Terry Gross Interviews Bishop Blair

August 2, 2012 at 11:04 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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On July 17, Terry Gross, host of NPR’s Fresh Air, interviewed Sister Pat Farrell, the (soon-to-be-former) president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). Then, on July 28, she interviewed Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, one of the US Catholic bishops appointed by the Vatican to shape up the LCWR over the next five years.

Responses to the two interviews mirrored the polarization in US Catholicism. Conservatives said Gross was much too easy on Sister Farrell, much too hard on Bishop Blair. Liberals found the bishop harsh and authoritarian.

This may come as a surprise, but I found the bishop benign compared to what I had anticipated. He issued no anathemas, nor was he rude to Terry Gross. He was kind of like your uncle who has worked  in middle-management at an insurance company for forty-five years and reads the New York Post. Not one original thought issued from his mouth during the entire interview. His performance illustrates one of the reasons college-educated US Catholics are leaving the church in droves–sheer boredom.

Lest my “radical feminist” friends think I am being too kind here, let me also say that I thought Terry Gross was entirely too easy on the bishop. One instance in particular comes to mind. Here’s that part of the interview:

GROSS: On a related note – and I’m not attributing this to the LCWR – but I think the issue of contraception is an issue that has driven many women away from the Catholic church. And many women within the Catholic church don’t follow the ban on birth control. And I think it’s fair to say, many women are confounded by the idea that they have to follow the rules set by celibate men who have no idea what it means to be pregnant, who have no idea what it means to have a sex – to know that every sexual encounter with your husband might result in a pregnancy; and that it’s very – it’s very challenging for many women to live in that kind – to live with that kind of rule, that every sexual encounter with your husband might result in a pregnancy.

BLAIR: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: That would affect every aspect of your life, of your family’s life; of your health, of the finances of your family, of your ability to work, just of your ability of other children to maybe go to college because there wouldn’t be enough money if there were nine children, as opposed to two children. So on like, every level, every sexual encounter has the potential of affecting your future.

Now – and just on a practical level, this is why I think many women either leave the church, or stay and just don’t follow the church on that teaching. So I’m wondering if you think about that; and what you think about, when you do think about that.

BLAIR: Well, let’s begin with a little history. Until 1930, every Christian denomination was unanimous in condemning contraception. And I remember once seeing that in 1930, when the Anglicans did abandon the teaching – they were the first, I think, to do so – it was the Washington Post that editorialized that this would be the death knell of marriage as a holy institution and would lead to indiscriminate immorality; and legalized contraceptives would create all kinds of problems. Now, 40 years later, in 1968, when Pope Paul VI reaffirmed this received Christian teaching about contraception, he pointed to some of the consequences of separating intercourse and the procreation of children. He said there’d be a gradual weakening of moral discipline, a trivialization of human sexuality, the demeaning of women, marital infidelity often leading to broken families, and state-sponsored programs of population control based on imposed contraception and sterilization. That was in 1968.

Now – I think – 40 years later, it’s pretty clear that all of those things are happening. You know, we live in a world of divorce and broken families, cohabitation, recreational sex, fornication, promiscuity, pornography. And so you have to ask yourself, what are the consequences of this contraceptive morality, or contraceptive practice? But let’s be clear – the church recognizes that couples can have valid reasons not to have children at certain times in their married life. But what is the method, if you have valid reasons not to have children at certain times? People often scoff that the church condemns so-called artificial means but accepts natural family planning. You know, after all, the desired effect is the same, no baby. But…

GROSS: What is natural family planning?…

I, personally, was shocked that Gross allowed Blair to ignore her question as she did. The bishop basically said that contraception in and of itself has caused the decline of marriage. Gross completely failed to bring him back to the actual situation of women who cannot support six, eight, ten children. And both of them seemed unaware of research done right there in Philadelphia (where Fresh Air is produced)  that  William Julius Wilson discusses in the current issue of The Nation. It seems that increasing income inequality, at least for many low-income women who simply cannot find “marriageable” men because of the severely reduced employment opportunities for low-income males, has a stunning impact on the rate of marriage. This, of course, is the sort of thing that US Catholic Sisters spend entirely too much time on.

As the interview ended, I had a vision of the hierarchically-led US Catholic church of the future: a few million frozen-eyed zombies marching forward chanting: “Marriage exists only between one man and one woman. Contraception is abortion. Only people with male genitalia can be ordained. Marriage exists only between one man and one woman. Contraception is abortion. Only people with male genitalia can be ordained. Marriage exists only between one man and one woman. Contraception is abortion. Only people with male genitalia can be ordained…”

Then I fell asleep.


1 Comment »

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  1. Right on, Marian.
    One difference I noted in the Blair interview was how much time Terry spent articulating the questions — replaying the Farrell interview, reading Gallagher’s article, or phrasing her own questions as she does here. I have not reviewed the transcripts to validate my impression, however.
    I was very glad that Terry took this on — she got unique interviews, I think, that made very good radio. I wonder how this happened — who made the contacts, or whether this came from staff.


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