Saturday, September 18, 2010

Someone should have told Mother Teresa...

The Vademecum
Recent articles on www.chiesa and articles by various bloggers have brought the Vademecum for confessors back into discussion. This document was published by the Council for the Family in 1997 and speaks, among other things, to the issue of contraception. Let us be clear from the start, THIS DOCUMENT IS NOT MAGISTERIAL TEACHING! However, it does have a certain degree of moral authority as coming from a board of distinguished theologians and published through the Vatican.
A second point we need to recognize: the vademecum does not require the confessor to do anything in particular in regards to questioning or advising penitents about contraception. Some people have read far too much into this document and have declared that the current policy of the Church is that confessors are to leave contraceptive couples “in good faith” – i.e. priests ought not to tell people about the Church’s teaching on contraception. This conclusion is simply not true. The document is not a part of magisterial teaching, nor does it make such a strong claim against educating the people.
Rather than go into a detailed analysis of the text of the Vademecum, I would like instead to invoke an equally powerful moral authority: Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. I point to Mother Teresa as an example to all Catholics, but especially to preachers – how prudently, lovingly, and courageously did she preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

The National Prayer Breakfast Speech
To any and all who would say that priests ought not to preach about contraception or ought not to speak of contraception in the confessionals – for fear that this could drive the people away or cause an undue burden for couples – to all such persons I lift up the example of Mother Teresa and the speech she gave to our nation at the National Prayer Breakfast, 3 February 1994.
Now I recognize that Mother’s speech was given three years before the Vademecum was released, but I think she is still a good example of how we ought to deal with the same issues which are raised in that document. What did she say regarding contraception?
“The way to plan the family is natural family planning, not contraception. In destroying the power of giving life, through contraception, a husband or wife is doing something to self. This turns the attention to self and so it destroys the gift of love in him or her. […] Once that living love is destroyed by contraception, abortion follows very easily. […] We cannot solve all the problems in the world, but let us never bring in the worst problem of all, and that is to destroy love. And this is what happens when we tell people to practice contraception and abortion.”
Oh! If only someone would have explained to Mother that it is better to “leave the people in good faith,” rather than to potentially drive them away through talking about such controversial issues! If only she had understood that we must “meet people where they are at,” rather than challenging them! How radically different the approach which Mother Teresa took – perhaps she knew something that we have forgotten?
Happiness is the goal of morality
If we believe that contraception really is destructive to married life and to the spiritual life of individuals, why would we want to leave anyone “in good faith”? If contraception is a poison, not only physically but also spiritually, why would we ever think it better to have a general policy of not challenging the contraceptive mentality of our nation? Now I know that there are certain extreme cases in which a confessor ought not to tell a penitent of the immorality of contraception; but these few exceptions should prove the rule, they should not become the rule.
Imagine a sheep who, in good faith and following its sheep conscience, wandered far from the sheepfold and off into another valley. Say that sheep is perfectly happy where it is. It has no idea it is no longer in the true sheepfold It feels secure and at home. But IN FACT this new valley is prone to invasions by wolves and IN FACT the sheep has already put itself directly in the path of a terrible wolf. Should the shepherd leave the sheep “in its good faith”? Should he respect the absolute authority of the conscience? Or, should he save that sheep from the terrible danger it does not even recognize?
If morality is not primarily about law and authority, but about happiness; then it is clear that preachers are obliged to preach the Gospel of Christ in its entirety – with love, compassion, and understanding, as well as fortitude. I will continue to preach on contraception because I am convinced that contraception destroys marriages and makes people unhappy. I will continue to question penitents about contraception because I am certain that they will only be happy when they live the life of virtue which has been revealed by Christ. It is not law or authority which drives my morality (neither the authority of the Church nor the authority of the personal conscience), but the very nature of the created order and the inherent structure of the life of grace.
For me (following the Dominican Thomistic tradition), morality is about finding happiness. Mother Teresa spoke out against contraception because she wanted us to be happy. Priests must preach about contraception in order to promote happiness on earth and to lead their people into the blessed happiness of life everlasting.


Vanessa Kachadurian said...

God Bless Mother Teresa and her Sisters of Charity order. Today they operate in over 100 countries unselfishly caring for disabled and sick orphans.

Vanessa Kachadurian

Nick said...

"Let us be clear from the start, THIS DOCUMENT IS NOT MAGISTERIAL TEACHING!"

Prove it.

Anonymous said...

I often feel it misleading to see the heading "Mother Teresa,,," since she took her name from a Dr of the Church, Teresa of Jesus, who is has been called" Mother Teresa" since the 16th C. It seems more sense to refer to our present Bl. as Mother Teresa of Calcutta. In this age of shortened language, such a B16 for Pope Benedict XVI, I fill such tag lines often mislead, or are irreverent.

Anonymous said...

I've blogged on this subject before, both Blessed Mother Teresa's words and the article by Sandro Magister in La Chiesa. I think Mr. Magister was trying to state what the practical reality is: most priests either won't counsel not to use contraception for fear of offending, ignore the subject trusting that "his" people are so well formed (by magic?) that they would never deviate from Church doctrine, or don't agree or support the Church's doctrine in the first place. There is a great moral silence on the issue of contraception in the Church, it is one of the least talked about moral doctrines in the Church, at least in the US, because so few Catholics observe this doctrine and the priests are....afraid of losing members/donations, making people mad, getting in trouble with the bishop, lack moral courage? My wife has been told by a priest that she SHOULD use contraception because we "have too many kids" (6). This and divorce and the whole sexularization/sterilization of our culture and the Church are the two gravest scandals of our times, not only because they occur in such vast numbers, but also because, unlike abortion, the Church is largely silent on them at every level below that of the Vatican. Yes, there are exceptions, but practically speaking your average Sunday Mass attending Catholic is never forced to examine his/her comfortable presumptions about contraception use, something 97% of Catholics depart from the Church on. And ending sentences with prepositions is something up with which I will not put!

