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Everybody to Pope Paul: Drop Dead Print E-mail
By Anthony Esolen   
Monday, 07 April 2014

I recently read Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae vitae the way it was principally meant to be read: in Latin. There’s something illuminating, I find, about reading in the original a work that is familiar to you in translation. It becomes unfamiliar. You can’t catch the gist of a clause unless you pay unusually close attention to the words. You can’t dismiss something before you have quite determined what that something is. 
      

What struck me this time was the final portion of the text, 40 percent of the whole, a gentle and heartfelt appeal to various groups of people in positions of responsibility. The pope knew that he was delivering a message that would dash some false hopes. He also knew that, in the newly seething sensualism of his times, it would be hard to move people even to understand what he was saying. 

It is never easy to rouse a sensualist, not just to heroism, but to the self-sacrifice of an ordinary life of virtue.  Yet he retained a belief – one that now seems poignantly naïve – that wise people would see the beauty of the Christian teaching, and, even if they did not worship in the Catholic Church, even if they did not acknowledge Christ as their savior, would yet work to bring about a world at least open to the good that he was holding forth.

They all told him to drop dead.

First he appeals to teachers and to all those whose duty it is to look ahead for the common good.  He begs them to see the need to fashion an environment qui colendae castitati faveat, which would assist in the fostering of chastity. The principal aim was not utilitarian but moral and human: ut scilicet germana libertas licentiam vincat, so that, as it were, genuine liberty would triumph over license. 

I do not recall that any promoters of the Pill, mistaken as they were, redoubled their efforts by way of compensation to make chastity appear in all its true beauty, or ever talked about license, the evil parody of liberty. No, I believe that it was just then that teachers began to import smutty books into their classrooms; and the drive-in theater in my Irish Catholic town sold its soul to porn for a few more grubby years of life. 
    

Then, he appeals more directly to the politicians. Law, after all, is about more than keeping stuff on the shelves. It is about making a people good. He begs them to keep watch over public morals, ne umquam patiamini honestos corruere mores vestrorum populorum, lest you should ever suffer the decent folkways, the honest morals of your people to fall to ruin. 

They must assist families, not work for their destruction, if indeed liberty is what they desire. But that was about the time when the burgeoning political class discerned that it was to their benefit to cultivate the dissoluble and the dissolute. Crumbling families, fattening State.
    

His third appeal was to men of science. How quaint his respect for their probity!  He begged them to conduct research into more and more precise means of determining ovulation, and into showing the harmony between the laws of nature and the law of God.

Pope Paul never worked at a research mill.  Cherchez l'argent, mon Père.  The money is not in self-control and chastity. The money is not in tamping the fire, but in stoking it.  Ask the publishers of magazines.
    


Pope Paul VI

Then he appealed to Christian spouses. His words wring my heart. He begged them to show forth to the world a Christian testimony – they could only be salutary to their neighbors if they made clear both the holiness and the sweetness of the truth.

Pope Paul did not deny that that would sometimes be difficult.  The Lord Himself warns us that the way is narrow that leads to life. But yet the hope of that life so shines upon our pilgrim way, that Christians forti contendunt animo, enter the lists with a brave heart, living, as Saint Paul says, “soberly and justly and piously in this world,” because we understand that it is passing away. 

The pope called for our courage in the fight. I remember tepidity and ducking out instead. He called for a new apostolate, of married Catholic couples who would instruct and strengthen their fellows. The married couples couldn’t be bothered. 


He appealed to doctors. He reminded them that their aim was greater than mere human utility. If only we could attain that low aim now, when people in hospitals are treated as little more than living tissue, and unborn children as far less than that.  So much for the medical profession – now purveyors of disease and death. 
   

Then come the most painful appeals of all. First to the priests and theologians.  Paul says he is moved by great trust in them: magna fiducia. He’d have done better with a common bribe-taking politician; at least the man on the take need not be positively hostile or treacherous. He recalls with gratitude their obedience; perhaps he was trying to persuade by gentle over-praising. In any case, he reminds them that the unity of the Church is always to be safeguarded.  Surely, they would not want to veer away into practical schism. But divorce of one kind led to divorce of another.
    

The last appeal is to his fellow bishops. He petitions them to go before the faithful with great care and without delay, to preach to them the sanctity of marriage and to show them why their deference to that sanctity will assist married couples in attaining to the perfection of a human and Christian life. 

Pope Paul called for their help! He was always, temperamentally, timid and shy.  He the Vicar of Christ needed them, and they instead left him alone in the garden while they played to the crowd.

God have mercy upon us. We need it.

