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"The abominable crime of Onan": Catholic pastoral practice and family limitation in the United States, 1875-1919.

By the 1930s few Catholics in the United States could have been unaware of their church's absolute prohibition on contraception. A widely-publicized papal encyclical had spoken to the issue in 1930, even as various Protestant churches were for the first time giving a public blessing to the practice of birth control in marriage. Growing numbers of American Catholics had been exposed since at least 1920 to frank and vigorous preaching on the subject in the context of parish missions. (Missions are probably best understood as the Catholic analogue of a revival.) And by the early 1930s Catholic periodicals and pamphlets addressed the question of birth control more frequently and directly than ever before. As a Chicago Jesuit acknowledged in 1933, "Practically every priest who is close to the people admits that contraception is the hardest problem of the confessional today." (1) A major depression accounted in part for the hardness of the problem. But it was more fundamentally caused by the laity's heightened awareness of their church's stance on birth control and their growing consciousness of this position as a defining attribute of Catholic identity.

Catholics prior to the 1920s were not wholly ignorant of church teaching with regard to contraception. They were, however, far less exposed to the teaching than Catholics would later be, and thus more capable of misconstruing its absolute nature. Even in the 1920s, when the national debate over birth control emerged decisively into the public realm, many Catholics remained with respect to the question in what a gentle confessor would call a state of "good faith ignorance." Such a status was much harder to claim once the Pope had spoken, and once Catholics were confronted by Protestant betrayal--for so Catholic leaders saw it--of what these same leaders regarded as the traditional Christian posture toward marital sex. Protestant "defections" gave heart and legitimacy to an already vigorous movement to reform the nation's many laws restricting access to contraceptive information and devices--a movement that, in the eyes of Catholic leaders, required a mobilized lay opposition and a harder intra-Catholic line when it came to family limitation. From 1930 through the 1960s, in consequence, the problem of birth control loomed almost unnaturally large in American Catholic life.

This near-revolution in lay consciousness could not have occurred without a change in Catholic pastoral practice. Priests in the 1930s and after were increasingly willing to speak frankly about birth control in the confessional, the rectory parlor, and even the pulpit. Such frankness was seldom easy, especially for older priests in the 1930s and 1940s. Men like these had been trained in an earlier era of sexual reticence, particularly when it came to marriage. Such priests were obviously not "liberals": their reticence was not meant to be read as tacit permission to engage in prohibited means of family limitation. But however unwittingly, that same reticence defined a world where ordinary Catholics could put greater distance between themselves and their church's teaching on marital sex than would be the case for their children and grandchildren. This does not mean that their sexual lives were unburdened by guilt and anxiety--still less that they made routine or casual use of contraceptives. But they probably suffered in this regard less as Catholics than as products of Victorian culture, and thus experienced sexual guilt in a different and perhaps less onerous way than many of their descendants did.

I want in this essay to examine this earlier world of Catholic pastoral practice. I do so in part to emphasize how much things changed after 1930. One can plausibly argue that the Catholic crisis over contraception, which came to a head in the 1960s, had remarkably recent origins--though to do so requires one to ignore the gradual changes that took place in an earlier era. Seen in properly nuanced perspective, this world of slowly diminishing silence helped set the stage for later developments. But this world is also important in its own right. We know very little about pastoral practice in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with regard to sex and marriage, not only for Catholics but other religious traditions as well. Thus we know much less than we ought about the quite recent history of sexuality, gender, and family life.

The time-frame of this essay is easily explained. It runs from 1875, the date of the earliest pastoral document I have yet found that deals with family limitation, and ends in 1919, when the American bishops made their first collective public statement opposing contraception. This latter date signals the advent among Catholics of a more activist pastoral posture with regard to birth control and a new public role for the church in the nascent politics of reproduction. I first examine what little is known, for these forty-odd years, about fertility control and values among the American Catholic laity. I look next at clerical views with regard to sex and marriage. I then turn to the strategies used by the clergy to convey and enforce church teaching on marital sex, looking successively at confession, the various forms of preaching, and premarital instruction. For practically the whole of the period, contraception remained an unmentionable topic in polite public discourse. Beneath the veneer of silence, however, important changes were occurring, not least among lay Catholics and the priests who served them.


So little is known about this topic that we must operate mostly in the realm of informed speculation. The clergy who spoke to the issue--typically in literature meant for priests and seminarians alone--sometimes argued, especially prior to the First World War, that Catholics in the United States were significantly less likely than their European counterparts to know about, much less practice, family limitation. "Among us (in America) this plague does not have such ancient and universal roots as it does in other places," according to Father--later Bishop--William Stang in 1897. (2) Father Stang, who taught at the American College in Louvain, would surely have known that birth rates were currently falling in much of Europe, including many of its Catholic regions. (3) This was particularly true in France, where evidence of declining fertility dates from the late eighteenth century and where birth rates over the course of the nineteenth century fell even faster than in the United States. (4) The most triumphalist Catholic could hardly attribute the decline in French births to that country's Protestants. But in the United States, where birth rates fell first and fastest among the more affluent sectors of the population, this was not difficult to do. (5)

Even in the 1890s, however, it is clear that growing numbers of American Catholics were limiting their families. In terms of fertility, there were in fact two distinct Catholic populations in the United States. The first was composed of recent immigrants, nearly all of them poor, and characterized by high rates not only of birth but also of infant and child mortality. The second--whose numbers were growing rapidly by the late nineteenth century--was native-born and more or less assimilated. Particularly within the more affluent reaches of this second population, birth rates by the end of the century were in steady decline, as were deaths among the very young. (6) "In many cities the number of children per family among Catholics of the middle and comfortable classes is little more than half the average that obtained in the families of their parents," as Father John A. Ryan acknowledged in 1916. (7) A priest-colleague some ten years later made telling use of successive federal religious censuses to document the declining Catholic birth-rate and especially the impact on said rate of immigration restriction. (8) The birth-rate among Catholics was probably falling faster by the 1920s than was that among white Protestants. (9)

We cannot assume that all, or even most, of these smaller families were the products of contraceptive practice. Late marriage was a means of family limitation for some Catholics--a pattern identified in an Iowa study as late as the 1920s. (10) And many seem to have endured at least periodic bouts of abstinence in the course of their marriages, prompted not only by the teaching of their church but also by the shame that most Americans in these years attached to contraceptive devices. Some of these abstinent Catholics were probably attempting to achieve smaller families by means of "rhythm," but it is doubtful that many persisted for long. Their clergy prior to the 1930s, in common with many physicians, were schooled in a physiological theory that identified the middle of the menstrual cycle as the time when conception was least likely to occur. (11)

In these circumstances and without late marriage, it was no mean feat to limit a family to four children--much less the two or three children increasingly found in middle-class households. A greatly reduced frequency of intercourse would have helped in this regard, particularly if a couple had abandoned all faith in the putative "safe" period. But it is hard to imagine that at least some couples were not at least on occasion driven to forbidden modes of family limitation. Contraceptive devices could not be openly advertised after the passage of the Comstock Act in 1873, which probably had the effect for a time of enhancing the shame which surrounded them. Such devices were not, however, hard to obtain, nor was information about them difficult to come by--at least for those who lived outside the immigrant ghettoes. Many Catholic couples, then, would have had access not only to pessaries and douches but to condoms as well. (12) And couples at every level of income and education could practice coitus interruptus. Priests who wrote on the subject of family limitation in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries appear to assume that this last-mentioned mode was fairly widespread. Their near-universal use of the term "onanism" alluded not only to the putative Scriptural basis for the prohibition on contraception but to its equation--in the words of Father William Stang--with "voluntary pollution." (13)

A word is in order at this juncture about abortion, which in the middle decades of the nineteenth century was apparently quite widely employed as a supplementary means of family limitation. (14) Most contemporary critics of the practice associated it mainly with Protestants. But priests in the last decades of the century increasingly spoke of abortion as a Catholic practice too, despite its status by then as a felony in nearly all American jurisdictions. Evidently at least some Catholics believed--in company with most medieval theologians--that "ensoulment" occurred only after two or three months' gestation. (This view, though couched in different language, was widely shared by non-Catholics for most of the nineteenth century.) An early abortion, by this logic, was not necessarily gravely sinful, though few would deny that some degree of sin was involved. Many period priests believed that they faced an urgent task of re-education in this regard. (15)

We do not know how frequently Catholics had recourse to abortion in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, nor which Catholics were most likely to do so. It does seem probable, as the early advocates of birth control often argued, that poor immigrant women had, by the twentieth century, disproportionate recourse to abortion. This was perhaps less true in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, when Catholics wishing to limit their families may have been more ignorant or fearful of contraceptive practice than later generations would be. Preaching a mission at Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1885, a Redemptorist priest evinced no surprise at having heard forty-nine confessions of actual or attempted abortion--this in a "universe" of 1,303 confessions, probably close to half of them men's, and in a community with many native-born members. (16) But his experience also suggests that Catholics regarded abortion as matter for confession, as they did not invariably do with other modes of family limitation. Indeed, priests as late as the 1940s evinced deep frustration at the stubborn conviction of certain Catholics "that there is no sin in what they do before life begins," in the words of an anonymous Passionist preacher, who clearly had reference to birth control and not to first-trimester abortion. He had evidently met in the confessional with the argument that while abortion was surely sinful, marital contraception was not. (17)

Fertility and the values surrounding it are obviously affected by economic status. It is well to remember that even the more affluent members of the Catholic population had, for the most part, only recently arrived at security. And many who inhabited the lower-middle class were by no means secure economically: a prolonged recession or loss of the principal breadwinner could easily result in poverty. This largely explains why so many Catholics remained deeply committed to an understanding of family that valued obligation over autonomy or individual expression. For adolescent sons and daughters, the ethic might prescribe early wage-earning--with said wages belonging in whole or part to the family. For parents, it meant fidelity even to desperately unhappy marriages and an approach to marital sex that ultimately had little room for romance or sensuality. In short, most religiously-engaged Catholics were in these years members of what Simon Szreter has aptly called a "culture of abstinence." (18) If those same Catholics sometimes defied the teaching of their church with respect to family limitation and sometimes doubted the gravity of this behavior as a sin, they were still in fundamental agreement with their priests when it came to weighing the balance between individual desire and the common welfare. Almost none were prepared to argue for sensual gratification per se as a moral good.


