Contraception’s Cascading Rampage

The October 2014 Synod on Family’s statement on contraception – “We should return to the message of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae of Blessed Pope Paul VI, which highlights the need to respect the dignity of the person in morally assessing methods in regulating births,” [58] – is, to say the least, profoundly disappointing and inadequate. Humanae Vitae and the subsequent writings on marriage of St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI put forward far more than the mere need for “respect” on this crucial matter.

Fr. Mark Pilon recently wrote here about the theological and social dimensions of contraception. Those considerations are important and far-reaching. But as a Catholic psychiatrist who has worked for almost forty years with thousands of married couples, families, and youth, I’m convinced that it is medically and psychologically clear that the widespread use of contraceptives (roughly 75 percent, even of Catholic, couples) has also severely harmed marriage, families, children, the priesthood, the Church, and the larger culture.

A clear and scientifically irrefutable relationship exists between the use of contraceptives and the plague of divorce, with its life-long damage to millions upon millions of young people, loyal spouses, and their families worldwide. Many days in my work, I feel like an army medic on a battlefield strewn with people of various ages and conditions, severely wounded by something essentially ignored.

The failure to address the psychological and sociological science related to this damage needs to be corrected – and the subject directly confronted – in next October’s Ordinary Synod on the Family.

Contraceptive use increases marital mistrust, anxiety, anger, selfishness, and conflicts in communicating. Contraception is a way of saying to a spouse, via the language of the body, that, “I will withhold the total gift of myself to you and not trust you with our fertility.” As both personal anecdotes and statistics bear out, this momentous decision – contrary to rosy predictions of greater marital happiness when contraception was first legalized – has undermined the foundation for giving and receiving love from one’s spouse.

The growth in marriage from “me” to “we,” which St. John Paul II describes as an aspect of betrothed love in Love and Responsibility, is also dependent upon trusting the Lord with every aspect of one’s marriage. In using contraceptives, the couple is unconsciously communicating to the Lord, “We do not trust you with our fertility.”

This stance slowly and unconsciously weakens the ability to entrust all aspects of the marriage, children, and family life to the Lord. And a further consequence is that it makes it more difficult for the couples to turn to Him and seek his help for the numerous challenges and stresses in married and family life.


When anxiety increases, so too do irritability and anger. Mastery over anger in married life is essential because excessive anger damages the ability to communicate effectively and to give and to receive love. A major research study at the University of Minnesota has demonstrated that not being able to talk together was identified by 53 percent of those surveyed as the leading factor that contributed to the decision to divorce.

The use of contraceptives has also resulted in most Catholic couples deciding to have no more than two children. We should call this phenomenon by its real name. It’s a lack of generosity in being open to children – a radical departure from the past for Catholics, but also for others in society. And the effects do not stop there. Lack of generosity leads to the growth of selfishness in each spouse, which is the major psychological enemy of marital love

A very common consequence is that spouses turn inward upon themselves, which damages the cheerful self-giving that is essential for marriage. Many wives complain that contraceptive use has led their husbands to treat them as sexual objects. They no longer maintain good communication – the marital friendship and romantic love outside the bedroom – and yet expect sexual intimacy whenever they want. This silent mistreatment of wives has contributed to the research findings that 70 percent of divorces are now being initiated by wives and, surprisingly, in marriages that display low levels of outward conflict.

John Paul II, the patron saint of the family, has warned that, “safe sex” is radically not safe and, to the contrary, should be regarded as extremely dangerous. The danger is the loss of truth about one’s own self and about the family, and consequently of a loss of love itself.

And since the family – not the individual – is the primary cell of society, what damages the family portends a loss of freedom:

The family has vital and organic links with society, since it is its foundation and nourishes it continually through its role of service to life: it is from the family that citizens come to birth and it is within the family that they find the first school of the social virtues that are the animating principle of the existence and development of society itself. (Familiaris Consortio, 1981)

All this needs to be talked about – a lot – between now and the upcoming Synod. The assembled bishops and the whole Church need to be prepared in advance to embrace the wisdom of St. John Paul II during this challenging time for family life, marriage, and the health of our whole society.

Rick Fitzgibbons, M.D.

Rick Fitzgibbons, M.D.

Rick Fitzgibbons, M.D. is a psychiatrist in Conshohocken, PA who has treated youth and adults with gender dysphoria, and written on the topic. He is the co-author of Forgiveness Therapy: An Empirical Guide for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope .

  • ron a.

    It seems to me that when the contracepting family becomes so much the majority, it then becomes the ‘norm’, and is portrayed as such throughout the Culture at large. (We do, after all, live in a democracy, where majority rules.) As such, it could/ would then have a deleterious effect, to which every other family becomes vulnerable—through propaganda and such. Hence, the moral ‘dumbing down’ which is so prevalent throughout the Culture. I suggest that, perhaps, the pope is even victim to the mindset (“rabbits”), whether he admits it, or not.