 


Anthony Esolen
is a lecturer, translator, and writer. His latest books are
Reflections on the Christian Life: How Our Story Is God’s Story and Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child. He teaches at Providence College. 


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Comments (31)Add Comment
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written by michael Paterson-Seymour, April 07, 2014
Am I alone in finding an eerie similarity between the “Truce of 1968,” as George Weigal calls it, when the Congregation for the Clergy decreed that Cardinal O’Boyle of Washington should lift canonical penalties against those priests whom he had disciplined for their public dissent from Humanae Vitæ and the “Peace of Clement IX” during the Jansenist controversy?

In both cases, after the Church had been riven by a decade-long dispute, a papal document was issued that was intended to be definitive.

In both cases, the original quarrel was immediately forgotten and argument raged over the scope of papal authority to decide the question. In the Jansenist case, peace, of a sort, was achieved, when Pope Clement IX brokered an agreement that neither side would argue the question, at least, from the pulpit.

The “Peace of Clement IX” lasted for about 35 years and ended in 1705 when Clement XI declared the clergy could no longer hide behind “respectful silence.” Eventually, in 1713, he issued Unigenitus and demanded the subscription of the clergy to it. There was enormous resistance, with bishops and priests appealing to a future Council (and being excommunicated for their pains, in 1718). As late as 1756, dissenters were still being denied the Last Rites.

Will the “Truce of 1968” end in a similar fashion?
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written by Jack,CT, April 07, 2014
Thanks,And A wonderful read for Monday morning
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written by Manfred, April 07, 2014
Thank you for an excellent article, Anthony. May I presume to add an update? In 1967, in the Land O' Lakes Statement 26 Catholic Schools of higher learning removed themselves from the authority of the Church. Another "benefit to modern catholics was the removal of mortal sin and, effectively, Hell. (See von Balthasar and Fr. Robert Barron who strongly suggest that "all men are saved".) This pope plays one note over and over on his pan pipe: care and concern for the poor. The Church has gone from the only means of salvation to an ersatz Rotary International. I left it with my wife and seven children decades ago. We are bright, if I may say so, and we recognize counterfeit when we see it. We spotted it fifty years ago and we were correct. The modernist, Novus Ordo church will not produce salvation and millions of catholics, who believe they are Catholic, will pay a horrible penalty for allowing themselves to be led into Hell by their pope, cardinals, bishops, priests, catholic schools and their "friends".
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written by Deacon Ed Peitler, April 07, 2014
Funny, that after reading this, I see P. Paul VI as worthy of the heroic virtues that a declaration of sanctity suggests. In fact, his hiddenness between the soon-to-be new saints of P. John XXIII and P. John Paul II suggests that we ought to pay closer attention to this man of courage who, by his teaching, safeguarded the faith.

If P. Francis is reading this, here's a suggestion I'd make to him when so many millions of the faithful will be gathered in Rome to witness the canonization of the above mentioned: In your homily, pay homage to all three men by using for the homily, the reading of the entire encyclical Humanae vitae. If P. Francis wants to really set the world afire, he'd take my suggestion. It would be topic #1 around the world on the morning after the canonization.
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written by Sue, April 07, 2014
Deacon Ed, I agree. Humanae Vitae points to the very root of poverty, which is the decimation of the family. Pope Paul was not asking priests to judge but he *was* asking them to preach.
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written by Rich in MN, April 07, 2014
I heard that Pope Paul VI and Fr. Theodore Hesburgh were actually friends. Apparently Pope Paul VI was fascinated with space travel and Fr. Hesburgh was able to bring over NASA films when he traveled to Rome. I wonder if they ever had conversations about 1967 Land O Lakes, Humanae Vitae, the Pill, or whatever the "et tu, Brute?" issue of the moment was.
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written by william manley, April 07, 2014
Sue has made the most insightful point of the day: the decimation of the family is the very root of poverty. I would love to hear those words from Pope Francis.
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written by Manfred, April 07, 2014
Post Script: An important point which I overlooked in my previous script is that contracepted heterosexuality has brought us to sodomite "marriage" being encouraged and forced upon us by our secular governments. Pope Paul warned that if contraception was ever to be allowed it would open the door for government enforced contraception. The country which holds most of U.S. debt, China, not only enforces contraception but abortion as well.
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written by schm0e, April 07, 2014
So, the Pope IS Catholic. Catholics? Not so much.
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written by cermak_rd, April 07, 2014
"Then he appealed to Christian spouses. His words wring my heart. He begged them to show forth to the world a Christian testimony – they could only be salutary to their neighbors if they made clear both the holiness and the sweetness of the truth."

