Catholics and the Flight
from Fertility

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by Leon J. Podles

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Fertility is a curse

Fidelity image


The view that fertility is a curse also underlies the increasing acceptance of activities and ways of life that a generation ago were regarded as perversions. Freud defined sexual perversion as intercourse that could not result in conception. But if conception is something to be avoided, sterile sexual activity can be seen as acceptable. The amazingly swift acceptance of homosexuality among Catholics, especially among moral theologians such as Curran in the United States, is a result of a reversal of the normal human attitude to fertility.


Such a profound distortion in the attitude to natural fertility also affects Catholics' attitude to supernatural fertility. In the New Testament, consecrated virginity and celibacy are seen as the conditions for fruitfulness more profound and more extensive than that of natural fertility. Priests are rightly called "father" because of their share in this fruitfulness. But as a respect for natural fertility has declined, so has the understanding of spiritual fruitfulness. Catholics do not seek converts, and many clerics seem to regard celibacy a sterile exercise in self-denial. If sexual activity is seen as normally sterile, then virginity and celibacy cannot be experienced in the Church as a transcending of a natural good for an even higher and more extensive supernatural good: spiritual fruitfulness.


Even if the clergy remain celibate, it is often for the wrong reasons. There is clearly a push on in the United States to ordain homosexuals to the priesthood, with the understanding that they will be celibate. Such a situation would be very damaging to the morale of celibate heterosexuals, who may find themselves in sexually-charged situations when they were expecting normal human friendships, Even if a homosexual remains chaste, his celibacy in the clerical state is a misleading and distorted sign. A normal heterosexual male in choosing celibacy for the sake of the kingdom sets apart and consecrates his natural fertility to God so that God can achieve an even greater spiritual fruitfulness through him. The homosexual, however, even if he remains chaste in the celibate life of the priesthood or religious state, is setting apart and consecrating to God a damaged, innately sterile sexuality. Even if he is sincere in his chastity, nonetheless his life is not the true sign of the nature of the kingdom that the celibate heterosexual's is. If the Levitical priesthood demanded perfection of its members (Lev 21:18-21) because only the best was to be set apart for the service of the Lord, much more so should integrity be a characteristic of those set apart for the ministry of the worship of "the sanctuary ... set up not by man but by the Lord" (Heb. 8:10).


Since the corruption of the attitude of European and Western Catholics toward fertility has gone so far, to the point where even their moral theologians reject the Biblical teachings on the subject as obsolete and outmoded, their situation may not be salvageable. It is hard to see what might help the West regain the sense of fertility as a blessing. Even theologically conservative evangelical Protestants have accepted the view of children of the secular West. Only a few fringe groups such as the Amish, and the heterodox offspring of Christianity such as Mormonism and the historic heresy of Islam still accept the Biblical view of fertility as a blessing.


Perhaps the Catholic Churches of Europe and the West are doomed to follow the ancient churches of North Africa and Asia Minor into oblivion. African Catholics, still untouched by Western attitudes, regard fertility as a blessing. As a result, the Church is increasing rapidly both because of large families and conversions. Seminaries are full and religious life flourishes, even in countries that are still mastering self-government. Perhaps Providence is laying the foundations of a new Christian civilization in Africa, as Providence once converted the barbarian tribes of Europe. These historic Christian peoples that arose after the fall of the Roman Empire and spread throughout the globe may be reaching the end of their history. In rejecting children they have rejected their own future. For Christian peoples to meet their end in such a way must delight the ancient enemy of the human race. "Mankind's warfare against death," as the Greek Fathers liked to characterize sexual intercourse, will have surrendered to the enemy.


If there is any hope for the dying civilization of Christian Europe, it must come primarily from the witness of the laity. Only if Catholics demonstrate by their family life that they regard children as a great blessing is there any possibility of change for the Churches of the West. If Catholics restrict their families to guarantee an enjoyment of middle class luxuries or to follow anti-Christian theories which see human life as parasitic and destructive of the environment, they may choose natural or unnatural means, but the end result is the same: a rejection of fertility, children, and the future.


If Catholic families rejoice in their children, their witness may speak to the dying semi-Christian societies around them in a way that celibacy cannot. In a Catholic family that accepts the gifts of both nature and grace, the mysteries of generation and regeneration, of Adam and Christ, of the life of this world and the life of the world to come, are united and harmonized. The beauty of self-giving love, which gave itself in creation and on the cross, can shine through such families, and touch the hearts of a world, including many fellow Christians, sickened by a selfishness of which men are no longer even aware. Such families can serve as occasions of grace to those open to repentance; and as occasions of judgment to those who at the sight of the works of grace harden their hearts still further, hating the sight of a fertile love which condemns by its very existence their own refusal to give.