Back in 1968, did anyone forecast that we would soon be talking about a general breakdown in ordinary family life? Yes, someone did. Some 30 years ago, Pope Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae an encyclical letter which upheld the time-tested Christian teaching that artificial contraception is morally wrong. In 1968, Pope Paul worried 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 of the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection. Thoughtful people ask: Was Pope Paul right or wrong? And if contraception became widely accepted, Pope Paul asked: Who will blame a government which... resorts to the same measures that are regarded as lawful by married people ...? 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.
In the past China required abortions for women who have already fulfilled their one-child quota. Now China is feeling the effects of this with a dearth of young people and aging population which is an issue in our own country and throughout the West. The Peruvian government has sterilized illiterate women without their consent, and massive population programs funded by our own federal government have been accused of employing deception and coercion. Again, was Pope Paul right or wrong? Many people forget— and many more are too young to remember— how radically the introduction of the birth-control pill changed popular thinking, and altered our approach to sexuality. Not long ago, moral leaders of EVERY description condemned contraception, and agreed that if the practice ever became widespread, it would inevitably lead to disaster.
Consider, for example, the words of Mahatma Gandhi: There is hope for a decent life only so long as the sexual act is definitely related to the conception of precious life. Or listen to Sigmund Freud: Moreover, it is a characteristic common to all perversions that in them reproduction is put aside as an aim. This is actually the criterion by which we judge whether a sexual activity is perverse-- if it departs from reproduction as its aim and pursues the attainment of gratification independently. In 1930, when the leaders of the Church of England broke from the previously universal Christian consensus, and allowed for the use of contraceptives, a Washington Post editorial lamented that the move "would sound the death knell of marriage as a holy institution by establishing degrading practices which would encourage indiscriminate immorality." Gandhi, Freud, and the Washington Post were obviously not promoting a “Catholic” or “Christian” position. Their opposition to contraception was based on a simple, age-old understanding of human nature. In the 1960s Americans ignored such warnings, and plunged headlong into the sexual revolution. Now, with the casualties of that revolution visible all around us, are we still foolish enough to believe that THIS generation understands human nature-- and in particular human sexuality-- better than all its predecessors?
Long after he helped to introduce the birth-control pill, Dr. Robert Kistner of Harvard Medical School began to understand the forces he had helped to unleash. "For years I thought the pill would not lead to promiscuity, but I've changed my mind," he confessed. "I think it probably has." Once again, Pope Paul VI had foreseen the problem: Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that men—--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. Fatherless families, single mothers are now an epidemic in many communities. With divorce rates also climbing, more and more young children are growing up without the support of both their parents. (Among married couples who do not use contraceptives, the rate of divorce is a negligible 2%.) In 1965 more than three-quarters of all American newborns came home to a married mother and father and (except when death intervened) remained in that household through childhood; by 1990 that figure had slipped below one-half. Few social scientists dispute the gravity of these trends. Children who grow up in a single-parent household are more likely to fail in school, more likely to experiment with drugs, more likely to commit crimes, more likely to spend time in prison.
In the past 30 years our federal government has invested $4 trillion in social programs designed to treat the consequences of a breakdown in family life: the nagging problems of poverty, illiteracy, and crime; the steady rise in drug abuse and sexual promiscuity; the frightening increase in child abuse and domestic violence. Can anyone possibly be satisfied with the returns on that investment? Is there any limit to the amount of money we shall spend on government programs that treat the symptoms of family breakdown, before we finally admit the need to address the underlying disease? How many families will be broken, and how many young lives will be scarred, before we admit that the solution to family problems lies not in condoms but in chastity? Planned Parenthood feeds off this and off abortion to the tune of millions and millions of dollars. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:
2367 Called to give life, spouses share in the creative power and fatherhood of God. "Married couples should regard it as their proper mission to transmit human life and to educate their children; they should realize that they are thereby cooperating with the love of God the Creator and are, in a certain sense, its interpreters. They will fulfill this duty with a sense of human and Christian responsibility."
2368 A particular aspect of this responsibility concerns the regulation of procreation. For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children. It is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood. Moreover, they should conform their behavior to the objective criteria of morality:
When it is a question of harmonizing married love with the responsible transmission of life, the morality of the behavior does not depend on sincere intention and evaluation of motives alone; but it must be determined by objective criteria, criteria drawn from the nature of the person and his acts, criteria that respect the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love; this is possible only if the virtue of married chastity is practiced with sincerity of heart.
2369 "By safeguarding both these essential aspects, the unitive and the procreative, the conjugal act preserves in its fullness the sense of true mutual love and its orientation toward man's exalted vocation to parenthood."
2370 Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality. These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom. In contrast, "every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible" is intrinsically evil:
Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality. . . . The difference, both anthropological and moral, between contraception and recourse to the rhythm of the cycle . . . involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality.
2378 A child is not something owed to one, but is a gift. The "supreme gift of marriage" is a human person. A child may not be considered a piece of property, an idea to which an alleged "right to a child" would lead. In this area, only the child possesses genuine rights: the right "to be the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his parents," and "the right to be respected as a person from the moment of his conception."BACK TO LIST