I first met Kevin Kukla online. I came to appreciate him as having a solid intellect and a good heart. He is a devoted family man and an accomplished philosophy professor at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. He has created his own website, prolife365.com, and has about three dozen posted blogs. The first one I read was “3 BIG Reasons Why the Catholic Church Teaches Against Voluntary Sterilizations.” It didn’t take long for me to notice that Kukla has all the traits of Cardinal Ratzinger, including his mission to promote Catholic Fundamentalism as the only “true” faith. Let’s look at some details and then I will share with you my response to his blog.
Here is what one finds on a medical website when one searches for the phrase “sterilization for women”:
What is Tubal Ligation?
Tubal Ligation is also knows as Tubal Sterilization or Sterilization for women. It is a permanent procedure that women undergo to prevent pregnancy. During this procedure, a health care professional will close or block a woman’s fallopian tubes.
How Does Tubal Ligation Prevent Pregnancy?
This method prevents sperm from reaching the eggs. Your body releases one egg each month and it passes through the fallopian tubes towards the uterus. Serialization for women blocks each of these tubes so the eggs cannot reach the uterus. Without fertilization of an egg, a woman cannot become pregnant.
What Are the Benefits of Tubal Sterilization?
This method is a permanent method of birth control. It allows you to enjoy sex without worrying about becoming pregnant. It is simple, convenient, and safe. Most women say that they have an increase in sexual pleasure as well. This is likey because they don’t have to think about unwanted pregnancy.
Tubal Sterilization does not affect or change your hormone levels. The hormones that affect breast size, sex drive, muscle tone, voice, hair are still made in the ovaries. These hormones will still flow through your body as normal. You will still have normal periods and menopause will not happen earlier.
Tubal Ligation might be right for you, if you:
- Do not want anymore children ever (you and your partner agree)
- Do not want to pass a hereditary disability or illness
- Think a future pregnancy can threaten your life
- Agree with your partner that a vasectomy is not for him
- Believe other birth control methods are unacceptable
What Are the Disadvantages of Tubal Sterilization?
This method is not for you if you:
- Want to become pregnant in the future
- Are feeling pressure from friends, family, or your partner
- Are trying to solve a short term/temporary problem (being out of work, financial worries, physical illness, short-term mental, sexual or marriage problems).
It is important to think about the future and any possible life changes. Examples can include death of a child, remarriage or divorce. [full text = https://www.birthcontrol.com/options/tubal-ligation/]
What I notice here is that a woman contemplating a tubal ligation is prompted to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of this medical procedure. It is not meant for everyone. Women must decide for themselves by taking into account her special circumstances. No one is going to impose a solution upon her. In coming to her decision, she is advised to talk this over with her husband because her decision here will impact his life most assuredly. She is advised to seriously take into account how a tubal ligation will effect her own situation, both short term and long term.
When Kevin Kukla enters into a discussion with a woman contemplating a tubal ligation, he bypasses all discussion of advantages and disadvantages. For him, such a discussion is unnecessary once one realizes that a tubal ligation is a grave sin that endangers one’s future with God in heaven. In view of this, Kukla immediately gets to the heart of the matter (as he sees it):
When it comes to getting a voluntary sterilization, the same [moral] principles apply. To purposely mutilate one’s flesh, so as to render one’s self sterile is a grave sin.[i]
I note immediately that Kukla equates a tubal ligation with self-mutilation. His use of language appears directed to shock his reader. After all, a tubal ligation is a “surgical procedure” performed by a doctor of medicine in a safe, sterile environment. The moment that he equates “tubal ligation” with self-mutilation he commits the logical fallacy of presupposing his conclusion (namely, that a tubal ligation is a grave sin) in the very definition of his terms. This would be like a prosecuting attorney addressing a defendant as “the rapist” throughout a trial.
Kukla’s use of exaggerated and circular arguments continues:
As I have discussed in the past, even earlier this week, sterile sex is not an act of love. Obtaining a tubal ligation or a vasectomy is a form of permanent birth control, which is also gravely immoral.
Love includes doing what’s best for the other person—not using [manipulating?] that person. Holding back one’s fertility, therefore, qualifies as using another person, in this case for sexual pleasure.[ii]
Kukla here wants us to believe that a tubal ligation or a vasectomy is “a form of birth control.” If the use of birth control is gravely immoral, then it follows that “permanent birth control” is all the more offensive. Furthermore, Kukla is persuaded that the use of birth control is tantamount to manipulating one’s partner for one’s selfish sexual pleasure. What strikes me as excessive here is his notion that every act of sex before the operation is judged to be “loving” while every act of sex after the operation is automatically reduced to being “loveless” and “manipulative.” Kukla affirms these judgments without in any way making clear how he arrived at them.
