The Observer—Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Rockford
Publication date: July 1, 2005
By Patricia Pitkus Bainbridge
Director, Respect Life Office
It can evoke strong emotions. It can result in heated discussions. It can end a conversation quickly. It is misinterpreted and misconstrued . . . it is the mere mention of the Church’s teaching on contraception.
As difficult as it may be for some to accept—and contrary to some “modern” moral theologians—the Church is very clear that contraception, in all its forms including sterilization, is seriously and morally wrong (Catechism n. 2370). It is intrinsically evil. It can never be a morally correct choice. The Church cannot move something in the intrinsically evil category to the morally acceptable category.
The late Bishop Glennon Flavin explained: “The ban on contraception is not a disciplinary law of the Church, like abstinence on Friday, which the Church can enact and which the Church can change and from which the Church can dispense for good reasons. Rather, it is a Divine Law which the Church cannot change any more than it can change the Law of God forbidding murder . . . it may never be practiced for any reason, no matter how good and urgent. A good end never justifies the use of an evil means.”
Why, then, does poll after poll reveal that Catholic couples contracept at the same or higher rate than non-Catholics? Why do polls report the majority of Catholic Ob/Gyns and family practitioners prescribe contraception, thus materially cooperating in evil?
Many Catholics are sincerely confused. Some wrongly believe that they can follow their “individual conscience.” What they fail to understand is that “one must follow his own conscience” only when that conscience is fully formed in accordance with the “authoritative teaching of the Church” (Catechism n. 1776-1802). “The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings (Catechism n 1783).
Others insist that Vatican II allows for an individual to decide whether or not to use contraception. The actual words of the Second Vatican Council in regards to contraception include the following: “Husband and wife, in their mutual relations, may not act arbitrarily but have always to be governed by conscience which must be conformed to the Divine Law, submissive to the teaching authority of the Church, which authentically interprets that law in the light of the gospels.” (Gaudium et Spes, n. 50).
Some do not want to reject the teachings of the Church, but they do not understand how they can live in today’s world without contracepting. They erroneously think if they follow the teachings of the Church, they will have to have as many children as possible.
The Church does not teach that married couples must have as many children as possible. While couples are to be generous in terms of the number of children they have, for just reasons (Catechism n. 2368), they may use Natural Family Planning (NFP) to space their children or limit the size of their family.
Humanae Vitae (n. 10) states, “In relation to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised, either by the deliberate and generous decision to raise a numerous family, or by the decision, made for grave motives and with due respect for the moral law, to avoid for the time being, or even for an indeterminate period, a new birth.”
If married couples have just reasons for limiting the size of their family, there are healthy, Church approved methods that are not to be confused with the old, unreliable “rhythm” method. Today’s NFP methods—awareness and appreciation of a woman’s natural cycle of fertility—are very reliable. By learning to identify these natural signs of fertility, couples may avoid a pregnancy or help achieve a pregnancy.
July 24-30, 2005 is NFP Awareness Week. Why not do yourself and your marriage a favor and find out more about it? You won’t regret it.