Many people would say that it is not possible, but I hope that it is. Why? Because the subject is important in itself, important in relationship to other issues like world population, important due to the fact that it alienates people form the life of the church and each other, and important because such a discussion would be a sign that we as a church were ready to deal with the pressing problems that confront the church in an adult and Christian way.
I suggest three questions in order to begin such a discussion:
1. Should there a discussion on contraception?
2. Why did the popes condemn contraction?
3. Is this condemnation consistent?
SHOULD THERE BE A DISCUSSION AT ALL?
Arguments against: The matter is already settled. Pope Paul VI made his decision in his encyclical letter Humanae Vitae, and the writings of Pope John Paul II have confirmed it. What they have done is to reaffirm the age-old teaching of the Church, and their statements make it clear that this decision makes it irreversible. Questioning it further would only confuse and upset people, and would show a lack of respect for the teaching authority of the Church. If the Church were to admit it were wrong on this matter, it would destroy its credibility in the eyes of the world and in the hearts of those who have made great sacrifices to uphold these teachings. God would not let this happen. The Church is not wrong and cannot be wrong in teachings like this that are so solemnly proposed.
It is true that there is a long historical tradition in the Church that condemns
contraception, and both Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II have reaffirmed this teaching.
This certainly has to be taken into account in any discussion of the matter. But the
condemnation of contraception represents just one part of the Churchs teaching on
the subject, and however solemn this teaching has been, it has not been proposed as an
infallible and irrevocable one.
What do you think?
WHY DOES THE CHURCH CONDEMN CONTRACEPTION?
The best way to answer this question is to look at the nature of the conjugal act. The conjugal act has both a physical or biological dimension, and an interpersonal or spiritual one. Physically it is a procreative act; it is designed to place the male seed near the female egg in order to fertilize it. Obviously, not every conjugal act results in conception, but this orientation to procreation is built into the nature of each act.
But the conjugal act has an interpersonal side, as well. Its exercise creates a special kind of intimacy between two people. This sharing of themselves binds them together both psychologically and spiritually and creates the best environment for raising any child that may be conceived. If the physical dimension of the act is procreative, so is this personal dimension in the large sense of the term.
There are various ways in which we can go against the nature of the conjugal act. Pope Paul VI, in Humanae Vitae, states that "every conjugal act whatsoever must be intrinsically open to the transmission of life." What he has in mind is the biological nature of the conjugal act, and he is saying that we ought not to act in such a way to thwart this aspect of the conjugal act.
But we can act against the interpersonal dimension of the conjugal act, as well. We can, for example, leave the biological dimension of the act intact, but not have the proper attitude of sharing and love that the spiritual dimension of this act calls for.
Summary: the reason why the Church condemns contraception is because it thwarts the biological procreativeness of the conjugal act.
Is this kind of analysis acceptable to people on both sides of the debate? (For a more detailed account of this kind of reasoning see the reading that is linked to this page.)
WHAT OBJECTIONS CAN BE
RAISED AGAINST THE
The principle objection is that the Churchs position does not appear consistent. If each and every conjugal act has to be open to procreation, how can the Church approve of exercising the conjugal act and deliberately avoiding conception, which is what happens in natural family planning?
Can anyone show that the Churchs position is not really inconsistent?
Now it is your turn to contribute to this discussion. Send us your questions and comments: firstname.lastname@example.org
I read with interest your questions and comments regarding the churchs teaching on contraceptives. While I am certainly no theologian or writer I would like to share my experience.
When I became engaged 20 years ago I began to pray and discern what to do regarding artificial birth control. I had begun a close walk with our Lord at a young age and realized that ultimately my true happiness would be found in attempting to live within Gods will for me. My husband was not Catholic and had no problem considering artificial contraceptives. We were both in college and working and thought it would be best to hold off having children until we were done with school. I had been taught in high school that each person needed to pray and discern for themselves, ultimately following their own conscience, regarding Church teaching. I thought I understood the Churchs stance regarding the unitive and procreative natures of conjugal love. After much prayer and discussion with my fiancee we decided that there were many important reasons to delay children and that the unitive nature of our love would not in be impaired by temporarily closing the door to the procreative side.
After our fourth child was born I knew I was at my limit. Our third child was (and still is) very challenging. Our oldest was only 6 and money was tight. My husband's job was in turmoil and our home was small. So when I found out I was expecting again (in spite of artificial contraceptives) I literally found myself face down on the floor crying out to God.
At that moment I knew something was terribly wrong. I professed to believe that God would not allow anything in my life that I could not handle if I walked with him. I claimed that Jesus was my hope and my salvation, and I should not be afraid. Yet my thoughts and actions denied this.
Through much prayer and a renewed desire to abandon myself to His will I began to think again about the contraception issue. I began to see how our decision was rooted in fear and cloaked in a sincere desire to be responsible. Church teaching seemed to fly in the face of reason, but it became apparent that I needed to follow it. Meanwhile my husband lost his job when I was 8 months pregnant.
