Fr. Robert Spitzer, SJ is founder of Magis Center, a Southern California-based organization which offers resources to demonstrate the harmony between science and faith. A Jesuit since 1974 and ordained a priest in 1983, among Father’s many achievements, he served as president of Gonzaga University 1998 to 2009, and regularly makes appearances in the media to discuss faith and science, including on his EWTN show “Father Spitzer’s Universe.” He is the author of numerous books on faith, spirituality, and apologetics, many of them published by Ignatius Press.
Major presentations by Fr. Spitzer coming up include a discussion of the science of three recent Eucharistic miracles for the November 19th “I Thirst, Orange County” event, which is organized by Spirit Filled Hearts Ministry at the Christ Cathedral chancery of the Diocese of Orange. His newest book, just published by Ignatius Press, is titled The Moral Wisdom of the Catholic Church: A Defense of Her Controversial Moral Teachings.
Fr. Spitzer has been able to maintain his prolific output despite losing his eyesight over the course of his life, and going completely blind in the past five years. Today, his administrative assistants must read any books or electronic communications to him, and when he gives talks, he must be led to venues and hotel rooms, and give talks solely from memory.
He spoke recently with CWR about his new book and his work.
CWR: Why did you want to write this new book on the Church’s moral teachings?
Fr. Spitzer: We need apologetics works defending Church teaching on moral issues. Young people have many mistaken ideas relating to the Church’s teaching on homosexuality and transgender issues, for example, and think the Church’s view is insensitive and callous. I hear this from Catholic middle school and high school teachers all the time. So, in this book, I take on these issues using social science evidence found in secular places. I then ask: what are the effects of violating Church teaching on our emotional, spiritual and relational health?
Men in the homosexual lifestyle, for example, struggle with depression at three times greater frequency than the rest of the population. Panic disorders, five times greater frequency. Substance abuse, 3.5 times, suicidal contemplation, give times greater. In fact, 40% of those in the lifestyle have actively contemplated suicide. These statistics demonstrate that there is something intrinsic to this lifestyle that appears to undermine emotional health.
Or, consider the modal range of sex partners over a lifetime for a homosexual man – between 100 to 500. Compare this to the median number of sex partners of heterosexual men – seven. How can one cultivate emotional intimacy with such a large number of sexual partners? Also, the emotional consequences of continuous breakups are very hard on those experiencing them. This may partially explain the increase in depression, panic disorders, and substance abuse.
Another area I look at is the participation rate in religion: belief in God, reading Scripture, praying, attending Church services. According to a Pew survey, those in the homosexual lifestyle have half the participation rate in religions compared to those who are not. The atheism rate for homosexuals is double that of the heterosexual population.
These statistics suggest that the homosexual lifestyle does not offer the covenantal, committed love God intended for human beings. Additionally, when our relationships are about sex rather than love, something strange happens: it affects our emotional, relational, and spiritual health. In fact, while non-sexual friendships are not sexually satisfying, they can offer far more intimacy than casual sexual relationships.
My book seeks to demonstrate that the Catholic Church’s teachings are a wise choice for our lives. Besides homosexuality and transgenderism, I also explore such issues as abortion, physician-assisted suicide, in vitro fertilization, eugenics, and birth control: all those issues people like to argue about.
CWR: What is the intended readership for this book?
Fr. Spitzer: Groups that would benefit include parents, high school teachers, high school catechists, university Catholic centers (Newman Centers) and seminarians and clergy who are disposed to hearing the whole truth about the Catholic Church’s moral teaching.
CWR: What is your background, and what led you to the priesthood?
Fr. Spitzer: I was born and raised in Honolulu. My father was an attorney and my mother a chemist. She became a full-time mom after the fifth kid was born. I was the second child. My father was not Catholic, but my mom was a daily communicant.
I was always a somewhat-connected religious person. Even in grade school, I loved the Church. I had moments of doubt in high school, however. I went to Gonzaga University, and a series of things happened while I was searching for evidence for God, such as discovering the Friedman Singularity Equation, taking a metaphysics class on proofs for the existence of God, and my study of Thomas Aquinas. I found a copy of his Summa Theologica at a used bookstore.
