The issue of contraception has been an extremely controversial and debated onein the Catholic Church. The Catholic religion declares that the threerequirements for healthy sexual expression include a mutual physical drive forpleasure, intimacy and committed love between the couple, and the openness toprocreation and parenting children. This last aspect is the subject of muchdisagreement between people both inside and outside the church community.
Theauthoritative voice of the church, the Magisterium, holds that artificialcontraception is a sin and only accepts the form of contraception called NaturalFamily Planning. This method involves avoiding sexual intercourse during certaintimes of the month and will be explained in more detail shortly. There aresituations which are argued should be exceptions, such as rape, a family whoalready has children and can afford no more, and the overall health of thecouple involved in the sexual relationship. The viewpoint of the Church is anold one, but the Magisterium claims that it will not change anytime soon.
Thereare many different types of contraception available. Type one classifiedcontraception includes barrier methods such as condoms, diaphragms, the cervicalcap, and spermicides. Type two classified contraception is hormonal methods,such as birth control pills, emergency contraception or the morning afterpill, IUDs and Norplant. Type three contraception is Natural FamilyPlanning, the only type approved by the Church. Natural Family Planning issometimes confused with the rhythm method, but it actually more effective thanrhythm. NFP is a method that involves careful regulation of a womansmenstrual cycle to determine when her fertile period falls begins.
The day ofovulation and a few days before is considered a womans fertile periodand by either avoiding or participating in intercourse during these days, awoman can decrease or increase her chances of pregnancy respectively. The signsthat a woman is close to ovulation are an increase in basal temperature, changesin vaginal secretions, an opening of the cervical os, physical symptoms such ascramps or moodiness, and an increase in sexual desire. It is important tocarefully monitor all these aspects to ensure proper prevention of pregnancy. This practice is accepted by the Catholic Church because they defend that theintegration of intimacy between partners and the receptivity to procreation arenot obstructed.
It is important to observe how we ended up at the teaching thechurch now holds dealing with contraception and sexuality. Throughout thecenturies, many different decisions from the church have influenced the viewthat is now held. In 306, the Council of Elvira found that a priest who wassexually intimate with their wife the night before a mass would lose his job. Atthe Council of Nicea in 325, the rule that priests could not marry after beingordained was created, and in 385, they could no longer sleep with their wives. The first chastity rules were then being formed for religious people.
St. Augustine had a profound impact on sexual teachings. He lived from 354-430 as aphilosopher and theologian, recently converted from a sinful life. It isbelieved that St. Augustine developed the first codified teachings of sexuality.
He deeply believed the philosophy of Manichaeism, which states that matter isevil opposed to spirit. His teachings were very specific and strict. Stoicphilosophy influenced St. Augustine to require that procreation be the primaryfocus of sexual intercourse and marriage. This teaching was held in the churchall the way until Vatican II.
St. Augustine was the first to condemn abstinenceduring the fertile period and coitus interruptus. He did not believe thatthe pleasure involved with sex should in any way be the motivation, but wasacceptable as a necessary side effect. St. Augustine did not view sex interms of love or expression, but simply as a procreative act necessary for life.
The Second Council of Tours in 567 excommunicated any religious person found inbed with their wife. In 580, the church leader was Pope Pelagius II who had arather casual outlook on sexual matters. He did not want to bother the clergyand rather looked the other way from the corruption going on. Pope Gregory theGreat served from 590-604 and stated that all sexual desire in any form waswrong.
Throughout the world, sexuality was a key issue. Seventh century Francefound most priests to be married. Germany, in the eighth century, reportedthrough St. Boniface that hardly any bishops were following their call tocelibacy. The Council of Aix-la-Chapelle in 836 found that abortions and killingof infants were being practiced in convents and monasteries to concealuncelibate activities of the religious staff.
St. Ulrich fixed thisproblem by allowing priests to marry. St. Thomas Aquinas was a key religiousfigure of the Scholastic Period. He was the first to publicly discuss thegoodness of sexuality with reason.
He stressed the use of ones conscience todetermine what is right and wrong. He, as well, agreed that sexuality andmarriage should have its main purpose as procreation. Although Aquinas held thebeliefs of many former theologians, there was more leniency towards sexualpleasure. Pope Boniface IX resigned the papacy in order to marry in 1045. In1074, Pope Gregory VII made it necessary for anyone being ordained to take anoath of celibacy. The extremity of this was seen in 1095 when Pope Urban II soldthe wives of priests into slavery and left all children of them abandoned.
