newman University Church) on Dublin’s St Stephen’s Green, where the sound of violins accompanied the enchanting young female cantor.
It’s great to see this famous church undergoing a revival under the stewardship of the energetic Fr William Dailey from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. There’s a very promising programme of events planned under the banner of ‘Faith and Reason’, as well as continued focus on beauty in music and liturgy.