Bad Catholic Advice

I could probably dedicate this entire blog to chronicling the non-Catholic advice given at the Catholic Answers Forum (I’m not linking to it because I don’t want to help Catholics honestly searching for help with their faith to find the place), but I won’t.  It would be too depressing.  I did want to respond to this one posted in a comment at Dalrock’s blog, though, since it gets into Catholic apologetics more than is on-topic there.  I won’t quote the whole thing, but the context is that a Catholic wife went to her priest for advice because her husband doesn’t want to have procreative sex, so he’s basically blackmailing her: have sex with a condom or get me off some other way, or I’m going to turn to porn.  And the priest told her to go along with it for the sake of keeping the marriage together.  Now, we only have her side of the story, but I’m going to take it as given for the sake of discussion, because this kind of thing does happen.

The problem here is that a Catholic wife with a Catholic husband went to her Catholic priest and got non-Catholic advice. Whether non-Catholics at Dalrock’s disagree with Church teachings is irrelevant to two people who took vows in a Church where openness to procreation is one of the absolute prerequisites for marriage.

Note that the priest doesn’t tell her to obey her husband out of obedience to God — that would be too traditional. No, he tells her to go along with his sinful desires (grudgingly and tearfully, from the sounds of it) in hopes that the marriage will magically get better (or that the kids will get old enough that she can blow up the marriage without hurting them, probably). So he’s still coming from the female imperative, encouraging her to choose to participate in sin rather than saying, “Lord, I’m putting my faith in You and following Your Word by submitting joyfully; please use me to bring my husband closer to You.” See how this priest’s advice actually lets her husband partly off the hook, whereas actual wifely submission would put all the responsibility on him? See how it results in her thinking that she — as the more spiritual, moral partner, being female — has to “help” him do the right thing?

Also, as far as we know, the priest hasn’t visited with the husband to find out what the heck is going on and correct this member of his flock if necessary, which should have been his next stop after talking to her. But that would probably be too confrontational; and besides, we all know that women are the spiritual ones in the family and men are pretty much hopeless brutes, so why bother.

Also, many priests of a certain generation are just as dismissive of Church teachings on sex as anyone else. It’s not unusual for them to shrug this kind of thing off with, “Oh, it’s not that big a deal; no one’s perfect.”  I’ve even heard of priests telling people to stop bringing it to Confession. I know people with several children whose priests have offered to give them a dispensation for using birth control — even though they have no such authority and no such thing exists. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some of that coming into play here, with the priest wishing she’d just get with the program like the other 90% of Catholics who ignore the teachings on procreation and stop bugging him.

These “micro-managed rules” (which they aren’t: “no contraceptive sex ever” isn’t micro-managing; it’s actually one very simple rule) make sense and work just fine, in the context of an overall Catholic life. Not so much when the spouses are immersed in the female imperative; have been taught since Vatican II that you can pick and choose from these “old-fashioned” rules; and have a cowardly, modernist priest who only makes things worse.  It’s not surprising that non-Catholics think it’s a lot of arbitrary nonsense with this kind of guidance happening.


19 thoughts on “Bad Catholic Advice

  1. Cail, according to my pastor, there is no allowance for a wife to use contraception because that’s what her husband wants. And yes, had I died during that time of my marriage, I do believe I would have gone straight to hell. No questions asked.

  2. Maeve, I’m not a priest or any kind of expert, but intention is always a part of determining whether sin is mortal. You’re right: there’s no allowance for using contraception under any circumstances. But there’s also no allowance for a wife to disobey her husband. So we’re back to one of those choices where there’s no clean answer. If a woman prayed, “Lord, I know this goes against your will, and I don’t want to do it, but I’m going to put my faith in you and obey my husband in this. Please help me to obey gracefully and use my obedience to soften his heart,” I don’t think she’d be wrong in that.

    Since she’s Catholic, another aspect of this is Confession. She can go to Confession after every incident, and whatever part of the sin was hers, if any, will be absolved. (If she’s killed in a car accident on the way, she’s still okay; the Church teaches that a firm intention to confess as soon as possible has you covered.) Then she would have no need to deny herself the Eucharist, either (which is something else her priest should be explaining to her). And if she’s in the Confessional every couple days telling the priest that she obeyed and it happened again, maybe he’ll start taking it more seriously and realize it’s not just going to go away.