TheFirst Lateran Council took place in 1123, where Pope Calistus II found allclerical marriages to be officially invalid. This council was supported in theSecond Lateran Council. The Renaissance was quickly approaching and literatureand art were beginning to stress procreation in relationships. The Council ofTrent, from 1543-1563, declared that celibacy and virginity were superior tomarriage.
St. Alphonsus Ligouri, a doctor of the church, was one of the first tostate that an important part of marriage was a means for sexual expression. TheTwentieth Century brought with it many of the most significant documents andmeetings influencing todays stance on sexuality and contraception. TheLambeth Conference took place in 1930 and decided that couples could makedecisions about contraception themselves, but that contraceptives were notapproved by the Church in any way.
Pope Pius XI wrote his encyclical, CastiiConubii, in 1940, stating that procreation should be the primary end for sexualintercourse in a marriage. He stated any use of marriage whatever, in theexercise of which the act is deprived of its natural power of procreating life,violates the law of God and nature, and those who commit anything of this kindare marked with the stain of grave sin. (Pope Pius XI). In his Address toMidwives in 1951, Pope Pius XII condemned artificial contraceptives and declaredthat this ruling could not be changed. Pope Pius XII did, however, condoneNatural Family Planning and the rhythm method and became the first time to allowsex apart from procreation. In 1965, Vatican Council II: Constitution on theChurch in the Modern World took place.
Pope Paul VI delayed making a decision onthe proposition to have human nature and his acts as the governing principle insexuality at this conference. He was awaiting the presentation by Pope JohnXXIII of the decisions made at the Meetings of the Birth Control Commission,which took place from 1963-1966. Theologians, cardinals, bishops, priests, andlaypeople met to discuss sexual issues, including that of contraception. Thedecision reached was that the previous teachings of the church were notinfallible, that artificial contraception was not evil, and that Catholicfamilies should have freedom to decide their method of family planning.
Thesedecisions, however, were overturned by Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae in 1968. Pope Paul VI upheld the previous teachings and dismissed what the council hadfound, claiming that he knew more about the issue than all the religious and3,000 couples surveyed about the decision. His opinion is reinforced by Vaticanspokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls who stated, A permissive attitude tosexuality ruins the family, weakens the responsibility of parents, goes againstthe good of children, and has a highly destabilizing effect on society as awhole. (Ribadeneira B2).
Pope Paul VIs decision was based on hisinvolvement with Pope Pius XII because he did not want to dispute Pope Piusprevious teachings. Pope Paul VI relied on natural law and the teaching thatsexuality must always be open to new life. This decision has been the root ofconstant disagreement, a loss of respect for teachings in the Church today, andthe loss of many faithful supporters. Familiaris Consortio was written in 1981by Pope John Paul II and introduced sex as the language of love.
Theencyclical states that artificial contraception is contradictory to thislanguage. Pope John Paul II, in detail, says in his document about thedifference between artificial contraception and Natural Family Planning, Itis a difference which is much wider and deeper than is usually thought, onewhich involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the humanperson and of human sexuality. The choice of the natural rhythms involvesaccepting the cycle of the person. . which means to recognize both the spiritualand corporal character of conjugal communion and to live personal love with itsrequirement of fidelity. (Pope John Paul II #32).
Most recently, VeritatisSplendor written by Pope John Paul II spoke about the existence of moralabsolutes and reaffirmed the teaching of artificial contraception beingintrinsically evil. As previously mentioned, natural law plays a significantrole in forming the opinions of the church. Natural law is defined as what humanreason can determine about human nature and its moral duties that are separatefrom divine revelation. Natural law originates in human reason, ancientphilosophers such as Aristotle, secular sciences, and common sense.
TheDictionary of Theology explains it rather well in saying The sum of therights and duties which of themselves follow directly from the nature of man, asa being endowed with reason and free will, is. called natural law in Catholicethics; the mutability or immutability of the law and the possibility of knowingit are important themes in Greek and Christian philosophy. (Rahner 329). TheMagisterium claims the power to interpret natural law and incorporate itsinterpretation into Church teachings.
The faithful observance of these teachingsof Gods will are taught to be necessary for salvation and entrance intoHeaven. The natural law, with respect to sexuality, teaches that sexualintercourse must be both unitive and procreative and must contain both aspects. However, many argue that Natural Family Planning does not prove to be bothunitive and procreative, and this has led to great dispute within the Church. Although the Magisterium upholds all these beliefs, the gravity of artificialcontraception as a sin must be a decision made from ones conscience and mayonly be judged by God. Artificial contraception and Natural Family Planning areboth forms of contraception, and even though the Church considers one acceptableand the other as extreme as a mortal sin, they share many similarities inessence. Despite the differences in processes, neither method supports theprocreative side of sexual intercourse.
