With the controversy still alive and kicking over the Pope’s recent comments about condom usage and contraception, we’re dipping a small toe in the water—not about the condom controversy–but just to share what we know of Fr. Hehir’s views on contraception. That’s it—nothing about the Pope’s condoms comments (except a suggestion people might want to read this post from Veritatis: The Cartoon).
One of Fr. Hehir’s most famous comments you’ve probably known about for a while—that contraception should be a matter of private not public morality. But most people probably don’t know how Bryan Hehir actually questioned the truth of the Church’s teaching on contraception a few years ago while defending the now-disgraced gay Archbishop Rembert Weakland.
Here’s the “Cliff Notes” version. Pope John Paul II held a “Synod on the Laity” in October of 1987, and among the delegates representing the U.S. Bishops was Archbishop Rembert Weakland. At a pre-Synod meeting In June of 1987 moral theologian, Germain Grisez, who supported the Church’s teaching on contraception, got into a public disagreement with Weakland, who was known to not accept Church teachings on a range of issues. Hehir, being consistent with what we’ve documented here on the blog for 8 months, defended Weakland by questioning Grisez’s assumption that the Church’s teaching on contraception was true. Yup, that’s right–Hehir, who has responsibility over the Archdiocese of Boston’s pro-life ministry, questioned the validity of the Church’s teaching on contraception.
If you stop here, you’ve got the gist of today’s post. But if you keep reading, grab a cup of coffee or tea first. Then fast-forward 23 years to 2010, you’ll see the alarming extent to which some of these people are still influencing Church policies today.
First this on Weakland, then onto Hehir’s comment.
Author and Culture Wars editor E. Michael Jones had this to say about Weakland:
The bishops who chose him as a delegate may or may not have known that Rembert Weakland was a homosexual; they may or may not have understood that homosexuals subvert the institutions they occupy, but they most certainly knew that he did not accept traditional Catholic teaching on issues like contraception, abortion, homosexuality and the ordination of women. That is, in fact, why they chose him as a delegate to the synod, to send precisely that message to Rome. Even if Weakland had never opened his mouth at the synod, that message would have been clear. That is why they chose him as a delegate.
We note that Archbishop Weakland’s having had an adult gay relationship from 1979-80 with Paul Marcoux only erupted into a full-blown public scandal in 2002, when it was revealed Weakland had paid Marcoux $450,000 in 1998 to keep quiet about the sordid affair.
Bryan Hehir Questions the Truth of Church Teaching on Contraception
In case those reading the blog are not familiar with the Synod on the Laity, during the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, every two or three years a select group of Roman Catholic bishops from around the world was invited to Rome to advise the Pope. At the 1987 synod, the month-long conference included 232 bishops from 92 countries summoned to discuss the role of the laity, joined by 51 official lay observers.
About a half-dozen meetings were arranged prior to the U.S. bishops’ trip to Rome so they could meet with selected individuals, lay and clerical, in order to prepare the agenda for their synodal presentation. After these meetings, what was then a“secret” meeting took place at St. Mary’ s College at Notre Dame June 7-9, 1987. It included members of the U.S.C.C. Laity Committee and the six bishops who would represent the U.S. Church at the Roman meeting: Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, Archbishop Rembert Weakland, Archbishop of St. Louis John May, Bishop of Baton Rouge Stanley Ott, Bishop of New Ulm Raymond Lucker, and Bishop of Las Cruces Ricardo Ramirez.
Besides the bishops, other invited participants included moral theologian, Germain Grisez, Lisa Sowle Cahill, Bishop of Joliet Joseph Imesch, (chaired committee that wrote bishops’ pastoral on women), Fr. Robert Kinast (American Theological Union), Doris Donnelly (St. Mary’s College Center for Spirituality), Dr. David Thomas, and USCC staffers including Fr. Bryan Hehir. Grisez, perhaps the only orthodox theologian of this group, wrote a 14-page letter to a number of colleagues afterwards which he did not intend to be published. Many excerpts were published in The Wanderer referring to him anonymously as the “orthodox theologian” but it was clear that he was the author. To get the full picture, read the Wanderer’s 1987 article “Letter Shows How U.S. Bishops Synod Agenda Rigged”. Here are the highlights:
As to why an orthodox theologian was invited to the St. Mary’s consultation, it may be surmised that the meeting’s organizers and the Rome-bound bishops wished to be able to say, if ever challenged, that “conservatives” had been part of their consultative process. They can point to the theologian. It may also be conjectured that is exactly why he wrote his friends. He wanted to be on record somewhere reporting that even as soon as he was sent the meeting’s schedule he saw that “it was clear” he would “not be allowed to present anything.”
Grisez recounts presentation after presentation that conveyed dissent from Church teachings by Fr. Bryan Hehir, Donnelly, Lisa Sowle Cahill, and David Thomas. Some participants wanted women priests, and assuming that was not yet realistic, most of the participants wanted the bishops to go to the synod asking for female altar servers. Read the Jones article or the Wanderer Article “Letter Shows How U.S. Bishops Synod Agenda Rigged” to get the whole picture. Here are excerpts:
Fr. Hehir: “Though Americans may be perceived as imperialistic, they should not hesitate to push their program at the synod, and particularly to insist on the rightness of their idea of the Church in the world. The US experience is valid–certainly for the US–and the rest of the world should learn from it too” (cf. E. Michael Jones, “The Synod on the Laity Just says No to Altar Girls,” Fidelity, December 1987, p. 32ff). Father Hehir, who was then at the peak of his fame as the author of bishops’ statement on nuclear weapons, was not alone in promoting Americanism at the secret meeting. In fact he was articulating the fundamental consensus of the delegation of American bishops who were heading off to the synod.
