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Contraception Misconceptions

In a study group we are participating in, we missed the session dealing with the Church's teaching on birth control. We did, however, receive a list of comments afterwards. This is the part of our letter in response dealing with each of those comments:

While we were pleased and relieved to see that there did not appear to be any doubt about what the Church actually teaches on this question, we were and are saddened and a little discouraged that there isn't a single positive comment about Church teaching on birth control.

We want to be on the record as saying as proudly and as loudly as we can that we are enormously grateful to the Church for her constant teaching that sexuality must be open to the transmission of life. Adherence to this teaching has caused no small degree of sacrifice and hardship in our lives, but it has also filled our lives with a joy and a fulfilment that we might never otherwise have experienced. It has also helped us to understand ourselves and God's role and plan for us and our lives far more deeply than if we had "disagreed" with Him on this issue. It has also given us a deep love for the Church and trust in her guidance. It has made us grow in generosity, patience, love and trust -- virtues we would not have nurtured as much or as well if we had deliberately withheld our fertility from each other and waited until we thought we were ready for parenthood.

We have some specific comments on the points made in the summary also.

"Parents often impose stricter morals on their children then they observed themselves."

It's hard to tell exactly what context this statement was made in. On the one hand, it could merely be pointing out the irony of "becoming like your parents" even though you swore you never would. On the other, it might be suggesting that to do so is some kind of "hypocrisy" on the part of the parents. (I say "hypocrisy" in quotes because the real meaning of hypocrisy is preaching what you don't believe, not preaching what you don't do yourself.)

Parents have to teach their children that they are called to holiness and help them to live lives that are in accordance with that call. Parents have to realize that they too are called to be holy. Aiming for anything less is unworthy of God and unworthy of us. Children have no chance of becoming holy and of living according to high moral standards if their parents give the false impression that they are perfect, always have been and always will be. If children are going to learn to strive for perfection and keep on striving despite failures along the way, then parents too have to strive for perfection and show their children that they fail but they continue to fight the good fight. The most powerful witness to your children is not the morals you espouse and tell them to adhere to, but letting them see you struggle too, seeing you going to regular Confession, seeing you constantly acknowledging your failure, but never giving up the goal.

The "hypocrisy" of hoping your children won't make the same mistakes you did is when you try and hide your mistakes from them so that they get an unrealistic view of how hard it is not to sin, resenting and exaggerating their own failures and resenting you for having hidden your failures from them.

"Most of the panel who looked into the Church's response to contraception before Humanę Vitę was written, supported contraception."

This seems to suggest that the panel may be right and that Pope Paul VI wrong on the issue, or that the panel was more competent to consider the issue and the majority report should therefore have been given more weight.

Firstly, it should also be stated that there was a strong dissenting minority report from the commission of experts. Secondly, Pope Paul says in Humanę Vitę (§6):

"The conclusions at which the commission arrived could not, nevertheless, be considered by us [the Papal 'we'] as definitive, nor dispense us from a personal examination of this serious question; and this also because, within the commission itself, no full concordance of judgments concerning the moral norms to be proposed had been reached, and above all because certain criteria of solutions had emerged which departed from the moral teaching on marriage proposed with constant firmness by the teaching authority of the Church."

So, some of the views of the majority on marriage were doctrinally unsound. Their views on the "new" question of birth control therefore have to be treated with care.

But the most important point to make is that Christ, in His wisdom, chose to entrust the Deposit of Faith and the authority to teach in His name and bind the consciences of the faithful to Peter and the Apostles. It is the Holy Father, geriatric celibate male that he is, that has the Divine right and mandate to teach on faith and morals. It is the Holy Father who has been promised the guidance of the Holy Spirit when he teaches on faith and morals. Panels of experts can opine until the cows come home, but they do not speak with the voice and authority of Christ. Unfortunately, they don't like to admit they're wrong either.

"Natural Family Planning doesn't work for everyone."

First, we should not labour under the misapprehension that NFP is always OK. Birth control is never OK if the direct purpose is to prevent birth. NFP is only OK when the couple have serious social, psychological, physical or financial reasons to avoid another pregnancy for the time being or indefinitely. In our zeal to try and wake the world up to the fact that modern NFP methods are as effective as the Pill, we're promoting the idea that NFP in and of itself is unassailably good, the Catholic contraceptive. The truth is NFP can be used with exactly the same contraceptive mentality as birth control (it's not as easy, but it's very possible). Pope Paul VI makes it clear that the first question to ask is "Do we have grave reasons for avoiding a pregnancy at this time?" If the answer is "Yes", then NFP and only NFP is a legitimate way to avoid pregnancy. If the answer is "No", then even NFP may lead you into the same exclusion of God, lack of trust and faith in God and anti-life/anti-child mentality that birth control so often does. Using NFP should be an occasion of sadness for a couple that present difficulties preclude the joy of another child.

