The Attempt to Undermine Humanae Vitae (Guest: Dr. Janet Smith)

The Pontifical Academy for Life has created controversy again, recently releasing a book that questioned the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception. What’s behind this attempt to undermine Church teaching?

Crisis Point
Crisis Point
The Attempt to Undermine Humanae Vitae (Guest: Dr. Janet Smith)
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Links:

• “Pontifical Academy for Life: Personal Values Reign Supreme” (article)
• Janet Smith website
• “Contraception:Why Not?” (talk)

Transcript:

Eric Sammons:

The Pontifical Academy for Life has created controversy again, recently releasing a book that questioned the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception. What exactly is going on at the Pontifical Academy for Life? We’re going to talk about that today on Crisis Point. Hello. I’m Eric Sammons, your host, and editor-in-chief of Crisis Magazine. Before we get started, just encourage people to like this video. Also, subscribe to our channel. It lets other people know about it. Also, you can follow us on social media @CrisisMag.

Okay, we have a great guest today. She’s returning, Janet Smith. She is retired from the Father McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan. She’s the author of Humanae Vitae: A Generation Later and A Right to Privacy. Her volume, entitled, Self-Gift contains her previously published essays on Humanae Vitae and the thought of John Paul II. More than two million copies of her talk, Contraception: Why Not? has been distributed. Professor Smith served three terms as the consultant to the Pontifical Council on the Family. Welcome to the program, Janet.

Janet Smith:

It’s good to be here, Eric.

Eric Sammons:

Yes, and I remember I’d first heard of you back in the ’90s, the Contraception: Why Not? talk, of course. I was actually converting to Catholicism. Contraception was a big one, because it made no sense, as a Protestant, not to use it, but then your talk helped me realize that, okay, this is actually a good thing that the Catholic Church does by opposing it. Now, unfortunately, we’re going to talk about some confusion when it comes to that.

Before we get started really talking about this book that came out. Let’s go take a step back. What exactly is the origin of the Pontifical Academy for Life? Why was it set up, and when was it set up?

Janet Smith:

Well, you think I’m an expert. It was lucky I did take a little time to review these things this morning. I believe it was set up in, what, 1974? Is that right?

Eric Sammons:

I think it was ’94, 1994.

Janet Smith:

’94, that’s right, by Lejeune from France, who was the doctor that discovered the source of Down syndrome and was just a beautiful man, probably saintly, from what people say, and very much defended the right to life of Down syndrome babies and all babies. The whole academy was set up in order to defend life. There were some really… People were appointed for life, and really beautiful people, who accepted the Church’s teaching and, as you know, it’s not just the Church’s teaching; it’s natural law, on the value of human life.

Then, in 1917 [2017], Pope Francis basically fired everybody. Well, I don’t know what you say, removed everybody from the… that was on the list of those in the academy, and put a lot of new people on, redefined the mission. Instead of being an academy that basically defended the Church’s teaching in the light of modern assaults on the truth about human life and sexuality, put people of widely diverse views on it, in order to encourage dialog and discussion about these issues, which seems now to be being employed in order to actually question and even overturn the Church’s teaching on life issues, so the history is a very sad one, I would say.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, so it was founded in ’94, Pope John Paul II, but what is the status of… Okay, so you were a consultant on the Pontifical Council on the Family. This is the Pontifical Academy for Life. A lot of these different groups are associated with the Vatican. There’s a lot of confusion among Catholics as to what their purpose is, and where do they stand? Are they part of the magisterium? Are they the Pope’s mouthpiece? When you say the Pontifical Academy for Life, what would you say is its place in the Church, as far as the magisterium or the Vatican and things like that?

Janet Smith:

We’d say it’s a consultative group, one that’s meant to advise the Holy Father, that when a new issue comes up, something’s been challenged, that you put all these experts to work, who are able to examine the new challenge and provide the formulations that people will understand, that suit the modern world, that will be a response faithful to the magisterium for an issue. It has no magisterial authority. In no way does it teach for the Church, but people will get confused by that. They are confused.

They think if something comes out by the Pontifical Academy, some 517-page volume, however many it is, that this, in fact, speaks for the Church. There’s some way in which it does, not in an authoritative way, but evidently, they say the Holy Father approved of the volume. I wonder if he possibly read all of it, but surely he knew the main conclusions that were being advanced by the document.

Those who are inclined to challenge the Church teaching on any of these issues now have a powerful weapon. Even if it has no magisterial authority, they’re going to point to, well, this is where the Church is moving, and who are you to be a retrograde and not realize this legitimate development of Church teaching.

