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.
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.)
- Benedict on contraception, circa 1996 (commonwealmagazine.org)
- Philippine Bishops’ Idiocy, Continued (queering-the-church.com)
- “Adultery”, and the Problem of Heterosexuality, Revisited (opentabernacle.wordpress.com)