The Catholic Church and Contraception
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput's July 22nd, 1998 Pastoral on Humanae Vitae with Comments by The Liberator, in bold (part 2 of 2) II. WHAT HUMANAE VITAE REALLY SAYS
10. Perhaps one of the flaws in communicating the message of Humanae Vitae over the last 30 years has been the language used in teaching it. The duties and responsibilities of married life are numerous. They're also serious. They need to be considered carefully, and prayerfully, in advance. But few couples understand their love in terms of academic theology. Rather, they fall in love. That's the vocabulary they use. It's that simple and revealing. They surrender to each other. They give themselves to each other. They fall into each other in order to fully possess, and be possessed by, each other. And rightly so. In married love, God intends that spouses should find joy and delight, hope and abundant life, in and through each other -- all ordered in a way which draws husband and wife, their children, and all who know them, deeper into God's embrace.
Should every marriage stay intact? Should everyone try to achieve marriage? What about all the people who are happy not being married? What about all the people who are unhappily married? What about all the people who cannot seem to get married, but want to get married? The Pope and church followers should be careful as they paint with large brushstrokes. Here are the answers, in order: no; no; keep it that way; get a divorce; keep searching, but keep living.
11. As a result, in presenting the nature of Christian marriage to a new generation, we need to articulate its fulfilling satisfactions at least as well as its duties. The Catholic attitude toward sexuality is anything but puritanical, repressive or anti-carnal. God created the world and fashioned the human person in His own image. Therefore the body is good. In fact, it's often been a source of great humor for me to listen incognito as people simultaneously complain about the alleged "bottled-up sexuality" of Catholic moral doctrine, and the size of many good Catholic families. (From where, one might ask, do they think the babies come?) Catholic marriage -- exactly like Jesus Himself -- is not about scarcity but abundance. It's not about sterility, but rather the fruitfulness which flows from unitive, procreative love. Catholic married love always implies the possibility of new life; and because it does, it drives out lonelines and affirms the future. And because it affirms the future, it becomes a furnace of hope in a world prone to despair. In effect, Catholic marriage is attractive because it is true. It's designed for the creatures we are: persons meant for communion. Spouses complete each other. When God joins a woman and man together in marriage, they create with Him a new wholeness; a "belonging" which is so real, so concrete, that a new life, a child, is its natural expression and seal. This is what the Church means when she teaches that Catholic married love is by its nature both unitive and procreative -- not either/or.
Must every act of copulation give rise to a new life? Human nature makes the pursuit of desire a large goal. It's in our biological make-up. Humans love to have sex for lots of reasons. It can be an expression of love, a comfort to be closely connected to another lifeform, or a biological urge to reproduce. Does lovemaking always have to lead to reproduction? Maybe at one time, that WAS necessary: to field the farm. Now, with so many humans needing wood to build homes, iron to create machines, and nuclear fuel to make energy to live by, we cannot afford to tear up the landscape to produce more children every time we have the desire to express our love. Overburdened social systems are feeling the pain of irresponsible families too. It's plain and simple but contradicts the Archbishop's and Catholic Church's stand. We need to control human population and act responsibly!
12. But why can't a married couple simply choose the unitive aspect of marriage and temporarily block or even permanently prevent its procreative nature? The answer is as simple and radical as the Gospel itself. When spouses give themselves honestly and entirely to each other, as the nature of married love implies and even demands, that must include their whole selves -- and the most intimate, powerful part of each person is his or her fertility. Contraception not only denies this fertility and attacks procreation; in doing so, it necessarily damages unity as well. It is the equivalent of spouses saying: "I'll give you all I am -- except my fertility; I'll accept all you are -- except your fertility." This withholding of self inevitably works to isolate and divide the spouses, and unravel the holy friendship between them . . . maybe not immediately and overtly, but deeply, and in the long run often fatally for the marriage.
