A selection of Letters to the Editor
Scrave space in your
columns to discuss the survey on birth control sponsored by some officials of the Newman Association and reported in the CATHOU IC HFRALD on May 14. The Catholic press is the only medium through which 1 can make known quickly to fellow-members of the Association what I can only regard as either a serious misjudgment on the part of the anonymous group of "advisers" who helped to frame the questionnaire. or a deliberate attempt to misuse the Association's prestige by this same anonymous group.
The questionnaire has been so contrived. either skilfully or by the most remarkable stupidity, to produce a set of answers congenial to the "revolutionary" views of people like the President. Dr. Pratt (who was rightly taken to task in your columns last week by "Sacerdos" for claiming already to know what most devout Catholics think on this matter). The blame for this disgraceful situation may rest upon his advisers rather than upon Di. Pratt himself.
I now turn to the more tendentious parts of the questionnaire: Question (i) asks. "Do you think that birth control is necessary/ unnecessary (delete one)?" For better or worse. the words "birth control" have become almost exclusively associated in popular discussion with artificial or mechanical contraception.
If the question had been "Do you think some limitation of family size is desirable?" the answers would have been less open to misinterpretation. One can see what a misleading impression the press headline, "Most educated Catholics think birth control necessary" could create.
I hope this possibility was not intended by those who set the question. And yet, if they did not foresee the possibility, they are incompetent to handle this kind of survey. If they did foresee it, this reflects on their intellectual integrity in not providing against such a crucial ambiguity.
Question (iii) asks us to say whether or not we find the Church's traditional teaching logical, coherent and correct. But the evidence about what people think on this Question is valueless if there is no proof that they first understand what the Church's teaching is and the reasons behind it. Again, if someone knows what the Church's teaching is and vet finds it illogical. this goes no way to show it is illogical: it may be that the objector is no logician.
Even more noteworthy is the fact that Question (iii) provides only one way of expressing total assent to the Church's teaching, that is, by the rigid formula "logical. coherent and correct". May there not be some, perhaps many, people who believe that it is true. because they accept the Church's teaching on this and other matters as authoritative. even though they cannot follow all the arguments given by moral theologians?
To be unable to see one's way through tangled problems of moral philosophy, moral theology and casuistry is not the same as accusing defenders of traditional teaching of being themselves muddled. The lack of provision for people in this category suggests either incompetence or misplaced cunning on the part of those framing Question (iii).
Question (iv) uses the undefined words, "hardship", "satisfactory", "positive good" and "positive harm": these cannot be used to obtain anything in the way of valuable scientific evidence, being too vague in their ordinary use. But they are no doubt traps for the unwary, and are good enough for sensational press handouts, which perhaps was the intention.
The blatant amateurishness of Questions Iv) and (vi) suggests the "soft sell" calculated camouflage for the professional skill of the three questions analysed above. In allowing several alternative answers the survey team clearly attach little importance to (v) and (vi).
"X per cent educated Catholics think the present controversy a breath of fresh air"--a good solid fact like that should help the Pope's commission, especially if "Y per cent think it's raising false hopes".
I wish finally to complain of the atmosphere of urgency the sponsors of this survey have tried to create. as well as their quite unwarranted claim to speak for the Newman Association as a whole in this matter. The brief time allowed for debate and disoussion, given the lack of facilities for members to get in touch with each other at such short notice, gives credence to the view that no educated person would wish to associate himself with this hasty and dubious enterprise.
A. F. Walters Southampton Newman Circle Committee Member.
Sir,—"Sacerdos" (May 21) denies that devout British Catholics find the Church's present attitude on contraception illogical and beyond explanation to nonbelievers. As he says, many devout Catholics do obey the existing rules. often at great personal cost, but "Sacerdos" is wrong to suppose that this submission implies approval of the arguments elaborated by cloistered celibates to bolster up our present policy.
Now that the Council is to reconsider our position there must be no attempt to muzzle lay opinion with its existential experience of the problem. This would be to close the windows which good Pope John strove to force
open in the face of reactionary opposition. There may he substance in the criticism levelled by "Sacerdos" against University education. but as a means of producing "sound thinkers" the Universities can surely bear comparison with the average diocesan seminary.