In the most general sense, Catholic priests were schooled to a positive view of marriage. As a sacrament, marriage was a continual means of grace for both partners, who were morally obliged to love one another and work for each other's earthly and eternal happiness. Marriage, in an off-invoked scriptural reference, was analogous to Christ's union with his church. Spouses were thus bound to an ethic of self-sacrificing mutuality. "Therefore as you love yourself," in the words of a Redemptorist preacher with regard to husbands, "so love your wife. What you grant yourself--grant also to her.... Work--frugality--liberality--no avarice--[no] locking up the money bag as though the wife must beg her support from the husband." (19) As for marital sex, it was the means by which God had chosen to people the earth and swell the hosts of heaven; the married couple, as moralists never tired of pointing out, were "co-creators" with God when their sexual union resulted in pregnancy. This fact alone endowed marital sex with an aura of holiness, presuming that the couple was willing to accept perhaps-numerous children. And since frequent sex in marriage was believed to deter spouses from the grave sins of masturbation and adultery, willing payment of the "marital debt" was a moral obligation of both parties.

At the same time, priests were trained to regard sexuality as external to the moral self and powerfully subversive of it. Sexuality, in other words, was not integral to identity in any remotely positive way, but evidence of our nature's fallenness. Thus the most perfect mode of existence was consecrated virginity. The great majority of people were not called to this state, and for them marriage was necessarily the better part. Marital sex, after all, was redeemed by its intimate connection to procreation--either actually or, in the case of the old or infertile, by analogy. But literature written by and for priests still invoked the ideal of "conjugal chastity." Father Thomas J. Gerrard was typical in his commendation of "conjugal restraint" as "one of the chief means to happiness proposed by the Church.... It would be very strange if in all the other animal tendencies she counseled moderation, and in this allowed unlimited indulgence." (20) It was not unusual for Catholic moralists even at the turn of the twentieth century to advise--though not to require--marital continence during Advent and Lent and at major church feasts. Gerrard did so, as did the Redemptorist quoted above, who commended continence as well prior to receiving communion.

The Catholic clergy were not as isolated in their views on sex as we might today imagine. Few Protestant clergy--and those typically of a radical stripe--were willing prior to the First World War to give public blessing to deliberately non-procreative sex. Most were silent on the subject, some for reasons of propriety but others presumably as a way of endorsing their parishioners' right to decide for themselves on this most intimate of questions. A growing minority of Protestant leaders, however, were sufficiently troubled by falling birth rates in the early years of the twentieth century to denounce contraception publicly. The Anglicans' Lambeth Conference in 1908 provides the period's most famous example--one which, though not canonically binding, had powerful moral import for Episcopalians in the United States. Despite evident dissent in the ranks of the lower clergy, the Conference expressed its alarm at "the growing practice of the artificial restriction of the family"--a practice denounced by the assembled bishops as "demoralizing to character and hostile to national welfare." Contraception, they asserted, was by its nature un-Christian--nothing more, indeed, than "preventive abortion." It advocates ought to be prosecuted at law. (21)

But what of clerical celibacy? However troubled non-Catholic clergy might be at the prospect of widespread contraceptive use, few of them were celibates. Their own experience of marriage and parenting must in a great many cases have affected their private views on marital sex and presumably their pastoral practice. Men like these could not look with equanimity on the probable consequences of endorsing birth control--many, perhaps most, were persuaded that such a step would weaken marriage and erode an essential ethic of self-discipline. Many had probably endured periods of abstinence in their own marriages, or employed contraceptives with distinct feelings of shame. (Marie Stopes's correspondence with Anglican clergy in the early 1920s suggests that this was true in England.) (22) But whatever their quotient of sexual confusion, most Protestant clergy probably found in marriage an existential opening to other-than-absolutist views on marital contraception. Even the Anglicans, after all, made tentative peace with marital contraception as early as 1930.

A celibate clergy, lest we forget, is not without intimate knowledge of family life. Priests are sons, siblings and uncles, not to mention confessors. But a celibate clergy, particularly one whose training begins in adolescence, is almost bound to experience sexuality as an unusually troubling force. For many priests, then, the anti-sexual elements in the Christian tradition, which were arguably strongest in its Tridentine Catholic incarnation, had particular resonance. Even licit marital intercourse was hard for at least some priests to envision as genuinely expressive of love and personality. The married "experience a feeling of shame when discharging their conjugal duties," as Father Joseph Frassinetti assured the readers of his popular manual for parish priests, though he was for his time a relative liberal on questions of sexual sin. (23)

As for non-licit marital intercourse, this provoked language among priests that was frequently--though not invariably--more suffused with revulsion than that employed by their Protestant counterparts. (Conservative Lutherans produced in these decades some remarkably vigorous invective on the subject of family limitation, as did the aforementioned Anglican bishops in 1908.) (24) Contraception "strikes at the very root and sacredness of life, and transforms the home into a mere brothel," in the typical phrasing of an Augustinian priest in 1918. "So-called good and devout Christians spend most of their lives in the commission of that most heinous of sins"--for which, in his view, the Great War was God's retribution. (25) That contraceptive marital intercourse was analogous to prostitution was a popular argument, not peculiar to Catholics by any means but enduring longer among them. A Passionist sermon on the General Judgment warned those guilty of this sin that their "scandalous immoralities" would be "dragged out of the dark, and thrust glaring into the view of the universe"--that "their long career of race suicide, or rather, marriage prostitution, [will be] boldly staged before the gaze of heaven and earth." (26) Indeed, this sin was worse than prostitution, according to a later Passionist sermon, and worse perhaps than incest or murder. God killed Onan, as that preacher pointed out, but not Lot or Noah or even Cain. (27)

The more extreme language in this vein was typically produced by priests in religious orders--precisely the men who were principally charged with preaching frankly on sexual sin. Given the certainty of eternal punishment, it was clearly one's duty to address the subject as arrestingly as possible. But differing modes of priestly life probably played a role as well. Though some religious order priests were stationed in parishes, others lived at far greater remove from the laity. Chief among them were seminary-based moralists and mission preachers. Both groups typically resided in quasi-monastic settings; both were shielded, by the very nature of their work, from sustained contact with lay Catholics. Mission preachers, indeed, were regularly cautioned against any sort of fraternizing with the laity in the many parishes they visited. Their very remoteness was thought to enhance their reputation as confessors. The parish-based clergy, by contrast, lived in close proximity to the people they served. And no matter how gentlemanly his demeanor, the model pastor was still expected to know his people well.

In the circumstances, it seems likely that most parish priests possessed a more intimate knowledge than many religious of the human complexities surrounding the sin of contraception. This is emphatically not to say that they took the sin itself lightly; too much in their own formation militated against this. But they had ample cause to be grateful for conventions that kept them from preaching on marital contraception or even from close questioning on the subject in confession. Unable or unwilling to be proactive in this regard, those same clergy were almost forced to assume "good faith" on the part of most laity who employed forbidden modes of family limitation. "We prefer to think that they are obstinately unconvinced rather than that they sin grievously and repeatedly with their eyes open," as John A. Ryan put it in 1916--a position, interestingly, that seems to have been widespread among the French clergy in the nineteenth century. (28) It was precisely "our acquaintance with many of these families" that had brought Ryan to this conclusion. (29)

There was a clear division of labor, then, when it came to the teaching and enforcement of church doctrine on family limitation. Mission preachers, nearly all of them members of religious orders, took the leading role--though it was of necessity in any given parish an episodic one. Few parishes had missions more than once every two or three years; in some they occurred at five- or occasionally ten-year intervals. (30) Parish priests played in theory a supporting role, but this seems for most to have been largely passive prior to the 1920s, while many persisted in a passive mode throughout this decade as well. Such passivity was, to be sure, increasingly hard to defend: evidence of Catholic contraceptive use mounted steadily in the early years of the twentieth century, as of a growing if not yet acknowledged cultural acceptance of the practice. Still, customary ways were hard to abandon, especially for older men. Parish priests, moreover, had reason to fear estrangement from many of their people should they opt for a more aggressive stance. Such estrangement was likely to undermine even to reverse--the progress made by American priests in bringing substantial numbers of the laity to a more disciplined religious practice. This achievement was not so secure or of such long standing as to be casually tested.


Every confessor at the turn of the twentieth century was heir to a prudential ethic when it came to sexual sin. One had to avoid scandalizing penitents; one had above all to avoid inadvertently instructing them in sins about which they were ignorant. "There is a subject in which the confessor's caution can hardly be excessive, and that is impurity," as one widely read moralist put it. "Better to fail in the material integrity of the confession than in prudence." (31) Authorities certainly existed who advised a more vigorous stance; mission preachers were especially apt to be schooled by them. But most priests apparently opted for caution, and nowhere more so than with regard to marital sex. (32) Beyond the welfare of the penitent was that of the confessor himself: imprudent questions about impurity might stimulate sinful desires of his own, especially when put to women. (33) And such questions were widely believed to keep Catholics from receiving the sacrament of penance, at least on anything approaching a regular basis. "Parish priests who dislike the milder opinions almost invariably find their confessionals deserted," as Father Frassinetti warned. (34)

Catholics are required by canon law to confess at least once a year, something that was customarily done during the season of Easter. By the late nineteenth century most priests were urging a more frequent regime on their people: the unexceptionally devout ought to confess at least four times a year, while the truly pious were encouraged to monthly confession. (35) There is evidence by the 1890s of success in this regard: growing numbers of parish societies, for example, were by then requiring of their members a minimum of four confessions annually. By the second decade of the twentieth century, the Catholic schools were instructing a whole generation in the practice of monthly confession. But many Catholics even then continued to confess at Easter only. This was particularly true of recent immigrants, for whom annual confession had the status of tradition, and especially the males among them. There were in addition unknown numbers who failed for many years to confess at all. Persons in this situation had, according to church law, ceased to be Catholics. They remained nonetheless a concern for priests, and a factor in thinking about pastoral practice.

