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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Drew Belsky

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ACLU sues Kentucky clerk for refusing marriage licenses to all couples

Drew Belsky
By Drew Belsky

July 6, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- Four Kentucky couples are suing a clerk of the court in their county for refusing to grant them marriage licenses.

The clerk, Kim Davis of Rowan (pronounced "rah-win") County, declared that her faith prevents her from complying with the Supreme Court's Obergefell v. Hodges decision, issued in late June, which legally redefined marriage to include same-sex couples.  She is withholding licenses not only to same-sex couples, but to everyone – in fact, two of the couples suing Davis, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), are sexually complementary.

"It is my deep conviction and belief that God ordained marriage between a man and a woman," Davis told Kentucky station WYKT.  "I can't be a part of this."

"My Kentucky Constitution that I took the oath to uphold in January stated that marriage is between one man and one woman, and that is the constitution that I have vowed to uphold."

Laura Landenwich, an attorney with the ACLU, said that "Ms. Davis has the absolute right to believe whatever she wants about God, faith, and religion.  But as a government official who swore an oath to uphold the law, she cannot pick and choose who[m] she is going to serve, or which duties her office will perform based on her religious beliefs."

The ACLU's complaint avers that "Plaintiff and Plaintiff Class have suffered and continue to suffer irreparable harms, including harms to their dignity and autonomy, family security, and access to the full spectrum of benefits conferred by the state upon others."

Davis, a Democrat, is appealing to Kentucky's Bill of Rights, which states that "no human authority shall, in any case whatsoever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience."  Moreover, she told WSAZ reporter Kaitlynn LeBeau, "My Kentucky Constitution that I took the oath to uphold in January stated that marriage is between one man and one woman, and that is the constitution that I have vowed to uphold."

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, has ordered all clerks in the Bluegrass State to comply with the Supreme Court's decision.

"Each clerk vowed to uphold the law regardless of his or her personal beliefs," Beshear said in a statement.  "I appreciate the clerks who are fulfilling their duties, issuing licenses to all couples, and I would expect others to execute the duties of their offices as prescribed by law and to issue marriage licenses to all Kentuckians."

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Davis' decision brought protesters to her office in Morehead last Tuesday.  The crowd comprised both opposition and supporters, bearing signs with messages including "Morehead = Equality," "Leave Religion out of your GOVERNMENT job!," and "We stand with you Kim."

Davis refuses to speak on camera because of an intensifying tide of threatening hate mail.  One man told her by email that she needed to be killed.  She has received gratitude and support as well, including from states outside Kentucky.

"This is a battle," Davis told one reporter by phone, "nationwide, that I think is vital to every person who holds near and dear to their heart the word of God."

Resistance to Obergefell is not limited to one Kentucky county.  All three staffers at the county clerk's office in Decatur County, Tennessee resigned following the decision.  Decatur County commissioner David Boroughs told a local paper that he is "proud of them that their faith is so strong and well-rounded that they feel they can do that."

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Matthew J. Franck

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Obergefell is so awful that it makes Dred Scott look like a piece of lawyerly precision

Matthew J. Franck
By Matthew Franck

July 6, 2015 (ThePublicDiscourse) -- When the blow finally fell, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges—holding 5-4 that every state in the Union must license same-sex marriages—seemed somehow less crushing in its impact, less hurtful and wounding, than one might have expected from a decision that is so thoroughly a defeat for the truth about marriage and the truth about the Constitution.

Make no mistake, the harms from the Court’s appallingly illegitimate decision are many, and gravely serious. But the good news for a cockeyed optimist like me is that Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion is so incompetent, so gossamer-thin as an exercise in legal or constitutional reasoning, so unpersuasive even in political terms, that it renews my zest for carrying on the battle of persuading my fellow citizens and turning the country around on this issue.

