Contraception, Conscience, and Church Authority

Until 1930, all Christendom agreed that contraception was an intrinsically disordered act –in other words, a sin. Martin Luther was as clear on this point as Saint Thomas Aquinas. Laws against the sale of contraceptives were enforced in Catholic and Protestant countries. We may also include the Orthodox world. In Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Dolly is more shocked by Anna’s intimation that she is using unnatural means to avoid conception than she is by her friend’s destructive affair with Vronsky.

In 1930, the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops famously broke from Christian teaching when it approved “methods of conception control” other than abstinence for married couples burdened by the prospect of a baby. This was odd, because the previous Lambeth Conference of 1920 had uttered “an emphatic warning” that contraception was morally illicit. One might asked how human nature had changed in ten years.

T.S. Eliot, who at that point was rebranding himself as a religious poet, took great interest in the 1930 Anglican proceedings. He agreed with the change in teaching about contraception, but he thought the bishops had seriously undermined their own authority. He acidly noted that they “must have taken a great deal of thought about [contraception]; all the more astonishing that they did not take a little more thought, and not proceed to a statement which seems to me almost suicidal.”

Eliot continues: “For to allow that ‘each couple’ should take counsel only if perplexed in mind is almost to surrender the whole citadel of the Church. It is ten to one, considering the extreme disingenuity of humanity, which ought to be patent after so many thousand years, that only a very small minority will be ‘perplexed’; and in view of the words of the bishops it is ten to one that the honest minority which takes ‘competent advice’ . . .will have to appeal to a clergy just as perplexed as itself. . .by the futility of this sentence.”

Eliot’s point is that, especially when it comes to sex, one can easily and happily confuse ones inclinations with the promptings of the Holy Spirit. This is one reason why there is a Church: to provide authoritative guidance in such matters. The Anglicans were, in effect, flagging contraception as a moral issue and then telling everyone to be comfortable with whatever their conscience told them.

As Eliot foresaw, this resulted in Anglicans having no further interest in what their bishops had to say on the subject – or other subjects, for that matter. Why should they? The bishops had told them that they were their own tribunals.

Pope Pius XI was upset enough about the Anglican shift to respond with the encyclical Casti Connubii, which confirmed the perennial teaching about contraception. He also reminded people that it was precisely because of the human tendency to rationalize private inclination that Christ had established a teaching Church. It is the Church, and not private judgment, that has been entrusted with revelation regarding faith and morals. Especially in the area of sexuality, where it is easy to make mistakes, a couple would, for their own good, want to consult the moral doctrine of the Church.

Archbishop of Canterbury Cosmo Gordon Lang outside Church House, Westminster, London, November 13, 1930
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Gordon Lang, in 1930

The issue lay dormant among Catholics until the sexual revolution. When Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae (1968) confirmed the teaching on contraception, dissenting theologians opted for the self-defeating approach of the Anglicans. They slapped a “conscience clause” on the teaching. Hans Küng told an interviewer that Catholics should take the document seriously, but added that if a couple decided the teaching interfered with their pursuit of happiness, they should “follow their conscience.”

Fr. Küng was, in effect, surrendering the citadel of the Church. Why have a Magisterium at all? Why not subject all Catholic moral teaching to a conscience clause? Wasn’t Küng really saying that the teaching isn’t true? Or, even if true, not binding if it conflicts with happiness?

Some of these theologians were under the spell of Immanuel Kant, who thought that moral behavior is not supposed to make us happy. Or Hegel, who saw all truth as historically conditioned. In any event, their sophistry penetrated many corners of the Church.

Years ago, when I began teaching marriage preparation, I was obliged to give engaged couples a pamphlet entitled “Together for Life” by Joseph M. Champlin. I still have a copy. Regarding a couple wishing to postpone a child, Fr. Champlin writes:

“Aware of the Church’s traditional teaching [which he doesn’t explain] they feel caught in a dilemma with God seeming to say one thing in their hearts and another through his Church. . . .There is no easy resolution of that matter, but neither does God want couples to be terrified whenever they make love. In the complexities of life all of us now and then become similarly torn between conflicting commands. At those times we purify our hearts, search for God’s light in this special circumstance, then decide what is the best course to follow.”

