I could have used Pope Francis’s latest apostolic exhortation, “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”), when I served as a Catholic priest, almost half a century ago. I was ordained in early 1969, a few months after the promulgation of “Humanae Vitae,” the Vatican’s resounding condemnation of “artificial birth control,” which would define my future. I was a chaplain at a university where, true to the era, the norms of sexual morality had been upended. I certainly saw the need, in those wild days, for a humane and ethical analysis of the state of sexual intimacy, personal commitment, erotic longing, and gender rights. But, believe me, the triumphalist salvo from Rome made the moral condition worse, not better. Like many priests of my generation, I declined to affirm the birth-control teaching. On the contrary, I encouraged the young people who sought my advice to be sexually responsible, especially since the mature use of contraceptives could avoid a later choice about abortion.
Oddly, perhaps, this approach did not make me an outlaw renegade. Priests like me, in counselling our fellow-Catholics, operated under the rubric of the so-called pastoral solution, which allowed us to quietly defy Vatican dogma when the situation seemed to call for it. In the confessional booth or the rectory parlor, we could encourage our parishioners to decide for themselves, by examining their own consciences, whether the doctrine of the Church applied to them in their particular circumstance. (We cited the lessons of the Second Vatican Council, which, taking up the theme of responsible parenthood, only three years before, had said, “The parents themselves, and no one else, should ultimately make this judgment in the sight of God.”)
Source: The New Yorker