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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Lisa Bourne

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Pressure mounts as Catholic Relief Services fails to act on VP in gay ‘marriage’

Lisa Bourne
By Lisa Bourne
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Rick Estridge, Catholic Relief Services' Vice President of Overseas Finance, is in a same-sex "marriage," public records show. Twitter

BALTIMORE, MD, April 24, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- Nearly a week after news broke that a Catholic Relief Services vice president had contracted a homosexual “marriage” while also publicly promoting homosexuality on social media in conflict with Church teaching, the US Bishops international relief agency has taken no apparent steps to address the matter and is also not talking.

CRS Vice President of Overseas Finance Rick Estridge entered into a homosexual “marriage” in Maryland the same month in 2013 that he was promoted by CRS to vice president, public records show.

Despite repeated efforts at a response, CRS has not acknowledged LifeSiteNews’ inquiries during the week. And the agency told ChurchMilitant.com Thursday that no action had been taken beyond discussion of the situation and CRS would have no further comment.

"Nothing has changed,” CRS Senior Manager for Communications Tom said. “No further statement will be made."

LifeSiteNews first contacted CRS for a response prior to the April 20 release of the report and did not receive a reply, however Estridge’s Facebook and LinkeIn profiles were then removed just prior to the report’s release.

CRS also did not acknowledge LifeSiteNews’ follow-up inquiry later in the week.

“Having an executive who publicly celebrates a moral abomination shows the ineffectiveness of CRS' Catholic identity training,” Lepanto Institute President Michael Hichborn told LifeSiteNews. “How many others who hate Catholic moral teaching work at CRS?”

CRS did admit it was aware Estridge was in a “same-sex civil marriage” to Catholic News Agency (CNA) Monday afternoon, and confirmed he was VP of Overseas Finance and had been with CRS for 16 years.

“At this point we are in deliberations on this matter,” Price told CNA that day.

ChurchMilitant.com also reported that according to its sources, it was a well-known fact at CRS headquarters in Baltimore that Estridge was in a homosexual “marriage.” 

“There is no way CRS didn't know one of its executives entered into a mock-marriage until we broke the story,” Hichborn said. “The implication is clear; CRS top brass had no problem with having an executive so deliberately flouting Catholic moral teaching.”

“The big question is,” Hichborn continued, “what other morally repugnant matters is CRS comfortable with?”

While the wait continues for the Bishops’ relief organization to address the matter, those behind the report and other critics of prior instances of CRS involvement in programs and groups that violate Church principles continue to call for a thorough and independent review of the agency programs and personnel.

“How long should it take to call an employee into your office, tell him that his behavior is incompatible with the mission of the organization, and ask for his resignation?” asked Population Research Institute President Steven Mosher. “About thirty minutes, I would say.”

“The Catholic identity of CRS is at stake,” Hichborn stated. “If CRS does nothing, then there is no way faithful Catholics can trust the integrity of CRS's programs or desire to make its Catholicity preeminent.” 

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Thousands of marriage activists gathered in D.C. June 19, 2014 for the 2nd March for Marriage. Dustin Siggins / LifeSiteNews.com
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Watch the March for Marriage online—only at LifeSiteNews

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WASHINGTON, D.C., April 24, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- At noon on Saturday, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and dozens of cosponsors, coalition partners, and speakers will launch the third annual March for Marriage. Thousands of people are expected to take place in this important event to show the support real marriage has among the American people.

As the sole media sponsor of the March, LifeSiteNews is proud to exclusively livestream the March. Click here to see the rally at noon Eastern Time near the U.S. Capitol, and the March to the Supreme Court at 1:00 Eastern Time.

And don't forget to pray that God's Will is done on Tuesday, when the Supreme Court hears arguments about marriage!

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Hillary Clinton: ‘Religious beliefs’ against abortion ‘have to be changed’

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By Ben Johnson

NEW YORK CITY, April 24, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Speaking to an influential gathering in New York City on Thursday, Hillary Clinton declared that “religious beliefs” that condemn "reproductive rights," “have to be changed.”

