Mullady is a priest of the Western Province of the Dominican Order. Ordained in
1972, he has served as a parish priest, high school teacher, seminary
professor, retreat master, and mission preacher. He has been featured on EWTN,
and is a prolific author who has for many years penned a question-and-answer
column for Homiletic & Pastoral Review
He is not only well-grounded in the teachings of the Catholic Church, but also has
a special talent for articulating them to the faithful. He recent spoke with Jim
Graves for CWR, offering the Catholic perspective on some key moral issues currently
being debated in American society.
CWR: The states of Washington and
Maryland recently allowed same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses, becoming
the seventh and eighth states in the union to do so. Initiatives are underway
to legalize same-sex marriage in additional states. Critics of the Catholic
Church’s position against same-sex marriage argue that it wants to deny equal
rights to people who identify themselves as homosexual. How do you respond?
Father Brian Mullady:
There are no rights to things that are
contrary to the natural law, and same-sex marriage is contrary to the natural
law. Homosexual activity is a sin. It’s not the same as racial equality.
In lieu of marriage, some support
civil unions for same-sex couples, basically granting same-sex couples the same
legal standing as married couples without calling it marriage. Is that an
acceptable alternative for Catholics?
Father Mullady: The state may choose to recognize
something as marriage in regards to the civil effects of marriage, such as
property sharing, or common insurance or retirement, but that would be silly to
do so. It isn’t the same as marriage. The civil effects should be connected to
the true nature of marriage for the law to be correct and to encourage proper
marriage in society.
Some states, like California, not only
allow same-sex couples to adopt children but even encourage it. Is this
something Catholics can accept?
Father Mullady: To have a child adopted by a couple in
a same-sex relationship is also contrary to the natural law and the true nature
of marriage. It’s not a healthy way for a child to first observe marriage.
The Catholic bishops have been
outspoken in their opposition to the recent Health and Human Services mandate
that Catholic employers offer contraception, sterilization, and
abortion-inducing drugs to their employees in their health insurance policies. The
mandate and the surrounding controversy have brought the issue of contraception
into presidential politics. Why does the Church teach that artificial
contraception is wrong?
Father Mullady: [Contraception] denies the procreative
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.
We recently saw the 50th anniversary
of the introduction of “The Pill.” What effects do you believe widespread
contraception has had on our culture?
Father Mullady: 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, the compromising of the institution of marriage,
abortion on demand, and the 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 societyit 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.
Critics of the Church allege that the
vast majority of Catholics disregard Church teaching on contraception. Do you
believe this is true?
Father Mullady: 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 that in conscience you can dissent. They
suggest that one’s conscience is infallible and whatever it decides must be
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 (1919-1981). 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.
Critics say the Church’s opposition to
contraception is “anti-woman.” How would you respond?
Father Mullady: Actually, the Church is “pro-woman.” The
Pill is extremely destructive to a woman’s health, hence there are many
warnings placed on it.
is not specifically a male or female issue. Some people characterize it as such
because the woman has to carry the child. Hostility can develop among some
women toward their unborn children; Simone de Beauvoir, companion to
philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, used to say, “The child is a predator on the
But the Church’s
perspective is that the child is a gift from God. It’s not anti-woman to
encourage women to have children and, of course, for fathers to be involved.
The Pill, in fact, has allowed men to completely absent themselves from any
responsibility for their sexual practices.
The Church is not
anti-woman in any sense. It is pro-life.
Polls indicate that more Americans are
describing themselves as pro-life, but often with exceptions: abortion should
be permitted in the instances of pregnancy due to rape or incest, or because
having the child would be a threat to the mother’s life, for example. The
Church, conversely, has always been 100 percent pro-life. Why not allow for
Father Mullady: Because children have rights, too. An
abortion is a violation of the child’s right to life. It’s not the child’s
fault that the mother was raped or his parents committed incest. We can’t punish
the child, who is innocent, for the sins of his parents.
In cases where
the mother’s life is threatened, the medical community still can’t take a human
life. It doesn’t matter whose life it is. To kill one innocent human being for
the sake of saving another smacks of utilitarianism. It’s a calculation in
regards to whose life is more important. The medical community can’t do that,
and we can’t do that. Both lives are equally important and we have to do the
best we can to save both.
The Internet has helped make
pornography widespread in our society. Why is it wrong for peoplemost often,
mento view pornography? Isn’t it a victimless crime?
Father Mullady: 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.
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 the person 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.
A question about the death penalty. In
2003, a young college student living in North Dakota, Dru Sjodin, was kidnapped
and murdered by Alfonso Rodriguez, or so it was determined by the court that
tried him. Rodriguez was a registered sex offender who had just completed a
23-year prison term for multiple rapes. When they finally found Sjodin’s body,
she had been beaten, raped, stabbed, had her hands tied behind her back and her
neck slashed and had a plastic bag tied over her head. There was ample evidence
to prove Rodriguez was the killer, such as having the victim’s blood inside his
car. Rodriguez was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death. Perhaps due to
the heinous nature of the crime, he was the first person sentenced to die in
North Dakota in more than 100 years. Assuming Rodriguez received a fair trial
and the evidence was there to prove his guilt, isn’t it just that he die for
his crime? Also, won’t it prevent him from raping and murdering another woman
after he serves another prison term?
Father Mullady: According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Fifth Commandment forbids the
unjust taking of innocent human life. “Innocent” is the important word there. When
a person commits a capital crime, the state has the right to invoke the death
Pope John Paul II
was very much against the death penalty, partially because he experienced genocide
in Poland. But even in the Gospel of Life
he falls short of saying that it is evil.
There are three
things that have to be determined for something to be good according to the Catholic
faith: the object, the intention, and the circumstances. The object of the
death penalty is good. The intention has to be not for personal vengeance, but
to save society and defend the right to life of its citizens. But the
circumstances have to be good, too. There is a debate over whether life
imprisonment would correspond to the proper circumstances. That’s what the Catechism invokes when it says if bloodless means can affirm the
right to innocent life and prevent further harm, then they should be used. That’s
why it says that the death penalty should be used in rare cases, if ever.
But there is
plenty of room for debate about this. In fact, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote a
letter to both Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and Bishop Wilton Gregory in which
he said that there was no right of any kind for Catholics to dissent on the
teachings of the Church regarding abortion and euthanasia because they were
objectively evil and involved the death of innocent human life. But when it
came to a particular war, or a particular use of the death penalty, people
could disagree with positions even of the Holy See and still in conscience be
good Catholics and receive Holy Communion.
There was this “seamless
garment” theory that if you were against abortion, you also had to be against
the death penalty. This is nonsense. In one case you’re dealing with an innocent
life and in the other you’re dealing with someone guilty of a heinous crime. Now
whether or not a society invokes the death penalty is something for its
citizens to decide.
Many Catholic texts written before
Vatican II, such as the Catechism of the Council of Trent, not only seem to
accept the death penalty, but encourage it. Prominent theologians and saints
supported it. Popes, such as Pope St. Pius V, when acting as temporal rulers of
the Papal States, imposed the death penalty on criminals. From 1929-1969 capital
punishment was legal in Vatican City for the attempted assassination of the pope. What’s
changed in Catholic thinking?
Father Mullady: I believe it was because of the mass murders that occurred in Europe
during World War II. They made human life seem cheap. People who experienced that, like John Paul II, wanted to be certain that if the death penalty
was ever used, it would be used properly.