Dr. Janet Smith Shows Real “COURAGE”


Earlier this month, there was a tremendous conference put together by moral theologian Janet Smith and Courage (a faithful Catholic org supporting people living with same-sex attraction) called Love One Another As I Have Loved You: Welcoming and Accompanying Our Brothers and Sisters with Same Sex Attraction.

The conference has generated a fair amount of public comment, and some of it has been quite critical  (see here and especially here).  Dr. Janet Smith has been ably and charitably responding to these comments, most notably in OSV.

As you will see if you click the links, most of the controversy–such as it is–surrounds whether certain orthodox Catholics who are public about their faithful struggle to live chastely with same-sex attraction should have been included.  In particular, the objections center around these particular individual’s participation in something called the “spiritual friendship project” which, though intended to be a genuinely faithful response, presents some new approaches to the conversation and is sometimes portrayed as contradicting the classic ministry model advocated by Courage.

I was, unfortunately, unable to attend the conference because of another speaking engagement, but I have spoken with several people who did attend and were genuinely blessed by the conference.  Moreover, I have a passionate interest in this topic and am incredibly grateful to Janet for helping to put on this event. I’ve closely followed the post-game discussions, pro and con, and I have to say that, based upon what I’ve heard and read, it seems to me that this conference succeeded tremendously at the kind of dialog that other groups merely pay lip service to. 

This conference included a healthy variety of voices that were all at least genuinely attempting orthodoxy. Whether or not others would judge them as successful in the attempt is beside the point. Despite the significant difference in perspectives, not one person at this conference was attempting to stick a finger in the Church’s eye. There was a rich, authentic diversity of opinions expressed by people who were all honestly striving to be faithful sons and daughters of the Church. It’s one thing to disagree with some of the comments or opinions expressed, but to stand in judgment of any of the people who participated in this event strikes me as churlish. We can’t just keep saying the same damn things the same damn way to the same damn people and expect to make any headway. No, we can’t and shouldn’t even attempt to change doctrine, but freely debating best approaches to pastoral practice in an environment that assumes orthodoxy is a beautiful thing. 

I’ve absolutely read some things that were said at the event that made me uncomfortable, but I’ve read nothing that was heterodox or advocating an anti-church agenda. When it comes to discussing this particular issue with a bunch of Catholics, that’s pretty much a miracle. And, you know what, if I hadn’t read at least a few things that made me uncomfortable (and still represented a genuine attempt at orthodoxy) I would have judged the event a failure. If want to be confirmed in what we already know, we can just stay home and talk to ourselves. It would be just as effective.

In the midst of all the post-conference discussions, I just wanted to take a moment to publicly thank my friend, Dr. Janet Smith, for her truly courageous efforts to advance this incredibly important dialog in a faithful and creative direction. Her work in this area is a much needed balance to the often heretical and destructive conversations going on in other corners of the Church. I hope she will keep it up, I hope the faithful will give this effort the support it so richly deserves, and I hope I can be there next time.

What Douthat & Martin Miss: Reflections on the Ongoing Synod Discussion

NYT columnist, Ross Douthat,  and America Editor-at-Large, Fr. Jim Martin, are having a very interesting conversation about the fallout from the Extraordinary Synod on the Family.  I applaud them ondouthat-martin their civility, but I do think they are missing some important points.

So Who Asked You, Anyway?

Although they haven’t asked my opinion, I did want to offer a few thoughts because as a full-time marriage and family minister who has written more than 20 books promoting the Catholic vision of marriage, family, and sexuality,  who directs an agency providing over 10,000 hours of ongoing pastoral counseling per year to Catholics worldwide, who talks about these topics with Catholics and other across the US on the radio every day, and who will be addressing the World Meeting of Families in 2015,  I have a lot at stake in the discussion, and maybe, I hope,  something of value to add.

Who Gets to Wear the White Hat?

I think the first point that I would like to address is Fr. Martin’s and Mr. Douthat’s points on “traditionalism” vs. “progressivism.”  Or, more specifically, what Fr. Martin points out is the trope of the “good traditionalist” versus the “bad progressive.”  While I appreciate their discussion of the topic, I think they’re both missing an important point.

Cardinal George gave an interview this past week where he said something that, I think, was very wise.  He said, for Catholics, “…the category that matters is true/false,” He said. “I reject the whole liberal/conservative deformation of the character of our lives. If you’re limited to that … then somehow or other you’ve betrayed your vocation….”

This really speaks to me and I think it presents a challenge to both Fr. Martin and Mr. Douthat. I think it is just as irresponsible to foment talk of schism as it is to give public lip-service to Church teaching while charmingly undermining it where one can.

It seems to me that the best response one can have to the Synod is to make one’s sincere questions and thoughts known, pray, and consider what is happening in one’s heart.  There is, to my taste, too much crowing among the progressives and too much Chicken-Little-reactivity among traditionalists.  There are serious issues in play, to be sure, but serious issues require sober minds, and too many progressives and traditionalists are losing theirs, albeit for different reasons.

I would like to respectfully suggest to both Fr. Martin and Mr. Douthat that the degree to which you describe yourself as a “traditionalist  Catholic,” or a “progressive Catholic,” or a “conservative Catholic,” or a “liberal Catholic,” is the degree to which you are something other than a practicing Catholic.

