The Elephant in the Living Room

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Contraception is the elephant in the living room of contemporary Catholicism: Everybody knows it’s there, but few people care to acknowledge the fact. Meanwhile, the accumulating pastoral damage that results from this state of collective denial is painfully real.

Partly it arises from the circumstance that even churchgoing Catholics today live in a state of make-believe. “We’re all one big happy family, aren’t we?” On the matter of contraception we most certainly aren’t, and the strain of pretending otherwise saps energies and weakens the bonds of ecclesial communion.

It gets worse. According to poll data, 75 percent of Catholics in the United States receive the sacrament of penance — go to confession, that is — less than once a year. In many cases, that’s never.

There are many reasons for this, but contraception obviously is one. Contracepting Catholics don’t wish to confess contraception, because they’re afraid of being told it’s wrong and have no intention of giving it up. But they don’t wish not to confess it, because they know the Church rejects it and not confessing it would be dishonest. Their non-solution to this dilemma is to stay away from confession entirely.

What to do about this state of affairs? Would a comprehensive public airing of the problem help?

Note that I raise this question as someone who supports the Church’s teaching on contraception and has publicly defended it many times. I support the teaching on two grounds: first, the firm and constant teaching of the Magisterium over many centuries; second, the powerful and sophisticated rational argument against contraception developed by Germain Grisez and his colleagues in the “New Natural Law Theory” school.

But — to repeat — would public discussion of the issue at this time actually help? That’s not so clear. The most recent experience in this line suggests the answer may be no.

 

I refer to the furor that erupted two months ago over Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks on condom use to prevent the spread of HIV-AIDS. The pope’s comments (in a book-length interview with German journalist Peter Seewald called Light of the World) were highly limited in scope and did not concern sexual relations within marriage; the focus instead was on relations outside the marital context in which one of the partners is HIV-infected.

Benedict made the following points: Sex outside marriage is itself wrong; condom use to prevent the transmission of HIV is not “a real or moral solution” to the AIDS problem; still, if people are determined to do what is wrong, using a condom could at least be a “first step” toward a responsible approach to sex that recognizes responsibility for the other party.

For the pope to say this was indeed something new, although it was hardly an earth-shaking utterance that turned the contraception debate on its head. In view of the flap that followed, however, you could be excused for not understanding that.

The blame for this confusion is widely shared. Acting with authorization from the Vatican publishing house (yes, you heard that right — the Vatican publishing house), the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, got the media frenzy rolling by breaking the embargo on the pope’s remarks and compounded the problem by leaving out a key passage that made his meaning clear. Here was another reminder, if one is needed, that Vatican communications are a shambles.

Secular journalists, unaccustomed to having to think rationally about issues of morality, rushed to serve up sensationalized coverage. Nothing new about that, either. The journalists received little or no help from the Holy See, but were aided and abetted by a bevy of Catholic commentators ready and willing to shoot from the hip. Then, to complete the foul-up, some of these latter, on the conservative side, fell to belaboring one another for having voiced a new idea or two. Some went so far as to take the pope to task.

The result: A month later, the Vatican was still issuing clarifications of something that should have been clear at the start.

If this messy episode did nothing else, at least it made it clear that the elephant in the Church’s living room — contraception, that is — is still there. In doing so, it raised the question of what, if anything, can be done about it.

An Austrian bishop named Klaus Kung suggested the time may have come when a papal encyclical on sexual morality would help. But he spoiled it by adding the thought that an international commission should be established to help prepare such a document. The suggestion contains undertones of the “papal birth-control commission” that did so much to tilt the playing field against Pope Paul VI’s anti-contraception encyclical Humanae Vitae even before it appeared. Do we really want to go through that again?

But can we just sit and wait, hoping against hope that sooner or later something or other — heaven knows what — will turn up to change things for the better?

I have no evidence, just a sneaking suspicion, that Benedict might have been asking himself that question when he floated his little trial balloon with Seewald. If so, he now has a lot more data to mull. One thing is for sure: If you leave an elephant in the living room long enough, eventually you’ll have an awful mess to clean up.

Russell Shaw

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Russell Shaw is the author of Catholic Laity in the Mission of the Church (Requiem Press), Nothing to Hide: Secrecy, Communication, and Communion in the Catholic Church (Ignatius Press), and other works.

  • Bender

    “Pope Paul VI’s anti-contraception encyclical Humanae Vitae”

    Regarding Humanae Vitae — if we really want to improve knowledge and understanding of Church teachings, then it would be helpful to better describe what Humanae Vitae was about.

    And, contrary to conventional belief, the central focus of Humanae Vitae is NOT contraception.

    Rather, the central focus of Humanae Vitae is love. Pope Paul wrote about love — the matter of contraception is merely an application of his teaching on love. The whole thing about “unitive and fruitful” is not merely components of sexuality, they are components of love. And if “the marital act” does not involve both of these, then it is not only contrary to the truth of human sexuality, it is contrary to love.

    If we want people to understand Humanae Vitae, especially if we want them to then embrace it, then it is important for them to know that it is about love, and not merely a bunch of restrictions on one’s freedom in the bedroom.

  • Married & Learning NFP

    Further information from Mother Church upon contraception is fine. But really, I don’t find Humanae Vitae unclear at all. It is a wonderfully written work, that sadly, I feel few Catholics have ever read. Maybe to address the elephant of contraception – we should actually revisit Humanae Vitae , or perhaps read it for the first time.
    Individuals are responsible for fostering their own catechesis. BUT, I feel priests in every parish need to promote the logic of
    Humanae Vitae , and instruct as much as needed. AND, alternatives such as NFP need to be promoted in the parishes. Alas, I get the sense that some priests either don’t believe in Humanae Vitae , or they are afraid to teach about it for fear of losing parishioners.

  • Kathryn

    There are at least some Catholics out there who don’t know contraception is wrong. No, I’m serious about that. They think the rule was changed at Vat II.

    I’m not sure how they can believe that (hey, I’m a convert and grew up KNOWING poverty in the world was caused by the Church not permitting birth control), but when they say it, I guess I take them on their word. A gentleman down the street from us does not even know who are congressional rep is, and our rep is a big man on campus, so I guess any ignorance is possible.

