The issue of contraception has been an extremely controversial and debated one
in the Catholic Church. The Catholic religion declares that the three
requirements for healthy sexual expression include a mutual physical drive for
pleasure, intimacy and committed love between the couple, and the openness to
procreation and parenting children. This last aspect is the subject of much
disagreement between people both inside and outside the church community. The
authoritative voice of the church, the Magisterium, holds that artificial
contraception is a sin and only accepts the form of contraception called Natural
Family Planning. This method involves avoiding sexual intercourse during certain
times of the month and will be explained in more detail shortly. There are
situations which are argued should be exceptions, such as rape, a family who
already has children and can afford no more, and the overall health of the
couple involved in the sexual relationship. The viewpoint of the Church is an
old one, but the Magisterium claims that it will not change anytime soon. There
are many different types of contraception available. Type one classified
contraception includes barrier methods such as condoms, diaphragms, the cervical
cap, and spermicides. Type two classified contraception is hormonal methods,
such as birth control pills, emergency contraception or the morning after
pill, IUDs and Norplant. Type three contraception is Natural Family
Planning, the only type approved by the Church. Natural Family Planning is
sometimes confused with the rhythm method, but it actually more effective than
rhythm. NFP is a method that involves careful regulation of a womans
menstrual cycle to determine when her fertile period falls begins. The day of
ovulation and a few days before is considered a womans fertile period
and by either avoiding or participating in intercourse during these days, a
woman can decrease or increase her chances of pregnancy respectively. The signs
that a woman is close to ovulation are an increase in basal temperature, changes
in vaginal secretions, an opening of the cervical os, physical symptoms such as
cramps or moodiness, and an increase in sexual desire. It is important to
carefully monitor all these aspects to ensure proper prevention of pregnancy.

This practice is accepted by the Catholic Church because they defend that the
integration of intimacy between partners and the receptivity to procreation are
not obstructed. It is important to observe how we ended up at the teaching the
church now holds dealing with contraception and sexuality. Throughout the
centuries, many different decisions from the church have influenced the view
that is now held. In 306, the Council of Elvira found that a priest who was
sexually intimate with their wife the night before a mass would lose his job. At
the Council of Nicea in 325, the rule that priests could not marry after being
ordained was created, and in 385, they could no longer sleep with their wives.

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The first chastity rules were then being formed for religious people. St.

Augustine had a profound impact on sexual teachings. He lived from 354-430 as a
philosopher and theologian, recently converted from a sinful life. It is
believed that St. Augustine developed the first codified teachings of sexuality.

He deeply believed the philosophy of Manichaeism, which states that matter is
evil opposed to spirit. His teachings were very specific and strict. Stoic
philosophy influenced St. Augustine to require that procreation be the primary
focus of sexual intercourse and marriage. This teaching was held in the church
all the way until Vatican II. St. Augustine was the first to condemn abstinence
during the fertile period and coitus interruptus. He did not believe that
the pleasure involved with sex should in any way be the motivation, but was
acceptable as a necessary side effect. St. Augustine did not view sex in
terms of love or expression, but simply as a procreative act necessary for life.

The Second Council of Tours in 567 excommunicated any religious person found in
bed with their wife. In 580, the church leader was Pope Pelagius II who had a
rather casual outlook on sexual matters. He did not want to bother the clergy
and rather looked the other way from the corruption going on. Pope Gregory the
Great served from 590-604 and stated that all sexual desire in any form was
wrong. Throughout the world, sexuality was a key issue. Seventh century France
found most priests to be married. Germany, in the eighth century, reported
through St. Boniface that hardly any bishops were following their call to
celibacy. The Council of Aix-la-Chapelle in 836 found that abortions and killing
of infants were being practiced in convents and monasteries to conceal
uncelibate activities of the religious staff. St. Ulrich fixed this
problem by allowing priests to marry. St. Thomas Aquinas was a key religious
figure of the Scholastic Period. He was the first to publicly discuss the
goodness of sexuality with reason. He stressed the use of ones conscience to
determine what is right and wrong. He, as well, agreed that sexuality and
marriage should have its main purpose as procreation. Although Aquinas held the
beliefs of many former theologians, there was more leniency towards sexual
pleasure. Pope Boniface IX resigned the papacy in order to marry in 1045. In
1074, Pope Gregory VII made it necessary for anyone being ordained to take an
oath of celibacy. The extremity of this was seen in 1095 when Pope Urban II sold
the wives of priests into slavery and left all children of them abandoned. The
First Lateran Council took place in 1123, where Pope Calistus II found all
clerical marriages to be officially invalid. This council was supported in the
Second Lateran Council. The Renaissance was quickly approaching and literature
and art were beginning to stress procreation in relationships. The Council of
Trent, from 1543-1563, declared that celibacy and virginity were superior to
marriage. St. Alphonsus Ligouri, a doctor of the church, was one of the first to
state that an important part of marriage was a means for sexual expression. The
Twentieth Century brought with it many of the most significant documents and
meetings influencing todays stance on sexuality and contraception. The
Lambeth Conference took place in 1930 and decided that couples could make
decisions about contraception themselves, but that contraceptives were not
approved by the Church in any way. Pope Pius XI wrote his encyclical, Castii
Conubii, in 1940, stating that procreation should be the primary end for sexual
intercourse in a marriage. He stated any use of marriage whatever, in the
exercise of which the act is deprived of its natural power of procreating life,
violates the law of God and nature, and those who commit anything of this kind
are marked with the stain of grave sin. (Pope Pius XI). In his Address to
Midwives in 1951, Pope Pius XII condemned artificial contraceptives and declared
that this ruling could not be changed. Pope Pius XII did, however, condone
Natural Family Planning and the rhythm method and became the first time to allow
sex apart from procreation. In 1965, Vatican Council II: Constitution on the
Church in the Modern World took place. Pope Paul VI delayed making a decision on
the proposition to have human nature and his acts as the governing principle in
sexuality at this conference. He was awaiting the presentation by Pope John
XXIII of the decisions made at the Meetings of the Birth Control Commission,
which took place from 1963-1966. Theologians, cardinals, bishops, priests, and
laypeople met to discuss sexual issues, including that of contraception. The
decision reached was that the previous teachings of the church were not
infallible, that artificial contraception was not evil, and that Catholic
families should have freedom to decide their method of family planning. These
decisions, however, were overturned by Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae in 1968.

