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CONTRACEPTIVE - CHURCH'S STAND

What is Sin?

Sin deals with human choices and human acts. To sin means that we intend to do evil. Sin is more than just making a mistake, like adding numbers incorrectly or betting on the wrong horse. Sin is not, in contemporary parlance, "getting caught" for a crime but, rather the willingness to commit a wicked deed.

Sin involves God. If there was no God, we would not speak of sin, but rather of mistakes, poor judgment, lack of prudence and fitness. When we sin, we deliberately choose to act against God's moral law.

Morality applies to everyone and to every sphere of human activity. Morality can never be old -fashioned. Because morality is an objective established by God, we are not free to dismiss it, to change it, or to selectively decide which of its principles are valid.

Pope Pius XII taught that the greatest sin of the twentieth century is the loss of a sense of sin, which is a direct insult to the goodness and sacredness of God. Some sins are obvious because we can easily see their disastrous effects upon society, e.g. genocide, slavery, confinement in concentration camps, but other sins are more subtle, their harmful effects hidden from casual view.

A Brief history

Contraception is not new. Ancient manuscripts dating back as far as 1900 BC record the use of contraceptive materials. The book of Genesis 38: 6-26 carries the story of Onan who was slain by God for a practice that today we call Coitus Interruptus or Withdrawal. A Rabbi in the 3rd century of the Christian era noted "The deadly sin of Onan" and in this context, the sin clearly is a contraceptive act. St. Jerome in the 4th century complained that his criticism of contraception made him unpopular. John Calvin noted that Onan had sinned both by defrauding his deceased brother and by his act of Coitus Interruptus. Martin Luther never allowed contraception of any sort, but instead noted that the purpose of marriage were for husband and wife "to live together, to be fruitful, to beget children, to nourish them and to bring them up to the glory of God".

In short, the moral issue of birth control has risen repeatedly throughout the centuries, but until relatively recently there was no division of Christian teaching against abortion, sterilization and contraception.

This is not to say that Christians have uniformly lived virtuous lives before the Modern Era. During the late 19th century and the early 20th century, there was sometimes a gap between the teaching of the Christian churches and the practice of individual couples. It has probably always been this way to a certain degree with all the commandments and especially with those dealing with sex.

In the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century, the conviction of protestant leadership was that unnatural means of birth control were immoral and this was likewise the constant teaching of the Catholic Church. However, on August 14, during the Lambeth Conference of 1930, the assembled Anglican Bishops broke off from the previously unanimous Christian doctrine and allowed unnatural birth control devices and practices.

Contraception

No contraceptive is foolproof. Abortion is simply the extension of failed contraception. We know too, that all the so called contraceptive pills are, in fact, often abortifacients. Thus, the connection between contraception and abortion is undeniable.

In order for a couple to contracept, they must do two things:

  • Consciously intend to contracept.
  • Take definite measures e.g. swallow pills, wear condoms and so on to prevent conception. They clearly intend to turn against the good of their fertility, purposely frustrating the life-giving dimension of the marital act.

There are valid reasons for a couple to decide that now is not the right time to have a baby. The health of the mother, for example, may be uncertain, but the end does not justify the means. There is a world of difference between contraception and Natural Family Planning (NFP). NFP is morally acceptable because it fully respects the dignity of the persons and the sacredness of the marital act. NFP works along with nature and respects the dignity of the human being.

Contraception works against nature, not with it. Contraception involves a small physical change, a thin rubber barrier, a few small well-placed clips, a minor alteration of hormone levels, but represents an enormous change in attitude. The couple do not want to share their fertility, the reason for sex. They come to the act humanly incomplete. The action is not fully free of responsibility. The logical result of free election is not accepted, but avoided. It is, therefore, an immature act. Humans become more human when they act in accordance with the fullness of their human nature. Each act of contraceptive sex therefore, renders the participants less and less human. There is a rejection of the fullness of the sexuality of the other: 'I want something of you, but not your sexuality, not your fertility'. There is no mutual exchange of complete trust. It is a mockery of true love and therefore, divisive. With contraceptive sex, the celebration of mutual pleasure is hollow, the cause for celebration, mutual commitment to sharing love and new life is gone. Pleasure is seen as the end or purpose of the act. The couple do not respect the dignity of each other and are merely using their partner for the satiation of their own sensual appetite. They do not respect their own dignity, allowing themselves to be used for the gratification of the other. The other becomes important for what they do for self, not important for what they are and what they have been entrusted with. Contraception not only separates fertility from sex, but love from sex as well. It makes sex selfish. The loss of respect can lead to sexual slavery of one over the other. Women are robbed of the respect and consequent intimacy that the sexual act should give them. They quite rightly feel used for gratification. Fear of repetition can lead to a denial of their sexuality and frigidity. When the responsibility for contraception rests with the woman she has allowed herself to be the victim of a new discrimination. She suffers for his lack of control, she allows him to use her and allows her own value in his eyes to cheapen. Contraception, as an anti-life act, regards the baby who would come to be, in freely chosen acts of intercourse, an unwanted thing and not as St. Augustine put the matter so beautifully centuries ago 'A life to be received lovingly, nourished humanely and educated religiously' i.e. in the love and service of God.

