Q&A: Why is the Catholic Church against contraception?

All questions come from parishioners of Sacred Heart Parish or St. Joseph Mission and they are presented to you anonymously. Questions and answers were presented in the Series “Because You Asked” from 2016.
Average Time to Read: 4 minutes

Question:

Why is the Catholic Church against contraception (e.g. the pill, condoms, etc.)? It seems like if the Church is against abortion then contraception would be preventing abortion since it stops unwanted pregnancies.

Answer:

On July 25th, 1968, Pope Paul VI released an encyclical entitled Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life) to address the moral issue of artificial contraception within marriage. This encyclical remains today the most controversial encyclical ever released by the Vatican and its release is considered by Church historians to be the watershed moment where the Magisterium (teaching authority of the Church) lost its influence over lay Catholics globally. That is because the Catholic laity, for the first time, largely rejected the message. Going forward, Catholics would no longer automatically accept Church teaching with the obedience of faith or blindly accept it without challenge. However, at the same time, I would say that Humanae Vitae, as short as it is, is also one of the most prophetic encyclicals ever written because all of the negative effects of artificial contraception on our society that Pope Paul VI warned the Church of indeed came to pass.

This encyclical was especially brought on by the invention of the birth control pill in 1960 and the impact that this development had on global society. However, Pope Paul VI also cited other factors for writing the document and clarifying Church teaching. Those other factors included fear of overpopulation, rising costs in raising and educating children, the feminist movement and a growing sense that scientific development was meant to dominate and improve on nature in every aspect. In contrast to the perspective of our popular culture, the Pope pointed out that Christian teaching regarding the sexual act in marriage has, from the beginning, pointed to a two-fold purpose: The unitive function (strengthening the emotional and psychological bond between husband and wife) and the procreative function (an openness to the possibility of creating new life). He added that since marriage calls for total self-gift to the other, this openness to life must be the reality of each individual sexual act. Otherwise that marriage, which is meant to reflect the love between Christ and his bride, the Church, is not one which involves total self-gift but instead a holding back of something. While spacing out births according to natural family planning and the fertile cycles of nature is entirely in keeping with God’s plan, artificial contraception is not. Pope Paul VI describes this teaching as a difficult one that involves trust in God and cooperation/strong communications with one’s spouse but he said it is also the “narrow way” that leads to heaven. He said that one cannot rationalize artificial contraception as the “lesser of two evils” where the alternative is abortion or an unwanted child. Further, just as he condemns artificial birth control methods he equally condemns abortion and surgical sterilization as offenses against God and the sacrament of marriage. By proclaiming this teaching in encyclical form the pope clarified that this teaching against the use of artificial contraception was a dogmatic teaching of the faith that must be received by the faithful with the obedience of faith and that this teaching could not be changed in the future.

Among the grave consequences to society if this teaching went unheeded and ignored, the Pope listed the following: 1) A spread in the use of artificial contraception would lead to greater infidelity in marriage and a general lowering of sexual morality. If one studies the bad fruit of the Sexual Revolution one will note an increase in divorce, cohabitation and serial sexual partners, all of which come with attached social costs incurred by sexual partners, children of divorce and children born out of wedlock such as poverty, physical and sexual abuse, prostitution, runaways, gang activity, higher rates of incarceration, sexually transmitted diseases, etc. 2) Pope Paul VI also anticipated a general loss of respect toward women and their sexual objectification by men both within and outside of marriage. Here we can look at the alarming plague of pornography and many of the aforementioned issues. 3) He indicated that artificial birth control would become a powerful weapon for corrupt governments. See how countries like China have imposed mandatory sterilization of citizens after two births and how in the West more aggressive efforts have been made to increase access to birth control by minors even against parent’s wishes. 4) Finally, and to the parishioner’s point, artificial contraception creates an anti-life culture that leads people away from seeing conception as an awesome gift. Instead pregnancy more and more is seen by our culture as bad news or as a curse. When it fails to prevent pregnancy it actually increases the odds that abortion will become the fallback option. We have seen clearly that in the era when artificial contraception has been readily available, abortion has radically increased rather than decreasing.

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