  • Deacon Ed

    contraception in as many homilies I give as possible. But I never mention contraception per se. Rather, I emphasize an openness to life as the fruit of our love. I doubt there is anyone in my church who cannot detect exactly what I am referring to. It just seems to me that presenting the virtue is more effective than just condemning the vice which in this case is selfishness and materialism.

    But I also agree with Bender about the encyclical and our Church’s teaching about love. I sincerely believe that despite how liberally the word “love” is used in common parlance, most people I know – and certainly the couples I counsel – have no flippin idea what love is. This is foundational to the use of contraception – we simply do not know what love is. What a shame.

  • Edward Radler Rice

    One thing is for sure: If you leave an elephant in the living room long enough, eventually you’ll have an awful mess to clean up.


    Actually, with all due respect, Mr. Shaw, we already have an awful mess to clean up.

    Humanae Vitae should be required reading in marriage prep courses. Moreover, our bishops should require the encyclical to be studied in high school religion classes. The social ramifications of human love’s breakdown through the use of contraception should be highlighted in high school social studies classes, along with its connection to the eugenics movement. As a high school teacher, I find it very helpful to use resources from sites such as Population Research Institute, Black Genocide, etc…

  • Edward Radler Rice

    On a second reading of Shaw’s essay, I can tell that he smells the stench of the droppings. In other words, he knows that the elephant has stayed in the room too long already.

  • Todd M. Aglialoro

    A more acute point of scandal, I think, is the prevalence of contraception use and/or approval among diocesan staffers, catechists, RCIA directors, lay parish ministers, and the like. Priests and deacons, even if they don’t assent to Church teaching on contraception, usually will toe the line or remain tacit on the subject; it’s in day to day ministry, where most average parishioners’ contact with “church” takes place, that the people are being led astray or affirmed in their material dissent.

    Very frequently those same ministers and catechists can be found fuzzy or wanting on other hard doctrinal and moral teachings, too. Practically speaking, assent to Humanae Vitae is an amazingly accurate shibboleth for full-believing Catholics, and should be a litmus test for anyone who wants to serve as an official collaborator with the bishop by educating or ministering to Catholics.

  • Dan Deeny

    Great article. More homilies on the Church’s teaching on contraception would help! I can’t remember ever hearing one.

  • Jiim Montine

    Not only do most Catholics not want to here that contraception is a mortal sin, the bishops are afraid to teach it that way as well. A few years ago when the bishops issued a document on marriage entitled “Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan”, they originally labeled contraception as intrinsically evil. At the last minute they changed the document and referred to contraception simply as objectively wrong (p. 18 I think)

    Abortion in this country feeds off the contraceptive mentality. We will never win the battle against abortion so long as contraception is allowed to remain the elephant in the room. Bishops will never dare to stand up to pro-abortion politicians regarding communion so long as the vast majority of Catholics are practicing contraception and still receiving communion.

    Additionally, if contraception is intrinsically evil then it is doing real damage to marriages everywhere, even when couples are ignorant of the fact that it is wrong. It is a real sin of omission to know that contraception is wrong and then fail to present the full truth about it.

  • HKainz

    It is interesting that the Catholic periodical, First Things, published an article by Ron Sider in December, who rejects Humanae Vitae and defends contraception as enjoyment by Christians of God’s gift of pleasure (see his response to letters in the February issue).

  • Robyn

    I know a few people who claim to be catholic that use contraception, and there are a couple things I’ve noticed: firstly, some of them don’t consider it to be wrong, or at least have managed to convince themselves it isn’t wrong. To fix this, we need priests to speak up and say something about the evils of contraception.
    Second, the vast majority of people are ignorant of the various health problems that contraception causes (no matter what method is used, they all effect the health of one or both partners). Priests also need to educate their parishioners about that.
    And thirdly, many people nowadays just don’t want the inconvenience of children. Selfishness and materialism are wiping out the population, and we’d better do something to stop it before it can do any more damage.

  • Mary P.

    In my experience in 25+ years as a catechist and 11 years as an RCIA director, I’ve formed the following conclusions:
    1.Most Catholics do believe that contraception is wrong, but just in a little way. They are content with this little “sin” in their lives rather than have to wrestle with the “big” issues that not having contraception will mean for their lives, priorities, self-image and marriage.
    2.Priests know if they gave vigorous homilies about the evils of contraception the collection plate would go down.
    3.If all catechists, choir members, extraordinary ministers, ushers, lectors, etc. had to “take the pledge” about not using contraception as a witness to their calling in ministry, there would be a mass exodus from these ministries or a whole lot of dishonesty.
    4.If Catholic schoools, religious ed programs, adult ed programs etc. faithfully and forcefully taught what the Church teaches, kids would go home and question their parents. Imagine the turmoil that would cause the pastor.
    5.If godparents and sponsors for confirmation had to “take the pledge” there would suddenly be a shortage of them, or the same few who publicly support the church’s teaching would be asked over and over again.
    In other words, pastors and the “smooth” running of parishes benefit from the elephant in the room. I don’t see that changing.

  • Mary P.

    Finally, the NFP crowd are the worst marketers ever. In marriage prep programs, they get up there with their five, six or more kids and talk about how wonderful the practice of NFP has made their lives. Is it any wonder that young adults tune them out? They live in a materialistic culture that views marriage as a self-centered enterprise. They can’t imagine lives with more than one or two kids, and they have come from such families themselves. Hitting them over the head with the beauty of big families right off the bat in marriage preparation programs is a real turn off. This approach is ineffective overall, and certainly doesn’t help in the conversion process. This is one ministry that could learn well from the secular discipline of marketing.

  • Ann

    I think the current numbers are 96% of married Catholics using artificial birth control. I think the number is really closer to 99% over the course of a marriage when you factor in sterilization. But whatever, 95, 96, 99%, we get the idea.

    Contraception clearly goes under the “train has left the station” file.

    The Church in America can certainly start making this a main focus of homilies, education, etc.

    However, there will be a rapid exit out the doors. The leaders know this.