Eric Sammons:

Right, so while we can say very definitively that something that comes out of the Pontifical Academy for Life is not an infallible teaching, it’s not even a magisterial teaching, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not dangerous and doesn’t cause a lot of confusion and problems. I think that’s exactly what we’re talking about here. The volume we’re talking about, it’s called Theological Ethics of Life: Scripture, Tradition, Practical Challenges. Like you said, it’s over 500 pages. I think it was published in Italian, correct? Or was it multiple languages?

Janet Smith:

Some of the essays are in English, but almost all of it is in Italian.

Eric Sammons:

Okay, and so, basically, what is this volume? Was it written by one person? What exactly is this volume?

Janet Smith:

Well, it’s a compilation of contributions to a conference that was held last year, in I think November in 2021. They were provided, the attendees were provided… I don’t even know if there was a physical meeting, but the participants were provided with what’s called a basic text, which was really a fairly radical challenge to magisterial teaching on life issues. Then they were asked to respond.

Almost all of the responses are favorable to that basic text. There’s a few voices that challenge the new reading, but it’s almost altogether a challenge of Church teaching. They don’t say they are challenging it, of course. They are bringing it up to date to the modern world. They’re offering a new paradigm.

What is particularly sad, I think, is that many members of the commission say they didn’t even know that this conference was happening or this publication was going to be put forward, so it’s, in no way, a representative of the views of all the members of the commission. One doesn’t expect ever to get a consensus on something like that, but to include more voices that would not accept what the document is saying, I think, is very important. It was just a heavy-handed effort to shut out voices that might object to the principles articulated in the document.

Eric Sammons:

It sounds like how they run the Senate these days.

Janet Smith:

Yeah, exactly.

Eric Sammons:

You basically invite the people you know that agree with you.

Janet Smith:

We all agree because we all agree.

Eric Sammons:

Right, exactly. That’s right, because I think there’s over 100 members of this Pontifical Academy on some level, and there’s lay people, clerics, researchers, all this stuff, and so, basically, just because this document, this huge volume, was released, it doesn’t mean all the people who are members of Pontifical Academy for Life are actually supporting this. It sounds like it was prepared ahead of time to be something that would go in one direction. Now, the question is, is the whole volume talking about the teaching on artificial contraception, or is it more just… have more generic talking about morality, and the morality of acts and things like that?

Janet Smith:

Well, that’s an interesting question. The two documents it most frequently references are Humanae Vitae, which is, of course, on contraception, and Donum Vitae, which is on artificial means of reproduction, but my reading of the document is that it’s a bizarre document, in many ways. It claims to accept the teachings of those documents, all right? It accepts the teachings of them, but really what it does is it advances a new understanding, new understanding of conscience, that calls into question all moral teaching, not just those two. Those two are obviously ones that they most want to overturn, but honestly, their understanding of conscience would, basically, totally gut the Church’s teaching on morality.

Eric Sammons:

It does kind of make you wonder why… Saying that, it’s like why would you bring up the contraception issue now, when the fact of the matter is that most people who claim to be Catholic, who say they’re Catholic, already just use artificial contraception, and… But there are natural means, in which a couple could delay conception, moral means, and things like that.

It’s like the fact that they bring this up when there’s really been no push within the Church one way or the other about it makes you think that this is just a way to enter into a discussion to undermine other moral teachings of the Church. Does that seem to be a fair way to look at it?

Janet Smith:

Well, it didn’t include homosexuality, but let’s put it this way, that these are the teachings that most people reject. I think they think they can sell the Church better to people if they say, “Oh, no, no, no, no. Yes, contraception’s not good, but you can use it, that Donum Vitae, the Church is right about their teaching, but if your conscience tells you it’s permissible to do this, then go ahead and do it.” Of course, they’d say the same thing about homosexual relations.

I think that they’re just going to the neuralgic points. I mean, it is true that most Catholics dissent from these things and seem perfectly comfortable acting against the Church’s teaching on these matters, but I think it’s if once you say, “Okay, the Church doesn’t really… You can do what you want, on these things,” they think it makes Catholicism much more palatable to many people, and they might stop the bleed of people leaving the Church. They might make the Church more attractive to people.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, so you wrote an article for Crisis. Earlier this week, I think it was, we published it. It’s great, and I’ll link to it in the show notes, so people can read it. What is the core problem with their argumentation here? Because you mention it’s not that they’re even saying they reject Humanae Vitae. It’s something a little… I would honestly argue it’s something a little more diabolical.

Janet Smith:

Mm-hmm.

Eric Sammons:

But it’s something a little bit different than just simply saying, “Oh, yeah, Humanae Vitae was wrong.” What exactly is their argument, and what’s wrong with how they go about it?