Anyway, assuming that a couple has grave reasons to resort to NFP to space births, it is true that NFP doesn't work for everyone. However, NFP does work for couples in a stable, loving, committed relationship based on mutual respect who understand sex and sexuality as a gift from God. Men who see sex solely or primarily as a means of gratification and pleasure and their wives as the object of that gratification aren't too good at NFP. Men who think contraception is a woman's problem don't much like NFP. People who don't like the fact that sexual intercourse causes pregnancy don't like NFP either because it serves as a constant reminder of that "unfortunate" fact. Birth control is not a solution to those problems, it perpetuates them and exacerbates them.

"Women often find motherhood more difficult than they expected." "Many women would not cope mentally if they had the number of children they would have, if not for contraception."

It is wrong to assume that if a couple doesn't use contraception, then they will have a horde of children. Unless, of course, we're also assuming that the couple has no self-control and shouldn't have to have any. If pregnancy really would be "inopportune" then you'd be surprised how strong you can be. We aren't animals. We have sexual urges, but we also have a will and reason and the ability to control our passions rather than be enslaved by them. That might make us sound like puritanistic fuddy-duddies. Far from it. Fr Jordan can quote the studies (because he's quoted them to us) that show that couples who don't use birth control continue to make love long into their marriages, more regularly and more often than couples who do use it. The studies also state that couples who don't use birth control are more "playful" in their lovemaking. NFP gives you an incredible respect for the power and dignity of your bodies and your lovemaking. Birth control inevitably makes you see your bodies and your fertility in particular in a negative light.

We forget so often that we are a Sacramental people. Christ left us the Sacraments as an effective means of obtaining His grace to live according to God's will. We forget especially that Marriage is a Sacrament. In a valid Catholic marriage, just living our marriages we receive sacramental grace. We can also draw constantly on the graces of our Baptism and Confirmation, of receiving the Blessed Sacrament and sacramental absolution. What does that mean in practical terms? It means that if we accept and respond to this enormous pool of grace that God sends us, we can cope with whatever problems confront us. The only way a mother of 10 could cope is through the grace of God! If you think you have to go it alone, then you're headed for trouble!

We must bear in mind that our God is a Providential God. We just have to trust Him and He will give us all that we need. We need to remember that Faith and Hope are Cardinal Virtues. If we lose Faith or lose Hope, then we're in trouble.

The true point is that through the difficulties of parenthood (and their are many crosses), particularly in large families, men and women can grow even closer to God because they have to rely on Him on themselves "to cope".

"Disagreement about whether abortions would increase if no contraception was available."

Contraception and abortion are both part of the contraceptive mentality and "culture of death" pervading the Western World. They certainly go hand in hand. It is statistical fact that where contraception is used widely, abortion also increases. Is the converse true though? Where contraception is taken away, would abortion decrease? In the short term, no, they would only increase because just removing contraception will not address the prevailing contraceptive mentality. More resort than ever will be had to abortion to deal with the "failures", the "unplanned" and the "unwanted". But, eventually, it would be hoped that the culture of life would develop again sufficiently to decrease and eventually eliminate abortion.

The point that hasn't been made, of course, is that the most popular form of birth control, the Pill, is an abortifacient. One of the documented ways it works is to convince the body that it is not pregnant even when fertilization has occurred so that the embryo is unable to embed in the uterine wall and is discharged with the menses during menstruation. But try getting a doctor to tell you that! Putting aside all questions about contraception, it is inconceivable that anyone opposed to abortion can take the Pill, or that once knowing that is abortifacient in approximately 30% of cycles (I think that's the correct figure) they can continue to use it. The same is equally true of other methods such as the IUD, these are not contraceptives at all, but designed to prevent implantation of fertilized ova.

"The morality of using contraception within versus outside marriage needs to be considered differently."

Contraception is only a minor part of the entire question of sexuality and marriage. Strictly speaking, there can be no discussion of the morality of contraception outside marriage because there should be no occasion of conception outside marriage. Clearly that does not reflect what happens in the world, but it raises the issue, it is not licit to do something evil so that something good might result. "Two wrongs don't make a right."

If contraception is wrong within marriage, which should be a mutually supportive, respectful, stable, life-long commitment, then how much more wrong must it be in relationships which are transitory, impermanent, uncommitted or unstable, which are based on physical delights.

Teenage pregnancy is certainly a problem that cannot be shied away from. It may seem to be supportive and caring to say, "Well, if you can't be good, be safe." But it is false charity. How loving is it to deny someone the truth and encourage them to continue to live lives that are destructive of themselves and those around them. "Chastity training" in the United States has had enormous impact. Virginity until marriage is encouraged and embraced in a way that is inconceivable here where the mere thought of not having "tried before you buy" is considered abnormal. But we owe people nothing less.

