Morality Reflections-Contraception

Being removed from the time the encyclical Humanae Vitae was proclaimed by Pope Paul VI, it is hard to imagine another issue causing as much furor and opposition (both within and outside the Church) as the re-statement of the constant Catholic opposition to artificial contraception. One of the reasons people cite for the need for birth control is because the earth is already overpopulated. This myth has thoroughly been debunked, and one only need to look at the move by certain governments to stimulate births because of the opposite problem of depopulation. Another popular excuse is the hardship involved in raising offspring, either economically or because of a lack of preparedness. Yet, another popular excuse often used to go against this teaching from people within the Church is the claim that it is “a matter of conscience”. It is worthwhile to remind those people of the Catholic teaching that “Conscience, as the judgment of an act, is not exempt from the possibility of error” (VS, # 62). A conscience needs to be properly formed in order to be a trustworthy guide. The notion of conscience has been so distorted today that I find Cardinal Newman’s words on the subject a very timely reminder: “Conscience has rights because it has duties; but in this age, with a large portion of the public, it is the very right and freedom of conscience to dispense with conscience, to ignore a Lawgiver and Judge, to be independent of unseen obligations. It becomes a license to take up any or no religion, to take up this or that and let it go again, to go to church, to go to chapel, to boast of being above all religions and to be an impartial critic of each of them. Conscience is a stern monitor, but in this century it has been superseded by a counterfeit, which the eighteen centuries prior to it never heard of, and could not have mistaken for it, if they had. It is the right of self- will.
Opposition to artificial contraception is a prime example used by people to demonstrate how the Church is “out of touch” with society today. To answer those who claim that the church is “out of touch”, it is sufficient to show as proof of the contrary, the prophetic comments that Paul VI made in the encyclical Humanae Vitae. In it Pope Paul wrote that the use of contraception would “lead to conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality”; that “a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman”, of “the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law”. Even secular sociologist sincerely looking at the facts have proposed a link between contraception and the results that the pope predicted in 1968 (see The Vindication of Humanae Vitae).
A theme that seems to permeate the popular conception of this issue, and illustrated in advertisements for contraceptive products is the notion that these products, by reducing the possibility of conception (no artificial method is one hundred percent efficient in eliminating the chance of conceiving) provide women more “freedom” to lead their lives. That notion of freedom runs counter to the freedom realized in a moral living enlightened by the teachings of Jesus. Father Williams in “Knowing Right from Wrong” outlines three levels of freedom for us, namely: 1) a freedom from, or the absence of external constrains; 2)freedom to, meaning that we are the author of our own choices; and more relevant to correct moral living, 3)freedom for, the freedom involving decision and activity, freedom when it is actualized, when it is exercised (pp.108-111). Under analysis, artificial contraception runs counter to this last notion of freedom: the freedom for self-giving, for fulfilling our human potential. As Father Williams puts it “Man’s ultimate calling is not to be as free as possible, but to use his freedom well” (p. 111). True freedom is achieved in those true things that fulfill our purpose as creatures of God, and the best testimony of true freedom is the liberating feeling reportedly experienced by those who stop using contraception to follow the teachings of Christ transmitted through his Church.

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