Janet Smith:

They know this. I mean, they are advancing a radical understanding change of conscience. In Vatican II, in Gaudium et Spes, it said that the conscience is the place where we hear the voice of God within, and we recognize that there’s a law that we need to obey, that we did not invent, that God has provided laws that we must obey. Of course, these aren’t…

They may be burdensome because we have a sinful nature, but at the same time, they are fulfilling of human nature, and they’re truly liberating, not confining, because they liberate us from our sinful tendencies and direct us towards what is best for us; whereas, this group thinks of conscience really as not something that God… the interior voice of God within. It’s a repository of my own values. I’ve made choices in my life, and those choices have committed me to certain values, so over the course of my life, I have committed myself to certain values in the way that I behave, and that now should be and must be my moral guide, not anything external, not the Church’s teaching, not even the natural law, all right? It must be the values that I’ve chosen.

It doesn’t use the word authenticity, so far as I’m concerned, but it has a bit of that sense of some of the modern understanding of authenticity, a need to be true to myself and my own values. Even though you could say, and it does say that contraception is… It doesn’t use these words, which was interesting. It doesn’t talk about the difference between objective values or objective culpability and subjective culpability, all right, which the Church has always made, that contraception is always wrong.

The Church does say that if your conscience tells you that you must contracept, well then you should contracept, but you have still done wrong, all right, and you have badly formed your conscience. You could be culpable for that. It depends on what your education, opportunities, et cetera, of concern, but you definitely have done something wrong if you’ve chosen to contracept, even if you’re subjectively not culpable.

Let’s say you’re a 14-year-old girl, and your parents and your guidance counselor and even your pastor tells you, you should use contraception, and you’ve turned to the right authorities in your life to understand what you should do. They tell you there’s really nothing wrong with fornicating either, that you’re young and in love, and you need to explore your sexuality, blah-blah-blah. That kid is hardly culpable subjectively for what they’ve done, but what they’ve done is wrong, both the fornication, obviously, and the contraception.

What this document would say… I don’t know how you can talk about a 14-year-old having a repository of values, but let’s take, now, the 24-year-old, who thinks it’s perfectly all right to have sex outside of marriage and perfectly all right to contracept. They don’t even say that you’ve done something objectively wrong. They say that your action, if you are acting in accord with your own values, that you have done… That is the right moral choice for you to make. They judge the moral action not in a kind of division of subjectivity and objectivity, but the whole action, in their mind, is a good action, because you acted in accord with your own values, and we need to accompany people on this.

Now, it says very little, so far… I haven’t read the whole 500-and-some pages, just some key portions, and there may be elsewhere it makes these distinctions, but in the portions I’ve read, where they should be making these distinctions, they’re not making them.

It doesn’t say that even though the Church is right on this, that we need to lead people, even those… We need to accompany them on their journey, as it says in other more recent documents, or at least articles have said. We need to accompany people. You think, well, at least we could accompany them towards the truth. It’s not even talking that way, so far as I can tell, but the Church would say, “But yes, you have to follow your conscience,” but, of course, your conscience isn’t what I think is right or wrong. My conscience always asks not what do I think is right. My conscience asks, what does God hold as right or wrong. If I’m asking any other question than that, and then, once I ask the right question, what does God think I should do? Where do I go to find that out, all right?

If I’m a Catholic, I certainly look at Church documents, and I ask that question, what does the Church teach? Because the Church teaches for God, and if the Church teaches that contraception is wrong, it doesn’t matter that I think it’s okay, all right? Now, if I’m a Catholic, there’s no way I can sit and say, “Well, I think it’s okay.” You’ve got to say no, I’m in conflict. I’m in terrible conflict. There’s some part of my being that thinks it’s okay, but I’m committed to the Catholic faith, and I know that the Church teaches from God, so why would I follow my own views, which aren’t God’s views, they’re my views, instead of following the Church. They don’t present any of that in this document.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, it seems… First of all, this sounds like the exact same argumentation used in the Amoris Laetitia, that there this idea of just that you can determine… I mean, frankly, you can determine truth, and there’s no discussion of the effect of sin in this whole process of, what was it, the phrase they use, like getting your own values or whatever like that, like there’s sin involved in that, so like for example, the 24-year-old, who’s been sleeping around for the past couple years, their sin is going to impact his view of what is sinful.

Janet Smith:

Right.

Eric Sammons:

Because he’s going to want to justify himself. He’s going to want to say that, yes, it’s okay to do this, and he’s going to… I didn’t see it in Amoris Laetitia. It doesn’t seem to be in here either. Isn’t there something to be said for the fact that conscience is obviously impacted by original sin, impacted by our own personal sins, right?

