On Wednesday, The Washington Times became the first newspaper to report on a conflict that has caused consternation among conservative Catholics:
Conservative commentator Sean Hannity's support for contraception and a segment on his TV show has led to criticism of him as a dissenting "cultural Catholic," led by a priest who heads a major pro-life group and who said Mr. Hannity should be denied Communion.
"I have no problem with birth control. It's a good thing," Mr. Hannity has said, prompting the Rev. Thomas Euteneuer, president of Human Life International, to send a mass e-mail last week calling the Fox News Channel and talk-radio host's repeated public defenses of contraception "just devastating for the faith of others who may be weak or vacillating in this area."
One thing that angered some Catholics was a TV "debate" in which Mr. Hannity lectured Fr. Euteneuer, saying that the priest was not "facing reality" about the need for contraception. Catholic author Amy Welborn was shocked by Mr. Hannity "running all over" a priest who leads a major pro-life organization, and later criticized the popular Fox News host:
[Mr. Hannity] invited [Fr. Euteneuer] on his show, yelled at him, and allowed him very little time to speak without interruption. Which is par for the course. ... That "talk show" environment of those programs is a lose-lose situation, almost all the time.
As badly as Fr. Euteneuer's charge of heresy may have stung, Hannity's response was no less scathing. One is not accustomed to hearing a self-professed "devout Catholic" address a member of the clergy -- albeit one who was attempting to correct a grievous moral error -- in such an angry manner. Yet, at no time did Fr. Euteneuer raise his voice or lose his temper.
But not only would Hannity not admit that his stance was tantamount to scandal, he then sought to correct the good father by suggesting: "Actually if you want to get technical here the Catholic Church does support a form of birth control, a natural method of birth control, is that not correct, sir?"
Catholics will say that there is a major difference between what is called "Natural Family Planning" and what they refer to as "artificial contraception." The Catholic doctrine on this is distilled in Pope Paul VI's encyclical, Humanae Vitae:
Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. ... [A] man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.
Mr. Hannity's Fox News Channel colleague, the Rev. Jonathan Morris, sees this as a teachable moment:
In a future column we can examine the specific issue of artificial methods of contraception (the original debate), and in particular, why just over 75 years ago, every major Christian denomination opposed their use in marital, sexual relations, and why the Catholic Church still does. This may be a chance for Sean to examine the issue in depth.
On his radio show Monday, Mr. Hannity said -- perhaps jokingly -- that if he were excommunicated for his heretical beliefs on contraception, he'd become a Baptist:
"If that makes me unwanted in the Catholic Church, then I'll have to just call my buddy Jerry Falwell, and Thomas Road Baptist Church, here I come. I will accept that taking this position publicly could result in me being thrown out of the Church. If that's the case and they don't want me, that's fine."
However, Mr. Hannity might be surprised to learn that some conservative Protestants are starting to reconsider their churches' endorsement of contraception. Five years ago, I interviewed Sam and Bethany Torode:
The Torodes base their opposition to artificial birth control on Genesis 2:24: "Therefore, shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh."
"God created marriage, sex and children to go together," Mr. Torode says. "There's the concept of the husband and wife becoming one flesh. And children are a gift that God bestows on that union. Contraception puts up a barrier in the middle of the union."
"We believe that husband and wife should hold nothing back from each other," he says, "and children are pretty much the natural result of that kind of love."
The Torodes recently converted to Eastern Orthodox faith and have had second thoughts about their earlier beliefs -- but not before having three children in six years. The Torodes, however, still see the moral element in this issue, and columnist Jill Stanek sees a "slippery slope" problem:
The contraception mentality is merely the embryonic form of the abortion mentality. This is not a superfluous issue.
-- Robert Stacy McCain, assistant national editor, The Washington Times