Artificial contraception is doingsomething to prevent pregnancy, while Natural Family Planning is NOT doingsomething to prevent pregnancy. The only argument the Church gives for thedifference is that NFP makes use of nature instead of artificial means in orderto control a situation. They argue that artificial contraception hinders anatural process that is meant to happen. In America magazine, a speaker from theHumanae Vitae Conference in Omaha, Nebraska was quoted as saying WhetherNorplant or the pill, contraception communicates a certain disdain for onesnatural fertility. (America 37).
This says a lot for how insignificant manypeople feel is the difference between NFP and artificial contraception. Afterall this information about the background of contraception and the controversialstance of the Church, the reader may be wondering what will happen in thefuture. There has been great opposition to the current adamant position theChurch holds about the serious sinfulness of artificial contraception. FatherPhilip Sumner sums up how many Catholic families feel by saying, The Churchcan make statements about contraception, but nobody cares about it.
Many peoplehave given up looking to the Church in terms of contraception. (Ward T002). Many people see hope in reform in the near future despite the insistence by theChurch that these decisions are final. One nun has even made headlines byresigning her sisterhood and devotion to God because of her disagreement withthe way Church has dealt with these issues. Sr.
Lavinia Byrne explains herposition by stating I am resigning because of the pressure from theCongregation for the Doctrine of the faith the burden has become intolerable. They are using techniques that seem to belong to mother age and are behavinglike the Inquisition. I feel bullied. (Malcolm 8). There are several reasons whythe present teaching can be changed however. Firstly, the teaching of HumanaeVitae is not infallible, but is only a part of Catholic tradition.
Natural lawdetermines a large portion of teachings throughout time and as the way societyworks changes, the teachings of the Church move with it. There is no purenature and there is always room for change and this could lead to a change ofteaching. Also, the Church, in the past, followed many practices that seemridiculous today such as slavery, indulgences, and persecution of women. Theculture that these practices were in changed, and thus, so did the stance of theChurch. This has set a precedent that is expected to be followed. Contraceptionhas been termed a mortal sin, but this would require a grave matter, fullknowledge of seriousness of what you are doing, and sound consent of mind andwill.
The questionable aspect is the gravity of the sin. The faithful members ofthe Church community have, for the most part, rejected the current teaching. Even those Catholics who are extremely religious use contraceptives, and usuallyfor very good reason. An alarmingly high percentage of Catholics use artificialbirth control, and very few agree with the Church on the evil involved withcontraception. Natural Law was named as one of the factors involved in thetemporary status of the current teaching.
There are many differences in howsexuality is incorporated into our society today, compared to the time periodwhen this teaching was created. Rahner, as well, states that The Church ismaking authentic pronouncements which are promulgated by the Magisterium, whichare, for their arguments, dependent on justifications and proofs taken from thesecular sciences and universal human reason. (Rahner 33). The differencestoday that could influence some kind of change include several important aspectsof society. First, females are becoming much more independent and appreciated inthese days. A womans experiences of wifehood, motherhood, and sex are takeninto account and not looked down upon.
Probably the most important change iscontinuing education. Marriages are delayed until mid-twenties and earlythirties on average because of peoples desire to go to college and graduateschools. This leads to longer (and probably more) relationships and a differentmaturity about sex. Artificial contraception is more strongly needed in casessuch as these.
Other people these days are just not opting to marry or arehomosexual. Procreation is not in anyway a focus anymore, but is more of anunwanted incident that is possible. Contraception, whether artificial ornatural, is obviously not favored by the Church, but the latter is allowed as acompromise it sometimes seems. The teachings and advisements are rather blatant,but it has been shown that couples are still turning away from the Church onthis matter. Many religious teachers, because of the strong opposition bothwithin and outside the Church, instruct their followers to go with what theirconscience feels is right and to use the Churchs teaching as an advisement.
To this day though, if one was to strictly follow the teachings of theMagisterium, artificial contraception would be out of the question and toregulate pregnancy, Natural Family Planning would be the right choice. BibliographyCahill, Lisa Sowle. Can We Get Real About Sex? Commonweal 14 Sept. 1990: 497-503. Catholic Church: Pope John Paul II.
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On Human Life: An Examinationof Humanae Vitae. London: Burns & Oates; 1968. International HumanaeVitae Conference. America 25 Sept. 1993.
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