Janet Smith:

Oh, yes. You’re exactly right, and most people… I have nieces and nephews, you know? Some of them went to Catholic schools, et cetera, and they still think… They’re torn more by the culture than they were by their education at home or their education at school. They think there’s absolutely nothing wrong with cohabitation, and they think that it’s irresponsible not to live together before marriage. Since you’re fornicating, and they don’t even know what that word means, I’m sure, but since you’re having sex outside of marriage, which they think is a responsible thing to do. They think it’s also responsible to contracept, because you’re not married yet, and you’re not committed, and it’s not the right time to have a child. That’s their formation, all right?

When they’re thinking about should I have sex outside of marriage, and should I use contraception? They’re just looking at the culture and their peers and, unfortunately, some of the adults in their life, as well. They may even go to mass on Sunday, but they don’t hear it from the pulpit, and they’ve been led to believe, as long as they’re acting in accord with their highest values, and these terms don’t even mean anything to them. They’re just doing what they think is sensible. They really haven’t examined their values.

I challenged some of them on, “Well, what do you really think marriage is? What do you really think God’s plan for sexuality is?” You get this blank stare, like what are you talking about? God’s plan for sexuality. I’m trying to be a good person. I found this person. I love this person. I think I want to marry this person. It makes perfect sense for us to live together.

As you said, there’s so much sin involved in all of that, not knowing that those are our appetites, and then our intellects have fallen because of original sin, and we’re very easily confused by our culture.

If you take an honest step back and strip away cultural influence, it’s not that hard to see that these things are immoral. It’s not that hard, but we are so steeped in our culture that it is hard for young people, because they don’t even know how to ask the question.

Eric Sammons:

It seems like this is a different way of attacking what the Church has always believed and always taught, in the sense that, in previous generations, you just simply denied the doctrine. The Aryans just denied the doctrine that Jesus is the eternal Son of God and He is also divine.

Janet Smith:

Yeah.

Eric Sammons:

Martin Luther would just deny the doctrine of the papacy, for example, something like that. But in this case, what they’re actually doing is they’re making it sound like, when you read them, that they’re supporting Humanae Vitae. They’re supporting the teaching of the Church.

I’m going to read this. If anybody follows this, can follow this, they get a prize or something, but this is actually from the document, quoting from it. It says, “Therefore, as happens with these methods, which already make use of specific techniques and scientific knowledge, there are situations in which two spouses, who have decided or will decide to welcome children, can make a wise discernment in the concrete case, which, without contradicting their openness to life, at that moment does not foresee it.” It goes on. There’s another sentence I want to read, too, but just that alone, it’s the typical, okay, yes, the concrete case is different than this ideal.

Janet Smith:

Way different.

Eric Sammons:

It seems like they always want to make the morality in Church an ideal, but the concrete is completely separate from that, it seems.

Janet Smith:

Yeah, it’s interesting that they don’t use the word ideal, because you’re exactly right. That’s the way they treat it, but again, that position was refuted again in the ’70s and the ’80s, that this was some sort of ideal that we held out there.

Unfortunately, people sometimes, some cultures, maybe the Italian culture, treats fidelity in marriage as an ideal, and, “Yeah, okay. Okay, yeah. Yeah, it’s better to be faithful to your life, but you know, I have a mistress, and everybody else does, so what’s the big deal? I’m committed to that, but I’m just a flawed human being.”

It’s almost like, you know, you want your kids to keep their room nice and neat and everything. If they make their bed, you’re happy. They’ve at least made one move towards it. You say, “Well, I’d like everything cleaned up, but at least you made your bed, or you picked up your clothes off the floor. That’s a good step.”

But so that’s how they treat morality, as though it’s, yes, this is a good thing, but, and then you hear these words in our culture all the time, and in our Church, “You have to meet people where they’re at, and people are doing the best that they can,” and so we have to approve what they’re doing, because we have to meet them where they’re at, and they’re doing the best that they can, as opposed to saying, “Maybe where you’re at is a really bad place to be, and your best is not very good, when you get right down to it, and we need to really challenge you.”

I mean, take something like homosexuality. It’s amazing that when you find a person who has homosexual tendencies, who is ready to really ask the question whether these are good actions and this is a good choice of a way to use their sexuality. They will start using words like, “It’s degrading,” and, “I’m ashamed that I’ve made these choices.” When you get down to the deepest part of their being, they start… That’s where you have to… I mean, you don’t come right out and say that, when you’re having a conversation. You ask people, “Are you happy? What are you looking for in life? What kind of relationships do you want to have?”

I kind of like to ask people, “What do you think your grandmother would think of this, and why do you think she would disapprove of what you’re doing?” Then, when they start going in that direction, because they know their grandmother loves them, and so we don’t have… We’re going to lose out on that argument before long, because the grandmothers have gone the way of the rest of the culture.