    Pope Benedict caused a big ruckus once when he talked about choosing a lesser sin over a worse one. He was talking about prostitutes in Africa with AIDS, and said that using a condom was “better” than killing someone by giving him AIDS. He made it clear that he was NOT saying condoms are okay (of course, the liberal media, always trying to nudge the Church in that direction, ignored that part), but was saying that some sins are worse than others. Obviously, the best answer is for the prostitute to stop prostituting. But if the prostitute is going ahead with the fornication, then using the condom is less additional sin than giving someone a deadly disease. So, according to him at least, contraception is a lesser sin than murder.

    Is using contraception a greater sin than disobeying your husband? I don’t know, but I don’t think the answer is as clear a “yes” as your priest suggested.

  3. Committing a sin knowing you can confess and wipe it away? Cail, what you have described sounds an awful lot like the sin of presumption.

    Church teaching on submission is that a wife is to submit unless her husband commands her to commit a sin (and I believe only mortal sins apply here, but less certain of this). So it is a question of how grave a sin this is. If grave, then she cannot obey. After all, her obedience to her husband comes because she is obedient to the Lord. You don’t violate God’s laws in order to obey them.

  4. I could in any good faith, go to confession after every incident, PROMISE that I will not commit said sin again (IOTW outright lie) and expect to receive any absolution. It’s a hypocritical abuse of the sacrament and would just compound the sin.

    Besides, I am responsible for my own soul and have been since my Confirmation. My marital vows did not include a surrendering of this responsibility to someone else.

    So, the upshot is that I went along with things because I wanted to make him happy, but in doing so I knew quite well that it would damn me.

  5. Wow. This is stunning, Maeve. Your comments I mean. I totally get what it is to do what you’d not prefer to make your man happy. That’s just being a good wife.

    As I read this dialog the Scripture passage that kept echoing in my head was from Romans 14, where Paul writes about not doing something that you feel is morally and spiritually acceptable for the sake of your brother. He ends the discourse with the words, “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”

    And so, if certain acts that are forbidden within Catholicism were forbidden but my husband wanted it anyway, and I felt a faith conviction that submission to him was my first duty, then that submission is not sinful because my faith convicts me that submitting to him is acceptable.

    But I’m not Catholic, so no Magistereum to abide by. But this was a fascinating discussion.

  6. I think Cane has the right of it (I’ll need to find his exact post, but I’m fairly confident I’m characterizing his views correctly – if he reads this and I’m wrong, he can correct me). In such a situation the wife is to say “I can’t obey you in this; what else can I do to please you?” And if the husband uses porn as a threatpoint, then prayer.

    Look, nobody said it would be easy…

  7. I have not been in the RCC for quite a while, but I don’t recall contraception use sending the user straight to hell.

  8. BradA,

    Well, nothing necessarily sends the user “straight to Hell”, given that you also need sufficient knowledge and full consent of will. But contraception is certainly a grave sin.

    Unfortunately the fact that you never knew that is a big problem in and of itself.

  9. And so, if certain acts that are forbidden within Catholicism were forbidden but my husband wanted it anyway, and I felt a faith conviction that submission to him was my first duty, then that submission is not sinful because my faith convicts me that submitting to him is acceptable.

    This can get very dangerous. For starters, how are you deciding between what is a “faith conviction” and what is simply an error in judgment? For another, what sort of things are we talking about. If your husband told you to spit and stamp on the Eucharist after Mass (an extreme but point-making example) then I’d say your moral duty is to disobey in this case.

    That’s not as out there of an example as you’d think. Once in my family somebody suggested we take the Blessed Sacrament and hide it under our chairs! The look of abject horror on my face quickly changed his mind…

  10. The danger with that line of thinking is that it feeds straight into the same one putting the woman as the judge of all that a man requests. That is likely far more of a problem than the other extreme.

