Monday, May 21, 2012

Echoes of Catholic catastrophes at the CitiField asifa (Part 2)

Earlier, I posted that the disaster at CitiField last night reminds me of the disaster of pastor aeternus, the encyclical that defined the Pope as infallible and in some ways ruined the Catholic Church by placing too much unquestioned, unchecked power in the hands of one, out-of-touch, monarch.

In this post, I add to my criticism of the asifa by explaining how the gathering in general and Rav Wosner's pronouncement in particular, closely parallel a second Catholic catastrophe: Humanae Vitae, the reafirmation of the Church's ban on birth control published in 1968 by Paul VI. Here is the story:

Though the Church had historically been opposed to contraception, the formal rationale was not spelled out until 1930 when Pius XI published Casti connubii. 

By the 1960s enough had changed in the world, that Catholics were ready for the ban to revoked.  In particular, oral contraceptives had been introduced and it was generally believed that the rational presented in Casti connubii could not apply to them. A commission appointed by Pope John XX111 agreed, proposing that such forms of birth control were not intrinsically evil and that Catholic couples should be allowed to decide for themselves how to use them.

John died before the commission finished its work, and rather than accept the commission findings, his successor, Paul VI, used Humanae Vitae to explicitly reject their recommendations. Instead of liberalizing the Church's teaching on contraception as the laity had expected and as the commission had advised, the old ban was reiterated and widened to include oral contraceptives.

In his dissent from the commission's report, John Ford argued why the Pope had to disregard the findings of his own commission:
If it should be declared that contraception is not evil in itself, then we should have to concede frankly that the Holy Spirit had been on the side of the Protestant churches in 1930 (when the encyclical Casti Connubii was promulgated), in 1951 (Pius XII's address to the midwives), and in 1958 (the address delivered before the Society of Hematologists in the year the pope died). It should likewise have to be admitted that for a half century the Spirit failed to protect Pius XI, Pius XII, and a large part of the Catholic hierarchy from a very serious error. This would mean that the leaders of the Church, acting with extreme imprudence, had condemned thousands of innocent human acts, forbidding, under pain of eternal damnation, a practice which would now be sanctioned. The fact can neither be denied nor ignored that these same acts would now be declared licit on the grounds of principles cited by the Protestants, which popes and bishops have either condemned or at least not approved.[38]
Or, in other words: If we go back now, we'll make our predecessors look foolish, we'll concede that Popes are fallible, and we'll give our enemies in the Protestant churches a victory. Nothing else matters.

And so it was. Rather, than do all of these things Paul chose to reaffirm the ban --and in the process severely damaged his Church. American and European Catholics rejected  Humanae Vitae in large numbers. Some left the Church. Others ignored the encyclical, and presumably soon realized that ignoring Church teachings produces no ill effect, thus making it easier to ignore other teachings. To this day, the Vatican has not recovered from the blow to its credibility caused by Humanae Vitae.

Are the parallels between this and the asifa not obvious? For weeks we were told that no one at the asifa would not articulate a ban on the Internet. The event's first marketing materials made this promise explicit stating "We can't live without it." We were led to believe that the earlier ban on the Internet, had been reconsidered.

But something changed. At some point, the Sages arrived independently at John Ford's argument and realized that they could not permit what they themselves had prohibited while simultaneously claiming to be inerrant. Instead of confirming that "we can't live without it," Rav Wosner reiterated the disastrous ban of six years ago and ordered us to do just that. If his words are heeded, thousands of our children will be banned from schools or thousands of parents will be forced to lie to schools about their Internet usage.  And if his words are ignored, and the schools continue to accept children from Internet homes, the emperor's nudity will have been made obvious to all.

In a year or two, we''ll know who won this game of chicken. But the tragedy is all of this could have been avoided with a little common sense. But, rather then confess their error in banning the Internet six years ago, the Sages did as Paul VI did and chose instead to provoke a crises by doubling down on their own infallibility.


Humanae Vitae, which told Catholics how to conduct their marriages, was articulated by a never-been married seventy-year old virgin. The ban on the Internet was announced by someone who was old before color televisions were introduced. Paul VI, at least, ignored a professional commission of experts who studied the matter for five years. Rav Wosner, on the other hand, likely has at his disposal nothing but a carefully curated collection of anecdotes about the Internet and its victims.

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