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Janet Smith:

But for a long time, that was a very good approach to people was to say, “Would you like your grandmother to know what you’re doing?” They’d go, “No.” “Why not? Is she wrong?”

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, it’s interesting because-

Janet Smith:

That’s the part where it moves them toward where they need to be.

Eric Sammons:

Right. It’s interesting because, back when I was in college, and I was still Protestant, I knew a Catholic who lived a lifestyle that was not in keeping with Catholic teaching. We’ll just put it that way. They partied and did all the things that college kids sometimes do, and then he’d go to mass. This is when I was thinking about becoming Catholic, though. He would go to mass on Sundays, but he would not receive communion. I or my friend, who was Catholic, asked him, “Well, why don’t you take communion?” He was like, “Well, I can’t receive communion, considering the stuff I did yesterday.”

I remember thinking, as a Protestant, there’s actually something beautiful about that, in that this guy at least recognized that he’s not living up to what he’s supposed to be doing. In that, there is a place for evangelization, a place… and so, he didn’t receive communion; whereas, this ideology that we’re seeing from Pontifical Academy for Life, from Amoris Laetitia, stuff like that, is kind of saying, well, saying to that guy, “Nah, just go ahead and receive communion, because your values or whatever have made it okay for you to do this.”

Janet Smith:

You’re doing the best you can.

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Janet Smith:

Yeah.

Eric Sammons:

That just seems… Yeah, and so the next, in this document, this volume, it also says, “The wise choice will be realized by appropriately evaluating all possible techniques with reference to their specific situation and obviously excluding abortifacient ones.” First, I want to say I read that to my wife, and she said, “There’s nothing obvious anymore coming from you people.” She doesn’t get it. That’s a good point. It’s true.

Janet Smith:

Yeah.

Eric Sammons:

If it’s obviously excluding abortifacient ones, what they’re also saying is it’s not excluding contraceptive, strictly contraceptive techniques. But again, it talks about this idea of reference to their specific situation, as if there are situations in which the ideal or whatever, or the teaching at church, doesn’t apply. Doesn’t this get into a problem that I remember talking about on a priest podcast about Amoris Laetitia? It’s this idea of the difference between the positive and the negative moral laws, that there are laws, moral laws, that you can break in specific situations.

Actually, the article, by Muller I think it was, made the example of your driving along the road, and you swerve. You swerve maybe into another lane, which is against the law, and against morality, really, to do something like that, except you find out there’s a car coming at you, so you’re doing it to protect life, so it’s okay to do what you just did. They’re using that kind of logic. Can you explain the kind of difference between positive moral law and negative moral law, and why the logic they’re using here does not apply to contraception?

Janet Smith:

Yeah, well certainly the positive moral law, it directs you to what you should do, but it has to be very particular when it says I must be generous. All right, well, what’s generous for a poor person and what’s generous for a wealthy person are very, very different. You can’t… It’s a bit amorphous, a positive law.

Drive safely. Well, for most time, it’s observe the speeding limit, but if you’re getting someone to the hospital that is going to die if you don’t get there in a certain time, safely is the best you can do going as fast as you can.

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Janet Smith:

To get them to the hospital, and you haven’t broken any laws. I mean, you’ve broken human law, but not any divine law to protect human life. Speeding, at this point, is the thing I can do that’s most protective of human life, obviously without unduly endangering other cars on the road.

A negative precept is one you should never do. It’s like, don’t touch electric fences. You will die. Don’t jump off of 10-story buildings, and you say, because you will die, and you say that, so there are certain rules, laws, natural laws, or laws of physics, that if you break, the results are disastrous.

Laws like, “Don’t commit adultery,” means never. Never have sex with anyone other than your spouse, if you’re a married person, obviously. Now you might say, “Don’t be unfaithful to your wife,” or, “Always be faithful to your wife.” That’s a positive rule, but does it mean you can never bring flowers to your secretary, let’s say, on her birthday. Probably not. That’s probably a nice thing to do, but if you’re bringing her flowers a couple days a week because you like her smile, and you like to make her happy, well, now you’re moving towards adultery, honestly, but you can’t make a law that says, “Don’t ever give flowers to your secretary.”

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Janet Smith:

You have, instead, the law, “Don’t commit adultery.” The Church has the law. Again, it’s a natural law. It’s not a manmade law, that, again, never violate God’s plan for sexuality. That’s it, and that contraception does violate God’s plan for sexuality; therefore, don’t contracept.

