John Westen

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Interview: Liberal Catholic turns orthodox by embracing Humanae Vitae

John Westen
John Westen
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LOS ANGELES, December 8, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) - It is often said that the hardest journey to faith is when one approaches it, not from the outside, from atheism or lapsed faith, but from within, with just enough Christian teaching mixed with error so as to be inoculated against authentic faith.

So what does one who has traversed this arduous journey look like?  What does he do, and where does he go with his newfound faith?

In the case of Patrick Coffin, he is now a radio show host on Catholic Answer’s Live, which airs on EWTN, and has authored a book explaining his path to authentic faith. That journey was, he says, primarily about surmounting the stumbling block of Humanae Vitae, which is seen by orthodox Catholics, and even many non-Catholics, as a cornerstone of the Culture of Life.

LifeSiteNews spoke with Coffin about his journey and his new book ‘Sex Au Naturel: What it is and Why it’s Good for your Marriage’.  The book has received rave reviews from philosopher Peter Kreeft, Sydney Cardinal George Pell, Kimberley Hahn, Fr. Frank Pavone, and Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, among others.

In addition to tracing his conversion, Sex Au Naturel presents Theology of the Body in an easy-to-understand nutshell, contains a Biblical guide through the proofs for the God’s stance against contraception, and blasts the myths of overpopulation.  Coffin’s wit and style come through loud and clear in the book, on radio and in this interview…

Q. When most Catholics come to the stumbling block of Humanae Vitae, for you it was the cornerstone which led you to fullness of truth.  Why?

A: This is hard to answer succinctly because my “cradle reversion” did not happen in an instant or even a series of instants.  Owing to the fact that I am clever but not wise, I took an abnormally long bit of time to understand the message of Humanae Vitae. 

Growing up under the long shadow of the Winnipeg Statement, which for all intents and purposes made the encyclical into a toothless lion, it was never explained to me how the norms Paul VI was spelling out were actually binding on everyone, not just conservative Catholics.

Sitting down and reading the thing with as open a mind as I could muster was a big first step.  So was discovering the writings of people like Janet Smith, Mary Rosere Joyce, and Servant of God Fulton Sheen.  In the end, I saw that what was at stake was not just an arcane man-made rule (not to mention prudish and unrealistic) but the possible loss of salvation. 

The Church has never wavered, and has only deepened her treatment of contraception.  It’s an ineluctable part of the whole of the deposit of faith.  As I describe in the book, it was like a big game of Jenga, in which the whole structure of the Catholic sacramental life, and of marriage and sexuality, stood or fell with the main “wooden block” of Humanae Vitae; namely that each and every marital act must be open to new life. 

If that principle is false, then I had no consistent ground on which to stay Catholic or even to believe Jesus rose from the dead.  Another discovery was that Paul VI did not make any arguments, per se, about the evil of contraception.  Instead, he bore witness to 2000 years of Christian teaching and practice.  Of course, he also made what we may now call prophetic utterances about what would transpire if the teaching was rejected.

If one is a dissenter - as I have been - what I am saying here probably will not, on its own, make a dent in the dissent.  Acceptance of Humanae Vitae is bound up with the acceptance of the lordship of Jesus Christ. If Jesus is not Lord of our sexuality, He is Lord of nothing.


Q. Describe life as a liberal Catholic vs life as a fully believing Catholic.

A: That’s a very good question.  My personal preference is the term heterodoxy over liberalism, but I think the basic answer to your question is that my “liberal Catholic life” was a life half lived. 

The liberal Catholic project wants the trappings of the real thing but without the substance.  It wants the lion of Judah, but without the teeth part of the lion.  My theological training was also geared toward loving the journey (liberals are big on “The Journey”), but not exactly loving the destination.  The search for truth was held in very high esteem, while finding it - not so much. 

When I gave my life to the Lord and finally (albeit slowly) understood that the Catholic Church cannot be separated from her Founder, I got the biggest shock of all: that the Truth had been searching for me all along.

Acceptance of Humanae Vitae is a nearly perfect litmus test for orthodoxy in other areas.  If you hold to this vital part of Catholic teaching, you will also hold to the whole.  Dissent from Humanae Vitae, on the other hand, is invariably joined to dissent from other “life issues,” as we call them nowadays.  When was the last time you saw a gay activist group walking alongside pro-lifers at an anti-abortion rally?  How many pastors who dissent from Humanae Vitae preach homilies against co-habitation?  Humanae Vitae is the wall hook that holds up the entire garment of the Catholic sexual ethic.

