The Dispatch: More from CWR...

Pope Francis and Canada, Gen Z, Humanae Vitae, and adventures in synodality

A video conversation between Mark Brumley, president of Ignatius Press, and Carl E. Olson, editor of Catholic World Report.

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About Carl E. Olson 1200 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.
About Mark Brumley 64 Articles
Mark Brumley is president and CEO of Ignatius Press.


  1. Thank you for this wide-ranging dip into the dilemmas of our time. Here are a possibly instructive analogy and three follow-up points:

    FIRST, the concurrent discussion on Generation Z, Humanae Vitae, and Synodality recalls a dilemma identified by the 911 Commission and the failure in 2001 to foresee the possibility of such a blindside catastrophe. The Commission included in its recommendations:
    “Imagination is not a gift usually associated with bureaucracy…It is therefore crucial to find a way of routinizing [!], even bureaucratizing [!], the exercise of imagination” (The 9/11 Commission Report, c. 2004, page 344). How does one, really, fit imagination (the right side of the brain?) into bureaucracy (slicing and dicing under the left side of the brain, as foreseen by Max Weber in his “Bureaucracy”—and the tension between personal charisma and institutional rationalization?

    SECOND, within the Church, the analogous (not identical) dilemma is a Church which is both institutional and charismatic (the key point highlighted, for example, in “The 1985 Extraordinary Synod of Bishops,” reflecting on “divergent” opinions following the Second Vatican Council). In both cases, the analogy is partly the problem of “institutional architecture.” This dilemma is not quite captured by the polarity you proposed, Carl, between those who always ask how they can “change the Church” and those who ask, instead, how they can “change themselves.”

    THIRD, considered as a real question of institutional architecture, today’s overreaching synodality simply does not work as a sort of wraparound to get beyond dichotomies within the life of the institutional Church. Overdrawn, does the process, itself, risk being a radical “paradigm shift” redefining the graced marriage (!) of the perennial Church, now as an “endless journey” away from itself?

    In practice, does the exaggeration of the, yes, “universal call to holiness” muddle/replace the historically uniquely Apostolic, Eucharistic, and perennial Catholic Church? Is steadfast fidelity to Divine Revelation (“in season and out of season”) weaned away by routinized and endless participation in an “aggregated, compiled, synthesized” and rolling consensus?

    Is the innate (!) Natural Law obsolesced by specious mutations within so-called “social science” (for example, as signaled by the standup-comics Marx, Batzing, Hollerich & Co., to accommodate the homosexual lifestyle). Does “creative” double-speak replace “rigid, bigoted” moral elements in human nature and the Catechism, and particularly in the illuminating Veritatis Splendor which notes, with humility, that “The Church is no way the author or the arbiter of this [‘moral’] norm.”

    FOURTH, to the cast-adrift Generation Z, then, it is profoundly correct to conclude, as you do, that “humility” and a sense of real inquiry (!) are the lacking backbone in today’s ecclesial climate of historical/institutional amnesia. Particularly in the minds of some unwitting clerics, who would destroy the Church in order to save it. And who, while decrying secularism’s “throwaway culture,” then inflict this mentality on the Magisterium—our gifted/acquired immune system against the pandemic “tyranny of relativism” and even personal despair.

  2. Nice to put name, face and voice together! It felt like I was the phantom third person at the table. Quiet though, which most would say is good!

    Collegial and informative, you brought issues forward that people are grappling with today.

    The mention of Jesus is really what it is all about, He is unchanging and our guide and comforter. Thank you.

    Hopefully this could be a regular feature, it was a blessing.

  3. About Humanae Vitae, turns out, the old adage “Roma locuta est, causa finite est” (“Rome has spoken, the case is closed”) is no more. The final teaching authority of the Catholic faith apparently resides at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. where Dominican Fr. Thomas Petri has told the Catholic News Agency that the church’s teaching against artificial contraception is “irreformable.” This is despite the fact that Pope Paul VI said his encyclical Humanae Vitae was not infallible, and one can think of any one of a number of moral teachings that have changed through the years. For example, does Petri invest the endowment of the House of Studies? I hope so, but for a millennium, the church proscribed the charging of interest.

    • The charging of interest (usury) went by the wayside as the nature of the economy, itself, changed and, instead of individuals bartering through coinage, the lender of currency can legitimately take into account the reasonable opportunity costs of not lending/investing elsewhere.

      As for usury, extortion remains a sin…. as “usury” in our day, we might consider how member private banks of the Federal Reserve Board collect interest for nothing more than printing fiat money to prop up a deficit-spending economy. For that matter, and as a federal monetary policy, the incremental devaluation of the currency (printing more dollars than there are goods and services exchanged in “the economy”) is also a modern form of usury-on-steroids, e.g., frugal family savings are simply eroded, rather than skimmed. Isn’t it usurious to pass the cumulative unpaid debt (now $30 Trillion) on to future generations?