It’s interesting, as you said, that they say, except for the abortifacient ones. Well, there aren’t very many that aren’t abortifacient. You’re basically talking the male and female condom, almost everything else. Maybe if you call withdrawal a contraceptive act, that’s not an abortifacient, but it’s immoral. It is contraceptive and also non-unitive. It’s interesting that they have that little disclaimer, but they don’t have an asterisk that says, “This means just about everything,” you know?

They’re very narrowly circumscribing it, and acting, as you say, as though it were a positive law, rather than a… a positive precept as opposed to a negative precept. What’s interesting in all of this is way back in the late 1950s/early 1960s when there was the challenges to the Church’s teaching on contraception, those who were trying to push contraception always talked about women in third world countries, who had 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 children, and couldn’t feed them, and it was just horrible, and she needed to have some recourse to contraception. They don’t even say anything like that anymore, because obviously almost everybody’s contracepting, and they don’t have too many children. It’s not that they can’t. They only may be, most likely, limiting themselves to two.

You’re saying that you can’t bring in that heartbreaking scenario, and the fact is that women in third world countries basically have no problem using natural family planning. They understand that very, very well and incorporate it into their lifestyle fairly easily. We don’t in the modern world, because we think that sex is for recreation. We think that there’s nothing else to hold a relationship together except sex, and so if you’re not having as much sex as you can, which people aren’t, but that’s what they think is their goal, they couldn’t possibly use natural family planning.

Many studies show that people using natural family planning have sex even more often, in spite of the requirement for abstinence for a certain period of time, than those who are contracepting, because contracepting kind of takes the fun out of it, one of the huge fun items out of having sex, which is the possibility of a baby with this person.

When you have your act open to that possibility, you are saying something with your body to that person, which is just extraordinary, which is, “I’m willing to have a baby with you,” which means, “I’m willing to have a lifetime relationship with you.” That’s exciting. That’s fun. A momentary act of sexual intercourse is physically exhilarating, but it doesn’t have a human element, the human element of commitment to someone you love.

Eric Sammons:

Right. Now, I think most people, who are watching this, listening to this, understand that the Church is teaching against contraception, but I would like you to explain, though, why it is that artificial contraception does violate God’s plan for human sexuality and why it is always wrong. Basically, lay out just… I know you gave a whole talk on this, so I’d encourage people to listen to that, but just lay out briefly exactly why it is that it is always wrong, and there can’t be exceptions like they’re trying to carve for them.

Janet Smith:

Yeah, I would like to remove the word artificial from artificial contraception. All contraception is artificial, but that’s not why it’s wrong. It’s wrong because it is violating God’s purpose for sexuality, both purposes. The purposes are to procreate and to form a unitive bond, a powerful unitive bond, with the individual with whom you’re having sex, who should be your spouse.

God told us from the start. It’s interesting, the first commandment is it’s not good that man should be alone. He didn’t make him a buddy. He made him a female, who was to be his wife. They’re meant to leave their parents and form a union for the rest of their lives. Two shall become one. That’s really, pretty much the first commandment, two shall become one. Why? To be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. I mean, this was all given before the fall.

God is a lover, and God overflows with love. He wants human beings to love, and He wants us to make acts of complete self-giving to other people, particularly to your spouse. The way you make a complete gift of yourself is to allow this fertility. There’s a part of the sexual act, actually to reverence it, and to say, “This is an incredible thing, that I might become a parent with another person, and that I’m willing to engage in this with you means I’m making a lifetime commitment to you.” That’s the bonding. The bonding isn’t the pleasure. The bonding is the lifetime commitment that you make to the other person in this act.

As long as you do not negate the procreative meaning of the act, you are bonding in a lifetime way, because you’re saying, “I am willing to be a parent with you,” which is… That’s the most profound, deeply profound, commitment you can make to anyone. As anyone knows, once you’re a parent, you are a parent for the rest of your life with that other person of this child.

That’s the Church’s teaching, that sexuality is a great gift from God. He does want us to experience great pleasure. He does want us to have a powerful attraction, physical attraction, emotional attraction, psychological attraction, even philosophical attraction to this other person, because it’s a push on our back to get into this relationship and bring forth children, and it is hard, as you say, in a fallen world.

We’re fallen people, and parenthood is incredibly demanding from day one, and even before day one. The amount of accommodations that people have to make to each other and to this child… We have a friend now, whose daughter just had a baby, and we just keep kidding how the baby is now the boss of the household. A baby dictates everything, when we go to bed, when we sleep, when we eat, everything, with no idea that the baby is a boss. The baby doesn’t know it’s a boss, but the baby is the boss, and so we’ve got a new boss in our household.

