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Birth control — What’s the problem?

Jeff Cormier, More Truth

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Preface from the Chancellor

STM is a Catholic institution of learning, owned by 12 Catholic Churches in our City.   The School exists for one primary purpose – to teach, wrapped in the truths of the Catholic Faith.   I have always believed that one should never “put down” other religions. Such an approach is weak and trite. Yet, at the same time, neither should Catholics feel we have to apologize for what we believe. The Catholic Church has something beautiful to offer the world. And, in its history, has given to the world some of the greatest men and women who have ever lived. Have there been those “others”?   Of course!   But we never judge something by those who don’t live it, but by those who do.

I have asked the Religion Administrator to put together a series of articles on some of the more “debated” and “controversial” issues of our day.   It’s actually a “follow-up” to the catechetical homilies I introduced last year at the STM Masses. It is wrong for the Church to insist and expect her children to live up to her teachings without explaining “why” she teaches them.   And certainly, in a Catholic institution of learning, we are charged to do so all the more.

The series of articles that will appear in this periodical will address issues of sexual morality. Why? Because this is THE moral issue teens struggle with in our culture. The articles are not meant to judge, to condemn, or to put down.   Rather, they are meant primarily to AFFIRM what the Church teaches, to CLARIFY why she teaches them, and to help FORM our students to live the truths of the Gospel and holiness of life.   To those who may argue that such subject matter is a bit too sensitive for our ninth or tenth graders, my answer is that perhaps in years past. But today, even pre-teens are bombarded by images and messages that shout out to them another way. It is never too early to equip and to teach the holier way, the more virtuous way, the way rooted in Gospel values.

In the debate that will no doubt follow, and in the struggles we each have to live up to these truths (Administration, Faculty, Students and Chancellor), we dare to do what we are called to do as a Catholic School –to teach the truths of our Faith with charity and love.   Why? Because we believe that what we have to say to the world brings happiness and fulfillment.

With gratitude to Mr. Jeff Cormier for writing the articles, enjoy the read…and the “conversations” that will no doubt follow.

In His Love, Rev. Michael J. Russo, Chancellor

Birth control — what’s the problem?

“The Catholic Church is against birth control.”  Many Catholics would say that this statement is true.  However, this needs to be explained so the Church’s teaching can be understood in its simple beauty.

God Himself, by giving people free-will and making the act of procreation a voluntary activity, is the One who designed “birth control”.  If pregnancy was involuntary, like sneezing or catching a cold, then there would be no such thing as birth control.  Yet God wanted humanity to freely and intelligently participate with Him in the procreation of children.  An individual decides when to marry and begin sexual activity or when to refrain from sex.  Mother Teresa herself practiced “birth control” – as a celibate, she did not have sex.  The same goes for the Pope, and everyone else who forgoes marriage “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 19:12).  The Catholic Church, therefore, does not speak against “birth control” in this sense just explained, of a married couple prayerfully and responsibly planning their pregnancies, or someone answering God’s call to a life of celibate service to the Church.  What the Church proclaims is the immorality of contraception, or the intentional sterilization of the sexual act in order to prevent pregnancy[1].  This can be done in a variety of ways today – drugs[2], condoms, surgeries[3], etc.  However, as has been shown, contraception is not the only form of birth control.  If a married couple, for legitimate reasons, does not want pregnancy at a certain time in their marriage, they may choose to remain sexually abstinent during those days per month when the woman is able to conceive (usually requires a 9-12 day period of sexual abstinence per month for the married couple[4]).  Today’s methods of determining the fertile days of the woman’s body are very accurate (the man’s body, under normal circumstances, is always fertile).  These non-contraceptive methods of avoiding pregnancy are generally called “Natural Family Planning” or NFP, and are not only just as effective in avoiding pregnancy as contraceptives, but also help the couple when they are trying to conceive.  Pope Paul VI summarized the legitimate use of these methods of controlling births in section 16 of his encyclical Humanae Vitae, his prophetic encyclical on contraception promulgated in 1968.