What amounted to a nascent crusade for more frequent confession seems to have strengthened a tradition of pastoral prudence, at least among the parish clergy. But if priests were mostly disposed to discretion, they clearly believed that more frequent confession would lead to a greater scrupulosity about sexual sin. The penitent who confessed only annually was typically depicted as ignorant of even the basic requirements of religion. "Very many have no idea of the manner in which they should examine their consciences," according to the Passionist Gaudentius Rossi, "and consequently their confessions are very imperfectly made." (36) Reports from the grass-roots sometimes bear him out. Preaching a mission "in the slums of New York" in 1884, Rossi's confrere Xavier Sutton found "the work in the box ... very hard. The last night for the men two of them beg, an to fight in front of my box, because one went ahead of the other." (37)

Some of those who confessed once a year doubtless prepared conscientiously; perhaps there were those for whom the very infrequency of confession prompted deeper-than-usual introspection and prolonged searching of the heart. Priests themselves, accustomed to confessing weekly, naturally found it hard to allow that virtue could bloom in such thin sacramental soil. But annual confession may in fact have encouraged a certain independence when it came to clerical authority. A Detroit priest, ordained in 1938, remembers from his early years of ministry a stubborn male remnant who continued the practice of annual confession. Some of "those old Belgians and Italians"--in the words of my informant--presented a year's worth of sins with remarkable dispatch: "Same as last year, Father." (38) Perhaps they were largely indifferent to the sacrament and ignorant of the moral law; perhaps they were motivated by fear or shame. In either event, these penitents did their manful best to avoid self-disclosure and clerical judgment.

Indeed, it makes sense to assume that more frequent recourse to confession generally resulted in enhanced authority for priests and the moral code they embodied. No matter how gentle the confessor, the ritual still entailed its own brand of humiliation. A confessor judged as well as absolved. And since many--probably most--confessions centered on sexual sin, the status of one's judge as a presumably inviolate celibate lent a particular asymmetry to the encounter. Frequent confession, moreover, presumably disposed the penitent to a closer internal monitoring of thought and behavior. Those who confessed only once a year could hardly have lived in constant fear of mortal sin and the dangers of sudden death and hell. Their God had of necessity to be One for whom the intent to confess at the traditional season would be sufficient for salvation. Those who confessed more frequently--and the norm for the most pious Catholics would eventually be weekly--had the psychic space for a more acute anxiety and a more exacting God as well. So late-nineteenth-century priests were probably right: more frequent confession, even in a context of clerical reticence when it came to certain matters, likely often did result in a heightened consciousness of sin and greater deference to a clerically defined morality. The outcome has obvious relevance for the problem of marital contraception.

The clerical reticence just invoked was apparently characteristic of the entire period under discussion--as apt to be found among parish priests in 1915 as in 1885. It simply reflected the substance of most priests' training as confessors. (The situation among mission preachers was different, as we shall shortly see.) We cannot be certain that every priest acted as he was taught. But it seems unlikely that significant numbers chose to ignore the counsels of their elders or the authority of the moralists whose texts they absorbed in seminary. Their formation placed so high a value on obedience that improvisation was hardly an option, especially with regard to sexual teaching. We can thus look with reasonable confidence to the most widely-read manuals of pastoral theology for standard practice in confession, at least when it comes to the parish clergy. Read in seminary and consulted thereafter, such manuals summarized the reigning approach to moral theology and embodied the seasoned wisdom of admired older priests.

Given the advice of the manualists, it would have required something close to an oppositional personality for a parish priest to have routinely questioned penitents about family limitation. (39) "In the matter of vile sin, it is better to be deficient in questioning than to scandalize the penitent," warned the influential Father Stang. "With married people one must never even mention the conjugal debt unless there is grave reason." (40) Father Stang did in his manual address the problem of contraception, though like virtually all his contemporaries he veiled his brief remarks in the decency of Latin. (41) Moralists writing even twenty years earlier sometimes failed to mention the subject at all. Father Aloysius Roeggl, whose manual dates from the mid-1870s, advised his priest-readers to "admonish" married penitents with regard to their state in life. But nowhere in the script he provided was fertility restriction even obliquely addressed. (42) His single invoking of Onan's punishment had reference to masturbation rather than contraception, a subject Roeggl did not discuss. Joseph Frassinetti's midcentury manual was equally silent on the topic.

By the early years of the twentieth century, some manualists were making room for confessors' suspicions about contraception and for penitents who might seek advice on the matter. But here too the counsel of prudence prevailed. "He can, perhaps, in quite a general way, ask a wife if she has been obedient to her husband in all her duties, or if they have lived their married lives in a truly Christian manner," as Caspar Schieler quite typically advised. "If anything in conjugali debito has really taken place, opportunity is given to the penitent of saying so himself, and then it is for the confessor either to investigate further, or to instruct, which should, however, be generally done in only a few words." (43) (That the wife was evidently the marital partner to whom such questions might be put is a subject to be taken up shortly.) Should a penitent ask directly about matters relating to marital sex, the confessor naturally ought to respond but without "saying more than is necessary.... To explain in greater detail what things are licit or illicit to the married partners may be equally dangerous for the confessor as for them." (44) A penitent whose language the confessor spoke imperfectly--and such were not uncommon in this period--presented particular problems; the subtleties necessary to any discussion of marital sex would be for all practical purposes impossible. The Paulist Joseph McSorley assumed that penitents like these required utmost pastoral caution. His 1916 bilingual guide to the hearing of Italian confessions contains no questions at all about marital sex. The appended glossary does include the Italian word for "abortion" and the verb "to withdraw"--the latter a term with possible contraceptive reference. But it does not otherwise equip the priest to respond to a penitent's questions about family limitation. (45)

In the circumstances, one can readily see how even quite devout laity might remain in "good faith" ignorance when it came to the teaching on contraception. "Some Catholics have been able to persuade themselves that contraceptive practices are not necessarily sinful, at least in certain extreme cases," as John A. Ryan acknowledged in 1916. (46) Ryan was ready by then to endorse a more proactive stance, and not only in the confessional. He ultimately played an important role in what would be a significant reform of pastoral practice with regard to family limitation. But this took years. A more typical voice of the period belonged to the moralist Antony Koch. A confessor was obligated to instruct all his penitents in "the truths necessary for salvation and the more important duties of life," Koch acknowledged. Not every penitent, however, was in practice a candidate for such instruction. "When a penitent is invincibly ignorant in regard to some of these duties, the confessor should not instruct him unless he has good reason to think that his advice will be heeded, lest what was purely a material sin should become a formal sin. The same rule holds good whenever there is reason to apprehend that instruction of the penitent would result in quarrels, enmity, scandal, or other serious evil." (47) Father Koch most surely did not intend to excuse or encourage what he would have called the sinful abuse of marriage. But he hewed so tenaciously to a prudential ethic that the effect may have been just that.

Presumably conscious of the strictures under which the parish clergy labored, the various mission-preaching orders took a harder line. This seems to have been especially true of the Redemptorists, one of the largest of these orders in the United States. "The confessor ... is very frequently required to inquire into this thing," as Redemptorist Joseph Wissel noted with regard to the sin of what he invariably called onanism, "for out of one hundred married people scarcely five or six are immune." Wissel, who wrote in the mid-1880s, was paraphrasing an Italian moralist. But he did not doubt that these observations applied equally to the American scene. It was true, he conceded, that penitents often claimed to believe that marital onanism--by which Wissel probably mainly meant coitus interruptus--was not gravely sinful. The confessor, however, was to have none of this. "If the confessor examines the condition of his onanistic penitents he will easily perceive and understand that the ignorance in which they are enmeshed is vincible and culpable, because they always have at least some confused grasp of the evil of onanism. Therefore, as often as they assert that they are ignorant of the evil of so, great a sin, they are not to be listened to, for they deceive themselves." (48) Redemptorist confessors were also expected to question penitents about abortion, though only where there were plausible grounds for so doing. (49) As with other modes of family limitation, it is likely that simply the fact of a penitent's being married might be so construed.

Whether confessors from other mission-preaching orders were equally proactive is difficult to say, though most would surely have been so by the 1920s. Prior to the First World War the Redemptorists were unusually frank and aggressive when it came to preaching on sexual sin. Their confessional practice may have been similarly distinctive. But every order that preached missions addressed the problem of sexual sin more explicitly than the parish clergy and regarded the willingness to do so as a principal raison d'etre of the missioner's calling. Their work as confessors was almost bound to reflect this. The anonymous mission preacher whose late-nineteenth-century prayer book included an examination of conscience for a general confession--the kind that a lapsed or indifferent Catholic would be encouraged to make at a mission--asked directly about both contraception and abortion. (50) (I have found only one other "examen" prior to the 1920s where either question is addressed.) (51) The priests of his unidentified order were presumably accustomed to ask the same in at least some confessions. And in the early 1920s the Paulist Walter Elliott included "birth control" among the sins which justified a confessor's taking additional time with a penitent, even in the busy context of a mission. (52) The Paulists were for many years notably more circumspect than the Redemptorists when it came to preaching on family limitation. But since Elliott was reflecting on long-standing practice in his order, it makes sense to assume that in confession their circumspection yielded to a more direct approach.

