In early August, The Guam Daily Post ran two columns by Father Fran Hezel, a Jesuit: "Whatever happened to the Church?" and "Why those Empty Pews.?"

Hezel's main points appear to be: We can't go back to the 1960s (when pews were full) and, to be saved, it is not necessary to be a Catholic or even go to church.

While Hezel's points could be argued, there is a simple mathematical answer to his quandary about the empty pews. Since the 1960s there has been a decline in the number of Catholics in the pews because, well, there has been a decline in the number of Catholics.

For decades, after other religious traditions began to permit married couples to use birth control in the 1930s, Catholics remained the lone holdout. However, in the 1960s things began to change, and today Catholics use contraception at the same rate as the rest of the non-Catholic world.

According to a 2016 Pew Research Poll, 89% of Catholics either consider contraception morally acceptable or not a moral issue at all. The poll also found that it made little difference if a Catholic was a regular Mass-goer or not, noting that 87% of Mass-going Catholics believed the same.

With official Catholic doctrine still maintaining that contraceptive sex is "intrinsically evil," i.e. a mortal sin, how is it that nearly 90% of Catholics see otherwise?

There are three unlikely culprits: Popes John XXIII and Paul VI, and Joseph Cardinal Bernardin.

In 1962, about the same time he opened the Second Vatican Council, Pope John established the Papal Commission on Population, the Family, and Birth Rate to study the question of whether or not Catholics could morally use a new method of contraception called "the pill."

The pill at the time, was revolutionary in that rather than prevent conception mechanically (condoms, IUD's, etc.) or surgically (vasectomy, tubal ligation), the pill prevented conception chemically by preventing the release of the female ovum by (in layman's terms) tricking the woman's body into "thinking" it was already pregnant.

Regardless of how the pill worked, the end game was to prevent pregnancy. So one might wonder why a pope would want to "look into" the moral use of something which – per his own church – could never have a moral use given that the "ends" of the pill was the deliberate frustration of the natural ends of the marital act, a defined moral evil and a teaching the pope had no authority to change.

Perhaps John's motivation was the "spirit of the times," i.e. "we feel your pain;" and the idea was to say "I tried." And then say, "Sorry, I have no authority to change that teaching ... and I hope you still like me."

Unfortunately for John, whatever his plans were, there was a problem: he soon died.

Then, upon John's death, Paul VI ascended to "the Chair of Peter," and the real problems began.

Rather than dismissing the commission, which was looking into a question that could only have one answer (No!), Paul VI immediately expanded John's commission from the original six members to 72. And unlike John's commission, which consisted mostly of clerics, Paul's greatly expanded commission included secular experts of every kind.

As might be expected, the Catholic world went quietly wild with the expectation that Catholics could soon have sex for fun like everybody else.

Tim Rohr is a resident of Agat.


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