Q. Did you lose friends over this transformation?

A: Fortunately, the Lord was very kind to me in this regard.  Honestly, the answer is no.  I left Halifax to start a graduate program in the philosophy of Catholic education at McGill University, and then taught high school in and around Toronto for three years, and before I began my master’s degree in theology at Franciscan University, I spent a wonderful year discerning the priesthood with the Companions of the Cross in Ottawa. 

This is a long-winded way of saying that as I grew in Catholic orthodoxy, God put great people in my life as encouragements and friends in Christ.  Virtually none of my high school pals or college buddies trod a similar path as mine.  So if I had been in one city the whole time, I know I would have felt the sting of losing friends because of my deepened commitment to the faith.  Jesus gave us ample warning about what friendship with Him entails, and the shifting of priorities that must take place if that friendship is to flourish.

Q. How long did your reformation process take?  Did your girlfriend/wife come along on the journey or did you meet her afterward?

No, I met my wife in Los Angeles long after I truly “poped”!  In my case, I knew so little about what the Catholic Church taught that it’s more accurate to call it a rediscovery of the intellectual and spiritual gifts I got at Confirmation, rather than a true reformation.  For this late bloomer and dedicated slowpoke, it took a number of years.

Q. You have a provocative headline and use provocative and biting wit throughout. Your friends note that’s just your personality shining through.  What gave you the chutzpah to be so personal about such a touchy topic?

Hah!  Well, it’s not as if I made a public confession of all my sins in the book, but what I did want to do was to take Humanae Vitae out from under the bushel basket under which it’s been placed, and simply let it be seen and heard. 

While chastity has always been, rightly, at the heart of the Catholic approach to discipleship, prudishness has not.  My goal with Sex Au Naturel (or, sex that is free of the albatross-like encumbrance of birth control) was to make people think by making them either laugh, or by making them realize in my own little off beat way how many misunderstandings they’ve been carrying around for years about contraception, natural family planning, and the other teachings that touch upon the mystery of human sexuality. 

The Foreword written by Peter Kreeft for the book summarizes this better than I can.

Q. What significance do you see in this topic of human sexuality in the world today?

It’s good that you put it that way, as opposed to “in the Church today.”  I mention this because the moral content of Humanae Vitae is addressed to “all men of good will.”  It is based not on sectarian considerations but on the natural moral law, which universally applies as much to Manhattan mavens as to Polynesian pygmies. 

The fact is, the sexual revolution could never have gotten out of first gear without contraception.  This is a truth so obvious that even Raquel Welch could defend and articulate it recently.  And is there a more potent symbol of the hopes and dreams of the sexual revolution than Raquel Welch? 

If love and life can be separated by contraception - if man can tear asunder what God has joined - then we must prepare for the brave new world into which our logic leads.  For behind the horror of abortion lurks an implicit acceptance of contraception, which also directly animates the arguments of the homosexualist movement. 

The premises of contraception have also led to the mainstreaming of pornography.  Same with the drive for in vitro fertilization and embryonic stem cell research, the latter of which has produced what?  Only a long roster of dead little persons and a grand total of zero medical cures.

The good news is, a counter sexual revolution has gained a solid foothold in the Secular City.  Thanks be to God that the truth and beauty of sex as God intends it to be is gaining new respectability. 

Who among the half naked, rain-drenched throng back at Woodstock in 1969 would have predicted today’s burgeoning chastity movement, or the impact of the theology of the body, or a swing dance craze on college campuses? 

More to the point, the younger priests being ordained today - along with the “John Paul II priests” who are now being consecrated as bishops - these men love Jesus Christ and want to make him better loved and the truths He taught to be better known. 

I wrote Sex Au Naturel to be of help to anyone - Catholic or Protestant or atheist - who is looking for accessible way to understand and explain an issue more notorious for its heat than its light.


The book is available for purchase here.

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Sofia Vazquez-Mellado

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11-year-old in Uruguay refuses to abort after rape

Sofia Vazquez-Mellado
By Sofia Vazquez-Mellado

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, May 25, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – An 11-year-old girl in Uruguay is making headlines for refusing to abort after being raped by a 41-year-old relative. Pro-abortion organizations in the country are using the case to ask for a broadening in the law, which allows for abortion up until 12 weeks gestation, 14 weeks in cases of rape, and up to 9 months when the life or health of the mother are at risk or when the baby is “unviable.”

Local media report that the girl, who is 18 weeks pregnant, lived with her abuser for over a year prior to the pregnancy. Her mother is now asking authorities to make her abort, but according to the local newspaper La Diaria, a team of psychiatrists from Uruguay’s Child and Adolescent Institute (INAU) has said that “the girl’s position has been confirmed without a doubt: she wishes to be a mother.”