Once I realized that using contraceptives was detrimental to my spiritual life I tried to find a way to share it with my husband. I had a limited understanding of the Church's teaching and, although my husband had entered into full communion with the Church, he had nothing in his upbringing to suggest that using contraceptives was anything but acting responsibly.
My husband was understandably frustrated with my revelation. His love and respect for me along with what I call his faith in my faith led to his consent to stop using contraceptives. We began learning about NFP and I started researching Church documents for a fuller understanding of her teaching. What I found articulated in those pages was the most beautiful understanding of what our Christian marriages are called to be. What truly amazed me was they were written by celibate men!
It soon began to weigh on my heart that we needed to open our union to more children. I started to see that my decision to limit our family size was deeply rooted in my self-love and a trust in my ability to prayerfully discern God's Will for my life. This was a very painful revelation for me. I have to tell you I was frightened. The steps I was taking were totally in faith. I could only offer God my will and begged him to change my heart and that of my husband. These were difficult years but I received many spiritual consolations. My husband agreed but his reluctance and my inability to articulate what I was experiencing in prayer and meditation left an unspoken wedge between us.
Our union was blessed with more children. I continued to study and pray. I recognized a need for, and asked God to foster, the virtues of humility, meekness and obedience in my life. As they started to take root, my understanding and heart came in line with my will. My fear was displaced by trust in Him. I was able to witness to this in word and in action and the wedge between my husband and I grew smaller and smaller until it finally disappeared 5 years ago on the night we conceived our daughter Ellen. It is not about numbers, but we have 10 children. Even in the midst of the challenges that result in a family this size, not a day goes by that I do not marvel at the incredible love of a God who knows so much better than I what is good for me. To date we do not use NFP. I would suggest that contraceptives encourage a lack of trust in God's providential love.
Can this trust be lacking in couples that use NFP? Definitely. NFP can be used with a contraceptive mentality. It can be the birth control of choice with trust being placed in it's effectiveness in avoiding pregnancy. As I read the popes' encyclicals I hear understanding and compassion for the challenges in our lives that would lead us to discern that it might be best to limit our family size. At these times we are called to act with an open heart in ways that respect the gift of fertility and full nature of the conjugal act.
My observation has been that among my friends and acquaintances that practice NFP, some do it with a contraceptive mentality while others act with an open heart. The former have treated their unexpected pregnancy as an "accident" resulting from their miscalculations, while the latter see an unexpected gift from a loving God who knows better then they do what is best for them.
The years since then have been challenging and blessed. Great spiritual fruits have followed my attempt to foster abandonment and obedience in my life. The most unexpected fruit has been in my relationship with my husband. Over time I became aware of a deeper intimacy within our relationship that I sensed had its roots in our conjugal love. While I never felt that using contraceptives damaged the unitive nature of our relationship, I began to see that the fullness of the spiritual procreative nature was blocked along with the physical procreative dimension of our conjugal love.
Why do the popes condemn contraception? The presentation of church teaching in your website seems very limited in its understanding. I believe it is partly because they understand very well the procreative aspect of the unitive/spiritual dimension and recognize its intrinsic link to the physical procreative dimension of conjugal love. I found this to be very apparent in their writings and echoed in my own experience.
In Christ's Peace
The Editor Responds
I am touched by the obvious sincerity of these remarks, and by the desire that shines through them to be open to God's will. I also think that their author raises a very important point. She not only gave up artificial contraceptives, but natural family planning, as well. In one way, this is, indeed, the most logical position if we are to take seriously Humanae Vitae's admonition that each and every conjugal act should be open to procreation. It also highlights, to my mind, the deep similarity between natural family planning and other non-abortive forms of contraception.
But the concrete answer given here, while heroic, will not appeal to everyone. There will be some people who feel called to have as many children as come as a sign of openness to God's gifts, but I don't think this can be raised to the level of a general principle, especially in light of questions about world population. Another alternative would be to simply refrain from sexual relations when a child was not desired. This, too, would be heroic, but not for everyone. Neither in natural family planning nor in certain forms of contraception is each and every act open to the conception of new life. We do these things because we want to enjoy sexual union, but not conceive a child at that time. I believe that we need to go with prayer and reflection towards a solution that will fit our own personal circumstances, and it would be a help in this regard if the Church would clarify its teachings on this matter. The answer does not lie in insisting over and over again that natural family planning is so different from certain non-abortive forms of contraception that this, alone, solves the question.
The lady who is fully in accord with the traditional teaching on birth control is
fortunate. She is apparently maternal and pious; she is able to act consistently with her
beliefs, and seems to have derived deep satisfaction from doing so. I would say she
represents a small minority. Perhaps she is one of the righteous few in a worldly society.
But I doubt it.
THE LORD IS THE ONE WHO DECIDED WHO WOULD EXIST
Online book: Is There a Solution to the Catholic Debate on Contraception?
How to contribute to this discussion