It never enters Kukla’s mind that the sterilization might have been prescribed by a doctor as “medically necessary” because “another pregnancy will almost certainly be fatal.” So, a couple that avoids the grievious sin of “self-mutilation” would have to use abstinence or NFP to prevent another pregnancy. Abstinence might not be attractive because it means that one or both partners would be prone to experience sexual frustration that could lead to masturbation or infidelity–both grave sins. NFP, meanwhile, is notoriously ineffective for many couples. Hence, using NFP would be a source of grave endangerment for the couple described above. I would expect that most of my readers would be able to imagine the severe anxiety that would plague their love making.
Maybe the medical website had a case like this in mind when it suggested that “Tubal Ligation might be right for you, if you think a future pregnancy can threaten your life.” This is the promise and the benefit of this operation:
It allows you to enjoy sex without worrying about becoming pregnant. It is simple, convenient, and safe. Most women say that they have an increase in sexual pleasure as well. This is likely because they don’t have to think about unwanted pregnancy.
Kukla gives no signal that he would be open to special circumstances that would more than justify allowing tubal ligation (“mutilation”). This is not surprising. Kukla’s blindness to circumstances is a clue that his analysis depends upon an essentialist position. Acts are black or while, moral or immoral. Self-mutilation is gravely evil and never permitted. Birth control is gravely evil and never permitted. Tubal ligation is a form of mutilation and a form of birth control. As such, it is never permitted.
Kukla gives us no hint of his own experience in this realm, nor does he recount the experience of others by way of making his point. The reader is kept guessing as to how a simple operation could change a loving, caring person into an ogre. The following paragraphs help us to get a glimpse as to why he says what he says:
The purpose for sex is two-fold. First and foremost, it is ordered toward the procreation of children. Obviously, if one or both partners are sterilized, then the conjugal act no longer is ordered toward its primary purpose.
Second, the conjugal act is supposed to be unitive for the spouses and a remedy for concupiscence. To purposely hold back one’s fertility from one’s spouse means the second purpose becomes frustrated as well. How can there be unity, when one or both spouses are not fully committed?[iii]
Here Kukla defines, as does Cardinal Ratzinger, what two factors are absolutely essential for marital love-making to be judged as “good.” Then, he shows how a tubal ligation vitiates one or both of these requirements. When this happens, “good sex” falls immediately into his category of “bad sex” or “loveless sex.” There is here no middle ground of “grey sex”—every act is black or white.
Notice how easily Kukla arrives at the harsh judgment (made without any explanation) that “both spouses are not fully committed.” Notice also that Kukla never speaks about “mutual surrender” and “pleasure bonding.” Not once does Kukla allow that “good sex” must be playful, mutual, and non-coercive. A husband could force himself upon his wife and seemingly fulfill Kukla’s notion of “good sex.” Does not the phrase “as a remedy for concupiscence” harken back to the time when a husband “took his pleasure” as he might with a slave or a prostitute? And why does Kukla repeatedly use the clinical term “conjugal act” (just as does Cardinal Ratzinger) while studiously avoiding the modern notion of “love-making”?
This line of thinking and speaking is important to notice here because it helps to make transparent how Kukla along with Cardinal Ratzinger will later apply this same sort of analysis to lesbian lovers and come up with the hard and fast conclusion that a lesbian is only capable of “bad sex” = “loveless sex” = “grave sin every single time.”
No sooner does Kukla finish making his grand analysis when he has to back up and make a series of escape clauses to allow for exceptions. Here is one such exception:
If a medical condition necessitates someone to lose the use of or to have removed their sexual organs, then this is not a sin. There, the mutilization is a therapeutic means of improving one’s life physically.[iv]
Note here that the continued use of the term “mutilation” at this point forces us to believe that, in Kukla’s mind, there are now “good mutilations” and “bad mutilations.” This makes Kukla’s judgments appear prejudicial and arbitrary. If a woman has a life-threatening cancer growing in her follicles, then they might be surgically removed. Why so? Because here the organs themselves pose a physical threat. Healthy follicles cannot be removed.
Kukla position may flounder here. How about the case of removing tonsils in children? If this a “mutilation” that is never permitted? Then, following the logic of Kukla above, are we to suppose that one must always wait until the tonsils are inflamed and the child has a high fever before removing them? Does the same hold true for wisdom teeth? Can they be removed only if and when they are sore and impacted? A case then can be made for the legitimacy of “preventative surgery.” Extending this further, would it be possible to see tubal ligation as a form of preventative surgery?