    • WSquared

      Ron, you and I both know enough secularists and Catholics who keep repeating that “the Catholic Church teaches that women should lie back, think of the Pope, and pop out Catholic baby after Catholic baby.”

      The Church teaches no such thing– and it’s important that Pope Francis has reiterated that the Church teaches no such thing, because our providentialism-or-the pill culture keeps on insisting that she does! It can be infuriating to watch Catholics let the culture get away with those facile assumptions because we’d rather whine or find something to get offended at the minute the Pope opens his mouth.

      Rather, the Church welcomes big families, even as she doesn’t mandate them for everybody (nothing good ever comes from mandating what the Church does not: regardless of any good intentions, that’s still a misrepresentation of what the Church teaches). In cases like these, it’s just as important to know what the Church DOES NOT teach in addition to what she does. Why is this so difficult for way too many Catholics to understand?

      I frankly fail to see why anyone with a big family who got offended at the “rabbits” thing should’ve gotten offended: those with big families already have a Magisterial green light, and they already know, or should already know, that it does not logically follow that having a big family is “irresponsible,” just as they should be self-aware enough to know themselves and their discernment– what more do these folks want?

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    “[I]t is within the family that they find the first school of the social virtues that are the animating principle of the existence and development of society itself.”

    An echo, surely, of Aristotle, the philosopher of common sense: ”διὸ ἐν οἰκίᾳ πρῶτον ἀρχαὶ καὶ πηγαὶ φιλίας καὶ πολιτείας καὶ δικαίου. – Hence in the household are first found the origins and springs of friendship, of political organization and of justice.” (Eudemian Ethics Book 7)

  • How do I know that the church is wrong on non abortifacient contraceptives? Because of justifying statements like this:

    “Contraceptive use increases marital mistrust, anxiety, anger, selfishness, and conflicts in communicating. Contraception is a way of saying to a spouse, via the language of the body, that, “I will withhold the total gift of myself to you and not trust you with our fertility.”

    How ridiculous. There is no difference between NFP as a contraceptive and a condom.

    • cuwriter

      No? NFP requires trust, communication and self-discipline. It withholds nothing. A condom just requires slapping on some latex.

    • Neil Kane

      Manny: Grab the reins. NFP is totally different from a condom. Do you work for Trojan or something?

    • SnowCherryBlossoms

      NFP is based on self-control.

  • Joyfully

    I just printed off a copy of “The Vocation and Missions of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World — Lineamenta” yesterday. My diocese requested that we “carefully and prayerfully” read the document and then respond to the questions (there are 46, and the questions have further questions). The “consultations”, as they are referring to the responses, will be gathered and presumably read and further consolidated.

    Additionally, there will be Consultation Meetings in the each of the six Deaneries in our Diocese between Feb. 3rd and 24th., where presumably they will collect verbal responses.

    The Diocese plans to submit a summary to the 2015 Synod.

    I intend to participate and hope this is more than a call to get things off our chest. I hope the summarizers will “carefully and prayerfully” read through the responses.

    What are other dioceses’ doing? How effective do other think this type of “consultation” will be?

  • Hen

    I would appreciate an article similar to this on good sex within the relationships of older but seemingly happy non productive couples.

  • George Sim Johnston

    Manny: There is a profound difference between sex that is non-procreative and sex that is anti-procreative.

    NFP is not contraception. A couple using NFP are simply having sex; a couple on the Pill or whatever are having sex and at the same time performing an act designed to thwart its procreative end.

    A simple analogy: If you need to lose weight, you can either diet or indulge in a certain eating disorder designed to keep the pleasure of the act while getting rid of the consequences. Some people would say that the latter is not even eating. Sex is a far deeper act that eating, and the fact (as Rick Fitzgibbons points out) that the divorce rate rises with the use of contraception may be a clue that the Church is right: A couple who perform an act to thwart the procreative end of sex are also thwarting its unitive end.

    There is a mystery at the center of sex that can be summarized in a sentence: Other animals reproduce, humans procreate. A couple using NFP are respecting this mystery, the contracepting couple are expunging it.

  • JGradGus

    I commend Dr. Fitzgibbons for bringing this up and offering his insights. Based on the numbers of Catholics using contraception it is by no means an issue that has been put to rest. Even worse, some (many?) priests are still telling people that they should be guided by their conscience when it comes to using contraception.

    Since this essay is examining primarily the psychological impact of the use of contraception maybe this is not germane, but I also have yet to hear a cogent explanation regarding the ‘intent’ side of the NFP vs. contraception question.

    Paul VI states in Humanae Vitae #13, “ . . . [Men] must also recognize that an act of mutual love which impairs the capacity to transmit life which God the Creator, through specific laws, has built into it, frustrates His design which constitutes the norm of marriage, and contradicts the will of the Author of life. Hence to use this divine gift [the conjugal act] while depriving it, even if only partially, of its meaning and purpose, is equally repugnant to the nature of man and of woman, and is consequently in opposition to the plan of God and His holy will.” But he then says in #16, “Neither the Church nor her doctrine is inconsistent when she considers it lawful for married people to take advantage of the infertile period but condemns as always unlawful the use of means which directly prevent conception . . .”