Mission confessors do not appear to have made distinctions based on the sex of the penitent. Women were apparently to be questioned as directly as men, even with regard to sexual sin. The parish clergy, by contrast, were encouraged by several weighty authorities to a practice inflected by gender. It was true, these authorities conceded, that the hearing of women's confessions was hazardous to a priest--"the most dangerous and fatal rock which the minister of God has to encounter in the stormy sea of this world," as Father Frassinetti put it. (53) But women were more dependably devout than men, and far more likely to come regularly to confession. Precisely because of this, priests should strive to make men's confessions as non-alienating as possible. (54) So however dangerous it might be to speak of sex to female penitents, it still made sense to address to them any hard counsels on marital sex that circumstances might require. Hence Father Schieler's advice to confessors: should it be necessary to question or admonish with regard to "marital chastity," do so to wives rather than husbands. (55)

Nineteenth-century authorities evidently did not regard women as the more culpable sex when it came to family limitation, perhaps in part because coitus interruptus was so widely assumed to be the principal method. When Covington's Bishop Camillus Maes issued a pastoral letter in 1890 that dealt in part with the evils of contraception, his warning against the practice was addressed solely to men. (56) (Maes was the only American bishop, to my knowledge, to have spoken publicly on the subject in the nineteenth century.) But by the early years of the twentieth century, Catholic leaders and moralists increasingly spoke of women as the primary instigators of contraceptive practice. "No doubt many women thoughtlessly discuss this subject among each other," Baltimore's Cardinal Gibbons told the New York World in a remarkably frank 1907 interview. "It is not unusual, in all probability, for older women to advise their younger sisters, who are about to assume the relations of wifehood, not to bring children into the world for a few years, but to `have a good time and travel.' This instruction that has been given the young wife is probably without the knowledge of the husband." (57) Gibbons nowhere indicated that he had Catholic women specifically in mind; like many of his Catholic con temporaries, he liked to associate birth control with presumably Protestant "society women." Period sermons, however, suggest that growing numbers of priests saw Catholic women as tainted too. "The modern up-to-date girl or woman pride themselves [sic] on knowing all the different tricks and expedients whereby they may escape the results of conjugal intercourse and shirk the burden of child bearing," according to a Passionist mission sermon dating probably from 1915. (58)

Views like these reflect a growing clerical anxiety, broadly evident in the early years of the twentieth century, over women's autonomy and the increasing sexualization of popular culture. "Why do wives rebel against the rule of husbands as the natural heads of families?" a Jesuit asked in 1917 in the telling context of a speech that deplored the falling birth rate. (59) Not every priest would have put the sentiment so bluntly, but it was widely shared. So too was distress at the contemporary dance craze, the content of popular music and fiction, and especially the movies. An Ursuline sister summed matters up neatly in 1919 with particular reference to this last-mentioned innovation. "Do you know that your daughters, taught by the exciting school of the picture-screen, are half-convinced already that `love' justifies anything?" she asked a putative audience of Catholic mothers. "That `a woman has the right to live her own life' as she pleases?" (60) Women's dress was also a cause of increasingly frequent clerical complaint, some of it extreme. (61) A western Michigan priest in 1907 even found ominous import in the popularity of the teddy bear. "The very instincts of motherhood in a growing girl are blunted and oftentimes destroyed if the child is allowed to lavish upon an unnatural toy of this character the loving care which is so beautiful when bestowed upon a doll representing a helpless infant," he informed his congregation. (62) Reinforcing such anxieties was the prominence of women as leaders in the nascent movement to legalize contraceptives. The flamboyant Margaret Sanger, who emerged as a national figure in 1914, was for Catholics a particular bete noire. Any woman who selfishly refused to bear numerous children, in the typical view of a Detroit Jesuit, "places Mrs. Sanger on a pedestal and makes that woman's diabolical doctrine an article of her own profession of faith." (63) Gender tensions are palpable here. Class tensions were for many Catholics at work as well. Women who were active in the pro-contraception cause were often portrayed by priests and other Catholic spokesmen as hostile to working-class folkways and values. (64) The result in some cases was a near-virulent misogyny, particularly apt to surface in mission sermons. Even those many priests who kept their emotional balance were increasingly distressed, as the young century progressed, by what they saw as betrayal by the hitherto more docile sex. These emotions too infected preaching, especially of the mission or "occasional" variety.


Parish priests prior to the 1920s almost never preached on abortion or contraception, though the likelihood of their so doing increased somewhat during the period under study. (The earliest non-mission sermon text I have found that addresses family limitation dates from 1896.) (65) When they did make reference to these highly charged topics from the pulpit, it was only in oblique and euphemistic terms. The typical Sunday congregation included both sexes, all ages, the married and the single. Given period conventions, a priest could not in such a setting speak frankly about sexual sin; there was also the danger of instructing less worldly members of the congregation in sins hitherto unknown to them. (66) The Sunday sermon, moreover, was often a hurried affair; many priests at low Masses dispensed with the sermon entirely. And since no dioceses in this period prescribed a standard course of sermons, most priests would have no cause to speak even once a year on a subject like marriage. (67) "Many Sunday sermons are on the Gospel of the day, and are prepared in ten minutes, if prepared at all," acknowledged Bishop Francis C. Kelley, reflecting on the doleful state of Catholic preaching even in 1929. "Dogmatic instructions are not sufficiently insisted upon." (68)

The occasional parish sermon on marriage would certainly have denounced divorce in clear and uncompromising terms, as well as the hazards of mixed marriage. (69) It would probably--though not invariably--have emphasized the blessings attendant on numerous offspring, by which period preachers often meant at least eight children. (70) Less frequent were references to marital chastity, since this skated close to the sexual edge. "Bring to the marriage a pure and holy intention," advised an unusually direct 1908 sermon text. "Come to it with passions under control and evil habits aside." (71) Very few priests ventured further. Only one text from the principal homiletics journal of the period came close to addressing birth control in unmistakable terms: "People have a very mistaken idea of marriage who complain of having children," according to this 1913 sermon, "and still worse are those who are ready to enjoy the privileges of married life but not its burdens." (72) Words like onanism, contraception, and birth control, however, did not appear in the journal prior to 1924. (73) Father John Montgomery Cooper, author in 1923 of one of the earliest Catholic pamphlets against contraception, was sufficiently worried by 1916 that he drafted a Sunday sermon on "Race Suicide." The notes for this sermon are remarkably frank for the time. Cooper denounced both abortion and contraception in straightforward language and addressed the arguments most commonly offered in support of the latter. Neither poverty nor ill health on the part of the mother, he asserted, could justify contraception; marital continence was difficult but not impossible; justice required a family wage rather than a weakening of the laws against birth control. Pencilled at the top of the manuscript, however, are the words "not preached." (74)

Priests who preached missions were notably freer than their parish counterparts, and for fairly obvious reasons. They typically addressed same-sex congregations: most orders allotted a mission's first week to women and the second to men. A very large parish might merit a mission of four weeks' duration, with congregations segregated not only by sex but by marital status as well. Mission preachers, moreover, were transients in the parish; they did not have to live with whatever resentment their hard counsels might prompt, or worry about the consequences. Dispensing hard counsel was, indeed, for them a chief source of identity. "They are powerful preachers," wrote the Paulist Walter Elliott of his missionary confreres, "confessors as indefatigable as they are kindly; priests full of energetic zeal, moving in disciplined accord against vice." (75) A Dominican contemporary seconded him: "In the mission sermon there is place for the fiery denunciation of sin, for the exposure of its enormity; there is opportunity to drive home in a practical way the rugged truths of Christ." (76)

For all their greater freedom, mission preachers did not invariably denounce contraception or even abortion. This was especially true prior to the early twentieth century. As early as 1875 Father Gaudentius Rossi was urging his brethren in the Passionist order to do battle against sinful modes of family limitation: "The abominable crime of Onan (Gen. 3) in the marriage state, more common than many suspect, should be HINTED AT PRUDENTLY, and reprobated severely." But Rossi was keenly aware of the subject's great delicacy: "[A]ged Missioners should be the ones to look after this matter." (77) Perhaps the Passionists at this juncture lacked aged members, or least aged members who dared to flout cultural convention, for I have found no Passionist sermons on contraception that date from prior to 1900. As for the Paulist order, normally proponents of plain preaching, no extant Paulist sermons of this sort pre-date the early 1920s. (78) (Virtually every preaching order had by then embarked on vigorous preaching against family limitation.) Many Paulist missions were apparently preached to congregations of both sexes, which doubtless explains at least part of that order's reticence. But Paulists early in the century steered clear of birth control even when speaking to same-sex groups. Father James Gillis, for example, thundered mightily against fornication in a mission sermon preached to men, probably in 1907. He spoke with particular frankness about prostitution. He said not a word, however, about abortion or contraception. (79)

Every religious order has an ethos of its own--a distinctive rhetoric and sense of purpose. So it is hardly surprising that the various mission-preaching orders should differ in their approaches to so controversial a topic. The Paulists, an order founded in the United States and relatively liberal on social questions, envisioned their work in terms of Americanization. They strove to make Catholics into good Americans and--equally important--to persuade the nation's Protestant majority that the two allegiances were fully compatible. Perhaps the Paulists' relative restraint as preachers deferred to what they assumed were mainstream sensibilities. The Redemptorists, on the other hand, saw their work in terms that were intensely eschatologicai: their primary mission was to preach the terrible reality of eternal punishment. The Redemptorists, moreover, had inherited from their founder the practice of giving "state in life" instruction to the married and the single, though St. Alphonsus Liguori had provided such only to women. But by the late nineteenth century, the order routinely gave instruction of this sort to men as well. A typical Redemptorist mission, then, had time set aside--Tuesday evenings were usual--for separate preaching to married women, single women, married men, and single men. "These instructions are to be given to each class alone," as Father Joseph Wissel explained, "that the preacher may have more freedom in expressing himself on matters which those not belonging to that state of life need not or should not hear." (80)

Prominent among these "matters," at least for the married, were abortion and the various modes of contraception. (Redemptorist "state in life" instructions to the single do not mention birth control prior to the 1930s.) (81) "It may safely be said that the abuse of marriage is the chief cause of the other kinds of immorality deluging the world at present," according to Father Wissel in 1885. (82) Not even Wissel, however, thought that such preaching would be easy. "The missionary who gives these instructions should be a man of mature age, great experience and gravity of deportment." He should choose his words with utmost care: speaking "superficially" about sinful means of fertility control "is tantamount to saying nothing; saying too much gives scandal." (83) But the risks attendant on such preaching were as nothing compared to the gains. Countless souls were at stake, and the nation's future too. (Children born despite their parents' efforts at contraception were apt, in Wissel's view, to be sickly and prone "to most unnatural excesses of lust even in their infancy.") (84) Then there were the "thousands" of infants rescued from spiritual as well as physical death in abortion, which Wissel evidently believed was widespread even among Catholics. (85)

