Seeing Sin Where None Is

by Elizabeth Price (credits).

This essay was first published by Catholics for a Changing Church (14 West Halkin Street, London SW1X 8JS, UK), New Blackfriar Publications 2000. It is here reprinted with permission of the author and CCC.

Chapter 1: the Accusation

“The Church has always taught the intrinsic evil of contraception, that is, of every marital act intentionally rendered unfruitful. This teaching is to be held as definitive and irreformable. Contraception is gravely opposed to marital chastity, to the good of the transmission of life (the procreative aspect of matrimony) and to the reciprocal self-giving of the spouses (the unitive aspect of matrimony); it harms true love and denies the sovereign role of God in the transmission of human life.

However, profoundly different from any contraceptive practice is the behaviour of married couples who, always remaining fundamentally open to the gift of life, live their intimacy only in the unfruitful periods, when they are led to this course by serious motives of responsible parenthood. This is true both from the anthropological and moral points of view, because it is rooted in a different conception of the person and of sexuality.

The witness of couples who for years have lived in harmony with the plan of the Creator, and who, for proportionately serious reasons, licitly use the methods rightly called ‘natural’, confirms that it is possible for spouses to live the demands of chastity and of married life with common accord and full self-giving.”

Morality of Conjugal Life, Handbook for Confessors, 12 Feb 1997

No other Christian denomination now teaches that contraception is intrinsically evil. If statistics are to be believed, neither do 80% of Catholics agree, either in theory or practice. This cannot but undermine both Papal authority and the credibility of the Roman Catholic Church when it speaks on matters relating to Marriage and the Family. Furthermore there is the accusation of serious sin, an offence against God Himself, being practised by most married couples during their fertile years, staining with guilt the most intimate expression of their love.


It is in answer to these accusations that this paper is written as an open letter to the hierarchies of England, Wales and Scotland. Furthermore Paul VI in Humanae Vitae (HV) speaking of the findings of the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control said (HV6):

Certain methods and criteria (viae rationesque) were used in answering questions that departed (discedentes) from the firm and constant teaching of the Magisterium on what is moral within marriage.

What has never been done is to examine in depth the sexual understanding of the Magisterium underlying that constant teaching (that contraception is intrinsically evil). I realize that in attempting this I am questioning one of the most fundamental structural doctrines of the Church, i.e. that the Papacy has a unique insight into right and wrong not vouchsafed to the ordinary faithful. Indeed, as I will show later, the ordinary faithful are seen to be particularly liable to misapprehension in sexual matters because of the effect of lust and passion resultant upon the Fall. Nonetheless, Justice and Truth transcend this structure. Loyalty to them demands that if any individuals think they see injustice being done, they must speak and be heard by appropriate authority. To dismiss the speaker on grounds of their subservient position in the Church, and the exalted position of those they are trying to assist in reaching a just verdict, is again a travesty of justice which, in a Court of Law in England, would not be tolerated. How much more so should it be in the Church where the matter we debate relates to spiritual welfare and eternal life.

The grounds for my appeal are fourfold:

  1. the teaching of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, upon whose theology of marriage are based all the papal writings, after artificial contraception became an issue in the 1930s.
  2. the omission of other important physiological factors which cast doubt on the justice of imposing Natural Family Planning (NFP) on married people and calling it God’s will.
  3. Christ’s teaching in Scripture.
  4. The wording of the British marriage vow – unchanged by the Reformation.

Three and four suggest that contraception is an option.

It is hoped that, throughout, the author may be judged as loyal to Truth and the Vocation of Marriage, the theology of which she hopes will be reformed.

The Teaching of St Augustine

Until this day, the Magisterium has never thought in terms of the married couple having intercourse so-many times per week, particularly during the younger fertile years of marriage. The couple express their spousal relationship together, by such delight of mind, soul and body. No more, no less. Why does this basic fact play no part in Magisterial thinking? The tragic answer is that St. Augustine is regarded as one of the greatest theologians that ever lived, and it was he who wrote a theology of marriage which, in its main tenets, has been the basis of traditional teaching until the present day.

Augustine was reverenced by the Church as one of the greatest theologians ever. His works are the bedrock of theological training. Alas (for married people) he had been a fornicator and his understanding of human sexuality has one massive flaw. He saw interpersonal magnetism of man and wife, which is at the core of the married relationship, as the pull of lust causing them to abuse that physical “pleasure” put in the act for the good of the race. Instead of realizing that he was distorting the truth through his own guilty experience of individual mortal sin, he thought it was the universal fault of original sin.

In Marriage and Concupiscence, Augustine contends that because Adam and Eve covered their genitals with fig leaves, that because humans do not copulate in public, so evidently original sin struck us most in our genital organs:

…man’s great function of the procreation of children, the members which were expressly created for this purpose will not obey the direction of the will, but lust has to be waited for to set these members in motion, as if it had a legal right over them, and sometimes it refuses to act when the mind wills, while often it acts against its will! Must not this bring a blush of shame over the freedom of the human will, that by its contempt of God, its own Commander, it has lost all proper command for itself over its own members? (On Marriage and Concupiscence, Ch.7)

The idea that the human race was smitten particularly in its male sexual organs, (meaning the whole of male adult life, in marriage as well as out), that it is a battle against the unruly erection leading to lust, is the fundamental bedrock of Magisterial thinking. John Paul II can identify with Augustine, not through the experience of fornication, but because of the problems caused by the nuptial nature of the adult male body, when a healthy young man is leading a celibate life. This is made clear in Karol Wojty»a’s Love and Responsibility in a chapter headed The Metaphysics of Shame.

His conviction that acquiring conjugal chastity (marital continence) is the way to overcoming original sin’s “damage to human sexuality” is also stated in his many other writings on sexual matters. From his perspective, NFP may be commended since it requires such conjugal chastity, whereas contraception merely compounds original sin.

Augustine was not alone in this belief that Original Sin had corrupted and changed human sexuality. His views accorded with the writings of other early Latin fathers. Thanks to the scholarship and dedication of John Wijngaards who is translating them, these writings are now publicly available on the Internet, at the following URLs:

Another vital statement of St Augustine is:

I feel nothing more turns the masculine mind from the heights than female blandishments and that contact of bodies without which a wife may not be had (Soliloquies 1.10 PL 32 878 and repeated by Thomas Aquinas (ST 22.151.3, reply to obj.2;153.2).)