    Saying one method is natural so it is acceptable but the other is artificial and is therefore not acceptable, does not alter the intent that is behind both methods. Both methods are intended to deprive the conjugal act “of its meaning and purpose” so both should be “equally repugnant to the nature of man and of woman.”

    Maybe this also should be talked about a lot between now and the upcoming Synod with an eye toward issuing a cogent explanation regarding intent that can be easily understood by the ‘guy (or gal) on the street.’

  • TBill

    Excellent article. I’m a Catholic psychiatrist (military) as well. Natural family planning is a greatly underappreciated gem that enriches marriages. It should be promoted much more than is the current case.

  • Bro_Ed

    I beg to disagree with the good doctor. I lack his medical expertise and experience but, after 55 years of marriage and five children, I do know something about the subject. I was a young married back in the Sixties and was involved with my Church in several capacities. One was in a discussion group of young marrieds, headed by a priest, and we discussed everything – particularly birth control since it was a hot button at that time. We spoke openly and candidly about such issues and never once do I recall a wife commenting that birth control made her feel like an “object” nor a husband complaining that birth control contributed to a “lack of trust.” It just never happened. What I heard was about marriages strained by couples unable to express their love for each other in a physical way that might result in a pregnancy. The reasons were economics, health, age, existing family, and all the real world reasons one would expect. I never sensed any selfishness; just reality.
    Also, the doctor says about 72% of Catholics practise birth control today. The numbers I see in both the Catholic and secular press are over 90%. If there is such a thing as the primacy of conscience, and a sense of the faithful, this decision has been made by the laity long ago. It’s time to move on..

    • ericdenman

      Bro Ed…You have brought into the discussion topics that are never addressed…namely, the economic responsibilities and psychological burdens of managing large families and the absence of real practical assistance to such families by the Church. I am one of four children raised by good practicing Catholics who had two unexpected children. The result was parents who lived with the sexual frustration of sure proof abstinence, the stress from the financial burdens of that forced my parents to take extra jobs in addition to childrearing, and psychological stress that overflowed on to us children. Four children were a lot to manage for them.
      This Jesuitical and poetic flourish about being open to life, etc. are lovely ways to view marriage and the family but there are other components to a good marriage and successful parenting. We are open to life. We trust in God Who trusts us to be responsible for the things we do. He will not raise our children for us. Men and women who ask themselves if they can provide for more offspring are acting responsibly. Our biological drives and urges are not of our choosing but inborn by the Maker. Our sexuality permits us to express love, true conjugal commitment, without bearing offspring. To me it . I am prepared to explain myself to my Maker should this come up in my final days. I trust that He is a loving and just God.
      Bro Ed…I agree that the decision to use contraception was made by the laity long ago because we were left alone to make it while our clerical brethren, celibates, were engaged in, as I said previously, Jesuitical debate, not grounded in the concrete aspects of daily marital life. I agree that maintaining a celibate clergy serves the needs of the Church better than a “married clergy” might, in most instances. In the case of marriage and the family, clergy, up-line, must seek to understand from those of us who walk the walk. I have done so for forty plus years.

      • Neil Kane

        Bro Ed and you have morally unpalatable misconceptions about primacy of conscience and even more so, the “sensus fidelium”. You are right about one thing: you do, in fact, lack Dr. Fitzgibbons’ medical and psychiatric expertise.
        Educated -by-Jesuits in Philly

        • barbieahayes

          Perfect, Neil. I have expounded and expanded on your comment to Bro Ed and ericdenman, above, if you would like to read it.

          • ericdenman

            Barbie and Neil… Ever heard these words… “Love the Lord your God with your whole heart, your whole mind, your whole body and your whole soul and love your neighbor as you love yourself.” I understood these words to encapsulate Jesus’ two great Commandments.
            Where in Scripture did you read the words, “Thou shalt not use contraception? ”
            To a struggling Catholic family, your words might very well seem pharisaical. Minimally, they are unhelpful and in a real sense, they lack compassion and understanding. These are two attributes in which Jesus abounded.

      • Howard Kainz

        Presumably you’re not supporting other contraceptive methods — spermicides, diaphragms, condoms, cervical caps, etc., but making an exception for the Pill, which seems to just “tweak” a woman’s reproductive system, preventing ovulation. It seems less gross, but it has the same effect. And it’s strange to see perfectly healthy women using prescription drugs with side effects until menopause to avoid the “sickness” of pregnancy.