Ten to one that after reading this a couple jump directly to “the best course to follow” and put a chemical plug on their fertility.

But there is a deeper problem here. The implicit message is: God’s will is something you deal with while gritting your teeth. But since gritting your teeth is not fun, and God doesn’t want us to be upset about the choices we make, then follow your conscience.

There are so many fallacies here; it would take a book to address them. A short response is that saints not only heroically conform their lives to the will of God, but also love that will. Are we not called to imitate them? If we do, even the sex might be better. As Benedict XVI points out in Deus Caritas Est, eros is most fully itself when governed by agape.

George Sim Johnston

George Sim Johnston

George Sim Johnston is the author of “Did Darwin Get It Right? Catholics and the Theory of Evolution” (Our Sunday Visitor).

  • Jerry Rhino

    The following quote, from the Winnipeg bishop’s conference, has never been
    addressed by any pope since it was published. De fide divina et catolica implies
    a catholic, or universal view (including Canada).
    26.
    Counsellors may meet others who, accepting the teaching of the Holy Father, find
    that because of particular circumstances they are involved in what seems to them
    a clear conflict of duties, e.g., the reconciling of conjugal love and
    responsible parenthood with the education of children already born or with the
    health of the mother. I accord with the accepted principles of moral theology,
    if these persons have tried sincerely but without success to pursue a line of
    conduct in keeping with the given directives, they may be safely assure that,
    whoever honestly chooses that course which seems right to him does so in good
    conscience.

  • Manfred

    Dear Mr. Johnston: I have great respect for the work you have done for years on the subject of contraception, which is why it pains me to say this column “is so fifteen minutes ago”. Contraception has been the norm for years as has fornication. The Boston and N.Y. St. Patrick’s Day Parades have included for the first time ,openly marching behind their banners ,sodomites, lesbians, transgenders, etc., with the group in N.Y. marching in a column led by the Cardinal-Archbishop of New York who had invited them in. It is reported that the Pope was again interviewed by Eugenio Scalfari, owner of La Repubblica, who maintains the Pope said that souls who do not achieve Heaven are simply “extinguished”. There are few souls, if any, in Hell.
    It is time for you to begin to write about polyandry, polygamy, incest and bestiality as they become more and more normative. The Church will never stop them as Its leaders do not have the Will to enforce excommunication which is the only weapon It has.
    The true “peripheries” are those neglected, Faith-ful, loyal Catholics who aspire to become Saints and with God’s Grace and assistance are being rewarded in this world and the next.

    • Thomas J. Hennigan

      The Church is in the business of making saints and over the centuries it has had a lot of success in this, and also a lot of failure. This is a matter which is not confined to one perverse generation as the present one. The Church teaches the truth and even those who are now perverse are still being mysteriously invited by the Holy Spirit to conversion, as none of those aberratons you mention are capable of satisfying the human heart as St. Augustine knew well from his own experience. It will take centuries to turn this situation around, but the Church is in this for the long haul and the Lord is very patient. Take some time out to read the history of the Church and it will teach you some good lessons and you will realize that the Church is not liek any other human institution. When it seems that all is lost, somehow great spiritual renewal comes about mysteriously. This happened in the 11th century, in the 13th, in the 16th and in the 19th after the French Revolution. Of course, the Church is always in need of reform.

      If Pope Francis has lacked prudence in making such interviews as the one given to Scalfari, and anythng he has said in interviews is not part of the Mgisterium of the Church. I think you will find that he is not going to teach any errors in any major document.