What Does The Church Teach About Contraception?

The Catholic Church's stance on contraception has become almost unique among religious groups. This situation was not the case until fairly recently. From the Reformation onwards, all Christian denominations condemned contraception. (The Catholic Church had done so from the very beginning.) Let us look at the famous encyclical of Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae. The Pope writes that "each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life" (HV 11). He teaches that abortion is absolutely excluded as a means of regulating birth; so also sterilization and all forms of contraception. "Similarly excluded is every action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act or in its accomplishment or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible" (HV 14b).

He teaches that the two essential meanings of the marital act are the unitive (love-giving) and the procreative (life-giving). God is the author of all life and all love. If we want to express our sexuality authentically, honestly and humanly, then we will do so according to God's plan.

The Church knows that she will be a "sign of contradiction" to an unbelieving world. Yet she does not cease to proclaim with humble firmness the entire moral law, both natural and evangelical. "Of such laws the Church was not the author, nor consequently can she be their arbiter. She is only their depository and their interpreter, without ever being able to declare to be licit that which is not so by reason of its intimate and unchangeable opposition to the true good of man" (HV 18a).

On November 12, 1988, Pope John Paul II addressed about 400 theologians at the Second International Congress on moral theology in Rome celebrating the twentieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae. He said that the teaching of the Humanae Vitae "Is not, in fact, a doctrine invented by man: it was stamped on the very nature of the human person by God the Creator's hand and confirmed by Him in Revelation. Calling it into question, therefore, is equivalent to refusing God Himself the obedience of our intelligence".

He explained that there are no exceptions to this norm. "By describing the contraceptive act as intrinsically illicit, Paul VI meant to teach that the moral norm is such that it does not admit exceptions. No personal or social circumstances could ever, can now, or will ever, render such an act lawful in itself. The existence of particular norms regarding man's way of acting in the world, which are endowed with a binding force that excludes always and in whatever situation and possibility of exceptions, is a constant teaching of Tradition and of the Church's Magisterium which cannot be called in question by the Catholic theologian."

Pope John Paul II addressed the bishops in Los Angeles on September 16, 1987. Referring to reports that large numbers of Catholics do not adhere to the moral teaching of the Church on contraception and yet appear to receive the sacraments, the Pope said: "It is sometimes claimed that dissent from the Magisterium is totally compatible with being a 'Good Catholic' and poses no obstacle to the reception of the sacraments. This is a grave error that challenges the teaching office of the bishops of the United States and elsewhere".

On March 14, 1988, the Holy Father spoke to participants in the Fourth International Conference for the families of Europe and Africa. He pointed to the problem of misguided priests and "pastoral understanding": "Still, I cannot pass over in silence the fact that many today do not aid married couples in this grave responsibility of theirs, but rather place significant obstacles in their path…. This can also come about, with truly grave and destructive consequences, when the doctrine taught by the Encyclical is called into question, as has sometimes happened, even on the part of some theologians and pastors of souls. This attitude, in fact, can instill doubt with regard to a teaching which for the Church is certain; in this way it clouds the perception of a truth which cannot be questioned. This is not a sign of 'pastoral understanding', but of misunderstanding the true good of persons. Truth cannot be measured by majority opinions."

Thus, one who has contracepted may not receive the Eucharist without true repentance, confession and a firm purpose of amendment. One may fail occasionally, but God will always forgive if we are sincerely trying to live the Christian life. It makes no sense to receive the very Author of all life and love in the Eucharist, while consciously turning against one's own God-given fertility and be willing to risk an early abortion of one of God's sons and daughters who will live forever.

What is wrong with contraception?

Morality is never determined by numbers nor by opinion polls, but since such great confusion exists today about sin, sex and the abuse of sex and because we live in a culture that accepts abortion, sterilization and contraception, we must try to explain why contraception is wrong. Pope John Paul II has written extensively on this topic.

True love requires the total gift of self. Before we can make this gift to the beloved, we must first be in possession of ourselves, including our passions, desires and emotions. Lust implies that we are determined to obtain what we want and when we want it, but love means we can express our sexual passions in a manner that seeks union with the beloved, reveres the beloved, desires the well being of the beloved and embraces a willingness to lay down one's very life for the beloved, if necessary.