        • ericdenman

          Dr. Kainz…Because of its interference in a woman’s natural biological functions, I do not support the use of the “Pill”. I think the “Pill” is more than a tweak. It prevents ovulation which is a natural function and prevents the female body from performing normally. Surely, that can not be healthy in the long run. I do not support the use of spermicides or sterilization, elective tubal ligations or vasectomies. I see them as violations of the body which is sacred, our Creator’s masterpiece.

      • FrancisXIII

        “To me it is morally unpalatable to criticize or condemn these men and women who practice contraception in loving and God-fearing marriages. I am prepared to explain myself to my Maker should this come up in my final days. I trust that He is a loving and just God”

        I imagine it is true that we must not condemn, as Christ himself did not condemn the adulterous woman when the Pharisees brought her to be stoned. But perhaps we ought to exhort the living of the perfect Christian life, despite our own weaknesses. I am thinking that we do see the goodness of our biological drives and urges …. but that is only part of the picture that we must try to piece together in order to live well. What are we being told when we are aware that there is one time in the month that we are not fertile? What are we being told when man and woman together as husband and wife is when we are completely in the “image and likeness” of our Father … when our sacramental imagination allows us to see in the spousal union of man and woman the shadow of the Blessed Trinity. I cannot condemn any man and woman … I am a sinner after all. But nevertheless we are told to be perfect as the Father is perfect. I feel that we should mind the gap that prevents us from preparing for … and maybe even choosing … an eternity together with our Father. When saying, therefore, “I am prepared to explain myself to my Maker should this come up in my final days. I trust that He is a loving and just God”, one thing I might perhaps watch out for is that I don’t inadvertently lock the door of Hell from the inside.

      • Sam Schmitt

        These arguments in favor of contraception never look at what contraception actually is, only what the desirable results are. I can’t deny that it can be easier to use the Pill rather than not, but this is not an argument for its morality.

        As for the experience of “the laity” who have accepted contraception, we are looking almost exclusively at affluent, highly-educated, Western Christians, who, its could be argued, are hardly exemplary in the practice of their faith is general (I include myself in this indictment, by the way). Making the habits of those Catholics who have abandoned the practice of their faith in record numbers in the past decades as somehow determining Catholic doctrine is curious at best. And if morality is to be decided by the numbers, polls show majorities of Catholics see little or nothing wrong with extra-marital sex, divorce, and torture. Is it time to “move on” with these issues, too? And this test does not even live up to its own principles what about all the Catholics in other parts of the world, not to mention the last 2,000 years?

        “In the case of marriage and the family, clergy, up-line, must seek to understand from those of us who walk the walk.” And what about all those couples who heroically follow the teaching of Christ and did not use contraception? Is their “walk” to be ignored?

      • Anthony Zarrella

        Barbieahayes has made the relevant point about primacy of conscience (“a Catholic value only when the conscience is edified by the natural law”). I’d like to toss my hat into the ring as to “sensus fidelium” (consensus of the faithful).
        Sensus fidelium does *not* mean some democratic “morality by majority”. Even if you are correct, Eric and Ed, that 90% of (*American* or *Western*) Catholics are in favor of contraception, that means nothing in terms of doctrine.
        Sensus fidelium means (essentially) that if a belief is affirmed by *ALL* the faithful, at some point in time, *and* it does not contradict established doctrine or Scripture, then it can be treated as reliable truth.
        The key points here are “all” and “faithful” – “Faithful”: means that the relevant people to “poll” (so to speak) are only Catholics, and only those Catholics who are faithful to the Church established by Christ. This means that so-called “dissenting” Catholics (those who say, “Sure, the Church authoritatively teaches X, but they have no authority over *me* and I’m going to follow my own private conscience and believe Y instead” – e.g. women “priests” and Nancy Pelosi, among others) don’t even count.
        Second, “All” means it’s not really a “poll” at all. No matter *how* many Western Catholics think contraception is fine and dandy, there’s a vocal minority in the West, and a majority in places like Africa who say otherwise, not to mention the Pope, and many (if not most) clergy. I don’t know if sensus fidelium literally means there cannot be a single person who disagrees, but *at least* it means there cannot still be an active controversy. (Also, I’m pretty sure that being at odds with the Pope would automatically rule out any sort of sensus fidelium-based doctrine)
        As a last point to Eric, re: your argument that unmarried clergy ought to take their cues from married people when developing doctrines on marriage and sexuality: Jesus never married – does that mean He was not qualified to preach on marriage? What about St. Paul? Keep in mind that if you say “no” to either one (even just St. Paul), you’re denying the moral authority of *Scripture* not just of the Vatican hierarchy…

        • Bro_Ed

          Think about what you just wrote for a minute before you respond. You seem to think that “primacy of conscience” and “sense of the faithful” only apply if they agree with Church teachings. Then why even have them? It’s like some dictator telling his people: “Vote for anybody you want, as long as it’s me.”