This is important. I have known many large Catholic families who, apparently, follow NFP. None of them have marriages or families that show others the sweetness of the truth.

I think many young women are looking for a life companion in which to have an equal partnership and also a career. I think many young men are looking for the same thing and would also like to have a wife with a career. When these young people look at the large Catholic families and see a hierarchical system based on gender and dependence; that see constant drama over whether a baby is or is not coming; and also see couples that have become just room mates out of a grim desire to get the till death do us part over; it isn't overly attractive and certainly not sweet.
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written by ken vee, April 07, 2014
Great article. Great suggestion, too, by Deacon Ed, above. Reintroduce the world (Catholic and otherwise) to Pope Paul's prophetic encyclical at his canonization… and in a significant way. Contrast its sage truths against the backdrop of the current state of the family and culture, all around the world. It's needed. Who could deny its claims now that they have all sadly come true? Imagine the Holy Father calling Pope Paul "prophetic", bemoaning the lack of heed by the leaders and laity of the time, as well the current adherence by many in today's world to the opposing point of view? It very well could light a new interest in, and exploration of, Humanae Vitae.
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written by Marie Therese, April 07, 2014
This text breaks my heart. Years of noble living could have been ours. Instead, feet in garbage, we told a man with a life-giving message to shut up so we could fondle stinking waste. We offer the emerging generations "a few grubby years of life" and then feel sickened by their disrespect and narcissistic lifestyles, the same pigheadedness and selfishness with which we met/meet Pope Paul VI's appeals.

Thank you for this tender treatment of PP VI and Humanae Vitae. Your accusations are spot-on.
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written by Lochain, April 07, 2014
I do not recognise the truth of the picture drawn by cermak_rd about large Catholic families; there is nothing wrong about hierarchy based on gender, I am sure that Our lady deferred to St. Joseph but I am equally sure that he also consulted her. In all relationships in life someone must lead, it doesn't make that person superior - that's his role and mine in my family was to be mother. You've got the wrong view of family life.The role of wife and mother is of far greater value than any career and all this emphasis on equality has actually placed a greater burden on women to work outside the home and neglect her true vocation as wife and mother.I thank God I saw the light early in my married life when I was in danger of being seduced by the lies of the world; I just asked myself was Pope Paul in his encyclical asking me to commit a sin; I could not in conscience say that that was the case. it was just difficult, well isn't all life difficult. Didn't St Therese show us this in her little Way. Well we had 7 children and now my youngest is 25 and I'm 71 I can look back and say, " What a fuss you were making; it wasn't that hard at all" In fact, my husband (a non catholic) asked me recently, " Why didn't we have twice as many children?"
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written by cermak_rd, April 07, 2014
Lochain,

Here's the thing, I didn't say it was wrong to live this way, I said it doesn't look sweet to those outside who don't accept your premises of what is a proper role for a woman and a proper role as a man.

And it doesn't look sweet when you see two people who don't seem to enjoy each other's company staying married because they have promised to do so. Or a wife staying married just because she doesn't have the skills needed to live life on her own with her own income? A couple who stays married because they are best friends and partners is a whole lot more attractive than either of those first two scenarios. Yet I haven't seen that in a lot of the large Catholic families I have known. Maybe I've just known the wrong ones.
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written by Chris in Maryland, April 07, 2014
cermak_rd:

Your conjecture that "large Catholic families...follow NFP" doesn't make any sense.

I know 2 Catholic families of 7 children, one is rich, and one is poor, and they are both very happy families and bear testimony to the truth.

Reality seems to be based on gender, and requires an enormous amount of dependence and interdependence. In my own almost 60 years, reality offers very little in the way independence.

To the world, life is about power and achievement. To us as Catholics, life is about service, and being a servant to all, and offering everything we have to others. The Christian vocation is not about self-actualization, career and partnership - which are seductive illusions that we believe are, in the end, desolating for both man, woman and child.
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written by Stanley Anderson, April 07, 2014
Lochain wrote, "...we had 7 children and now my youngest is 25 and I'm 71 I can look back and say, "What a fuss you were making; it wasn't that hard at all." In fact, my husband (a non catholic) asked me recently, "Why didn't we have twice as many children?"

