Your parents spill a few secrets as they get older.

One night at dinner with my mom, I ventured that the rhythm method had worked well for her, given that there were six years between my sister Peggy and my brother Kevin, and six more between Kevin and me. She arched an eyebrow.

"Well, sometimes your father used something," she said.

My parents were the most devout Catholics I've ever known. But my dad came from a family of 16 in County Clare in Ireland, and my mom's mother came from a family of 13 in County Mayo. So they balanced their faith with a dose of practicality.

After their first three kids, they sagely decided family planning was not soul-staining. So I wasn't surprised to see the Gallup poll last week showing that 82 percent of U.S. Catholics say birth control is morally acceptable. (Eighty-nine percent of all Americans and 90 percent of non-Catholics agreed.) Gallup tested the morality of 18 issues, and birth control came out on top as the most acceptable, beating divorce, which garnered 67 percent approval, and "buying and wearing clothing made of animal fur," which got a 60 percent thumbs-up (more from Republicans, naturally, than Democrats).


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Polygamy, cloning humans and having an affair took the most morally offensive spots on the list. "Gay or lesbian relations" tied "having a baby outside of marriage," with 54 percent approving. That's in the middle of the list, above a 38 percent score for abortion and below a 59 percent score for "sex between an unmarried man and woman."

The poll appeared on the same day as headlines about Catholic Church leaders fighting President Barack Obama's attempt to get insurance coverage for contraception for women who work or go to college at Catholic institutions. The church insists it's an argument about religious freedom, not birth control. Really, it's about birth control and women's lower caste in the church. It's about conservative bishops targeting Democratic candidates who support contraception and abortion rights as a matter of public policy. And it's about a church that is obsessed with sex in ways it shouldn't be, and not obsessed with sex in ways it should be.

The bishops and the Vatican care passionately about putting women in chastity belts. Yet they let unchaste priests run wild for decades, unconcerned about the generations of children who were violated and raped and passed around like Communion wine.

They still have not done a proper reckoning, and the acrid scandal never ends. In the midst of a landmark trial in Philadelphia charging Monsignor William Lynn with covering up sexual abuse by priests and then recirculating the perverts, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced May 20 that two priests in their 70s had abused minors at some point and were unfit for ministry.

Some leading Catholic groups endorsed the compromise struck by the Obama administration that put the responsibility for providing the contraceptives on the insurance companies, not religious institutions. But others wanted to salute the Vatican flag and keep fighting.

The church leaders headed to court hope to undermine the president, but they may help him. Voters who think sex is only for procreation were not going to vote for Obama anyway. And the lawsuit reminds the rest that what the bishops portray as an attack on religion by the president is really an attack on women by the bishops.

Maureen Dowd is a syndicated columnist.