          • Anthony Zarrella

            My response boils down to two simple points:

            1) There are some practices and disciplines of the Church that are *NOT* authoritative doctrine or dogma, and it is with respect to *those* things that the primacy of conscience applies. In other words, if the Church were to say that Lenten fasts are no longer required, but you felt strongly that you were morally obligated to fast, or, in the opposite direction, if the Church resumed the practice of selling indulgences for money, and you felt that this was morally unacceptable, you’d follow your conscience, not the Church. This is because when the Church speaks (or acts) *without* Magisterial authority, it is capable of error. However, when the Church speaks with doctrinal authority, invoking the promise of Christ that “he who hears you, hears Me,” then it is our duty to subjugate our own judgments to those of the Church.

            2) I *am* saying that sensus fidelium can never conflict with the teaching of the Church. The “sense of the faithful” is a way to *expand upon* doctrine, not to revise it. Look into Church history, and you’ll see that any time the concept of sensus fidelium was invoked in support of a doctrine, it was a doctrine that had never before been officially *recognized* as binding doctrine, but which *did not contradict EXISTING doctrine*.

            The prohibitions on abortion, contraception, and remarriage after civil divorce are settled and binding doctrines of the Church. No populist opposition can modify them.

        • ericdenman

          Anthony…Gee whiz,

          ” Jesus never married – does that mean He was not qualified to preach on marriage? What about St. Paul? Keep in mind that if you say “no” to either one (even just St. Paul), you’re denying the moral authority of *Scripture* not just of the Vatican hierarchy”
          Now with all due respect to clergy, I do not put clergy in the same category as Jesus. When Jesus makes a pronouncement, I see it as infallible, not so with all clergy. I do not recall Jesus ever speaking on contraception. St. Paul, a good man, is not Jesus either. An aside, Yahweh commanded that we go forth and increase and multiply. So are celibate clergy disobeying the Lord? I think not.
          I certainly did not say clergy are not qualified to preach on marriage but I certainly stand by my position that if clergy, including varied popes, are wont to establish inviolable dicta/doctrine on marriage and the family it must evolve in conjunction with input from the laity who are equally called to a sanctified life, no les sanctified than the clergy. It is an act of humility for clergy to acknowledge that they are not experts on a life they did not lead any more than I could establish unquestioned dicta/doctrine on the appropriate behavior and expectations of the priesthood.
          And I repeat…Jesus stands alone and can speak with expertise on any subject in my book …unfortunately, there are many subjects He never addressed.

          • Anthony Zarrella

            Here’s the thing though – St. Paul was not God (and so not in the same infallible category as Jesus), yet his writings still constitute infallible Scripture (including when he writes on marriage). This, your assertion (that celibate people can only speak knowledgeably and authoritatively on marriage when they take their cues from married people) necessarily implies that St. Paul could not do so. Or, you could argue that St. Paul was divinely inspired, but Catholics believe that when the Church defines doctrine authoritatively, it too is divinely protected from error.

            Now, I agree that on *prudential* matters, it is *wise* for celibate clergy to consult married laypeople about marriage. But the opinions of married laity mean nothing at all when it comes to *doctrinal* matters – because doctrine is not an empirical matter! It neither needs nor benefits from the collection of experiential data.

            Perhaps pro-contraception married laity are *right* that marriage without contraception is hard, and that contraception offers more freedom for married couples to make their own life choices. The doctrinal response would be, “So what? Following Christ isn’t *about* making things easy, it’s about taking up our cross – it isn’t *about* freedom to choose our own way, it’s about walking the path *He* sets, for He is the Way.”

        • Bro_Ed

          Your interpretation effectively neuters both these provisions. You seem to be saying there is both a sense of the faithful and a primacy of conscience, but they’re only operative when they agree with the Church’s position. Then, I ask again, what good are they? Is the hierarchy telling us we can think anything we like, as long as we agree with them? Isn’t that a sort of circular reasoning? I’m with Cardinal Newman:”To the Pope if you will, but to conscience first.” (Letter to the Duke of Norfolk written in 1870).

  • Mary

    I have many children and have been practicing NFP for many years. It is clear to me that NFP is not the same that contraception because with NFP you abstain, so you are not “stopping” anything.

    I also believe that contraception, in many cases, has led to selfishness and the other way around. If it is “never” (like the last commen says) about selfishnes, how is it that “big” families are almost instinct? Can it be because, yes, we are more selfish?

    That said, I agree with last comment… NFP can also be a cause of stress. And not wanting “another” kid it is not always because of selfishness. I know many people with extremely difficult situations that already have a few kids and NFP is definitely not helping at all. I could tell you my story…

    So, I do question if the fact that contraception “may” hurt some marriages and “some” may use it for selfish reasons, does it make it wrong for everyone else?

    • frkloster

      Contraception is destroying families regardless of any justification people make. It’s interesting to me that the square footage in homes since 1960 has more than doubled. In that same time, we are now down to 1.9 births per woman (well below replacement levels). You tell me where the money and the concentration of values is centered. Is it possessions or is it the generosity of a big family?