I should have known he would do this for us, as well as to us. For Kennedy began to travel this road nearly twenty years ago in Romer v. Evans (1996), in which a 6-3 Court denied to the people of Colorado the authority to amend their state constitution to prevent their elected state and local legislators from adding “sexual orientation” to the list of “identities” on the grounds of which discrimination by public and private actors alike is forbidden.

Is Anyone "Demeaning" Others' "Dignity"?

Yet at least in Romer, the word “dignity” had not yet appeared in Kennedy’s reasoning. In Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which overturned state laws that criminalized homosexual sodomy, Kennedy turned away from the equal protection clause and to the textually and historically ungrounded jurisprudence of “substantive due process.” This meant, in Kennedy’s hands, the judicial protection of a free-ranging, judicially defined notion of “liberty” invoked to overturn any conduct-regulating statute that trenched on the “dignity” of persons whose wishes and desires tugged at the judges’ heartstrings.

In Romer, at least, Justice Kennedy had labored to produce something that resembled a competent account of the equal protection clause—though his attempt failed. But Lawrence was something else. Lawrence was a moment of real self-liberation for Kennedy. That can be seen in his quotation of what were probably his own words from the joint opinion he co-authored with Justices O’Connor and Souter in Planned Parenthood v. Casey: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” This “mystery passage” was already in 2003, and remains, the most widely lampooned bit of pseudo-reasoning of the last half century, but Kennedy sensed the cultural and political power that it represented, and in Lawrence he set it on course to colonize our constitutional law entirely. His opinion was also liberally salted with references to “dignity” (three times, including another line quoted from Casey), and to the idea that laws resting on negative judgments of homosexual conduct “demean” those who engage in it (four times).

United States v. Windsor, the Defense of Marriage Act case from two years ago, gave us more of Kennedy’s free-floating jurisprudence of “dignity” (ten mentions including “indignity”), condemning laws that “demean” (three mentions).  Obergefell rests explicitly on this fragile, groundless rationale, with Kennedy mentioning the connection of marriage to “dignity” nine times, while three times saying that it “demeans” same-sex couples when a state limits marriage to one man and one woman, and twice invoking the matter of “identity.”

But there is something else quite new in Obergefell. Kennedy, somewhat defensively, mentions twice that defenders of conjugal marriage might believe redefining the institution to include same-sex couples “demeans” marriage itself. Since no one opposed to same-sex marriage actually speaks this way, this is a curious characterization, but perhaps an important one. In Kennedy’s mind, the Constitution has been converted into a great Dignity Document. The role of the Supreme Court is to adjudicate whose version of Dignity it embodies, which can be decided by pondering who is made to feel worse by having his strongest convictions “demeaned.” Victory will go to the one who can appeal successfully to strong feelings about his “identity.” As Chief Justice Roberts said in dissent, “The majority’s driving themes are that marriage is desirable and petitioners desire it.”

A Constitutional Crisis

Confronted by such a string of sentiments masquerading as constitutional principles, why then should I feel heartened by the new phase of the struggle into which the Obergefell ruling has just pitched us? The reason is that Kennedy is so terribly bad at his chosen profession of judge that he has now unmasked himself, and his four silent colleagues who joined his opinion for the Court, as imperial rulers with no regard for the Constitution, for the forms of reasoning that give the law its real vitality, or for the rightful authority of the people to govern themselves within the bounds of a Constitution they understand and respect.

Moreover, while noting all the manifold ways in which the marriage debate has been played out over the last two decades—just as he was attempting to shut that debate down—Kennedy evinced no understanding of what the arguments about marriage really are, not even grasping the arguments on the side he favored. In so doing, he showed himself to be, if not one of the least intellectually honest persons ever to come to that debate, then one of the least well-informed. His opinion is an act of the most breathtaking argumentative carelessness in the history of the Supreme Court. Roe v. WadeLochner v. New York, and Dred Scott v. Sandford—all rightly invoked by the dissenters in Obergefell as the true models for Kennedy’s reasoning—are closely reasoned works of lawyerly precision by comparison.

