Book Review of Fr. Philip S. Kaufman’s “Why You Can Disagree and Remain a Faithful Catholic”.


Father Kaufman, a Benedictine monk, did immense harm through his defense of dissent from basic Catholic teachings.  He went on lecture tours, including one in Canada, promoting his grave errors.  This review was written at the request of Father Paul Marx, also a Benedictine, founder of the great Human Life International movement.  It appeared in the Homiletic and Pastoral Review of February 1991.  In shorter form it was reprinted in the Catholic Register February 22, 1992.


Book review of “Why you can disagree and remain a faithful Catholic”  by Philip S. Kaufman (Myer Stone Books, 2012 South Yost Avenue, Bloomington, Ind., 47403, 1989, PB $9.95)

John Cardinal Krol accurately said:  “The Conciliar Decrees on Ecumenism (n.l.), on Mission Activity (n.6) and the Apostolic Exhortation on Evangelization 9 (n.77) clearly state that divisions among Christians contradict the will of Christ, scandalize the world, damage the work of preaching the gospel to every creature and deprive many people of access to the faith” (Preface to:  Symposium on the Magisterium: A Positive Statement, Daughters of St. Paul, 1978).

Why You Can Disagree and Remain a Faithful Catholic by Fr. Philip Kaufman, a Jewish convert, gives us one more divisive, scandalous and damaging attack on the Church’s magisterium, the teaching authority given her by Christ.  It belongs to the genre of “Faithful Dissent” by Charles Curran.  It has no imprimatur but the laudatory Foreward by Richard A. McCormick, tells us much about that Jesuit theologian.   So does Fr. Andrew Greeley in recommending the book.

The author, born in 1911, has been a Benedictine monk for nearly 50 years.  Until his recent retirement he taught adult education at St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville, Minn. He has been spreading his dissent in articles for a long time, e.g., “Abortion:  Catholic Pluralism and the Potential for Dialogue,”  Cross Currents, Spring 1987, pp 78- 86.

Following the pattern of most dissenting theologians these past twenty some years, the focus of attack is Humanae Vitae (HV).  This is followed by an assault on the indissolubility of marriage and a call for democracy in the Church.  The shoddy scholarship is shot through with prejudice.

The first two chapters set the stage for the attack on HV.  The author assigns himself a supra-magisterial position from which he passes judgment on popes and councils while showing a slavish respect for dissenting theologians.  He sees in infallibility and infallible definitions an obstacle to ecumenism.  He quotes Msgr. Lambruschini, who released HV to the world, to support the view that the encyclical is not an infallible statement.   He rejects Msgr. Lambruschini when the latter says one cannot have a probable opinion against the encyclical.

Kaufman’s argument is ably answered by Bishop Austin Vaughan:  “We are in a period when many writers regard any teaching that is not infallibly defined as neither certain nor binding.   This view is not just opposed to the words of the Second Vatican Council (Lumen Gentium n. 25) but to the very reason why Christ put a magisterium in the Church in the first place”  (Christian Faith in a Neo-pagan Society, Northeast Books, 1981, p.7).

The main assault on HV comes in Chapters 3 to 6.  The author accepts Greeley’s statistical argument as though sin were a justification for the abolition of the commandments.   He is incensed that Pope Paul  VI rejected the majority opinion of the Birth Control Commission.  John Cardinal Heenan, Pro-President of the Commission, wrote:  “No member of the Commission thought that we could resolve the problem by a majority vote – It was always understood that the decision must be by him alone (the Pope) as Christ’s Vicar” (Catholic Mind, Sept. 1968, p. 6).

Kaufman is in error charging that in HV the Pope ignored significant development in the teaching on marriage at Vatican II.  At Vatican II the Pope reserved to himself the decision on problems concerning contraception.  In his warped historical analysis the author forgets that “no Catholic writer before 1963 had asserted that the general prohibition of contraception was wrong” (Contraception by John T. Noonan, Jr., Harvard University Press, 1965, p. 512).

The final attack is on the grounds that the teaching of HV has not been “received” by many theologians, bishops’ conferences and people.   That is tragic but the nonreception is due largely to the theologians’ dissent.  It has been pointed out that when the faithful were taught the Church’s doctrine by all, without compromise, and were given high spiritual motivation, the great majority rejected contraception even in times of great economic hardship (cf. Allan C. Carlson,  “The Fertility Gap:  The Need for a Profamily Agenda,”  This World Review, Summer.  1989).