      • Paul Vander Voort

        So do you want married couples to use NFP and have large families?

  • Paul Vander Voort

    Dr. Fitzgibbons,

    Which studies would you recommend that show the relationship between contraceptive use and divorce?

    Sadly, many of my family and friends marriages have ended in divorce and contraception was never mentioned as a contributing factor.

    • DrFitzgibbons


      Spouses going through divorce are often unaware of the true causes of their marital conflicts including those arising from contraceptive use that I have described. In one study eighty percent of spouses related that they were happily
      married while the other was pursuing divorce.

      The other major causes of weaknesses in marital self-giving which are usually unconscious arise from a failure to understand Catholic marriage and from unresolved loneliness, mistrust, excessive anger and controlling or emotionally distant behaviors from the family of origin.

      We need to more clearly identify these conflicts before marriage and in the midst of marital stress to prevent divorce.

      I am trying to locate a graph on the relationship between the onset of widespread contraceptive use and the divorce epidemic/plague.

      • Paul Vander Voort

        Dr Fitzgibbons,

        Thank you for your response.

        Besides the use of contraception, were the following also considered in determining why divorce increased? Changes in the law to allow no fault divorce; changes in divorce settlements that allowed equitable share of joint property, alimony and child support; Governments increasing social assistance to women with children; societal changes that removed the stigma of divorce; children of divorced families had poor role models.

        It is my experience (born 1960) that people of my grandparents and parents generation (before contraception) would’ve got divorced in much greater numbers if they could legally, had the financial means and it was socially acceptable. But because it wasn’t easy to get a divorce they stayed together through the tough times and in the end had a relatively happy marriage.

        • DrFitzgibbons


          You have clearly identified a number of other
          factors that have contributed to the increase in divorce.

          Additional factors include: divorce clustering with research showing divorce among immediate friends can increase
          the chance of getting divorced by 75%; marital therapy with one major study of 600 couples demonstrating those who
          received marital counseling were 2 to 3 times more likely to divorce than couples who did not have counseling due to the prevailing psychological rather than Christian view of marriage; research showing infidelity increasing through social networking, especially Facebook; the seriously flawed annulment process described earlier at TCT (Annulments, Justice, and Marital Healing) in which Catholic spouses can feel entitled to an annulment and fail to engage in the hard work of resolving marital conflicts and the failure over the past 45 years to preach and
          teach the truth about the sacred sacrament of marriage in the Church.

          The good news is that the light of St. John Paul II’s wisdom has been purifying and strengthening marriages and families for three decades and hopefully will play a more central role in the
          next Synod.

  • wc4mitt

    Question: Is St. Pope John Paul II actually the “Patron of the Family” and if so why? He’s been a priest most of his life thus doesn’t really have any experience of being intimately involved in the workings of a family other than as a child which has nothing to do w/the sexuality of the parents, i.e, the sexual actions. I ask this question in all sincerity since it has become a habit even in the Church of people making statements reflecting their own opinions and not that of the official Church, such as referring to him as PJPII the Great( something added which is not official).


      St. John Paul II merits the accolade “Patron of the Family” both for his extensive writings thereon and his years of pastoral work with engaged and married couples. (See G. Weigel’s WITNESS TO HOPE and JPII’s own books Love and Responsibility and Theology of the Body.) And although the title “the Great” may not have been officially declared by the Magisterium, it has been conferred by many Catholics (and other Christians) by popular acclamation. It is analogous to the crowds’ chanting , “SANTO SUBITO” (Make him a saint now!) as his body was being borne to its place of rest.

    • Sam Schmitt

      John Paul II dealt intimately with parents and families in his years in Poland, hearing confessions, counselling, etc. which, it can be argued, actually gave him a greater perspective on family life than any mother or father could by himself. The fruits of his deep reflection on this experience can be seen in his books and encyclicals.

      But supernatural wisdom about the family or anything else does not come primarily from experience, though God can use this if he wishes – and often does. St. Therese of Lisieux is patron of foreign mission though she never left France, and a doctor of the Church even though she never graduated from high school!

  • wc4mitt

    BTW St. Terese of the Child Jesus’ parents are now Blesseds – so wouldn’t it more appropriate for someone like them who actually raised a large family, w/many childhood deaths involved, yet raised a great Saint for the Glory of God and the Church as well as the Carmelite Order. Even now one of her siblings’ cause has opened which may lead to another family Saint. My sense that someone w/wide range of family experiences such as Terese’s parents who are Blesseds would be a much better model for families who struggle w/some of these same issues in rearing and parenting holy children for the kingdom of God.

  • Neil Kane

    Well said!