According to her relatives, the girl suffers from a mild mental incapacity, although she is not considered handicapped.

In a press conference, Susana Muñiz, president for the Association of State Health Services and former minister of health, said: “An 11-year-old girl obviously has a body not prepared to be pregnant, with a very small uterus.”

However, according to Monica Silva, head of the INAU’s Health Division, “There is no risk to the life of the girl nor that of the baby. We cannot force her to abort.”

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“Even if her mother wants it, it would be inhuman to force her to abort,” continued Silva. “The fact that there was a rape doesn’t allow me to force her to abort. This [aborting] may seem like a protection of her rights but it is against the girl’s will.”

Nevertheless, a press release “demanding” that the girl abort “immediately” was issued by several pro-abortion NGOs soon after, on May 12. “The hypocritical and bureaucratic system allows for her rights to be undermined without considering the cost this will bring to the girl,” it read.

“Who will take charge now to stop the undermining of her rights and protect her health and her life? How much longer do we need to wait before somebody decides responsibly on the interruption of that pregnancy?” it concluded.

In her interview, Silva also said the girl’s parents “never visited, with exception of one of the six siblings she has.”

 “The best that could happen would be to ensure that she has a ‘welcoming family,’ that would receive the girl with her baby,” continued Silva. “I doubt we can achieve that because it’s hard to find families who want this challenge.”

The girl remains under INAU’s care and her abuser has been imprisoned.

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Steve Weatherbe

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Christian jeweller made gay couples’ rings but still got targeted by gay lobby

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By Steve Weatherbe

MOUNT PEARL, Newfoundland, May 25, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) –While North Americans are used to reading about Christian business people being fined and excoriated for refusing to cater to homosexual weddings, Newfoundland has added a novel twist: there a Christian jeweller has been punished financially and deluged with hate mail even though he did do business with a homosexual couple.

Nicole White and Pam Renouf liked the service they got from Esau Jardon of Today’s Jewellers in Mount Pearl, Newfoundland and Labrador, who took their deposit and proceeded to design and build them two engagement rings. They even recommended the store to friends.

But by the time one friend went there, the Mexican-born Jardon had put up a sign in his shop window marking Mother’s Day—and his strong, traditional Christian beliefs: “The Sanctity of Marriage IS UNDER ATTACK; Help Keep Marriage Between Man & Woman,” it read.

The friend went ballistic. Her picture of the sign went viral. The couple went back on their deal and back to the store, demanding their deposit. Today’s Jewellers’ Facebook page was so deluged with hundreds of hateful emails and many threats that Jardon and his brother, who is his business partner, have to shut it down.

LifeSiteNews asked White if Jardon had been punished enough. “Omigod, yes,” she responded. “Way, way too much.” But earlier she explained to a local newspaper why the couple cancelled their order. “The ring symbolizes love, and just knowing that that’s the sign that they have up there — every time I look at my ring, yes, I’ll think of us, clearly, but also everything we went through. So I don’t want my ring from there anymore. I just want my refund.”

At first, she reported, “They just said that that's their beliefs, and they think they can put up whatever they want. I just said it was very disrespectful, it's very unprofessional and I wanted a refund,” White said. “I have no issues with them believing in what they believe in. I think everyone's entitled to their own opinion. But I don't think they should put their personal beliefs inside their business.”

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Jardon, at first, was loath to return it, lest this be seen as an apology for his beliefs. Reached in Toronto, he told the St. John’s Telegram, “When I walk on Church Street in Toronto, where I am right now, and I see [LGBT rainbow flags], and I see a lot of signs and a lot of things on public property, I don't have a problem with them. I accept it. I chose to come to Canada... and we accept the whole package... I don't discriminate against that, nor do I come and tell them to take them down. For the same reason, I ask to have the same respect in return, especially when it's in my own business.”

But what is sauce for the gander is not sauce for the geese, or for the LGBT community that crowded onto the bandwagon, or for the CBC which was all too ready to label the jeweller’s sign “homophobic.”

However, some have offered support and sympathy. Rod Dreher, blogging at The American Conservative, observed that only so-called sexual minorities expected this kind of treatment. “Is a fundamentalist Christian permitted to send her osso buco back to the kitchen if she discovers that homosexual hands cooked it? Of course not. Some delicate snowflakes are more delicate than others.”

Referring to recent decisions by courts and human rights tribunals against Christian vendors who refused to serve homosexuals, Dreher concluded on an ironic note. The pressure on Jardon to return the deposit marked “the next phase in the March of Progress. You must not only bake the cake, or arrange the flowers, or make the ring, you must hold the correct opinion when you do it.”

