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Distinguishing fact from fiction about Catholicism

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Is the Catholic Church really 1) opposed to science, 2) indifferent to people's freedom and happiness, 3) misogynistic, 4) fixated on contraception, 5) homophobic, 6) without a rational basis for opposing same-sex marriage, and 7) in denial about the connection between priestly celibacy and pedophilia? Of course, if any of these claims were true, one would be hard-pressed to continue being a faithful Catholic. And, indeed, judging from the falling-away of many of our Catholic brothers and sisters over the past decade, these popular legends about Catholicism have acquired some traction. Fortunately, my brilliant friend, philosophy professor Christopher Kaczor of Loyola Marymount University, has written a powerful book dissecting these myths.

Just published by Ignatius Press, "The Seven Big Myths about the Catholic Church" lives up to its book blurbs: "Essential Reading for the New Evangelization"--Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles; "Full of clarity and charity"--Peter Kreeft; "Not only an engaging read, but a splendid conversational resource"--J. Budziszewski; "Kaczor loves his enemy"--Patrick Coffin.

Indeed, one of the hallmarks of this short book is that Chris Kaczor, in the finest scholastic tradition, honestly examines the claims of those who attack the Church and is thoughtful and considerate, even loving, in his treatment of them. At a time when the Obama administration has all but declared war on the Catholic Church through its HHS contraceptive mandate, Kaczor's work betrays not a trace of "odium theologicum" (theological hatred, the vituperative character of much theological controversy throughout history).

Taking my cue from Boston College's famous apologist Peter Kreeft, who calls the chapter on contraception a "masterpiece," "the most simple, commonsensical, winsome, and persuasive I have ever seen," let us examine that chapter: Kaczor asks, "Why in the world would anyone, for any reason, view contraception as problematic, let alone morally wrong?"

He begins by asking whether fertility is a curse or a blessing, considering procreation from the three-fold perspective of erotic love, friendship, and eternal happiness in heaven. In that regard, he thinks it important to distinguish between mere sexual attraction and erotic love. "One major difference is that those who are merely attracted wish for sexual union, but those who are in love yearn for sexual union and a lot more." "There is also an exclusivity to erotic love that is not shared by sexual attraction. Those who are in love yearn for the beloved alone." "Although use of contraception makes perfect sense in terms of mere sexual attraction, contraception actually undermines, rather than accords with, the nature of erotic love. Erotic love--by its very nature--is a drive toward deeper unity with the beloved, and children are a wonderful manifestation of the unity between husband and wife."

What about the relationship between having children and marital friendship? Kaczor argues that "when children are in a marriage, the husband and wife have an extra incentive to work things out, to forgive each other, and to reconcile, despite their disagreements and differences." Children also entail more shared activity of husband and wife. Furthermore, "whatever ups and downs come in the child's life, and there are many of both, the husband and wife share them together." Raising children together also gives a married couple plenty of occasions to practice virtue and live for others.

Finally, and most importantly, "children actually help parents receive the most important good of all--eternal happiness." Children help parents to live the commandments and to follow the teachings of Jesus. "Every parent literally fulfills the tasks listed by Jesus. When children are hungry, we give them something to eat. When children are thirsty, we give them something to drink."

Of course, I have no more than sketched the outline of Kaczor's superb chapter on contraception. Get his book as a timely antidote to the anti-Catholic stereotypes that pervade popular culture and that, if unchecked, will chill and eventually corrode our faith and our path to heaven.

Dwight G. Duncan is professor at UMass School of Law Dartmouth. He holds degrees in both civil and canon law.

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