    I don’t like birth control in marriage, but I cannot find the Scripture that says it is wrong, so perhaps that is why I split from the RCC years ago. I think I would go with what is written more than condemnation. Life is a matter of walking things out, not living according to The Law or even our own laws.

  11. You misunderstand the nature of authority. All authority comes from God. When a husband commands a wife to do something sinful, he is not exercising God-given authority, as God never demands sin of us. For sinful commands, the wife must disobey. Everyone’s first duty is always and everywhere to Christ, only second to a human authority. You’re reading the Bible like a Protestant, Cail. The Church is quite clear on the breakdown of our loyalties both within and without of the family. “I was just obeying orders” is never a Catholic excuse for sin.

  12. There’s an interesting issue here. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the Catholic husband has no right to demand non-procreative sex of his Catholic wife. Let’s also say, for the sake of argument, that the Catholic priest has no right to grant confessors a waiver from birth control requirements.

    If we respect the husband’s authority to make decisions for the family (and the wife’s responsibility to submit to same), don’t we also have to respect the priest’s authority to make decisions for his penitents (and the faithful Catholic’s responsibility to submit to same)?

    Is it necessary to be consistent on these things?

  13. The danger with that line of thinking is that it feeds straight into the same one putting the woman as the judge of all that a man requests. That is likely far more of a problem than the other extreme.

    Please don’t take this as dismissive, because I don’t intend it to be, but to be blunt I really don’t care about the “danger” of that line of thinking, because that line of thinking is correct.

    I did not say that a woman should be the judge of all a man requests, nor would my line of thinking lead there. It leads exactly where it actually led: To the idea that we have no obligation to do what is immoral. I don’t much care of the implications of that, because it’s true regardless.

  14. Pingback: No sin sends you straight to Hell | Malcolm the Cynic

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  16. Maeve, I’m with Elspeth on this one. Just wow. Us protestants are not under the magisterium, but we continue to have problems with disobedience and pastors in practice, if not in teaching, trying to take burdens from us that it is not their business to do.

    And in every service there should be a prayer for repentence, and proclamation of forgiveness. We are all aware of our own sin, and we all need to confess.

  17. Excuse the lateness of this comment. I very rarely respond anywhere, but I think at least the Catholic Red Pill community would be intrigued by this August 12 post by Kevin O’Brien (and those posts of his preceding that one logically). He’s… what? a quarter of the way there, and all on his own, and already he’s hitting a nerve and getting a response….

    Though I fancy even Dalrock would be a bridge too far for him…

  18. Since she’s Catholic, another aspect of this is Confession. She can go to Confession after every incident, and whatever part of the sin was hers, if any, will be absolved.
    Cail Corishev

    Speaking of “Bad Catholic Advice”, if rather than a firm purpose of amendment, her intention is to again commit the sin she is confessing*, then no, her sin will not be absolved plus she’ll have committed sacrilege against the Lord’s sacrament of confession–yet another sin.

    As for the original blog post, I think you uncharitably assume too much about what the priest said and intended. All you have is this one line in the woman’s post, “He (her husband) insists on condoms and the priest told me to bear it for the sake of our marriage.” You do not have the priest’s own words and you cannot remotely across time and space read that priest’s mind.

    * There is doubt, as you indicate in your comment quoted above, that this woman has even committed a sin in this case. I will charitably assume that this priest heard the woman’s whole story (which we have not) and concluded that in her case this woman was not sinning (although her husband may well be). I leave making the relevant literature search up to you. I also assume that the priest tried to explain to the woman why her participation in the marital act that her husband insisted on contracepting is, in her situation, not a sin. This is again a charitable assumption. However, if she thought her action was a sin on her part and confessed it while intending to repeat that action then she would have sinned in the confessional.

  19. …I cannot find the Scripture that says it is wrong…

    You’re going about it backwards. Scripture has authority because the Church has authority. The Church’s authority comes from Jesus, not Scripture.

    I recommend the Church’s doubters read Humanae Vitae, it is short, written in clear (though a little formal) language, and easy to understand.

    Life is a matter of walking things out, not living according to The Law…

    Maybe you want to reconsider that for Jesus did say, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (John 14:15).

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