No it means that couples who use condoms are saying, "I'll give you everything except the vaginal insertion of my semen." Couples who use the pill are saying, "I'll give you everything except a child every time we decide to have sex." Couples who use diaphragms are saying, "I'll give you everything including the injection of my semen but not so far that it gets to your ovaries. There is absolutely no feeling of having restricted love in any way as a result of birth control. I think the Archbishop is definitely stretching it here.
13. This is why the Church is not against "artificial" contraception. She is against all contraception. The notion of "artificial" has nothing to do with the issue. In fact, it tends to confuse discussion by implying that the debate is about a mechanical intrusion into the body's organic system. It is not. The Church has no problem with science appropriately intervening to heal or enhance bodily health. Rather, the Church teaches that all contraception is morally wrong; and not only wrong, but seriously wrong. The covenant which husband and wife enter at marriage requires that all intercourse remain open to the transmission of new life. This is what becoming "one flesh" implies: complete self-giving, without reservation or exception, just as Christ withheld nothing of Himself from His bride, the Church, by dying for her on the cross. Any intentional interference with the procreative nature of intercourse necessarily involves spouses' withholding themselves from each other and from God, who is their partner in sacramental love. In effect, they steal something infinitely precious -- themselves -- from each other and from their Creator.
Oral sex can be seen as a method of birth control too. Couples who partake in that ancient ritual share everything and it's probably much more personal to many people than typical vaginal sex. What official stand does the Catholic Church take on oral sex? Does it depend on the state of mind of each participant or is it an outright no-no?
Couples who withhold the possibility of procreation may actually be giving a whole lot more in return for that small sacrifice. For withholding procreation a couple can: fully and adequately raise existing children, have time to pursue an education, and help others by way of donations and volunteer efforts. So I wouldn't say that the picture is so lopsided as the Archbishop's comments might lead us to believe.
14. And this is why natural family planning (NFP) differs not merely in style but in moral substance from contraception as a means of regulating family size. NFP is not contraception. Rather, it is a method of fertility awareness and appreciation. It is an entirely different approach to regulating birth. NFP does nothing to attack fertility, withhold the gift of oneself from one's spouse, or block the procreative nature of intercourse. The marriage covenant requires that each act of intercourse be fully an act of self-giving, and therefore open to the possibility of new life. But when, for good reasons, a husband and wife limit their intercourse to the wife's natural periods of infertility during a month, they are simply observing a cycle which God Himself created in the woman. They are not subverting it. And so they are living within the law of God's love.
A ha! This is the second time the word "reason" was used by the Archbishop. Does this mean there are REASONS why couples should refrain from having sex. That means that the logical process is alive and well in Catholicism. That's a relief because I thought they were supposed to blindly follow The Bible out of faith.
As a side note: I'll have to remind myself not to refer to my ejaculation as semen. I'll have to remind my partner that it's not just a sticky mess. I'll have to remind both my partner and myself that it's simply "the gift of oneself."
I'll refrain from further comment until NFP is more closely defined below.
15. There are, of course, many wonderful benefits to the practice of NFP. The wife preserves herself from intrusive chemicals or devices and remains true to her natural cycle. The husband shares in the planning and responsibility for NFP. Both learn a greater degree of self-mastery and a deeper respect for each other. It's true that NFP involves sacrifices and periodic abstinence from intercourse. It can, at times, be a difficult road. But so can any serious Christian life, whether ordained, consecrated, single or married. Moreover, the experience of tens of thousands of couples has shown that, when lived prayerfully and unselfishly, NFP deepens and enriches marriage and results in greater intimacy -- and greater joy. In the Old Testament, God told our first parents to be fruitful and multiply (Gn 1:28). He told us to choose life (Dt 30:19). He sent His son, Jesus, to bring us life abundantly (Jn 10:10) and to remind us that His yoke is light (Mt 11:30). I suspect, therefore, that at the heart of Catholic ambivalence toward Humanae Vitae is not a crisis of sexuality, Church authority or moral relevance, but rather a question of faith: Do we really believe in God's goodness? The Church speaks for her Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, and believers naturally, eagerly listen. She shows married couples the path to enduring love and a culture of life. Thirty years of history record the consequences of choosing otherwise.