I took a Scripture class, which I would not have taken previously, and I reluctantly agreed to teach a ninth-grade catechism class. When I showed up for the class for the first day, I thought, “What shall I teach?” So, I taught what I knew, Friedman’s Singularity Equation and its implications for the creation of the universe. I put the equation on the board, and for the first time, the kids started taking notes. Afterward, the smallest kid in the class came up to me and asked, “Mr. Spitzer, are you going to be our catechism teacher for the rest of the year?” The words came out of my mouth, “Yes, I am.”
The Holy Spirit was at work in me. He said, “Go ahead.” The kids really liked me. I couldn’t say no to them, looking up to me with longing eyes.
About this time, a girl talked me into going on an Ignatian retreat with Jesuit Father Gerard Steckler. I was not a retreat kind of guy, but I went, and the Holy Spirit really pounded on me. When I finished it, one thing came to my mind: my religion, my faith was the most important thing in my life.
I thought maybe I should become a priest. However, I had been planning to take over my father’s law firm, marrying a nice girl, and having children. That was my ideal for a good life. My religion would have been there; we would be a good Catholic family. But being a priest-professor seemed to be a far better choice.
I shared my thoughts with my mom, and she suggested I blend the two by becoming a permanent deacon. I said, “Mom, you’re brilliant.” But, I was still going to daily Mass, and one day as I was leaving the church, I saw a booklet, “On Being a Priest.” Half of me said don’t pick up that booklet, the other half said do. I did, looked through it, and thought, “I don’t want to be a deacon, I want to be a priest.”
I read the autobiography of St. Ignatius of Loyola, and thought, “I like this guy!” I applied with the Jesuits, and never looked back.
CWR: How has losing your eyesight affected you?
Fr. Spitzer: It has been a hard cross to accept. Initially, it was a surprise, one which caused me worry and fear. I thought my scholarly career would be smashed and that my priesthood would be over. I discovered that I would slowly lose my sight over the course of my lifetime just six months before my ordination to the diaconate. I went to my provincial and said, “Tom, I am damaged goods.” He replied, “Bob, what spirit have you been listening to?”
It was a very gradual decline. I was able to serve as a university president, and I could read contracts with reading glasses. I was told I’d go blind at 65, and, sure enough, between age 65 and 70, it was lights out.
I’ve come to accept it, however, and see it more as a blessing than a curse. Yes, it is a hardship. It was hard to lose my driver’s license. It would be nice to be able to read on my own. But I think God is saying, “Being dependent is important for a guy like you.” I have an autonomous self-sufficiency gene that needed to be overcome. Now I am dependent. I have to depend on my [assistant Joan Jacoby]. At an airport, I have to have a guy lead me to my gate. It’s humiliating. I’d like to do it on my own, but if that’s what it takes to continue what I’m doing, that’s what I’ll do. So, dependency can be a good thing.
CWR: What are some of the other projects you have going on right now?
Fr. Spitzer: Some of our plans to bring science-based apologetics materials to students and parishioners include a new parish evangelization program to help with catechism and confirmation classes as well as adult education to understand the remarkable evidence for God, Jesus, the soul, and the Eucharist.
We are preparing a facilitator training program with Catholic University of America to train deacons and others to facilitate our programs (in happiness, suffering and science-based apologetics) in parish and diocesan events. We are merging with the Spitzer Center for Visionary Leadership to synergize our efforts in marketing, digital presence, social media and diocesan programming. And, besides the Moral Wisdom book, we’ll be producing four other books between now and 2024: Faith, Science, and Reason Study Bible and additional companion volume [OSV Publishing], Science at the Doorstep to God: Science and Reason in Support of God, the Soul, and Life After Death [Ignatius Press], Science at the Doorstep to Christ: Scientific Evidence in Support of Jesus, the Eucharist, and the Blessed Virgin [Ignatius Press] and The Best of Fr. Spitzer’s Universe Vol. 1 [EWTN Publications].
CWR: Where can people follow your work?
Fr. Spitzer: The best place is on our website, www.magiscenter.com.
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