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Judge, you may understand quite a bit about law and economics -- this I do not doubt -- but, as many others above have pointed out, you understand nothing about the Catholic Church and her teachings concerning sexual morality. The Church, I assure you, is not moving away for her teachings concerning contraception. On the contrary, there is a growing awareness within the Church of the profound -- and prophetic - wisdom of Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae. Suggested reading: "Why Humanae Vitae Was Right: A Reader," edited by Janet Smith.

There is perhaps no Church teaching that is more beyond the understanding of the modern person than the teaching on contraception. Though reviled and ridiculed, it is a great treasure of the Church and recognized as such by faithful Catholics. As Flannery O'Connor observed: "The Church's stand on birth conttol is the most absolutely spiritual of all her stands and with all of us being materialists at heart, there is little wonder that it causes unease."


"Concern with the loss of religious authority may explain another peculiar feature (to an outsider, at least) of Catholic doctrine, which is the ban on priests’ marrying and on women becoming priests. The problem of priests’ sexually molesting boys would be solved if priests were allowed to marry and if women could be priests, because then the priesthood would attract fewer homosexuals. The current shortage of priests and nuns (a shortage due in part to the reduction in the average size of Catholic families—a reduction that in turn is due in part to contraception) would also be greatly alleviated if priests could marry and women could become priests. But the solution would represent such a dramatic reversal of age-old Catholic doctrine as to undermine any pretense of papal infallibility."

The foregoing paragraph is remarkable for the number of uninformed and false statements that it contains, to wit:

1. The "ban" on priests marrying. There are, as we speak, married Catholic priests in good standing. For example, there are married Anglican priests who have converted and are now married Catholic priests.

2. Allowing priests to marry would solve the molestation problem. This presumes that the Catholic clergy has a greater problem with molestation than does the clergy of other faiths. This presumption is perhaps understandable given the press's focus on Catholic Church sex abuse scandal. In fact, however, there is no evidence that Catholic clergy have ever molested children at any greater rate than the clergy of other faiths, and there is some evidence that the rate among Catholic priests is actually lower than the rate among the clergy of other faiths. Further, if marriage is the solution, why do we have such a huge problem with molestation in the public schools? After all, teachers are allowed to marry, aren't they? The rate of sexual molestation in the public schools, although not widely studied, is likely much higher than the rate among Catholic priests.

3. The priest shortage is due to smaller families. False. The ratio between priests and Catholics who attend Mass has not changed since World War II.

4. The priest shortage would be solved if priests were allowed to marry and women could become priests. There is no evidence of this. Anglican priests can be male or female and are allowed to marry yet are also hard to find.

5. Allowing priests to be female and to marry would be a dramatic reversal of "age-old Catholic doctrine." True as to allowing women priests - Jesus instituted the all male priesthood and the Church understands itself to be powerless to allow women to be priests -- but false as to allowing priests to marry. The celibacy requirement is not Catholic doctrine and certainly does not implicate the doctrine of papal infallibility. The celibacy requirement is merely a Church discipline -- a rule, if you will, that the Church can change or modify as she sees fit. As noted, there are already some married Catholic priests. Indeed, the first Pope -- Peter -- was a married man.


All the posters taking issue with Posner's disgustingly antiquated assertion that homosexuals make for child-molesting priests have all made great points far more articulately than I ever could.

I hope we all realize that this is a Seventh Circuit Judge, who is frequently on the short list for the Supreme Court and is considered the most influention jurist in the nation, engaging in everday homophobia tarted up as academic theory. When a case involving a gay man or woman appears before Judge Posner, does he think "child molester?"

Posner frequently comes to socially nauseating conclusions in the name of statistical interpretation (see his justification condeming unemployed families so they can starve in the streets because unemployment discourages job hunting a few posts back). Those conclusions have the support of data. This is a bald assertion that only stems from a shameful bias. Even being one of the smartest people alive is no defense against the casual bigotry of the illiterate and ignorant.

William j quinn

Contraception is the most expensive in both blood and treasure of any plague ever visited upon mankind.


Joel! My take is that of Posner writing as an outside observer and surely the interface between religious practices and society in general ARE worth "thinking about".

Consider his main thesis:

"An intermediate position for the Church to take—and the most likely position for it to take in the short run—would be to relax the ban on contraception only with respect to condoms, viewed as an essential preventive of AIDS."

As an institutional "survival" matter Posner points up the fairly wide gap between what most Catholics do and believe, as compared to the positions of church hierarchy. Can a moral authority maintain its role if it makes a sin of what most of its adherents practice?

Also, do you really believe the figures you've posted? Do you think that absent means of contraception fellow Catholics would begin coupling at rates "20 times" the norm? Those of the typical serial monogamy of our nation taking on 20 partners?