What scientific study is he referring? None. Instead, it's yet another editorial. Nevertheless, the nature of NFP is interesting, although not scientific. I have heard claims that couples have been able to successfully use that method to effectively do family planning. However, those claims are not scientific nor do they tell us that every couple is capable of using such a technique.
For instance, are all women able to predict their period of fertility based on temperature, time, and levels of moisture? I highly doubt it. Many women are affected by stress, physical exertion, and illness making this prediction nearly impossible. Let's face it, the human body is not a Timex. Therefore proponents of the NFP model are indirectly (maybe even directly) encouraging families to have more children despite their ability to be responsible parents. Let's face it, too much life is a course for feelings of contempt, misery, or possible death in the long haul.
III. WHAT WE NEED TO DO
16. I want to express my gratitude to the many couples who already live the message of Humanae Vitae in their married lives. Their fidelity to the truth sanctifies their own families and our entire community of faith. I thank in a special way those couples who teach NFP and counsel others in responsible parenthood inspired by Church teaching. Their work too often goes unnoticed or underappreciated -- but they are powerful advocates for life in an age of confusion.
Families can value life MORE by postponing the birth of children for a time when these families are more able to take care of children. Why doesn't this letter address the fact that unwanted births make many people do strange things? These people abandon their children or worse. Birth control may be a necessary force in an age of so much confusion. Instead of confusing people further, the Catholic Church should teach its followers how precious life is instead of promoting procreation despite the means for caring for said children.
I also want to offer my prayers and encouragement to those couples who bear the cross of infertility. In a society often bent on avoiding children, they carry the burden of yearning for children but having none. No prayers go unanswered, and all suffering given over to the Lord bears fruit in some form of new life. I encourage them to consider adoption, and I appeal to them to remember that a good end can never justify a wrong means. Whether to prevent a pregnancy or achieve one, all techniques which separate the unitive and procreative dimensions of marriage are always wrong. Procreative techniques which turn embryos into objects and mechanically substitute for the loving embrace of husband and wife violate human dignity and treat life as a product. No matter how positive their intentions, these techniques advance the dangerous tendency to reduce human life to material which can be manipulated.
Is the only purpose for humans to reproduce and further our own species? Are we like cockroaches or rodents whose sole purpose is the propagation of their species? I cannot simply say yes. If that is our purpose in life, then haven't we achieved it? Humans have dominated this planet long, long ago. We have achieved that sole goal, if that is our sole goal. Unfortunately through too much procreation, we may destroy the precious life we have already created. With over-population, there are serious concerns about health, pollution, and natural resources that permeate every fiber of our lives. The debate is not so lopsided as the Archbishop's comments may lead us to believe.
17. It's never too late to turn our hearts back toward God. We are not powerless. We can make a difference by witnessing the truth about married love and fidelity to the culture around us. In December last year, in a pastoral letter entitled Good News of Great Joy, I spoke of the important vocation every Catholic has as an evangelizer. We are all missionaries. America in the 1990s, with its culture of disordered sexuality, broken marriages and fragmented families, urgently needs the Gospel. As Pope John Paul II writes in his apostolic exhortation On the Family (Familiaris Consortio), married couples and families have a critical role in witnessing Jesus Christ to each other and to the surrounding culture (49, 50).
Families are important institutions, that's easy to admit. However, not everyone wants to be married despite what the Catholic Church would like to assert. Some people are happy living monogamous lives with a single partner outside of marriage. Some people enjoy lives outside of marriage with many partners. Happiness and a respect for our fellow human beings isn't a simple endeavor nor is there a template for life that will suit everyone. Of course this flies in the face of organized religion but thinking outside the box is not what they prescribe. Instead they force an age old tradition that MAY have worked long ago under different social, technological, and environmental conditions. The Church maintains its tradition in the face of a desperate need for diversity and understanding. Turning to our own ability to solve this problem is how we "turn our hearts back toward God."
