By WILLIAM H. MARSHNER
December 7, 1972
(Special to the Wanderer)
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Six medical students at Georgetown University wrote a 46-page booklet called Human Sexual Response- Ability for the benefit of their fellow students. They were guided by a faculty advisor named Fr. Robert C. Baumiller, S.J., who is an associate professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Fr. Baumiller has already made the pages of the Wanderer (12-2-71) on this little book on sex. They claimed that the booklet was “purely informational” but that line did not wash with their Bishop, Patrick Cardinal O’Boyle. He read the thing and called it “potentially dangerous to spiritual welfare.” He got on the back of the Georgetown administration to have the booklet withdrawn as incompatible with the Catholic character of the University. The only response, however, was from school president, Fr. Robert J. Henle, who said the administration was not responsible. It was a student project and hence, not “official” he said. Nobody here but us chickens.
The Cardinal was not buying it. The booklet had a faculty advisor; it was paid for out of student body funds and distributed through regular university channels. No doubt, as Fr. Henle said, “the booklet does not represent official positions of Georgetown University; it was not prepared nor has it been approved by the medical faculty or by the University administration.” But then the obvious question is, why not? Does a Catholic college just let kids run off at the mouth about important moral subjects and then extend them every facility and courtesy to publish and distribute seriously erroneous materials? Is that the way a Catholic institution exercises its vocation of forming and guiding young people? Isn’t it the worst kind of legalism for an administrator to claim he is not responsible for a project, when in fact he has promoted it and deliberately refrained from “officially” approving it precisely so as not to be “responsible,” should anyone ask embarrassing questions?
And here are some more embarrassing questions. Is it to be believed that nobody in a position of authority read this booklet before it was distributed? No. Is it to be believed that certain people read it and saw nothing wrong with it? Alas, yes. For Georgetown is a Jesuit university. Is it possible that a Catholic could have read this booklet and seen nothing wrong with it? Absolutely not. For instance, it endorses homosexuality: “careful reflection might very well indicate that this type of lifestyle is the most honest and healthy for him or her.” By gad: healthy yet! And the booklet endorses contraception: “Emotional and sexual relationships can ‘happen’ to all of us. So, to those romantically involved couples, to the recreation-minded, and to the would-be William (and Wilhelmina) the Conquerors, we must emphasize the responsibility to learn about and to use (my emphasis) any of the proven contraceptives available.”
Cardinal O’Boyle said that denial of Catholic dogma “is there for any reasonable alert person to grasp. It is clear from the manner of the placement of material and the use of innuendo. And it follows from the general tone of the booklet.” The Cardinal is undeniably right.
Next question: What was the matter with Fr. Baumiller? Not alert or not a Catholic? Neither one, says the Jesuit. I just don’t know beans about morals. Now the reader might suspect that the priest is being unfairly paraphrased here. So let me quote Fr. Baumiller’s exact words, as found in the preface of the booklet: “Moral questions, so important in this area, were not able to be handled because of lack of time and expertise and because the strict informational quality of this endeavor would be overwhelmed.”
Cardinal O’Boyle got a charge out of that one. Said he: “(The) reference to a lack of expertise in the area of moral teaching does no credit to himself and reflects adversely on his own Jesuit community and priestly training. If Fr. Baumiller is inferring that there is a lack of such expertise on the campus at Georgetown, it was available to him from many other sources, including the Archdiocese of Washington.”
After the Cardinal’s attack on the sex booklet was published in the Catholic Standard, NC News managed to get Baumiller’s reaction. He claimed that the “lack of time and expertise” referred to the students, but this answer was both dishonest and insulting. It was dishonest because the students had all the “expertise” they could possibly have wanted in the person of their advisor, Fr. Baumiller. It was insulting because it claimed that college-age Catholics don’t know enough about morals to write that fornication, contraception, and overt homosexuality are sins. How much so-called expertise could one possibly need in order to state such obvious truths?
Quite a bit, according to Baumiller. He told NC News, that “it would take a moral theologian” to present sexual morality in the booklet and added that moral theology “is a very difficult area to publish in.” Everyone, he said, has the obligation and the training to handle questions of sexual morality personally, but not everyone is capable of writing on them for publication.
Very well. We have here a group of six Catholic medical students who are perfectly capable of writing that homosexuality is healthy and that contraceptives should be used, but somehow incapable of writing that contraception is a sin. An interesting and paradoxical distribution of talents, n’est ce pas? Of course, it is not hard to see what Fr. Baumiller is getting at, though he can’t openly say it. The average student, indeed the average priest, has not mastered the delicate art (oh, very delicate art) of disguising moral turpitude as a development of Catholic dogma. It is a notorious fact, as plain as all daylight, that large numbers of Catholic priests, especially Jesuits, no longer believe that masturbation, contraception, or fornication are always sinful or even usually sinful. They have rejected the entire Catholic moral position and will be happy to tell you so, as long as the Bishop isn’t listening. Only a few dialecticians of rare talent, geniuses, if you will, in the art of obfuscation are willing to publish these moral theories in cold black and white. Not everyone is gifted. Not everyone is a Charlie Curran. Humbler folk have to pretend that what they write about sex is “purely informational” and hope that the Church is fooled.
Well, Cardinal O’Boyle isn’t fooled, God bless him; but then he rarely is. After all, he wasn’t fooled by Charlie Curran, and no doubt Robert Baumiller would have done well to remember as much.
It is disagreeable to end on a sour note, but as of this writing, Cardinal O’Boyle has received no assurance whatsoever that the offending booklet will be withdrawn. President Henle is off in Rome and says he is not responsible. Fr. Baumiller says the students are not to blame. The students have not so much as wished the Cardinal good morning. The situation might give a Prince of the Church reason to wonder whether, for the good of souls, he wants a thing like Georgetown in his Diocese. After all, those dormitories would make pretty good housing for poor Blacks and other minorities (e.g., Roman Catholics).