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.
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.