As Cardinal George wisely suggests, the only for Catholics are, “Is this true or is it false?” And “How do we personally struggle to live out the truth?”  And, finally, “How can we  help others in their personal struggle to live what is true?”    To my way of thinking, any labels that get in the way of these conversations are millstones around our necks and are better off .

Pastoral Practice VS. Doctrine.

The second point I’d like to address is Douthat’s and Martin’s discussion about doctrine vs. pastoral practice (or fundamentalist pharisaism vs. cheap grace).  In particular, Fr. Martin proposed an analogy that I think is very telling of the problem in the way many people are thinking about the kind of problems (like communion for divorced and remarried Catholics) discussed at the synod.  He wrote,

“Imagine a town that has posted speed limits of 35 miles an hour. Now imagine that a newly passed law has dropped the penalty for speeding from a week in jail to a fine of $100. Perhaps the voters thought that a week in jail was too severe. Perhaps they saw how across-the-board applications of that penalty were too draconian. This does not mean that the speed limit has changed: it is still 35 miles per hour. Rather, the way one deals with those who have transgressed the law has changed.”

I would suggest that there are two problems with this analogy:  

1.  Better To Ask for An Apology Than Permission?

First, as applied to the debate about what to do with people who have re-married without the benefit of an annulment, Fr. Martin is essentially championing an idea proposed by Cardinal Kasper, who’s notion was that people who had contracted a second marriage without the benefit of an annulment could simply confess the second marriage and, without making any other changes, be reconciled to communion. 

Returning to Fr. Martin’s analogy, Kasper’s idea is the equivalent of saying, “It will always be against the law to exceed the speed limit, but from now on, anyone who drag races on this strip of road will simply have to say, ‘I’m sorry’ to the police officer when stopped and then be allowed to continue on their way.”

This is an example of a “pastoral practice” that undermines “the law”–in this case marital indissolubility– in everything but name.  To be honest,  “progressive Catholics” came out of the Synod looking like they think themselves a bit cleverer than everyone else, and acting like they could “win” the debate simply by pretending that any objection to obvious attempts at doctrinal work-arounds was just a case of cold-hearted, retrograde traditionalism.

Alternatively, I would like to suggest that it is possible to want a more compassionate approach to pastoral practice that simultaneously does not throw doctrine under the bus either in spirit or in truth.  I would like to challenge reformers and traditionalists to seek those solutions instead of clinging, each to his own cause celebre,  and using this latest discussion as yet another opportunity to fight their endless, ecclesiastical, Cold War proxy battles.

2. Doctrine Is Not A “Law.” It Is The Path to Fulfillment and Divinization

Second, and much, much more importantly, is Fr. Martin’s false comparison of doctrine to a law.  Doctrine isn’t a law. It isn’t ratified by mere legislative consensus and mediated by additional legislation.  Doctrine is, ultimately, an absolute truth claim of what it means to be a fully formed human person in a rightly ordered relationship with God.  Moreover, doctrine is a truth-claim tested in the crucible of thousands of years of revelation and human experience. It is true that at some point, doctrine must be defined, but that is largely after a particular truth claim has been tested over hundreds and sometimes thousands of years of prayer, debate, discernment and lived experience.  Because of the rigor of this process, a doctrine is as close to an authentic, absolute truth as we can probably discern this side of heaven.

As such, the doctrine of marital indissolubility isn’t, as Fr. Martin’s analogy appears to suggest,  a “law” that says “don’t get divorced and remarried.”  It is a claim that there is something about lifelong marital fidelity that is essential to our ability to fulfill our destiny both as human persons and children of God. 

Any pastoral practice that doesn’t acknowledge this is too wimpy to succeed at the job it allegedly sets out to do.  Any valid pastoral practice must more effectively enable the person to fulfill his human and divine potential.  At the very least, it can’t stand in the person’s way or obscure the path to human fulfillment and divinization.

That’s why Cardinal Kasper’s proposal, especially in light of his stated position that it isn’t appropriate to expect heroic virtue from the laity is the equivalent of damning lay people with the soft clericalism of low expectations.  Kasper’s proposal is not merely wrong because it contravenes the traditionalists’ obsession with the law.  It is frankly,  despicable, because it counsels the faithful to pursue a path that is in direct opposition to their spiritual and human fulfillment as authentic persons and children of God (Mt 19:7-8; Mk 10:7-9; or Mt 5:32).

The Challenge for Each Side

I’ve already said that the challenge for traditionalists is to get over their tendency to histrionics. They truly need to stop getting their wimples in a knot over the fact that Church’s teachings are ground out like sausage and if the Holy Spirit is OK with that, they can be too.   That said, I do think progressives have the harder pill to swallow because it is impossible to be authentically pastoral in the application of a doctrine they never believed in anyway.

To be authentically pastoral, you have to be able to appreciate the beauty of the teaching you are attempting to apply.  Until progressives can learn to appreciate the truth and beauty of the Church’s teaching on marriage and, more specifically, sexuality, they will have nothing credible to add to this debate because every proposal will come off as “just how little of this do we really have to apply in order to keep up at least the illusion of adherence to these legal hoops the Church wants people to jump through.”

I would respectfully challenge both Mr. Douthat and Fr. Martin to apply their good hearts and considerable talents to fostering real solutions instead of either seeking creative ways to foment hysteria about the erstwhile end of the Church or perpetuate the liberal, clericalist tendency to damn the laity with low expectations while claiming to be merciful.

