Father Hardon

Things seem to have quieted down recently regarding the objection of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to a federal mandate to include contraception in health care coverage.

Back in February Catholic News Service (“Obama’s revised HHS mandate won’t solve problems, USCCB president says”) reported on the story. Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, President of the USCCB, “said the bishops are ’very, very enthusiastic’ about the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, introduced by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb. The cardinal said the legislation would produce an ‘ironclad law simply saying that no administrative decrees of the federal government can ever violate the conscience of a religious believer individually or religious institutions.”

A few days later, my son-law’s neighbor left something on Chris’s doorstep. It was an article from The Catholic Servant about someone named Father Hardon, S. J.  I’d never heard of Father Hardon.

I love the Jesuits. A small group of Presbyterian and Jesuit students met together for beer and theology the last Friday of the month in 1966 in Chicago. The Jesuits are brilliant.

My first impression reading the piece Chris handed me on Fr. Hardon was that it was a spoof, that John Hardon was a fictional priest, or, if the article was serious, I thought it must be misspelling. Surely it was Harden. Or Hardin. Not Hard-on.

I went home and looked him up. There he was…Father John Hard-on.

Hardon seal – Father John Hardon

I found him him on a website dedicated to his memory, including a famous speech of his entitled “Contraception, fatal to the faith?”

“What do we mean by the title,” asks Fr. Hardon, “and what is the thesis of this presentation? We mean that professed Catholics who practice contraception either give up the practice of contraception or they give up their Catholic faith.

“The grave sinfulness of contraception is taught infallibly by the Church’s ordinary universal teaching authority. Therefore, those who defend contraception forfeit their claim to being professed Catholics. Consequently, those who persist in their defense of contraception, deprive themselves of the divine graces which are reserved to bona fide members of the Roman Catholic Church.”

Every one of my priest friends is horrified by Father Hardon. Like him, they are celibate and know how difficult it is to stay morally erect, but, unlike Father Hardon,  they don’t walk around calling men and women who use condoms, diaphragms, or the pill “mortal sinners” who have placed themselves beyond the graces if the Church or its God.

My old buddies from the Bellarmine School of Theology welcomed the Second Vatican Council as a breath of fresh air, as did my Protestant classmates. They are now holding their breath because old Father Hardon is back with a vengeance.

None of my Catholic friends – priests or laity – has lived by what Father Hardon believed was an infallible teaching on contraception. Even if, like Father Hardon, they’ve  never worn a condom, they’re no longer entitled to the graces of the Church or the grace of God.

The elevation of Fr. Hardon (he’s been nominated for sainthood) causes me to grieve the loss of something very, very precious. I grieve it for all my catholic friends. I grieve for my own loss…. And I wonder…

I wonder if my religious conscientious objection to militarism and war might exempt me from paying my federal income taxes. I think I’ll write Rep. Fortenberry for inclusion in the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act.

“It’s not easy being real”

Last night I listened to President Obama’s speech on contraception and religion institutionso courtesy of Unedited Politics. I then looked to see if there were comments. There was only one:

“This has nothing to do with so called women’s health, it’s Marxism 101.”

With no elaboration as to how or why the President’s speech or position on women’s health care, on the one hand, and religious liberty, on the other, was Marxism 101, the comment accomplished what such comments nearly always do, until they are challenged. It called someone by a name. End of discussion. No need to explain how or why it’s Marxism. “Bad! Boogie Man! Evil in the White House!! The Marxists are out to get us!”? So I wrote my own comment:

Oh, my! Dear friend, whoever you are, you must never have taken Marxism 101. This isn’t Marxism. It’s the work of a democratic republic – messy, balancing values that sometimes conflict with each other, protecting the rights of the minority against the tyranny of the majority, and guaranteeing equal protection (in this case, health coverage) to all citizens. It’s comments like this – confusing a health care position with Marxism (i.e. communism?) – that divert the discussion and take us back to the darkest time of American history, the Senate Hearings of Sen. Joseph McCarthy that painted decent, patriotic Americans as evil. The President is NOT a Marxist, my friend. Time to rescind the comment for the sake of civil discussion that helps to solve real problems.

The reply came soon after:

Try reading his books and consider the fact that he attended a Marxist church for 20 years.

Again, I replied:

I’ve read Marx. I spent the summer of 1966 in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia as the Chicago Ambassador of the Experiment in International Living. I lived with the Schulz family, all members of the Communist Party. Marxism is more than a figment of my imagination. And the church Obama attended is a CHRISTIAN Church, United Church of Christ, one of America’s historic “mainline” denominations. ABC watched 500 sermon videos and chose to air a one-minute clip from a sermon on one of the Hebrew prophets that led viewers to conclude Jeremiah Wright was a communist. Radical? Yes. Off the wall? Sometimes. But Marxist (i.e. not Christian, not a disciple of the Jesus who turned over the money-changers tables)? No. And to talk about this President as a Marxist is…go back and watch Joe Welsh’s final rebuke to the character assassination campaign of Sen. Joe McCarthy: “Have you no decency, Sir. Have you no decency left?” Please think twice before raising McCarthy’s ghost. It’s ugly.

In 1966 I was certain that my finalist interview with the selection committee of the Chicago Chapter of the Experiment in International Living had disqualified me as a candidate as Chicago Ambassador to Czechoslovakia for the summer of ’66.

“You’re a Christian and a seminarian, asked Paul Harvey. “Why would you want to go to a communist country?”  I responded at some length that I didn’t trust the stereotypical representations of Eastern Bloc countries any more than I would trust their representations of the West. I felt there was propoganda on both sides of the Cold War. I wanted to see for myself.   I also told them that there was a theologian in Czechoslovakia named Josef Hromadka, the father of Christian-Marxist dialogue. I had been reading Hromadka and others and wanted to participate in this discussion. I believed that the Marxist classless society was a rendition of the central biblical message of the Kingdom of God. I came out of the interview and said to another candidate, “Well, I just eliminated myself. Hope you have a great summer.”

To my surprise, they selected me. The generosity of Pan Schultz and Pani Schultzova, their son Vlado and daughter Jana who welcomed me like a member of their own family, conversations with students about Franz Kafka and the existentialists at the university coffee shop, and the ugliness of fellow-American Ambassadors (there were 11 of us) who insisted on ice cubes in their drinks combined to further open the aperture of my camera lens as I look at the world.

I decided long ago not to keep silent when the labels like “Marxism 101” march across the field of my camera. My experience is only mine, but it’s the only experience I have, and God knows how limited it is. But, I decided to to heed Frederich Buechner  counsel – “Listen to your life”, he wrote – and to speak out loud what I see and hear, hoping and praying, as I do every Sunday morning before I dare to preach, that in some inscrutable way, “the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts will be pleasing in Thy sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer.”  I’d love to hear your meditations. Leave comment to share.