– More On Msgr. Joseph Champlin –

Countering The Eclipse Of Sin In Marriage Preparation

At last! An attractively issued and very handy Marriage Preparation booklet that should be put into the hands of every priest and those preparing for a Catholic marriage, or to those considering marriage in the near future, is now available. "Love, Dating, and Marriage: A Marriage Preparation Guide" is published by the Leaflet Missal Company, 976 W. Minnehaha Ave., St. Paul, MN 55104, and written by Fr. Frank E. Papa, S.O.L.T., JCD, who has an extensive background in Canon Law, matrimonial instruction, youth work, and is a veteran of the confessional. He is presently Chaplain for Human Life International in Front Royal, VA. His booklet is solidly orthodox, contains practical, down-to-earth counsel and advice on love and sex combined with appropriate theological reflection on the sacredness of marriage. He confronts openly the secular ethos of the day that is intent on destroying the traditional Christian concepts of love, sex, family, and marriage. There is no compromising of Catholic sexual morality in this work.

The same cannot be said of the well-known and extensively used booklet "Together for Life" (Ave Maria Press) by Syracuse, NY, priest Msgr. Joseph M. Champlin which is now in its 55th printing and having sold some eight million copies. It is, in fact, relied upon for marriage preparation in most American parishes. Its latest July 2005 printing bears the Imprimatur of Most Reverend Thomas J. Costello, D.D., Vicar General of the Diocese of Syracuse. Since 1972, "Together for Life" has undermined the Church's sexual morality with its "Judge not lest ye be judged" attitude towards fornication and contraception. With regards to the latter, it has not affirmed the teaching of "Humanae Vitae" and only furthered public dissent against the Papal Magisterium.

Interestingly, this 55th printing of Champlin's booklet has removed the section "How Far Should We Go?" which told engaged couples not to "fret about specific sexual 'rules' or even become anxious about isolated instances when matters get a little out of hand." It has been replaced by a section "Living Together" which notes that "one survey of Catholic marriage preparation sessions [for engaged couples] revealed that 40 % were living together prior to their vows" — a sorry commentary indeed on the widespread failure of pastors to communicate vigorously Catholic teaching. Fr. Champlin's limp response is typical:

"The Church, as you probably understand, frowns on such an arrangement... What have you learned from this experience of having lived together?"
(p. 63)

His scandalously relaxed attitude towards cohabitation/fornication has been equally evident over 33 years in his booklet's treatment of contraception. As George Sim Johnston wrote in the "National Catholic Register" (NCR) (6/11/95):

"'Together for Life' is quite deft at fudging the whole issue of contraception."

Much earlier the distinguished moral theologian Msgr. William Smith published in the same paper (8/9/81) a brief but devastating critique of "Together for Life" noting that "Champlin's treatment of 'responsible parenthood' is a subtle classic case of non-commitment, unless you consider situation ethics a commitment."

It is only in its 55th printing that "Together for Life" explicitly mentions contraception, but this occurs in a context of conflicted couples following their own individual conscience when faced with a "dilemma". This they can do "without any fear or anxiety."

  • Nowhere does Msgr. Champlin theologically resolve their "dilemma".
  • Nowhere does he explain the moral obligation of Catholics to follow the teaching of the Magisterium which is the teaching of Jesus Christ.
  • Nowhere does he bother to give the reasons for the Church's prohibition of this intrinsic moral evil.

The following is what he does write:

"[Some married couples] feel simultaneously a strong need to express and deepen love through sexual intercourse. Aware of the Church's traditional teaching which opposes artificial contraception, they feel caught in a dilemma with God seeming to say one thing in their hearts and another through the Church. In resolving that issue they would do well to consider what natural family planning techniques can offer... Married couples still torn by these apparently conflicting divine commands should find the words of recent popes and the American bishops helpful."

It is evident that Msgr. Champlin with calculated ambiguity has not scrupled to implicate God in structuring a conflict of moral duties. Nowhere does this author of a work regarded in many Catholic parishes as their "Wedding Bible" ever state that contraception is sinful, period, and that the lax teaching of some dissenting American bishops is not to be followed. It is not accidental, moreover, that for all the biblical quotes found in "Together for Life" that mention sin and immorality, there is no connection between them and Msgr. Champlin's commentaries which deliberately avoid instruction on the malice of sin. "Mortal sin" endangering one's salvation is not in the vocabulary found in "Together for Life". In failing to emphasize the serious nature of the sins of fornication and contraception, "Together for Life" has played an important role in furthering among its many readers the "eclipse of sin" which has marked so much post-conciliar American religious education.

In his brief critique of "Together for Life", Msgr. William Smith observed that:

"Sound teaching is desperately needed in Catholic education and especially in Church-sponsored marriage preparation programs of all kinds."

Such sound teaching is assuredly realized in Fr. Frank Papa's "Love, Dating and Marriage" with its message of "Keeping mortal sin out of your marriage" and with a Foreword graced by Dr. Alice von Hildebrand who herself has written so brilliantly on the virtues of modesty and purity. In simple clear language and avoiding psychobabble, Fr. Papa explains for his readers both the splendor and demands of Christian marriage, and has provided a much needed antidote to "Together for Life's" moral relativism.

Fr. Papa's booklet ($5 for an individual copy; and 10 or more, $4.50 each) details the Readings and Prayers that can be selected for the Wedding Ceremony itself. It also features a Pull-Out section giving a Wedding Preparation Information List useful to the officiating priest or deacon as well as a Check List for the Church documents deemed necessary. "Love, Dating, and Marriage" carries the Imprimatur of Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz, DD, STD, Bishop of Lincoln.

About James Likoudis
James Likoudis is an expert in Catholic apologetics. He is the author of several books dealing with Catholic-Eastern Orthodox relations, including his most recent "The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy: Letters to a Greek Orthodox on the Unity of the Church." He has written many articles published by various religious papers and magazines.
He can be reached at:  jlikoudis@cuf.org, or visit  Mr. James Likoudis' Homepage

Dissent from the Magisterium.... is not compatible with being a "good Catholic".
- Pope John Paul II -