  • Steve

    The trap has already closed. The outcome of the contraceptive mentality is already in motion. Very soon there will be a disproportionately large number of old people, not enough young people to replace them, a rapidly shrinking economy due to many fewer consumers, a much lower standard of living, and the resentment towards old people using up expensive medical care. Italy will become Pakistani in thirty years. Contraception will be seen as the reason for the rapid decline of the West. Once the trap closes, it is too late.

  • Gerry Zipf

    The link between Confession and contraception seems overstated to me. I am a 57 year old woman who went to Catholic schools through college. I don’t remember knowing that confession was an annual obligation until some time far into adulthood. I think Catholics don’t go to Confession out of habit…a habit that was born of the Second Vatican Council and all that tumbled in its wake.

    Contraception is another matter altogether. Most of my friends consider themselves practicing Catholics and utterly dismiss the Church’s teaching on contraception. If you try to move them on the enormity of the problem of the subject (the real destructive evil wrecked on the family, women/men and especially the unborn) they absolutely cannot see it and think you are odd to even worry about it.

    True faith in Mother Church and what she teaches is had by but a small remnant.

  • Bob G

    Good article. It poses the question well.

    My choice would be to go to the mat over contraception by proclaiming Church teaching on the matter from the rooftops.

    The first result would be a defection of millions of

  • J. Rocha

    I agree that contraception is evil but how are you going to teach that to young people who live in our current evil economic system where, as a result of usuary, both husband and wife need to work just to keep a roof over their heads? This is certainly the case in England. Up until the 60’s a man could support his wife and children on average wages but now for a wife to be able to stay at home is a luxury and a status symbol.The only people with large families here are those unemployed living on child benefits.

  • sibyl

    Thank you for your compassionate heart in your preaching. With great respect for you and for your office, I as a pewsitter would say that you should consider actually preaching on the sinfulness of contraception. When people hear “love,” “openness to life” or “self-giving” these phrases often connect only with our experience of greeting cards, Lifetime channel movies, and inspirational books that can be found in bathrooms.

    Very few cradle Catholics believe in the evil of contraception because they’ve not heard it from the pulpit. The people who don’t go to church but call themselves Catholic are not the people we need to reach but rather those who, for whatever reason, do mostly get up on Sunday and go to Mass. The ordinary Catholic only connects with the Church through Mass, and usually then only through the homily or perhaps the music.

    We need to hear truth in very, very plain language! I think that preachers often overestimate our level of understanding or good will. And then is it any wonder that so many Catholics end up in vibrant megachurches? Those pastors sure aren’t afraid to talk about behaviors being sinful. It’s because they want people to be freed from their sins that they do it.

    So to Deacon Ed and any other priest or preacher who may read this, I would beg you — use the words that we will not be able to rationalize. Be kind, be loving, and by all means emphasize the good to be sought in living the doctrine on marriage. But be clear. We want clarity. We need clarity. Don’t use the word “love” unless you realize that its primary association in our minds is with pop music and Hollywood.

    Finally, realize that most people don’t think very clearly, and most adult Catholics have been so poorly catechized that they need you to start from the very beginning. If they hear the truth and leave, then you will have that experience in common with our Lord Himself.

  • Bob G

    You’re right, that contraception seems an actual economic necessity, because of the need for two incomes. The moral issue (contraception) is deeply tied in with the material. Yet how was it that in the more “primitive” economy of, say, 150 years ago, large families easily survived (and in large houses) on only one modest income? The gradual shift to a “need” for two incomes is deeply pathological, but to explicate why we’d have to go deep into economic theory. It is the economy that is both causing and abetting the rise of a situation in which contraception seems essential, and that distortion is one reason why the economy is now reeling. This issues are closely connected

  • Chris in Maryland

    HKainz you are Wrong: First Things IS NOT A CATHOLIC Periodical, and the man who wrote the article is a Protestant, and his point of view is WRONG.

  • Chris in Maryland

    Sybil is RIGHT…and btw…Marketing is not the solution here…Dying to self is…

  • J. Rocha

    I don’t think large families “survived” very well in urban, industrial Victorian, England. They were condemned to soul destroying, grinding poverty in slum tenemants. The wealthy of course have always been able to afford children.
    Both my parents were one of nine but they were bought up in rural Ireland and even though they were very poor it was easier certainly to feed them all even if it was only potatoes.
    City-living conspires against big families.I was one of seven and we were cooped up in a small house. My mother had a nervous breakdown after the fifth and I think that our living arrangements certainly contibuted to her being unable to cope.
    I think it would be far more feasible to have large families if we could go back to livig in the country but how can we turn the clocks back?

  • Bob G
  • Bob G

    Well, go back farther, to medieval Europe, when even peasants lived in

  • ThirstforTruth

    I have been in the Catholic Church my entire life and I have yet to hear a single sermon on contraception and/or Humanae Vitae..and I have belonged to
    numerous parishes. It is probably the single biggest reason for the lack of
    participation in confession and certainly one of the biggest reasons people
    stop going to Church. To not address this topic is the fault of our Shepherds
    who are more concerned with the bottom line and their political agenda than
    the souls of the flock!!So it seems from where I am sitting in the pews! The
    only reason people even know about it is perhaps brief mention when attending
    catechesis classes ( which brush over it lightly )or reading in Catholic media
    articles like this one.

  • J. Rocha

    I just want to make clear that I consider contrapception and no-fault divorce as being reponsible for most of our ills.
    I don’t see much point in historical comparisons as my children have to deal with the situation ” as is”, where usurious practices,low salaries and high taxes have made having a big family nigh impossible unless you are prepared to live off welfare for the rest of your life and then the state provides everything. .
    In the States you have more land than in England and houses are cheaper and bigger. Here in England, two or maximum three bedroom houses are the norm and it is impossible to buy the normal 3 bedroom house on the average working man’s salary.You need two incomes.
    I would love for my daughters to be stay at home Mums with a large family and a husband that is able to provide for them but at the moment it seems an impossible dream.
    My point is that when talkig about contraception you can’t ignore the economic siuation in most of Europe and condemn people for being selfish if they can’t see a way of having more that two or three children.

