A Spiritual Work of Mercy

Doug McManaman
Catholic Insight
Date: May, 2006
Copyright © 2006
Reproduced with Permission

I recall a few years ago thinking to myself: "If I have to read another article by Monsignor Foy on the Winnipeg Statement (WS), I am going to scream". The irony is that I now find myself writing an article on the Winnipeg Statement.

Recently I reviewed Monsignor Foy's book on the subject. I was deeply moved by his airtight case against what we will inevitably realize was a serious blunder that is probably responsible for an incalculable amount of harm.

Recall the scene in A Man For All Seasons, in which the shrewd Thomas More, locked in the Tower, says to Alice: "If they'd open a crack that wide (Between finger and thumb) I'd be through it". But there is a shrewdness that belongs to darkness, namely cunning, and it too looks for small cracks, as any cunning lawyer will tell you. The WS contains at least two small cracks that have allowed the cunning free passage.

After reading Foy's book, I decided to do a search through the USCCB web site in order to get a sense of how seriously the U.S bishops regarded contraception. Within the navigational side bar, there is a "Life Issues" link with 8 headings. One heading is devoted solely to contraception and contains 12 articles. Another heading on natural family planning (NFP) contains 14 distinct tabs, including Church teaching on NFP: What is NFP, Where to Find an NFP Class, Where to Train as a Teacher of NFP, What is Diocesan NFP Ministry, a photo gallery, and much more. The website of the U.S. Bishops also lists 12 articles on the "morning-after" pill and 13 articles on RU-486.

By contrast, the website of our Canadian bishops' conference contains not a single article on contraception. I found three letters on the "morning-after" pill, and only one document on NFP that, besides containing illustrations my 9-year-old daughter would find appealing, lacks any real conviction of the moral pre-eminence of natural family planning over contraception. Dating from 1998, it reads as if the author expects the reader to blow up if one thing isn't framed softly and ambiguously enough. Filled with platitudes, it lacks the intellectual rigor and clarity that characterizes the writings of John Paul II, and other great defenders of Humanae vitae. The obvious question: "Could the serious deficiency of resources in the CCCB web site have anything to do with the WS?" The answer is just as obvious.

After 18 years in the classroom, I can assure anyone who feels they don't know young people that today's youth are not cut from the same cloth as were the young adults of the 60s "me" generation. The latter have retired, or nearly, but there is a genuine openness in today's youth that makes it very easy to teach them the fundamentals of ethics. They don't bite, and they won't blow up in your face if you are direct and speak as if you have something important to say to them. We'd best take advantage of the opportunity and give them some good news: though the divorce rate is over 50%, it is less than 4% for those couples who practice NFP; that if they avoid the pill, they can reduce the risk of breast cancer, cervical cancer, deep vein thrombosis, and infertility. And they all know that taking steps to prevent a possible friendship from becoming an actuality is malicious, so it will not be too hard for the majority of them to see that taking steps to prevent a possible baby from becoming an actuality is just as bad, if not worse.

Instructing those "who don't know" is a spiritual work of mercy. Let's have mercy on the faithful in this country and begin to provide them with the rich resources that are out there. We owe it to the next generation to share what we in the Universal Church have been given.

Foy won this debate; he did his homework. The Winnipeg Statement is theologically and philosophically indefensible. It is a dissenting document. Divine grace is available to every couple, the low-dose pill becomes a possible abortifacient by creating a less hospitable endometrium, and conscience cannot ignore John Paul II. Woe to us if we fail to have mercy on the young.