As Noonan says:

Thomas is saturated with Augustinian doctrine. Not only is Augustine a theological master for him, Thomas whose own chastity was celebrated looks on Augustine as a man whose analysis carries with it the testimony of experience. Contraception, p.245.,1965 Hardback Ed.(….pages)

Had Augustine prefixed his statement with the words “in fornication” and used the word “mistress” instead of “wife”, he would have been speaking the truth. As it was, he made the appalling error of believing the spiritual effects of the mortal sin of fornication were identical to the sacramental use of intercourse in marriage. Aquinas a thousand years later in all his wisdom did not see the difference either. He seems never to have noticed that Augustine was seriously unbalanced in matters sexual.

Augustine and Aquinas between them developed the theory of Natural Law based on the idea that organs must be used justly, like the tongue for telling the truth. The sexual organs were dubbed genital and to be used justly, as said above, had to be used with procreative intent. Had Augustine spoken as a married man and not as a fornicator, he might have called the sexual organs conjugal. He might have noticed then, that the primary, continuous and lifelong purpose of the sexual organs was to unite husband and wife together as one, and their use in the earlier years of marriage, occasionally to procreate children. As Augustine was a fornicator, the relational, emotional and spiritual effects of intercourse were hidden from him. This is what makes human intercourse different from that of animals. It is because man and wife are mind and spirit, as well as body, that intercourse occurs frequently in marriage, not because the couple are overcome by lust resultant upon the Fall. To attempt to prevent couples having intercourse as Augustine did (and as have his followers ever since under pain of sin, mortal or venial) and accusing them of lust for failure in this regard, is one of the single greatest moral injustices, I assert, that has ever happened in the Church; second only to the injustice done by the thinking on women (see Internet reference above) or, one could argue, obligatory celibacy of the clergy.

Yet another very important quotation of St Augustine is:

What food is to the health of man, intercourse is to the health of the race. (The Good of Marriage, 18 CSEL 41:210)

The obvious implication is that those whose intercourse (which was given for the good of the race) was not procreative in intention or form were merely seeking pleasure in a lustful and selfish way. This charge against those who used contraceptives will appear later in this paper.

There are doubtless those who will say at this point that Augustine, Aquinas and other theologians have spoken reverently about conjugal love. This however is an agape type of love, nothing to do with intercourse. To prove that no connection between the two was seen by Aquinas, there is no better quote than this:

The seed, although superfluous as to the conservation of the individual, is yet necessary to the propagation of the species, while other superfluities such as excrement, sweat, urine and the like, are necessary for nothing. Hence, the emission of the latter concerns only the good of the individual. But not only this is required in the emission of seed, it is also required that it be emitted to be of use in generation, to which coitus is ordained. THE DISORDERED EMISSION OF SEED IS CONTRARY TO THE GOOD OF NATURE, WHICH IS THE CONSERVATION OF THE SPECIES. (Summa contra Gentiles) (Noonan p.245).

Woman or latrine and the relationship with either does not enter his thinking. Contrast this with a chapter headed: “The Sexual Dimension of Christian Life” in Vincent McLaughlin’s A Priestless People? Here at last is a man with subjective experience of both Orders and Matrimony speaking in 1998 (p.93).

We would appeal here directly to our priests and bishops to heed the experience of those couples who truly love each other and who have managed to free themselves from the negative notions which have undoubtedly coloured Catholic ideas about sex and marriage in relation to holiness. For them, sexual intercourse is the experience, at the deepest level of their love for each other; it enables them to say, in a language which goes beyond all words, all or almost all, they feel for each other. We need to allow to sink into our hearts and minds the implication of the common and very attractive, despite its frequent misapplication, description of sexual intercourse as love-making. Ideally that is exactly what we are talking about when we speak of sexual activity within marriage, making love, building up love between the partners, and then, because it is impossible to love another person without becoming a more loving person oneself – extending the circle of love in the world. In a very real sense, we can say that a married couple’s love-making is the holiest thing they can do; it is the finest expression of the holiness of their relationship and it opens them up to those outside their own unique relationship, helping them to love others as they love themselves and finally, to love God who made them and in whom all relationships find their ultimate consummation.

One has only to read the ‘Adoro Te Devote’ to share Aquinas’ love for the Eucharist. Had he been a married man he too would have seen intercourse as an outpouring of love, rather than a revolting outflow of bodily fluids, which the Ancient Fathers presumed was tainted beyond any hope of sinlessness.

What I am trying to say here is that, devoid of sacramental experiences, far from being infallible, traditional teaching is sad, sick and suspect, a travesty of truth which has damaged the welfare of married people all through the ages. Rather than seeing sexual intercourse as a holy intrinsic part of married union, it was called the corrupt carrier of original sin, only to be used for the procreation of children. We now know its rich love overflows to provide the emotional welfare of these very children, and without which they will grow up with a deep emotional handicap.

As will be shown again later, one of the prime arguments used to “prove” that contraception is intrinsically evil is that it has always been forbidden by the Church. I believe it is vital to put this eaching into the context of Augustine’s and Aquinas’ idea that procreation alone justified intercourse in marriage. All intercourse which was not procreative in intention or form was deemed mortal sin till the mid-fifteenth century.

There is no better resumé of all this than the index entry under Intercourse in Noonan’s Contraception where all these types of intercourse are listed with page numbers describing them as banned, then other page numbers showing that centuries later they were permitted as innocent acts in marriage. I believe the debate over contraception in this century mirrors that battle over the other types of intercourse, which are non-procreative in intention or form, fought over in earlier centuries. Mercifully “the constant teaching of the Church” was not advanced as a blocking point against any of them!

Examples of such “mortal sins in form” are intercourse in menstruation, intercourse in pregnancy, intercoursein any position except with the man on top (other positions were thought to impede fertilisation). Intercourse deemed “sinful by intention” was intercourse for pleasure (see particularly Noonan pp.196/7).

This violent hostility to pleasure as a purpose was joined, in some authors, by the belief that any pleasure experienced in intercourse, even intercourse for procreation, was sinful. This doctrine had been that of Gregory the Great. In the twelfth century his position was dourly set forth by Huguccio. Coitus “can never be without sin, for it always occurs and is exercised with a certain itching and a certain pleasure; for in the emission of the seed, there is always a certain excitement, a certain itching, a certain pleasure.” (Summa

Fortunately in those days the doctrine of Papal Infallibility had not been declared a dogma. However, I believe the words in the opening Accusation that “contraception is gravely opposed to marital chastity” is a modern expression of Gregory the Great’s pessimism about marital sexuality, being echoed by the Popes of the 20th century.