  • Mrs. F

    It is possible to raise a family on one income, at least in some areas of this country, without taking welfare, food stamps or anything else. What is considered large is a personal measure (my husband was one of twelve; he doesn’t consider 6 extremely large). What is being overlooked is that part of NFP, part of refusing to take the apparently easy way out by using birth control, is about trusting God with your fertility. Not every couple who goes without contraception ends up like the Duggars, or even with what is considered a large family. I’m not dismissing the fact that in many areas, two incomes are vital (we had to have 2 for a while ourselves), and that this will reflect how many children a couple feels they can have. The cost of living in large cities is very difficult for many families. A family with a working mom can practice NFP. A family with a working mom can follow Church teaching. Contraception is easy, but it is wrong, and that wrong will damage the marriage and the family, even if the family doesn’t see it. Through the virtue of prudence, an NFP couple determines if another child is good right now or not, and they leave themselves open to the voice of God, who knows what the future holds when we do not. If my parents had gone with their idea of a family, 2 kids no more, and had stubbornly stayed on the pill instead of following the Church teaching, I would not have been born. Neither would my younger brother, and my parents would have no grandchildren now.

    Contraceptoin has been around since the ’20’s, accepted by many since the ’30’s. I has contributed to the breakdown of the family by making adultery and fornication have fewer consequences, and it has made the two-income family more possible by making it easier for women to enter the workplace, even when it isn’t neccessary. Suddenly working women are guilty of doing something wrong if the timing of their pregnancy, or the pregnancy itself, is inconvenient to their employer (After all, they could have prevented it). We can’t turn back popular culture in one generation, but we can certainly start turning back popular culture’s infection within the Catholic Church. We, and eventually society at large, will be healthier for it.

  • E Fros

    You can’t just blame the economy. If everyone realised that they CREATED the need for two incomes, then they would be able to take responsibility for their own actions and downsize. If you tell yourself that you NEED to live in a 4 bedroom, 31/2 bath home, then you will do everything in your power to achieve that “need”–including having less kids because those buggers sure are expensive and take time away from the “much needed” me-time after a 40hour work week. If people lived BELOW their means as a common way of life (what a SHOCKING thought), we wouldn’t see a lot of the economic and contraception problems we see today–especially since there is definitely a link between industrialized societies and less children. Plus, living below one’s means does not mean we are all to take vows of poverty and beg for our dinners–it includes living a “poor life”–making financial and physical mortifications which cause you to grow in virtue–Virtue that will lead to the openess to God’s teaching preserved by our mother the Church.

  • passing by only

    though is almost not required at all for the Catholic multi millionaire if he and she decide to simply have as many children as possible and not practice even NFP. There is no Catholic literature telling them to self deny if they want and can afford a small army. Self denial increases with a decrease in income.

  • Chris in Maryland

    Small Families with Big Houses = Lower Standard of Living. One of our recently deceased ex-Catholics, comedian George Carlin, shortly before he died, gave an interview with Don Imus, where he made a litany of decidely Catholic critiques, “wondering what’s wrong with contemporary society?” including this gem: “Why are married couples having fewer and fewer children and bigger and bigger houses?” Indeed, this month, there is a new TV commercial for birth control where the young woman thinks about a baby, or buying a better house, and chooses the house. Clearly, the Church needs to counter the materialist ideology, which is a zero-sum game against life.

  • J. Rocha

    I don’t think any one living in the States has any idea of the cost of housing in Europe and frankly I find the last 3 commentators very patronising.
    I will repeat, just to buy or rent the smallest house here you need two incomes. I think housing is basic before you start a family.
    Here in England we have a socialist state where most of the money from hard-working people is confiscated and given to people who have never worked and whose sole pupose in life is to have as many children as possible to get as many benefits as possible. This evil state has so distorted family life that it compensates families economically to break up rather than live together or not to marry at all; or for the mothers to have serial boyfriends.Any young couple trying to start a normal family here is at a serious disadvantage.
    Housing ,food, gasoline are because of government taxes way more expensive than the States.

  • Bob G

    Rocha, I actually agree with about all you just said. We may be talking past each other.

    Mrs. F: Wonderful, wise post.

    E. Fros: Well, to live what we call a middle class life now often requires two incomes. If you can be countercultural, you may get along on one income and live at best as lower-middle-class. Then most faithful Catholics would be almost poor. The economy as it is contributes strongly to the

  • J. Rocha

    I totally agree with your comment.
    I obviously think that the breakdown of family life and the abandonment of religion is totally due to the rise of the despotic Socialist state . For me, Socialism ( which is supported by many in the Catholic hierarchy)is a form of idolatory as it encourages people to look to the State for their well-being instead of Divine Providence. Like all false idols Socialism will prove to have feet of clay.Unfortunately though, some people have to live within this system and this is where the idea of no contraception seems almost ‘pie in the sky’ to most people.
    Here in England it would be impossible for people to afford to buy some small-holding and be self-sufficient and live ‘off grid’ as I think it is still possible in the States.

  • Ruth

    I see lots of self-righeousness in these comments. With the exception of a few, one of them J. Rocha, everyone is quick to label all husbands and wives “selfish” unless they toe the line. How do you explain the nervous breakdown of J. Rocha’s mother? She wasn’t tough enough? She didn’t pray enough? Human beings are very complicated and the dynamics between each couple are very different.
    I’ll leave the judging up to God. But I do agree, the subject of contraception is the elephant in the living room. I think most prients get around this sensitive subject by telling the penitent that “it is a matter of conscience”, in other words, I am not going to tell you what to do.

  • J. Rocha

    To develop my argument that it is the Welfare State that is to blame for the present state of affairs rather than contraception per se ( after all the condom has been around for a couple of hundred years.)
    Before people had big families so that they would be supported in their old age. Then the Welfare State is introduced and people are promised that in exchange for forcible confiscation of part of their earnings the state would provide for them in their old age. So people started having fewer chidren and because the state confiscated their money they had less left over to raise their own children.The seed of destruction was present at its inception, as the welfare State is a Ponzi scheme that depends on exponential population growth to sustain itself.
    Now the Ponzi scheme is about to collapse as the baby boomers had fewer children who will not be able to afford to pay for their benefits even though the baby boomers have paid for the pensions and social security benefits of the previous two generations.
    I predict that the whole system will collapse soon and the baby boomers will have an impoverished old age with no one to look after them.This breakdown of the state and it’s failure to live up to its promises will horrify and frighten the younger generations into having more children! Perhaps then the Church’s wisdom will be given due recognition!

