Fifty years ago, Pope Paul VI strongly reaffirmed the Church’s teaching on married love and its life-giving aspect, while also condemning artificial birth control.
Given the culture of the time, it was without a doubt that the Holy Father’s teaching in “Humanae Vitae” would be rejected by many. Sadly, 50 years later, that teaching is still rejected, even among Catholics. A survey by Pew Research Center in 2016 noted that among Catholics who attend Mass weekly, just 13 percent said contraception is morally wrong, while 45 percent said it is morally acceptable and 42 percent said it isn’t a moral issue.
In the past five decades, the Church has not wavered on her stance on this issue: using contraception is a sin.
“Many people, including people who have every intention of living as good and faithful Catholics, are acting in a way that is contrary to the faith and at odds with what is humanly good by using contraception,” Archbishop Robert J. Carlson wrote in a 2004 pastoral letter for the Diocese of Saginaw, Mich. “Whether knowingly or unknowingly, they are using their bodies in a way that contradicts God’s love for them, as well as their love for each other. I believe the consequences of this contradiction are gravely harmful to marriages and to society.”
When our Church leaders — popes, cardinals and bishops — have made statements or written letters that go against the modern trends of the secular society, they’ve been met with an uproar and cries that “they don’t understand.” Pope Paul VI, however, very well understood the situation and offered sound guidance. All of our most recent popes have been saddened by the breakdown in family life: divorce, infidelity in marriages and expanded methods of birth control, which includes even abortion. “Humanae Vitae” came from the concerned heart of Pope Paul VI in his endeavor to protect and restore beauty of Christian marriage and family life.
Contraception is an evil for several reasons: One, it removes the love and life-giving aspect of martial sex. Pope Paul VI noted: “This particular doctrine, often expounded by the magisterium of the Church, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act” (“Humanae Vitae,” 12).
The other reason is more scientific: The birth control pill and some other contraceptives have the ability to work as an abortifacient, preventing an already fertilized zygote or embryo from implanting in the uterine lining. In other words, it causes an early abortion. While it isn’t possible to know each month whether an embryo was prevented from implantation, why would anyone willingly contribute to that possibility?
Catholics are compelled to take to heart the words of the Holy Father and our bishops on this issue. For those who don’t fully understand the Church’s teaching, we highly recommend reading in full the words of Pope Paul VI in “Humanae Vitae.” For people who know the Church’s teaching but still reject it, please do not receive Communion. Canon Law specifically states: “A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to … receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession” (Can. 916).
In the past five decades, there have been significant developments in natural family planning, which allows couples to responsibly plan the size of their families, while respecting the Church’s teaching that the “marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life” (“Humanae Vitae”).
In particular, the Creighton Model FertilityCare System has been scientifically researched and developed by Dr. Thomas Hilgers and a team of medical professionals — who got their start in St. Louis, theless. This method also has been used to help couples identify and treat contributors to infertility as well as women’s gynecological issues. The misinformed who still tout that the Church promotes the “rhythm method” need to get up to speed. Those days are long gone. Several other well-researched methods of NFP also exist.
In other words, there should be no more excuses. Our Church leaders have used their ecclesiastic authority to teach us, faithful Catholic scientists and doctors have developed alternatives, and we are to take this to heart.