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Frequently Asked Questions
regarding
CATHOLIC TEACHING ON
CONTRACEPTION.


Q. 1. What is the Catholic teaching on contraception?

A. 1. The Roman Catholic Church has been opposed to contraception since at least the second century. Many early Church Fathers made statements condemning the use of contraception including John Chrysostom, Jerome, Clement of Alexandria, Hippolytus of Rome, Augustine of Hippo and various others. Among the condemnations is one by Jerome which refers to an apparent oral form of contraception: "Some go so far as to take potions, that they may insure barrenness, and thus murder human beings almost before their conception." The Catechism of the Catholic Church specifies that all sex acts must be both unitive and procreative. In addition to condemning use of artificial birth control as intrinsically evil, non-procreative sex acts such as mutual masturbation and anal sex are ruled out as ways to avoid pregnancy.

However this is encyclical acknowledged for the first time a secondary, unitive, purpose of intercourse. Because of this secondary purpose, married couples have a right to engage in intercourse even when pregnancy is not a possible result:

"Nor are those considered as acting against nature who in the married state use their right in the proper manner although on account of natural reasons either of time or of certain defects, new life cannot be brought forth. For in matrimony as well as in the use of the matrimonial rights there are also secondary ends, such as mutual aid, the cultivating of mutual love, and the quieting of concupiscence which husband and wife are not forbidden to consider so long as they are subordinated to the primary end and so long as the intrinsic nature of the act is preserved."
Some interpreted this statement as not only permitting sex between married couples during pregnancy and menopause, but also during the infertile times of the menstrual cycle. The mathematical formula for the rhythm method had been formalized in 1930, and in 1932 a Catholic physician published a book titled The Rhythm of Sterility and Fertility in Women promoting the method to Catholics. The 1930s also saw the first U.S. Rhythm Clinic (founded by John Rock) to teach the method to Catholic couples. However, use of the Rhythm Method in certain circumstances was not formally accepted until 1951, in two speeches by Pope Pius XII.

Current view

The Roman Catholic position on contraception was formally explained and expressed by Pope Paul VI's Humanae vitae in 1968. Artificial contraception is considered intrinsically evil, but methods of natural family planning are morally permissible in some circumstances, as they do not usurp the natural way of conception.

In justification of this position, Pope Paul VI said

"Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. 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 John Paul II clarified Catholic teachings on contraception.

In issuing Humanae vitae, Pope Paul VI relied on the Minority Papal Commission Report of the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control. The Minority report argued that:

"One can find no period of history, no document of the church, no theological school, scarcely one Catholic theologian, who ever denied that contraception was always seriously evil. The teaching of the Church in this matter is absolutely constant. Until the present century this teaching was peacefully possessed by all other Christians, whether Orthodox or Anglican or Protestant. The Orthodox retain this as common teaching today."
On July 17, 1994, John Paul II clarified the Church's position during a meditation said prior to an angelus recitation.

"Unfortunately, Catholic thought is often misunderstood... as if the Church supported an ideology of fertility at all costs, urging married couples to procreate indiscriminately and without thought for the future. But one need only study the pronouncements of the Magisterium to know that this is not so. Truly, in begetting life the spouses fulfill one of the highest dimensions of their calling: they are God's co-workers. Precisely for this reason they must have an extremely responsible attitude. In deciding whether or not to have a child, they must not be motivated by selfishness or carelessness, but by a prudent, conscious generosity that weighs the possibilities and circumstances, and especially gives priority to the welfare of the unborn child. Therefore, when there is a reason not to procreate, this choice is permissible and may even be necessary. However, there remains the duty of carrying it out with criteria and methods that respect the total truth of the marital act in its unitive and procreative dimension, as wisely regulated by nature itself in its biological rhythms. One can comply with them and use them to advantage, but they cannot be "violated" by artificial interference."
In 1997, the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family stated:

"The Church has always taught the intrinsic evil of contraception, that is, of every marital act intentionally rendered unfruitful. This teaching is to be held as definitive and irreformable. Contraception is gravely opposed to marital chastity; it is contrary to the good of the transmission of life (the procreative aspect of matrimony), and to the reciprocal self-giving of the spouses (the unitive aspect of matrimony); it harms true love and denies the sovereign role of God in the transmission of human life."
A summary of the Scriptural support used by Roman Catholics against contraception can be found in Rome Sweet Home, an autobiography by the Catholic apologetics Scott and Kimberly Hahn, both of whom are converts to Roman Catholicism from Protestantism. They illustrate the results of the research on contraception conducted by Kimberly Hahn as having a pivotal effect on their lives, notably the fact that the Roman Catholic Church is one of the last few Christian groups to take a clear stance on the issue. Among the Scripture included in the book are the following lines from Psalm 127:

"Sons are indeed a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons of one's youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them. He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies at the gate."
[Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_views_on_contraception]



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