“Dishonesty at Heart of System” Keeps Catholic Church “Pretending” on Birth Control, CUA Prof Says

Catholic society says Catholic University prof undermining Catholic Church's "message of sexual purity"


By Peter J. Smith

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 16, 2008 ( - A history professor at Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington, D.C. has blamed Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical "Humanae Vitae," for creating what she calls "paralysis" in the Catholic Church that constitutes "dishonesty at the heart of the system." The 1968 encyclical was a response to calls during the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s to permit artificial birth control; Pope Paul VI, however, surprised those agitating for a loosening of the Church’s "rules" on sexuality, by instead teaching that the use of artificial contraception is a grave sin that would harm human love and have disastrous effects upon society.

"Nothing was as devastating to the Church’s credibility as Humanae vitae and the paralysis it generated," CUA History Professor Leslie Woodcock Tentler told the National Post, a national paper in Canada, for an article on the document’s upcoming 40th anniversary.

"It makes for dishonesty at the heart of the system. Do ordinary Catholics believe it’s a mortal sin? No, they do not. Do they believe their leaders think it’s a mortal sin? No, they do not. Yet we keep pretending."

Tentler has taught at CUA as a history professor since 1998, and made the comments for the July 12 article "A hard pill to swallow."

Patrick Reilly, President of the Cardinal Newman Society, which lists CUA among the most orthodox Catholic institutions, said Tentler was completely out-of-line in her remarks.

"At a time when all Americans, whether Catholic or not, are coming to the realization that the ‘Sexual Revolution’ has destroyed lives and tarnished souls, Professor Tentler is using her influential position at the U.S. bishops’ university to undermine the Church’s message of sexual purity," Reilly told

However this is not the first time the professor, who teaches at an institution founded by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and committed to presenting Catholic orthodoxy to its students, has been critical of the Church for its stand on artificial birth control.

In an April 23, 2004 article in Commonweal, "A bitter pill: American Catholics & contraception," Tentler criticized the US bishops for developing what The New York Times described as "an easily understandable booklet," presenting the Catholic Church’s reasons against artificial contraception. 

Tentler maintained in the article that the teaching on contraception creates "major credibility problems for the Church" and said of Catholic leader Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput "he - along with many younger advocates of a harder line on contraception - simply underestimates the damage done to the church by Humanae vitae."

Tentler went on to contest "the bishops’ seeming assumption that collectively reiterating the church’s teaching on contraception will have only transitory negative effects on the laity." She concluded her article saying that both priests and laity "deserve better" than an "episcopal fait-accompli" about why artificial birth control is wrong.

Tentler also was a contributor to the one-sided PBS documentary "The Pill," and has written a book called "Catholics and Contraception: An American History."

Philosopher Janet E. Smith’s review of the book said Tentler "maintains that as Catholics become more mature, they reject their Church’s teaching on contraception."

LifeSiteNews contacted Tentler several times over several days through e-mail to ask her if as a Catholic and a professor she assented to the Church’s teaching in Humanae Vitae. While Tentler did respond to one of the e-mails, she did not clearly state whether or not she accepted the teaching in Humanae Vita.

Comment was also sought from CUA; however, in a response to LifeSiteNews, a spokesman for the university neither addressed the substance of Tentler’s statements in the National Post nor Tentler’s position on Humanae Vitae.

"The Catholic University of America is the national university of the Roman Catholic Church in our country.  As such and because of its special status as a pontifical university sponsored by the bishops of the United States, The Catholic University of America fully embraces all the teachings of the Catholic Church in their entirety," CUA spokesman Victor Nakas said in a statement. "Although some members of its community may privately hold contrary positions on some matters - as may be the case within the Roman Catholic Church at large - the university itself professes an unambiguous institutional commitment of fidelity to the Church and all its teachings."

However Reilly told LifeSiteNews that Tentler’s criticism of Humanae Vitae fly in the face of her responsibility as a Catholic educator. Reilly quoted Pope Benedict XVI’s April 17 statement to Catholic educators: "any appeal to the principle of academic freedom in order to justify positions that contradict the faith and the teaching of the Church would obstruct or even betray the university’s identity and mission."
"As a historian, she violates the principles of academic freedom by wading into matters properly discussed by theologians," Reilly continued. "As a Catholic historian at a Catholic university, she has an added obligation to support the mission of Catholic education - which Pope Benedict describes as providing ‘a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth.’"

  Read the National Post article "A hard pill to swallow":

Read Prof. Leslie Tentler’s April 23, 2004 article in Commonweal, "A bitter pill: American Catholics & contraception":;col1

Read Janet Smith’s review of "Catholics and Contraception: An American History"

Read the transcript of the PBS documentary "The Pill":

  To contact respectfully Catholic University of America’s President:

Very Reverend David M. O’Connell, C.M.
  The Catholic University of America    
  620 Michigan Ave., N.E.   
  Washington, DC 20064   

Telephone: 202-319-5100
  E-mail: [email protected]

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