John Cuthbert Ford, S.J. Catholic Moral Theologian 1903-1989

I remember while attending Brother Francis’ philosophy courses in the 1980s how excited he got over an article written by Father John C. Ford on the philosophy of Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. The article was quite long, forty or more pages, but he read from it each class until he finished it. It was titled “Totalitarian Justice Holmes.” Sometime earlier Father Ford had exposed Holmes’ pragmatic materialist philosophy in another scathing review, “The Fundamentals of  Holmes’ Juristic Philosophy.” It was in the first mentioned work that Father Ford tore apart the heinous fallacy of “might makes right” totalitarianism, which Holmes audaciously aspired to justify.

Father John Ford was the most preeminent moral theologian in the United States during and after WWII. He vigorously fought to maintain the traditional teaching of the Church on the intrinsic evilness of every contraceptive act. Without Ford’s personal support, and that of a few other uncompromising theologians, Humanae Vitae may have never been promulgated. Their Rapport, written at the request of the Holy Office in 1966, was the only morally sound one among several others written by liberals. With all the dissent permeating the Church at the time on the issue of contraception, Ford’s work was literally The Minority Report. Father Ford had much to suffer from his peers and students when he returned from Rome to his teaching post at the Jesuit’s Weston College in Massachusetts. That never fazed him. He would often say to friends: “No matter how bad things seem, when I go to bed at the end of the day, I know I am in God’s arms and am sure everything will be all right.”

The brilliant Jesuit was not new to controversy when he defended the marital act from those who would abuse it for any purpose. He had taken a very unpopular stand twenty years earlier when he condemned the bombings of Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. After attacking the brutality of the Communists, Nazis, and the Japanese military, he wrote that “the greatest and most extensive single atrocity in the history of all this period is our atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” (I have emphasized the two words in bold because Father Ford knew perfectly well what genocides were slowly going on, step by step, under the Communists and Nazis.)

The moral theologian was mostly known for his numerous writings on alcoholism. He argued, against the more rigorist view, that the addiction was, for many, a disease and that it needed to be treated as such. In that regard, along with the frequent use of the sacraments, he also plugged AA, having been a friend of the founder, Bill Wilson. Ford had to conquer his own addiction, so he wrote from personal experience.

Brother Francis and I visited Father Ford at Weston a couple of years before he died. He was very weak, but coherent, at eighty-four years of age. He remembered Father Feeney fondly, and his brother, Father Thomas Feeney, who had only recently passed away. Father Thomas is buried at Weston. We could tell that he truly admired Father Leonard, even though he did not got out on a limb to support him. Ford was six years the younger. Coincidentally, both families attended the same parish of Saint Joseph in Lynn, Massachusetts, but the Fords moved to Dorchester just before Father John was born. I cannot verify it, but the Feeneys and Fords must have at least been acquaintances, if not friends, back in Lynn.

I invite our readers to read the brief but very informative bio published here of Father John Cuthbert Ford.