18. In that light, I ask married couples of the archdiocese to read, discuss and pray over Humanae Vitae, Familiaris Consortio and other documents of the Church which outline Catholic teaching on marriage and sexuality. Many married couples, unaware of the valuable wisdom found in these materials, have deprived themselves of a beautiful source of support for their mutual love. I especially encourage couples to examine their own consciences regarding contraception, and I ask them to remember that "conscience" is much more than a matter of personal preference. It requires us to search out and understand Church teaching, and to honestly strive to conform our hearts to it. I urge them to seek sacramental Reconciliation for the times they may have fallen into contraception. Disordered sexuality is the dominant addiction of American society in these closing years of the century. It directly or indirectly impacts us all. As a result, for many, this teaching may be a hard message to accept. But do not lose heart. Each of us is a sinner. Each of us is loved by God. No matter how often we fail, God will deliver us if we repent and ask for the grace to do His will.
This philosophy I certainly do not embrace. All of us can find improvement by reflecting on ancient texts, seeking out counsel with others, and doing a lot of inward searching but the language of "sinner" and "repent" offer nothing useful.
19. I ask my brother priests to examine their own pastoral practices, to ensure that they faithfully and persuasively present the Church's teaching on these issues in all their parish work. Our people deserve the truth about human sexuality and the dignity of marriage. To accomplish this, I ask pastors to read and implement the Vademecum for Confessors Concerning Some Aspects of the Morality of Conjugal Life, and to study the Church's teaching on marriage and family planning. I urge them to appoint parish coordinators to facilitate the presentation of Catholic teaching on married love and family planning -- especially NFP. Contraception is a grave matter. Married couples need the good counsel of the Church to make right decisions. Most married Catholics welcome the guidance of their priests, and priests should never feel intimidated by their personal commitment to celibacy, or embarrassed by the teaching of the Church. To be embarrassed by Church teaching is to be embarrassed by Christ's teaching. The pastoral experience and counsel of a priest are valuable on issues like contraception precisely because he brings new perspective to a couple and speaks for the whole Church. Moreover, the fidelity a priest shows to his own vocation strengthens married people to live their vocation more faithfully.
Is it natural for priests to remain celibate? Before you answer, take into account all of the charges of pedophilia that the church has had to face. Doctors state that glands need to be flushed. Therefore priests may be hurting themselves by remaining celibate. Maybe you believe that these priests serve the greater good by practicing celibacy. If so then you might also believe that contraceptives also serve a greater good too.
20. As archbishop, I commit myself and my offices to supporting my brother priests, deacons and their lay collaborators in presenting the whole of the Church's teaching on married love and family planning. I owe both the clergy of our local Church and their staffs -- especially the many dedicated parish catechists -- much gratitude for the good work they have already accomplished in this area. It is my intention to ensure that courses on married love and family planning are available on a regular basis to more and more people of the archdiocese, and that our priests and deacons receive more extensive education in the theological and pastoral aspects of these issues. I direct, in a particular way, our Offices of Evangelization and Catechetics; Marriage and Family Life; Catholic Schools; Youth, Young Adult and Campus Ministries; and the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults to develop concrete ways to better present Church teaching on married love to our people, and to require adequate instruction in NFP as part of all marriage preparation programs in the archdiocese.
This letter is more like a speech made by a coach right before the big game. Catholic leaders are feeling their numbers slip away and also feel the need to motivate more people back into their churches. Letters like this one may cause more people to pay less of an attention to birth control which would indirectly cause more Catholic families to produce what? Yes, you guessed it; they will produce more Catholic youngsters who will go on to produce more of the same.
