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February 10, 2015

You Don’t Have to Have a Bit of the Other

When I was in the East Surrey Regiment back in the mid-1950s, the two main topics of conversation among my comrades were football and what they delicately referred to as The Other. (When they were being somewhat  less delicate it was known as Your Oggins.)  It was regarded as beyond debate that a regular Bit of The Other was absolutely essential to a man’s general well-being.

During the next decade this view  came to prevail among most Catholics: hence the wails of distress when Pope Paul VI overruled the majority report of the Papal Commission on Birth Control and produced the encyclical Humanae Vitae, which basically confirmed the provisions of Pius XI’s Casti Connubii, only in somewhat less forceful terms. I seem to recall that  one progressive book entitled Contraception and Holiness (which my friend Fr Brendan Purcell later dubbed  “Fornication and Mental Prayer”)  maintained that married couples had an absolute  right to a Bit of the Other several times a week, and if they wished to be sure of avoiding pregnancy this would only be possible if contraceptives were used. It was all put in the most delicate language; lots of references to love, responsible parenthood and “the totality of marriage”.

It was just special pleading; self serving nonsense.  Pope Paul’s  prophecies about the woeful effects of the widespread  use of contraceptives have been more than vindicated.

I am sorry I may have offended some readers by expressing myself so crudely.   Of course sex is a most vital component of marriage, for reasons spelled out in detail by the Church’s magisterium over the centuries. One of these reasons is the fact that it nurtures and sustains the mutual love of  spouses (or it should do, anyway). But the point I’m labouring is that today it has come to be worshipped as a false god—perhaps particularly by  the thousands of priests who have jettisoned celibacy. Some of these have tried to use the existence of married Anglican Ordinariate Catholic clergy to justify their own betrayal.

Fr John Hunwicke, himself a married Anglican convert, has no time for  this sleight of  hand:

I suspect that few of us would want the tradition we have inherited to be used as, or in some way become, an engine for the demolition of the Western norm. In this sexually obsessed world, there has never been a greater need for the bright light of Celibacy as a Sign that Sex is not inevitable; not dominant.

And we must not over-romanticise the Married Priesthood. Somebody once sent me a page or two of the American Clergy List, which detailed the matrimonial history of PECUSA [Episcopalian] clergy … and how very common divorce seemed to be; often, multiple divorce. Nor does a permission for clerical marriage guarantee that there will be no sexual hanky panky. On the contrary: priests’ wives themselves are not ring-fenced from the snares of the World, the Flesh, and the Devil! And husbands, even clerical ones, can do wicked things in frustration because of problems in their marriages. We all need to be very careful indeed, and not clutch at facile ‘solutions’.



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