As a legal opinion, Obergefell is an utter failure. What the late John Hart Ely, who was politically in favor of abortion, said of Roe v. Wade, we can say of Obergefell: “It is bad because it is bad constitutional law, or rather because it is not constitutional law and gives almost no sense of an obligation to try to be.” But Obergefell is also embarrassingly bad as a contribution to the political and social debate on marriage. From this I take heart that the battle can be rejoined, with the making of better arguments—each side offering its best against the other’s best—in a struggle that will continue for years to come.

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But wait. Isn’t the debate over? Isn’t that what a Supreme Court decision on the Constitution means? Well, frankly, no. The movement for rescuing and restoring marriage in our country will not be made to vanish by so transparently political a holding of five justices of the Supreme Court. The movement for defending the sanctity of life in our law, forty-two years after Roe v. Wade, waxes rather than wanes in strength. As the pro-life movement was joined, so the marriage movement will be joined, by defenders of the authentic Constitution so blithely traduced by the Court’s majority. The Roe decision has often made pro-life converts out of people who actually read it—I know, because I was one of them—and the Obergefell ruling, in time, will do similar work in adding strength to the ranks of marriage’s defenders.

A constitutional ruling so shoddily reasoned, so completely and, one may say, easily dismantled by the four justices who dissent from it, must paper over a cause that cannot ultimately win in an open democratic debate, and that therefore seeks the shelter of powerful friends in the judiciary. This is just what many young people will come to see for themselves simply by reading the decision, just as many have done by reading Roe. The twin discoveries, that a great constitutional wrong has been committed to give cover to a great moral wrong, will come together.

We may take heart, then, from Justice Alito’s observation that “even enthusiastic supporters of same-sex marriage should worry about the scope of the power that today’s majority claims.” Indeed they should, for the debate is not over; it has only entered a new phase. That phase will necessarily include some sober deliberations regarding what can be done about a Supreme Court with (at least) five members who believe that they can rewrite the Constitution at will in order to transform fundamental institutions of our society. For Alito’s very next sentence is, “Today’s decision shows that decades of attempts to restrain this Court’s abuse of authority have failed.” Indeed, they have, and so it is back to the drawing board. When even the chief justice complains of “the majority’s extravagant conception of judicial supremacy,” it is time to do some hard thinking about meaningful institutional reform of the federal judiciary.

In the Meantime

While we prepare for hard work on many fronts in the battles for marriage and for the Constitution, we should recognize and immediately try to mitigate the great harm the Court has done. Despite Kennedy’s pat denials, marriage has been grievously wounded as an institution, and we must do what we can to bind up its wounds, in our own families, communities, and churches. After all, every future generation is at stake. We must never tire of saying: every child deserves a mother and a father—preferably his or her own biological parents. That, as the dissenting justices recognized, is what marriage has always been about, in every age and culture, and it is why marriage has always been understood as the union of a man and a woman.

And we must do all that we can to institute safeguards for religious freedom in our country, which will now come under attack as never before. It was strangely gratifying to see Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Thomas, in their dissents, give this matter their lengthy and considered attention. Thomas foresees “potentially ruinous consequences for religious liberty” in this invention of a new “right” of same-sex marriage, and Roberts noted how telling was the way in which Kennedy shrugged off such potentials:

The majority graciously suggests that religious believers may continue to “advocate” and “teach” their views of marriage. . . . The First Amendment guarantees, however, the freedom to “exercise” religion. Ominously, that is not a word the majority uses.

The protection of religious freedom may rapidly become our most urgent legislative business, both in Congress and in state legislatures. But win or lose in legislative assemblies, the faithful and their pastoral leaders in the many religious communities devoted to the truth about marriage must prayerfully muster the courage to act, and to live as their faith informs their consciences, as well as to “advocate” and “teach.” As Alito notes, “those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent” on the marriage question will be ready to exploit the Court’s decision. Look at your social media feeds: That is already happening.