  • Rosemary58

    Strange how the bishops don’t see a connection between their silence on contraception and the closing of parishes, esp. in the Northeast.
    The Church (the faithful) suffers when it is contracepted by her members. Catholic couples may think it’s responsible to have only two children but over time, it will (and is now) having a bad effect.
    Catholic couples should ask, “Does our use of contraceptives glorify the Lord?” Did the Lord give discourses on being practical, or did He ask us to throw wide our nets? When couples contracept, what are they really saying? I would like to hear from Catholics who are contracepting. They seem to be nowhere.
    So far, only one honest Catholic woman told me that her wealthy husband made it very clear that he would not tolerate more than the two children they had. She had to go on the Pill – or else.

    • Thomas Sharpe

      The bishops lack of vision to either see this or act on the problem can be seen as a remnant of the sex abuse problem: a reluctance to speak out against sexual sin, a deference to “experts”, a longing to keep everyone “in play” dissenters and faithful, acting more like managers in this regard then Pastors.

  • Brian Millar

    Lots of men with means and capacity to be good husbands and fathers, overlooked…. You don’t worry about if you have a child with someone if you are with someone of quality, bottom line. Anything less, you are cutting yourself short, or you are wasting time with someone that is cutting yourself short…

  • fides

    Thank you for your analysis and comments Dr. Fitzgibbons. I am reminded and able to cogently reevaluate the compass settings after reading your article.

    Perhaps a companion article would be to analyze the “Why” in the current topic. IN other words frame the leading questions. Why don’t moral spokesmen speak more unified and clearly with the spirit and understanding of the encyclical? Why do parents, people properly raising families, use the the economic argument in a primarily moral setting?

    I think the answers to the questions, orderly prioritized would begin to reveal the motivation behind the statements. A man says to me that he and his wife embrace contraception and abortion because the can’t afford to have children — engenders a review of his finances. Perhaps a true statement and I offer to help with that problem. Pointing out that a economic truth does not give moral grounds to ignore the difficulty of abortion. In fact quite opposite — it lends to the moral grounds to not abandon the salvation of your soul.

    What my study has shown is that far too often the leadership in civil settings and Church settings is unwilling to address the economic truth —- that the management of economic activity is unjust. That a man trying to raise a family is being squeezed — the Church has been unwilling to properly address this issue, has played politics with it, obfuscated the issue and consequently silently endorsed the sadness.

    The dig out has a practical side. The raising of a family is as practical as planting a crop, caring for the crop and harvesting and then managing the harvest — some grain for bread, some for market and a prudential portion for next years crop —- none of this discussion is being had.

    Sadly for example, the spokesman for the Catholic Church to the WSJ at the time of the most current synod on family was Fr. Siricco, founder of Acton INstitute. NOt a husband, not a father, not an economist, not trained in any specific discipline — yet known for his great work in the 1970’s in the homosexual movement, his advocacy for same sex union, his performance of those unions — now a priest and spokesperson for family?

    You wonder why we aren’t listening ? Any bishop, priest or prudential parent would realize that the silliness of this type of leadership leads to confusion and despair among us —- that we will not be lied to about our economics nor will we tolerate the half truths about our salvation the bounty of our efforts, the planting of our crops, the education of our children, the prudential management of our families is undermined by the silliness of our Church leadership —- they speak of glowing concepts we pay the light bill.

  • ericdenman

    To Sam, Anthony and Barbie …lots of intricate philosophy, maybe too much, which is perhaps one reason the Church’s influence is declining. .in your responses, I did not see much addressing the very practical problems I raised. Faith is not just an exercise in logical/theological consistency and Aristotelian machinations.
    Although He does not deign to reveal His plans to the likes of me, I understand God’s plan day to day, not only in the context of an intellectual/theological exercise but in meeting my needs, too. And He does but He does not raise my children or pay the bills. I wonder how Peter’s wife felt when her husband left to follow a charismatic, iterant preacher or sat around fishing all day with Jesus.
    Be that as it may, If the Church gives credence to forbidding protected sex in marriage, I believe it is also morally obligated to offer financial and psychological support. Absent that, the laity did what it needed to do in the absence of practical assistance in maintaining this expensive ideal regarding procreation.
    Catholics spend thousands and millions of dollars educating their clergy and religious in institutions they cannot afford to send their own children. Maybe some of there monies can be diverted to fund these large families that these minted theologians espouse.

  • Mary

    I would like also, to have acces to the studies that show the relationship between contraceptive use and divorce, because even believing that the use of contraception is wrong I have a hard time defending it!

    When contraceptives were not as comun, families were bigger. The mother usually stayed home with no means to get a job and live an independent live. Divorce was not accepted by society so there were less divorces.

    Now, one can think that this proves that the use of contraception brings more divorces. Because people have less kids, it is easier to get divorce. But, I would like to go deeper.

    Many people in the past would have liked to get divorce but they couldn’t! And they were not using contraception…

    So, it is a fact that contraception has made divorce easier, but it is actually the cause? I’ m surrounded by people who use NFP. In both sides of the family. There is 3 divorces and some that if they were not “old fashion” would have been divorce along time ago. If contraception really breaks the unity of the spouses, how do you explain this?