Wissel's manual for Redemptorist preachers included model texts for "state in life" instructions. These were not particularly graphic, especially compared to later Redemptorist sermon texts, but they were for the period remarkably straightforward. "Married people begin to live in a bad state as soon as they begin to wish to have no more offspring, or not so soon, or not in so rapid succession; and yet continue to live as usual in regard to their marriage privileges.... A shocking crime in this respect is the direct exclusion of offspring, or the limiting of its number, by positive means.... But a worse crime is the willful murder of the poor child before it is born, by procuring an abortion--or by bringing on a miscarriage." (86) Wissel's model text spoke as well to what clearly were arguments frequently heard by mission confessors: "We cannot support a numerous family.... The woman is sickly.... We do not want to be burdened with many children." Wissel's counsels in this regard were wholly predictable: God will provide; this life is short and a time of probation; virtue yields a reward that lasts for all eternity. (87)

Wissel's Redemptorist contemporaries seem to have taken his counsels to heart. At least some of them preached instructions to the married that were considerably more vigorous than the model text Wissel provided. Father Michael Burke, who died in 1891, was firm in his insistence that the primary end of marriage was procreation. "But if this is the primary end of matrimony it follows that a frustration of it, whether directly or indirectly, is a mortal sin, a sin which brings ruin and desolation upon society and [a] fearful curse upon the married man or woman in life and the torments of an eternal hell on the other side of [the] trace. It is a detestable crime in a married man to procure the pleasure of matrimony at the expense of nature, in order not to have the burden of rearing a family. The brute, why did he marry, if he did not wish to take upon himself the consequences of married life.... It is an unnatural mortal sin to prevent his wife from conceiving. It is an unnatural mortal sin to procure abortion at any period of pregnancy, even in the first moment of conception." (88) As early as 1887 at least one of Burke's confreres was preaching against abortion in the course of his standard mission sermon on the Last Judgment--something that would be common Redemptorist practice by the time of the First World War. Among the condemned, Father W. M. Brick told an audience that surely included both the married and single, were "those who destroyed infants even before birth.... [T]hey are guilty of the sin of murder before God, who sees even all that is most hidden." Other sins against impurity also figured prominently in Brick's version of the final reckoning, as did sins of anger and economic injustice. But he spoke not even an indirect word against contraception, which was evidently in 1887 too delicate a subject for an audience with unmarried members. (89)

By the early years of the twentieth century, however, growing numbers of mission preachers were opting for greater frankness--and outside the context of "state in life" instruction. A Passionist sermon on the General Judgment, probably dated shortly after 1900, made explicit if passing reference to birth control before unleashing a wave of invective against abortionists--"those criminal operators, who for a handful of bloodmoney [sic] slay millions of the unborn, who with their murderous wrenches crush like eggshells the tender souls of innocent generations." The Judgment sermon--standard to nearly all missions--was a popular vehicle for inveighing against sins of the marriage bed precisely because such sins were so private. Even secret sins would be revealed at the Final Judgment for all the world to see. Where will abortionists hide on that day? asked the Passionist quoted above. What of "their clients and accomplices"--many of whom have passed their lives as ostensibly respectable women and men? "How they shall hang, pilloreed [sic] before the universe, and branded with the Herods and Neros, while that long line of their sickening, surgical butcheries shall be paraded before the wide-staring eyes of all the nations." (90)

A subsequent generation of mission preachers would routinely apply rhetoric of this sort not only to those who procured abortions but those who practiced contraception. But if pre-war sermons were typically more restrained when it came to birth control, their emotional logic was much the same. Mission preachers played skillfully--if somewhat heavy-handedly--on shame, guilt and fear, typically in equal measure. The all-seeing God was a favorite trope: "eyes that have never slept, they burn like coals of fire into the very soul of the sinner," in the words of the Paulist James Gillis. (91) One's most secret sins could not be concealed from eyes like these. Those who had recourse to abortion were menaced by the wraith-like spirits of their murdered children, which swam into view as the sinner was dying or appeared as their parents'--more commonly, their mothers'--accusers at the Last Judgment. "On the whole she was looked upon as an ordinarily good woman," as a Redemptorist sermon on death began. But now she is haunted by her sins. "She recalls the many crimes committed under the sacred veils of matrimony; how she refused to bear the burden of married life, though she always enjoyed its privileges. Yea, perhaps as she lies there she becomes conscious of having sent a child into eternity before the waters of Baptism flowed over its head. She never confessed it, and now, there it is before her dying gaze." (92) A Passionist sermon from 1910 used similar language with regard to couples who engaged in contraception. "The house of the guilty couple is a haunted house.... It is haunted by the spirits of children that might have been, but were not allowed to be. These spirits will stand before the guilty couple on the dreadful day [of] Judgment. These spirits will accuse them before their Maker and their Judge." (93)

Sermons like these were clearly meant to generate fear--of death itself and certainly death in mortal sin, of public shaming, of judgment and hell. But missions were also designed to alleviate fear; they invariably climaxed in a tenderly evocative sermon on the mercy of God. And if mission confessions were reputed to be more searching than the usual variety, mission confessors were also determined to leave no sinner unforgiven. "Confessors should seldom or never fail to give absolution," as Father Wissel told his Redemptorist brethren. "A penitent's coming to confession in the context of a mission is powerful presumption in his favor." (94) Absolution, however, required a firm purpose of amendment on the part of the penitent--a sincere determination to avoid a particular sin and its occasions. This was often hard to achieve in the realm of marital sex. An unidentified Passionist betrayed the frustration that many of his confreres clearly experienced with what the manuals called "recidivists." "Therefore I say to all married people, keep yourselves clean from a heathen generation in order that you may not perish with it," as he told a mission congregation, probably in 1915. "Don't profane your holy matrimony with practices which fill heaven with disgust and hell with chuckling grin[s].... But if you will not do that, if you will persist in your nefarious onanism, then for heaven's sake don't come up to this altar seeking communion, or make any more sham promises in confession. Better to go to hell with the instruments of your perdition than try to drag down Christ's all holy body with you." (95) Anger like this left little room for the mercy of God, no matter how eloquent a mission's closing sermon. It was an early signal, too, of how cruelly divisive an issue for Catholics contraception would ultimately be.

The newly public politics of birth control probably account in part for a sermon like the one just quoted. That a topic which "common decency should prevent people even from mentioning"--in the words of one Detroit priest--was suddenly being debated in public shocked many Catholic clergy and caused them great anxiety. (96) Given the altered circumstances, at least the occasional parish-based priest was willing to speak to the issue with unprecedented frankness, usually in the context of sermons delivered outside of Sunday Mass. A Lenten lecture at Detroit's Jesuit parish in 1919 excoriated contraception and--typically for the period--directed much of its fire at women. The "modern Herodias," in the words of Father John McClory, "pleads health and the fear of death as an argument against the creation of new lives; arrogates to herself God's exclusive right of birth-control; imagines that quality and numbers in the matter of offspring are irreconcilable; [and] says that income is not adequate to the needs of a large family." Nor did he hesitate to denounce Margaret Sanger by name, clearly assuming that all in his audience were familiar with her work. (97) That the audience was mixed in terms of sex and marital status makes his plain speaking all the more remarkable.

A particularly arresting example of such "occasional" sermonizing dates from 1916. Father Reynold Kuehnel, a diocesan priest from Michigan, had by then embarked on nationwide preaching to the men of the Holy Name Society. (The Society, which was at the time enjoying rapid growth in the United States, brought men to communion on a monthly basis and encouraged them to witness publicly to their faith and especially against blasphemy.) Among the talks that Kuehnel regularly delivered to Holy Name gatherings was "The Right to Life." It begins with an unusually direct attack on what later generations of Catholics would call a contraceptive mentality: "Most decent men take pride in having large families. Still there are those who have been brought in contact with worldly people, men who think they are privileged to dictate how many children, or rather, how few children, they will want to have." Only God has the right to decide the size of a family, Kuehnel reminded his hearers. He then condemned women who "fear to lose their charm and youthfulness if they give birth to children" and men who worry about the costs of supporting them. Men like these "prefer murder to being fathers." Although the talk has up until this point clearly had reference to family limitation in a general sense, the rest is given over to a diatribe against abortion. (98) Did Kuehnel believe abortion to be the principal means by which period Catholics were limiting their families? That seems unlikely. I suspect, rather, that like most priests of his generation he found it far more difficult to speak about contraception than abortion. The sense of shame associated with contraceptive devices and behaviors was for such men so intense that straightforward talk about their employment was probably in many cases psychologically impossible. And unlike most of their Protestant counterparts, these men had no personal experience of marital sex to give the problem of contraception a genuinely human dimension.

The effect in Father Kuehnel's case was--rhetorically speaking--a near-conflation of contraception and abortion. There may well have been those in his audience who understood him to say that contraception was murder. Certain preachers in the 1920s would in fact make this claim, and in unambiguous terms. That contraception is tantamount to murder is a position with venerable roots in Christian theology. (99) But since at least the mid-eighteenth century, it had rarely featured in Catholic sermonizing and virtually never as a determinant of penitential practice. (100) Caught in a rising panic over what appeared to be growing cultural tolerance of birth control, priests like Father Kuehnel so upped the rhetorical ante that they fell prey--however briefly--to a true theological radicalism.


