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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Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signs the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
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Indiana faces backlash as it becomes 20th state to protect religious liberty

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By Ben Johnson

INDIANAPOLIS, IN, March 27, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – On Thursday, Indiana became the 20th state to prevent the government from forcing people of faith to violate their religious beliefs in business or the public square.

Gov. Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (SB 101) into law, saying the freedom of religion is a preeminent American value.

“The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion, but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action,” Pence said.

Gov. Pence, a possible dark horse candidate for president in 2016, cited court cases brought by religious organizations and employers, including Catholic universities, against the HHS mandate. “One need look no further than the recent litigation concerning the Affordable Care Act. A private business and our own University of Notre Dame had to file lawsuits challenging provisions that required them to offer insurance coverage in violation of their religious views.”

The new law could also prevent Christian business owners from being compelled to bake a cake or take photographs of a same-sex "marriage" ceremony, if doing so violates their faith. In recent years, business owners have seen an increased level of prosecution for denying such services, despite their religious and moral beliefs.

The state's pro-life organization applauded Pence for his stance. "Indiana's pro-life community is grateful to Gov. Mike Pence for signing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law,” said Indiana Right to Life's president and CEO Mike Fichter. “This bill will give pro-lifers a necessary legal recourse if they are pressured to support abortion against their deeply-held religious beliefs.”

“RFRA is an important bill to protect the religious freedom of Hoosiers who believe the right to life comes from God, not government,” he said.

The state RFRA is based on the federal bill introduced by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993. The Supreme Court cited the federal law when it ruled that Hobby Lobby had the right to refuse to fund abortion-inducing drugs, if doing so violated its owners' sincerely held religious beliefs.

In signing the measure – similar to the one Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed – Pence and the state of Indiana have faced a torrent of venom from opponents of the bill, who claim it grants a “right to discriminate” and raises the spectre of segregation.

"They've basically said, as long as your religion tells you to, it's OK to discriminate against people," said Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, a national homosexual pressure group.

The Disciples of Christ, a liberal Protestant denomination based in the state capital, has said it will move its 2017 annual convention if the RFRA became state law. The NCAA warned the bill's adoption “might affect future events” in the Hoosier state.

Pence denied such concerns, saying, "This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way I would've vetoed it."

The bill's supporters say that, under the Obama administration, it is Christians who are most likely to suffer discrimination.

"Originally RFRA laws were intended to protect small religious groups from undue burdens on practicing their faith in public life,” said Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. “It was not imagined there would come a day when laws might seek to jail or financially destroy nuns, rabbis or Christian camp counselors who prefer to abstain from the next wave of sexual and gender experimentation. And there's always a next wave.”

The bill's supporters note that it does not end the government's right to coerce people of faith into violating their conscience in every situation. However, it requires that doing so has to serve a compelling government interest and the government must use the least restrictive means possible. “There will be times when a state or federal government can show it has a compelling reason for burdening religious expression – to ensure public safety, for instance,” said Sarah Torre, an expert at the Heritage Foundation. “But Religious Freedom Restoration Acts set a high bar for the government to meet in order to restrict religious freedom.”

Restricting the ability of government to interfere in people's private decisions, especially their religious decisions, is the very purpose of the Constitution, its supporters say.

"Religious freedom is the cornerstone of all liberty for all people,” Tooley said. “Deny or reduce it, and there are no ultimate limits on the state's power to coerce."

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Fight pornography. Beat pornography. And join the ranks of those who support their fellow men and women still fighting.
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Porn is transforming our men from protectors into predators. Fight back.

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By Jonathon van Maren

Since I’ve gotten involved in anti-pornography work, I’ve met countless men who struggle, fight, or have beaten pornography. Each person seems to deal with the guilt and shame that accompanies porn use in a different way—some deny that it’s “all that bad,” others pretend that they could “stop whenever they want,” many insist that “everyone is doing it,” and most, when pressed, admit to a deep sense of self-loathing.

One worry surfaces often in conversation: What do my past or current struggles with pornography say about me as a man? Can I ever move past this and have a meaningful and fulfilling relationship?

I want to address this question just briefly, since I’ve encountered it so many times.