The people who are suffering under the weight of these issues deserve better treatment than either Fr. Martin or Mr Douthat’s camps are giving them.

Blah, Blah, Blah–Women DON’T Talk More than Men (yet another) Study Says

Yesterday, I reported on research that exposed the surprising (not for me, but for some) truth that men are not naturally dogs who are, by nature, obsessed with sex.   Apparently this is gender-stereotype busting week because a new study takes on yet another truism about the genders.

You have no doubt heard the pop-psych claim that women use something on the order of 3 million words a day and men use 6 (OK, I’m exaggerating–the actual claim was something like 20,000 vs 7,000 words–but you get my point).    Despite the fact that everyone knows this is true, actual research has consistently shown this to be bunk.  Men and women actually use about the same number of words each day  (see here and here).

New research continues to shovel more dirt into the grave of this false claim.  According to this most recent study,  men and women tend to talk about the same overall, but men may talk more than women, or women more than men, depending upon the context.

The research was pub­lished in the journal Sci­en­tific Reports …For their study, the research team pro­vided a group of men and women with sociome­ters and split them in two dif­ferent social set­tings for a total of 12 hours. In the first set­ting, master’s degree can­di­dates were asked to com­plete an indi­vidual project, about which they were free to con­verse with one another for the dura­tion of a 12-hour day. In the second set­ting, employees at a call-center in a major U.S. banking firm wore the sociome­ters during 12 one-hour lunch breaks with no des­ig­nated task.

They found that women were only slightly more likely than men to engage in con­ver­sa­tions in the lunch-break set­ting, both in terms of long- and short-duration talks. In the aca­d­emic set­ting, in which con­ver­sa­tions likely indi­cated col­lab­o­ra­tion around the task, women were much more likely to engage in long con­ver­sa­tions than men. That effect was true for shorter con­ver­sa­tions, too, but to a lesser degree. These find­ings were lim­ited to small groups of talkers. When the groups con­sisted of six or more par­tic­i­pants, it was men who did the most talking.

None of this is to suggest that there aren’t real differences between men and women, it’s just that those differences are subtler and more difficult to grasp than the too-easy functionalist differences (i.e, differences based on hobbies, habits and attitudes) that most people tend to gravitate toward.  The truth is, men and women are similar in many ways when it comes to their actual performance on many different tasks.  What men and women tend to differ on is the style and approach they take on the road to accomplishing those tasks.  That’s why the Church says the differences between men and women are “complementary” as opposed to absolute.  By approaching the various tasks of life from slightly different angles and perspectives, men and women can do a more complete job of something when they work together.  This is just another reason why the Theology of the Body asserts that men and women are not made different from each other so much as they are made different for each other.

To learn more about how men and women can be better partners to one another and communicate more effectively with one another, check out For Better…FOREVER!  A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage.  In that book, I explore how understanding the real, complementary, differences between men and women–and rejecting the false differences which are rooted in Original Sin– can help take you marriage to the next level.  Discovering God’s plan for resolving the battle of the sexes can help you have the kind of marriage that is both a blessing to you and a light to the world!


Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on the Crisis of Fatherhood

“Something in the basic structure of human existence has been damaged!”

A Guest Blog by Dave McClow, M.Div., LCSW, LMFT, a clinical pastoral counseling associate of the Pastoral Solutions Institute.

I am a collector of quotes (well…books, too), and I am thinking through a theology of masculinity.  I think a theology of what it means be to a man culminates in spiritual fatherhood always, and at times in biological fatherhood that is lived out in chivalry as priest, prophet, and king.  Manhood certainly includes and passes through sonship, brotherhood, and husbandhood.  These states of being always have a spiritual side, and only sometimes is there a physical side as brother or husband.  I’ll write more about those things later.  Our culture has inflicted a sustained attack on men and fatherhood, which has resulted in soaring rates of fatherlessness, creating dire consequences for individuals, families, and societies (see my previous blog). I wanted to highlight a few quotes from Cardinal Ratzinger, and later from Pope Benedict XVI, on the crisis of fatherhood, which he sees as a threat to human existence.  These quotes support my call for the Church to lead the way in developing a theology of masculinity.

The Crisis

Of course spiritual and biological fatherhood have their roots in God’s Fatherhood (Eph 3:14), and human fatherhood has a tremendous impact on our perception of and relationship with God.  In 2001, in an address to a congregation in Palermo, Italy, Cardinal Ratzinger basically argues that if you destroy human fatherhood, you destroy humanity.  (A similar case could be made for

God himself “willed to manifest and describe himself as Father.” “Human fatherhood gives us an anticipation of what He is. But when this fatherhood does not exist, when it is experienced only as a biological phenomenon, without its human and spiritual dimension, all statements about God the Father are empty. The crisis of fatherhood we are living today is an element, perhaps the most important, threatening man in his humanity. The dissolution of fatherhood and motherhood is linked to the dissolution of our being sons and daughters.”motherhood.)


Later in this talk he appears to link this threat to humanity with the ability to turn people into numbers and exterminate them in concentration camps.  He restates the threat in the book The God of Jesus Christ: Meditations on the Triune God:

The crisis of fatherhood that we are experiencing today is a basic aspect of the crisis that threatens mankind as a whole. Where fatherhood is perceived only as a biological accident on which no genuinely human claims may be based, or the father is seen as a tyrant whose yoke must be thrown off, something in the basic structure of human existence has been damaged (p. 29).


