It was three years ago this week that I sat before the Secular Tribunal of Mr. Sean Hannity in a Fox News interview and inadvertently became the whipping boy for the Catholic Church’s teaching on contraception. In times past, the enemies of the Church would whip and hang a faithful Catholic from a platform with a piece of cord before an angry mob. Nowadays, the whiplashing is more like a tongue-lashing and is carried out on an electronic stage with an audience of millions. I am so happy to prove my love for the Church, though, by getting whipped for the Faith – and I would do it again without hesitation!
Despite the overwhelming attention that I received as a result, this was never about me, nor Mr. Hannity. It was and is about the basic honesty of Catholics with regard to their own Faith and the responsibility of priests (every last one of us!) to teach, uphold, and defend that Faith until our dying breath! Fidelity to the teachings of the Church is nothing less than fidelity to Christ. We are not free as Catholics to just pick and choose what parts of Christ’s teaching we want to adhere to and which ones we want to ignore, cast aside, or – as in the case of Mr. Hannity – to mock and dismiss as outdated and impractical. We are free to leave the Church, though, if we disagree with its teachings. That would be the honest thing to do. What is intolerable to faithful Catholics is the disingenuousness of those who enjoy all the privileges of being Catholic, but who feel no obligation to embrace the responsibilities of our Faith. This was what the Hannity interview highlighted, and it is an endemic problem in our Church.
Generations of martyrs made a much greater sacrifice for their beliefs than those who are inconvenienced by the prohibition on contraception. As the English martyr, St. John Noughton, stood at the gallows with the rope around his neck, he said, “I am bound in conscience and am ready and willing to suffer every kind of torture rather than deny a doctrine of the Church.” Wow! That is Catholic fidelity and integrity to the limit.
Perhaps better known is the story of his fellow martyr, St. Thomas More, who died essentially because the pope wouldn’t issue an annulment to the murderous Henry VIII. The issue of who exactly would control the Church in England was based on Henry’s adamant rejection of the Church’s – that is, Christ’s – teaching on marriage. Less than five hundred years later, Henry’s Anglican church is in utter disarray on all the issues of marriage and human sexuality precisely because of the original dishonesty upon which it was founded. Such chaos is the inevitable result of any church’s betrayal of Christ’s teaching.
This same rejection of centuries-old, well-articulated, infallible teaching is what we are faced with in modern America. We have to admit that the failure of millions of Catholics to uphold and live according to the truths of our Faith has led us down the heinous path of rampant promiscuity and institutionalized child-killing. “You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world,” said the Lord and added, rhetorically, “but what if salt goes flat?” That’s a good question! If Catholics alone would have been strictly faithful to our own doctrine in the last half century, we would have preserved our society from the degraded culture of promiscuity and death that we lament today. Alas, Catholics who preserve themselves from childbearing rather than preserve the moral integrity of our society have betrayed Christ in His deepest agony since the Garden. Because we let the pagans break down the walls of faith and morality, all families in our country, our own included, are rendered vulnerable to the pernicious culture of death. We did it to ourselves.
Perhaps the most disappointing part of that Hannity interview was the way in which Fr. Jonathan Morris, Fox News priest advisor, defended Mr. Hannity in his dissent against a Catholic priest who was actually defending the orthodox teaching of the Church. The priestly sell-out on contraception and church discipline is a painful corollary to Hannity’s lay dissent. The shameful silence of the clergy on the issue of Catholic morality in the era when it has been most needed is an insufferable failure of those responsible for being its guardians. We will be for generations digging ourselves out of this clerical mess, and although the tides are indeed turning toward greater orthodoxy in the clergy, the damage has been done, and priests bear the lion’s share of the blame for the degradation of the moral fabric of our world.
As the years go on, and especially during this Lenten season, I hope that the Hannity interview will be a clarion call to Catholics urging them on to greater fidelity to Christ. And, no, Mr. Hannity did not respond to my request to meet after the interview, nor has he revisited the issue in any way since that time. I still pray for him and hope for his conversion. What I hope and pray for even more is a total return to fidelity of all Catholics to the Truth on the critical issues of life, marriage and family, and the sacrificial commitment that alone will bring America out of its moral decay.