First, however, I’ve written before how I at times dislike the language of “struggling” with pornography or pornography “addiction,” not because they aren’t accurate but because too often they are used as an excuse rather than an explanation. It is true, many do in fact “struggle” with what can legitimately be considered an addiction, but when this language is used to describe an interminable battle with no end (and I’ve met dozens of men for whom this is the case), then I prefer we use terminology like “fighting my porn habit.” A semantic debate, certainly, but one I think is important. We need to stop struggling with porn and start fighting it.

Secondly, pornography does do devastating things to one’s sense of masculinity. We know this. Pornography enslaves men by the millions, perverting their role as protector and defender of the more vulnerable and turning them into sexual cannibals, consuming those they see on-screen to satisfy their sexual appetites.

What often starts as mere curiosity or an accidental encounter can turn into something that invades the mind and twists even the most basic attractions. I’ve met porn users who can’t believe the types of things they want to watch. They haven’t simply been using porn. Porn has actively reshaped them into something they don’t recognize and don’t like. 

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Porn is this generation’s great assault on masculinity and the role of men in society. It is essential that we win this battle for the sake of society’s survival. Contrary to what the gender-bending and family-morphing progressive elites claim, good husbands and good fathers and good church leaders are necessary for a healthy society. But pornography is destroying marriages, creating distant and disconnected fathers, and, metaphoricaclly castrating men, hindering their ability and desire to make a positive difference in the society around us.

So, with this sobering set of facts in mind let’s return to the question: what do pornography struggles, past and present, say about a man?

The proper way to respond is with everything that is good about masculinity. We have to fight pornography as men have fought countless evils throughout the ages. We need to fight pornography to protect women, and wives, and children, and our society at large. This is how pornography threatens society, by castrating men, and turning them from protectors into predators. Rooting out the evil in our own lives allows us to better fulfill the role we are called to perform in the lives of others. Battling our own demons enables us to battle the wider cultural demons. Every day without porn is another bit of virtue built. Virtue is not something you’re born with. Virtues are habits that you build. And one day without porn is the first step towards the virtue of being porn-free.

Many men ask me if men who have had past porn addictions are cut out for being in a relationship or working in the pro-life movement or in other areas where we are called to protect and defend the weak and vulnerable. And the answer to that is an unequivocal yes. Our society needs men who know what it means to fight battles and win. Our society needs men who can say that they fought porn and they beat porn, because their families and their friends were too important to risk. Our society needs men who rose to the challenge that the evils of their generation threw at them, and became better men as the result. And our society needs men who can help their friends and their sons and those around them fight the plague of pornography and free themselves from it, too—and who can understand better and offer encouragement more relevant than someone who has fought and been freed themselves?

So the answer to men is yes. Fight pornography. Beat pornography. And join the ranks of those who support their fellow men and women still fighting. Lend them support and encouragement. We cannot change the fact that porn has left an enormous path of destruction in its wake. But we can change the fact that too many people aren’t fighting it. We can change our own involvement. And we can rise to the challenge and face this threat to masculinity with all that is good about masculinity.

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Red Alert!

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By John-Henry Westen

I don’t like having to do this, but we have always found it best to be totally upfront with our readers: our Spring fundraising campaign is now worrying us! 

You see, with just 6 days remaining, we have only raised 30% of our goal, with $125,000 still left to raise. That is a long ways to go yet.

We have no choice but to reach our minimum goal of $175,000 if we are going to be able to continue serving the 5+ million readers who rely on us every month for investigative and groundbreaking news reports on life, faith and family issues.

Every year, LifeSite readership continues to grow by leaps and bounds. This year, we are again experiencing record-breaking interest, with over 6 million people visiting our website last month alone!

This unprecedented growth in turn creates its own demand for increased staff and resources, as we struggle to serve these millions of new readers.

And especially keep this in mind. As many more people read LifeSite, our mission of bringing about cultural change gets boosted. Our ultimate goal has always been to educate and activate the public to take well-informed, needed actions.

Another upside to our huge growth in readers is that it should be that much easier to reach our goal. To put it simply: if each person who read this one email donated whatever they could (even just $10) we would easily surpass our goal! 

Today, I hope you will join the many heroes who keep this ship afloat, and enable us to proclaim the truth through our reporting to tens of millions of people every year!

Your donations to LifeSite cause major things to happen! We see that every day and it is very exciting. Please join with us in making a cultural impact with a donation of ANY AMOUNT right now. 

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