Sex, lies, and the Catholic Church

. . . is the topic of my Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld:

The lie here is the one being circulated that the Catholic Church’s doctrines change and at times even reversed. That is not true. Proponents of the RH Bill, unable to respond to the Church’s expression of certainty on the subject, have now resorted to half-truths to question the Church’s infallibility (and absolute consistency) on matters of morals and faith. And their repeated and only example is that which Pope John Paul II referred to as the "myth" of Galileo Galilei.

The short answer is that the Catholic Church never questioned Galileo Galilei’s right to investigate if indeed the Earth circled the sun. Pope Urban VIII, a friend of Galileo, actually encouraged him to find proof to back up his conclusions precisely because the majority of the scientific community, not the Church, questioned Galileo’s findings. The Church had no problem with Galileo’s scientific work. But it did have a problem when Galileo, unable to prove his theories, started dabbling in theology. Which, understandably, is within the Church’s authority. And despite reasonable Church requests for Galileo to please stop using his erroneous theological interpretations to back up his science, Galileo became belligerent and obnoxious, and even insulted the very pope who wanted to help him. In the end, a specific office within the Church (but not -- and without -- the Church itself pronouncing doctrine) declared his theological pretensions as heretical. Not his science, remember, but his theological arguments. There is a big difference. If Galileo had stuck to science, the Church would have just let him be. And encouraged him the same way it encouraged Copernicus and Kepler. Even then, contrary to another lie, nobody tortured Galileo. The Church (by creditable accounts) treated Galileo very well even though he was spouting heresy.

Incidentally, the Church (and definitely including Pope Pius XII) never condemned Darwin nor his Origin of the Species. Instead, to anybody who actually read Humani Generis, the Church was quite deliberate and cautious in advising the faithful to regard the matter "with the necessary seriousness, moderation and measure."

That is why it is misleading to present Pope John Paul II’s "apology" in 2000 with regard to Galileo as an example of a "reversal" of Church doctrine. Pope John Paul II made the apology as an act of charity and to reach out toward those within and without the Church by expressing regret for certain acts (overzealousness perhaps or even misjudgments) done by certain individuals acting for the Church. Pope John Paul II never said that the Church was wrong. And there was no reversal of any infallible doctrine precisely because there was no Church doctrine on the matter. This is clear. For there to be infallibility, a pope must (1) have spoken in his official capacity as St. Peter’s successor; (2) on a matter relating to faith or morals; and (3) he has actually solemnly proclaimed the doctrine as one to be followed by Catholics. All three elements were not present in the Galileo case.

The elements for infallibility, however, are present with regard to the Catholic Church’s stand on contraception. From the Bible’s Genesis and Deuteronomy, to Sts. Jerome, Augustine, and Frances de Sales, Pope Pius XI’s Casti Connubii, Second Vatican Council’s Gaudium et Spes, Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae, Pope John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio and Theology of the Body lectures, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and as recently as Pope Benedict XVI’s Caritas in Veritate, this amounts to centuries and centuries of consistent, unchanging, and thoroughly reasoned expression of a truth that the Church encourages us to realize.

The Church, furthermore, made no distinctions between the immorality of contraception and the immorality of corruption or plunder, despite some ill-advised statements by some local priests that the local media blew out of proportion. And while not everybody could be as virile and sexy as the proponents of contraception (unlike those "aged" and "celibate" bishops), nevertheless, as some would say, you don’t have to be poor to understand the plight of the poor. Or have a heart attack to know it’s not good for you. Or be a monk to know that to be human is precisely to have control over our desires and compulsions, and not the other way around.

In the end, it becomes a matter of humility. The humility to realize that our intelligence is imperfect and that we have a capacity for self-deception, and that our individual consciences need to be guided by the Bible, holy tradition, and the Church (see Catechism of the Catholic Church No. 95). That, as one saint said, to "obey the pope, in even the smallest things, is to love him. And to love the Holy Father is to love Christ and his Mother, our most holy Mother, Mary." That, finally, Catholics need to live up to what we declare to everyone every Sunday, when during Mass we proclaim that we believe "in the holy Catholic Church."