  • Bill Beckman

    Water is still pouring in through the breach in the hull known as Lambeth. The repair is not to be found in moralism but in conversion born of faith. The bishops will not regain their authority with learned documents or high tech flashy media programs. It will come, if it comes at all, through a dedicated retrieval of the pastoral plan of the Acts of the Apostles. Go into the whole world and preach the Gospel. Silver and gold I have not, but what I have I give to you, in the name of Jesus the Nazarene stand up and walk. People who encounter Jesus, who give their “yes” in faith and follow, do not rationalize about the moral law. They do not lean to their own understanding. By the Spirit who dwells in them, they discover that poverty is riches, chastity is fruitfulness, and obedience is freedom. They have met Jesus, crucified and risen, and have been set free from slavery to the fear of death. They are his disciples who by his grace fall into the earth and die. And the result? A Church which stands as a fiery icon of the new Jerusalem amid the world’s darkness.

  • Michael Dowd

    It seems to me that the belief in the supremacy of conscience should be declared a heresy when it comes to the doctrine of the Catholic Church. The supremacy of conscience is what Protestantism is all about. And now, most unfortunately, that is how, in practice, Catholic doctrine is now treated by many in the clergy and most of the laity. And all these folks are quite satisfied with this arrangement. Nobody is on their case about sin, confession, repentance, hell. Now who would want to disturb this nice arrangement? It is gauche to even mention any it. People who try to do what the Church officially teaches are few and don’t get much support but I think they can be pretty sure Jesus approves. I guess we will find out when we meet Him.

    • Dave Fladlien

      I want to strongly take issue with you. There is no way that I will stand before God on judgment day and defend following any church, contrary to what God put in my heart, properly discerned. One of the overwhelming issues here, overwhelming failures of all Christian religions, is there incredible failure to teach discernment. Until that is corrected, people will constantly struggle with the conflict of teaching versus “conscience”, which isn’t conscience but rather opinion until properly researched and then discerned. At that point, and only at that point, conscience must of necessity be followed. As far as I know, that is also the teaching of the Catholic Chuch as expressed in the most recent catechism.

      • Howard Kainz

        On the other hand, we might be a bit suspicious of our conscience, if it typically makes us an exception to the the general rule.

        • Dave Fladlien

          That’s a good point. If it typically makes exceptions, I may agree with you. That is a clear warning sign.

          Bottom line: yes, if we are typically (to use your word, I’d have said frequently) making exceptions, it should really incline us to wonder and be especially careful. But — as you indicate if I interpret you correctly — that does not invalidate the premise that human expressions of Divine law can not cover every possible circumstance (though Divine law itself can and does), so there will be “exceptions”. But those “exceptions” should (as you point out) be rare, and must be carefully researched, considered, and discerned, and will be sinful if taken more casually or lightly than the seriousness of the particular question requires.

      • Michael Dowd

        I believe in following the rules of the Catholic Church as found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church not my conscience. The rules of the Catholic Church are confirmed by the Holy Spirit. Who are we to say we are right and the Holy Spirit is wrong? Obedience is how we are to love God. Any other idea is from the devil.

        • Dave Fladlien

          I’d agree if we were robots, but we’re not. To follow any source contrary to a properly discerned conscience is to abrogate our obligation to be responsible, and accountable, to our God. Directly to our God. We know by discernment what is from the Holy Spirit and what is from the evil spirit. I’m not saying we make that discernment in a vacuum, we do our research, consider carefully what the Church (Christian churches?) have to say, etc., but in the end each of us is responsible and accountable for what we did. We can not delegate that responsibility or accountability.

    • Thomas J. Hennigan

      You might read Blessed John Henry Newman in his Letter to the Duke of Norfolk on it. There is also a lecture given by then Cardinal Ratzinger, which I fould in a book of his in Spanish, but haven’t seen it in English, which explains this matter in a masterly fachion. The Church cannot do what you propose and we should recall what Cardinal Newman states: that the conscience is the first Vicar of Christ. Obviously both Newman and Ratzinger are talking about the properly formed conscience.

  • Gsimjohnston

    Manfred: No Christian thinking is “so fifteen minutes ago.” This is especially true of the teaching about contraception. It was the widespread acceptance of the Pill and the severing of the unitive and procreative ends of sex that paved the way for the acceptance of homosexual behavior. If people in the Church don’t figure out why contraception is wrong, they’re not going to fully understand why the behaviors you mention are disordered.