      Laudato si makes a similar and, yes, controversial point about our undermining (through externalized costs) the ecology/natural resource base, as we pass planet earth on to future generations. Instead of pretending to be scientists, the ghost writers might well have done well to simply teach that real “usury” is still with us and still a sin!

    • Apparently you missed Messrs. Brumley and Olson’s discussion, carefully noting, non-ideologically and without prejudice. If you had listened, you would not have written such a misinformed comment regarding the Church’s perennial, consistently taught, ordinary magisterial, position on contraception. The Dominican Father simply repeats what the Church has consistently in the past, will continue in the future, and does teach currently about contraception despite Paul VI’s failure to classify his Humana Vitae encyclical as infallible.

  4. I was recently chatting with my nephew who reminded me of another chat we had when he was in college reading The Great Gatsby for a lit course, and I shared my opinion of why I concurred that it was a masterpiece. Despite how often secular literary figures might experience alienation from religion in their personal lives, they can be brilliant in describing a human condition where all their characters, living with their vanities, necessarily live with well-rehearsed lies to convince themselves they don’t. Yet Fitzgerald provided that masterful touch of a giant billboard of eyeglasses that implied our delusions can never escape the knowledge of God. Then I contrasted this with how so many Churchmen, particularly moral theologians, make it their life’s work to try to prove to anyone who will listen that our sins are not really sins and that what used to be thought of as immoral can now be thought of as moral.
    He asked why I thought this came to pass. I simply answered that the concept of original sin is much more profound than how most people oversimplify and misconstrue it. I believe it implies a constant process of cultural moral entropy that can not help but infect the Church’s weaker men as well. Not that all men in the Church are not sinners, but the holier men recognize the permanent imperfectability of the human condition and make sin their enemy not the precepts against sin that threaten our comfort.

    • Yes, Mr. Baker. Just as the attuned may find God in all of creation, so we also find evidence of man pushing God away.

      Yes! Good literature and other art like ‘The Great Gatsby’ contains analogical, symbolic lessons for the perceptive reader. The repeatedly mentioned large eyeglass billboard in ‘The Great Gatsby’ casts its garishly haunting presence throughout the book. Similarly, the flashing green light, across the water from Gatsby’s mansion, at the end of Daisy’s dock, suggests the allure of sin and the darkness following its grasp. Poor Gatsby doesn’t quite seem to have understood why his acquisitions failed to win Daisy back to him. Even her marital vow to Buchanan doesn’t seem to have meaning for him. The green light of greed, acquisitiveness, covetousness, decadent material consumption, is soon followed by the ‘offing’ of the light, the ‘darkening’ interval of depression, sadness, insecurity, confusion, soon eased by the green light’s allure coming on again. It is the perpetual promise of the glitter of newly acquired goods, which when acquired illicitly, fade to darkness, to blackness, to depression, to death.

  5. Addressed by CEO Brumley Editor Olson are the questions, the variables attached to infallible teaching of the extraordinary Magisterium, and whether doctrine offered in the ordinary Magisterium [such as Humanae Vitae in context of article 25 Lumen Gentium] possess comparative infallibility.
    When John XXIII opened the famous windows to allow fresh air we’ve had open discussion on, in particular, the Ordinary Magisterium. Perhaps our best legal theologian simply because John Paul II placed him in that forum, cardinal Josef Ratzinger as prefect of the CDF. Ratzinger wrote the Doctrinal Commentary to Fides et Ratio. In it he mused that Paul VI on contraception was in the realm of infallible doctrine. What then distinguishes infallibility pronounced formally in the Extraordinary form and that in the Ordinary.
    There is a definitive difference. For example the Credo, when declared in public by the faithful during Sunday Mass is an infallible, and necessarily subject to belief theological declaration of our faith. There are no subjective variables, mitigating issues here. We believe, or we don’t and risk apostasy. Whereas doctrine on moral behavior enters into the dynamic of human acts, which are by nature subject to subjective variables such as mitigation, although John Paul II taught we cannot make mitigation a category by which we may dismiss culpability. Nevertheless human actions are subject to variables that affect knowledge, freedom of decision making. Teaching in this forum, human behavior as rightly agreed by Olson and Brumley always remains objectively correct [infallible as doctrine] but subject to the nuances of human fallibility and limits of personal conscience [primarily freedom of decision making].