This a powerful indictment of our culture that ridicules men and makes fathers irrelevant, from TV programs, through Government programs, to the ability to conceive babies outside of a sexual relationship—indeed “something in the basic structure of human existence has been damaged.” Cardinal Ratzinger continues his connection between the destruction of human fatherhood and our perceptions of God’s fatherhood:

Human fatherhood can give us an inkling of what God is; but where fatherhood no longer exists, where genuine fatherhood is no longer experienced as a phenomenon that goes bey

ond the biological dimension to embrace a human and intellectual sphere as well, it becomes meaningless to speak of God the Father. Where human fatherhood disappears, it is no longer possible to speak and think of God. It is not God who is dead; what is dead (at least to a large extent) is the precondition in man that makes it possible for God to live in the world. The crisis of fatherhood that we are experiencing today is a basic aspect of the crisis that threatens mankind as a whole (The God of Jesus Christ, p. 29).

Cardinal Ratzinger is not known to exaggerate!  Clearly he sees a threat to humanity in the attack on fatherhood.  St. John Paul II would agree with the nature and scope of the problem and points out that it is not a new attack: “Original sin, then, attempts to abolish fatherhood, destroying its rays which permeate the created world, placing in doubt the truth about God who is Love and leaving man only with a sense of the master-slave relationship” (Crossing the Threshold of Hope, p. 228, emphasis in original).

The Damage and the Remedy

The damage to our existence is that men and thus God are seen only as tyrants.  While some men are tyrants, most are not.  Those who are tyrants definitely need our help to live out authentic masculinity and fatherhood.  We, as the Church, need to lead the way in defining masculinity and fatherhood.

God is most certainly not a tyrant.  In fact, he goes to extreme lengths to demonstrate this: he allows us to be the tyrants, complete with murderous rage toward him, and he allows us to kill him.  No one is exempt from this responsibility. It is no mistake that in the Palm Sunday and Good Friday readings of the Passion it is we in the pews who speak the line “Crucify him!”  And what is the response of Jesus?  “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34).  If the Father or Jesus were going to be a tyrant here, humanity should have been wiped off the face of the earth for merely threatening the Son of God with death.  Instead, God the Father is demonstrating his love through Jesus on the cross by absorbing, and loving us in spite of, our rage, our shame, and our sin.  I think this is one of the most profound psychological truths of our faith: we are loved even when we rage at God. There is nothing more extreme and nothing more healing.  The world would be a different place if we were to allow Jesus to absorb our shame and rage as he came to do—if we were to direct our rage for others toward him, have him absorb it all, and receive his tender love for us.  The cross is God’s antidote to this attack on fatherhood—it destroys the perception of God as a master and tyrant, revealing him as the true Father that he is.

God’s Fatherhood, Memory, and Our Identity

Pope Benedict XVI further develops the importance of the proper view of God’s Fatherhood.  To remember that God is a good and loving Father helps us know who we are—it forms our identity!  Identity is critical for us as human persons.  I might say that most, if not all, psychological disorders come from identity problems, especially through distortions that come from abuse and neglect.  Benedict gave this reflection on the Sunday readings in a homily at the World Meeting of Families in 2006:

Esther’s father had passed on to her, along with the memory of her forebears and her people, the memory of a God who is the origin of all and to whom all are called to answer. The memory of God the Father, who chose a people for himself and who acts in history for our salvation. The memory of this Father sheds light on our deepest human identity: where we come from, who we are, and how great is our dignity. Certainly we come from our parents and we are their children, but we also come from God who has created us in his image and called us to be his children. Consequently, at the origin of every human being there is not something haphazard or chance, but a loving plan of God. This was revealed to us by Jesus Christ, the true Son of God and a perfect man. He knew whence he came and whence all of us have come: from the love of his Father and our Father.

Memory and remembering are integral parts of our faith, the Eucharist—“Do this in remembrance of me,” and our identities.  Think of the devastation families feel when their par

ents’ memory is gone and they don’t remember their children.  Knowing and remembering our true Father in heaven is crucial for our identities.  It lets us know we are his children and that we are loved even when we have trouble loving him.  Holy Mother Church is not unaware of the difficulties that parenting blunders create for her children and suggests that they must be cleansed and purified:


2779 Before we make our own this first exclamation of the Lord’s Prayer, we must humbly cleanse our hearts of certain false images drawn “from this world.” … The purification of our hearts has to do with paternal or maternal images, stemming from our personal and cultural history, and influencing our relationship with God. God our Father transcends the categories of the created world. To impose our own ideas in this area “upon him” would be to fabricate idols to adore or pull down. To pray to the Father is to enter into his mystery as he is and as the Son has revealed him to us. (See also 239)




There is a crisis of fatherhood. If fatherhood and men are seen only as “biological accidents” to be ridiculed or as “tyrants” to be thrown off, then God the Father’s face is so disfigured that it is not recognizable and our identities are distorted threatening life itself—indeed “something in the basic structure of human existence has been damaged.”  A theology of masculinity is needed—one that restores the basic structure of human existence:  fatherhood.  Men are spiritual sons, brothers, and husbands first, but the summit of being a man is being spiritual fathers always, and biological fathers sometimes. If the summit of being a man is spiritual fatherhood, then the source and model of that fatherhood is God the Father.  This needs to be proclaimed from the pulpit regularly as a part of the New Evangelization to form men to be authentic spiritual fathers.