Another form of intercourse deemed sinful when the intention is “the avoiding of fornication” comes from Augustine’s extraordinary twisting of the teaching of St Paul in Cor 1.7, that those who have not the gift of continence should marry to avoid fornication – that is they should not starve each other sexually lest they be tempted (to adultery) by their incontinence. Augustine left theologians following him with the strange idea that those who married to avoid fornication should practice continence with their wives unless tempted to adultery. This is to turn St Paul’s teaching upside down.

Here is an example of this extraordinary concept – permission had to be sought to have intercourse with the wife if adultery seemed imminent.

In the fourteenth century, an innovating Dominican Archbishop, Peter de Palude (died 1342), carefully developed an appealing hypothetical. Suppose a man is about to speak for a long time in a private place to a woman who has tempted him before: may he not get “cooled off’ (refrigeratus) by first having intercourse with his wife? Peter concluded that he might, and he set out the generalisation that intercourse to avoid fornication was lawful if, and only if, there were no other means to avoid adultery (Noonan p.249).

Fear that the husband may commit adultery was the reason why Parisian theologian Martin Le Maistre SJ (1432-1481) was to argue against the sinfulness of intercourse in pregnancy a century later.

Le Maistre emphasizes the effect of the old doctrine on the married life of Christian couples; the view – that copulation for the sake of pleasure may be mortal sin – is, “I believe, much more dangerous for human morals”. Given that doctrine, a simple man will readily have intercourse with any woman as with his wife when he feels the impulse for pleasure. The difficulties caused by the old theory are particularly striking when pregnancy has occurred: “I ask how many dangers do they (my opponents) expose the consciences of scrupulous spouses to, for there is many a one whose wife is immediately made pregnant, and after this has happened, they expose to the danger of mortal sin whoever seeks the debt unless it is certain that he does this to avoid fornication” (Noonan p.309).

Both these statements show beyond doubt that traditional teaching had not accepted that frequent intercourse is part of the loving expression of the union of husband and wife. Rather the teaching was that the intercourse is solely a procreative act, the pleasure of which the couple were at first seen to be sinfully enjoying; gradually the teaching changed, so that the should be allowed intercourse without pain of sin because they were too weak to do without it.

Part of my research for this Appeal has been to talk to bishops or theologians when opportunity to mix with them arises. Only in November 1999, did I have my most recent chance. The priest theologian concerned told me that just as homicide in self defence was no sin, so contraception “to preserve the marriage” bore very little guilt. Is he a Palude or Le Maistre of this century? Discussion of his remark with lay friends resulted in this conclusion: Jesus Christ always said “Go and sin no more” not “Your circumstances are such that there is very little guilt for you in this, so carry on”. He did, however, get furious with the Pharisees who placed heavy burdens on people’s backs with laws of their own making which they called the “Law of God”. I believe that just as forbidding intercourse in pregnancy and all the other “sins” mentioned above arose from the human error of Augustine and which were gradually changed into rightful acts, so contraceptive intercourse in marriage must be seen as RIGHT in certain circumstances. It is moreover an affront to most people’s spiritual dignity to allow them to continue with a sinful course of action because they are too weak to do otherwise. The situation is that they are being told something is a sin when it is not, just as their ancestors were told by moral theologians of the past, as I hope I have convincingly shown.

The final horrifying quotation from Augustine is where he dared to change the words of Christ, and thus erased them till this day, as revelation about sexuality in marriage -a matter I will raise later.

In intercourse man becomes all flesh. (Sermons 62.2 PL 38.88)

Chapter 2: Beginnings of Change

As stated before, parallel to this anti-sexual teaching were panegyrics about emotional and spiritual love between couples of what is termed “agape love”. It had no connotation with sexual intercourse whatsoever. When was sexual intercourse first connected with love by the Church? The astonishing answer is in the 1920s – by Dietrich Von Hildebrand who wrote Marriage, the Mystery of Faithful Love. He gave a lecture in Ulm, Germany, arguing a distinction between love as the meaning of marriage and procreation as its purpose. He characterised marriage as a ‘community of love’ which ‘finds its end in procreation’.

In 1935, Herbert Doms wrote Vom Sinn and Zweck der Ehe, which appeared in English under the title of The Meaning of Marriage. Doms suggests that the power of intercourse lies in its ability to bring about the total gift of self. Because sperm and ova do not meet in every act of intercourse, the first purpose of marriage is the union of the spouses with two ulterior motives – their fulfilment as persons and the conception of a child. Doms’ approach was not simply a development of traditional doctrine and could be construed as a change in the Church’s very understanding of marriage. Not surprisingly, Doms’ work was withdrawn from circulation in the early 1940s by order of the Congregation of the Holy Office.

Noonan quotes Doms, saying (p 497):

In the perfect act, worthy of human beings, the two partners grasp each other reciprocally in intimate love; that is spiritually they reciprocally give themselves in an act which contains the abandonment and enjoyment of the whole person and is not simply an isolated activity of organs.

Then on p.498, Doms says something which I am sure St Augustine would have said of marital sexuality had he had sacramental rather than sacrilegious experience of it. Doms boldly developed the parallel with the Eucharist:-

The physical union in marriage completed the moral participation in the life of the other, just as physical union with Christ in the Eucharist completed the moral union with Christ.

The reaction of Pius XII to Doms is to be found in his “Address to members of the Congress of the Italian Association of Catholic Midwives” [October 29 1951; AAS 43 (1951) pp.835-854 and hereinafter referred to as “Midwives”]:

§.43: “’Personal values’ and the need to respect them is a subject that for the past twenty years has kept writers busily employed. In many of their elaborate works, the specifically sexual act too has a position allotted to it in the service of the married state. The peculiar and deeper meaning of the exercise of the marital right (9) should consist in this (they say): that the bodily union is the expression and actuation of the personal and affective union.”