One may ask, “So what’s the difference between having sex only when the woman is infertile, and contracepting?  The outcome is the same, pregnancy is being avoided.”  What’s the difference between dieting and bulimia?  The outcome is the same – the person wants to lose weight.  There is a big difference between the two.  One respects the dignity and the natural processes of the design of the human body and one is disordered and does not.  Yet contraception is not immoral because contraceptive drugs and devices are “unnatural” or artificial.  In one sense, most medicines people take today are unnatural and artificial.  Even if there were an all-natural, organic, herbal contraceptive pill, the Church would still speak against it.  After a thorough and rational evaluation of sex is made, its two purposes become clear: the unitive and the procreative dimensions.  The unitive dimension unites man and woman as one flesh (Gn 2:24), in a pleasurable, intimate act of self-donation.  The procreative dimension is for having children.  The Catholic Church teaches that no one has the right to intentionally separate either of these dimensions from the sexual act[5].  To do so is sinful.  By contracepting, a couple artificially separates the procreative dimension from sex.  On the contrary, a couple having recourse to the infertile periods for sexual activity does not, and still honors and obeys God’s design and the natural cycle of fertility imprinted in human nature.  It is common for people to alter their bodies in many ways – we get new hair styles, sun tans, jewelry, tattoos, contact lenses, dental braces, etc.  There is nothing necessarily wrong with adjusting superficial bodily characteristics, but manipulating the sexual act is off limits because it is the sacred means through which God joins the married couple in becoming co-creators of human life.  If a human life is sacred, then so is the act that produces it, taking on a super-natural quality “with the help of the Lord” (Gen 4:1).  Intentionally removing fertility from the sexual act removes this sacred dimension and also prevents the couple from making a complete act of self-donation that the sexual act is intended to express.

If this reflection is difficult to grasp at first due to the very utilitarian understanding of the human person we carry with us today from our secularized culture, perhaps a look at some of the damaging consequences of contraception would be more practical.  Leaving aside many of the health risks to women that some forms of contraception pose[6], the contraceptive mentality in our culture has separated sex from reproduction.  Sex has become idolized after its divorce from the protective restraints that procreation naturally places upon it[7].  Pregnancy is often not seen anymore as the result of sex, but of “unprotected” sex.  Abortion then steps in to finish the job of failed contraception.  Pope Paul VI, in section 17 of his 1968 encyclical on contraception, prophetically warned about some of the negative consequences that would result from a cultural acceptance of contraception.  It would “open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards …a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.”  Haven’t we seen this come to pass?

For further reading, please see Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae (available online), The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 2368-2371 (available online), and Dr. Janet Smith’s detailed article “Contraception: Why Not?” available online at CERC (Catholic Education Resource Center).

[1] Interestingly, along with the Catholic Church, all other Christian communities also taught the immorality of contraception until 1930.  During this time, the infamous racist and eugenicist, Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, was very influential in the cultural acceptance of contraception.  A reading of the popular periodical literature from that time shows how she (and others) deceptively interwove the language of “birth control” and “contraception” and equated the two, so those who spoke against contraception were now accused of being against birth control and responsible parenting.  The same type of linguistic deception is used today with “abortion” being equated with “reproductive choice.”

[2] Tragically, many modern forms of contraception are also abortifacients.

[3] There are times when it is medically necessary to have a surgery that will sterilize, for example, when a woman must have a hysterectomy for health reasons.  In this instance, sterilization is not the primary intent of the surgery but its secondary consequence.

[4] A 9-12 day stretch of sexual abstinence per month is not much of a sacrifice for a married couple who has already trained themselves in the discipline of sexual abstinence during their courtship.

[5] Some people are born sterile or become sterile through no fault of their own, and usually do not realize this until after marriage.  In these cases, the resulting sterility of any marital act was not intentionally chosen by the couple as an end.  Though the procreative possibilities may therefore be absent from a sterile couple’s sexual union, that union still represents an obedience and acceptance on the part of the couple to God’s plan, rather than a deliberate choice contrary to it.

[6] See online article:  “Surgeon: Birth Control Pill a ‘Molotov Cocktail’ for Breast Cancer

[7] Even the famous Sigmund Freud, who was not necessarily a friend to Catholicism, had this to say:  “We term sexual activity perverse when it has renounced the aim of reproduction and follows the pursuit of pleasure as an independent goal.  And so you realize that the turning point in the development of sexual life lies in its subjugation to the purpose of reproduction.  Everything this side of the turning point, everything that has given up this purpose and serves the pursuit of pleasure alone, must carry the term ‘perverse’ and as such be regarded with contempt” (A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis. New York, Boni and Liveright, 1920, p. 273).

 

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Birth control — What’s the problem?