Men of God, in the meantime, begin your own work in prayer and purification of the false parental images that distort the Father’s true face.  Tear down the idols! If you get stuck, get help!  Start the healing: talk to a priest, a friend, or a counselor; go to a men’s group; or call us at the Pastoral Solutions Institute

Who Says, “I love you” First? Men or Women?

Chances are, if asked, most people would say that women are more likely to say, “I love you” first in a relationship.  New research challenges this stereotype.  According to Dr. Gary Lewandowski at the Science of Relationships Blog...

In a survey of 171 people, researchers confirmed that most (over 70%) believe women fall in love first and are quicker to say “I love you” compared to men. However, the survey also found that the stereotype is WRONG. In reality, men fell in love more quickly than women and were also the first to say “I love you.”  This is a great example of why research needs to test “common sense” assumptions about relationships.

Harrison, M. A., & Shortall, J. C. (2011). Women and men in love: Who really feels it and says it first?. The Journal of Social Psychology, 151(6), 727-736. doi:10.1080/00224545.2010.522626

I agree with Dr. Lewandowski.  I was the first to say, “I love you” in my relationship with Lisa.  This also tends to be true for most of my friends and, I think, the majority of men seeking a serious relationship.  To be completely honest, I think its time we as Catholics–in particular–did more to challenge the “all men are dogs” trope that our culture peddles.  I think Christians, especially, do a disservice to men when we teach that “being a man” means being an insensitive, sex-obsessed, relationally-impaired idiot. There is much more to masculinity than pop-psych and pop-theology would have most people believe.

“Manning Up.” The Truth About Masculinity

My son, Jacob, has a provocative post about masculinity at his website.  I think he offers some powerful insights on the confusing messages we send to boys about masculinity and how the theology of the body can help young men respond to those messages.   Here’s a sample…

One of the biggest lies that the world sells us is that masculinity is something to be achieved. Keep this in mind the next time you go on Facebook or head to the grocery store and I think you’ll see that I’m right. The magazines and the pharmaceuticals say, “Buy this and it will make you a man!” The movies say “Act this way! Girls will like you!” and the exercise machine commercial says, “Work out, work out, work out! Somebody will finally love you if you work out!” and all of them say, “This, THIS will finally make you a man”.

Men, are you listening? I’m going to be frank with you.

You’re already a man. You can be a better man, you can be a stronger man, you can be a holier man. But no matter what you do, God made you a man. You were born a man and you are a man. You are manly. Just by possessing a man’s DNA, you are encoded with God’s spiritual and physical gifts of masculinity. Gifts like strength in weakness, vulnerability, empathy, leadership, wisdom, and all of the rest. Can you grow stronger at living out these gifts? Of course. Will you be working on bettering your ability to live out these gifts for the rest of your life? Yes, but that’s what life is all about.
The fact is, no matter how sinful you become or how badly you fail or how much you struggle, nobody can take your manliness away from you. Your masculinity is something planted deep within you, and while it can always be utilized more intensely, nothing you can do can make you lose it.

What Do Pope JPII, Pope BXVI, and a Lesbian Feminist Have in Common? (Guest post by Dave McClow)

In a WSJ interview with Bari Weiss, Camille Paglia, a self-described “notorious Amazon feminist” who is identified as a lesbian and a mom, actually sees that we have a problem with how we view men in our culture.  This is the theme I discussed in my previous blog, “Towards a Theology of Authentic Masculinity.”  She gets that, “Houston, we have a problem”!  Weiss states, “…no subject gets her going more than when I ask if she really sees a connection between society’s attempts to paper over the biological distinction between men and women and the collapse of Western civilization!”  Paglia says it this way, “What you’re seeing is how a civilization commits suicide.”  Blessed John Paul II (JPII) used to say, “The future of the world and of the Church passes through the family” (Familiaris Consortio, 75).  I would add that “The future of the family passes through fatherhood.”  And as we will see shortly, Popes JPII and Benedict XVI (B16) believed there is a crisis of fatherhood. 

While the reporter did not mention an explicit connection, certainly the general anatomy and physiology along with JPII’s Theology of the Body make clear that the “biological distinctions” point to motherhood and fatherhood.  And the status of fatherhood (human and God’s) have Popes B16 and JPII sounding the alarm that civilization is being threatened.

Cardinal Ratzinger, later Pope B16, identifies, on two separate occasions, this insidious threat to humanity that is found in how we view human fatherhood, and its effects on our relationship with our Father God:

God himself “willed to manifest and describe himself as Father.” “Human fatherhood gives us an anticipation of what He is. But when this fatherhood does not exist, when it is experienced only as a biological phenomenon, without its human and spiritual dimension, all statements about God the Father are empty. The crisis of fatherhood we are living today is an element, perhaps the most important, threatening man in his humanity (emphasis mine, Zenit, March 15, 2001, address at Palermo).

Human fatherhood can give us an inkling of what God is; but where fatherhood no longer exists, where genuine fatherhood is no longer experienced as a phenomenon that goes beyond the biological dimension to embrace a human and intellectual sphere as well, it becomes meaningless to speak of God the Father. Where human fatherhood disappears, it is no longer possible to speak and think of God. It is not God who is dead; what is dead (at least to a large extent) is the precondition in man that makes it possible for God to live in the world. The crisis of fatherhood that we are experiencing today is a basic aspect of the crisis that threatens mankind as a whole (emphasis mine). (Joseph Ratzinger, The God of Jesus Christ, p. 29.).