I'd suggest to you that the data on condom use is overwhelming positive in limiting the transmission of STDs including AIDs and have a hard time envisioning why the Catholic church that has long held life in the highest esteem has developed such a callous disregard for it in regard to the AIDs epidemic, and particularly in Africa and other nations where the ravages are creating an entire generation of impoverished orphans.

Michael Brophy

I am pleased that you see the discussion of Pope Benedict establishes an important precedent. I thought the most interesting thing was that from a moral philosophical point of view, he advanced the notion that someone doing wrong could nontheless be doing better by considering the impact of his/her behavior on others and avoiding or lessening harm. In this case, though engaged in homosexual prostitution, 2 activities seen as wrong by the Church, the person might lessen harm 'and be seen as moving in a positive moral direction' by preventing AIDS.

The Church's emphasis on marriage historically gives a possible insight into the life of Jesus and, as you say, 'competitive' life styles. In first Corinthians, Paul addresses the question of what it takes to be a Christian and a 'proper marriage' is one of the three things mentioned. The Catholic Gospel from Luke for the Sunday before Easter has Jesus followed into Jerusalem by ‘women from Galilee.’ The previous Sunday story has a woman brought into the Temple area and Jesus is confronted with the rule that she should be stoned for adultery.She is set free by the challenge that‘He who is without sin should cast the first stone.’ Eventually in the common era, marriage became monogamous religiously for Jews as well as Christians. Jesus might be seen as something of a champion of women's liberation and improved property rights for women of the time.

eve isk


John W.

Judge Posner,

The errors in your piece are to numerous to address, and the anti-Catholic bigotry on display renders any detailed response pointless. People writing on topics of which they are completely ignorant make themselves look foolish. In the future, you would be prudent to refrain from discussing religion and faith in general, and the Catholic Church in particular.


There are too many errors in this post to enumerate. However, Posner is completely incorrect about the infallibility issue, the Pope and more. He should stick to the law which he seems to know and stay out of issues of religion which he knows nothing about. Which brings me to this. Most academics of any kind at all, know embarrassingly little about Church teaching and the various gradations of its promulgations. This kind of ignorance seems to be invincible. I would suggest the following reading: Humanae Vitae, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Evangelium Vitae, and more. However, this is a start.

John J. Vecchione

Obviously the Catholic Church cares about what is true not what is popular. The reason the Church has such interest in sex is that its involves the creation of human life and is a power granted to us by God. Its proper use has to do with sanctity and the life hereafter. Moreover, in every age what the Church focuses on is the sacraments, but what the World focuses on is its differences with the Church. Liberals in the 19th century ordered their families in ways that adhered to Catholic doctrine but fought over politcial power and economics. Chesterton notes how the Church gets attacked for opposite tendencies depending who is doing the attacking. Its either too feminine or too masculine depending on the attacker, for intance. Economic explanations are amusing but just as Marxists could never figure out "Why are we losing to these guys." The same is true of right leaning materialsts."

The Church has to ask are modern sexual practices pleasing to God? The answer being "no" the Church has to oppose them as they opposed the same practices in Roman times. At neither time was sexual continence popular (or most times in between).


Then God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply. Let the fish fill the seas, and let the birds multiply on the earth then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”

Perhaps God's work is largely done in this area?

The population of Earth in the first century was about 5 million, about that of a major metropolitan area and somewhat less than Israel's population today.

Considering war and pestilence it was probably a good idea at the time as it took 1800 years to reach one billion. Then, in a little more than a century, the population jumped to two billion (by 1960), and to three billion by 1980.

In just twenty years—between 1980 and 2000—the world's human population doubled from three billion to six billion people.

Catholics surely did their part, but so did those of many other religions of the world along with those of no faith.

"Let the fish fill the sea?" "Rein?"

Here's a list of the fisheries considered sustainable; those in the pink column are no longer sustainable with some species being engangered -- ie not being here at all for subsequent populations.


"Govern the earth?" Now there's an idea! Topical too!

Govern: regulate: bring into conformity with rules or principles or usage; impose regulations.

Ah! Perhaps principles and regulations related to the carrying capacity of the garden?

When I was young the only population related problem seemed to be that of food sufficiency while today systems from energy and water resources to land use and fisheries have all become of immediate concern. The next doubling brings us to 12 billion; what are the chances that "tech" will solve those problems? Well, perhaps we can fall back on war, pestilence......... and AIDs?


