Sunday, 11 March 2012


The television documentary series Catholics this week focused on women and their faith.

There seemed to be a good many who trusted their own conscience over the dogmatic hard line of their priest and the Vatican against contraception, and what is interesting is that they are bold enough to say so publicly. It seems the Catholic Church has really lost the battle on this in England. Paul VI's encyclical, Humanae Vitae on 29 July 1968 which forbad the use of all artificial forms of contraception including the Pill.

In 2008, the Tablet ran a major survey, which concluded that

73 per cent of these respondents had also used or said they wouldn't mind using condoms, 51 per cent had used or wouldn't mind using the contraceptive pill, 27 per cent had used or  wouldn't mind using  the coil, 33 per cent had used or wouldn't mind using sterilisation, 22 per cent had used or wouldn't mind using the morning-after pill, 30 per cent had used or wouldn't mind using the diaphragm.

Some 19.1 per cent indicated they would discuss family size and contraception with their priest, while 60 per cent said they wouldn't and 21 per cent were not sure.

The Tablet found that there were a number who clearly didn't want to publically disagree with Church teaching:

Significant proportions of respondents also chose the "no opinion" response, which in some cases may imply reluctance to talk about the use of, or attitudes to, various means of contraception. For example, when asked about condoms, migrants, those with lower education and those familiar with Church teaching on contraception were more likely to choose "no opinion".

This documentary was fortunate in having a number who were prepared to criticise or dismiss it,

There were a number of lapsed Catholics, who still like to visit a Cathedral, but no longer felt able to take part for a number of reasons. One had divorced, and married again, and by the Church's rules was "living in sin", but as she pointed out, the grounds for annulment could be very strange, and include consummated marriages; it seems that rules have exceptions, depending on who you are.

Another lapsed Catholic had returned to the fold, but felt a burden of guilt so much that she could only talk to Mary, and did not feel as if she was good enough to talk to Jesus. That was, of course, a very Medieval conception, where the saints such as Mary could be prayed to, because they were wholly human, and could understand the human condition, and intercede on your behalf to Jesus. And yet it betrays a strange image of Jesus, what was called docetism, where the divine swallows up the merely human.

The divine also swallows up the human in the consecrated wine, which one lady told us was "the blood of Christ" but there seemed to be an odd understanding here too, of an almost magical thinking, as if the mass was a magic rite which transformed wine into blood, but what I found missing was any element of the presence of God in the mass, of an existential encounter with the divine, of what Martin Buber called the meeting together of "I and Thou". Instead, it seemed strangely bloodless.

This was, however, a far more sympathetic portrayal that last week, when the fires of hell had an outing. It seemed that a number of Catholics make their own unique accommodation with the Catholic teaching that issues from the Vatican; and they are looking not back at a past under the iron rule of the church, but towards the future, and a living faith that breaks chains.

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