§ 46: “Now if this relative appreciation merely emphasised the value of the persons of the married couple rather than that of the offspring, such a problem could, strictly speaking, be disregarded. But here is a question of a serious inversion of the order of values and purposes which the Creator has established. We are face to face with the propagation of a body of ideas and sentiments directly opposed to serene, deep and serious Christian thought.”

§ 47: “The truth is that marriage as a natural institution is not ordered by the will of the Creator towards the personal perfection of the husband and wife as its primary end, but to the procreation and education of new life. The other ends of marriage, although part of nature’s plan, are not of the same importance as the first, still less are they superior.”

In rejecting the idea that intercourse has an emotional meaning for the couple, Pius XII removes the main justification there is for contraception. He follows Augustine’s teaching on the primacy of procreation over all the other ends of marriage (“Midwives”, 48). He castigates contraception users for the selfish use of pleasure given for the good of the race. It is small wonder then, that he can happily teach total abstinence to married couples, saying God will provide the grace for such heroism (pp41/42). These three quotations demonstrate more clearly than anything I have read, that popes can have erroneous personal opinions which must not be confused with infallible teaching.

The most formative document in this century was Pius XI’s Casti Connubii, which was written in opposition to the recent statements on contraception at the Lambeth Conference. These Anglican Bishops were speaking from the experience of marriage. Pius XI answered them with a tirade in which St. Augustine was quoted no less than 13 times. Augustine’s accusation of lust is loud and clear in paragraph 53:

This criminal abuse (contraception) is claimed as right by some on the ground that they cannot endure children but want to satisfy their carnal desire without incurring any responsibility.

I oppose this, saying that the motive for contraception is so that the couple can live the normal sexual life of marriage when further children should not be born to them. Reared on textbooks based on Augustine, convinced by him that married couples are constantly tempted by and overcome by lust, unaware and denying that intercourse has an emotional meaning, can it be said that the Papacy has an insight into moral truths denied to the ordinary faithful in a matter where the faithful, not the Popes, have sacramental experience?

Pius XI also said in Casti Connubii:

But everyone can see to how many fallacies an avenue would be opened up and how many errors would become mixed with the truth, if it were left solely to the light of reason of each to find out, or if it were to be discovered by private interpretation of the truth which is revealed. And if this is applicable to many other truths of the moral order, we must all the more pay attention to those things which appertain to marriage where the inordinate desire for pleasure can attack frail human nature and easily deceive it and lead it astray.

This piece was quoted in the Minority Report which will be referred to later, for as Pius XI continues:

For Christ Himself made the Church the teacher of truth in those things also which concern the right regulation of moral conduct, even though some knowledge of the same is not beyond human reason.

Chapter 3: Vatican ll and the Papal Commission

a) Bishops of Vatican II

Still dwelling on the premise that the ‘constant teaching of the Church’ is a reason for change rather than a bastion against it, I turn now to Vatican II. It is important to remember that this was a democratic event; bishops could speak from the heart without fear of censure. Because of this fact, Curial documents were rejected and outpourings of immense beauty and obviously deep-felt faith were put in their place.

This was true also for the theology of marriage. The most encouraging part of this process was the wholesale rejection of Augustine’s teaching by those pastoral bishops who had listened to the married members of their flock and could speak of marriage with the moving beauty of great insight.

Bishop de Roo of Victoria, Canada was one such (Pope & Pill, p32, edited by Leo Pyle, Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd, 1968):

Classical doctrine states that marriage is intended for procreation. Let us not forget, however, that procreation requires that parents be the authors of more than physical life. They must also be a source of love for the entire family, a fountain which must never run dry… Constant expression of affection and dedication is like the sacrament of the married vocation because it both signifies and nourishes this vocation…

Married couples tell us (my emphasis) that conjugal love is a spiritual experience of the most profound kind. It gives them their deepest insight into their own being, into what they mean to each other, into their mutual communion in unbreakable union… We should not hesitate to recognise also the healing value of marital intimacy. Husband and wife find it indispensable when spirits are dejected, when a partner labours under some extreme difficulty, when home life has lost the serenity so necessary for the children’s welfare. For when we talk of conjugal union, not only the parents are involved but the children as well. Christian conjugal love overflows into the children and all those associated with the home. Pastoral experience knows this for a fact.. (my italics). This Council will promote the redemption of all humanity by speaking frankly of the positive value of conjugal love …’

Compare this with Cardinal Browne of the Curia (ibid p27):

The love of friendship (Agape) must come first: the second (eros) is not forbidden, but we must understand that if we are not careful, in the normal course of events, it will lead to egoism… Conjugal love will be love if its acts are in conformity with the purpose willed by God.

What a contrast in attitude between one who has learnt from textbooks and one who listens to and understands those who have sacramental experience! The result of these debates was that Curial documents asserting the primary/ secondary purposes of marriage were abandoned. Union of the couple and conjugal love were accepted as purposes of intercourse – this all in direct contradiction to Pius XII’s “Midwives”. Also despite Cardinal Ottaviani’s best efforts, couples were given the right to decide the size of their families. These were all momentous departures from the ‘constant teaching’. But alas, Paul VI refused the bishops the right to discuss contraception. It is my opinion that the bishops agreed to this only because Pope John XXIII had set up a Commission to deal with the matter.

My ground for saying this is a little known fact which I only discovered from reading Robert Blair Kaiser’s The Encyclical That Never Was, that at the end of that Commission, 16 bishops were added to it. They listened to the evidence given which contained witness from married people about the difficulties they had with the Rhythm Method. As was the practice in Vatican II, the bishops took a vote at the end. Nine voted that contraception was not intrinsically evil: these were Doepfner, Suenens, Shehan, Lefebvre, Dearden, Dupuy, Mendez, Reuss and Zoa. Three abstained: Heenan, Gracias and Binz. The Curial party alone voted for the status quo: Ottaviani, Columbo and Morris. One bishop never attended: Wojty»a (now Pope John Paul ll!). Had the whole *assembly of bishops been allowed to vote at Vatican II, the Curial party would probably have been defeated. As it was, the majority of pastoral bishops went home and the Curia remained to pressurise Paul VI to write the disastrous encyclical Humanae Vitae. Obedience to “God’s” authority and punitive sanctions have silenced the bishops ever since. There is alas, no defence against theorists who do not have to test their ideas in practice.