    I think that the divorce rate has gone up because of a not undersating of the gift of live. Because of materialism and selfishness between spouses. And this may sound the same than the “contraceptive mentality” but, what is first, the chicken or the egg?

    I don’t think that statistics “prove” anything about contraception and divorce. I know of many “generous” families that could use a little “break”.

  • George Sim Johnston

    Mary: The Pill was introduced in 1960; the divorce rate was 25 percent, had been edging up gradually since the beginning of the century, and had remained essentially flat during the fifties. Between the early sixties and early seventies the divorce rate doubled. While it is simplistic to say that the Pill was the sole cause of this, social scientists like Lionel Tiger say that the Pill had a lot to do with it. Even the Guttmacher Institute–which functions as Planned Parenthood’s research arm–has admitted that there seems to be a correlation.

  • bernard M. Collins

    Two words are rare in common discussion of marriage – generosity and continence. I believe it is because of the lack of a real marital spiritual life. The virtue behind those two words goes to the very heart of our religion. And notice please that I did not say ‘periodic’ continence. Until married people prayerfully consider those words and make them their own, we are living the life of merely our culture.

  • DrFitzgibbons

    This discussion and the next Synod on the Family can be enriched by Saint John Paul II’s strong statements on contraception. In 1983, he declared: “Contraception is to be judged so profoundly unlawful as never to be, for any reason, justified. To think or to say the contrary is equal to maintaining that in human life, situations may arise in which it is lawful not to recognize God as God.” (L’Osservatore Romano, October 10, 1983, p.7)

    In 1987, Pope John Paul II asserted that “the Church’s teaching on contraception does not belong to the category of matter open to free discussion among theologians,
    Teaching the contrary amounts to leading the moral consciences of spouses into
    error.” (L’Osservatore Romano, July 6, 1987, p.12)

  • Elijah’s fan

    Catholic articles in this area seem a priori….foreordained to find birth control as the sole culprit. In section 74 of Casti Connubii, Pius XI trenchantly restated the ” wives obey your husbands” of the NT. The concept is invisible in both Vatican II and the current catechism. No fault divorce is a third culprit. Yet Catholic articles follow the hidden script….Paul VI was a prophet…it’s all abc.

  • ericdenman

    That is not the question. Jesus never condemned the use of contraception. Men did, unmarried men. I see no basis in Scripture for such a condemnation/emphatic doctrine, even in Paul. It seems more philosophically based.
    As an aside, one may wonder how Paul’s words were elevated to the grand heights of inerrancy. His teachings re: women and sexuality seem reflections of his Greek heritage more so than a reflection of Christ on sexuality. I repeat Christ made few pronouncements on sexuality and none on contraception.
    Christ clearly did caution us not to judge. Christ affirmed that man is not for the law but the law is for man when he broke the law and healed on the Sabbath.
    Regarding God’s plan…I see it as hubris for any of us to presume to know God’s plan in any detail. God commands and we serve, often blindly.

  • BrianKillian

    No one can draw a line at X number of kids and conclude that that is a case of a lack of generosity. Naturally, the number of kids people have is a departure from previous times, because previous times were different. The economic pressure keeps growing, making it more and more difficult to have many children. The support of the extended family can no longer be counted on, and the Church does not step in to pick up the slack morally, financially, or otherwise.

    • bernard M. Collins

      Why assume that ‘generosity’ is a numerical consideration? Why assume that ‘responsible’ means limitation? Why assume that ‘previous times’ were so different that we can no longer trust in a provident God? Why do we assume that we might not better dispose our lives if we correspond with God’s Will as married persons who are de facto a family that is trying to express itself?

      Today’s economic pressures are difficult, but would we rather reject our own particular time and join up with the ‘sod-busters’ of our Western days, or the jungle folk of Africa, or the Christians of the Middle East?

      God is not unreasonable but He does ask us to respond to Him with an open heart and great trust. I can attest that large Christian families often exhibit many human talents expressed in great educational aspirations, accomplishments and skills. These can be indicators of God’s mind for the individual, but I can also attest that these human talents, however great or small, are often heroically sublimated in such families to other more primary expressions of the Divine Will.

      Perhaps I have it wrong, but I see what might be considered as bi-polar virtues from the past that need to be once again more commonly presented to Catholic married people if they are to place family life in the context of their common vocation to holiness – ‘generosity’ and ‘continence’. Not only does the practice of these virtues, with God’s help, hold the practitioner in balance, but they press the individual to grow in other aspects of the knowledge and practice of the Faith. That Faith begins and ends in trust or it means nothing.

  • Thomas Sharpe

    With the rampage of contraception, catholic schools are another casualty: a loss of faith, a loss of religious vocations to teach both in numbers and commitment, a stylization of catholic school as private school for upper middle class, a pricing out of families who have more than one or two children, and who do follow what the church teaches.