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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 evil.
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 intelligence.
1. Catholic theologians now almost universally
reject the Vatican view, because the marriage act has more purposes than just
Read here a good formulation of the reasons for allowing
contraceptives based on
If I may be permitted a personal note . . .
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 the world.
2. The Vatican view is now rejected by the vast
majority of committed Catholics in the western world.
- 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 conscience.
- In Australia only 2% of students accept the Churchs teaching on
artificial contraception; 89% indicate it is a personal issue for the couple
If the 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
- 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 disease. (student)
- 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 children)
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.