    Michael: While I agree with the thrust of your comments, I think it would be a mistake to declare the supremacy of conscience a heresy. Gaudium et Spes, one of the sixteen documents of Vatican II, states: “Deep within his conscience man discovers a law he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, tells him inwardly at the right moment: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. His dignity lies in observing this law, and by it he will be judged. His conscience is man’s most secret core, and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.”

    This is profoundly true. We are bound to follow our conscience, while having an antecedent duty to form it according to the teachings of the Church, right reason, and so forth. The institutional Church is having problems just now teaching the second part of this equation. But declaring the primacy of conscience a heresy will not solve the problem.

    Jerry: The Winnipeg bishops’ statement illustrates the deep confusion on his issue among the Church’s middle management.

    • Michael Dowd

      The Church must do a teaching about the proper formation of conscience. In my own case I do not trust my conscience when it comes to Catholic morality. If I commit a sinful act I confess it as a sinful act. I am much too subjective to determine if, while committing the act I had full knowledge or an unencumbered freedom of my will. I will let God figure that out. If I commit a sin I am in some way responsible. As a aside before I left as a novice in the Dominican Order the novice master said to all of us that he couldn’t see how a person could commit a mortal sin. Imagine that! This was in the ’50’s and now it appears most would agree with him.

      • Thomas J. Hennigan

        If you truly love God, then you will not want to offend him either by mortal sin or venial sin. This is clear teaching of many great masters of the spiritual life such as St. Ignatius Loyola and St. Teresa of Ávila. You can go to confession and confess the sins you discover and not be scrupulous about their gravity. Most people who go to confession regularly don’t have many serious sins as they are probably taking their spiritual life seriously. There are plenty of books by the saints on this. You could read “The Way of Pefection” by St. Teresa of Avila. For very good reasons the Church declared her a doctor of the Church. If you like Dominicans, then there is of course St. Thomas Aquinas.

        • Michael Dowd

          Thanks Thomas. I go to confession weekly. My practice is to confess sinful acts. I do not give consideration to whether I have full freedom of the will or any other mittigating circumstances as this is much too subjective for me. I have read all of St. Teresa’s and also St. John of the Cross plus Garigou-Lagrange and many others.
          We are all striving for selflessness and dependance on God which is the way to holiness. All of this is very difficult particularly in knowing whether you have made any progress. But, of course, we really have no other alternative than to do the best we can at this.

    • Dave Fladlien

      I almost missed this part of your comment… I really don’t think that the current popularity of homosexual behavior has anything to do with birth control. I think it is the latest miscarriage and misunderstanding of the way-over-used idea of “equality”. It’s just the latest problem resulting from “equality” instead of “equal dignity” and “equal opportunity”…

  • LAM

    On the fortieth anniversary of the release of Humanae Vitae, 25 July 2008, Cardinal
    James Francis Stafford wrote in L’Osservatore Romano that dissenters to this
    important papal document involved a level of infidelity that divided the ranks
    of clergy to such an extent that they have still not recovered: “In 1968
    something terrible happened in the Church. Within the ministerial priesthood ruptures developed everywhere among friends which never healed. And the wounds continue to affect the whole Church. The dissent, together with the leaders’ manipulation of the anger they fomented, became a supreme test. It changed fundamental relationships within the Church.”

    He went on: “Conversations among the clergy where they existed, became contaminated with fear. Suspicions among priests were chronic. The Archdiocesan priesthood lost something of the fraternal whole which these priests had known for generations.”

    This manipulation and dissent were painfully present in 2014 at the Synod on the Family.