  • Donna G

    I agree with Ruth. The question of why Catholics ignore Church teaching on contraception needs to be thoughtfully investigated, because it’s complicated. Judgemental slogans, simplistic solutions and generalisations just won’t help. Let’s be careful about using labels like “selfish” or “materialistic” or saying that married couples who use contraception don’t know what love is. If it were that simple and universal it would be easier to address. But there are a number of complicated factors at work here which need to be examined with understanding. We don’t solve this by ignoring or dismissing all the factors that come into play.

  • Bob G

    You have a great handle on the question. I agree that the welfare-style state faces imminent collapse, not least because the birth-rate almost everywhere has fallen way below replacement levels. The Ponzi scheme is about to implode.

    Interesting sidelight: the latest Chronicles (a

  • Bob G

    Talk about population replacement reminds me of the immigration debate raging in the US

    For the record, I believe that the US is based on the

  • MinnesotaCatholic

    For some women it is absolutely necessary that they use birth control because if they get become pregnant it could kill them. It is just completely unreasonable to expect a wife and husband to live as”brother and sister” and so if this situation it is morally permissible to use birth control. The biggest problem with birth control is that it facilitates promiscuity and that leaves many people in a state of mortal sin.

  • Lee

    When I first became a Catholic, at communion time, perhaps one half of the congregation received. Now, everyone gets up and goes to communion. How wonderful that everyone except me seems to be in a continual state of grace. Even contracepting Catholics go up every Sunday…their children tell me so in catechism classes and tell me how their parents say how crazy the Church is to talk against contraception and they won’t ever have more than two children! How wonderful for a seventh grader to learn that their parents think so little of them that they won’t have any more.

  • David

    According to poll data, 75 percent of Catholics in the United States receive the sacrament of penance — go to confession, that is — less than once a year. In many cases, that’s never.

    There are many reasons for this, but contraception obviously is one. Contracepting Catholics don’t wish to confess contraception…

    This article presupposes that 75% of Catholics don’t go to confession because many of them are using contraceptives. But how do we know that’s the reason they are not going? It’s not “obvious”.

  • Francis Wippel

    I have to disagree with some of the comments posted here about the fear of the consequences of preaching against contraception.

    I am fortunate to live in an area of the country where there are several parishes in which the pastor preaches consistently against artificial contraception. In one parish in particular, the largest in the county in which I work, the pastor lost some parishioners with his approach, but actually gained even more from other parishes where such preaching wasn’t taking place. Now if you want a seat at one of his Sunday Masses, you’d better show up at least 15 minutes early.

    I belong to a different parish in the area, and our pastor has consistently preached against contraception, and made no apologies for doing so. Some people have been offended by this, but others have embraced and welcomed it. But there has not been any drop-off in contributions or Mass attendance.

    Priests cannot be afraid of their responsibility to teach the faith. If they shy away from this responsibility, the result is parishioners who are uninformed and susceptible to any misreporting that goes on the in press about so-called changes in Church teaching.

  • Mrs. F

    I think you make a very good point. Parents don’t always realize or think about how their words affect their children. Hearing statements that make children sound like a burden hurts and damages those children people did have–and I can personally attest to how painful it is to be told that I was not intended.

    I find it amazing that every single woman I have ever spoken to about NFP has irregular periods. It must be an epidemic in rural America smilies/tongue.gif It’s the favorite excuse when a woman doesn’t want to learn more about it, even though the awareness of one’s body and cycles alone is worth it–also cheap, with no side effects except better marital communication.

  • ….

    I am a catholic and try to attend confession about every other month. (A priest once told me if you go everyime you get a haircut it will be regular) The whole contraception thing has really gone up int he air for me over the past few years.

    My wife and I started out on NFP. Through God’s will, or not so careful chart reading we got pregnant pretty early in our marriage. Not that we weren’t open to it but we moved away after getting married and really struggle to hold two jobs, pay bills, raise a son and live in a duel income household. We have no family here so we really have no help in babysitting… ever.

    Cutting to it, I travel for my job and one thing i enjoy is going to Mass and confession in different states and areas. I’ve gone to three priests in a row who have now said everything from it is not a serious sin to blatently saying contraception (at least condoms, none have agreed with the pill as it can cause abortions) is not a sin at all. Citing things like the advances in medicine when a large family really up until under 100 years ago, if you had 6 kids and three made it to adulthood that was great, and the need for kids to do chores and help around the house has been changed with modern technology, to the need for responsible parents in spacing children.

    At first i really struggled with this and still as we have stopped with the NFP in our house but at the same time the little bit of physical interaction we get to have in our lives does bring us closer together and we don’t hate kids and plan and want to have more. I know i used to be a big propoent of NFP and have lost my way but part of me is starting just to think that non pill contraception is a necessary evil of sorts.

  • Kathryn

    The lastest I’ve heard is that nearly half of all abortions half of abortions occur due to contraceptive failure. Even so-called sterilzation procedures have a very modest (very, very small) failure rate.

    So if a woman would die if she got pregnant, then the ONLY thing to do is to abstain.

  • Kathryn

    IF a person is convinced of the problem that is contraception.

    I do not want to contribute to moral, marital, societal, and environmental damange. I want the world better than I found it, espcially for my kids. Not using contraception is my way of doing things (though not the only way).

    I am convinced that contraception is as Father Anthony Zimmerman, SVD/STD once called it “Creeping Death” (He had an article entitled “Contraception is Creeping Death”…the article is available here:

    http://www.catholicsagainstcontraception.com/fr_anthony_zimmerman_contraception_
    is_creeping_death.htm )

    If Zimmerman’s thoughts aren’t one’s cup of tea, I think Janet Smith does a nice job with Contraception, Why Not.

    If people are not convinced, they will have trouble. But a person has to be willing to sit down, read to arguments againgst (heck, we all know the ones for), and think things through.

