Skip to comments.Contraception and Catholicism (What the Roman Catholic Church really teaches)
Posted on 02/16/2012 6:32:25 AM PST by SeekAndFind
Catholic teaching on contraception is at the heart of the controversy over the Health and Human Services mandate. Catholic hospitals and universities are unwilling to purchase insurance plans that provide contraceptive coverage. To critics, this unwillingness borders on the irrational; accordingly, they see little value in protecting the freedom of Catholic hospitals and universities to act in accordance with their beliefs.
Catholic teaching about contraception is, however, not irrational; nor is it founded, as some have claimed, on irrelevant distinctions such as that between what is natural and what is artificial. Rather, two lines of argument are to be found throughout the tradition of Catholic, and more generally, Christian, thought on this issue that together show the teaching to be plausible and, in the view of many, true.
The first argument against contraception turns on the way in which the conjugal act unites the married couple organically as one flesh, so as to realize at the physical level of their existence their marital commitment to become one to make a complete and mutual gift of each to each. Together, spouses are able to perform a biological act that they would be incapable of performing alone: an act of a reproductive kind. As is well known, this act will often not come to its natural biological fulfillment, the conception of a new human being.
Yet when the act does come to fruition, that fruition is itself or rather, him- or herself the further realization of the couples commitment, the commitment that was initially realized in the conjugal act. For a couple to prevent their act from achieving its fullest realization is thus also for them to choose to block the fullest possible realization of their commitment at the bodily level and this is precisely at odds with the commitment itself. It is for this reason that Pope John Paul II frequently characterized the use of contraception as a kind of dishonesty: The making of the commitment to a complete sharing of lives says one thing; the deliberate blocking of that commitment from its fullest realization takes back what was initially communicated.
The way in which the act of intercourse can be prevented from realizing the marital commitment is clearest in the use of barrier methods such as the condom, which rather obviously prevent the one-flesh union from even being possible. But hormonal contraceptives, while not preventing physically an act of a reproductive type, nevertheless, when used with a contraceptive intention, involve a willed refusal to allow the biological function, in virtue of which couples become physically one, to come fully to its fruition; thus, their use involves a refusal to countenance the fullness of physical union possible to the couple on that occasion.
Pope Paul VI captured the sense of this set of claims in a well-known discussion in Humanae Vitae, in which he asserted that there is an inseparable connection . . . between the unitive and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act. To deliberately seek to remove the procreative significance of the marital act does not, in fact, leave a unitive act that has no procreative significance; it removes as well the unitive significance of the act.
Defenders of traditional sexual ethics such as Elizabeth Anscombe have argued that the embrace of contraception is a turning point for sexual ethics more generally. If it is permissible to seek less than the fullness of the real union possible on some occasion in ones sex acts, then why stop with contracepted sex? Why not seek the less-than-full union available in sex outside of marriage, or in some non-marital form of sexual activity? No good answer seems forthcoming.
In consequence, contraception is understood by the Church both as a violation of the marital commitment as preventing its fullest available realization and as a gateway choice to other abuses against the good of marriage.
Contraceptions gateway character is in fact twofold, for in addition to this important strand of argument against contraception rooted in its anti-marital nature, there is also an argument rooted in its anti-life nature: To contracept is to choose to prevent a possible child from coming into existence (a choice that is not made, incidentally, when the couple abstains from the marital act which is what happens in Catholic family planning). But human life, like marriage, is a great good; and to choose directly against that good seems wrong, and structurally similar to the wrong of homicide, and, specifically, the wrong of abortion. They are not the same wrongs, for there is no actual child in the case of contraception, as there is in abortion; but a culture shaped by collective willing of the non-existence of many possible children should be expected to extend that denial to the right to life of unborn human beings as well.
This dynamic is seen in the HHS mandate, which includes in its list of covered pharmaceuticals drugs such as Ella and Plan B, which are plausibly thought to work on occasion by preventing implantation of an embryo, i.e., by abortion. This willingness to lump in abortifacient drugs with contraceptives is a sign, but only one of many, of the Churchs wisdom in its teaching on contraception.
Christopher Tollefsen is a visiting fellow of the James Madison Program at Princeton University
Thank you for posting this; I think it may help foster greater understanding.
Humanae Vitae said it better, but its a bit lengthier. Nevertheless, it’s not a difficult read, and in what may come as a surprise to secularists, the argument is based entirely upon natural law, without appealing to divine revelation.
Here’s one astounding prophecy:
17. Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the
doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the
consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first
consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital
infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is
needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beingsand
especially the young, who are so exposed to temptationneed incentives to
keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break
that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows
accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a
woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to
being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer
considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.
Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power
passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the
precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to
resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as
are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family
difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those
contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard
this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well
happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social
life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined
to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to
intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.
But that willingness to lump contraception and abortion together is the very means by which this government mandate is used to attack Catholic objections to being told that health plans must provide contraception and that abortion is just another means.
Many like myself do not see actual contraception as equal to abortion and object to the thought that someone is trying to force them to provide abortion services as though it were contraception.
Catholics may sincerely object to both contraception and abortion but honestly should note that the two are not the same.
They are two means to the same end, with the same result on marriage, family and culture.
However, I believe we should not, in the political arena, make this about contraception, but about the first amendment.
What the fascist liberals wish to do is divide is, conquer the Catholic Church by splitting it apart, and ultimately reducing the sphere of religion to zero - making politics the sole religion remaining.
I disagree but that I've already said. If the argument against the mandate is to be framed as a 1st. amendment conflict then it doesn't really matter whether it's two means or, or one, it's a case of God's commandments versus men's.
On that basis I'm interested in how this “tug o’war” ends up. If the Catholic leadership blinks it loses.
Whether or not the Catholic teaching is in absolute terms correct, it is absurd to suggest that marriage is not a great good - look at the statistics on childhood poverty and crime and you have to know that the failure to coalesce in stable families is a tragedy for succeeding generations. What is it with the Democratic Party that its last two successful presidential nominees haven't lived with their natural fathers? One, yeah - but two in a row?It seems plausible that a man who did not grow up in a stable married family would be in denial as to the benefits of that arrangement for those who do have that advantage. And being in denial about something as central to society as family is hardly a credential to sell as a virtue in a leader of government.
I've never been a Catholic, but I cherish my own First Amendment rights far to highly to feel comfortable when my compatriots see theirs assaulted. The fact that all too many Catholics voted for the creep who is now attacking their rights is a tragedy, but not a reason for any patriot to withhold support for the rights now being traduced. Even CINOs may perhaps see that the socialist creed is as antithetical to freedom as any Christian sect ever thought of being. Socialism brought us Soviet Communism and National Socialism in Italy and then Germany. Whether or not a particular traditional teaching is absolutely true, people have a right not only to adhere to it but to promote it. And they cannot promote it while submitting to a government requirement to pay people to violate it.
The Catholic bishops were a thorn in the side of the Obama administration and congressmen who were looking for an excuse to fold and vote for it. It did not adequately protect life and conscience, and so they opposed its passage.
Second, the laity has a key role. What the regime is trying to do is split the leadership from the laity and neutralize the Church. I think, in this case, the crucial point is not the Bishops.
It will help, of course, if all religious people and their leaders join in, but Catholicism is the regime's primary target.
Thanks very much for your reply.
Not to belabor a point, but it’s time for the leaders to be leaders and lead no matter what. Cheers!
The use of artificial contraceptives also is contrary to the Trinitarian nature of marriage. For Christians this should be a serious consideration just as valid as marriage being modeled after Christ and His Church.
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