Does a wife who is chronically nervous and psychologically frigid because of her “fear of yet another pregnancy” have the right to get a “tubal ligation” as the therapeutic means to retain her sanity? How about a wife with three children who is “chronically worn out” and knows that she will either stop having babies or she will walk out of her marriage and her children’s lives completely? Kukla fails to consider such cases. Is this because he has never encountered them? Or is it because he, as a man, fails to give much weight to women’s psychological health? One cannot be sure. In any case, we know that he makes an allowance for tubal ligations (a therapeutic “mutilation”) in cases of “medical necessity,” but he makes no parallel case for “psychological necessity.”
Kukla then makes further exceptions so that he can protect his earlier definition of what constitutes “good sex”:
If a physical ailment prevents a couple from conceiving, then they are not sinning by having conjugal relations without the ability to get pregnant.
As for menopause, this is a natural function of women that their ovaries eventually stop producing ovums, and so they cannot become pregnant again. This too is natural and any subsequent marital relations are not sinful.[v]
The exception clauses here demonstrate that some naturally occurring circumstances can allow one to have “good sex” even when the first essential, namely fertility, is not present. If that is true, then it would seem to follow that a lesbian couple in a committed relationship might fall in this category. They are prevented from conceiving by the natural circumstance that they are both females. However, both Kukla and Cardinal Ratzinger will throw in a new caveat to prevent us from allowing this exception. They will introduce an essentialist definition of marriage as exclusively designed for “one man and one woman.”
Essentialists set up the rules of the game so that, at every turn, they are sure to win all the arguments. And if you spot one weakness or one loophole, they already have another essentialist rule tucked up their sleeves that they can shake out and place on the table thereby blocking counter arguments.
The application of their rules routinely produces immense amounts of suffering and even threatens to breakdown solid marriages as well.[vi] Their sense of compassion and mercy is severely limited by their assumptions. To maintain their absolute certainties, they have to tell themselves that they have chosen the “narrow path” by upholding all of God’s sexual purity codes.
As they follow in Christ’s footsteps, the thistles and thorns on both sides of the path cut into their flesh. They are content to not be happy in this world; their eyes are on the prize in the world to come. Being disposed to relish pain more than joy, they naturally listen to the suffering of their victims with the same disposition that they give to their own suffering. “I will offer my sufferings along with the infinite sufferings of my divine Savior nailed to the cross,” they whisper in their prayers.[vii]
My letter to Kevin Kukla
You are living in an unreal world. . . . You’re very good at the tech talk, but I don’t hear you referring to any lived experience. So this is where I intend to begin.
You say, “Love includes doing what’s best for the other person—not using that person. Holding back one’s fertility, therefore, qualifies as using another person, in this case for sexual pleasure.”
But I say to you, “Love includes doing what’s best for the other person—not using that person. Having sex with my wife that is mutual, joyous, and self-giving is never a sin. Far from it. It is a source of grace mixed with delicious ecstasy! And this is the case when it might result in conception and when it might not or cannot–doesn’t matter.”
I must say that, when my wife and I together decided to go off contraceptives, we checked her vaginal mucus each night and, when it got slippery, we knew this was the beginning of the fertile segment of her menstrual cycle. That night, we had a special rush of pleasure bonding because together we imagined that we were creating (with God’s help) our future daughter.
The next three nights were the same. The great sex that was our gift to each other was there, but now it was infused with our joint love for our future daughter. . . . We fucked like rabbits throughout the night. We laughed and played and kissed for hours. This was like the unrestrained sex that we had for the first two weeks after our wedding. . . . It was glorious.
But we were mistaken. No conception took place. So the next month the sign of the slippery mucus came again, and again our marital orgy came over us with the naturalness of dew falling off the morning leaves. Again, we felt our future daughter was palpably there with us and we loved her along with loving each other. Nonstop.
But it didn’t happen. Six months later, we consulted a specialist in fertility studies. The experts told us we both were “marginally fertile.” So we continued our monthly sex orgies[viii] for two full years. Near the end of the second year, the vision of our daughter, I must admit, had grown dim. In its place, our love making now was often drenched in tears of pain and regret. Good sex, believe it or not, can heal these memories and mend the wounds that life imposes on those who love God.
Then it happened! No, we did not get pregnant. But the love that we had so faithfully generated for our future daughter had mysteriously spread out into the world and moved Zoila, a complete stranger, to ask my long-time social worker friend Margaret a favor: “I’m pregnant. I need to find a couple in the USA who would take and love my baby.” Now Zoila had illegally crossed the Rio Grande and was being detained by the INS awaiting imminent deportation. And so we gave her the residency rights that she wanted and needed, and she gave us the beloved daughter that we wanted and needed.