In our response to our counterparts in this great constitutional, political, and moral debate that now begins anew, we can start by preaching and practicing a truer, fuller understanding of dignity, in our families and churches, than the one about which Kennedy so vainly prattles. And we can fix our eyes on the prize of restoring, through real democratic debate and persuasion, the great goods of constitutional self-government and justice to individuals and families.

Thank you, Justice Kennedy, for giving us this opportunity. I know you didn’t mean it, but thank you nonetheless.

Reprinted with permission from The Witherspoon Institute

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Lisa Bourne

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US Episcopal Church faces backlash after approving gay ‘marriage’

Lisa Bourne
By Lisa Bourne

July 6, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- The bishops of the U.S. Episcopal Church gave the green light last week for clergy to perform same-sex “weddings,” in a heavily-debated fundamental change set to come in the door incrementally.  

As of November 1 of this year homosexual couples will have the right to be “married” in the church, the result of new liturgies for same-sex couples approved Wednesday at the denomination’s General Convention in Salt Lake City.

The bishops also accepted changing the church’s canons (rules) governing marriage, to make them gender neutral, thus replacing the terms “man and woman” with “couple.”

Episcopal clergy however, will be allowed to refuse to perform a homosexual “marriage” with the promise they would not be penalized, and individual bishops were also given the right to refuse to allow same-sex ceremonies to take place in their diocese.

The compromise is angering Episcopalians on both sides of the issue, with liberal factions potentially trying to block the plan and insist on the immediate introduction of same-sex “marriage” with no way for dioceses to opt out, and conservatives likely to reach out to overseas leaders in the wider Anglican Communion for help in getting the church to stop.

The leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion, which includes the Episcopal Church, released a statement expressing his “deep concern” over the U.S. Episcopal Church’s resolution to change the definition of marriage.

“Its decision will cause distress for some and have ramifications for the Anglican Communion as a whole,” Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said, “as well as for its ecumenical and interfaith relationships.”

Blessings for homosexual unions were first approved at the denomination’s 2012 convention, along with acceptance of transgender clergy. The Episcopal Church still maintained at the time that marriage was an exclusive life-long covenant of one man and one woman, as held in the church’s Book of Common Prayer.

While several Episcopal bishops defended the Biblical definition of marriage at this year’s convention, the majority of bishops argued that the provisional and trial rites would expand the traditional teaching about marriage, without changing the church’s underlying text or doctrine of marriage.

Retired Episcopal Bishop Vicky Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, was among those at the convention who said homosexual sexual intimacy was morally acceptable and should be blessed in faithful covenanted relationships, stating, “I think it is time for us to do this.”

Robinson, whose 2003 elevation to bishop was a key factor in the denomination’s later split, said, “Gays and lesbians are living out their lives in holy ways,” and changing the church’s rules on marriage “allows us to recognize this,” to “declare how far we have come.”

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In response to an inquiry for comment on the Episcopal bishops’ resolution accepting homosexual “marriage,” the Anglican Church in North America directed LifeSiteNews to the church’s recent response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing homosexual “marriage,” which said in part, “The Anglican Church in North America only authorizes and only performs marriages between one man and one woman.” 

Leaders of the Anglican Global South, a grouping of 24 of the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion, issued a statement criticizing the U.S. Episcopal Church’s resolution as another unilateral decision taken without consideration for the Anglican Communion, ecumenical and interfaith relations and the mission of the church worldwide.

“This Resolution clearly contradicts the Holy Scriptures and God’s plan for creation as He created humankind as man and woman to complement each other physically and emotionally,” the Global South statement said.

“The church is intended by its Lord to be the holy leaven to shape society by its spiritual and moral values in line with God’s design,” it continued. “But sadly, by this action of (The Episcopal Church), the church gives way to the society to alter and shape its values. In other words the church is losing its distinctiveness as salt and light in this world.”

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