21. Two final points. First, the issue of contraception is not peripheral, but central and serious in a Catholic's walk with God. If knowingly and freely engaged in, contraception is a grave sin, because it distorts the essence of marriage: the self-giving love which, by its very nature, is life-giving. It breaks apart what God created to be whole: the person-uniting meaning of sex (love) and the life-giving meaning of sex (procreation). Quite apart from its cost to individual marriages, contraception has also inflicted massive damage on society at large: initially by driving a wedge between love and the procreation of children; and then between sex (i.e., recreational sex without permanent commitment) and love. Nonetheless -- and this is my second point -- teaching the truth should always be done with patience and compassion, as well as firmness. American society seems to swing peculiarly between puritanism and license. The two generations -- my own and my teachers' -- which once led the dissent from Paul VI's encyclical in this country, are generations still reacting against the American Catholic rigorism of the 1950s. That rigorism, much of it a product of culture and not doctrine, has long since been demolished. But the habit of skepticism remains. In reaching these people, our task is to turn their distrust to where it belongs: toward the lies the world tells about the meaning of human sexuality, and the pathologies those lies conceal.
Contraceptives are a powerful force that many countries including the U.S. need to embrace not reject. Will the abandonment of birth control cause less instances of teenage pregnancies? Will world peace be enacted through the use of Natural Family Planning? Thinking about those questions should allow you to think how ridiculous the Catholic Church's stand on birth control really is.
22. In closing, we face an opportunity which comes only once in many decades. Thirty years ago this week, Paul VI told the truth about married love. In doing it, he triggered a struggle within the Church which continues to mark American Catholic life even today. Selective dissent from Humanae Vitae soon fueled broad dissent from Church authority and attacks on the credibility of the Church herself. The irony is that the people who dismissed Church teaching in the 1960s soon discovered that they had subverted their own ability to pass anything along to their children. The result is that the Church now must evangelize a world of their children's children -- adolescents and young adults raised in moral confusion, often unaware of their own moral heritage, who hunger for meaning, community, and love with real substance. For all its challenges, this a is tremendous new moment of possibility for the Church, and the good news is that the Church today, as in every age, has the answers to fill the God-shaped empty places in their hearts. My prayer is therefore simple: May the Lord grant us the wisdom to recognize the great treasure which resides in our teaching about married love and human sexuality, the faith, joy and perseverance to live it in our own families -- and the courage which Paul VI possessed to preach it anew.
What the Archbishop of Denver does do is over-simplify the matter. He claims that all of our problems can be in part improved upon by rejecting birth control and by adopting a more strict Catholic way of life. I do not agree with his message even though his intentions MAY be genuine. His message MAY be more than just a plea to regain more followers in the Catholic Church; it MAY be selfless.
Some aspects of birth control were not even approached. How about vasectomies for men and tubal ligations for women? Couldn't couples who have either of those procedures share in every aspect of lovemaking?
Maybe the church would claim that it denies fertility, which it does. I claim that our brains must play a part in spirituality as it does in every other avenue of our lives including medicine. It is a fundamental component of my philosophy as it should yours. Allow me to explain further.
When Pope John Paul II entered a hospital some years ago, he had tests done to check for cancerous tissues. It involved using special chemical isotopes, a product of modern technology. The Pope allowed this injection of serum into his veins in search of any strange growths. Even though death is a natural occurrence and is nothing to fear, the Pope believed that technology should and can be used to ward it off. Therefore technology is not all that bad even though it enables more humans to exist on this planet and to affect its ecology.
What does this have to do with birth control? It is another form of technology and to claim that all technology is either good or bad misses the point. Technology is a mixed bag, as is EVERYTHING. We could claim that the medical industry, which includes gene splicing and abortions, is completely evil and must be systematically dismantled. However, what about all of the less controversial procedures like the detection of cancer that would be dismantled too.
Reflecting back on the Archbishop's letter, I see a lot of similarity with the anti-technology movement. The Archbishop along with the Pope I'm sure, believes that contraceptive technology causes a rift between couples. Aviation technology may do the same, allowing spouses to fly back and forth on business trips away from their respective families.
However, once technology becomes accepted into mainstream culture, it becomes impossible to escape. Instead of hiding from it, it has to be contemplated, studied, and understood. That is the only way to come to grips with it. Sure technology moves faster than our ability to immediately understand it. Turning our back on it, once it is there, is worse than having it there in the first place.
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News Story--Contraceptives: A Modern-day Miracle,
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