About this blogger:
Ronda Chervin received a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Fordham University and an MA in Religious Studies from Notre Dame Apostolic Institute. A widow, mother, and grandmother, she currently teaches philosophy at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut. Write to her at chervinronda@gmail.com.
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“In all this mediaeval religious poetry there is much that we could not use now. Many of the hymns are quite bad, many are frigid compositions containing futile tricks, puns, misinterpreted quotations of Scripture, and twisted concepts, whose only point is their twist. But there is an amazing amount of beautiful poetry that we could still use. If we are to have vernacular hymns at all, why do we not have translations of the old ones?”
— Fr. Adrian Fortescue (d. 1923)

   Send an E-mail to Dr. Ronda Chervin, Ph.D.
Was Frank Sheed always right?
published 28 January 2013 by Dr. Ronda Chervin

FRIEND gave me a copy of a book by Frank Sheed, the Church and I, written in the ‘70’s. A fan of his books, I thought I had missed a masterpiece and was reading it with pleasure until I got to the chapter on the Church and Sex. There I saw him waffling on contraception. While making a good case for why it is wrong, he then goes into “the pastoral solution” – that I trace to Karl Rahner – that is, even though it is wrong that doesn’t mean that no one can receive Holy Communion who uses it. Rahner created the loophole that if couples can’t be persuaded by the priest that they are wrong, then they should continue to receive Holy Communion while contracepting. Sheed does it by reporting that, since Humanae Vitae is less outraged by contraception in its language and doesn’t specifically say that couples can’t receive Holy Communion who think they have good reasons to contracept, that means they can receive Holy Communion without benefit of Confession and a correct choice for the morally good.

Reading this chapter brought grief to my mind and soul. Later I noticed that Sheed and Ward had published in English Hans Kung’s first best-seller! So this is not just one issue. Frank Sheed wrote this chapter on contraception before natural family planning became a scientifically proven efficient alternative to rhythm and, probably he didn’t read the writers such as Von Hildebrand and DeMarco with such terrific defenses of the Church’s teaching. So, I hope that all his great writings, sidewalk speeches, and zeal for the Church brought him pardon at the end, but still, so, so, sad!

If you happen to be someone who respects the teaching but doesn’t thoroughly understand it google the authors I mentioned in the last paragraph.


Ronda: Thanks for joining in the discussion. You addressed your comment to the blog post’s author, Todd, but let me respond to it since I believe I’m more familiar with Frank Sheed’s works than is Todd.

“The Church and I” is Sheed’s autobiography. It is a fine book, giving much insight into his experiences over a long lifetime as apologist and publisher. Unfortunatley, the book has no index, so it isn’t always easy to track down references.

I believe I found where Sheed writes about what you call “Hans Kung’s first famous book.” That book was Council, Reform and Reunion, and it appeared in 1961 in anticipation of Vatican II. You say Sheed’s book “included a mention of how happy Sheed and Ward was to publish a translation” of Kung’s work. In the one paragraph I could find about the book, this isn’t what Sheed says.

He doesn’t say much about the book: “I do not discuss it here, much has happened since.” He notes that students at Catholic University came out in favor of the book when the university opposed it, resulting in increased sales. I suppose the publishers were happy to see greater income, but that would have to be inferred. Sheed doesn’t actually say “how happy” his company was to publish the book.

In his four pages about contraception, Sheed discusses Humanae Vitae and mentions that the encyclical doesn’t bring up things one might expect it to discuss. It doesn’t mentioned whether those who use contraception should be excluded from Communion, and it doesn’t mention some issues used by others to support contraception, such as worries about an increase in world population or the situation of women whose life might be in jeopardy if they become pregnant. These were things that Sheed evidently thought ought to have been addressed in the encyclical, and he was surprised that they weren’t. “All the same there is something, not exactly chancy but unfinished, about the whole document.”

He doesn’t say that those who use contraception ought to be allowed to receive Communion; he just mentions that on that and several other points the encyclical is silent, and he notes that bishops at the time were dealing with the matter is differing ways. Sheed seems to have meant that it would have been helpful for the encyclical to give clear instructions on these points so the bishops would act more uniformly.