    • A closer review of Humanae Vitae on contraception, which 14 states is intrinsece inhonestum [intrinsically dishonest], serious sin; Pope Paul VI relied on a Minority Commission Report of the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control. The commission met 1963-66, Moral Theologian John C Ford SJ collaborated with Germain Grisez and authored a report which upheld the constant and unequivocal teaching that the use of artificial birth control is an intrinsically evil act. The report held:
      One can find no period of history, no document of the church, no theological school, scarcely one Catholic theologian, who ever denied that contraception was always seriously evil. The teaching of the Church in this matter is absolutely constant. Until the present century this teaching was peacefully possessed by all other Christians, whether Orthodox or Anglican or Protestant. The Orthodox retain this as common teaching today. I would add, what God ordained for man and woman cannot be abrogated by man. While there may be mitigating conditions of a human act, instances of poverty, fear, even ignorance the doctrine remains that contraception is inherently evil. While this doctrine was not formally declared as infallible, it remains an intrinsic and irreversible evil because of the
      unerring nature of the perennial tradition of the Church, the ground and the pillar of truth (1 Tim 3:15).

  6. Not true. That’s the sort of sophist example similar to the silliness that claims the Church used to proscribe eating meat on Fridays, which it still does, and is a matter that does not even deal with morality. But interest was and still is immoral in societies where inflation is an impossibility and is only exercised in a similar manner to today’s mafia loansharks. Another moral precept that never changes involves not bearing false witness, even towards the Church. You might save yourself from sins by not actually believing the National Catholic Reporter.

  7. Would like to hear more in what sense Pope Paul VI (is said to have) said about Humanae Vitae, that it is “not infallible”. The encyclical does go so far as to say “Of such laws [“the entire moral law”] the church was not the author, nor consequently can she be their arbiter…”, a reality and words repeated in Veritatis Splendor (n. 95).

    As for the different levels of “infallibility” (definitively revealed, or definitively proposed, or religious submission of the intellect)—recommended is Ad Tuendam Fidem (To Protect the Faith: by Which Certain Norms Are Inserted into the Code of Canon Law and into the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches), sections 5 thru 9 of the included “Commentary on the Concluding Formula of the Professio Fide,” Ratzinger/Bertone, June 29, 1998:

    Of the encyclical Veritatis Splendor, also this: “This is the first time, in fact, that the Magisterium of the Church [!] has set forth in detail the fundamental elements of this [‘moral’!] teaching, and presented the principles for the pastoral discernment necessary in practical and cultural situations which are complex and even crucial” (n. 115).

  8. A good nubmer of folks point out that the Bible does not discuss contraception (and/or abortion). But does it? What if we, removed from Biblical times by nearly 2000 years, simply do not understand all the refernces.
    I can’t remember the talk, but I heard one once that noted the word “socery” or “witchcraft” in the Bible was a translation of the word “pharmak”–a Greek word from whence we get the word “pharmacy”–where we buy all sorts of drugs and medications. The word is often used by Paul in conjunction with sexual sins (fornication, adultery) Galatians 5_19
    Another author, one John Riddle, did a lengthy study of contracptives and abortion called Eve’s Herbs, and noted that witchcraft was a code word for fertility control
    This should be looked into closely by Church authorities to see if there is merit in these ideas–especially since contraception may very well be mentioned in the Bible

  9. Kudos to you two for sharing the ‘who’ of you and the ‘what’ of your thinking about the issues on which you focus. Of particular personal interest was the discussion (and recent Erickson articles) on Gen. Z. I have yet to read them but will and soon.

    I recently became friendly, or he with me, with a 17 yo Gen Z person. All the adjectives fit. The child of divorce, both parents apparently raised as “nones,” he is a pot-smoking, jobless, high school dropout, with half sisters, half brothers and multiple parental bedfellows as ‘stable’ family comprising his life. There are many transient living quarters filling his life because of serial monogamy relationships by both parents, etc. There are some criminal factors on the part of many of his relations, including perhaps himself too. He reminds of Dicken’s Oliver Twist’s companions.

    With some irregular irregularity, I’d see him at a local bus stop where he’d boombox and potpipe accompanying him. I’d walk by with my rosary. The beads intrigued him; he didn’t know what they were or why anyone would carry them. As a late blooming boomer, I identify as an old lady. One day I noticed he had a haircut and told him I liked it. A huge smile lit his face as he exclaimed, “You are the only one who noticed!” When he asked about the beads, I noted their color matched his eyes which caused his to sparkle.

    I’m an old Legion of Mary member. One of that group’s tenets is friendship as a basis for evangelization. My Gen Z friend is open to what seems to appear to him as my startling, unusual and perhaps somewhat psychedelic points of view. I appear to him as some sort of exotic bird in a mythical land. He calls me often. I wonder if I am the only one he has to talk to. Gen Z. He has a great sense of humor. I ignore his hard language, his attempts to con me, and his pot-smoking (I actually do like the way it smells..). Open and interested is how I describe this budding one. Pray for me and for him.

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