Chapters 6 and 7 are a vicious attack on family life by calling for the right to divorce and remarry.  Vatican II calls divorce a plague and tells us that the sacrament of marriage ought never to be profaned by adultery or divorce (Gaudium et Spes, par. 49).  It is beyond doubt that the Church has taught the intrinsic indissolubility of marriage with the firmness and unanimity required for the exercise of the infallibility of the ordinary magisterium (cf. Catholic Sexual Ethics, Lawler, Boyle and May, Our Sunday Visitor, 1985, p. 116).

Chapter 8 calls for democracy in the Church through the election of bishops.  We are given as a foundation for this proposal a number of historical and theological errors.  Among these: “Before  the eleventh century the Church was a collegial group of local churches making up the universal Church.”  We are told that Vatican II taught that “infallibility of Pope and bishops has meaning only in the context of the fundamental infallibility of the Church as a whole.”  It is an article of faith that the Supreme Pontiff has universal, ordinary, supreme and complete jurisdiction over the whole Church (Vatian I; Denzinger, 1831).  It is the Pope’s prerogative to decide how bishops are appointed.

In the final chapter Kaufman indulges in an orgy of neo-Modernism and liberal Protestantism.  He embraces the heresy that sacred power and the mandate for exercising it come to the hierarchy not directly from Christ but from the people.

In the Kaufman paradigm the laity should have a decisive, not merely consultative voice in the Church.  Intercommunion should be allowed.  Anglican and Lutheran orders should be recognized.  In regard to other denominations, “a strong case exists for the real presence of Christ in Eucharistic celebrations.”  In a united Church of the future, “ democracy and pluralism will be essential.”  The only voice that will be trusted, he says, will relish a diversity of “probable opinions.”  So much for Christ’s coming “to bear witness to the truth”  (John 18:37).

The author of this book is deeply confused.  He has no love for the Church, his Mother and Teacher.  He talks of the “official Church,”  “Roman Church,” institutional Church,” “curial Church,” as though there were more than one Church of Christ.  He advocates the kind of contradictory pluralism condemned by Pope Paul VI (Exhortation on Reconciliation, Dec. 8, 1974).  “Respect for the Magisterium is a constitutive element of theological method” (Paul VI to French bishops, June 20, 1977).  Scholars need the guidance of the magisterium as much as anyone else.

When it comes to Natural Family Planning (NFP) Kaufman is more than confused – he is totally ignorant.  Virtually every study he cites or refers to is suspect.  He betrays no understanding of the old pioneer, Model T Rhythm (which was as effective as the condom and diaphragm of that time) and the latest Ovulation and Symptothermal Methods).  When properly taught to and practiced by a motivated couple, these are as effective as any means of birth control short of sterilization – yes, more effective than the abortifacient pill.  Kaufman’s ignorance about the menstrual cycle and NFP is compounded when he quotes a male practitioner complaining about three weeks of abstinence; the average is 8 – 9 days!  (p. 39)

Similarly, Kaufman is totally unaware of the bad psychic and physical effects of contraception and the abortifacient character of the Pill and IUD.  He also completely ignores the now admitted fierce failure rates of contraception.  Ten years ago the British Medical Journal maintained that more women die of all means of birth control than any one single disease (15 Sept. 1979; cf. also Journal of the American Medical Association, No. 247:20 28 May 1982).  Likewise is he totally unaware that widespread contraception has led to massive sterilization and abortion in every country, to say nothing of non-replacement birthrates, the spread of V.D., the increase of divorce, and other evils.

Again, Kaufman buys the overpopulation myth (p. 29).  He needs to read the books of Drs. Julian Simon and Jacqueline Kasun.  Incredibly, Kaufman mentions the maverick Mill Hill Fr. Arthur McCormick as “ an important authority on demographic questions.”

The shortage of priests he attributes “largely” to the Church’s maintaining “the ecclesiastical discipline of celibacy”; he implies ordaining women might be the solution.  Not surprisingly, he embraces the discredited seamless garment theory.

St. Thomas Aquinas, talking about the philosophers of antiquity, said that even the humble old lady who accepts the teaching of the Magisterium is far more enlightened by God than were the pre-Christian men of genius (cf. commentary on the Apostles’ Creed, art.1).  With equal certainty it can be said that the humbles Catholic of our times, accepting the teaching of the Church, is more enlightened on the Truth of God and the Way to him than are all the sad dissenters.

Msgr. Vincent Foy

Published in Homiletic and Pastoral Review, February 1991.  In shorter form, this book review was reprinted in the Catholic Register, February 22, 1992.

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