I was recently listening to an episode of Right Here Right Now on EWTN Radio. The host, Patrick Madrid, had a special guest, Msgr. Charles Pope from the Archdiocese of Washington on the show. They were discussing the proliferation of fornication in our society today. A couple of things struck me, which I would like to share.
Patrick made a comparison between the way some Catholics react to our faith and someone with Bulimia. He said (and I am paraphrasing here) it does not make sense to take in food and all its nutrients only to vomit it all back out. This is exactly what we are doing with the graces God makes available to us when we reject all or part of the Church. Some people go to Mass every Sunday, make regular confessions, and receive the Eucharist, yet they continue to live sinful lifestyles. What good is receiving grace if one is merely going to throw it away?
Msgr. Pope's comment was equally powerful. He said a husband would not come home and place a plastic bag over his face before kissing his wife. Why? Because a kiss means something, and the act of placing a plastic bag between yourself and the person you are kissing diminishes the meaning of the kiss. Likewise, sexual intercourse means something. Therefore, placing a barrier (whether that barrier is physical or chemical) between those involved diminishes the meaning of the act.
Pope Paul VI was prophetic in his encyclical Humanae Vitae¹, which he promulgated in 1968, when discussing what would come of a world that embraced contraception. Paragraph 17 lays out the consequences for humanity with regard to artificial birth control.
"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.
Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife."
I want to address Pope Paul VI's concerns individually beginning with the last. In China, the government enacted a "one child policy" beginning in 1979 that imposes fines and other penalties (including forced abortions) on families who intentionally or unintentionally violate the policy. It is estimated that between 1979 and 2009 AT LEAST 200 million births were averted in China as a result of this policy². That is almost the entire population of the United States! In our own country, the Obama administration has taken it upon themselves to mandate that all health insurance policies offer access to contraception, sterilization and abortifacient drugs under the guise of "women's health" and "family planning".
Pope Paul's first concern was that contraception would lead to an increase in marital infidelity and a lowering of moral standards. Statistics show that 30-60% of all married people in the United States will engage in infidelity at some point during their marriage³. These same statistics show that 2-3% of all children are the product of infidelity4. As far as lowering of moral standards go, a study showed that 75% of Americans have premarital sex before age 205, 40.7% of all births in the United States occur to unwed mothers6 and 21% (more than 1 out of 5) of all pregnancies in the United States end in abortion7.
Pope Paul's second concern was that men would forget the reverence due to women and would reduce them to instruments of pleasure. Not only have men forgotten the reverence due to women, but women have also forgotten the reverence that is due to them. Many women today allow themselves to be used for pleasure, and seek to use men in the same way. These actions diminish the dignity of the human person and make us all to be nothing more than objects to be used to satisfy a physical desire.
Msgr. Pope's comment regarding placing a plastic bag over one's face before kissing their spouse continues to resonate with me. As he said, a kiss means something. Likewise, sexual intercourse means something. It is not just a recreational activity between consenting adults. The Catechism tells us that sexual intercourse is to be BOTH unitive AND procreative8. To eliminate either aspect of the conjugal act is to diminish the integrity of both the act as well as those participating in it. Changing the meaning of sexual intercourse comes with a price.
The notion that we can remove the possibility of life from the sexual act has led to a whole slew of issues within our society. The loosening of our moral fabric has led to the proliferation of sexually transmitted diseases, especially HIV/AIDS and has led parents to vaccinate their daughters against HPV when they are not even at risk for HPV. This may lead to additional risks, both known and unknown, from the vaccination itself. It has also led to an increase in instances of premarital sex, marital infidelity and out of wedlock pregnancy as contraception is not 100% effective (which in turn, leads to higher abortion rates).
Something else we are beginning to see, which the mainstream medical community does not want to talk about too loudly, is higher instances of breast cancer in young women. Studies by Susan G. Komen?, BreastCancer.org10 and others indicate that women who are currently using oral contraception have a 10-30% higher risk of developing breast cancer. These studies show that once a woman stops taking birth control that risk begins to decrease, and within ten years of discontinuing use, their risk level is the same as one who has never taken birth control. The problem is now days women continue to use birth control during most of their childbearing years, only stopping when they want to have children. Because many doctors start prescribing oral contraception in the early to mid-teenage years in order to “treat” acne, heavy periods, painful cramping, endometriosis, etc., many women today may spend the better part of thirty to forty years on birth control. When exactly is this decrease in the risk of breast cancer supposed to occur?
Is all of this really worth the risk to ourselves and our society just to have sex whenever one wants without fear of pregnancy? As I mentioned earlier, the sexual act is designed by God to be BOTH unitive AND procreative. If we eliminate either aspect or both from sex, the act we are engaging in is now disordered. Read the story of Onan in Genesis 38¹¹. He was slain by God for spilling his seed, rendering his sexual act sterile. When we render the sexual act sterile, we are no better than Onan. God may not kill us on site, but our actions on earth may prevent us from entering Heaven. If our physical health is not important enough to keep us away from birth control, what about the eternal health of our souls?
The final thing I want to touch on is marital chastity. Many people today hear the word chastity and automatically associate it with celibacy. Chastity, according to the Catechism is, “the successful integration of sexuality within the person, and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being”¹². In other words, chastity is the living out one’s sexuality according to their state in life. If one is single, chastity does mean celibacy. However, if one is married, chastity means honoring and respecting God’s design for married love including keeping the marital act open to the possibility of children. During the wedding ceremony, the priest or deacon asks both the bride and groom separately about their willingness to accept and raise children in the Catholic faith¹³. Without a “yes” to this answer, the ceremony and thus a valid marriage cannot proceed. Honoring the commitment to remain open to children is part of marital chastity. Any time a husband and wife contracept then, they are lusting14 after each other, and may as well be fornicating15, and both are sins against chastity.
God always points to those things that are life-giving, while those things which oppose God’s will always block or destroy it. Catholics, in fact, all people deserve to be honest with themselves regarding this question, as it defines our very relationship with our Creator, who breathes life into all things.
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraph 2351
- Genesis 38:7-10
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraph 2337
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraph 2351
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraph 2353