Brian Slater King's College,
Sir. If your correspondent "Sacerdos" (May 21) would send his name and address to me. I will supply privately to him, or to any other interested person. a list of references to books and articles published in scientific lownals which provide support for the statement of 'mine that he quotes.
I feel sure that your correspondent will understand why the Newman Association dots not feel that public discussion of the matter is desirable at this juncture. Oliver Pratt President. Newman Association, 15 Carlisle Street.
Sir. --In his reply of May 14, Sir Francis Walshe has failed to substantiate his allegation that claims were being made that the infertile period is universally applicable and invariably safe.
Instead he makes a new allegation that my claims for the infertile period are excessive. In my article in the CATHOLIC HERALD (November 6, 1964) I gave precise figures, together with references, for the failure rates of the infertile period as determined by calendar and temperature.
These figures have been provided by non-Catholic scientists of international repute who are members of the medical advisory committee of the International Planned Parenthood Federation. It hardly seems likely they would make excessive claims for this method of regulating births. But if Sir Francis Walshe has figures obtained in properly conducted surveys which contradict the work of these scientists he will, no doubt, present them to us in suppot t of his allegation.
He also introduced a red herring in the form of a polymath. I was not of course, attempting to resurrect this extinct creature but was emphasising the need for team work among scientists of all the relevant disciplines.
1 would not have trespassed again upon your hard pressed space were it not for the fact that this problem is the source of much confusion and anguish for many couples. It would be sad if this burden was aggravated by the thought that those actively engaged in counselling and research in this field were behaving irresponsibly.
John Marshall Reader in Clinical Neurology in the University of London. should be most iiitcrestcd to know whether there are any proposals at the present time to improve the standard of hymnsinging in our churches, and to extend the very limited range of hymns available for congregational use.
I think it must he admitted that our Anglican and Protestant friends put us to shame as far as our respective selections of hymns and quality of singing are concerned, atid in this ecumenical age I feel that this is a field in which we could well afford to swallow our pride by borrowing from other Churches—with their permission, of course. and assuming that there are no copyright problems.
In the future, Catholics will find themselves present in increasing numbers at religious services for national occasions, and it seems to he a deplorable thing that at the present time we cannot share with the other churches the magnificent hymns which arc so frequently sung on these occasions — I think particularly of such hymns as "All people that oil earth do dwell", "Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven", "0 God, our help in ages past", and "The Lord is my Shepherd". Many of us who take an active part in supplying music in the church would not feel so deprived if we had something comparable to offer from our own hymnals, and we inevitably. look with envy through the pages of Hymns Ancient and Modern. and the English Minnal. containing hundreds of hymns for general use and for all liturgical seasons, with dignified words and singable tunes — most of which are, alas. debarred from its by nothing more than denominational prejudice.
After many centuries of silence, the Catholic layman is now being encouraged to open his mouth in church. Now would be the perfect opportunity to let him share in the Church's music—and combine it with an ecumenical gesture of the first importance.
John F. Butler, Luton.
am concerned about the possible loss of beauty within the Church regarding the use of music. Many musicians to whom I have spoken fear the "thin end of the wedge". I speak as an organist and choirmaster, and also as a member of the congregation. With the increasing accent on congregational participation, the opportunities of hearing magnificent music are going to be less and less.
Granted, an attempt is being made to encourage present-day musicians to compose music suitable for English words (shades of opera in English) but with great respect. we have no modern Palestrina, Byrd, etc.
I have always maintained that well sung good music (good in the musical construction sense) is a definite aid to devotion. Equally, I consider that congregational participation in the Mass is a dreary and uninspiring affair, With all the goodwill and sincerity in the world. Catholic congregations are not good singers and never will he.
The beauty of Plainsong, polyphony, and indeed some florid music cannot he wasted. Let the Bishops encourage the continuance of the Solemn High Mass. or the Sung Mass, or the Missa Cantata, with Latin, reserving the right to the parish priest to use a congregational sung Mass say once a month to please the less musical minded, but equally sincere worshipper.
P. G. Clancy, London, S.W.19.