I think it's time for someone who self-identifies as a gay male to come to the defense of Posner. I'm such a male. I've read Sex and Reason, and I'll tell you Posner does not believe gays are more likely to commit acts of pedophilia than straights. So how do we explain his comments? Well, for one thing, he never said anything about solving the problem of pedophilia in the priesthood. He talked about "molesting," which is a broader and more generic term. By use of the word "molesting," Posner could have been talking about Priests' having sex with teenage boys. Though it's not politically correct to say, this is not pedophilia. Such "molesting" would consist of gay men acting on their desires toward male members of an age group whose female members would attract the attention of heterosexual males. In fact, girls take on adult features even earlier than boys, so the average heterosexual male would probably be attracted to even younger girls. So what does homosexuality have to do with anything? Well, from what I recall from reading Sex and Reason, Posner probably wasn't saying that the fact of homosexuality makes molesting more likely. The priesthood attracts more gays, Posner reasons, because (traditional) discrimination against gays makes the priesthood a convenient cover for not being married. In a world where gays are persecuted, the priesthood is a convenient place for gays to hide out without being found out. So either allowing priests to marry or eliminating discrimination would move the straight/gay proportions in the priesthood toward something more like the proportions in the general community. The former would accomplish this because the priesthood would no longer work as a "cover"; the latter because their would be no need for a cover. Does Posner believe that in an alternative universe where gays are the majority a there is discrimination against straights, that straights forced into the priesthood would not "molest" girls? I think not.

Gabriel Austin

Judge Posner falls for the numbers game. Even condom manufactures admit that the use of condoms will not assure that the woman will not get pregnant; and that condoms do fail in some cases to prevent the transmission of the AIDS virus, and other STDs.

It is like Russian roulette. Would you play Russian roulette if one of the possible outcomes is shooting yourself or your partner?

That the judge is also abysmally ignorant of the workings of the Catholic Church is all too evident.


Gabriel: Seems we all play "Russian roulette" every time we go out on our poorly maintained highways, wander through one of our once great cities where the gun slaughter rates are five times that of the civilized nations, oh! and I left out staying home........ where most of the accidents occur. But were you letting the perfect drive out the good?

University of Chicago OutLaw

Dear Judge Posner,

We write this open letter as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and allied members of the University of Chicago Law School community to express our disappointment at your entry, “Contraception and Catholicism,” on The Becker-Posner Blog. In suggesting a causal link between male homosexuality and sexual abuse of minors (or even conflating the two), your blog entry promulgates inaccurate and harmful stereotypes regarding gay and lesbian individuals.

Of course, we do not question your right—as a member of the judiciary, a member of the Law School community, or an individual using a university-facilitated forum—to express the opinion that you have.

In the past, however, your contributions as a public intellectual and member of our community have been recognized as displaying not only the best qualities of robust academic scholarship, but also respect for the equal dignity of lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals. Your book, Sex and Reason, recognized the irrationality of sodomy laws years before many legislatures and courts in this country did the same.

Sadly, your recent blog entry falls short of these prior standards. As a factual matter, the existence of a link between homosexuality and sexual abuse has been entirely disproved by mainstream social scientists and soundly rejected by numerous courts. But the mistaken idea that such a link exists has been frequently and successfully invoked throughout our nation's history to stoke popular fears regarding gay and lesbian individuals and to justify public and private discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

We are saddened to see that, in reiterating this harmful stereotype, you have associated your distinguished name with this shameful history. Such a statement does not befit your reputation as one of the leading legal scholars of our time, and frustrates our ongoing work with the Law School administration to dispel inaccurate stereotypes regarding the hostility of the Law School (as the proud birthplace of law and economics) to LGBT students.

We encourage you to retract your statement at the earliest possibility.

University of Chicago OutLaw
LGBT and Allied Student Organization at the University of Chicago Law School


Posner displays poor judgment in this post. The commenters, by and large, prove that their parents should have practiced contraception.

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Whatever happened to religious tolerance? I guess that only exists for a "chosen" few. I think you should have the decency to respect the religious convictions of others.

Pro Posnerius

Posner made a sophisticated point, which the typical identity-politics freaks failed to pick up on. Instead, thy responded with their usual kneejerk declamations. Here's a clue: if you think Richard Posner has made a simple mistake, or committed an obvious logical fallacy, or otherwise slipped up in a way that is so obvious ("even to me!") then you probably have failed to understand his actual line of thought. See: members of the gender-politics group known as Outlaw. It's almost amusing to observe their squirming discomfort over the OBVIOUS and LOGICAL connection between homosexuality (which is characterized by a desire to sexually interact with a member of one's same gender) and the child molestation of a population of predominantly male victims. What could be more clear: decrease the population of homosexuals (who, by placing a lower cost on the value of marriage in a society still not accepting of the right for homosexuals to marry, are more drawn into professions which discount that opportunity cost) and you will decrease the molestation rate of a male population. Note, I said "almost amused." I am more disheartened that supposedly intelligent students of the school cannot read the lines of an argument--at least read them properly.