Like the Lambeth Conference before it in 1930, the Pontifical Commission could be said to be a jury-like group sitting in judgement on their married fellow Christians who used contraception. No group was better equipped they were serious devout Catholics of high reputation with great experience in all fields relating to marriage. They all believed at the outset that contraception was intrinsically evil and all were nominated as people of good will by John XXIII and Paul IV. As part of my defence of contraception users, I call upon anyone now still sitting in judgement upon them to read:

1. The Encyclical that Never Was by Robert Blair Kaiser

2. Love One Another – Psychological Aspects of Natural Family Planning by John Marshall

3. Turning Point by Robert McClory, based on evidence from Mrs Patty Crowley

The turning point, from which the third book takes its title, was the dramatic moment when the Commission found they could not justify condemning contraception from Natural Law.

Cardinal Heenan, who at the outset had been a firm defender of the old teaching, was swayed into abstaining by the evidence heard through Patty Crowley and John Marshall of the difficulty posed in many marriages by the use of Natural Family Planning.

Having read these three books, I am of the opinion that Humanae Vitae was one of the gravest miscarriages of justice of this century. Who helped to bring this about?

b) The Minority Theologians

These were four prominent theologians: Fr John Ford SJ of the Catholic University of Washington; Fr Jan Visser C.SS.R of the Urban University, Rome; Fr Marcelino Zalba SJ of the Gregorian University, Rome; and Fr Stanislaus de Lestapis SJ.

Patty Crowley reports Fr Zalba as saying “What then of the millions we have sent to hell, if these norms were not valid?”, to which she replied “Father Zalba, do you really believe God has carried out all your orders?” This answer did not deter them. They rephrased Zalba’s question in their Minority Working Paper:

If contraception were declared not intrinsically evil, in honesty it would have to be acknowledged that the Holy Spirit in 1930, in 1951 and in 1958, assisted the Protestant Churches, and that for half a century Pius XI, Pius XII and a great part of the Catholic hierarchy did not protest against a very serious error, one of the most pernicious to souls: for it would thus be suggested that they condemned most imprudently, under pain of eternal punishment, thousands upon thousands of human acts which are now approved.

They feared that changing the teaching would undermine Papal authority because they would have to admit Pius XI and Pius XII had erred. They feared furthermore that if contraception were not declared intrinsically evil, it would open the floodgates to fornication, adultery, abortion and divorce. Furthermore, by removing the necessity for intercourse to be procreative in form, there would be no argument against oral and anal intercourse, solitary or mutual masturbation or homosexual genital activity. Orgasm is the same for the man, but does not the difference lie in the orifice used?

They also questioned the integrity of the married people on the Commission who were asserting that frequent intercourse in marriage was not due to hedonism and selfishness:

This (psychological good) can be obtained in some other way, which is something the contraceptive theory is always silent about – for conjugal love is above all spiritual (if the love is genuine) and it requires no specific carnal gesture, much less its repetition in some determined frequency. Consequently the affirmed sense of generosity and absence of hedonism are suspect when we find the intimate love of the whole person between a father and a daughter, a brother and a sister without the need of carnal gestures.

I am quite astonished that anyone could compare marital love with parental / sibling love. It shows, however, what little understanding they had of the realities of married life. Were they therefore fit to sit in judgement on behaviour in that life?

Had those scholarly theologians been interested in changing the teaching on contraception, rather than buttressing it at any cost, they could have made precisely the case I have made with the same quotations and more. Instead, they gloss over all the times “the Church erred through many centuries by imposing many very grave burdens in the name of Jesus Christ” with “the malice (venial) of the use of matrimony without procreative intent”.

Chapter 4: Humanae Vitae

Thanks to the input of married people on the Pontifical Commission and the Pastoral Bishops’ contribution to Caudium et Spes, HV departs completely from previous teaching, because it admits for the first time, in contradiction to Pius XII quoted above, that sexual intercourse has a unitive as well as a procreative meaning to the couple. Speaking of the nature of conjugal love in II 9, Paul VI says that it is human, total, faithful.

Under the heading human, he says:

This love is first of all fully human, that is to say, of the senses and the spirit at the same time. It is not, then, a simple transport of instinct and sentiment, but also and principally, the act of free will, intended to endure and grow by means of the joys and sorrows of daily life, in such a way that husband and wife become one only heart and one only soul, and together attain their human perfection.

If he really understood what the married members of the Commission were saying, he would have added the words that it is in the marriage act of bodily love that this union of heart and soul finds fullest expression.

Like Pius XII, he admitted that there were times in marriage when a couple could be seen to have a duty not to procreate. These two points could have been the reason for allowing contraception. Unfortunately, with the advance in knowledge about the physiology of ovulation (i.e.the discovery of the safe ‘period’ in 1933,) another means of preventing conception became available – that of abstaining from intercourse during ovulation. This has enabled the Church to continue its embargo on contraception yet allow family planning of some sort.

The whole underlying drift of HV is to prove the virtue of the one and the vice of the other, an argument the ordinary layman thinks is completely specious. A question that is not being asked, is ‘has the Church any right to impose this cyclical abstinence on the couple, which is based on scientific knowledge that only came to light in 1933 and therefore had no part in the constant teaching of the Church?’ Responsible parenthood is praised as co-operating with God’s creative plan. However, although the Commission could not demonstrate why, Paul VI asserts “The Church, calling men back to the observance of the norms of natural law, as interpreted by her constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life”.

Speaking of Natural Family Planning, Paul VI states:

In relation to the tendencies of instinct or passion, responsible parenthood means that necessary domination which reason and will must exercise over them (HV II 10).

It is as though mouthing praise of physical love in accordance with married witness, still Augustine’s theory holds more weight. Lust must be controlled. Contraception demands no control – Natural Family Planning does. He also states:

It is true that in one and the other case [i.e. Natural Family Planning and contraception] the married couple are concordant in the positive will of avoiding children for plausible reasons, seeking certainty that offspring will not arrive; but it is only in the former case they are able to renounce the use of marriage in fecund periods, when, for just motives, procreation is not desirable, while making use of it during infecund periods to manifest their affection and to safeguard their mutual fidelity (HV II 16).

Paul VI does not address what a couple have to do to manifest their love during fertile periods, or that intercourse is just as appropriate as a unitive force at those times. All this was clearly stated to him in the evidence given in the Pontifical Commission. No judge in a court of law, making a summing up, could omit such crucial evidence. Here in Britain, he would be overturned on Appeal. As Roman Catholics, such justice is available to us as criminals but not as presumed sinners!