Every couple who married in the church had of necessity to confer with a priest prior to the wedding. The canonical fitness of the parties to marry had to be ascertained, and arrangements made for the banns to be called. Priests were also encouraged on this occasion to examine the parties in their knowledge of Christian doctrine, though it is by no means clear how exacting or even how common the practice actually was. (There were still parishes where the non-Catholic party to a mixed marriage was not provided with catechetical instruction prior to the ceremony.) Still, by the early twentieth century it seemed to at least some clerical authorities that the premarital interview provided a useful venue for instructing the soon-to-be married on the sinfulness of contraception and abortion. These would-be reformers, however, often appear to have been frustrated by the reluctance of nearly all parish priests to speak frankly about such matters to the laity.

This more expansive view of premarital instruction does seem to have been a product of the early years of the twentieth century, at least in the United States. Father Stang's manual for American priests, first published in 1896, makes no mention of premarital warnings against sinful modes of family limitation. But Father Frederick Schulze's manual, published for the same constituency in 1906, advised a proactive stance: "Caution them against the widespread crime of onanism, and the monstrous crime of abortion." (101) The Redemptorist Richard Donohoe, whose teaching notes on the subject date from about the same time, was in fundamental agreement. Couples should be warned against contraceptive behaviors such as coitus interruptus and the even "more terrible" sin of artificial contraception; they should certainly be made aware that abortion was "the greatest crime: of all." Donohoe addressed this last-mentioned topic in straightforward language. He spoke of contraception, however, in such convoluted and euphemistic terms that his acute discomfort is palpable. If speaking thus to his fellow Redemptorists was so evidently painful, one wonders about the emotions attendant on counseling the betrothed. Especially with regard to contraceptive behaviors, as Donohoe himself conceded, "How much or how clearly one may speak on the points just mentioned depends ... on the quality of the persons to be instructed." (102) Any evidence of refined sensibilities on the part of the bridal couple, or indeed any embarrassment, might be grounds for abbreviating or even omitting an instruction that was already couched in language that can only be called opaque.

It was apparently just such conflicted emotions that kept the great majority of priests from speaking frankly about birth control in the context of pre-marriage instruction, not just in the early twentieth century but for several decades thereafter. Nor were those who eventually opted for plainer speaking necessarily persuaded that in the circumstances it did much good. "What could you expect from a half-hour's instruction given on the eve of the wedding to a young couple when they are dizzy with love and distracted with the thousand and one thoughts about temporal and secular affairs!" as one disgruntled priest put it in the late 1920s. Couples, moreover, were increasingly apt to arrive with wholly secular views on marriage and sex. "The girl has been misinformed perhaps by her own mother, and the instruction now given in the rectory is worse than useless in that it lets the pastor feel that he has done his duty, when his advice actually comes too late to change the minds of those who have formed their own opinions in the matter long ago." (103) There is greater frustration evident here than is normally found in texts from earlier in the century. The manifest inadequacies of premarital instruction were plainly more glaring in the context of the late 1920s, by which time contraception enjoyed widespread popular acceptance if not in most places the blessing of law.


A reform of pastoral strategies with regard to family limitation was most influentially urged by John A. Ryan in 1916. Writing in the Ecclesiastical

Review, Ryan addressed the problem with unusual directness. Contraceptive practice, he asserted, is more widespread among American Catholics than we clergy like to admit. Our people, moreover, seem sometimes not to grasp that such behavior is gravely sinful--even as their marriages and society itself suffer debilitating consequences. ("[Contraceptive] devices are debasing to those who employ them, inasmuch as they lead inevitably to loss of reverence for the marital relation, loss of respect for the conjugal partner, and loss of faith in the sacredness of the nuptial bond.") The problem, as Ryan saw it, was caused in good part by the increasingly secular ethos of American society: growing numbers of Americans had no moral grounding other than a self-interested utilitarianism. But the Catholic clergy were also to blame. Our people need straight talk on the matter, Ryan reminded them; they need explication of the moral law in clear and uncompromising terms. (104)

Ryan was not the only Catholic to make such arguments. Margaret Sanger's emergence as a national figure in 1914 prompted other Catholic spokesmen to defend church teaching and urge its more vigorous enforcement. (105) But Ryan was by far the best-known and most well-connected of these would-be reformers. A prolific writer on social ethics and prominently seated in Washington at the Catholic University, he would soon become head of the Social Action Department of the newly-formed National Catholic Welfare Conference. In this latter position, he exerted great influence over the more liberal American bishops and especially their public pronouncements on social welfare policy. It was Ryan who was responsible for drafting the "Program of Social Reconstruction," issued early in 1919 by the Administrative Committee of the National Catholic War Council, immediate predecessor to the Welfare Conference. That document championed a wide array of social welfare programs, remarkably so for the period's growing conservatism. His hand is discernible too in the bishops' omnibus pastoral letter of 1919, which included the American episcopate's first collective public statement condemning contraception.

That Ryan and others like him should simultaneously promote the welfare state and a harder pastoral line on birth control is hardly consistent with present-day expectations. But such men saw an unassailable logic to their position. Ryan was typically persuaded that contraceptive practice abetted materialism and a crass instrumentalism in social relations and politics. A society that had made its peace with contraception, he believed, would not scruple to exploit the weak in the name of enlightened policy. Employers would be under no obligation to pay a living wage, nor would the state necessarily be willing to assist the dependent poor, especially if they had large families. And ultimately, Ryan feared, acceptance of contraception would lead to tolerance of abortion, even its endorsement for purposes of eugenic control. A just society, as far as Ryan was concerned, had of necessity to be grounded in an objective morality, which for him could only mean the Catholic natural-law tradition. Such a society also depended on a broadly internalized ethic of self-discipline and sacrifice--a willingness, as he wrote in 1904, to place "duty" before "self-indulgence." (106) Catholic teaching on contraception was thus for men like Ryan intimately related to a range of social-welfare and social-justice concerns.

Ryan's views on birth control were obviously rooted in more than concerns about social justice, genuine as these were. His was a celibate's understanding of marital sex, tinctured with a strong dose of Victorian prudery. "It is doubtful whether any normal man or woman ever began such practices," as he wrote of contraceptive intercourse in 1915, "without suffering a severe moral shock, or continued them without serious moral degeneration." (107) He worried too about the church's authority, given what he saw as widespread doubt among the laity about the teaching on contraception. (108) All the more reason, then, for priests and indeed the bishops to reform their reticent ways with regard to the problem of birth control. Their 1919 pastoral suggests that most bishops agreed, very likely spurred on by recent wartime developments. Sex-education programs in the military, as a Knights of Columbus activist reminded War Council chairman Fr. John Burke, had done harm as well as good: "There is no man, practically, among the four millions called to the colors who does not know that there are diseases attendant on illicit sex relations; there is none among them who does not know also that there are methods of preventing the infection of these diseases and that the government has provided convenient facilities for prophylaxis." (109)

Thus the stage was set by 1919 for a new chapter in the Catholic encounter with birth control. Reform was to be that chapter's dominant theme, but reform in a limited and frequently frustrated key. It was one thing for Ryan or even a bishop to endorse a more proactive practice when it came to combating sinful modes of family limitation. Men like these, after all, had limited pastoral contact with the laity. It was quite another thing for priests trained to a reticent prudentialism to implement such reform in the parishes that were their lives. So the 1920s unfold as a kind of transitional decade. Church teaching on birth control was communicated then more broadly and clearly than ever before, and Catholics were increasingly aware of their standing in this matter as a peculiar people. Pastoral practice changed too, but more slowly and unevenly than the church's public pronouncements on birth control would lead one to suppose. Only in the 1930s did birth control come to dominate Catholic consciousness--that of the clergy as well as the laity--to the extent that it so evidently did on the eve of the Second Vatican Council, with the epoch-making consequences for the church that we all know.

(1.) Joseph Reiner, S.J. to Wilfrid Parsons, S.J., 2 Mar. 1933. Georgetown University Library Special Collections, Wilfrid Parsons papers, box 8, folder 12.

(2.) Rev. William Stang, Pastoral Theology, 2d rev. ed. (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1897), 171. Father Stang is quoting approvingly from the Jesuit moralist Alphonsus Sabetti. Trans. from the original Latin.

(3.) John R. Gillis, Louise A. Tilly, and David Levine, eds., The European Experience of Declining Fertility, 1850-1970, (Cambridge, Mass: Blackwells, 1992), 1-2.

(4.) By 1872--when hardly any religious leaders were willing to speak publicly about such matters--a celebrated French Dominican was preaching against "sinfully restricted families" at his annual Lenten conferences at Notre Dame in Paris. See Very. Rev. Pere Monsabre, O.P., Marriage Conferences Delivered at Notre Dame, Paris (New York: Benziger Brothers, Eng. Trans., 1890), 115-23. The mode of address employed in these sermons suggests that they were preached only to men. Pierre Toulement, a French Jesuit, argued in 1873 that France's recent defeat by Germany and the terrors of the Paris Commune were divine punishment for the nation's sins of contraception. See Michael S. Teitelbaum and Jay M. Winter, The Fear of Population Decline (Orlando, Fla.: Academic, 1985), 18-19. Most of the questions addressed to the Sacred Penitentiary in Rome in the nineteenth century with regard to the treatment of "onanists" in the confessional came from French clergy and bishops. See John T. Noonan, Contraception: A History of Its Treatment by the Catholic Theologians and Canonists (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1986), 397-405.

(5.) See, for example, the Michigan Catholic, 23 Nov. 1893, 4:1.

(6.) Wilson H. Grabill, Clyde V. Kiser, and Pascal W. Whelpton, The Fertility of American Women (New York: Wiley, 1958), 107-8; Tamara K. Harven and Maris A. Vinovskis, "Marital Fertility, Ethnicity, and Occupation in Urban Families: An Analysis of South Boston and the South End in 1880," Journal of Social History 8 (spring 1975): 69-93; Hareven and Vinovskis, "Patterns of Childbearing in Nineteenth-Century America," in Family and Population in Nineteenth-Century America, ed. Tamara K. Hareven and Maris A. Vinovskis (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978), 85-125; Avery Guest, "Fertility Variation among the U.S. Foreign Stock Population in 1900," International Migration Review 16 (fall 1982): 577-96.