CM Collins

The Pope gave an interview to German journalist Peter Seewald who then authored, or compiled, that interview into a book entitled "Light Of The World; The Pope, The Church and The Signs Of The Times." Here is a link to an English translation (the interview was conducted in German) of the excerpt alluded to above regarding condoms: http://www.ignatius.com/promotions/light-of-the-world/excerpt.htm#condom.

As commenters John and Nora point out, Posner, the apparent author of this post, erred when he wrote that the Pope recently acknowledged that the use of condoms may sometimes be justified as a way of preventing the spread of AIDS.

First of all, to acknowledge means to accept or admit the existence or truth of something. It follows that one cannot acknowledge that which is not true. For example, the statement, "I acknowledge 2+2=5" makes no sense and is false. Thus for Posner to say that the Pope has 'acknowledged' something is necessarily to assert by implication that the something is true. Interestingly to me, here Posner twice used the terms acknowledge and justify. Even more interesting to me, however, was that if Posner was suffering from any confusion or misunderstanding of what the Pope had said or was trying to say on the point in question, the interviewer, Mr. Seewald, might have shared in that confusion, because _immediately_ after the Pope's remarks that have led to this controversy there followed this exchange:

Seewald: "Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?"

Pope: "She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality." See link above.

Even assuming for the sake of argument that people might reasonably and in good faith disagree with regard to condom use, it appears to me strikingly incorrect of Posner to report this exchange as the Pope 'acknowledging' 'that the use of condoms may sometimes be justified.' Justification clearly has nothing to do with it, as the Pope re-explained and emphasized in his very next words, and as commenter Nora at 11/29/2010 at 11:58 PM fairly and accurately re-phrased.

Commenter John calls reporting it as Posner did here a fallacy. Given, however, that Posner is an educated man and a jurist, and therefore not only capable of finding the original source material but cognizant of the importance of giving that material a fair reading, one is tempted to wonder if Posner proffered the fallacy, twice, by accident or design. Another word for putting forth fallacies by design, is, of course, lying.

Whether by accident or design, however, Posner nonetheless owes Pope Benedict and all Catholics in justice an apology and a retraction.


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Abra: I don't think it is "intolerant" to discuss the tenets, or in this case, potential changes, of a religion and especially one of the size of Catholicism and the political force it exercises in many nations. It seems unfortunate that the most recent posts have focused on internal minutia of whether "molest" differs from pedophillia etc.

Is Posner not accurate in observing?

"An intermediate position for the Church to take—and the most likely position for it to take in the short run—would be to relax the ban on contraception only with respect to condoms, viewed as an essential preventive of AIDS. Yet even that might be a problematic solution, because it would be seen as an acknowledgment that people cannot control their sex drives, yet that control is basic to the most distinctive features of Catholic doctrine, such as the ban on sexual activity and marriage of priests and nuns, on divorce, and on nonmarital and “unnatural” sex (homosexual sex, masturbation, oral and anal intercourse, etc.). Why sex plays such a large role in Catholic doctrine is a deep puzzle, but precisely because it plays such a large role, an attempt to backtrack from it could prove destabilizing.

The Pope may thus have opened Pandora’s Box. But he may have had no choice, from the institutional perspective that I have been emphasizing."

And is it not reasonable for non-Catholics to show an interest in potentially destructive traditions and teachings? There are lines to be drawn by a tolerant society as shown by examples such as banning peyote as a sacrament, snake handling by minors, but as with many "line issues" it is difficult to know what is over the line.

Does Posner not sum up the issues and conflicts with an AIDs ravaged society well with the following?

"It has hundreds of millions of “customers.” It has been losing customers in the Western world, but gaining them in Africa—but Africans, ravaged by the AIDS epidemic, are pressing for a relaxation of the Church’s ban against contraception because condoms are a cheap and effective method of preventing infection with the AIDS virus."


Completely OT but this, from Samirah v. Holder, is awesome: "(what he really needed was a better travel agent, who wouldn’t have routed him through


The organized Catholic church arose from the barbarian tribes after the fall of Rome as did the European aristocracy. The church was corrupt and debauched until the age of scholasticism in 1200 arrived.
Among others, Thomas Aquinqs proffered the "natural law" as the basis upon which the Catholic church should (and did) base its theology. The natural law does not just apply to sex but to the use of all human facuties and by extension to human affairs in general. Therefore the church cannot back away from its doctrine on contraception without abandoning its entire teaching on moral philosophy and human affairs. Get my drift?

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