Good blog.

Doctor Victoria A. Howard, Anchoress said...

We must keep a strict standard for ourselves and learn to control our urges. Control over oneself always leads to wisdom and comes from wisdom. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta was right about contraception. We cannot afford to let up in the demands upon ourselves that come from our faith. Yes, it is difficult, but God did not promise us a rose garden but rather a steep road to hoe. Without a challenge we arrive at mediocrity. We must be willing to deny ourselves and take up our crosses and follow our leader. If the world hates us for it, remember that first they hated our Leader, Jesus Christ.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful points made here. If only priests would speak up courageously from the pulpit about what the Church teaches in this area. In my whole life as a Catholic, I've only ever heard 2 priests bring it up.

To Anonymous, this isn't that important, but Mother Teresa actually took her name from "the little one," St. Therese of Lisieux who in turn to her name from "the big Teresa," St. Teresa of Avila. Both Saint Therese and St. Teresa are now doctors of the Church.

Anonymous said...

I've only ever heard one priest talk about it in person during a sermon/homily. I have heard the doctrine occasionally discussed in EWTN Mass celebrations.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Anonymous (Sept 21, 4:31am),
As another has already corrected from whom Mother Teresa took her name (from Therese of the Child Jesus), I will address your comment about B16.

Are you aware of the fact that our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI signed "B16" in a text message he sent to thousands of youths at the Sydney World Youth Day? Do you think that he was irreverent in this action?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

You ask that I prove that the document (the Vademecum) is not part of Magisterial teaching...
1) It was released from a Pontifical Council...not a Congregation, not the Pope Himself, just a Council. The Council for Family Life has never been part of the Magisterium.
2) The document does not claim to be part of Magisterial teaching.
3) No one, not the Pope, not the officials at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, not any theologian... no one of any serious theological background has ever claimed that this document is Magisterial Teaching.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Veneremurcernui, Dr. Victoria A. Howard, and Anonymous (Sept 22, 5:05pm),
I am very happy to hear that the post has given you some encouragement.
Let us all continue to pray that our priests will be true shepherds of Christ's flock!

Nick said...


The document includes Magisterial Teaching, such as on contraception.

Nick said...


Contraception, directly opposed to the transmission of life, betrays and falsifies the self-sacrificing love proper to marriage, "altering its value of total self-giving"22 and contradicting God's design of love, in which it has been granted to married couples to participate.

4. The Church has always taught the intrinsic evil of contraception, that is, of every marital act intentionally rendered unfruitful. This teaching is to be held as definitive and irreformable. Contraception is gravely opposed to marital chastity; it is contrary to the good of the transmission of life (the procreative aspect of matrimony), and to the reciprocal self-giving of the spouses (the unitive aspect of matrimony); it harms true love and denies the sovereign role of God in the transmission of human life.33

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church

233. Concerning the “methods” for practising responsible procreation, the first to be rejected as morally illicit are sterilization and abortion[521]. The latter in particular is a horrendous crime and constitutes a particularly serious moral disorder[522]; far from being a right, it is a sad phenomenon that contributes seriously to spreading a mentality against life, representing a dangerous threat to a just and democratic social coexistence[523].

Also to be rejected is recourse to contraceptive methods in their different forms[524]: this rejection is based on a correct and integral understanding of the person and human sexuality [525] and represents a moral call to defend the true development of peoples[526]. On the other hand, the same reasons of an anthropological order justify recourse to periodic abstinence during times of the woman's fertility[527]. Rejecting contraception and using natural methods for regulating births means choosing to base interpersonal relations between the spouses on mutual respect and total acceptance, with positive consequences also for bringing about a more human order in society.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Nick (Sep 24, 7:27am),
I'm not sure what you think I am saying. Let me be clear: I am not saying that the Vademecum does not speak about matters of faith and morals. I am not saying that the Vademecum does not quote magisterial documents. I am not saying that the Vademecum is in no way related to the Church.

I am saying that this document is not a case of magisterial teaching. Yes, it includes magisterial teaching. So do many of the posts on this blog, so do many books of theology -- any good theologian will be referring to magisterial teaching and even quoting magisterial teaching -- this does not make the document to be part of the Church's Magisterial teaching.

Nick, I am beginning to wonder if you have even read my original post. The whole point of the article is to stress that priests ought to be speaking about the Church's teaching on contraception more often. Many people are (mis)interpreting the Vademecum, thinking that it says that priests cannot/should not preach about contraception. I argue that such an interpretation is erroneous. Moreover, I give the example of Mother Teresa, who did speak about contraception.

What exactly is your problem here?
What are you afraid of? If you think I am out to destroy the Church's teaching on not worry! I am doing all I can to uphold that teaching and to encourage priests to speak about it more often!
I think we are on the same team. But if you continue to attack, I will fight back and defend my post with great zeal.
Peace to you.

Anonymous said...

This is the most wonderful website! I discovered it by accident -- wish somehow you could get the parish priests to acknowledge it is here --especially for young people needing to ask questions-Can you include blessings to those who read it --not sure is you can bless by cyberspace.

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