Pope Paul VI upheld the previous teachings and dismissed what the council had
found, claiming that he knew more about the issue than all the religious and
3,000 couples surveyed about the decision. His opinion is reinforced by Vatican
spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls who stated, A permissive attitude to
sexuality ruins the family, weakens the responsibility of parents, goes against
the good of children, and has a highly destabilizing effect on society as a
whole. (Ribadeneira B2). Pope Paul VIs decision was based on his
involvement with Pope Pius XII because he did not want to dispute Pope Pius
previous teachings. Pope Paul VI relied on natural law and the teaching that
sexuality must always be open to new life. This decision has been the root of
constant disagreement, a loss of respect for teachings in the Church today, and
the loss of many faithful supporters. Familiaris Consortio was written in 1981
by Pope John Paul II and introduced sex as the language of love. The
encyclical states that artificial contraception is contradictory to this
language. Pope John Paul II, in detail, says in his document about the
difference between artificial contraception and Natural Family Planning, It
is a difference which is much wider and deeper than is usually thought, one
which involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the human
person and of human sexuality. The choice of the natural rhythms involves
accepting the cycle of the person.. which means to recognize both the spiritual
and corporal character of conjugal communion and to live personal love with its
requirement of fidelity. (Pope John Paul II #32). Most recently, Veritatis
Splendor written by Pope John Paul II spoke about the existence of moral
absolutes and reaffirmed the teaching of artificial contraception being
intrinsically evil. As previously mentioned, natural law plays a significant
role in forming the opinions of the church. Natural law is defined as what human
reason can determine about human nature and its moral duties that are separate
from divine revelation. Natural law originates in human reason, ancient
philosophers such as Aristotle, secular sciences, and common sense. The
Dictionary of Theology explains it rather well in saying The sum of the
rights and duties which of themselves follow directly from the nature of man, as
a being endowed with reason and free will, is. called natural law in Catholic
ethics; the mutability or immutability of the law and the possibility of knowing
it are important themes in Greek and Christian philosophy. (Rahner 329). The
Magisterium claims the power to interpret natural law and incorporate its
interpretation into Church teachings. The faithful observance of these teachings
of Gods will are taught to be necessary for salvation and entrance into
Heaven. The natural law, with respect to sexuality, teaches that sexual
intercourse must be both unitive and procreative and must contain both aspects.

However, many argue that Natural Family Planning does not prove to be both
unitive and procreative, and this has led to great dispute within the Church.

Although the Magisterium upholds all these beliefs, the gravity of artificial
contraception as a sin must be a decision made from ones conscience and may
only be judged by God. Artificial contraception and Natural Family Planning are
both forms of contraception, and even though the Church considers one acceptable
and the other as extreme as a mortal sin, they share many similarities in
essence. Despite the differences in processes, neither method supports the
procreative side of sexual intercourse. Artificial contraception is doing
something to prevent pregnancy, while Natural Family Planning is NOT doing
something to prevent pregnancy. The only argument the Church gives for the
difference is that NFP makes use of nature instead of artificial means in order
to control a situation. They argue that artificial contraception hinders a
natural process that is meant to happen. In America magazine, a speaker from the
Humanae Vitae Conference in Omaha, Nebraska was quoted as saying Whether
Norplant or the pill, contraception communicates a certain disdain for ones
natural fertility. (America 37). This says a lot for how insignificant many
people feel is the difference between NFP and artificial contraception. After
all this information about the background of contraception and the controversial
stance of the Church, the reader may be wondering what will happen in the
future. There has been great opposition to the current adamant position the
Church holds about the serious sinfulness of artificial contraception. Father
Philip Sumner sums up how many Catholic families feel by saying, The Church
can make statements about contraception, but nobody cares about it. Many people
have given up looking to the Church in terms of contraception. (Ward T002).

