Catholic Church And Contraception The issue of contraception has been an extremely controversial and debated one in the Catholic Church. The Catholic religion declares that the three requirements for healthy sexual expression include a mutual physical drive for pleasure, intimacy and committed love between the couple, and the openness to procreation and parenting children. This last aspect is the subject of much disagreement between people both inside and outside the church community. The authoritative voice of the church, the Magisterium, holds that artificial contraception is a sin and only accepts the form of contraception called Natural Family Planning. This method involves avoiding sexual intercourse during certain times of the month and will be explained in more detail shortly. There are situations which are argued should be exceptions, such as rape, a family who already has children and can afford no more, and the overall health of the couple involved in the sexual relationship.
The viewpoint of the Church is an old one, but the Magisterium claims that it will not change anytime soon. There are many different types of contraception available. Type one classified contraception includes barrier methods such as condoms, diaphragms, the cervical cap, and spermicides. Type two classified contraception is hormonal methods, such as birth control pills, emergency contraception or the “morning after pill,” IUDs and Norplant. Type three contraception is Natural Family Planning, the only type approved by the Church.
Natural Family Planning is sometimes confused with the rhythm method, but it actually more effective than rhythm. NFP is a method that involves careful regulation of a womans menstrual cycle to determine when her fertile period falls begins. The day of ovulation and a few days before is considered a womans “fertile period” and by either avoiding or participating in intercourse during these days, a woman can decrease or increase her chances of pregnancy respectively. The signs that a woman is close to ovulation are an increase in basal temperature, changes in vaginal secretions, an opening of the cervical os, physical symptoms such as cramps or moodiness, and an increase in sexual desire. It is important to carefully monitor all these aspects to ensure proper prevention of pregnancy.
This practice is accepted by the Catholic Church because they defend that the integration of intimacy between partners and the receptivity to procreation are not obstructed. It is important to observe how we ended up at the teaching the church now holds dealing with contraception and sexuality. Throughout the centuries, many different decisions from the church have influenced the view that is now held. In 306, the Council of Elvira found that a priest who was sexually intimate with their wife the night before a mass would lose his job. At the Council of Nicea in 325, the rule that priests could not marry after being ordained was created, and in 385, they could no longer sleep with their wives. The first chastity rules were then being formed for religious people.
St. Augustine had a profound impact on sexual teachings. He lived from 354-430 as a philosopher and theologian, recently converted from a sinful life. It is believed that St. Augustine developed the first codified teachings of sexuality.
He deeply believed the philosophy of Manichaeism, which states that “matter is evil opposed to spirit.” His teachings were very specific and strict. Stoic philosophy influenced St. Augustine to require that procreation be the primary focus of sexual intercourse and marriage. This teaching was held in the church all the way until Vatican II. St. Augustine was the first to condemn abstinence during the fertile period and “coitus interruptus.” He did not believe that the pleasure involved with sex should in any way be the motivation, but was acceptable as a necessary “side effect.” St.
Augustine did not view sex in terms of love or expression, but simply as a procreative act necessary for life. The Second Council of Tours in 567 excommunicated any religious person found in bed with their wife. In 580, the church leader was Pope Pelagius II who had a rather casual outlook on sexual matters. He did not want to bother the clergy and rather looked the other way from the corruption going on. Pope Gregory the Great served from 590-604 and stated that all sexual desire in any form was wrong. Throughout the world, sexuality was a key issue.
Seventh century France found most priests to be married. Germany, in the eighth century, reported through St. Boniface that hardly any bishops were following their call to celibacy. The Council of Aix-la-Chapelle in 836 found that abortions and killing of infants were being practiced in convents and monasteries to conceal uncelibate activities of the religious staff. St. Ulrich “fixed” this problem by allowing priests to marry.
St. Thomas Aquinas was a key religious figure of the Scholastic Period. He was the first to publicly discuss the goodness of sexuality with reason. He stressed the use of ones conscience to determine what is right and wrong. He, as well, agreed that sexuality and marriage should have its main purpose as procreation.
Although Aquinas held the beliefs of many former theologians, there was more leniency towards sexual pleasure. Pope Boniface IX resigned the papacy in order to marry in 1045. In 1074, Pope Gregory VII made it necessary for anyone being ordained to take an oath of celibacy. The extremity of this was seen in 1095 when Pope Urban II sold the wives of priests into slavery and left all children of them abandoned. The First Lateran Council took place in 1123, where Pope Calistus II found all clerical marriages to be officially invalid.
This council was supported in the Second Lateran Council. The Renaissance was quickly approaching and literature and art were beginning to stress procreation in relationships. The Council of Trent, from 1543-1563, declared that celibacy and virginity were superior to marriage. St. Alphonsus Ligouri, a doctor of the church, was one of the first to state that an important part of marriage was a means for sexual expression.
The Twentieth Century brought with it many of the most significant documents and meetings influencing todays stance on sexuality and contraception. The Lambeth Conference took place in 1930 and decided that couples could make decisions about contraception themselves, but that contraceptives were not approved by the Church in any way. Pope Pius XI wrote his encyclical, Castii Conubii, in 1940, stating that procreation should be the primary end for sexual intercourse in a marriage. He stated “..any use of marriage whatever, in the exercise of which the act is deprived of its natural power of procreating life, violates the law of God and nature, and those who commit anything of this kind are marked with the stain of grave sin.” (Pope Pius XI). In his Address to Midwives in 1951, Pope Pius XII condemned artificial contraceptives and declared that this ruling could not be changed. Pope Pius XII did, however, condone Natural Family Planning and the rhythm method and became the first time to allow sex apart from procreation.
In 1965, Vatican Council II: Constitution on the Church in the Modern World took place. Pope Paul VI delayed making a decision on the proposition to have human nature and his acts as the governing principle in sexuality at this conference. He was awaiting the presentation by Pope John XXIII of the decisions made at the Meetings of the Birth Control Commission, which took place from 1963-1966. Theologians, cardinals, bishops, priests, and laypeople met to discuss sexual issues, including that of contraception. The decision reached was that the previous teachings of the church were not infallible, that artificial contraception was not evil, and that Catholic families should have freedom to decide their method of family planning.
These decisions, however, were overturned by Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae in 1968. Pope Paul VI upheld the previous teachings and dismissed what the council had found, claiming that he knew more about the issue than all the religious and 3,000 couples surveyed about the decision. His opinion is reinforced by Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls who stated, “A permissive attitude to sexuality ruins the family, weakens the responsibility of parents, goes against the good of children, and has a highly destabilizing effect on society as a whole.” (Ribadeneira B2). Pope Paul VIs decision was based on his involvement with Pope Pius XII because he did not want to dispute Pope Pius previous teachings. Pope Paul VI relied on natural law and the teaching that sexuality must always be open to new life.
This decision has been the root of constant disagreement, a loss of respect for teachings in the Church today, and the loss of many faithful supporters. Familiaris Consortio was written in 1981 by Pope John Paul II and introduced sex as the “language of love.” The encycli …