  • Ned

    I’ve found contraception and pornography go hand in hand (pun not necessarily intended). It wasn’t until my conversion that I got the wake-up call. My wife and I practiced MM as our form of contraception and I loved my computer very much (porn). After my conversion, I told my wife we need to do things right and I got away from porn over time. Confession – regular confession – was a huge part of it. You ask for grace sincerely, you get grace abundantly. Is it scary to being open to more kids? Yes. Does it require faith? Yes. But we trust. We do practice NFP. But we feel we are practicing sexuality in our marriage the way God intended. And so there is comfort in that. In the end, truly in the end, everlasting life is all that matters. Frack the world.

  • Ned

    Sorry for the typo in the third to last line. “But we feel we are…”

  • Maria

    Mary P: If the exodus you describes happens, it would be great! It would reduce the chance of ANOTHER generation being poorly catechized and scanalized.

    J. Rocha: I’ve lived in England, and Yes, the situation there is dire for families. But that doesn’t make it OK to use contraception, but it does make it more likely that a couple will have serious reason to use NFP.

    Minnesota Catholic: Are you telling me that a husband would put his wife’s life at risk rather than abstain for part of the month? Well, now that’s love for ya.

    Donna G: The issure of contraception is not complicated, though some people find it difficult.

  • J. Rocha

    Another awful development in the last few years has been that globalisation has resulted in the destruction of decent paying working class jobs and now even the middle classes are being affected.
    Maria,you are so patronising.Haven’t you read the account of the man above who tried NFP and it failed? What are young Catholics supposed to do? Have children that they can’t afford to feed?
    The Church has to take a firmer stance against the economic evils that beset us, such as globalisation, unfettered capitalism and socialism.They have to show society that there are alternative economic arrangements.

  • Tom R

    And what about the fact that the majority of abortions are non-surgical; they are the direct effect of chemical and/or mechanical contraceptives. The zygote dies because he/she is unable to implant due to chemical and/or mechanical presences which alter the uterine lining making it unsuitable to sustain implantation. The result is abortion. This effect is well-established by scientific data (research). There is indeed widespread denial as Mr. Shaw suggests. The elephant’s effects can be measured — the remains of millions of little persons!

  • passing by only

    I clicked on your site and got a phishing site warning from my ipad. You might ask about it. I left in a hurry so they are at minimum losing apple people perhaps.
    On your topic, it is an interesting debate or was rather some years ago at Theological Studies …now with a prescence on line. The geneticist leaning people argued your point and others of a more embryologist leaning argued that the cells are human matter but are not yet an individual person until they are no longer totipotential; ie they can no longer divide at day 14 and become two people or more….identical twins etc…..and they point to the chimeric….two fertilized eggs in close proximity (potential fraternal twins)
    which then merge and form only one individual. In the twin case at 14 days, how could one indivisible soul become two. In the chimeric case, how could two souls become one only. if you email TS, they might direct you to the debate articles in which back issues.

  • Rex

    Wasn’t there a journalist’s stunt a few years back, in which the guy went to multiple confessionals around Rome and pretended to confess all sorts of things just to see what the confessor would say? I think the result was that virtually all of the confessors downplayed contraception in one way or another. Either they said it was no big deal, or it was a matter of conscience or it was not infallibly revealed to be wrong or something of that sort. (They all held the line, however, on abortion.)

    So going to confession more frequently will not necessarily excite a new-found enthusiasm for Humanae Vitae.

  • Christian Meert

    Well, in Catholic Marriage Prep Online classes we do not hesitate to talk about NFP and contraception and the engaged couples are very receptive, look at these statistics. I think it is very encouraging and priests and deacons should not be afraid to speak about it in the open. People in the pews are dying to hear the Truth, this is why they come to the Church.
    Catholic Marriage Preparation, Inc. 2009 Statistics:
    Answers from 1,208 couples who went through the online Catholic Marriage Prep classes in 2009. Abstinence: Yes or Maybe = 95.0% (Yes: 79.0%, Maybe: 16.0%, No: 5.0%) NFP: Yes or Maybe = 94.0% (Yes: 61.0%, Maybe: 33.0%, No: 6.0%) Notes: Less than ten dioceses in the United States require complete NFP formation and almost none outside the USA. Most of the couples have never heard about NFP and/or do not know where to find NFP courses in their own diocese, even if they are convinced. In the 6.0% saying NO to NFP, we have couples beyond procreation age and couples who want to have as many children as they can, whether because they believe it is their call, or because the clock is ticking for the brides. There is a huge contradiction in the Church regarding NFP and abstinence. The Church

  • Kathryn

    The soul comes from God, and who knows how long it takes for Him to make one. Maybe a nanosecond, maybe several days. Or maybe it varies depending on what else He’s currently doing, or some other reason.

    If we do something completely unintentional to interupt His creativity (say, we get into a serious car wreck ‘cuz the other guy ran a red), well, things happen.

    If on the other hand, we intentionally injest something believed to be an anti-implantive (is that a word?) for the purposes of birth control (esp. when the Church He founded says No and has said No since the beginning) and thereby ruin a soul (or souls) He’s in the middle of creating, I would think He’d be…irked.

  • passing by only

    I don’t get paid enough to debate this area. smilies/grin.gif. (frankly my pay today was negative $500…hedged trader…. that actually was wonderful given the market today). But my references above to TS can help the intelligent Catholic at minimum understand why the Bishops Cardinals and Pope speak with more hesitancy than lower level Catholics do…including priests at the lower level. The upper level are more inclined to read TS and less likely to be firebrands and heretic denouncers.

  • Tony Layne

    I am fortunate to live in an area of the country where there are several parishes in which the pastor preaches consistently against artificial contraception. In one parish in particular, the largest in the county in which I work, the pastor lost some parishioners with his approach, but actually gained even more from other parishes where such preaching wasn’t taking place. Now if you want a seat at one of his Sunday Masses, you’d better show up at least 15 minutes early.

    I belong to a different parish in the area, and our pastor has consistently preached against contraception, and made no apologies for doing so. Some people have been offended by this, but others have embraced and welcomed it. But there has not been any drop-off in contributions or Mass attendance.

