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Contraception unnatural; 'intrinsically evil'

Deacon Owen Cummings

Q — I am a life-long practicing Catholic. I have always understood the church frowns on using contraception of any kind. However, I was recently surprised when I read some Catholic literature. The document was a condensed guide to the commandments. The use of contraception was listed as a sin under the “Thou Shall Not Kill” commandment. This has been bothering me every since. For a married person, is it really considered a sin to use contraception? Thanks for considering my question. I am certain I am not the only person who may find the response helpful.

— Thank you for this question. From the way you express yourself and identify yourself, it is obvious and clear to me that you are a good Catholic, trying to keep yourself informed about what it means to be a practicing Catholic, even as you formulate decisions for yourself. Immediately, I would say the best thing to do is to talk to your pastor. Your pastor will be in a good position to discuss this issue with you in a way that is informed, compassionate and kind. The best that I can do is in brief compass to provide you with the basic teaching of the church, especially as this is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The appropriate section of the Catechism is entitled “The Love of Husband and Wife” and runs from paragraph 2360 to 2379.

It is worthwhile reading in its totality as it prepares the backdrop for the teaching on contraception. Abstracting, however, from this total context one paragraph is particularly helpful in this regard, paragraph 2370.

Paragraph 2370, reflecting Pope Paul VI’s encyclical letter Humanae Vitae, reads as follows: “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.”

In other words, the paragraph tells us that natural means of contraception — “periodic continence, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods” — are acceptable means of avoiding conception from the church’s point of view. Other means, artificial means, are judged to be morally wrong, “intrinsically evil.”

Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, March 7, 2014
Article comment by: John Smith

Ms. Boyd,

What you say is about discernment is true. However, you can't call "responsible parenthood" a myth. In fact, that exact phrase is found several times in Humanae Vitae.

I will grant that perhaps people are too selfish in their discernment or don't discern at all.

However, your characterization of responsible parenthood a myth as that is itself misleading, especially for a person who has held herself out as both an expert on this matter and as academically credentialed.

Posted: Saturday, February 8, 2014
Article comment by: Jay Boyd

The simple statement that periodic continence and NFP are “acceptable means of avoiding conception from the church’s point of view” is misleading and dangerous. The Church permits such a course of action only when there is a serious reason to avoid pregnancy. Without emphasizing that fact, the author’s conclusion encourages a “contraceptive” mentality. This is a problem because it perpetuates the myth of overpopulation and the need for “responsible” parenthood, and tends to overemphasize the importance of the marital embrace in and of itself in the marriage relationship.

Posted: Thursday, February 6, 2014
Article comment by: Rolando Rodriguez, OFS

In October, our Holy Father will gather with his brother bishops to discuss this issue along with others which affect family life. May the grace and action of the Holy Spirit guide them and help us strengthen and renew God's family.
Paz y Bien, Rolando, OFS.

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