I'm suddenly imagining the phrase "a sonnet of children" -- I like it!
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written by Beth, April 07, 2014
Amen to that Lochain. We have 8, the youngest being 5 and I am mourning that we have come to the end our child-bearing. Young couples need examples of you and yours and me and mine--and they need courage and encouragement from their families, the priest, the fellow parishioners in the pews. In fact, I want to challenge all to please take the time to speak to the families who are trying to follow church teaching. They need to hear that CATHOLICS at least support them and are proud of them. We are beat up daily by the culture telling us how we are destroying the environment, will deny our whole lot of children because we won't be able to afford the time or money involved in chasing the sports/dance/drama/music culture of 'looks good on the resume'. Again, I don't care--let that roll off years ago BUT many young families hear the comments "HOW MANY?" "You know what causes that." "You are crazy!" "Another one?" and that is after mass.....
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written by kristinajohannes, April 07, 2014
I wrote my first letter to the editor back in college in defense of Venerable Paul VI because the student newspaper had suggested he was senile for writing this encyclical.

He will always be special to me because reading him helped me keep the faith as a young person while the Church seemed to be falling down around my ears. (My father had counseled this.) I found his style of writing so accessible. I think he is special to Pope Francis too based on the number of times he has quoted him.

Because of Pope Francis' many references, I have been wanting to go back and reread Ven Paul VI. Thanks Anthony, your article encourages me to get cracking!


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written by Athanasius, April 07, 2014
As I was taught, the marital act is a complete gift of self to your spouse, where you are both open to life and to love. Contraception takes away the complete gift, and so it hurts both the life and love aspects of the act. When the act is done as a complete gift, you are saying to your spouse, "I give myself to you, now and for life, completely and without reservation. I pledge my love to you and I invite God into our embrace to bless it with new life if He so chooses. I promise to love any child that we concieve as a sign of my love for you and for God. As on our wedding day, I pledge my love and fidelity to you, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
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written by Arlene, April 07, 2014
Although we agree on the moral and spiritual damages done in a "contraceptive" society, very little information is being disseminated regarding the dangerous [sometimes fatal] side effects of The Pill. "Drop Dead" is always the threat when women, who are given very little information, choose hormonal contraception as a panacea. Would men choose to take a "hormonal" pill that affects the head/brain, eyes, heart/blood, mental, whole body, stomach/intestines, reproductive organs, environment and future relationships? The answer is NO! Ricki Lake, a trash-talk show host, radical feminist, is planning to produce a documentary in 2015 entitled "Sweeting the Pill" exposing the conspiracy to keep women ignorant of the dangerous side affects of the Pill. This gal may get the message over, because they sure haven't heard the warnings of Paul VI !!!
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written by JimmyV, April 07, 2014
This is beautiful. Thanks for sharing with us who are Latin-illiterates.
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written by Jack,CT, April 07, 2014
@Manfred,So much wisdom in your postscript,scary
very scary!!
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written by Dad-of-11, April 07, 2014
cermak_rd...
Just yesterday, my wife sat beside me at the dinner table and I put my arm around her and we kissed a warm loving kiss. Our two-and-a-half-year-old boy looked at us with an amazed glow on his face. Then, he came over to my wife, put his hands on the sides of her face and gave her the sweetest kiss I've ever seen in my life.