The fears of the Minority theologians seem to have persuaded Pope Paul VI. His concern was that contraception can be abused outside marriage in fornication and adultery, indeed can encourage such conduct with the fear of conception removed. However, just because a substance or appliance can be abused, does not make it intrinsically evil. How about alcohol?

The sad thing is that the conservative wing of the Church blames all ills in modern marriage on contraception, when in truth everyone else knows the problem is far more complex. Those supporting the encyclical do so on two grounds:-

1. That the high rates of divorce and promiscuity can all be blamed on contraception,

2. That Natural Family Planning gives to its users a moral excellence and insight into life, not vouchsafed to others who are contemptuously dismissed as having a ‘contraceptive mentality’.

John Paul II

Is it true to say that no pope in history has preached and written so prolifically as John Paul II? From whence does the theory behind his teaching come? On sexuality, his guide Love and Responsibility (L&R), which is based on lectures at Lublin in the Catholic University in 1958-9, shows his absorption in questions of human sexuality and the solidity of his convictions well before Vatican II. It is my purpose here to show that in his theories he is a true son of Augustine. He quotes Augustine’s use of the verbs usi = to use and frui = to bear fruit. The natural purpose of sexual intercourse is to bear fruit, and wilful avoidance of this is to make the spouses objects of ‘use’ for each other. As I mentioned before, the unruly and predatory nature of the male organ about which Augustine spoke so eloquently in Marriage and Concupiscence, appears charmingly in a chapter headed the Metaphysics of Shame. It suggests how a pious youth should deal with the horror of the unsolicited erection and the avoidance of an evil attitude to women, making them objects of use at the end of this unruly organ. This is as much a problem inside marriage as out of it. Intercourse is intended for procreation but the physical pleasure (given for the good of the race) is always a temptation to abuse to which the virtue of Chastity, seriously practised, is the panacea.

If the possibility of parenthood is deliberately excluded from marital relations, the character of the relationship between the partners automatically changes. The change is away from unification in love and in the direction of mutual, or rather, bilateral, ‘enjoyment’. (L&R p.228)

Note 66 relating to this statement says:

Reason admits of only one view as to the Creator’s attitude to such behaviour. It is as easy to define as the reaction of a father who gives his child a piece of bread and jam, and seeing him eating the jam and throwing the bread away. If the child must not reject what is necessary to sustain life, and grasp only at that which gives pleasure, how much less seemly is such conduct in adults?

Instead, is it not truer to say the relationship is the bread of marriage and the children the occasional jam?

Earlier on p.228 he makes the strange statement:

Mutual betrothed love demands a union of persons. But the union of persons is not the same as sexual union. The latter is raised to the level of the person only when it is accompanied in the mind and the will by acceptance of the possibility of parenthood.

Could one not say instead that sexual union is no union at all outside the sacrament of marriage. Without the commitment of marriage it is an act of use, within it, it is an act of love to which is attached the privileged fruit of children?

In Familiaris Consortio written after he became Pope, his Augustinian legacy is again apparent but in a new guise, after taking into account the radical difference from Augustine’s teaching, that intercourse has a unitive meaning.

He also invented an entirely new attack on contraception – it is not unitive.

When a couple, by means of recourse to contraception, separate these two meanings (unitive and procreative) that God the Creator has inscribed in the being of man and woman and in the dynamism of their sexual communion, they act as “arbiters” of the divine plan and they “manipulate” and degrade human sexuality – and with it themselves and their married partner – by altering its value of “total” self-giving. Thus the innate language that expresses total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality. (Familiaris Consortio 32)

This statement convinces me that John Paul’s object is not to make his teaching fit the facts but rather to make the “facts” support the heritage of Augustine’s teaching.

Were he to say coitus interruptus was an attack on the “unitive” purpose of intercourse, he would be right. In it there is no proper union. It is probably the highly unsatisfactory nature of this act, used as a means of birth control, that spurred on the manufacture of contraception which allows near-normal sexual union without fertilisation.

He rejects too, the Special Commission’s plea that greater understanding of the psychology of human sexuality be a reason for removing the embargo on contraception. Instead he invents a putative psychological reason for contraception being evil, i.e. that the couple are withholding something from each other – their fertility, and therefore their union is not complete. Or to use Karol Wojty»a’s own expression (L & R) ‘they are licking off the jam while throwing away the bread’.

On p.236 of Love and Responsibility, John Paul II is tenderly permissive, the sterile are allowed to have intercourse as often as they wish:

They may continue to have sexual relations even in spite of permanent or temporary infertility. For infertility itself is not incompatible with the inner willingness to accept conception, should it occur. It makes no difference that conception may not occur because it is precluded by nature.

To those who ought to be sterile for manifold reasons he is contrastingly harsh on p.239:

Those who do not desire the consequence must avoid the cause. Since sexual intercourse is the biological cause of conception, spouses who wish to avoid conception must abstain from intercourse.

These two statements illustrate that it is the notionally procreative form of intercourse which is the criterion for rectitude. Human life is sacred, so too the way it comes to be. Not that sexual intercourse and children are an intrinsic part of marriage. It seems that, for the Papacy, the agony of the childless couple is irrelevant. Medical aid such as IVF is illicit because here the ‘sin’ is reversed – procreation is separated from intercourse. The agony of the couple who should not conceive a child can be just as real. Indeed, to borrow John Paul II’s own words, contraception “is not in itself incompatible with the inner willingness to accept conception should it occur”. Hereditary congenital abnormality, serious risk to the mother’s health, lack of financial resource etc. are all factors which, if removed, might result in a delighted quest to conceive another child. It is also wickedly unjust to suggest that every contraceptive-using couple have “no inner willingness to accept conception should it occur”, i.e. that they will resort to abortion should contraception fail, any more than NFP users might.

Linking abortion to contraception in this manner does the Roman Catholic Church no favours. Abortion is always evil – the argument is about mitigating circumstances. Contraception prevents abortion being necessary, and in this context it is an entirely different question from a secular society’s acceptance of youthful fornication as ordinary behaviour, with contraception used merely as a means of freedom. Unfortunately, the heritage of Augustine has made intercourse as wrong inside marriage as out of it, except where it is procreative in form and therefore notionally ‘pro life’. Not that intercourse is the expression of a lifelong exclusive sexual union. An act, like child-bearing, to which the couple have an inalienable right, which is not vouchsafed to those who are single, and which no moral authority has the right to remove.

