Why does the Church obstinately stick to its teaching on artificial birth control, and continue to urge sexually active Catholics to revisit this private area of their lives? Surveys show, after all, that as many as 90 percent of American Catholics support the use of contraception, so one could make the case that having this conversation is fairly pointless.
But popes, some bishops and pastors, and a cohort of talented laypeople continue to sound the same theme: Church teaching on sexuality is a great gift. Far from being restrictive and prohibitive, it is liberating, promotes the human dignity of men and women, and furthers the development of deeper marital love — and, as a bonus, can be implemented for free and is better for the environment.
Yet that message remains even now too little known.
Why? Part of it is pastors’ understandable hesitancy to preach about it and appear to be entering into the private lives (and bedrooms) of their parishioners. And some priests, too, disagree with the Church teaching, or perhaps fear that bringing it up might drive Catholics away from the Church. Part of it is the sense of many Catholics that because some theologians have openly dissented from the Church on this that there must be wiggle room.
As the testimonials of the women in this week’s In Focus show, there also can be often a purposeful blindness to the reasons for the Church’s teaching: “Years passed,” one says, “before I dared investigate the reasons behind the Church’s teaching on contraception. The idea of radically altering such an intimate aspect of our marriage was terrifying.”
And yet, as these couples found, artificial contraception is not all it is touted to be. With a little investigation, Church teaching actually makes sense.
Here are a couple of reasons why it is worth thinking more about:
First, marital relations that are intentionally closed to the possibility of new life also close the couple to their full potential for love as a couple. It treats fertility as a disease, not as an integral part of the relationship between a man and a woman.
Second, even many pro-life couples are unaware that the pill and other forms of chemical contraception can act as abortifacients, meaning that they prevent the implantation — and cause the death of — embryonic human beings.
Third, for those concerned about the environment, there is scientific evidence that the increase of artificial estrogen (through artificial contraception) being washed down toilets into our sewers and waterways is harming wildlife, causing sexual abnormalities in fish and other animal life.
Fourth, there is strong evidence that indicates that artificial birth control is physically harmful to the women who use it. Studies have shown increased risk for breast cancer, strokes, heart attack, embolisms and other health problems.
Fifth, contrary to some perceptions, the Church does not ask couples to have as many children as physically possible; it asks couples to draw on their intellect and develop their will. Doing that fosters the virtues of prudence, self-discipline, self-sacrificial love and trust in God’s providence. These are essential to growth in the spiritual life.
As an increasing number of Catholics have found in recent years in learning about Pope John Paul II’s “theology of the body,” the Church’s vision of sexuality is positive and offers a path to authentic personal growth. In today’s world, that’s a vision that deserves to be better known. American Catholics owe it to themselves to explore this gift.
OSV Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; John Norton, editor; Sarah Hayes, presentation editor