Marriage and Respect Life
400 E. Monroe
Phoenix, AZ 85004
Director of Marriage and Respect Life
Coordinator of Respect Life Parish Leadership Support
“God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and God said to them: Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.”
“Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.”
—Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae – 17, 1968
The use of contraception in today's society is not only widely accepted, but it is often falsely promoted as the means to happiness and security in a relationship. "Contraception" includes any method, device, or medicine that is taken in order to prevent the conception of a new human being or to terminate the life of that human being directly after conception. Sometimes, as with "the Pill," scientists are not sure whether conception is prevented or whether the newly conceived child is not allowed to implant in the uterus of its mother, resulting in a very early abortion. The Church prohibits contraceptives because they violate the openness to life that a couple should have when engaging in sexual intercourse, as well as the dignity of the new life that is created.
Furthermore, the Church asks parents to be responsible and recognizes that a couple may have a need to postpone pregnancy for serious reasons. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that,
A particular aspect of this [Christian] responsibility concerns the regulation of procreation. For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children. It is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood. Moreover, they should conform their behavior to the objective criteria of morality. (2038)
Contraception, however, is never an acceptable means to postpone pregnancy. The Church promotes what is called Natural Family Planning (NFP) to regulate births. NFP uses the natural signs of fertility in the woman's body to indicate when she is fertile and when she is infertile. Using those signs, couples may choose to abstain or have intercourse based on their desire to postpone a pregnancy or to conceive a child.
A very good presentation called "Contraception: Why Not" is available in a PDF format. The presentation is given by Dr. Janet Smith and is clear in its explanation of the Church's position and the reasons behind it. This is a must read for anyone using contraception or thinking about using it in the future. (You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to read this file.)
Susan Wills, a lawyer who works for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), discusses in this article the political pressure for emergency contraception and how science does not back up the political claim.
The USCCB has many useful articles on contraception.
Q: Why is the church so rigid on contraception? Does it just want every couple to have 18 children?
A: Actually, the Church is just enforcing a promise that the married couple already made to each other on their wedding day that they would NOT use contraception. Now, this may seem strange, as many people don’t remember saying, “I will never use contraception” in their wedding vows. But in a Catholic wedding the couple does promise to be “open to life.” Furthermore, every act of intercourse is a renewal of those same wedding vows. So to deliberately block God’s ability to create life in the marital act would be to deny the “openness to life” that the couple made in their wedding vows and continue to renew in the marital act. Of course, someone could object that the Church shouldn’t expect people to be “open to life” in EVERY sexual act, but to just be open in MANY of them. But what if a husband claimed that he should only be held to his promise to be faithful to his wife in MANY sexual acts, but not ALL of them? This would be absurd because we know that the promise of faithfulness in marriage must accompany every marital act. Likewise, the promise to be open to life must be present in each act of intercourse as well.
However, saying that every act of intercourse must be open to life does not mean that a couple cannot space their children and plan their families. God has given women natural times when they are not fertile and couples may have intercourse during those times knowing a child will probably not be created, but being joyfully surprised if such an event happens.
Q: Is the Church’s teaching on contraception in the Bible, or did the Church just make it up?
A: This question reflects a profound misunderstanding of the nature of revelation, scripture, and the teaching magisterium. The Church doesn’t make up divine revelation, but she is instead the servant of scripture and the custodian of God’s teachings. As custodian of these truths, she cannot change them (no matter how convenient it might be for the Church to do so). This question also invokes the Protestant notion that all teaching for the faithful must be found explicitly in the Bible (also known as Sola Scriptura). However, there are many moral issues that the writers of Scripture are silent about (like internet pornography) but this does not mean that God simply tolerates acts whose morality is not recorded in the Bible. That is why God gave us a Church to guide the faithful through the rise of new and complex moral issues.
In addition, the Bible continually affirms that children are a gift who should be accepted with love. The only act of contraception recorded in the Bible (Onan’s use of coitus interruptus in Genesis 38: 8-10) so greatly offended the Lord that God took Onan’s life for that act.