John Paul II sees this cultural suicide from the perspective of God’s Fatherhood and the culture’s attempts to abolish it.  Crossing the Threshold of Hope ends with a lengthy reflection on fatherhood and the two types of fear of the Lord—filial and servile.  The former comes from being loved by the Father, the latter from working for the love of the Father as a servant—a master-slave relationship.  But what is startling is his quote of André Malraux’s prediction in the middle of a hopeful message:

In order to set contemporary man free from fear of himself, of the world, of others, of earthly powers, of oppressive systems, in order to set him free from every manifestation of a servile fear before that “prevailing force” which believers call God, it is necessary to pray fervently that he will bear and cultivate in his heart that true fear of God, which is the beginning of wisdom.


This fear of God is the saving power of the Gospel.  It is a constructive, never destructive, fear.  It creates people who allow themselves to be led by responsibility, by responsible love.  It creates holy men and women–true Christians–to whom the future of the world ultimately belongs. André Malraux was certainly right when he said that the twenty-first century would the century of religion or it would not be at all.


The Pope who began his papacy with the words “Be not afraid!” tries to be completely faithful to this exhortation and is always ready to be at the service of man, nations, and humanity in the spirit of this truth of the Gospel. (pp. 228-229)

Civilization is on the brink—according to popes who don’t exaggerate for effect.  Human fathers and God the Father are critical in changing this tide.  This is why I argued in my previous blog that it is time for the Church to lead the charge in defining masculinity, as all men are called to spiritual [and I’m now adding “chivalrous”] fatherhood lived out as priest, prophet, and king.

Getting back to Paglia, she laments that no one in the elite class has any military experience, and this is a huge problem because “there’s this illusion out there that people are basically nice, people are basically kind, if we’re just nice and benevolent to everyone they’ll be nice too. They literally don’t have any sense of evil or criminality.”  But John Paul II and the whole Catholic Church are very aware of what people are capable of and call this personal and original sin.  They would also agree that if you get the anthropology wrong, everything else is going to be skewed or in error after that.  Interestingly, John Paul II ties original sin and God’s fatherhood together:

…[W]e know from Revelation, in human history the “rays of fatherhood” meet a first resistance in the obscure but real fact of original sin.  This is truly the key for interpreting reality.…  Original sin, then, attempts to abolish fatherhood, destroying its rays which permeate the created world, placing in doubt the truth about God who is Love and leaving man only with a sense of the master-slave relationship.  As a result, the Lord appears jealous of His power over the world and over man; and consequently, man feels goaded to do battle against God. (Crossing the Threshold of Hope, p. 227-228)

Evil, original sin, and the abolishment of fatherhood—all are THE KEY FOR INTERPRETING REALITY! 

Paglia also sees men being silenced by Political Correctness. 

“This PC gender politics thing—the way gender is being taught in the universities—in a very anti-male way, it’s all about neutralization of maleness.” The result: Upper-middle-class men who are “intimidated” and “can’t say anything. . . . They understand the agenda.” In other words: They avoid goring certain sacred cows by “never telling the truth to women” about sex, and by keeping “raunchy” thoughts and sexual fantasies to themselves and their laptops.

While I’m not advocating that a Catholic man engage in a “prophetic raunch fest,” the lack of truth-telling is a deficit in men who are not living out their fatherhood as prophets—speaking the truth in love. 

Paglia says there are very few models for men to imitate.

Politically correct, inadequate education, along with the decline of America’s brawny industrial base, leaves many men with “no models of manhood,” she says. “Masculinity is just becoming something that is imitated from the movies. There’s nothing left. There’s no room for anything manly right now.”

“A key part of the remedy, she believes, is a ‘revalorization’ of traditional male trades—the ones that allow women’s studies professors to drive to work (roads), take the elevator to their office (construction), read in the library (electricity), and go to gender-neutral restrooms (plumbing).” 

While this would certainly help, I would argue there needs to be a “revalorization” of masculinity as a whole!

So what kind of feminist is Camille Paglia? An “equal-opportunity feminist” “that demands a level playing field without demanding special quotas or protections for women.”  Her heroines are Amelia Earhart and Katherine Hepburn who were “independent, brave, enterprising, capable of competing with men without bashing them.”  John Paul II would say it this way, “there is an urgent need to achieve real equality in every area: equal pay for equal work, protection for working mothers, fairness in career advancements, equality of spouses with regard to family rights” (Letter to Women, 4).

Palgia continues, “’Equal-opportunity feminism’ has triumphed in basic goals. There is surely a lack of women in the C-Suite and Congress, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a man who would admit that he believes women are less capable.”  Palgia argues that the women’s movement needs to return to these roots and give up the “nanny state” mentality that leads to the PC witch/warlock hunts—my term, not hers.  If this movement is to succeed, it will have to go the big-tent route, “open to stay-at-home moms” and “not just the career woman.”

Here’s what Chesterton would say to the feminists who demand special quotas and protections for women: “It isn’t that they can’t see the solution.  It is that they can’t see the problem.”  Paglia sees the problem accurately, and she ends up in the neighborhood of JPII and B16, echoing their thoughts on the problem.  Her conclusions point in the right direction—we need men to be manly; but the Church and the popes have a deeper solution, and it begins with “Our Father…”

Dave McClow, M.Div., LMFT, LCSW is a clinical pastoral counseling associate of the Pastoral Solutions Institute.  To learn more about how the Pastoral Solutions Institute’s telecounseling practice can help you transform your personal, marriage, or family life, visit us online at www.CatholicCounselors.com or call to make an appointment at 740-266-6461.