    Francis, you bring up a very interesting testimony to a largely unacknowledged fact: The harder teachings of the Catholic faith, when taught clearly, vigorously and fearlessly, are actually more attractive than many people suspect. For every one person turned off by talk of sin, death and judgment, there’s one or two others left cold by the namby-pamby quality of the I’m-okay-you’re-okay happy talk that passes for homilies in many parishes.

    This is not to contradict Mary P.’s experience: If more priests taught authoritatively the sin of contraception, there would be blowback and turmoil. But while a priest should never go out of his way to offend, he should never fear offense or turmoil so much that it prevents him from preaching the truth … because he preaches in the name of One who “came to cast fire on the earth” (Lk 12:49). And he will probably find that what he loses upfront will be gained back with interest down the road.

  • Alberto T.

    would make sense, especially about the number of people relying on it and abortion and sterilization, if the technology and use only occurred within the last 100 years. But we know from medical and religious history that birth control and abortion are the world’s oldest medical interventions because of human necessity. Cleopatra had her own methods and Jewish women fashioned barrier methods. If this offended God, surely the Gospels would be full of Christ’s specific condemnations. Instead, He focused on misogynist adulterous hypocrite males. Moreover, He never badgered his mostly married Apostles to abandon sex. Everyone is justified in questioning some current Vatican teachings on sex, especially since some recent popes should have gone to jail instead of being elected. A good metaphor for ruinous Vatican errors is “The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant — a young couple is needlessly pauperized by their mistaken assumption that the wife lost a fortune in borrowed jewelry from her qrich employer. After many years of slaving to pay off their “debt”, the wife learns from her employer that they were lent FAKE jewelry. Likewise, Christ never made such inhuman demands of always unsafe sex and celibate clergy. Christians should follow the Gospels, not corrupt self-appointed “spokesmen”.

  • thereserita

    “I agree with Ruth. The question of why Catholics ignore Church teaching on contraception needs to be thoughtfully investigated, because it’s complicated. Judgemental slogans, simplistic solutions and generalisations just won’t help. Let’s be careful about using labels like “selfish” or “materialistic” or saying that married couples who use contraception don’t know what love is”

    Donna, with all due respect, there’s nothing ‘complicated’ about this topic. Paul VI encapsulated it very clearly in the few pages of Humane Vitae. Furthermore, it NOT ‘judgemental’ to call sin, sin anymore than it is to call poison, poison. And that’s what contraception eventually does: It poisons a relationship. Uncomfortable truth is still truth. The ‘married couples who use contraception’ that you refer to can only find out what true love is when they die to themselves…that’s the Cross of the One we follow & there’s no end-run around it. But the rest of the story is that, once we join Jesus on the Cross, we finally find Life & “know what love is”, as you say!

  • Alberto T.

    And Kathryn didn’t answer your question regarding split or combined souls which I have also raised on other web sites to no avail. Moreover, the combined souls of OPPOSITE sex twins explains the NATURAL prevalence of born homosexuals. I also wonder if “surprise” double ovulations in one cycle of NFP FAILURES explains the higher rate of gay children among devout Catholics.

    Here is why most Catholics give up on open to MATERNAL death NFP:

    pelvic floor disorders (35% of middle-aged mothers and 50% of elderly mothers: urinary and rectal incontinence)
    risks from episiotomy or c-section
    tears during delivery

  • Alberto T.

    I long for the day when the world knows of Paul VI’s shameful criminal support of Ante Pavelich during the Second World War. He should be de-poped and Humane Vitae should be regarded as medical malpractice that benefits pedophiles at the expense of women. You should read my list of pregnancy dangers and concentrate on promoting abstinence only for pedophiles. NFP wrecked my mother’s health and marriage. You can obey the Vatican as you please, but its rules shouldn’t be forced on non-Catholic Americans.

  • Bob G

    In an early post on this thread, HKainze said this:

  • denray

    Alberto, you seem to be a self-appointed ‘spokesman,’ so be careful about accusing others of doing the same. Scripture tells us that Christ conferred His authority on his Apostles, who passed this on to others through the laying on of hands. In other words, they created spokesmen for the Gospel.

    Also, Scripture tells us that not everything He said and did is contained in it. There would not be enough books in the world to contain the entire Truth, so Christ left a way (His Church) to proclaim it, even regarding those things He did not specifically comment on, such as abortion and contraception.

  • Alberto T.

    but not about many of their alleged corrupt and murderous successors. Proclaimed authority doesn’t guarantee morality in laws, especially when large numbers of people are injured by those laws.

  • brencel

    The problem is Paul VI did not listen to the commission set up by John XXIII and expanded by himself. The commission proclaimed the truth that is now being proclaimed by the People of God, the vast majority using non-abortifacient contraception within marriage and believing they are correct. Jesus told us, His disciples, the People of God that:

  • Bob G

    Well, if Paul VI did not listen to the lay commission, whom did he listen to? Answer: Karol Woytila, the next pope. Woytila had spent his life working on the question of human sexuality, and probably was the best informed theologian in the Catholic Church on that matter. We

  • brencel

    I believe John XXIII set up the commission to use it’s findings. He was open to the Holy Spirit, hence Vatican II. Unfortunately, with his demise this wilingness to listen to and obey the Holy Spirit, especially against the advice of the Roman curia and it’s ilk, was greatly weakened. A great servant of God and the People of God.

  • dan

    It’s time someone addressed the sadness and desolation of single Catholics who can’t get married because they won’t contracept.

  • Michael PS

    On the rather vexed question of monozygotic twins and chimeras, it is certainly the case that, in the case of monzygotic twins, neither of the two humans that eventually develop can be identified as the same human as the zygote, because they can

  • issues

    I think the elephant in the living room is that there are many couples out there who disagree with the Church teaching after they prayerfully and thoroughly researched the teaching and can not agree with it. Yet they are unable to be truthful to their fellow Catholics because of the gossip that would result. Some have found the use of NFP to be destructive to their marriage. One couple I know agonized over it for a decade before they could no longer continue to tow the line. They are tired of being told to read Christopher West or Janet Smith yet another time. Many good and holy priests disagree with this teaching but can not publicly state their opinion. Who are you all kidding that going to confession is going to solve this problem about the use of contraception? An anonymous survey of priests would be interesting re: whether or not contraception is always evil. I believe the majority would say no.