All of those who attended the meeting (with the exception of Germain Grisez, who wrote the report exposing the machinations there) were united in the belief that America had something to teach the universal Church. Just what it had to teach became apparent in the course of the meeting. What America had to offer the Catholic Church was sexual liberation. The resentment of Church bureaucrats tied to what they perceived as an oppressive sexual code while living in liberated America was palpable, to Germain Grisez at least, at the secret meeting. Doris Donnelly, a feminist from St. Mary’s who gave the conference’s keynote address, claimed in Grisez’s words that the 1976 [Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith] declaration on the ordination of women holds that women are incapable of imitating Christ and thus departs radically from the whole Christian tradition about following Christ! She wants a canon law making rape and incest crimes if abortion is to remain a crime (obviously she resents the canonical provision on abortion). She thinks that the draft’s treatment of sexuality is okay but not very clear. Sexuality is one’s need to be in communion with others. God is not solitary. She doesn’t like anything on the roman working paper’s statement on women. She rejects its attempt to mark out distinguishing feminine and masculine characteristics, but she makes her own attempt: Men fear being tied down by relationships, whereas women fear the rupture of relationships.”
Theologian Lisa Sowle Cahill, one of the people at the conference who, unlike Grisez, had ready access to the microphone anytime she wanted to say something, attacked the Church’s position on contraception “as if the whole thing were a matter of terminology.”
Now you need to follow what Germain Grisez said, and then Weakland and Hehir’s responses.
Grisez: “I began by…suggesting that the bishops should go to the Synod and say: “In the U.S. dissent has been tried and we’ve tolerated it, and we’re here to tell you on the basis of experience that it’s a disaster. The initial promise was that contraception would solve all sorts of problems, help people cement their marriages, and also forestall abortion, but our Catholic divorce and abortion rates approximate those of the U.S. at large. Also. the new sex morality, was not supposed to open up sex, outside marriage, but in fact it has, with terrible results. I pointed out that experience does not interpret itself, but has to be understood in some sort of framework. If one understands experience in the light of faith, one sees that traditional morality is sound. Naturally, if one interprets experience by some contemporary, non-believing framework, it provides evidence to getting rid of that morality.
Grisez: “I then recounted the story of a man who some years ago followed bad pastoral advice and tried to develop a lasting homosexual relationship, but soon gave in to unlimited promiscuity, and now is dying of AIDS. He has repented, but has had to learn by experience that if you live according to the flesh, you die.”
Cahill: countered by claiming that “the bad experience of people trying to live up to the Church’s teaching outweighs the odd case where things work out badly.”
Weakland: Came back to challenge Grisez by invoking the actual situation which has developed in the Church. He holds that modern techniques have simply separated procreation from love-making, and there is no longer anything anybody can do about that.
Grisez: answered that the situation in the Church is the Bishops’ responsibility and it’s up to them to change it.
Bryan Hehir: moved to defend Weakland by saying that I (Grisez) was begging the question by assuming that the received teaching (on contraception) is true.
Grisez: replied that if the Bishops do not believe it, they could, at least, go to the Pope privately and tell him that, and urge him to get a process going which will face and resolve these issues. I pointed out that the Pope is not a neurotic, that he is intelligent, and that it should be possible to get him to see the urgency of beginning to resolve the issues.
There’s a lot more about Hehir’s role in this session and his defense of dissent, but this should be enough for you to get the gist of the matter.
Incidentally, though Grisez is retired and no longer teaching, he is still active enough as a moral theologian that he was tapped for his views on last week’s condom controversy in a widely-distributed AP article by Rachel Zoll:
Germain Grisez, a prominent moral theologian who advises bishops, said that promoting condoms as protection against disease would be “pernicious” because it assumes a person does not have the capacity to make good, moral choices. He lamented that the pope’s comments “can be – and are being – misused to sow doubt about Catholic teaching.”
To summarize, as we covered on the blog, in 1974, Hehir wrote that the Church could
regard contraceptive practice as an issue of private morality that the church continues to teach for its members, but not an issue of public morality on which it seeks to affect public policy” (Theological Studies, March 1974)
In 1987 Hehir defended a bishop known to dissent from Church teachings (who later came out as gay) by criticizing an orthodox moral theologian for assuming that the Church’s teaching on contraception was true. In other words, Hehir felt it was wrong to assume the Church’s teaching on contraception was true.
Next time someone bumps into Bryan Hehir, do us a favor and ask him if he accepts and believes the Church’s teaching on contraception. If he says he does, ask him why he criticized Germain Grisez for his acceptance of the teaching?
And next time someone bumps into Cardinal O’Malley, could you ask him how Bryan Hehir, his trusted strategic advisor, could possible bring “fidelity to the work of the Church” when Hehir consistently makes statements that suggest he does not accept Church teachings?