My parents were the most devout Catholics I've ever known. But my dad came from a family of 16 in Ireland, and my mom's mother came from a family of 13 in County Mayo. So they balanced their faith with a dose of practicality.
After their first three kids, they sagely decided family planning was not soul-staining. So I wasn't surprised to see the Gallup poll Tuesday showing that 82 percent of U.S. Catholics say birth control is morally acceptable. (Eighty-nine percent of all Americans and 90 percent of non-Catholics agreed.) Gallup tested the morality of 18 issues, and birth control came out on top as the most acceptable, beating divorce, which garnered 67 percent approval, and "buying and wearing clothing made of animal fur," which got a 60 percent thumbs-up (more from Republicans, naturally, than Democrats).
Polygamy, cloning humans and having an affair took the most morally offensive spots on the list. "Gay or lesbian relations" tied "having a baby outside of marriage," with 54 percent approving. That's in the middle of the list, above a 38 percent score for abortion and below a 59 percent score for "sex between an unmarried man and woman."
The poll appeared on the same day as headlines about Catholic Church leaders fighting President Barack Obama's attempt to get insurance coverage for contraception for women who work or go to college at Catholic institutions. The church insists it's an argument about religious freedom, not birth control. But, really, it's about birth control and women's lower caste in the church.
It's about conservative bishops targeting Democratic candidates who support contraception and abortion rights as a matter of public policy. And it's about a church that is obsessed with sex in ways it shouldn't be, and not obsessed with sex in ways it should be.
The bishops and the Vatican care passionately about putting women in chastity belts. Yet they let unchaste priests run wild for decades, unconcerned about the generations of children who were violated and raped and passed around like Communion wine.
They still have not done a proper reckoning, and the acrid scandal never ends. In the midst of a landmark trial in Philadelphia charging Monsignor William Lynn with covering up sexual abuse by priests and then recirculating the perverts, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced Sunday that two priests in their 70s who worked in parishes and hospitals had abused minors and were unfit for ministry.
This follows five priests sidelined earlier this month because of substantiated claims of sexual abuse or other violations, plus 17 others suspended after last year's sickening grand jury report on rampant sex abuse in the Philadelphia archdiocese.
Some leading Catholic groups endorsed the compromise struck by the Obama administration that put the responsibility for providing the contraceptives on the insurance companies, not religious institutions.
But others wanted to salute the Vatican flag and keep fighting. On "CBS This Morning" Tuesday, the pugnacious Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York rejected the compromise and charged that the White House is "strangling" the church.
Interpreting the rule in the most extreme way to scare Catholics, he said: "They tell us if you're really going to be considered a church, if you're going to be really exempt from these demands of the government, well, you have to propagate your Catholic faith and everything you do, you can serve only Catholics and employ only Catholics."
The Archdiocese of Washington published an equally alarmist message:
"1. Our more than 600 hospitals nationwide, which will need to stop non-Catholics at the emergency room door and say, 'We are only allowed by the government to heal Catholics.'
"2. Our schools, which will be required to say to non-Catholic parents, 'We are only allowed by the government to educate Catholics.'
"3. Our shelters, on cold nights, which will be required to say to the homeless who are non-Catholics, 'We are only allowed by the government to shelter Catholics.'
"4. Our food pantries, which will be forced to say to non-Catholics, 'the government allows us only to satisfy the hunger of Catholics.'"
The church leaders headed to court hope to undermine the president, but they may help him.
Voters who think sex is only for procreation were not going to vote for Obama anyway.
And the lawsuit reminds the rest that what the bishops portray as an attack on religion by the president is really an attack on women by the bishops.