Artificial Birth Control
Ever since Pope Paul VI published Humanae
Vitae in 1967, the official position of the Catholic Church has been that
artificial birth control goes against the natural law and is intrinsically
In 1987 John Paul II reiterated
that this teaching of the Church has been written by the creative hand of
God in the nature of the human person. Disputing the doctrine, he said,
is equal to refusing to God himself the obedience of our
Catholic theologians now almost universally reject the Vatican view, because
the marriage act has more purposes than just procreation.
Read here a good formulation
of the reasons for allowing contraceptives
based on pastoral
If I may be permitted
a personal note . . .
When Paul VIs Humanae Vitae came
out, I was teaching in India. The papal ruling hit especially many of the
poorer people in developing countries such as India.
As a theologian I
publicly expressed my disagreement as long ago as 1972/1973 . I advocated
that Catholics should feel free to follow their own conscience. It was a
response paralleled by that of theologians, priests and lay people throughout
Vatican view is now rejected by the vast majority of committed Catholics in the
- In the USA, 73% of Catholics maintain one
can be a good Catholic while using contraceptives. 61% believe the Church
should not interfere in this: it should be left to one's own conscience. Even
among weekly Mass-goers, only 21% say this is a matter for Church leaders to
determine, nearly half (45%) consider it a matter for ones own
- In Australia only 2% of students accept the
Churchs teaching on artificial contraception; 89% indicate it is a
personal issue for the couple involved.
Churchs teaching on birth control is almost universally ignored by the
laity in developed countries, the important question is: why?
Has Romes stand been
rejected by a lack of self discipline, by a surrender to convenience, by moral
degeneracy? Though such factors may always play a part, the decisive element is
the fact that people have begun to reason things out for themselves. They judge
matters differently from the Pope and base decisions on their own conscience
rather than on his guidance. This can be proved in two ways.
- Catholics dissent from Romes teaching
also on other questions of sexual ethics, but to varying degrees. To stay with
the US statistics, two-thirds of Catholics condone remarriage without an
annulment or a marriage without Church sanction. But in the complex question of
abortion, opinions are more divided. 53% state one can be a good Catholic while
practising abortion. The same percentage would agree to abortion being made
legal in all circumstances, 33% only in rare circumstances. 41% believe
abortion can often be a morally acceptable choice, 41% rarely, 13% never. In
other words, people are thinking about the issues and attempting to decide them
on their own merit. In all these matters of sexual ethics, however, including
abortion, not more than 20% of Catholics hold that it is the Church hierarchy
that has the final say as to what is right and wrong.
- The same is clear from extensive records of
peoples personal testimonies. They have reasons for rejecting the
Churchs official stance:
- I think that the Church's ways of
thinking are absolutely ridiculous, especially that contraceptives are sin . .
. . In the 90s AIDS and unwanted pregnancy are very common. People being told
that contraception is a sin are probably more likely to contract a
- Humanae Vitae is a beautiful
document except for the few pages about artificial contraception that don't
make sense. The rest is beautiful. They almost have it. The Church teaches
beautiful things about sex and marriage and I use it so much in my life. And it
is very useful when I try to explain sex to my children. But then they negate
what they are saying by adding, But we still believe that men and women
should not practice artificial contraception. And I reply, But you
just spent 20 pages telling me why we should! (mother of two
The sociologist Andrew Greeley
maintains that since the Encyclical Humanae Vitae, the Vatican has lost
its credibility as a teacher of sexual ethics. Many have left the Church.
No one takes it seriously on sexual matters anymore, not even its own members,
not even devout ones. By its wooden and conservative views, Rome has
undermined its own credibility.
The theologian, John Mahoney
S.J., researched The Impact of
Humanae Vitae (1981-1982)
It is a study of the impact of, or the
events brought about in the Church and in moral theology by, Humanae Vitae.
After a brief narrative of events leading to the issuing of the encyclical,
it offers an analysis of the impact of the letter and some theological
reflections on the whole phenomenon.
New Directions in Sexual Ethics,
Kevin Kelly, 1998.
A Guide to forgotten Papal Statements and How They Have Changed Through the Centuries
edited by Maureen Fiedler and Linda Rabben.
Personal testimonies on contraception in response to Pope Francis' invitation to share experinces. Click here.
For a vision of how the Church structures could work in the future, so that this important issue can be discussed, have a look at the website "Church Authority"
This website is maintained by the John Wijngaards Catholic Research Centre.
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