Contraception goes wrong in many directions:

  • It is a serious evil with disastrous consequences.
  • It breaks the intrinsic connection between the unitive and procreative dimensions of the marital act.
  • It considers the periodic abstinence required by NFP to be harmful to marriage and urges intercourse to be virtuous.
  • It regards self-sacrifice as a nuisance. It elevates the pursuit of pleasure to the highest principle of marriage, speaking ill about self-discipline and self-denial.
  • It reduces the beloved to an object, a ready source of pleasure. It attacks fertility as unhealthy, seeing illness where there is none.
  • It abuses medicine and the medical profession.
  • It leads directly to abortion; in fact, as we have noted, much of so called contraception involves early abortion e.g. Pills, IUD, Norplant and Depo-Provera.
  • It says to God: You are not the Lord of life in our marriage and we will not collaborate with You in bringing new children into Your Kingdom.
  • It sets a horrible example for youth, who logically ask why they cannot enjoy sterile sex if adults can.
  • It legitimizes other sterile sexual acts such as homosexual acts and other perversions. Contraception is truly an attack on marriage and on family life, leading to the moral decay of an entire society.

The Church is consistent when she considers recourse to the infertile times to be permissible, while condemning, as being always wrong, the use of means directly contrary to fertilization, even if such use is inspired by reasons that can appear upright and serious. In reality, there is an essential difference between the two cases. In the first case, the husband and wife legitimately avail themselves of a natural condition; in the second case, they impede the working of natural processes. It is true that in both cases, the married couples agree in positively, willing to avoid children for reasons which seem reasonable, seeking to be certain that offspring will not result; but it is likewise true that only in the first case do they prove able to abstain from the use of marriage during the fertile times, when for proven motives procreation is not desirable, then making use of it during the infertile times to manifest affection and to safeguard mutual fidelity. By doing so, they give proof of a love that is truly and fully virtuous.

Serious consequences of the methods of artificial birth regulation

Responsible persons can be still more easily convinced of the solid grounds on which the teaching of the Church in this field is based, if they stop to reflect upon the consequences of the methods of artificial birth regulation. Let them consider, first of all, how wide and easy a road would thus be opened to conjugal infidelity and to a general lowering of morality. One does not need much experience to know human weakness and to understand that human beings especially the young, who are so vulnerable on this point, have need of encouragement to be faithful to the moral law and must not be offered an easy means to evade its observance. It can also be feared that the man who becomes used to contraceptive practices, may finally lose respect for the woman and no longer cares about her physical and psychological equilibrium and may come to the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment and no longer as his respected and beloved companion.

Consider also the dangerous weapon that would thus be placed in the hands of those public authorities who have no concern for the requirements of morality. Who could blame a government for applying, as a solution to the problems of the community, those means acknowledged to be permissible for married couples in solving a family problem? Who will stop rulers from favoring and from even imposing upon their peoples, if they should consider it necessary, the method of contraception that they judge to be more efficacious? In this way, men, in wishing to avoid the individual, family or social difficulties which they encounter in observing the Divine Law, would come to place at the mercy of the intervention of public authorities the most personal and most reserved sector of conjugal intimacy.

Consequently, if one does not want to see the mission of generating life exposed to the arbitrary decisions of men, one must, of necessity, recognise certain absolute limits to the possibility of man's domination over his own body and its functions; limits that no one, whether a private individual or someone invested with authority, has any right to exceed. And such limits cannot be determined otherwise, than by the respect owed to the integrity of the human organism and its functions, according to the principles recalled above and according to the correct understanding of the "principle of totality" explained by our predecessor Pius XII.

Mastery of self

A proper practice of birth regulation requires first and foremost that a husband and wife acquire and possess solid convictions about the authentic values of life and of the family, and that they tend toward the achievement of perfect self-mastery. To dominate instinct by means of one's reason and free will, undoubtedly demands asceticism in order that the affective expressions of conjugal life be according to the right order. This is particularly necessary for the observance of periodic continence. Yet this discipline, which is proper to the purity of married couples, far from harming conjugal love, rather confers upon it a higher human value. It requires continual effort, but thanks to its beneficent influence, husband and wife fully develop their personalities and are enriched with spiritual values. Such discipline bestows upon family life, fruits of serenity and peace and facilitates the solution of other problems; it fosters attention to one's partner, helps both spouses drive out selfishness, the enemy of true love; and it deepens their sense of responsibility. By its means, parents become capable of a deeper and more efficacious influence in the education of their offspring. Children and young people grow up with a correct appreciation of human values and enjoy a serene and harmonious development of their spiritual and sensual faculties.

 

 

 


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