Now some theological reflections:
#1 Would our sex have been more committed or more holy if we had not used contraceptives for the first four years of our marriage? NO WAY!
#2 Would we have been happier, fuller, more ecstatic in our love-making if we had used NFP? NO WAY!
In fact, the peak of my wife’s friskiness was exactly when her mucus was slippery. It’s the same for most other women as well. NFP enforces “abstinence” just at the time when the sex drive of the woman is highest.
Wonder if you know this?
#3 Does it become “unnatural” for my wife to want sex, to love sex, to enjoy sex during this fertile period [when the NFP people are abstaining]? NO WAY! God’s gift is not to be spurned.
Those who rely upon NFP (a) miss out on the natural high period in their fertility cycle and (b) risk an untimely or socially disruptive pregnancy because NFP is one of the LEAST reliable ways of exercising RESPONSIBILE sexuality.[ix]
The 5% of Catholics still practicing NFP, needless to say, will never tell you this.
They foolishly limit themselves to NFP because they buy into the indoctrination that came after Humanae Vitae in 1968. Pope Paul rigged the membership of the Birth Control Commission,[x] and then when they didn’t give him the answer he expected, he secretly shelved their report and wrote Humanae Vitae for the purpose of shoving his solution down the throats of 95% of those on the Commission. And notice carefully he didn’t say that NFP was a good way, a better way, a superior way. No he had the gall to say IT’S THE ONLY WAY. So now the zealots (the Catholic Taliban) go about telling everyone that God wants married couples to stick with God and stick with NFP. What is wrong with the picture? The whole thing smells of a terrible dishonesty.
And they talk so easy and calmly about “grave sins” for not going God’s way as do you, Kevin, in your article. I don’t buy it! Over 90% of Catholics don’t buy it. It is a phony bill of goods, decided by a dishonest pope who never did his homework and never had the least understanding of the blessed sex that I have with my wife.
Am I angry with Catholic teaching on these issues? You can be sure I am. And why? Because the Catholic Taliban has set out to ramrod the purity codes that they have manufactured for themselves down the throats of every Catholic on the face of the earth OR BE DAMNED! Think of the priests, nuns, and theologians that the bishops have mercilessly tormented because they refused to toe the line of the Taliban who have taken over the Vatican.
This is not the way of Jesus, buddy!
Bless him! Bless him! Bless him! He kept it simple and he kept it straight! “What must I do to gain eternal life?” is the question set before him. The Response: Love God . . . and love your Neighbor as yourself. Nothing about complicated purity codes here. Did I miss something?
Yeah, I did miss something:
Where is the love of God and love of Neighbor in the way that Cardinal Ratzinger tormented some of our best priests, nuns, and theologians. . . ?
And Jesus said and I say with him, “Woe to you who tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders” (Matt 23:4). So, I stand with Jesus against the Catholic Taliban.
Want to hear more, go to https://payhip.com/b/6zpm
I decided to move in quickly and to take the field by highlighting my own moral standards. I state where I stand and clearly distinguish myself from the fundamentalists. I practically boast that my standards have a solidity that NFP cannot match. In fact, I try to make the NFP advocates jealous.
I let my personal story speak for itself. My hope is that Kukla will feel some small admiration for the road he never allowed himself to travel.
I also make it a point to single out the three points where my moral standards refuse to bow down to his Vatican rigidity. Then I make a clear appeal to the freedom of Jesus: “He kept it simple and he kept it straight.” Finally, I show how “Love your Neighbor” was brutally missing in the Ratzinger mistreatment of his enemies. I let him know that I think of him and Cardinal Ratzinger as the “Catholic Taliban.”[xi] Following in the footsteps of Pope Francis, I give him no place to hide. This is “tough love”—nothing less will be able to reach him.
In the end, I acknowledge that Kukla is my Brother whether he accepts my position or not. I never grovel or beg, since this would be interpreted as though I somehow need his recognition. This would be interpreted as uncertainty on my part. So I profess my faith in just the way that Pope Francis advised: “It is necessary to say everything that is felt with parrhesia [Greek: rhetoric boldness or frankness of speech].”
