Is the Catholic Church Obsessed with Sex?

Posted: 7 December 2014

Without a doubt, the articles I write which attract the most feedback (positive or negative) are always those that discuss sexual morality and the Catholic Church. Nothing seems to raise the emotions of people more than knowing that the Catholic Church has an opinion on sex. And while it may seem that issues such as contraception, IVF, masturbation or homosexuality are all different, they really revolve around the one central hinge: the purpose and meaning of human sexuality. To get directly to the point, Christianity (Catholicism in particular) has a definite understanding of what human sexuality is, while the secular world has a vastly different understanding. In addition, this secular understanding has – for a host of reasons – fed into the minds of many Catholic people so that they no longer understand or agree with the Church’s stance on many of the basic moral issues. Instead of anyone actually seeking to understand the Catholic position, the Church is portrayed as having some sick obsession with matters of sex and telling others what they can (but mostly what they cannot) do.

As a case in point, following my last article which criticised the use of contraception by a Protestant aid agency in Papua New Guinea (PNG), I received an email from a dissatisfied reader. This particular lady – a practicing Catholic – was angered by my ‘narrow minded view’ and questioned whether I had ever been to PNG to truly understand the particular hardships endured by those people. I am grateful to this lady for taking the time to write and I am sure her words represent the thoughts of others – but it does demonstrate my point that there is a huge discrepancy in the public arena about the meaning and purpose of sex.

Read the rest of this entry »

How Many Catholic Churches Are There?

Posted: 13 October 2014

Eastern Catholic ChurchesIf someone were to ask you how many Catholic Churches there are in the world, what would be your response? Not small ‘c’ churches referring to church buildings, but rather, Church with a capital ‘C’, indicating the grouping of believers who call themselves Catholic. You may very well respond to the question that there is one Catholic Church and to a large extent you would be correct. One can look to the Scriptures to see that the Lord deliberately founded a living Church built on his Apostles in order that his teachings and sacraments would continue down through time. Indeed the word Church comes out of the Greek verb ‘to gather together’, so the Church at its heart is a gathering of people.

While there is one Catholic Church though, that Church is made present in 23 Churches. Yes, that is correct, there are 23 Catholic Churches, and only one of those Churches is the Western, or Latin Church. The other 22 Churches are collectively termed the Eastern Catholic Churches but they are by no means all the same. Some of the Eastern Churches include the Melkite, Maronite, Ukrainian and Coptic Churches. And nor are these Eastern Churches mere annexes of the Latin Church. Each of the 22 Eastern Churches are autonomous and self-governing with their own Patriarch, Major Archbishop or Bishop. While these Churches were born in places such as the Middle East, India and Eastern Europe, they are not primarily cultural groups in the same way as one might be a French Catholic or an Indonesian Catholic (both of whom are still members of the Latin Church). Each of the 22 Eastern Churches preserve unique liturgical, devotional and theological traditions that demonstrate the authentic universality of the Catholic Church. For the most part, the Eastern Catholic Churches choose their own Bishops yet they remain Catholic because they are in full communion with the successor of Peter.  Read the rest of this entry »

Pope Francis Marrying Sinners Is No Surprise

Posted: 28 September 2014

Pope Francis weddingThis month Pope Francis seemed to shock the world by marrying twenty couples in a ceremony at St Peter’s Basilica. Aside from the fact that Popes don’t get the opportunity to preside at weddings all that often, what provided the real shock value was that amongst the couples, some had cohabited, one had a child out of wedlock and another had a previous marriage annulled. Some of the hundreds of headlines read, “Pope’s Marriage Celebrations Hint at Coming Changes for the Church”, “Pope Francis Spent His Sunday Marrying Dirty Cohabiters and Other Sinners”, and “Pope Breaks Taboo by Marrying Cohabiting Couples”.

I realise of course, that editors and news producers love to create a stir, but when you digest the actual reports, it becomes clear that there is real ignorance around what the Catholic Church is actually on about. There was a false assumption by the media that the ceremony was a sign that Francis is about to dismantle the “Vatican rules” about marriage. One report boldly stated that by his actions the Pope had “redefined” Catholic doctrine. Another report felt the need to actually clarify that the Pope didn’t marry any homosexual couples in the ceremony, however hinting that this may be the beginning of some openness towards that. The general theme was that because the Pope married people who the media deemed as sinners, 2000 years of Christian understanding on the nature of marriage and sexuality was somehow up for grabs.

The Pope and the ceremony did not redefine anything, least of all any doctrine. The ceremony certainly included a mix of couples including some very active in their faith and others who in the past were less so. Unlike the media, the Church does not look to people and define them as ‘sinners’, she states what sin is, but never attempts to read the heart of an individual and cast judgement: that is generally left to God. What we saw was the same spectrum of couples that are married in churches every day across the world. The truth is that not every couple who stand before a priest to get married are saints, in fact I guarantee you that none of them are. But that’s the whole point of marriage. The sacrament exists so that couples mutually sanctify one another through their life together. Every married couple should go to their death bed as saints but there is no obligation to be canonisable at the start. Each of the couples who the Pope married were prepared by their local parish priest and were ready and willing to embrace marriage. Read the rest of this entry »

Religion is Meant to be Used

Posted: 4 March 2014

Chris Ashton RugbyMany years ago I was active in the Legion of Mary, the largest apostolic organisation of lay people in the Catholic Church, with over 3 million members in almost every country of the world. One of the tasks our praesidium (local group) undertook was weekly home visitations assigned by the parish priest. We visited many different people; some were very active in the faith and our visit was a friendly social call, some were new to the parish so we may have been offering particular information or assistance, and others had made contact with the priest because they may have wanted to get their child into the Catholic school.