Many people see hope in reform in the near future despite the insistence by the
Church that these decisions are final. One nun has even made headlines by
resigning her sisterhood and devotion to God because of her disagreement with
the way Church has dealt with these issues. Sr. Lavinia Byrne explains her
position by stating I am resigning because of the pressure from the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the faith the burden has become intolerable.

They are using techniques that seem to belong to mother age and are behaving
like the Inquisition. I feel bullied. (Malcolm 8). There are several reasons why
the present teaching can be changed however. Firstly, the teaching of Humanae
Vitae is not infallible, but is only a part of Catholic tradition. Natural law
determines a large portion of teachings throughout time and as the way society
works changes, the teachings of the Church move with it. There is no pure
nature and there is always room for change and this could lead to a change of
teaching. Also, the Church, in the past, followed many practices that seem
ridiculous today such as slavery, indulgences, and persecution of women. The
culture that these practices were in changed, and thus, so did the stance of the
Church. This has set a precedent that is expected to be followed. Contraception
has been termed a mortal sin, but this would require a grave matter, full
knowledge of seriousness of what you are doing, and sound consent of mind and
will. The questionable aspect is the gravity of the sin. The faithful members of
the Church community have, for the most part, rejected the current teaching.

Even those Catholics who are extremely religious use contraceptives, and usually
for very good reason. An alarmingly high percentage of Catholics use artificial
birth control, and very few agree with the Church on the evil involved with
contraception. Natural Law was named as one of the factors involved in the
temporary status of the current teaching. There are many differences in how
sexuality is incorporated into our society today, compared to the time period
when this teaching was created. Rahner, as well, states that The Church is
making authentic pronouncements which are promulgated by the Magisterium, which
are, for their arguments, dependent on justifications and proofs taken from the
secular sciences and universal human reason. (Rahner 33). The differences
today that could influence some kind of change include several important aspects
of society. First, females are becoming much more independent and appreciated in
these days. A womans experiences of wifehood, motherhood, and sex are taken
into account and not looked down upon. Probably the most important change is
continuing education. Marriages are delayed until mid-twenties and early
thirties on average because of peoples desire to go to college and graduate
schools. This leads to longer (and probably more) relationships and a different
maturity about sex. Artificial contraception is more strongly needed in cases
such as these. Other people these days are just not opting to marry or are
homosexual. Procreation is not in anyway a focus anymore, but is more of an
unwanted incident that is possible. Contraception, whether artificial or
natural, is obviously not favored by the Church, but the latter is allowed as a
compromise it sometimes seems. The teachings and advisements are rather blatant,
but it has been shown that couples are still turning away from the Church on
this matter. Many religious teachers, because of the strong opposition both
within and outside the Church, instruct their followers to go with what their
conscience feels is right and to use the Churchs teaching as an advisement.

To this day though, if one was to strictly follow the teachings of the
Magisterium, artificial contraception would be out of the question and to
regulate pregnancy, Natural Family Planning would be the right choice.


Bibliography
Cahill, Lisa Sowle. Can We Get Real About Sex? Commonweal 14 Sept.

1990: 497-503. Catholic Church: Pope John Paul II. Familiaris Consortio. Boston:
Daughters of St. Paul; 1981. Catholic Church: Pope Paul VI. Humanae Vitae.

Catholic Mind. Sept. 1968: 54-55. Harris, Peter. On Human Life: An Examination
of Humanae Vitae. London: Burns & Oates; 1968. International Humanae
Vitae Conference. America 25 Sept. 1993. Kaufman, Philip, ODB. Why You Can
Disagree and Remain a Faithful Catholic. New York: Crossroads Publ.; 1988.

Malcolm, Teresa. Bullied By Vatican, Nun to Leave Order National
Catholic Reporter 21 Jan. 2000: 8-9. Rahner, Karl and Herbert Vorgrimler.

Dictionary of Theology. New York; Crossroads Publ,; 1981. Ribadeneira, Diego.

Vatican Sets the Record Straight: Its Views on Sex Are Unchanged. Boston
Globe 2 Oct. 1999: B2. Ward, Stephen. Society: Birth Control: Baby Faith Good
Catholics Could Not Use Contraception, Said the Priests. But Now It May Be a
Matter for Individual Conscience. The Guardian 29 Apr. 1998: T002. Winikoff,
Beverly and Suzanne Wymelenberg. The Whole Truth About Contraception: A Guide to
Safe and Effective Choices. Washington D.C.: Joseph Henry Press; 1997.


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