Then, of course, there is the question of AIDS and other (albeit non-fatal) sexually transmitted diseases. All hail the Almighty Condom! "Safe sex" should really be called "safe-ish sex", and even that's being too generous. If the condom is only 75% effective (when used properly!) to prevent pregnancy which can only result from intercourse in a 2-5 day window during the month, why on earth are we lying to people by telling them it will prevent them from contracting HIV which doesn't care what time of the month it is?!

If someone were robbing a bank, we wouldn't teach them how to hold the gun safely. Why then do we give in with chastity and say, you're not going to be able to be good, so here's how to protect yourself from getting pregnant. Responsible care and use of our bodies and sexuality requires a lot of maturity and self-respect. Offering contraceptives to teenagers does nothing but diminish any chance they ever had of respecting themselves and their bodies in the way God intended. Not developing a sense of respect for their bodies and the dignity of the gift of sexuality in our children will place them in the most dangerous and precarious situations, and leave them very ill-equipped to cope.

Contraception, of course, is the easy "solution" to the problem. It's easier to give a teenager a condom or a prescription for the Pill than it is to address the reasons it is so hard to be chaste in today's world. But easy solutions are rarely the right ones. And this solution in particular is only compounding the problem so that it gets harder with each new generation of teenagers to deal with the problems.

In addition, a couple who is committed to marriage but decides to be sexually active during their engagement or beforehand and decides to use contraceptives until they are married are hardly likely to suddenly embrace NFP when they walk down the aisle. The point is that contraception develops a mentality that is ruining the Western World. That might seem a bit extreme, but I have no doubt that it is true, and Pope Paul VI predicted as much in Humanę Vitę. Allowing that mentality to develop outside of marriage can only have the most destructive influence on marriage itself.

In natural law terms, marriage has certain fundamental "goods" that are inherent in its nature: fecundity, fidelity and indissolubility. Any attack on one of these goods naturally leads to the weakening of the others. There is no doubt whatsoever that contraception and a contraceptive mentality has grave consequences on conjugal fidelity and the permanence of the marriage. The widespread problem of divorce in modern society can be laid fairly and squarely at the feet of the contraceptive mentality and the warped view of self, sexuality and married love that it entails. Proof of this can be seen in the extremely low divorce rates among couples who do not use contraception.

"The group felt that it was unfortunate that some people turned from the Church because they could not accept the teaching on contraception and would feel like hypocrites if they stayed."

There can be absolutely no doubt that the widespread dissent (particularly in academic theological circles) from Humanę Vitę has caused a crisis in the Church at the end of the Twentieth Century. It has reached the stage where all Church teaching is considered mere opinion and Catholics choose whichever parts (if any) they consider most palatable. (I'll take Christmas and angels and warm fuzzies, but you can leave all the hard stuff on the shelf!)

It is always saddening and perplexing when people leave the Catholic Church. How could anyone leave it, no matter how hard the teachings, or even how corrupt the clergy and hierarchy, or even how hypocritical and sinful the faithful, if they understood that this was the Church Christ Himself founded, which He promised to stay with until the end of time, which He promised the Holy Spirit as guide through 2,000 years so far of Christian history, which He gave the power to loose and bind, to which He gave the Keys of Heaven itself? People have left the Church because they could not accept the Teaching of Christ before. It is always sad and scandalous.

Even when He was alive on earth, Jesus had to suffer people walking away from Him. He said to the rich young man, who confessed that he lived a perfectly moral life, "Then, sell all you own, give it to the poor, and come follow me." But the rich young man "walked away sad". It cannot be an easy thing to walk away from Jesus and the Truth, but that is what they have done. The question is how do we get them back? Denying the truth about contraception is not the solution to that problem either.

The Holy Father calls married couples particularly to the apostolate to other married couples in Familiaris Consortio. We need holy men and women who are prepared to show that it is possible and fulfilling to live according to the high values the Church calls us to. We need Saints who have lived in the same situations as we have and on whom we can model ourselves. And we need to admit that we can't solve anything on our own. We have to trust and hope in our Father in Heaven who sees all things and knows all things and has loved us since the beginning of time and is willing to help, if only we would ask.

I've enclosed a copy of a recent document that has issued from the Curia that touches on this topic: the Vademecum for Confessors on some aspects of the morality of conjugal life issued by the Pontifical Council for the Family. This is a document directed to priests who hear the confessions of married people and how to deal with the question of contraception with them at all levels, those who are using it but have an uncooperative spouse. Those who don't understand the gravity of using contraception. And those who are fully aware of the teaching and struggling to live according to it. It is a good example of the Vatican's pastoral approach on the topic, and the way that some of the hurt and pain that the organised dissent from this teaching can be relieved and rectified.

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