In visiting this latter category we would often find people who meant well but knew very little about Christianity. Many of them were technically ‘Catholic’ but the last time they entered a church was to make their confirmation when they were twelve years old. As the Legion of Mary is a spiritual group (in comparison to the St Vincent de Paul Society which offers material assistance), we would make all our visits armed with a mix of prayer leaflets, miraculous medals and rosary beads, which we would freely offer to those we visited. Many of our Catholic-but-non-practicing contacts would gladly accept these items. On a number of occasions I recall they would momentarily disappear into another room before bringing forth, with great pride, a venerable box full of brand new medals, rosaries and unused prayer leaflets. In a way that was rather touching they would tour us through this box pointing out each piece and when it was given to them and by whom. These boxes for the most part contained the sum total of their religion, what they knew about faith was inside that box and that was where they would, with enthusiasm, place the new spiritual items we gave to them. Read the rest of this entry »

Catholic or Protestant…Does it Matter?

Posted: 9 July 2013

pope and queenMy wife and I were travelling recently and we found ourselves on a shuttle bus from the airport to the car rental terminal. While sitting in our seat studying the map, a somewhat friendly man decided to spark up a conversation with us. This man, named Doug, was on his way to an evangelical Protestant retreat weekend with several hundred others from across the country. Upon finding out that we were Catholic, Doug shared that he was raised a Catholic and attended Catholic schooling but had some years back found his way into his particular brand of Protestantism. He didn’t seem too concerned by his change in identity. In the few minutes we had left I tried to offer Doug a few reasons to consider again Catholicism and with a smile reminded him that he was still a member of the Catholic family and an empty pew awaited him at any time.

Doug’s story is neither new nor unique, on that trip alone I met another two former Catholics-turned-Protestants. You probably have family or friends in a similar situation, perhaps you are in that situation. A recent US study identified that one in three people raised as Catholic (that is baptised Catholic) no longer identified as such. The figures would not be hugely inaccurate for Australia. Almost half of those who leave the Catholic Church become unaffiliated from any faith and most of the other half become active in a Protestant denomination. Those who leave Catholicism to worship in a Protestant community are by no means lazy Christians; in fact the same study showed that Catholics who became Protestants had a higher weekly church practice rate than those who remained Catholic. Read the rest of this entry »

Why is the Catholic Church against IVF?

Posted: 5 May 2013

ivf-blueIf you take a quick poll of the next ten strangers you encounter and ask them about the Catholic Church and its attitude towards in vitro fertilization (IVF) you are likely to get two responses: half will not realise the Church has a concern with IVF and the other half will state how ridiculous it is that the Church is concerned about a process that can bring children to couples who are unable to conceive. Actually the Church has more than a concern; the Church has taught since IVF came about, that the process is “gravely immoral”. Not that the Church just made up this teaching when IVF began in the late 1970s, rather it applied its ongoing understanding of sexuality to this particular question. None the less, couples considering IVF as a last hope don’t like being told that their choice is gravely immoral so it’s worth considering just what the real problem is.

IVF presents a host of problems. First, it has no guaranteed success. The success rate of IVF is generally 50% for women under thirty but falls to just 20% for women under 40. Second, IVF costs a lot of money. Each treatment cycle can cost a couple around $3000 (after government assistance) whether there is success or not. Third, IVF has health risks. About 30% of IVF patients experience at least a mild case of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) which causes swollen, painful ovaries. While mild cases can be treated with over-the-counter pain medication a small percentage develop severe OHSS which may require hospitalisation. Fourth, IVF creates a life by destroying others. A usual cycle of IVF produces multiple embryos to assist with the success rate and also to store if a couple wishes to try for more children further down the track. However the truth is these embryos are mostly unused. There are 120,000 embryos sitting in frozen storage in Australia, the majority of which will be eventually destroyed with about 90% of IVF couples choosing to discard them. It is worth remembering that an embryo is no longer just an egg or a sperm, it is a new human life. A couple must ask themselves if the birth of one of their children justifies the deliberate creation and destruction of a few of their other children. Read the rest of this entry »

How Wealthy is the Catholic Church?

Posted: 28 April 2013

Vatican WealthWith the new Pope naming himself after arguably the most renowned beggar who ever lived – Francis of Assisi – some commentators are hoping that the Catholic Church will at last divest itself of the wealth it has been clinging to for thousands of years and begin to preach the authentic Gospel of Christ. These calls though are reminiscent of the Apostle Judas who protested at Mary Magdalene’s use of costly ointment on the feet of Jesus’ which was followed by the Gospel writers’ astute comment, “he did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief”. How many of those who criticise the Church for her alleged wealth are concerned about the poor rather than simply desiring to bring down the influence of Christianity in society? It is not wealth in and of itself that is evil but an inordinate attachment to it. None the less the Church does and should have a preferential option for the poor and Pope Francis has rightly expressed his desire for a Church that is poor and for the poor. So just how wealthy is the Catholic Church?

When people think of the supposed wealth of the Church they most likely picture the grandeur of St Peter’s Basilica and the works of art within the walls of the Vatican. It is wise to recall though that the Church does not consider itself the owners of these items but rather the custodians of them for all humanity. For if the Catholic Church had not safeguarded the great treasures of culture for two thousand years through war and through peace, who do we suppose was going to do it? Something else worth remembering is that many of the pieces that are today regarded as great works of art were originally created as works of devotion, and the only reason they have existed long enough to be considered so valuable, is again because the Catholic Church has watched over them with solicitude across the centuries. Read the rest of this entry »