Msgr. Joseph Champlin's 'Together for Life': Is it Faithful to Magisterial...

Author: James Likoudis

MSGR. JOSEPH CHAMPLIN'S TOGETHER FOR LIFE: Is it Faithful to Magisterial Teaching on Contraception?

by James Likoudis

As the (November 1988) noted:

"The name Champlin may not be a household word, but chances are your life as a Catholic has been influenced by Msgr. Joseph M. Champlin in more ways than you realize. Since 1970, Msgr. Champlin's popular book, has been used by almost everyone who plans a Catholic wedding. A nationally-know expert on Catholic Liturgy, he has appeared on national television and radio, spoken before audiences all over the country, and produced a number of videotape and cassette series. He has written more than 30 books and hundreds of articles which serve as a guide for priests and laity in planning and participating in all aspects of Catholic worship."

Much could be said concerning Msgr. Champlin's activities as a liturgical renewalist of national reputation who bears responsibility for some of the liturgical anarchy evident in parishes. He is remembered in his own diocese of Syracuse (where he has served as Vicar of parish life and worship) for his fervent promotion and encouragement of Communion in the hand (when the practice was unlawful in the U.S.), thereby adding to the spirit of disobedience in which that practice was cultivated. He was also prominent in defending an aberrant policy of "Eucharistic hospitality" in the Diocese of Syracuse (which, in effect, permitted Protestants to receive Holy Communion in clear defiance of the restrictions contained in Vatican directives.)

His best-selling booklet remains a bone of contention with Catholics in many dioceses who have rightly objected to its waffly treatment of the sin of contraception. As Mrs. Dorothy Macaluso, Chairman of the Rochester, N.Y., St. Pius X Chapter of CUF, observed in a recent letter in the Rochester Catholic Courier:

"I was non-plussed to read a favorable notice of Fr. Joseph's Champlin's 'wedding bible' ."

It has, admittedly, sold millions of copies and has been widely used in parishes as one of the most popular marriage preparation books.

...One will look in vain in Fr. Champlin's booklet for the clear teaching of Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II on the sinfulness of contraception. Ever since first appeared in 1970, it has played a sorry role in promoting Situation Ethics, and fudging teachings of the Magisterium as regards a properly formed conscience in the matter of contraception." (2/1/90)

In a consequent issue of the , Msgr. Champlin complained that excerpts from his booklet had been taken "out of context", that his work was graced with the imprimatur, and that his critic was "divisive" as contributing to polarization in the Church. The best reply to Msgr. Champlin, of course, is to give his own words on "Responsible Parenthood" in full (as contained in the January 1985 edition of :

"A further difficulty at times develops for some married persons who have decided with prayer and thought, and without selfishness, that they should postpone temporarily, or indefinitely the addition of a child to their family. They feel simultaneously a strong need to express and deepen love through sexual intercourse. Aware of the Church's traditional teaching they feel caught in a dilemma with God seeming to say one thing in their hearts and another through the Church. In resolving that issue they would do well to consider what natural family planning techniques can offer. Local clergy should be able to refer you to resource people who can explain these procedures which have been approved by the Church and successfully tested. The method is free from harmful side effects and, in surprising ways, deepens a couple's love.

There is no easy resolution of that matter, but neither does God want couples to be terrified whenever they make love. In the complexities of life all of us now and then become similarly torn between conflicting commands. At those times we purify our hearts, search for God's light in this special circumstance, then decide what is the best course to follow. And follow it without any fear or anxiety. Should you ever face such a situation and seem unable to cope with the conflicts, then seek an understanding priest in or our of confession. He will not or should not make what must be your decision alone, but he can help you arrive at a judgment which will insure your continued peace with God and love for one another." (page 87)

Readers will note that contraception as a sin is not mentioned. Moreover, God Himself is implicated as structuring a conflict of moral duties! How comforting for the person inclined to practice contraception to be informed that "there is no easy resolution of that matter" and that "an understanding priest" will not interfere with what "must be your decision alone" as to "the best course to follow"!! Such calculated ambiguity is a far cry from a clear treatment of Catholic doctrine which forbids couples (or even the priest questioned by them) to use their own judgment in assessing the morality of a contraceptive act.

Msgr. Champlin's latest book is entitled . It is ironic that his best-selling work has helped form so many "Marginal Catholics" who either reject or ignore the infallible teaching of God's Church on contraception. But then, if Msgr. Champlin's treatment of contraception is subject to severe criticism, his chapters dealing with pre-marital sex entitled "Why Wait?" and "How Far Should We Go?" will be found similarly appalling.

This article appeared in the May 1990 issue of Serviam, a monthly newsletter produced by the local chapter of CUF.