Those who want to interact with this blog are warmly invited to “Leave a Reply” below. A solid way to begin doing this is to offer “readback lines.” To do this, quickly glace back over the entire blog and pick out the one or two lines that have made a deep impression upon you. Copy them [CTRL-C] and then paste them [CTRL-V] into an empty comment box below. If you wish, signal the emotion that you feel when reading your readback lines. The primary emotions are anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise. No need to further explain yourself. It is enough to identify the text important to you and to name the emotion(s) that it evokes. All of this normally takes less than a few minutes.
I and others will “thank you” for your contribution. If you are tempted to say more, I urge you to hold back. Your sense of safety and the safety of others is best protected by not getting overly wordy in the beginning. This will come after a few days or weeks.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Endnotes and Leave a Reply~~~~~~~~
[i] Kevin Kukla, “3 BIG Reasons Why the Catholic Church Teaches Against Voluntary Sterilizations,” ProLife365, 30 Nov 2015 (http://prolife365.com/tubal-ligation-and-vasectomy-sterilizations/).
[ii] Kukla, “3 BIG Reasons.”
[iii] Kukla, “3 BIG Reasons.”
[iv] Kukla, “3 BIG Reasons.”
[v] Kukla, “3 BIG Reasons.”
[vi] Let me supply an instance of this suffering:
I know of a devout Catholic woman married to a Protestant gentleman. The first two children born to them during the first three years of their marriage were a mutual joy that bound them together in lifelong bliss. But in their early 40s, this bliss was rudely shattered by two unplanned pregnancies due to the failure of NFP. The wife had to interrupt her career as an artist in order to become a full-time mother and part-time grandmother.
The husband never entirely trusted NFP. Nor did his wife, truth to say, but she was traumatized by the thought that every contraceptive use would be a mortal sin that risks eternal hellfire. She consulted two priests on this matter. One invited her to “look at her distress and trials as an opportunity to be united with the sufferings of Christ on the cross.” The second assured her that “praying unceasingly would give her the strength to follow Christ and to gain for herself (and for her husband) treasures in the world to come.”
The husband was frustrated that “these priests sugarcoated her sufferings rather than relieved them.” The more he tried to gently persuade his wife to try the pill, the more she moved physically and emotionally away from him.
Initially her husband attended Mass with her and was even considering converting to Catholicism. Later, he resented the way that “her priests” fed into her religious trauma. He blamed “these priests for undercutting their marital bliss.” So, in the summers, he played golf frequently, and, in the winters, he went out drinking while his wife and his two infant daughters went to Mass without him. He was both angry and depressed. She, meanwhile, was stuck in a dark place where her love for her husband is constrained by her love for her Church. So, they ended up sleeping fitfully at night in separate beds. They started out as ardent lovers and ended up as “working partners in a sexless marriage.”
[vii] “What a beautiful opportunity it is to combine my sufferings with the sufferings of Christ,” they say. Accordingly, fundamentalists sugar-coat their sufferings and sugar-coat the suffering of their victims as well. This is why I produced, just prior to this book, the following: Aaron Milavec, “The Forgiveness of Sins without the Crucifixion of Jesus,” Kindle eBooks, 01 Nov 2015 (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B017GQE6RS/).
[viii] I am deliberately using the term “sex orgies” to register the fervent and loving passion that erupted each month when we were consciously and deliberately enjoying the sex that God created for producing offspring. The long Christian tradition, by contrast, has been more prone to exalt suffering rather sexual enjoyment. St. Augustine, for example, imagined that the impulsiveness of hot sex was essentially sinful because any act wherein a man loses his rational control is necessarily dehumanizing (following the Stoic philosophers). For Augustine, even marital sex undertaken to fulfill the command “to be fruitful and to multiply” was still a venial sin. Had he known better, he would have said that this sex is doubly blessed and doubly satisfying.
The twelfth-century Italian theologian Peter Lombard even went so far as to maintain in his De excusatione coitus that for a husband to love his wife too ardently is a sin worse than adultery. Such opinions are theological nonsense. Yet, even Blessed Pope John Paul II made the mistake of teaching that it is “a [minor] sin” for a man to love his wife too ardently. For a biblical and historical study of this issue, see “Jesus on Sex and Marriage and Finding the Heart of God” (http://www.churchonfire.net/sex/).
[xi] Christian Taliban? I discovered that I am not alone in this assessment. See Michael Carino, “Have We Become Christian Taliban?” 09 Sept 2011 (http://www
.michaelcarino.com/have-we-become-christian-taliban/). See, also, Fr. Rosica who says, “There is a certain form of Taliban Catholicism out there now that would like to dictate everything, and really it doesn’t speak to the future“ (http://callmejorgebergoglio.blogspot.com/2015/02/cardinal-carlo-maria-martini-sj.html).