The Moral Problems of Contraception
An in depth look at the fundamental problems of artificial contraception
By Monsignor Vincent Foy
Published as six short articles in Celebrate Life, 2002. They were written on the invitation of Judie Brown, President of the American Life League and are a development of a short section in my booklet “From Humanae Vitae to Veritatis Splendor”. The articles were later published in booklet form by St. Joseph’s Workers, 2002.
“God has not called us to immorality, but to holiness”
(St. Paul to the Thessalonians)
Father John Hardon, S.J. (died Dec. 30, 2000) was surely one of the greatest theologians of the last century. Towards the end of his life, he gave a lecture entitled, “Our Greatest Moral Responsibility: to convert the Contraceptive Mentality.” There are great evils in the world today but it does not take much reflection to conclude that the greatest is the Contraceptive Mentality, parent of the Culture of Death.
The Contraceptive Mentality is anti-God, anti-Church, anti-society, anti-family, anti-spousal and anti-self. First we consider it in its most evil aspect as a revolt against God.
Contraception is Anti-God
The Church constantly reminds us that man is not the creator of human life but its procreator with God. The encyclical Humanae Vitae repeatedly reminds us of God’s overriding role. “Married persons are the free and responsible collaborators of God the Creator.” (n.1). Married persons “collaborate with God in the generation and education of new lives.” (n.8). The spouses “must conform their activity to the creative intention of God.” (n.10). The magisterium teaches with the authority of Christ that there is an inseparable connection “willed by God and unable to be broken by man on his own initiative, between the two meanings of the conjugal act: the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning.” (n.12).
The primary evil of contraception is that it puts up a barrier against God’s creative will, a horrendous crime when seen in all its implications in time and eternity. It is therefore what is called a mortal sin; through denying a possible life to another the perpetrator kills his or her own soul. The contracepting person gravely violates the commandment of God “Thou shalt not kill.” In one sense contraception is worse than abortion. The aborted child will live forever in that degree of happiness which God’s mercy lovingly bestows. The contracepted child, if we can so speak of a child that will never be, but might have been a great saint, is sacrificed to the lust of should-have-been parents.
Also guilty of a grave offence against God are the cooperators in contraception. These are the purveyors of pills, condoms and devices that are anti-life and often abortifacient. Guilty also are bishops, pastors, confessors, theologians and counselors who lead others astray.
So grave are the offences against God’s co-creative will that St. Paul likens them to idolatry. He says: “Put to death whatever in your nature is rooted on earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desires; and that lust which is idolatry. These are the sins which provoke God’s wrath.” (Letter to the Colossians, 3).
We know from history that when sins against life become what we might call a critical mass, God’s anger does blaze forth. We have a striking example of this in the book of the prophet Jeremiah. He foretold the great evil that would come upon the Jewish people because of their idolatrous infanticide. He said: “The kings of Judah have filled the place with the blood of the innocent. They have built high places for Baal to immolate their sons in fire as holocausts to Baal.” What was God’s punishment? “All Judah I will deliver to the king of Babylon or slay them with the sword.” (cf. Jeremiah, 5). Is not contraception a willingness to offer children to the Baal of lust? In addition to other great evils, surely to be living in the dark and awful state of mortal sin is worse than banishment to Babylon.
Despite the gravity of their sin, those who have contracepted need not despair. Most urgently, in His love and mercy, God is calling them to repentance. As St. Jerome says: “Great mercy forgives great sins.” But there should be no delay.” Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation.” All Catholics ought to pray for those spiritually dead because of contraception. All ought to wage spiritual war by prayer and penance against what we could call the unholy jihad of contraceptive practice.
Contraception is Anti-Church
The Church has been described as the continuation of the salvific mission of Christ to the world. Vatican II tells us that “The Church has the duty by divine mandate of going out into the whole world and preaching the Gospel to all men.” It also tells us that the whole Church is missionary and that the work of evangelization is a fundamental duty of the people of God. It adds: “Let all realize that their first and most important obligation toward the spread of the faith is this: to lead a profoundly Christian life.” (Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church, n.30). The Saints are missionaries “par excellence.” If all Catholics led holy lives the whole world would soon be Catholic.