“Mothers Aren’t Important” Or Another Reason “Nobody Does Childhood Like the English”

Years ago, Mike Myers had a character on SNL called, “Simon.”  The segment would often show Myers as a little boy in a bathtub cheerfully and guilelessly talking about his awful family life, which he took completely in stride and wrote off with the catchphrase, “Because nobody does childhood like the English!”

I doubt anyone else remembers the segment, but as a family therapist, it stuck with me.  Well, flash forward a few decades later and The Guardian gives us another great example of why Simon was right with this article by columnist Catherine Deveny,     I’ve copied part of it here for your convenience but you should go read the whole thing.    My response to the article is below.

Being a mother is not the most important job in the world. There, I said it. Nor is it the toughest job, despite what the 92% of people polled in Parents Magazine reckon.

For any woman who uses that line, consider this: if this is meant to exalt motherhood, then why is the line always used to sell toilet cleaner? And if being a mother is that important, why aren’t all the highly paid men with stellar careers not devoting their lives to raising children? After all, I never hear “being a father is the most important job in the world”.

The deification of mothers not only delegitimises the relationship fathers, neighbours, friends, grandparents, teachers and carers have with children, it also diminishes the immense worth and value of these relationships. How do gay dads feel about this line, I wonder? Or the single dads, stepdads or granddads? No matter how devoted and hard working you are, fellas, you’ll always be second best.  READ THE REST HERE.

So let me take a moment to respond to Ms. Deveny because despite the snark, she raises some important questions.  Namely, why is motherhood so important?

Motherhood and The Music of Life

People have a tendency to think that babies don’t start learning until birth, but that isn’t true.  Research shows that babies are learning the entire time they are in the womb.  In particular, they are bonding to mom, learning her voice, listening to the music of her body and using that “music” to begin setting the rhythms of their own body (this process of learning to set the rhythms of their body to the rhythms of mom’s body will continue after birth for quite some time and is called “entrainment”).    The entire time baby is in the womb, he is learning to have a special relationship with mom that will continue for many months after birth.  Dads are important, but as the linked study shows, mom’s relationship is primary and unique.

Motherhood is the most important job because without mothers, life would not exist.  Yes, the man contributes sperm and the woman contributes an egg but the woman provides the environment for that life to grow–and only the woman can do this.  This is part of the “feminine genius” Pope John Paul II referred to and it is not incidental to the development, not just of a viable baby, but also to the development of a human person who is capable of neurological and emotional regulation.    Although it flies in the face of common parenting practices, the reason that mom continues to be primary to the child after birth is that because he has been listening to the “music” of mom’s voice and body (and has been learning to set the rhythms of his body to her music for the last 9 mos) it is actually jarring to the baby’s development to not be able to hear that music after he is born.  Over the next few months and years the baby will be learning many other “tunes” (Dad, Grandma and Grandpap, etc) and discover their own unique beauty, but for the first several months of life–really almost the first two + years–the baby’s body needs to learn mom’s song first so that his body and brain rhythms can be synched to hers.

The Best Music Teacher:  Mom vs. Many

Imagine that it is your job to learn a difficult song.  Imagine that the person teaching that song to you keeps patiently humming that same song over and over.  Bit by bit, you learn each measure, each key change, each crescendo and decrescendo until you have mastered the song.  Although we are using poetic language, the “song” in this metaphor represents the neurological work that is going on in the baby’s body. The baby has been taught in the womb to listen to mom’s body to learn to set his biological rhythms.  Those rhythms are not completely established at birth.  For instance, babies still get days and nights mixed up, they can’t reset their heart and respiration after stress on their own, they can’t self-soothe.   They need another person’s body to help them do that.  Mom’s body is actually best suited–biologically and neurologically speaking– for this job.  The more mom keeps baby close to her, the easier the child feels it is to learn the neuro-biological “song” that wires the different parts of his brain that enable him to have good emotional health, biological regulation and relational acuity.

Now, other people can soothe the baby, but their body sings a different music.  It may be beautiful in its own way, but it is different.  If someone else tries to comfort the baby the child will be confused, at least at first.  He has not been taught to listen to this strange song and will fight it at first because his brain and body viscerally react to the different rhythms contained in this other persons’ “song”; rhythms that conflict with the neurological  song the baby has been learning from mom for months in utero.  Imagine having to learn a very complicated bit of music, but instead of hearing the same bit of music over and over again, you hear a half dozen songs covering a half dozen different genres (classical, hip hop, rock, alternative) and then you are tested on how well you’ve learned that original, complicated piece; that very piece of music that is supposed to serve as the neurological foundation for the rest of your life.

Many Songs = Attachment Deficits

Eventually, most babies cared for by someone other than mom can learn to put enough of a song together to learn to at least basically regulate their neurological and emotional systems.  These babies will exhibit some degree of secure attachment but they will not be as securely attached as a baby who got to spend the majority of his time with mom.  That said, the more people who are caregivers to a baby and the less consistent those caregivers are the harder it is for the baby to learn any song at all.  This child develops an attachment disorder which, more than a psychological problem, is a neurological disorder that indicates that the child has not developed the structures of his brain that are responsible for bodily/emotional regulation and interpersonal attunement.