  • kathleen

    The good priest who prepared my husband and me back in 1961 for marriage – he had us complete a questionnaire. One of the questions was about contraception. I answered honestly and indicated that I would practice birth control. He said he could not marry us in the Church and told us why. He said that God would not bless our marriage. I got the message, without reflecting on the importance of what was said. I didn’t give the Church and Her teachings a lot of thought back then. My husband and I told the priest that we would take his advice and that we would follow the Church’s teachings on marriage. We practiced NFP, then known as the “rhythm method”. I conceived right away and three months later had a miscarriage that was very serious and even life threatening with the loss of much blood, necessitating in many blood transfusions. I recovered, continued to practice NFP and conceived 6 months after my miscarriage. That pregnancy was difficult – hospital stay – best rest, etc. I gave birth to a son, continued to practice NFP, and two years later gave birth to a beautiful daughter. My daughter’s delivery was difficult, with the loss of much blood and the need for blood transfusion. After all that, and two healthy children, without really thinking much about it, or the teachings of God and His Church, I decided to practice birth control. I wish I hadn’t! It was entirely my fault that I ignored the priest’s warning and his good advice. Thanks to the mercy of God, I returned to the Church 25 years ago. The Church has it right. If only we would listen…

  • givelifeachance2

    Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body was an attempt to make the truth less “grit-your-teethy”. It is a profoundly true work in its laying out the why’s of “Thou shalt not…”, but I think people sailed away with the positive vibes and left by the curbside what they perceived as the negative implications of chastity, etc. Christopher West’s lionization of Hugh Hefner and demonization of the imagined “prudes” upholding chastity doubled down on this tendency and did the Church no favor.

    • Bill Beckman

      I think you overestimate the damage done by CWest’s gaffe. The bigger problem is the failure of dioceses and parishes to incorporate the Theology of the Body into marriage preparation and into long-term catechesis on marriage and sexuality in schools and parish RE. Moreover, those approaches will not do much good unless they are rooted in a kerygmatic proclamation and call to conversion. We’ve got “check the box” programs which seldom lead to real discipleship.

  • Kano Hansen

    Lambeth and its wreckage. Such mischief caused by a group of Englishmen dressed up as Catholic bishops.

    It appears that we are in for yet another tumble this time with men dressed up as – and who are – Catholic bishops. Unlike Lambeth which is history, this can still be stopped if the countrymen of Luther can be brought to heel. Is there something in the water?

    • Howard

      Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof. There is too much worry and too little constructive being done.

  • Gsimjohnston

    LAM: Yes, most diocesan clergy went AWOL on this moral teaching. The problem began well before 1968, when Humanae Vitae was issued. The neo-scholastic manuals used in seminaries did not give future priests helpful grounding on this issue. Seminarians were presented with a self-closed neo-Thomist system: you push a button and get an answer. (This was not the fault of Saint Thomas, by the way.) The rethinking of Catholic moral theology by Ratzinger, Pinckaers, Hildebrand, and others–along with Saint John Paul II’s ‘theology of the body” –has given the Church the opportunity to re-articulate the teaching. The question is how many directors of Catholic marriage preparation programs are paying attention.

    • mangdiego

      And when the clergy went AWOL, the “faithful” followed “their conscience.” They were well in their comfort zone up until when Humanae Vitae came out. Then all hell broke loose, these “faithful” became a revolted lot. I could imagine them saying, “Well, you let us do this for years, and now you tell us it’s sinful?” I’m afraid the same thing will happen with same-sex marriage, if it is not happening already.

    • Thomas J. Hennigan

      These days there are plenty of good manuals of Moral Theology in English, for instance the one by Germain Grisez, who is a layman and totally faithful to the teaching of the Church.

  • Rosemary

    Certainly our conscience should guide us but we are charged with making sure that it is a well-formed conscience – not a self-serving one. A couple who uses NFP for expedient purposes is also practicing with an attitude that is disordered to nature.

    Humanae Vitae is an excellent guide for those whose consciences are shaky on this. Pope Paul VI was very clear on the difference between abstaining with an attitude of charity and generosity, and abstaining for personal gain. It’s a challenge that goes right to the core of how we see ourselves and who we really are – or who we pretend to be. Contraception takes that hope of self-knowledge and turns it into self-delusion by way of obscuring our true motives for practicing the contraception in the first place. With contraception we may ostensible appear to be “grown ups”, when the reality is that we think that God is just, well, not just, and certainly cannot be trusted. With contraception and other technologies, we can act like grown ups without actually being grown ups.

  • Dave Fladlien

    Sim, I think we have several discussions going on at once here.