Our will is not the will that prevails in this household, and so the father and the mother have to relate in a whole new way because of this child, and for the rest of their life. God made all this a way of populating heaven. That’s what He wants. He wants souls for heaven, but also for the sanctification of the spouses. The generosity that is necessary to be even a mediocre parent is tremendous. That’s the purpose of sexuality, I would say: babies, bonding, sanctification.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, and I would just say that, on that last point, that as a parent… I have seven kids and been a parent for over 25 years now, that I have a long ways to go in sanctification, but I’d have a lot further way to go if I didn’t have kids.

Janet Smith:

Mm-hmm.

Eric Sammons:

I mean, they just really do help you. I mean, just like you said about you have to put them before your own needs. It’s funny. When we had our first kid, so this was like 25 years ago, just the simple of like, you can’t just run out, the two of you somewhere, and get… Like, “Oh, let’s just run out.” No, you can’t do that, because now you have a kid.

At first, there is this resistance. You’re like, you don’t like that, because you like doing whatever you want to do. But then, over time, of course, that gets moved. You realize, okay, there’s far more important things, because all of a sudden, this baby is the most important thing to you, so it doesn’t… You’re like, I can give up not going, getting whatever I want every second, for this person.

That’s what I think is most frustrating about the attempt to demean the teaching of the Church on this is that it assumes what the world says about these rules, that they’re just things to keep us from having fun. They’re just things to keep us from being happy, and yet, as you explained very well, following teaching is what’s going to make you the most happy, not necessarily every moment, but it’s going to make you the most fulfilled, the most joyful, the most happy, and obviously eternally happy. That’s what they seem to just act like that’s not even true, that following these things are just a big burden for people, and so that’s why we have to soften it. We’re lifting burdens from people’s shoulders, and it’s not really a burden, ultimately, because ask anybody who has kids. It’s not a burden to have. I mean, I have seven kids. That’s not a burden. It’s a joy. Yeah, so anyway, it frustrates me when I… the mentality they have.

Janet Smith:

People… I mean, one time I was at a talk, and all the tables and chairs needed to be put aside, put away, and there was this group of young people that seemed to have so much fun doing it. Afterwards, they came and stood around me.

I had said in my talk something about having a lot of kids. I mean, it can be a great burden in certain respects. I mean, carrying in all those gallons of milk all the time, and picking up all the shoes, and lecturing one more teenager about whatever. God bless you, one more teenager about whatever.

This woman in front of me, who turned out to be the mother of all these kids who had done all this cleaning up just said, “I never found it to be a burden.” Now, I knew she was lying, okay? Because it can’t be true. On the other hand, what she meant to say is what you’re saying is that the reward is so great, it erases the burden, all right?

I’m looking at it, and I’m thinking, oh my gosh, but then I see these teenagers, and I say, “Oh my goodness, what you’ve done, what you have done is raise these beautiful kids, who just have a good time cleaning up after a big event, rather than resisting it.” All right? So, that’s the sanctification, and that’s what… We think we’ve lost something, when we’ve really gained something of immeasurable value, immeasurable value.

Eric Sammons:

One more question about this, just the morality of contraception and whatnot is natural family planning. I’ve seen among… There is a certain segment of Catholics, who believe that natural family planning itself is also immoral. On the other extreme, I have seen sometimes that some people in the Church present natural family planning almost the same as you would sell artificial contraception, for example. Why is natural family planning not immoral, but what are some of the maybe potential dangers of it?

Janet Smith:

Well, again, natural family planning, it requires several things that are extremely beneficial to a relationship. One is an honest discussion about why you’re limiting your family size. You need to talk about that, because people don’t like to abstain, rightly so. They say, “Why are we abstaining?” When you have to express your reasons that are coming out, it becomes clear whether they’re selfish or unselfish, and you have to kind of figure out where you are, so it helps people be very intentional about their sexuality and what are their priorities.

“We don’t want any more children because I don’t want to buy a van,” whatever, and it turns out sometimes that is the reason. You sort of put that out there, and you say, well, really, can I put that before God as a legitimate reason for not wanting more children?

It requires a lot of communication, and it does require self-control, which always benefits any one of us, when there’s any one of our appetites that we have to learn to control. The sexual appetite is, in a bed with your beloved spouse, is one of the hardest ones, though people, of course, abstain for all sorts of reasons. Because they want to watch a sporting event on TV, for instance, is a regular reason for not having sex this evening. “Tomorrow night, Honey. Somebody’s on the TV.”

It might not happen often, but people do that, or the walls are thin, or you’re visiting people, et cetera, et cetera. You don’t have sex for all sorts of reasons. Not having sex because it’s not a good idea to have a baby is one of the better reasons. But people can use it selfishly. They can gain such self-control that it’s just not that hard, and they’ve decided they don’t want to be generous about having children. They’ve had their four maybe; four’s enough, and we’ve got enough money now to join the country club or to go on these expensive vacations, and a baby would just make that all difficult. Well, that’s selfish, but usually using NFP chips away at those reasons.