I'm 52 and my wife is 51. We've been married over 25 years. It's been a struggle. It's also heaven. Our kids have witnessed our disagreements and mistakes. They also see our commitment and our joy. Marriage is more than fulfilling your desire for a buddy to applaud you and your career successes - having two incomes and and putting your 2 kids in daycare, preschool, and private school - having a nanny till you get home from work at 6 or 7 - having your retirement accounts set and your vacation trips. Marriage is sacrifice that transcends the hierarchical system in your mind. We are co-equals with talents that compliment and conflict. Marriage is the dance to figure out which one of us leads or follows at different times. In our marriage we have experienced the baby drama and the room mate period. There are physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, financial, and extended family relationship dramas. The marriage helps you grow if you face the challenges these dramas bring. If you had a camera in my house and saw all the drama - good and bad - you could very easily label it as 'not overly attractive'. But, in my opinion, it is exceedingly sweet. The Holy Spirit fills in many of our missing talents and serves joy to my dinner table daily. All we have to do is stay true to our Catholic faith, show up everyday, and put in some effort. Marriage is an opportunity to grow in holiness. Marriage is humble sacrificial service. Marriage is sweet.
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written by John Rienzi, April 07, 2014
Pope Paul was and is Jesus special representative on earth.To keep us all from error.Peter was the first and Jesus said to Him I will build my church on you. Jesus said of his apostles whom Pope Paul. is one Whoever hears you hears me. Jesus spoke profoundly through Pope Paul.
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written by barbara stall, April 08, 2014
Thank God for Pope Paul! It is so sad to see Catholics today who see nothing wrong with same-sex marriage. One wonders why priests will not preach serious sin from the pulpit. Before Vatican II, as a child, I remember vividly priests preaching of serious "mortal" sin and the last things: heaven, hell and purgatory. Never do we hear these things uttered in most Catholic churches. Oh, how many priest and laity are going down the road to perdition! Pray unceasingly that Pope Francis will hold to the true faith. When he speaks of income inequality, we should be concerned that he is sounding like the Marxists of our time. All christians should be concerned with helping the poor, but, more importantly, saving souls for eternity. Speaking of the "last things" reminds souls that they are destined for a better life with Jesus for all eternity and should strive for union with God every day. Our sweet mother Mary is the way to our Lord's heart. She is the perfect Mother and Spouse of the Holy Spirit and spous of St. Joseph on earth. Women of today should humbly pray for Her guidance and help in their marriages. She helped me recognize my role as wife and mother, with my husband as head of the family. May Our Lord, through our Mother, have mercy on us.
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written by jmjiloveyou, April 08, 2014
I firmly hold that Pope Paul VI is a true hero. Let us also not forget another one of his prophetic statements, in response to his predecessors comment on the opening of Vatican II, Paul spoke thus,"the smoke of satan has entered the Church". John XXIII opened Vatican II with,"Throw open the windows of the Church and let the fresh air of the spirit blow through". Who was the prophet??? I love Paul VI.
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written by rewinn, April 09, 2014
Recently I attended the death of my mother at a hospital. She was quite elderly and unwell, and it was time.
The doctors were compassionate and caring; the idea that doctors are "purveyors of disease and death" is both insulting and ignorant.
As her time approached, we sought a priest to give final solace, the Sacrament and whatever else. None was to be found - and this in a Catholic hospital! We called the Parish to which she had devoted her life, and none had time for her on this, the one time she asked them for anything other than the sacraments and to educate her children (for which she paid tuition).
It is easy to blame the world for ignoring the Church, but perhaps the problem runs in the other direction as well.
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written by Tony Esolen, April 10, 2014
Rewinn: The problem does go in the other direction, no doubt.

But there are good reasons why ordinary people are terrified of dying in a hospital. And I derive what I know about hospitals from personal experience and from the twenty five years of experience of my sister, a devout Catholic and an expert in infectious diseases, has had in them. As for their being purveyors of disease and death -- do you not know of the thing called "abortion"?
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written by JRF, April 10, 2014
Thank you Professor Esolen for an insight into HV that most of us would never get since most do not read Latin. Nothing exemplifies a Catholic's lack of faith in their Creator God more than contracepting. Believing Charles Curran et'al as opposed to the church on the subject has played a significant role in explaining where we are today as a country and church. I remember, as if it was yesterday, asking a priest in confession (1968) what the church permitted regarding the use of contraceptives. I was not well catechized at that time. He said "do whatever your conscience tells you". Our consciences said no. We have been blessed in a hundred different ways in our 51 year marriage. Not only did the priest not understand HV or his priestly duty, he didn't understand conscience. Our conscience is not to determine truth; it is to determine how we will act once truth is revealed to us. I was asking what truth the Church teaches on the subject and he was asking me to play God. My experience in confession has been repeated millions of time in the last 50 years I am sure. It is not that our marriage has not had some dark moments; it is just that living the truth helps you get through those dark times and grow stronger.
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written by Jay Jarrell, April 11, 2014
Well - not quite Everybody! Though obviously the major points are clear, and for the majority of the Church quite correct, there are many who heard, who persevered in following the invitations and to this day are making a difference. I think of the work of the Pope Paul VI Institute directed by Dr. Thomas Hilgers and his wife, the writings of Dr. Janet Smith, Dr. Wilke and many others, the devotion of groups like CCL and the persistence of the 5-10% of lay people
who heard and believed the message. Their life's work is not to be taken lightly.

Last year we attended a 45th Anniversary celebration of Humanae Vitae at Franciscan University, Steubenville, OH and heard many dedicated voices speaking out. These are but a few of those who have labored valiantly and with little support from the Church.

All in all, what is needed is a mobilization of those who see the value of the truth Pope Paul VI spoke - and it's relationship to what has been the overriding message of the Church these past years - care of the poor.

The connect between the breakdown of the family and poverty is clear. The meaning of "the poor" needs to be extended to the many victims of the sexual revolution as Dr. Jennifer Morse Roback is so bravely attempting to do. We need a New Sexual Revolution in the Church! As one speaker at a national conference said, "We have to turn this ship around." With God's help, we can.
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written by bill bannon, April 16, 2014
Rewinn,
I affirm and believe your individual victimization by the Church in that period even though we had a perfectly and repeatedly attentive priest as my mom died in a big Catholic city...but I've seen your experience in other matters nevertheless.

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