More than anyone else, it is the mother who is primarily responsible for setting all the baby’s basic brain and body functions that not only allow a child to be born, but allow that child to be a human being capable of bodily/emotional regulation and interpersonal connection.  Without mom, this process is significantly, and sometimes catastrophically, impaired.  This work is not only important, it is challenging but it is absolutely worth it.  In fact, it is essential for the optimal development of the person.

Motherhood:  It’s Elementary

Of course there are many more reasons why motherhood is important and challenging, but the reasons articulated in this response to Deveny’s article are not widely-known and are often unappreciated by even the most sensitive parents and even professionals.  Biologically, neurologically, and psychologically speaking, motherhood is important in basic and essential ways that fatherhood is not.   Fatherhood is tremendously important, and dads bring many unique gifts to the parenting table, and their absence is profoundly felt, but motherhood brings the more essential, and, in many ways, more elementary gifts to the parenting table.

People like Deveny, who are ignorant of science and psychology and buy into the unscientific feminist paradigm that says gender is just a social construct and that the body doesn’t really matter don’t get motherhood, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable.  It just means that that they are blind to reality.

If you’d like to learn more about how moms matter and how to help your children experience the attachment they need to become everything God created them to be, check out Parenting with Grace: The  Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids.

Mark Regnerus: New Canadian Study Says, “A Married Mom and Dad Really DO Matter.”

Marriage and Family researcher, Mark Regnerus (University of Texas at Austin, senior fellow at the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture) points to a new Canadian study published in the journal, Review of the Economics of the Household (click for abstract) that shows the advantages to children raised by a married mother and father as compared to children raised in other family arrangements including same sex households.

…children of gay and lesbian couples are only about 65 percent as likely to have graduated from high school as the children of married, opposite-sex couples. And gender matters, too: girls are more apt to struggle than boys, with daughters of gay parents displaying dramatically low graduation rates.

Unlike US-based studies, this one evaluates a 20 percent sample of the Canadian census, where same-sex couples have had access to all taxation and government benefits since 1997 and to marriage since 2005.

…children of married opposite-sex families have a high graduation rate compared to the others; children of lesbian families have a very low graduation rate compared to the others; and the other four types [common law, gay, single mother, single father] are similar to each other and lie in between the married/lesbian extremes.

…the particular gender mix of a same-sex household has a dramatic difference in the association with child graduation. Consider the case of girls…. Regardless of the controls and whether or not girls are currently living in a gay or lesbian household, the odds of graduating from high school are considerably lower than any other household type. Indeed, girls living in gay households are only 15 percent as likely to graduate compared to girls from opposite sex married homes.

Go read Regnerus’ article here.


No, She Can’t Play That Game Either

The NYTimes has an article about the effect of the college hook-up culture on young women and their potential for happiness in life and relationships.  It is a poignant and painful look at what happens to a culture when it defines itself by its ability to produce instead of the quality of its character and depth of its relationships.

The title of the article is, “Sex on Campus:  She Can Play That Game Too.”  The implication, of course, is that men have been having casual sex for centuries and its worked out OK for them, certainly women can succeed at the same game.  The problem is, it never really worked for men and it isn’t working for women either.  The incidence of casual sex is inversely proportional to the strength of attachment you experienced in childhood.  The less attachment you had as a kid to your parents, the more likely it is that you will exhibit promiscuous behavior in adolescence.  The reverse is also true.  The stronger and more secure attachment you had to your parents the more likely it is that you will avoid promiscuity in adolescence (as well as many other high-risk behavior).  We can now predict the level of life and relationship satisfaction toddlers will have in adulthood based upon the amount of affection they received as toddlers.  Extravagant affection in toddlerhood predicts healthier life and relationship skills in adulthood.

As I argue in Beyond the Birds and the Bees:  Raising Sexually Whole and Holy Children, the reason men have historically been more sexually promiscuous was that, traditionally, parents were afraid that attachment would sissify boys.  Girl and boy babies would receive about the same amount of affection, cuddling and coddling, until toddlerhood, after which girls continued to receive about the same amount of care and boys would be weaned from much of that for fear of impairing their masculinity.  The effect, of course, was to cause men to repress those touch needs until they reached adolescence when they could get all their touch needs met–as long as they met them through manly displays of sexual promiscuity.

And then a funny thing happened on the way to the nursery.   Suddenly, moms started going back to work at the same rate as dads.  Girl and boy babies both found themselves in daycare as early as 6 weeks.  Girl and boy toddlers found themselves both struggling to maintain attachment with parents who were too busy, or too absent, or just divorced and not present.  Flash forward to young adulthood, and the narrative of the male pursuer and the virginal female no longer holds.  Femininity doesn’t favor virginity.  Attachment does.  As girl and boy children became similarly detached, they both became similarly inclined to meaningless sexual relationships and the pursuit of accomplishment over actualization.  For years, men have paid the price of this inheritance with a poor ability to connect with others and early death.  Now women get to share the joy too.

You’ve come a long way, baby.

Read the article. As you do, see if you can’t hear  Jesus’ words on the road to Calvary.  “Weep not for me, but for your children.”

If you would like to discover how to raise children who have the strength to resist the cultural tide, check out Beyond the Birds and the Bees:  Raising Whole and Holy Kids.