Again, I said, you have to say it out loud, and it sounds pretty shallow. Then, secondly, there’s going to come a time where you really want to have sex, and it’s the fertile time. You really have to say, “Are we going to go ahead or not?” It kind of helps you overcome your selfishness.

It can be used for selfish reasons, but if someone said to me, “How do you overcome that?” I said, “Well, just keep using NFP. Keep talking about why you’re using it, and keep being conscious about when it would be really nice to have sex and it’s fertile, and do we really want to say no to ourselves?”

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, I think in practice, it’s very difficult to use NFP long-term in a marriage in a selfish way. Yes, potentially one month or something like that, you could potentially, but over the course of a long marriage, I don’t see how really it can happen.

Janet Smith:

Oh, I agree with you. I think people who are selfish will eventually get a vasectomy or tubal ligation because they’re done.

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Janet Smith:

That phrase, to say, “We’re done,” is very defiant. There may be times when, in fact, you should be done. Then use NFP, but so many people I know have had a late in life baby, and it was not… The first thought of it is, oh no, diapers all over again, and all this. And the baby comes and, oh my gosh, the whole household changes. The kids you already have are delirious that there’s a baby in the household, and you discover all over again baby love, which is just so powerful.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, let me tell you from experience, it’s much harder to get up in the middle of the night and change a diaper at 46 than it is at 26, but it’s still worth it. I mean, that’s the thing is you still have this beautiful kid, and it’s very much worth it.

Janet Smith:

Then have the older ones respond.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, that’s right. One last question is, do you think that this document that the Pontifical Academy for Life released, do you think it is going to potentially lead to Francis writing an encyclical, like he did Amoris Laetitia, that will undercut the Church’s teaching on contraception?

Janet Smith:

I don’t know. Possibly. Again, I think just like Amoris Laetitia, it’s ambiguous enough that you can say that it hasn’t really changed the Church’s teaching. It’s just opened a door for those who are… I mean, I think that’s what it intended to do, but I think the Holy Spirit is still in charge, always will be in charge, and will never let the Holy Father teach in a magisterial way something that is opposed to infallible constant, infallible and authoritative constant Church teaching. I don’t believe it’s going to happen, though there might be all sorts of documents that suggest that it has happened, but I can’t foresee that for sure.

Eric Sammons:

Right, right. Okay, well, let’s pray that they don’t even open the door for people to interpret it in that way.

Janet Smith:

I think they have. They’ve done that.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, I know. Okay, so is there… How can people find out about the stuff that you’re involved in and things that you’re doing right now?

Janet Smith:

Well, I’m retired now, you know, but I have a website.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, but you’re still active.

Janet Smith:

Yeah. I just say read Crisis Magazine if you want to know what I’m doing now.

Eric Sammons:

Well, don’t you have a website?

Janet Smith:

What’d you say?

Eric Sammons:

Don’t you have a website?

Janet Smith:

I do. It’s not as comprehensive as it should be, and one of these days I’ll maybe… I’ve tried many times over my life to get something up and going, but it just sort of sputters. It’s janetsmith.org. My talk, Contraception: Why Not? is there for a free download, and I really wish people would promote that, because I recently gave a talk to maybe 50 very good Catholic kids from Focus, and I think two of them have ever listened to my tape, not that they were pro-contraception, but they hadn’t listened to my talk, I guess I should call it now. It’s an mp3, maybe mp4, mp5 download. What are we on now?

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, I don’t even know. I still call them tapes. I talk about Scott Hunt’s conversion tape, I mean, because it’s… You know?

Janet Smith:

Yeah, so anyway, I still think it’s very valuable for people to listen to it. I mean, the studies, to some extent, are out of date, but you can take two seconds to google the right words, and you’ll find the latest studies, which honestly completely confirm the older studies. It’s not as if things have changed. They’ve only gotten worse, not better, except that there’s fewer abortions, we think. Maybe not, but there’s fewer surgical abortions than there used to be. There may be more abortions because of the abortion pill, et cetera.

Eric Sammons:

Okay, well, I’ll link to your site, and I’ll link also to where they can download the Contraception: Why Not? Because I do encourage and recommend anybody to listen to it. It really does present the arguments very well. Okay, well great. Thank you very much, Janet. I appreciate you being on the program.

Janet Smith:

It’s good to be here, Eric. I love what you’re doing.

Eric Sammons:

Oh, thank you very much, appreciate it. Okay, everybody, until next time, God love you.

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