The great drag on the Church’s missionary activity is those Catholics whose sinful lives ignore the call to holiness. In the magnificent document “Evangelization in the Modern World” (Dec. 8, 1975) Pope Paul VI says: “The Lord wishes His Church to be universal. He willed that it should be a universal Church having no bounds or limits except those, alas, which are to be found in the minds and hearts of sinful men.” (n.61).
Today the greatest enemy of the Church’s missionary activity is not the world around her but the deep internal wound of the contraceptive mentality. This wound impedes the Church’s mission in many ways.
Unity in teaching the truth, including the teaching of the Gospel of Life, is essential to evangelization. Tragically, that unity does not exist. After the publication of the encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1968, twelve national Conferences of Bishops so distorted the teaching of the encyclical as to virtually destroy it. Among the worst statements were those of the Bishops of Belgium, the Netherlands, West Germany and Canada.
Illustrative of the worst is the so-called Winnipeg Statement of the Canadian Bishops of Sept. 27, 1968. In paragraph 26 of that Statement they said that in some circumstances the spouses “may be safely assured that whoever follows that course which seems right to him does so in good conscience.” Of this John F. Kippley says: “A more misleading statement would be hard to imagine. There are no principles of moral theology that allow a person to engage in actions taught by the Church to be objectively immoral, whether such actions be adultery, contraception, fornication, or sodomy. And, of course what applies to one behavior applies to all.” (Sex and the Marriage Covenant, The Couple to Couple league, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1991, p. 145).
Added to the teaching of some hierarchies was that of dissenting theologians and these have been in the hundreds, including brilliant but mistaken men like Karl Rahner and Bernard Lonergan. Others are Hans Kung, Andrew Greeley, Charles Davis, Edward Schillebeeckx and Richard McCormick. So we have what could be called optional, regional or national morality, supported by many so-called Catholic newspapers and periodicals. This dissent, spread like anthrax spores, has stricken the Church’s Mystical Body and gravely compromised her saving apostolate.
Those who contracept are spiritually dead, objectively unfitted for the reception of Holy Communion and supernatural merit. They are far from giving the example of a Christian life. Given that the majority of spouses of childbearing age in Europe, the U.S., Canada and other countries are contracepting, one can see how grave is this block to the Church’s Christ-given mission of converting the world.
Widespread contraception, with suicidal birthrates, leaves the Church without adequate vocations to the priesthood, religious life, and missionary work. Religious vocations and a faithful dedicated laity come generally from families faithful to the Church.
The contraceptive mentality reduces the Church’s ability to withstand assault from without. The more Catholics are reduced in relative numbers and in those giving exemplary example, the more likely are they to be oppressed. Catholics become victims of a secularized press and other media, discriminated against by civil laws and unable to effectively respond.
The principal means of overcoming the contraceptive mentality is prayer, for and by those who are contracepting. Pope John Paul II said: “Prayer is the basic prerequisite to save the Church.” That prayer must be humble, of sinners for sinners. The book of Sirach reminds us that “The prayer of the humble pierces the clouds.” Out of prayer will come the grace to support those efforts and groups fighting bravely on behalf of Life. The Church our Mother, through whom we are born into grace and have the hope of salvation, is in peril. Do we have the Faith and love to help her? May we pray with the breviary oration: “Father, help us to work generously for the salvation of the world so that Thy Church may bring us and all mankind into Thy presence. Grant this through Christ our Lord.”
Contraception is Anti-society
We are social creatures. We live and move in what is called the social order. It exists to promote justice and order and peace.
Fundamental to a just social order is respect for human life. Pope John Paul II expressed it this way on February 14, 2001: “The promotion of the Culture of Life should be the highest priority of our societies…If the right to life is not defended decisively as a condition for all other rights of the person, all other references to human rights remain deceitful and illusory.”
Fostering the Culture of Life does not only mean respect for life from conception until natural death. It means also repudiation of contraception, the root cause of all other attacks on human life. Contraception, which shows a willingness to sacrifice life to lust, is a fuse which ignites a whole chain of evils destructive of a just society, from abortion to euthanasia.
Worse than the ten plagues which devastated Egypt in the time of Moses, the contraceptive mentality is a multi-pronged attack on society. It tends to permeate more and more social structures and even creates its own institutions.