    For many it has become the defining position on whether you are Catholic or not. Yet if those who disagreed left the Church the existence of the church would be vastly different. Financial ruins. All those left who consider themselves the real believers could stand around and pat themselves on the back….

  • Cherie

    -Developmental biology (the more common term for “embryology”) is astounding; it surprised me at every turn when I studied it. The processes by which God creates us are intricate and fascinating- but they pertain to the body. One thing science cannot show us is the soul. Monozygotic twins and chimeric individuals are perplexing in these discussions, but using these unusual cases as evidence that we don’t have souls at conception seems dangerous. If a chemical or process results in the destruction of a totipotent zygote that would have split into twins, haven’t we perhaps lost two souls, rather than one or none? In my opinion, completely not worth the risk.

    -Single Catholics have it hard in this culture, that is certain. The idea of NFP weirded out my non-Catholic boyfriend, but we talked it out, and he and I are more concerned about the difficulty of total abstinence from all sexual contact *until* marriage than periodic abstinence within marriage. I imagine it might be more awkward if the man were the one committed to NFP, since birth control decisions are considered the woman’s prerogative in the wider culture, but the principle stands– someone who is otherwise willing to completely and radically give give herself to a man in marriage, would not likely choose contraception over her future husband. I think that instead, it is a concept of marriage different from the Church’s, one in which marriage does not require deep, radical, ongoing self-sacrifice, that is to blame when contraception issues prevent or end a relationship.

    -The idea of not using contraception is scary to my generation because it’s alien. More alien than the idea of only getting your period four times a year, apparently. That’s why I think talking about this is really, really important. The reason I’m not scared of it is because I know my parents did NFP (or the 1980’s equivalent), and I’m one of three evenly spaced children. I found out recently that two couples I’m friends with are in abstinent relationships, and the engaged couple plans on NFP when they’re married. I’ve known both couples for a long time, but we don’t talk about things like that! There’s a huge problem in our churches and on our campuses (I’m at a Jesuit university) and in the community at large where it’s more common for people to flaunt their dissension, immodesty, and the like, while faithful, modest decisions and lifestyles go unnoticed. It took me a few years into college to realize that I wasn’t the only person not having sex- even a lot of guys and girls who are not “committed to abstinence” on moral or religious grounds are virgins into their twenties because they haven’t been in a very serious, long-term relationship and they are waiting for that. Who knew? If we open a conversation about how these things are still important and have moral consequences, maybe people will come out of the woodwork. Even five percent, or one percent, of Catholics probably includes a few couples at your parish. Maybe it includes you. The most common objection to NFP is probably “it’s impossible”- all we need are a few examples to show that no, it’s really not.

  • impossible

    I disagree Cherie–there are couples for whom NFP is not possible. I too as an engaged person thought it was all about just having a period of abstinence every month–hey no problem–maybe 2 weeks at the most. The real truth is for some couples due to health and other reasons the abstinence is way more than 2 weeks per month and at times is celibacy. For some couples it works wonderfully as a means to space and welcome children and still have an intimate relationship. For others it is destructive and it leaves them in the position of being celibate or disagreeing with the church. I just think things should not be sugar coated in those pre-cana classes–tell it like it is!!

  • Donna G

    The Church’s teaching may be simple. Human reality may be complicated – significant risk of serious physical or mental health problems (or even death, as in my sister’s case), severe financial hardship and disadvantage to the other children, or near-celibate marriages. I’m reluctant to judge. This is not the same as giving approval. I wonder if Jesus would be so harsh in his judgement as some commentors.

  • Michael PS

    Cherie, you are right.

    On the vexed question of

  • Alberto T.

    ovulate TWICE in ONE cycle — the second time being during the alleged safe period? Stress alone can do this and this is one of many reasons why NFP fails most couples. Another suppressed reason is the longevity of sperm in womens’ bodies — not just a few days but TEN or more days. Christ never said marriage was about seesawing extremes of clergy abstinence only or suicidal breeding. Contraception and emergency abortions were widely practiced by His women adherents, and if He considered such self-defense immoral He would have condemned it over and over. Ratzinger colleague Uta Ranke-Heinemann discovered that early church officials erroneously tried to impose their Shaker-like hatred of sex on couples and only grudgingly accepted NFP because it did impose CLERGY abstinence.

    Are you also aware that hundreds of food products contain natural miscarriage-causing ingredients, that “ever-consistent and all-knowing” church officials are informed of this, but refuse to ban them for women because women would rebel against such severe bread and water only diets? Just a couple cups of caffeinated tea or coffee or even wine can expel zygotes, and this is why many NFP practitioners mistakenly believe NFP “works”. The pill operates on the same principle, yet it is condemned while coffee, tea, colas and wine are served in every home, office and church function with official blessings.

    My relatives in Rome are convinced that John Paul I was poisoned by the Church’s Nazi sympathizers/Opus Dei circles because he planned not only to investigate the Vatican bank’s money laundering, but also to reverse Paul VI’s ban on contraception. Suppose my religion (or mental illness) decrees that women must live on bread and water only for 25 DAYS out of EVERY month, that I am in the grocery business, but I only sell my vast array of food to men while demanding their wives fast most of the month. Moreover, my bulletin board informs gluttonous men of my church-approved liposuction surgeons who only operate on men, because surgery on women is considered “unnatural cheating”. How long do you think I’d remain in business with such insulting nonsense? John Paul I recognized the insulting (and health-endangering) nonsense of NFP, and the pedophile-protecting mafia assassinated him.

  • Alberto T.

    abstinence until marriage is that many women are thus snookered into marrying closet gays. This happened to a neighbor who was denied an annulment for TEN YEARS even though her marriage was NEVER CONSUMMATED. Most men who are “OK with abstinence and NFP” have fidelity or sexual orientation issues. They may even be hermaphrodite chimeras whose parents practiced NFP. Most couples practice enough abstinence BY DEFAULT with their unpaid overtime hours, 2 and 3 minimum-wage jobs, long commutes, and disabled children rearing expenses.

  • Michael PS

    Alberto T

    Who are these

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