Crucial Advances in Physiological Understanding of Human Sexuality

The second and third paragraphs of the attack on contraceptive users, quoted at the beginning of this paper, extol Natural Family Planning. It behoves us therefore to look more closely at the physiology of human sexuality, both male and female, as presently understood, in this particular context.

Modern physiology accepts that the male sexual organs function unitively and procreativily, in normal health, at all times. The ejaculate always contains semen. Until 1845 or thereabouts, when the ovum was discovered, this semen was thought to contain a whole live embryo, the homunculus. So contraception killed something live – a form of homicide. Intercourse was seen as a straightforward seed-implanting exercise. As stated above, Natural Law, based on using organs for the purpose given by God, required that seed be planted to generate and the organs were “genitals”.

Until 1930, when the ovulation cycle was better understood, there was no moral theology based on the female organs. Since then we have had an entirely new set of rules. Acceptance, first of all, that there are times in a married woman’s life when she should not conceive a child. At such times, unless she is prepared to undergo that untimely and imprudent pregnancy, she must take her temperature, examine her vaginal secretions and, recently, test her urine before she has ‘unitive sex’. Acceptance too, that the Church has the right to make such a demand upon her. I have not seen this point argued and I dispute it absolutely for the following physiological reasons:

1. Firstly she has different organs for unitive and generative functions, with differing responsibilities for the use of both. Her vagina is her unitive organ. Its function is spousal, its misuses are the named sins of fornication and adultery. Her uterus is her generative organ. At one time she bore what children she could, hoping some would survive to adult life. With the advent of vaccines, antibiotics, clean water, proper obstetric care etc., it is usual for all infants to survive. Children in the West are sometimes in full education till early twenties and parents’ financial resources are restricted. Therefore responsible uterine use means not having all the children who would, if no restriction occurred, be born.

2. In the 1980s, research was done into the suppression of the ovulation during lactation. Its findings were that if a woman breast-feeds for at least six sessions in 24 hours, for periods of at least ten minutes, the pituitary gland secretes a hormone which suspends ovulation. Secondly, at the menopause, ovulation ceases but the woman remains sexually receptive all her life. If we are to learn “God’s will” from “Natural Function”, then I argue that Nature herself contracepts when she can perceive through a suckling child or middle age, that a woman should not conceive. What sustainable reason is there for saying that a woman who has to bottle feed may not artificially copy Nature to space her family, or anticipate the sterility of the menopause when her family is complete?

3. The main reason why so many people reject Natural Family Planning, is because of the abnormal pattern of intercourse it imposes upon the couple. I pondered long and hard about how I could demonstrate the truth of this to a group of unmarried men certain of their own rectitude in demanding such a regime. I hope my solution will not be deemed impertinent or flippant. It should not do so to a group who see nothing wrong in obliging women to finger around their vaginal secretions. What is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander. Let them chart their nocturnal emissions. They will see that these occur in frequency of so-many times per week. These happen to single men in single beds. When they become married men in double beds, intercourse takes place instead. Indeed, it could be said the adult male organs are designed for intercourse with a frequency of so-many times per week. Nocturnal emissions merely keep their organs in working order till a wife is there for them. When the Magisterium can honestly say they do not have such nocturnal emissions then, and only then, can they call on married men to forego intercourse. I speak particularly of young healthy, highly or normally sexed couples, which probably represent an average for a human population.

“The witness of married couples who for years have lived in harmony with the plan of the Creator.” How strange that this plan has only come to light through one facet of physiological knowledge gained in the latter half of the 20th century. What was the Creator doing, allowing this secret to be hidden until now? Was not His plan obvious from the beginning by looking at the male organ and its times per week need? Is it gluttony which makes us eat three times a day or are we designed to do so? Would we not complain if we were told to fast for three days and then eat whenever we wanted on the fourth day?

The regime asked of the fertile couple is not dissimilar. Abstinence may be required till the last ten days of the cycle, then intercourse as often as one likes. This simply is not how the majority find their sexuality works. That some people can work to this demand shows a huge fidelity to the will of God as they see it to be. It is because of this strong religious motivation that they can shoulder this abnormal existence. The unreality of it is seen in the helpful tips in their literature. “Imagine you are courting for one part of the month and on honeymoon the other.” This is a flight from reality. Imagine a husband who has come home having lost his job and a wife whose greatest means of consoling him is the physical/emotional/spiritual act of marriage. And is not lovemaking right to restore harmony after a quarrel?

Another argument for NFP which seems to appeal is that it is good for one to go without what one wants. I do not dispute that and it happens silently in marriage when spouses are mutually sensitive to each other’s need when tired or unwell. This sensitivity to need (either way) is the expression of love.

Recently John Paul II has been relentless, not to say obsessive, in his attack on the ‘Culture of Death’. In this subject he includes not only abortion and euthanasia, but also what he calls ‘the contraceptive mentality’. This would seem to be applied to any who have small families, other than those using NFP. And that’s not all, the West is castigated for providing contraceptive advice to the Third World, which is seen as the greed of companies providing the Pill (no criticism of any other drugs they supply, and whose profits finance research into saving life). He also asserted that, by preventing the indigent Third World women from breeding, the West saves itself from the expense of feeding so many mouths. What is not mentioned are wretched Catholic women in places like Brazil who, forbidden contraception by some clergy, continue to have children with the prospect of turning those as young as ten out of the home to beg in the streets because they cannot afford to support those following on. Here in the West, families curtail their fertility to suit their budget in order to provide proper care for those children they can afford. This is what Responsible Parenthood is all about.

Because human life is sacred from conception to death, the Magisterium has got itself into the strange position in NFP of calling the possibility of conception sacred. This is called “openness to Life” – what it means in plain language is that “each time a couple have intercourse, they must risk pregnancy”. Ovulation must be allowed to occur, and if the ovum is present, must be exposed to the risk of being fertilized if intercourse takes place. Strangely, gametes are sacred, the couple are not.