The most powerful and influential structure of the moral order is government. In his encyclical Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI warned us that the contraceptive mentality would place a dangerous weapon in the hands of public authorities. He said: “Who will stop rulers from favoring, from even imposing upon their people, if they were to consider it necessary, the method of contraception which they judge to be most efficacious?” (n.17). In vain did he appeal to rulers when he said: “Do not allow the morality of your people to be degraded; do not permit that by legal means practices contrary to the natural and divine law be introduced into the fundamental cell, the family” (Ibid., n.23). In general, governments have turned a deaf ear to that urgent plea.
Many non-governmental institutions (called NGOs) spread the contraceptive virus. Most influential of these is the United Nations. Driven by a tyrannical secularism, it has tied help to poorer countries to the support of programs of contraception, abortion, sterilization and acceptance of homosexual and lesbian unions. Other organizations with similar agendas and supporting the U.N. are International Planned Parenthood, the Population Council which is sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Women’s Environment and Development Organization and the Worldwatch Institute.
The contraceptive mentality diminishes the level of love in society and increases the level of selfishness and lust. In education, it promotes sex-education and the resultant corruption of the young. In hospital care it leads to sterilization, abortion, and euthanasia. In the media, it tends toward license, vulgarity, pornography, and increases hostility towards God and religion.
Not least of the self-inflicted wounds caused by the contraceptive mentality is the high economic price. There is the high price tag for contraception, abortion, AIDS, other sexually transmitted diseases and family break-ups. There is the high cost of age imbalance, with heavier and heavier burdens placed on the young, who must care for their contracepting elders. It is estimated that by the year 2050, one third of the people in Western countries will be over sixty. Social security systems and pension plans will be inadequate and the standard of living drastically reduced.
One does not have to be an Isaiah or Jeremiah to predict that, if the contraceptive mentality continues to prevail, our society is headed for disaster. If one needs convincing, one may read such books as The Demographic Crisis by Michael Schooyans (Central Bureau, St. Louis) or Death of the West by Pat Buchanan. With statistical proofs it is shown that, if the present course is continued, by the year 2050 the US will be a Third World nation. A similar fate awaits Europe. In a chapter entitled “Where have all the children gone?” Pat Buchanan tells us why it is unlikely that the West can solve the demographic crisis before it leads to “The Death of the West.”
It is only by a miracle of grace and mercy that the contraceptive mentality can be turned into one of love and life. The hour is late; a dark night of the social order approaches. We need to be heroic in our support of pro-life causes. We need to recognize that contraception is the new terrorism. In greater and greater numbers we need to March for Life. We need to pray and do penance, pray and do penance, pray and do penance. May God help us and may Our Blessed Mother intercede for us.
Contraception is Anti-Family
Reflecting on the marriage covenant, Pope John Paul II says: “The communion of love between God and His people, a fundamental part of the revelation and faith experience of Israel, finds a meaningful expression in the marriage covenant which is established between a man and woman – their bond of love becomes the image and symbol of the covenant uniting God with His people.” (Familiaris Consortio, n.12).
Contraception makes a lie of the marriage covenant. There is no longer total self-giving in the marriage act. It no longer symbolizes the union of God with His people or Christ with His Church. It is a broken, defaced mockery of that union. Contraception replaces self-giving love with the hate of marital abuse. Because it is a species of infidelity within the marriage, it makes infidelity outside the marriage more likely. In truth, it makes spouses enemies of one another, cooperators in each other’s’ spiritual ruin. When the marriage is entered into with the intention to exclude the right to children, that union is null and void.
Even when the spouses are in good faith, the subconscious dynamisms of the contraceptive mentality are gnawing away at their union. Contraception always divides, never unites. The repelling effect of this unnatural procedure is like a centrifugal force which alienates one from the other.
When contraceptives are also abortifacients, as in most cases, the family home becomes a killing ground. Human persons, made in God’s image, are conceived and sent to sewer tombs without the chance to answer God’s call to holiness. It is a direct confrontation with God’s loving co-creating will.
The deliberately childless marriage has anti-family effects of immense proportions, for children are often the bond that cements the parents’ love. An illicitly diminished family also suffers. The children who are born, sometimes unwanted, are love-deprived. They are also deprived of brothers and sisters who should have been but are not. They cannot but be affected by the example of hedonistic parents and a home in which true marital harmony cannot exist.
Added to all this is the high rate of marital breakdown which must be attributed to contraceptive practice. Oral contraceptives were introduced in 1960. According to Princeton University historian Lawrence Stone, “The scale of marital breakdown in the West since 1960 has no historical precedent that I know of and seems unique.” (Detroit Free Press, May 11, 2000).
