Jim Graves is a Catholic writer and editor living in Newport Beach, California. He previously served as Managing Editor for the Diocese of Orange Bulletin, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Orange, California. His work has appeared in the National Catholic Register, Our Sunday Visitor, Cal Catholic Daily and Catholic World Report.
In my years working as the newspaper editor for the Diocese of Orange in Southern California, I enjoyed the opportunity to have lunch many times with an elderly priest who worked in the marriage tribunal, Msgr. Daniel Brennan (1918-2003). He was originally from Pennsylvania, before relocating to the West Coast, and served as a priest for 60 years. He was good humored and pleasant, but he was also well-educated with an extensive knowledge of the faith. I would often enjoy asking him a question or two about the issues of the day—generally related to the Faith—and listen as an audience of one as he went into great detail about his views.
In Catholic journalism I have often had the opportunity to interview some outstanding and well known priests who were of similar depth as Msgr. Brennan. The following are three such priests with a national following, who shared with me personally their views on some hot topics of the day.
Dominican Father Brian Mullady, a well known professor, scholar and retreat leader, speaking on “birth control”:
[Contraception] denies the pro-creative and educative union of marriage, which is one of the basic human goods of marriage. It reduces marriage to a common egotism for the sake of pleasure, it decries the responsibilities of human love and it reduces the child to an object of use. “No child but a wanted child” means that a child must fit into my life, as opposed to the view that a couple accepts children as a gift from the hands of a loving Creator.
… In his 1968 encyclical letter Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI predicted that if contraception was accepted it would lead to widespread divorce, the destruction of the family, compromising of the institution of marriage, abortion on demand and devaluing of human life. People laughed at him. But these predictions have come true.
We’re living with a society that has completely destroyed the institution of marriage. But marriage is central to the proper development of society. It is the primary social cell. It’s no wonder that so many people in our society are addicted to drugs and alcohol and sexual perversions.
Many more people are choosing to live together rather than get married. And, for those who do marry, they think that if they have problems, they can always get out of it.
[Commenting on the reported high numbers of Catholics who use contraception]
… First of all, you have to define Catholic. Do you mean someone who practices Catholicism and goes to Mass on Sunday, or do you mean someone who was baptized but does not practice the Faith? I’ll bet among practicing Catholics most do not use birth control.
Also, there has been an effective propaganda campaign waged on behalf of contraception by governments in the Western world and by dissenting Catholics in universities and seminaries. This includes priests who teach at these places, but themselves dissent from Church teaching. They tell their people that the Church teaching on contraception isn’t important, and in conscience you can dissent. They suggest that one’s conscience is infallible and whatever it decides must be true.
I don’t believe that many priests or laypeople can provide a real explanation of why the Church is opposed to contraception. They accept that the culture demands it, and that in order to fit in, we must not oppose it. They have no idea why it’s wrong, except perhaps that the Pope says so.
I enjoy the work of a Catholic psychiatrist, Conrad Baars (1919-81). He was convinced that contraception was not only morally evil, but that it caused emotional illness or neurosis. If he’s right, it can offer an explanation as to why there are so many dysfunctional families in our society who engage in neurotic behaviors. The root of much of it is our society’s contraceptive mentality.
Fr. Mullady answering the question, “Is viewing pornography a victimless crime?”:
No, because people who view pornography are committing a sin. They’re committing an action against the order of justice. They’re introducing into their lives desires and tendencies which are contrary to reason, and that makes it much easier for them to succumb to actions which are contrary to reason.
There is, however, a difference between an artistic representation of the human body and a pornographic one. Michelangelo’s David, for example, emphasizes the nobility of man and calls forth our respect. A pornographic image merely seeks to induce habits or desires which look upon people as an object of use. It tends to destroy the idea of personhood. People who view pornography try to get a sexual high without any kind of a relationship whatsoever with another person.
Fr. George Rutler, pastor of Church of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in New York City and a well known author and speaker, on the decline of the practice of the Catholic faith in the City and the West in general:
New Yorkers are part of Western culture, which is in the midst of being secularized. Our religious instinct has faded, and our traditionally Catholic families are moving out of the City.
Part of the problem is the need for effective catechesis. The ignorance of the Faith among the young is stunning. Our Catholic schools have been in a state of decline. In some of our schools we’re covering up our religious symbols so we can receive money from the state.
Also, there has been a liturgical failing. The liturgy is a prime means of evangelizing people, but our liturgies are often banal.
Fr. Rutler on Islam:
The World Trade Center [on 9-11] was not destroyed by Presbyterians. Catholics are naïve if they try to ignore that the attackers were Muslim. As I said in one of my articles (http://www.crisismagazine.
People who describe themselves as liberals today are often protective and defensive about Islam, despite the fact that it is so intrinsically opposed to what these progressives claim to represent. The only explanation I can come up with is that these Western socialists or progressives are hostile to Judeo-Christian civilization and see Muslims as an effective force against it. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
This is coupled with the fact that the secular media so often downplays or ignores the atrocities committed by Islamists. Just recently, for example, four Christian children were lined up by ISIS in Iraq and told to deny Christ and convert to Islam. When they refused, they were decapitated. I don’t recall seeing that in the New York Times.
Fr. Robert Spitzer, president of the Magis Center, on “science vs. religion”:
… faith and science [do not] contradict one another. We’re privileged to live in a time when there is more evidence from physics for a beginning of the universe than ever before. I made this point to [atheist scientist] Stephen Hawking [1942-2018] in 2010, when I appeared along with him on Larry King Live. Stephen knows this.
The debate centered on what was before the beginning of the universe. If you say nothing, then there has to be a God. You can’t move from nothing to something. Even Larry King got that. He asked another physicist on the program, Leonard Mlodinow, “How about that Leonard, how can you make something from nothing?” All Leonard could do was to equivocate on the term “nothing.”
Fr. Spitzer on life after death and near death experiences (NDE).
Many of our kids today are closet materialists, and there’s no faster way to change their thinking than by introducing them to NDEs. NDEs can occur when someone has a heart attack, is clinically dead for a time, and then revived. By clinically dead, we mean that for a brief period a patient has no electrical activity in the cerebral cortex, and little, if any, electrical response in the brain. In this situation, a person cannot be conscious, cannot see, cannot hear, cannot engage in cognitional activity, cannot remember and cannot recall. About 20% of people who have undergone clinical death who have been gone for over 30 seconds make extraordinary claims about their experiences during death.
Their “trans-physical” form leaves their physical body and winds up looking at the physical body away from and above the body. They are able to see, hear, experience consciousness, recall, move (even through walls) and defy gravity. Whatever this trans-physical form is, it is living.
… Catholics would call it the soul, but for the materialist, I’d call it a trans-physical form. But whatever it is, it is self-conscious and remembers what is going on, despite the fact that clinical death has occurred.
We can verify these claims from the reports of the people who have had NDEs and can report on unusual data that can be corroborated by researchers. For example, a man is dead and someone removes his dentures and puts them in a drawer. He is revived, and he knows without being told where the dentures can be found. How could he have known? The only way is that he observed them being removed while in a trans-physical form.
Or, a person dies and in an out-of-body experience she passes through the walls of the hospital and sees an old shoe on a third floor ledge outside. She is revived, and tells the doctors about her experience. Someone crawls out on the ledge and finds the shoe. Both of these are real-life examples.
Eighty percent of blind people who undergo a NDE report that they were able to see for the first time. Others report “going to the other side,” seeing God, or a white light, or Jesus, or loved ones who have died. Once they come back, they tell us they no longer have a fear of death.