Chapter 5: A New Theological Approach to Marriage

All this could be changed by a paradigm shift. Life is seen in terms of individuals – from conception to death. We should change that instead to a life cycle. Human life did not begin on earth with a fertilised ovum, it began with a marriage, and could be said to begin again with each new marriage. John Paul II talks of the creating hand of God bringing New Life in marriage. Jesus Christ spoke instead of the creating hand of God bringing the couple together. They are not mere objects in the marriage whose needs may be ignored in deference to their obligation to breed. They are Subjects not Objects of the relationship, co-creators, not pro-creators. Their hidden life is like the hidden roots of a tree. The latter is hidden by a horizontal barrier, the ground level, the former by a vertical one, the bedroom door. Attacking and restricting the expression of married love is like hacking at the roots of the tree. Just as cutting away the roots removes water supply, nutrition and stability from the tree, so does the Church’s attack on sexual union in marriage hack away at the emotional welfare and unity of the marriage. Contraception is a necessity because of the new need to curtail the number of fruit that can be borne, depending on circumstances.

As I said, ‘natural’ family planning has only been possible since the physiology of ovulation was discovered in the 1930s. It is understandable, but not excusable, in the light of Augustine’s theory of lust prevalent in the history of Magisterium’s thinking. Its offensiveness is not understood by those who promote it, because they have had no subjective sacramental experience of marriage!

Christ’s Ignored Teaching

I believe the one huge mistake of the Church’s Magisterium has been not to link up all the evidence given by married people about the need for frequent intercourse in marriage, to the teaching of Christ in Mt 19.6. Not only is this teaching concerned with divorce but also with revelation about why marriage is indissoluble, and the part that sexual intercourse plays in the indissolubility. Remember what Augustine said:

In intercourse man becomes all flesh. (Sermons 62.2 PL 38.88)

Christ does not quote Genesis 2.24 saying “It is written that …”. He puts its words into the very mouth of God imself. We were made male and female “and He said to them ‘For this cause a man shall leave father and mother and shall cleave to his wife and they two shall be one flesh’.” Then he adds a corollary, revealing the effect that intercourse has on the couple “Therefore they are no longer two but one flesh”. At intercourse in marriage, they cease to be two separate individuals, but become partners in a mysterious whole.

I ask my readers to turn back to Pius XII’s statement in “Midwives” 43. Is not what “they say” a paraphrase of these words of Christ? If so, it could be said that Pius XII is contradicting the teaching of Christ. The denial that frequent intercourse is necessary in marriage, made by the Minority theologians, is another such denial of Christ’s teaching.

In joy, delight, pain, difficulty or reconciliation after anger, couples have intercourse to be one with each other. Their primary, continuous, lifelong duty is to sustain that oneness. Upon it (we are learning more and more) does the welfare of their children depend. From all I have quoted here, I hope I have demonstrated beyond all doubt that the relationship of spousehood is not understood, nor this teaching of Christ. If it were, none of what I have quoted could have been written. This 20th century new attack on marriage – the imposition of abstinence upon fertile women who should not have children during such time as they are ovulating, is yet another pretext to do what clerics have done throughout the ages “put asunder (physically) what God has joined together”. And all because Augustine saw frequent intercourse as lust, and not the expression of conjugal love: “In intercourse a man becomes all flesh”.

The British Marriage Vow

Lastly, a point which I hope will be Britain’s gift to the Church. I was astonished when reading John Paul’s Letter to Families (1996) to read the marriage vow he quotes, which comes from the Rituale Romanum Ordo Celebrandi Matrimonium:

I, N., take you, N., to be my wife/husband. I promise to be true to you in good times and bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honour you all the days of my life.

Other than mention of the words wife/husband, this is a vow of lifelong friendship. Contrast it with ours from the pre-Reformation Sarum Rite, with which I wonder if the Pope is familiar?

I call upon these persons present to witness that I, N., do take thee, N., to be my lawful wedded wife/husband to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.

The all-important words “to have and to hold” say, I believe, what spousehood is all about – a lifelong faithful relationship in which sexual love (have) and tenderness (hold) are promised. This in negative times as well as good. Are not those negative times a succinct list of times when conception should not occur? Natural Family Planning is a breach of this vow because it denies the couple the right to have each other.

Contraception is a beneficial invention of humanity which enables the married relationship to continue uninterrupted when children should not be born.

I hope I have answered the statements heading this paper. Far from the constant teaching of the Church being the reason against change, it is the very reason for it, because it is not based on the teaching of Christ himself in Scripture, but upon the misguided thinking of a reformed fornicator. A man whose teaching down the ages has caused thousands upon thousands of innocent acts of intercourse in marriage to be called sinful.

Rather than accept the witness of married couples about the meaning of intercourse, which alone can provide a sound basis for permitting contraception in marriage, Paul VI allowed his fear of the abuse of contraception outside marriage to persuade himself that he should continue to ban contraception to married people. Natural Family Planning is a convenient “get out” which has falsely been exalted into a pious way of life. It is unjust because it only takes one aspect of the physiology of female sexuality, it ignores the male and it ignores other relevant aspects of the female.

Lastly, in terms of Christ’s teaching, NFP could be said to be an attack on the union of marriage. And for Britain, it is contrary to our vow!

One last word. In Familiaris Consortio (30) John Paul says:

The Church condemns as a grave offence against human dignity and justice all those activities of governments or other public authorities which attempt to limit in any way the freedom of couples in deciding about children.

It is indeed wrong for civil authorities to meddle in the procreative aspect of sexuality. Can it not be said to be equally wrong for a moral authority to suspend the right to the unitive aspect of it? John Paul II then says:

Together with the Synod Fathers (1980), I feel it is my duty to extend a pressing invitation to theologians, asking them to unite their efforts in order to collaborate with the hierarchical Magisterium and commit themselves to the task of illustrating ever more clearly the biblical foundations, the ethical grounds and the personalistic reasons behind this doctrine.

The Church must now, in Truth, admit that these reasons do not exist.

I make this statement as an open letter to the Bishops of England, Wales and Scotland, hoping they will treat the matter herein as evidence to be presented to them as it might be to judges in the Court of Appeal. If they are convinced by my argument that married contraceptive users have been condemned through human error, lack of physiological knowledge, ignoring of Scripture, and finally that what is asked of us is contrary to our British marriage vow, then they should see to it that our innocence is finally declared, and that a spiritual imprisonment in guilt for a course of action necessary in most marriages be finally lifted.

Elizabeth Price