Anglican Clergy & Contraception

Amidst the reams that have been written about the proposed welcome to disaffected Anglicans, most commentaries have focussed either on the affront female  and gay Catholics of welcoming some people whose main motivation is opposition to women or gay clergy, or on the prospect that this will reopen discussion on compulsory celibacy for priests.

Now Commonweal has raised another controversial issue that will likely be raised afresh.  The Anglican communion resolved as long ago as the Lambeth conference of 1930 that contraception was not necessarily wrong.  Today, there are few Anglicans who regard contraception as a moral issue.

Birth Control Methods

A friend of mine, a former Anglican actually, brought up an issue that I hadn’t thought about with respect to the new Anglican rite:  contraception. In 1930, the Lambeth Conference declared that contraception was not always immoral, and could be used (for serious reason) to regulate the number of children that a married couple had.  That declaration prompted a negative response from the Roman Catholic Church–the encyclical Casti Connubii, which declared that the use of contraception was never morally permissible.  As most people know, that stance was reaffirmed by Humanae Vitae.

Now, there are few Catholics either who remain opposed to contraception on moral grounds. The evidence is clear the overwhelming majority of Catholic (heterosexual) couples of child-bearing age practice some form of artificial contraception, having reconciled their stance with their consciences – as the Church teaches us we may do, and as many have done with the assent or encouragement of their confessors. The figures I have seen suggest that dissent on celibacy is even more widespread than it is on celibacy – and it directly affects far more people. So why has it attracted less attention?

I suspect this is simply because, although the offer extends to all Anglicans, and no just the clergy, it is the latter who will be the most visible, and so most thinking has contrasted on them.  The most visible sign of compliance or otherwise will be on their marital status, single or married, and so this has gained the initial attention.  Their contraceptive practices are private and not open to public inspection. But for priests, privacy for personal practices is not the issue.

It’s true, of course, that many Roman Catholics make their own decisions about this matter, and come to their own private peace with God in the “internal forum” of their conscience.  But the new influx of Anglicans will include people who will not be able to come to a purely private peace–the married members of the clergy, who will be required to follow Humanae Vitae no less than other married persons.

And not only to “follow” the teaching, but to teach it. What will be the position of our new clergy when they begin to face up to the contradictions between their established practices and the formal teaching of their new home, on contraception or on other issues (divorce, for instance, which some Anglican clergy are willing to accept)?  Will they knuckle down and toe the party line, or continue to teach the position of their own belief? And if they do, will the Vatican grant them more licence than they currently do to their own clergy?

Amid the range of responses and differing interpretations being placed on this initiative, the only aspect of which I am certain is that there will be many unintended consequences.

(Read the Commonweal article in full here.)

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4 comments for “Anglican Clergy & Contraception

  1. William Lindsey
    October 26, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    Terry, I had just read that Commonweal thread, and was taken with it, too. One of the interesting comments Cathleen Kaveny makes is that Anglicans fleeing the Church of England because it’s ostensibly becoming more gay-affirming need to recognize that the Catholic church condemns homosexuality and use of artificial contraceptives on the same grounds.

    Kaveny says, “If Anglicans are fleeing their communion because they reject the ordination of practicing homosexuals, they need to see that the Roman Catholic Church rejects contraception for much the same grounds that it rejects homosexual acts–it’s against the natural law as authoritatively interpreted by the magisterium –the Pope they wanted and now have.”

    To me, this raises important questions. First and foremost, isn’t there a glaring double standard in the way the Catholic church treats gays, as compared to how it treats those using contraception?

    In his latest posting on his blog, Fr. Geoff Farrow notes that the U.S. bishops are considering a draft of a pastoral letter that will condemn use of contraception and cohabitation as intrinsically evil. Fr. Farrow reads this as a window-dressing move to prettify the bishops’ attacks on gays and lesbians.

    It seems very unlikely that, no matter what a pastoral letter like this says, either those living together prior to marriage or those using contraceptives in marriage will attract the fierce attention the gay community attracts from the bishops, as a threat to the sanctity of marriage.

    There’s an exceptionalism within the Catholic church when it comes to homosexuality. And much dishonesty about what people actually do in their daily lives in the realm of sexuality feeds it.

    I suspect that Anglicans leaving the Church of England for Rome to escape positive attitudes to gays will employ the same double standard that Catholics already use to turn a blind eye to use of contraceptives while they bash gays.

    You’d think that seeing this hypocrisy clearly would motivate Catholics of the center to work actively to combat the church’s persecution of their gay brothers and sisters. And also to foster open, honest conversation about the glaring inconsistencies and hypocrisies that permit so many Catholics to use contraceptives with an easy conscience while targeting gays as sexual reprobates.

    • queeringthechurch
      October 26, 2009 at 3:03 pm

      Bill, there’s a huge double standard. The enormity of this suddenly hit me when I was reading at Wild Reed about their calling out the Courage Apostolate. The point of Courage is to help gay people to live “chaste2 lives in accordance with Church teaching. But all other unmarried people are also expected to live chastely. Why are we singled out for special attention? Or are they really so deluded as to think that teens and adults who aren’t actually “cohabiting (and so intrinsically evil)” are virginally pure?

      The progressive consensus on the Anglican flirtation seems to be that it is obscene. In its execution and message, that is certainly so. But in the longer term impact I ‘m no yet convinced – it may well turn out in ways not planned. I’m certainly hoping that a new discussion on sexual theology in general will emerge -including compulsory celibacy. I see that A N Wilson reads a lot of ironies in the present moves: and confidently predicts that a further irony will be the Catholic ordination of women in 20 years.

      • William Lindsey
        October 26, 2009 at 10:08 pm

        And because the double standard specifically targets a double minority, it undercuts everything the church wants to say about, well, anything. Since love is basic to it all . . . .

        I am constantly mystified that people who listen to the church attacking gay lives and gay relationships as a threat to the sacredness of marriage don’t stop and think for a moment that, if the church is sincere about defending marriage, it would be spending millions to outlaw divorce and contraception.

        The choice to zero in on a vulnerable minority group as a singular threat to marriage is simply despicable. It’s about using human beings as cannon fodder in control battles the church wants to fight with secular society, which go way beyond homosexuality.

        • queeringthechurch
          October 27, 2009 at 12:14 am

          The interesting thing about contraception of course Bill, is that in a sense they (the US bishops at least) are starting to drop the double standard by labelling it as “intrinsically evil” – which rather bundles them together with us “disordered” folk. Now, if the straights using the pill, condoms or other devices could just see that they are being labelled as evil, while the Episcopalians somehow are allowed to get away with sexual pleasure without guilt or babies, some of them might just be ready to make common cause……

          Or is that just wishful thinking?

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