“Yes, we've cut the maternal mortality rate in half, but far too many women are still denied critical access to reproductive health,” Hillary told the Women in the World Summit yesterday.

Liberal politicians use “reproductive health” as a blanket term that includes abortion. However, Hillary's reference echoes National Organization for Women (NOW) president Terry O’Neill's op-ed from last May that called abortion “an essential measure to prevent the heartbreak of infant mortality.”

The Democratic presidential hopeful added that governments should throw the power of state coercion behind the effort to redefine traditional religious dogmas.

“Rights have to exist in practice, not just on paper. Laws have to be backed up with resources, and political will,” she said. “Deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs, and structural biases have to be changed.”

The line received rousing applause at the feminist conference, hosted in Manhattan's Lincoln Center by Tina Brown.

She also cited religious-based objections to the HHS mandate, funding Planned Parenthood, and the homosexual and transgender agenda as obstacles that the government must defeat.

“America moves ahead when all women are guaranteed the right to make their own health care choices, not when those choices are taken away by an employer like Hobby Lobby,” she said. The Supreme Court ruled last year that closely held corporations had the right to opt out of the provision of ObamaCare requiring them to provide abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives, and sterilization to employees with no co-pay – a mandate that violates the teachings of the Catholic Church and other Christian bodies.

Clinton lamented that “there are those who offer themselves as leaders...who would defund the country's leading provider of family planning,” Planned Parenthood, “and want to let health insurance companies once again charge women just because of our gender.”

“We move forward when gay and transgender women are embraced...not fired from good jobs because of who they love or who they are,” she added.

It is not the first time the former first lady had said that liberal social policies should displace religious views. In a December 2011 speech in Geneva, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said perhaps the “most challenging issue arises when people cite religious or cultural values as a reason to violate or not to protect the human rights of LGBT citizens.” These objections, she said, are “not unlike the justification offered for violent practices towards women like honor killings, widow burning, or female genital mutilation.”

While opinions on homosexuality are “still evolving,” in time “we came to learn that no [religious] practice or tradition trumps the human rights that belong to all of us.”

Her views, if outside the American political mainstream, have been supported by the United Nations. The UN Population Fund stated in its 2012 annual report that religious objections to abortion-inducing drugs had to be overcome. According to the UNFPA report, “‘duty-bearers’ (governments and others)” have a responsibility to assure that all forms of contraception – including sterilization and abortion-inducing ‘emergency contraception’ – are viewed as acceptable – “But if they are not acceptable for cultural, religious or other reasons, they will not be used.”

Two years later, the United Nations' Committee on the Rights of the Child instructed the Vatican last February that the Catholic Church should amend canon law “relating to abortion with a view to identifying circumstances under which access to abortion services may be permitted.”

At Thursday's speech, Hillary called the legal, state-enforced implementation of feminist politics “the great unfinished business of the 21st century,” which must be accomplished “not just for women but for everyone — and not just in far away countries but right here in the United States.”

“These are not just women's fights. These have to be America's fights and the world's fights,” she said. “There's still much to be done in our own country, much more to be done around the world, but I'm confident and optimistic that if we get to work, we will get it done together.”

American critics called Clinton's suggestion that a nation founded upon freedom of religion begin using state force to change religious practices unprecedented.

“Never before have we seen a presidential candidate be this bold about directly confronting the Catholic Church's teachings on abortion,” said Bill Donohue of the Catholic League.

“In one sense, this shows just how extreme the pro-abortion caucus actually is,” Ed Morrissey writes at HotAir.com. “Running for president on the basis of promising to use the power of government to change 'deep seated cultural codes [and] religious beliefs' might be the most honest progressive slogan in history.”

He hoped that, now that she had called for governments to change religious doctrines, “voters will now see the real Hillary Clinton, the one who dismisses their faith just the same as Obama did, and this time publicly rather than in a private fundraiser.”

Donohue asked Hillary “to take the next step and tell us exactly what she plans to do about delivering on her pledge. Not only would practicing Catholics like to know, so would Evangelicals, Orthodox Jews, Muslims, and all those who value life from conception to natural death.”

You may watch Hillary's speech below.

Her comments on religion begin at approximately 9:00. 

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