(7.) John A. Ryan, "Family Limitation," The Ecclesiastical Review 54 (June 1916): 684-85.

(8.) William Schaefers, "Our Catholic Population," The Homiletic and Pastoral Review 29 (Nov. 1928): 150-51.

(9.) Samuel A. Stouffer, "Trends in the Fertility of Catholics and Non-Catholics," American Journal of Sociology 41 (Sept. 1935): 143-66. Stouffer's data showed this to be true of Catholics in Wisconsin between 1919 and 1935, with marked declines in fertility occurring in every Catholic ethnic group. More tentative data suggest that this pattern prevailed generally in cities outside the South.

(10.) Hornell Hart, "Differential Fertility in Iowa," University of Iowa Studies in Child Welfare 2 (1922): 37-39.

(11.) Orville Griese, The "Rhythm" in Marriage and Christian Morality (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1948), 3-4; Leo J. Latz, The Rhythm of Sterility and Fertility in Women (Chicago: Dr. Leo J. Latz, 1932), 9; John C. Ford, S.J. and Gerald Kelly, S.J., Contemporary Moral Theology, vol. 2: Marriage Questions (Westminster, Md.: Newman, 1963), 384-85.

(12.) See Janet Farrell Brodie, Contraception and Abortion in Nineteenth-Century America (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1994), 204-41.

(13.) Stang, Pastoral Theology, 171. Trans. from the original Latin.

(14.) James C. Mohr, Abortion in America: The Origins and Evolution of National Policy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 46-85.

(15.) See Joseph Wissel, C.SS.R., The Redemptorist on the American Missions, 3d rev. ed. (Norwood, Mass.: Plimpton, 1920) 1:473. The 1920 edition contains nearly all of the 1885 text, save for changes required by the 1917 Code of Canon Law. The Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer was founded by St. Alphonsus Liguori in 1732 and eventually expanded into most parts of Europe. The American Redemptorists in the nineteenth century included many of German origin, but the order worked among a number of different ethnic groups. Like their European confreres, the American Redemptorists specialized in the preaching of missions. They also staffed parishes in major American cities.

(16.) Rev. Louis Cook, C.SS.R. to Bishop Caspar Borgess, 20 Nov. 1885. Archives of the Archdiocese of Detroit, Borgess papers, box 2, folder 4.

(17.) "Race Suiciders," typescript mission sermon, no author given. Undated, but probably--based on its content--ca. 1915. Quote from page 9. Archives of the Passionist Fathers, Chicago. Sermons by unknown authors, file 2-A, box 252. For a later period, see A. McBriarty, C.SS.R., "Parish Missions," The Ecclesiastical Review 102 (March 1940): 201-2. The Congregation of the Passion was founded by St. Paul of the Cross in 1721. Its American members specialized in the preaching of missions and retreats, though some also served in the order's foreign missions, especially after about 1920.

(18.) Simon Szreter, Fertility, Class and Gender in Britain, 1860-1940 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 389-424.

(19.) Rev. Richard T. Donohoe, C.SS.R., "Marriage Instructions," MS notes, evidently intended as instructions for fellow Redemptorists in hearing premarital confessions and giving pre-marriage conferences. Undated but probably early twentieth century. Redemptorist Archives, Baltimore Province, Brooklyn, N.Y. Uncatalogued notebook.

(20.) Rev. Thomas J. Gerrard, Marriage and Parenthood: The Catholic Ideal (New York: Joseph F. Wagner, 1911), 82. When Gerrard's book was re-issued in a revised edition in 1937, editor Edgar Schmiedeler, O.S.B., made no changes in the chapter on "Conjugal Restraint."

(21.) Richard A. Soloway, Birth Control and the Population Question in England, 1877-1930 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1982), 98-102, quotes from 99, 100. See also Kathleen Tobin-Schlesinger, "Population and Power: The Religious Debate Over Contraception, 1916-1936," (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago, 1994), 49, 53-54.

(22.) Soloway, Birth Control and the Population Question, 241.

(23.) Joseph Frassinetti, The New Parish Priests' Practical Manual, 2d ed., trans. William Hutch (London: Burns and Oates, 1885), 220. The book enjoyed a wide circulation in its English translation in both the United States and the British Isles.

(24.) Alan Graebner, "Birth Control and the Lutherans: The Missouri Synod as a Case Study," in Janet Wilson James, ed., Women in American Religion (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1980), 230-31, 234, 237.

(25.) J. M. Fleming, O.S.A., "What To Preach," Ecclesiastical Review 59 (Aug. 1918): 166. The Augustinians, a men's order dating from the thirteenth century, was primarily a teaching order in the United States.

(26.) Isadore Dwyer, C.P., MS sermon on "The General Judgment," undated but ca. 1900. Archives of the Passionist Fathers, Chicago, sermons of Fr. Isadore Dwyer, box 241.

(27.) "Race Suiciders," typescript sermon, no author given, undated but ca. 1915, page 7. Archives of the Passionist Fathers, Chicago, sermons by unknown authors, file 2-A, box 252.

(28.) On the French case, see Noonan, Contraception, 397-405; see also A. Vermeersch, S.J. and T. Lincoln Bouscaren, What Is Marriage? A Catechism Arranged According to the Encyclical "Casti Connubii" of Pope Pius XI (New York: America, 1932), 36-38.

(29.) Ryan, "Family Limitation," 685.

(30.) The standard work on parish missions in the United States is Jay P. Dolan, Catholic Revivalism: The American Experience, 1830-1900 (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1978). Frequency of missions is addressed on pages 55-62.

(31.) Canon A. Guerra, The Confessor After the Heart of Jesus (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1901), 55.

(32.) Detroit's Bishop Caspar Borgess simply followed a ruling of the Sacred Penitentiary in Rome when he warned his clergy in 1882 against close questioning in the confessional about contraception. Borgess circular letter to the clergy, 4 Aug. 1882. Archives of the Archdiocese of Detroit, Borgess papers, box 5, folder 20. The Sacred Apostolic Penitentiary, a Roman tribunal of antique origin, deals with cases of conscience raised most typically by bishops and canonists.

(33.) This is a concern of long standing for nearly all manualists. As a typical example, see Caspar E. Schieler, Theory and Practice of the Confessional: A Guide in the Administration of the Sacrament of Penance, 2d ed., trans, and ed. Rev. H. J. Heuser (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1906), 384, 609.

(34.) Frassinnetti, Parish Priest's Practical Manual, 355.

(35.) Father Stang's influential manual urges monthly confession as a norm for all Catholics; Stang, Pastoral Theology, 177.

(36.) Gaudentius Rossi, C.P., "Some Instructions about the Sermons, Meditations, and Catechism Delivered by Our Fathers, in Our Missions," unpaginated MS, Apr. 1875. Archives of the Passionist Fathers, Chicago, sermons of Fr. Gaudentius Rossi, Box 250; Wissel, The Redemptorist on the American Missions, makes the same point, 91.

(37.) Fr. Xavier Sutton, C.P., MS record of missions and retreats, 1882-1925. Archives of the Passionist Fathers, Chicago. Papers of Fr. Xavier Sutton. The mission in question was preached at St. Anthony's parish, 1-16 April, 1884.

(38.) Author interview with Fr. Ferdinand De Cneudt, 19 Oct. 1998, Roseville, Mich. De Cneudt was born in Belgium; his family emigrated to Detroit in 1920.

(39.) This did not keep contemporary anti-Catholic propagandists from asserting that priests routinely and in salacious detail questioned female penitents about sexual sin. For a particularly vivid example by a former Catholic priest see, Rev. Charles Chiniquy, The Priest, the Woman, and the Confessional (Chicago: A. Craig & Co., 1880).

(40.) Stang, Pastoral Theology, 171. Trans. from the original Latin.

(41.) The American translator of Caspar Schieler's Theory and Practice of the Confessional (1906) apologized for rendering in English passages on certain "most delicate subjects"--the volume, after all, might fall into non-clerical hands. He intimated that many priests' Latin was insufficient for post-seminary refreshment in moral theology. See 5.

(42.) Rt. Rev. Aloysius Roeggl, The Confessional: or, Admonitions for the Confessional and Penance, according to the gospels for the Sunday and Holydays of the Ecclesiastical Year, trans. and enl. Rev. Augustine Wirth, O.S.B. (Baltimore: John Murphy & Company, 1877), 385-87.

(43.) Schieler, Theory and Practice of the Confessional, 387.

(44.) Ibid., 599, n. 553. The latter portion of the sentence is translated from the Latin. See also Rev. Frederick Schulze, Manual of Pastoral Theology: A Practical Guide for Ecclesiastical Students and Newly Ordained Priests (Milwaukee: Diederich-Schaefer, 1906), 151.

(45.) Joseph McSorley, C.S.P., Italian Confessions and How to Hear Them: An Easy Method for Busy Priests (New York: Paulist, 1916). The Society of Missionary Priests of St. Paul was founded in 1858 by the American priest-convert Isaac Hecker. The order specialized in the preaching of missions from its inception; by the late nineteenth century it had embarked on mission preaching to non-Catholics as an innovative means of reducing ignorance of and hostility to Catholicism in the United States.

(46.) Ryan, "Family Limitation," 4.

(47.) Rev. Antony Koch, A Handbook of Moral Theology, adapt, and ed. Arthur Preuss, vol. 2: Sin and the Means of Grace, 2d rev. ed. (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1919), 163.

(48.) Wissel, The Redemptorist on the American Missions, 1:474. Trans. from the original Latin.

(49.) Ibid., 102-3.

(50.) The Key of Heaven; or, The Devout Christian's Daily Companion (New York: Christian Press Association, n.d.) , 584, 601-4, 613. The imprimatur is that of Cardinal John McCloskey, who received his red hat in 1875 and died in 1885.

(51.) Rev. A. Konings, C.SS.R., General Confession Made Easy (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1879) asks directly about abortion but only obliquely about birth control. Helpful on this subject is Joseph Xavier O'Connor, O.S.A., "A Survey of the Examination of Conscience as Found in Some Popular Prayerbooks" (M.A. thesis, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, The Catholic University of America, 1954).