In sum, the contraceptive attack on the family is a tragedy of horrendous proportions. Only supernatural means can stop it. Are we willing to pray and sacrifice enough?
Contraception is Anti-Spousal
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that marriage is “by its very nature ordered to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring.” (n.1601). Since it is ordered to the good of the spouses it can and should be a means to help them pursue together their glorious call to holiness.
That one spouse ought to be the support of the other derives from the nature and closeness of their union. The two have become one flesh, a symbol of the fruitful union of Christ and His Church. The closeness of the marital union is described by St. Francis de Sales: “God joins the husband to the wife with His own blood: and therefore the union is so strong that the soul ought rather to be separated from the body of the one and of the other, than the husband from the wife.” This emphasizes how tragic is that conduct by which one party would lead the other away from goodness and grace.
The mutual help which is an end or purpose of marriage is destroyed by contraception. Contraception degrades married love, defaces it beyond recognition, transforms it more radically than was Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde. It makes the spouses deadly spiritual enemies of one another. It turns love into hate and does this in manifold ways.
Because contraception is a mortal sin, destroying grace in the soul, consent to it means consent of one spouse to the eternal damnation of the other. It is a frightful betrayal to cooperate in the exchange of the gold of grace for the dross of lust.
By contraception one spouse is willing to unfit the other for the reception of Holy Communion, or for any supernatural merit.
By contraception one spouse is willing to deny to the other all the great goods which might otherwise come from children and parenting.
When one party persuades the other to contracept, there is an act of seduction. When one objects, but submits under pressure, there is a violation of conscience and person, which is akin to marital rape. When the contraceptive means are known to be abortifacient, as with the birth-control pill and intrauterine devices, both become murderers by intent.
Finally, if one enters marriage intending to deny to the other the right to that act which of its nature leads to procreation, the union is null and void. The marriage acts become acts of fornication.
Perhaps now we see how important it is for spouses to reject the evil of contraception. In the words of St. Augustine, we are living in the land of the dying, but this land of the dying is God’s way of leading us to the land of eternal life. We ought to pray for those who are contracepting. God’s mercy calls them to repentance, restoration to peace, grace, true love, and then to eternal life.
Contraception is Anti-Self
By our nature we have an inescapable love of ourselves. But because God is love and we are conceived in and for love, God has decreed that true love of self cannot exist without love of others. So we have the paradox that the more we love God and others, to that degree do we truly love ourselves.
Christ tells us, that: “Great love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13). This gives us some insight into the abysmal lack of love in the act of contraception. It so far departs from a willingness to give one’s life for another as to be willing to sacrifice a life for one’s selfish lust. It violates the great commandment of love of others and the sixth commandment of God. (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n.2376). Spiritually, contraception is profoundly anti-self, inflicting upon oneself the ultimate wound, that abuse of freedom which is called mortal sin. Unrepented, that sin is a bar to eternal life.
Aside from guilt and motivation, contraception has its own intrinsic negative dynamics. It is a selfish act, creating a selfish person; a lustful act, creating a lustful person; an exploitative act, creating an exploiting person. It usually becomes a habit, blinding the mind and weakening the will as few other sins do. It is not surprising that many contracepting Catholics abandon the practice of their Faith or lose their Faith. Many abandon the Sacrament of Penance and add sacrilege to sin by receiving Holy Communion.
When considering the anti-self effect of contraception we must keep in mind that we are not only referring to the immediate user of contraception. Also guilty are all formal cooperators who promote or condone contraception, whether confessors, counselors, teachers, doctors, nurses, or others. These also are self-destroyers.
So concludes our brief discussion of the evil of contraception. It is anti-God, anti-Church, anti-society, anti-family, anti-spousal, and anti-self. When one considers this evil in all its sociological and theological aspects and its gross attack on the Culture of Life, its defense and promotion become a mystery of perversity.
While contraception threatens to bury multitudinous souls in its shroud of hate and death, there remains hope. God knocks at the door of every soul. In His mercy He hears the prayers not only of the innocent but of the penitent. God does not want the death of the sinner, but that he be converted and live. The juggernaut of contraception can be stopped by prayer, sacrifice, and the Sacraments. These means have been described by Pope John Paul II as the most powerful in human history. Will enough of us use them?