Jardon defends his right to his own opinion. “One of the reasons my family chose to move to Canada was the rights that it offered, the freedom of religion and freedom of speech, both of which at the time seemed to be very limited in Mexico,” he said.

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Canadians headed to the ballot box for the fall federal election should remember the right to life is 'the most basic thing in society,' the archbishop tells LifeSiteNews. Pete Baklinski / LifeSiteNews
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Exclusive: Clinging to Christ will help those struggling with sexual identity, says Montreal’s archbishop

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By Pete Baklinski

OTTAWA, May 25, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- Montreal’s archbishop, Christian Lépine, weighed in on what the Catholic Church actually has to offer people struggling with the biological sex they were born with, telling LifeSiteNews in an exclusive interview that it’s no mistake that God creates the human person as male or female and that every person must look for their identity within a “view of God.”

“The teachings of the Church as such, its most basic one, is that we’re made in the image of God. That's always the starting point. And when you lose track of that — that you're made in the image of God — then somehow you come to lose trust in who you are as a human being, and you know less of who you are, and you don't know anymore who you are, and you [find yourself] looking for your own identity outside of a view of God,” Lépine told LifeSiteNews last week one day prior to the annual National March for Life that drew an estimated 25,000 pro-life advocates.

Following the first book of the Bible, where it is stated that God created human beings as “male and female,” the Catholic Church has always taught, and continues to teach, that the male/female binary is God’s plan for mankind.

As the book of Genesis (1:27) states: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church stresses that recognizing and preserving the male/female sexual difference is necessary for a healthy society.

“Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity. Physical, moral, and spiritual difference and complementarity are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life. The harmony of the couple and of society depends in part on the way in which the complementarity, needs, and mutual support between the sexes are lived out,” the Catechism states.

Lépine said that anytime questions about sexual identity arise for the faithful, “we must go back to the basics,” namely that “every human is created in the image of God, and of course, biblically, every human being exists as a woman or as a man.”

The archbishop’s words are foreign to mainstream notions of so-called ‘gender fluidity’ where male/female difference is construed as a social construct and ultimately as a personal choice.

Lépine acknowledged that some people suffer when it comes to accepting their own sexual identity as either a male or female based on biological characteristics.

“Sometimes people have sufferings about their own desires, or about their own sense of identity, or about the fact that masculinity and femininity exists, or about the fact that you as ‘human being’ [exist] as a male or female, as a man or as a woman.”

He called the male/female binary “a reality that is part of the [human] experience,” adding that it is also “taught in the Bible.”

Lépine stressed that the Church does not leave people “looking for a meaning in their lives and their own sense of identity” to struggle on their own, but offers them many helps and aids, including a clear anthropology on the nature of the human person.

“As Christians, we have the Bible to help people. We have Jesus Christ to help people. We have faith in God to help people. So, going back, [we must be] conscious that we are made in the image of God. And our own sexuality — what is the meaning of being a man or woman — is related to our vocation to love. And, every human being as such, made in the image of God — being a man or woman — is called to love.”

“So, how [are we] to help [such] people? You can talk about things theoretically, which is one thing. But also, we have to be conscious of people who live through situations where they're looking for their own identity and we need, I think, the Bible and faith to help them.”

Fluid notions of gender have been criticized by Pope Francis on at least three occasions, and prior to this, by Pope Benedict XVI.

“Gender theory is an error of the human mind that leads to so much confusion," Pope Francis told young people during his voyage to Naples, Italy last March.

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In his 2012 Christmas greeting, Pope Benedict condemned gender theory as a “profound falsehood” since it denies the male and female sex as a “given element of nature.” According to Benedict, instead of acknowledging that God created people male and female, gender theory posits the existence of sexual social constructions that people can decide to conform to or not.

“The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves.”

“When the freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God, as the image of God at the core of his being,” Benedict concluded. “The defence of the family is about man himself. And it becomes clear that when God is denied, human dignity also disappears,” he said.

Earlier in the interview, Lépine spoke about the need to “promote relentlessly life and respect for life” in the face of the country’s top court setting the legal stage for allowing doctors to end the lives of their patients under the pretext of compassion and mercy.

“You don't take care of someone when you suppress the life of someone, because you're not solving a problem. You're suppressing the person. It doesn't work,” he said.

Referring to the upcoming federal election this fall, the archbishop called “life and the right-to-life and dignity of the person” an “important subject, because it's the most basic thing in society.” 

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