(52.) Walter Elliott, C.S.P., A Manual of Missions (Washington, D.C.: The Apostolic Mission House, 1922), 34-35.

(53.) Frassinetti, Parish Priest's Practical Manual, 361.

(54.) Stang, Pastoral Theology, 177. He echoes Frassinetti in this regard. Schieler, Theory and Practice of the Confessional, agrees with Stang, though not in regard to separate confessionals for men, which would in most instances have been impractical.

(55.) Ibid., 387, 612-13, 616-18.

(56.) The letter's full text appears in the Michigan Catholic, 27 Feb. 1890, 1:4-5.

(57.) The interview was reprinted in the Michigan Catholic, 6 Feb. 1908, 1:6-7.

(58.) "Race Suiciders," 5. See also a remarkable anonymous text, "Conditions Necessary for a Happy Marriage," Homiletic Monthly and Catechist 13 (Jul. 1913): 1035.

(59.) Michael I. Stritch, S.J., "What Menaces the Family," The Catholic Mind 15 (8 Nov. 1917): 502. This is the text of an address delivered to the National Convention of Catholic Societies in Kansas City, August 1917.

(60.) An Ursuline Religious, "`Movies' and the Young," The Catholic Mind 18 (22 Apr. 1918): 197. This, like the following article, was distributed by the Catholic Press Association and may have appeared widely in the diocesan press. Like many of her clerical brethren, this anonymous author believed that contraceptive practice among Catholics was largely the fault of the woman: "By her teaching and example she fatally lowers her children's feeling of responsibility towards the duties of the married state." An Ursuline Religious, "Modem American Mothers," The Catholic Mind 18 (22 Apr. 1918), 200.

(61.) See, for example, a Lenten sermon appearing in the Michigan Catholic, 27 Feb. 1913, 5:1-2.

(62.) Michigan Catholic, 11 Jul. 1907, 1:2. The priest was Fr. Michael Esper, pastor of St. Joseph's church in St. Joseph, Michigan. His sermon made the national press wire.

(63.) John A. McClory, S.J., The Brazen Serpent, 2d ed. (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1922), 12. The book is a compilation of Lenten sermons preached by Father McClory at SS. Peter and Paul's church in Detroit in 1919.

(64.) See, for example, "Race Suiciders," 3.

(65.) Rev. John Talbot Smith, The Chaplain's Sermons (New York: William H. Young & Company, 1896), 239-43. Rev. A. A. Lambing, Plain Sermons on Mixed Marriages, 3d ed. (Newark, N.J.: Rev. Augustine Wirth, O.S.B., 1882) speaks briefly to family limitation on pages 49-50, but only in the context of mixed marriage, with the non-Catholic partner the principal sinner. Wirth translated these sermons from the original German.

(66.) See, for example, the advice dispensed in Schulze, Manual of Pastoral Theology, 323 and Stang, Pastoral Theology, 36.

(67.) The Archdiocese of Chicago instituted the first diocesan sermon outlines in 1918, which also required that priests give doctrinal instructions at all low Masses. Other dioceses, principally in the Midwest, eventually followed suit, though not until the 1930s or even the 1940s. Detroit's Bishop John Foley (1888-1918) prescribed an annual Sunday sermon on marriage, mainly--it seems--for purposes of inveighing against marriage to non-Catholics. But he seemed unsure of how many priests actually complied. A question in this regard appears on the form which Detroit's priests submitted annually on the state of their parishes. Copies are found in the Archives of the Archdiocese of Detroit in any of the parish files from 1889 to 1918.

(68.) Francis C. Kelley, "About Preaching," The Homiletic and Pastoral Review 30 (Oct. 1929), 9.

(69.) For an example from early in the period under study, see Cardinal James Gibbons, MS sermon on "Marriage," delivered in Wilmington, Del., 14 Jan. 1872 and again in Richmond Va., Lent 1875. Archives, Archdiocese of Baltimore, Gibbons papers, sermon 16. For a later example, see Rt. Rev. Thaddeus Hogan, R.M., "The Sanctity of Christian Marriage," in Sermons Doctrinal and Moral (New York: P. J. Kenedy & Sons, 1915): 159-60.

(70.) John A. Ryan argued in 1904 for seven or eight children per family: "The Small Family and National Decadence," Ecclesiastical Review 30 (Feb. 1904): 140-55. Rev. Thomas Gerrard, writing in 1911, thought that fourteen would be better still. Marriage and Parenthood, 112. Rev. Charles J. Callan, O.P. reprinted Gerrard's counsel in his Illustrations for Sermons and Instructions (New York: Joseph A. Wagner, 1916), 237. A Passionist preacher in 1909 was representative of his generation: "Woe to the parents that have only two or three children when they should have eight or ten!" Reginald Lummer, C.P., MS sermon on "Marriage--Its End," Archives of the Passionist Fathers, sermons of Father Reginald Lummers, box 247.

(71.) Rev. J. W. Sullivan, "Christian Marriage," Homiletic Monthly and Catechist 8 (May 1908): 618.

(72.) "The Sanctity and Utility of Marriage," no author given, Homiletic Monthly and Catechist 13 (July 1913): 954.

(73.) The Homiletic Monthly and Catechist--subsequently the Homiletic and Pastoral Review-began publication in 1900. The 1924 reference to "birth control" occurs in an article on mixed marriage.

(74.) John M. Cooper, MS notes for a sermon on "Race-Suicide," 4 Feb. 1916. Archives of the Catholic University of America, John Montgomery Cooper papers, box 1, folder 1916-17. "Not preached" is in Cooper's hand.

(75.) Elliott, Manual of Missions, 1-2.

(76.) J. H. Healy, O.P., "The Need of Missions to Parishes," The Homiletic and Pastoral Review 21 (Dec. 1920): 178.

(77.) Rossi, "Some Instructions," unpaginated.

(78.) This assertion is based on my research in the Paulist Fathers' archives at St. Paul's College, Washington, D.C.

(79.) James M. Gillis, C.S.P., MS sermon on "Scandal," undated but ca. 1907. Archives of the Paulist Fathers, PPGILLJMO88.

(80.) Wissel, The Redemptorist on the American Missions, 1:73-74. Quote from 74.

(81.) This assertion is based on my reading of the sermon manuscripts housed at the Archives of the Redemptorist Fathers of the Baltimore Province, located in Brooklyn.

(82.) Wissel, The Redemptorist on the American Missions, 1:73-4.

(83.) Ibid., 75-76.

(84.) Ibid., 474.

(85.) Ibid., 76.

(86.) Ibid., 473.

(87.) Ibid., 474-75.

(88.) Michael Burke, C.SS.R., "For Married Men," undated. (Burke was ordained in 1860 and died in 1891.) Archives of the Redemptorist Fathers, Baltimore Province, uncatalogued. For a slightly later but comparably explicit Redemptorist instruction, see John G. Schneider, C.SS.R., "Duties of Married Men" and "Duties of Married Women" in volume of MS sermons titled "State Instructions (Mission)," undated. Schneider was ordained in 1888 and died in 1914. Archives of the Redemptorist Fathers, Baltimore Province, uncatalogued.

(89.) W. M. Brick, C.SS.R., MS sermon on "The General Judgment," 27 Jul. 1887. Archives of the Redemptorist Fathers, Baltimore Province, uncatalogued. This sermon and others are found in a bound volume which bears the above date on its first page. Fr. Brick presumably preached these sermons many times over.

(90.) Dwyer, MS sermon on "The General Judgment."

(91.) James M. Gillis, C.S.P., MS sermon on "Judgment," preached at several locations in

(92.) Typescript sermon on "Death," no author given, undated but probably mid-to-late teens. Archives of the Redemptorist Fathers, Baltimore Province, uncatalogued.

(93.) Lummer, "Marriage--Its End."

(94.) Wissel, The Redemptorist on the American Missions, 1:95-96.

(95.) "Race Suiciders," 29.

(96.) The quote is from Rev. Reynold Kuehnel, "Conferences for the Holy Name Society," Homiletic Monthly and Catechist 16:11 (August 1916): 1055.

(97.) McClory, Brazen Serpent, 12.

(98.) Kuehnel, "Conferences for the Holy Name Society," 1055-58.

(99.) Noonan, Contraception, 91-94, 98-101, 144, 146, 155, 178, 215-16, 232-37, 360-65.

(100.) Ibid., 364-65.

(101.) Schulze, Manual of Pastoral Theology, 280. Rev. J. T. Durward, A Short Course in Catholic Doctrine for Non-Catholics Intending Marriage with Catholics (n.p., 1909) warns against sinful "prevention" on 3. Durward was a priest of the Diocese of LaCross (Wis.); he described his book as a help to priests under increased episcopal pressure to instruct the non-Catholic marriage partner.

(102.) Donohoe, "Marriage Instructions."

(103.) Felix M. Kirsch, O.M. Cap., Sex Education and Training in Chastity (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1930), 442. Kirsch is quoting from one of the respondents to a questionnaire sent to some five hundred priests engaged in pastoral work.

(104.) Ryan, "Family Limitation," 690.

(105.) As examples, see Paul L. Blakely, S.J., "Conscious Birth Restriction," Catholic Mind (22 June 1915), repr. in Benjamin L. Masse, ed., The Catholic Mind Through Fifty Years (New York: America, 1952); M. P. Dowling, S.J., "Race Suicide," The Catholic Mind 14 (22 Oct. 1916): 519-39; Stritch, "What Menaces the Family."

(106.) Ryan, "The Small Family and National Decadence," 142.

(107.) John A. Ryan, "Birth Control: An Open Letter," America 13:8 (5 June 1915): 200.

(108.) Ryan, "Family Limitation," 684.

(109.) Francis P. Sloan to Rev. John Burke, 11 Dec. 1918. CUAA, National Catholic War Council papers, 10/11/19.

Leslie Woodcock Tentler is a professor of history at the Catholic University of America.
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