Religion and Science

1. I read with interest your articles about artificial contraception and celibacy, both of which were published in 1981. Have official church positions progressed at all in the 20 years since then? If not, do they show any signs of ever progressing?

2. Regarding evolution and creation, I do not see why so many fundamentalists consider them incompatible. It is irrational to believe that God literally created the world in seven days. Why couldn’t God have created by starting the process of evolution?

Q 1: I read with interest your articles about artificial contraception and celibacy, both of which were published in 1981. Have official church positions progressed at all in the 20 years since then? If not, do they show any signs of ever progressing?

A 1: Alas, I am not important enough to alter the thinking of the Universal Church--at least not directly. Remember that Rome is called the "Eternal City". Certainly when it comes to the continued development of Church teaching, eternal is a good word, reflecting a rather slow pace of growth. The two issues of Church teaching that you raise, however, are different.

Clearly the issue of celibacy is one of Church discipline, i.e. it is a current requirement of ordination, but it is not integral to the priesthood, itself. Therefore, the requirement of celibacy for those seeking ordination could be eliminated at any time.

Artificial contraception, on the other hand, is a little more complex. Although there are those who would argue that that the proscription against the use of artificial means for regulating birth is a matter of faith and morals, the arguments are less than compelling. Evidence for this is the fact that a number of bishops have called for reopening the discussion. It also was not helpful that Paul VI undermined his own teaching and credibility by rejecting the majority report of the Birth Control Commission and siding instead with the minority. Even though the Catholic Church is not run by majority opinion, it is instructive that all the lay and, consequently married, members of the commission signed the majority report.

Is there hope? Both of these issues refuse to go away. More and more, informed Catholics and members of the hierarchy are discussing these issues in the light of faith and human experience. While I have no crystal ball, I also have no doubt that both of these issues will continue to be re-examined and different conclusions will eventually be drawn leading to a change in Church teaching.

Q 2: Regarding evolution and creation, I do not see why so many fundamentalists consider them incompatible. It is irrational to believe that God literally created the world in seven days. Why couldn’t God have created by starting the process of evolution?

A 2: Your ideas about evolution and creation are pretty sound. Quite clearly evolution is the process God chose for bringing about creation. The science on the subject of evolution is irrefutable. Still, God is the one who started it all. If we look at the big bang theory, it is perfectly consistent with our faith and with the Bible to believe that God began the bang. And on a deeper level, at the right moment in creation, God created the human race. While from a physical perspective our evolution is assured, it required the intervention of God to make us human. The tradition of our faith assures us that we are created in God's image, something that could not have come about without the direct activity of God.