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
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.
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
- 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
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"
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
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
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,
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
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.