    I am of the almost unalterable position that conscience is a formed judgment, not an opinion, and it requires application of the virtue, the gift of the Holy Spirit that is always omitted by the Christian churches, namely discernment of spirits. It seems the churches want unreasoned obedience to their positions, and the laity want to avoid the hard work of discernment, so they enter into an unholy alliance to shut out that virtue, and to shut out the Holy Spirit thereby. So they are then left choosing to blindly follow religion, or blindly follow personal opinion, neither of which can be morally justified in my opinion. But I do believe that after someone has done the research and discernment, that he/she must follow that conscience, and I think the Catholic Church teaches exactly that.

    • kathleen

      We must follow an informed conscience as taught by the Holy Scriptures, especially the Gospels, and the teachings of Holy Mother Church. Anything other than that is misleading and wrong.

    • veritasetgratia

      Regarding how to ‘form’ our conscience to be in sync with the Holy Spirit and how an erroneous conscience is formed, read online CONSCIENCE AND TRUTH Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger Presented at the 10th Workshop for Bishops February 1991 Dallas, Texas. This essay was an eyeopener for me. He says, whilst yes we must follow our conscience but pity help us if we have formed our conscience to become erroneous over time, because in following an erroneous conscience our guilt is established and we are guilty before God. This is the best article on the subject of Conscience i have ever read. Why the Catholic world was not flooded with educational material on this after 1991, beats me!

  • Paul Vander Voort

    Pastoral care and follow your conscience, that could end up being a scary combination.

  • John Hinshaw

    Another example of “pastoral care” being used to keep uncomfortable Church representatives (clergy, theologians, laity in marriage preparation, etc.) from having to walk with people through their difficulties with God. In all these years, how is it we don’t hear of any couples being “pastorally” supported through their confusion to the warm embrace of their fertility by Christ? I remember the book of Fr. Champlin from my own marriage preparation and it was considered more thoughtful than most other available publications. But, I saw what you saw, even then.

  • Burger Fan

    Maybe another part of the problem is that many people simply have unrealistic expectations about marriage going into it. Our culture paints sex as only about pleasure, and most people are primarily formed by the culture nowadays, to the point where I think many married people are maybe a little frightened and shocked when sexual and marital sacrifices begin to present themselves. Contraception has really created false expectations in our culture about sexual relationships. We’ve lost sight of the notion that there is a different kind of joy in the midst of sacrifice. It doesn’t come naturally to us to know this, especially if we’ve been formed by the culture around us (and who isn’t?). So it may seem like a downer, but maybe more emphasis on the sacrificial aspects of sex and marriage would put expectations more realistic right from the start. Not just in marriage prep, but in educating everybody in the Church on the Christian understanding of sex and marriage, to counteract the false expectations of the culture. I know it is tricky because the enemies of the Church are always looking for an opportunity for Christianity to be portrayed as “not fun”, so we have to be wise and thoughtful and speak carefully. But I think the truth is that to get to the true joy we have to sacrifice, and also that some may have to sacrifice more than others depending on God’s plan for each one of us. Just knowing what to realistically expect could be really helpful and make conscience formation easier, and people less resistant to it.

    • Dave Fladlien

      You make another very good point, but in my part of the world the Catholic Church at times tends to deify sacrifice and suffering, and I think that is wrong too. We definitely need realistic expectations and balance, but those are, as you seem to point out, especially hard to come by in the environments (both church and secular) in which we live. Seems to me that today nearly everyone is pushing their own position, forgetting to seek balance and honesty first. This happens in many places, but maybe none more blatantly than in matters of human sexuality. My 2 cents…

  • Thankfully Fr. Champlin in the quote used stated that “there is no easy resolution of that matter…”
    In light of the sexual revolution that was in force when Humanae Vitae was written it was inevitable that theologians would dissent. And the Winnipeg Statement from the Canadian bishops didn’t help matters and it was never officially rebuked by Rome.
    Mr. Johnston seems to believe decisions were made by Catholic couples based on happiness in their sexual lives as opposed to economic realities or abusive relationships or the health of a mother. If we believe that a couple approaches the altar in a mature state and that God does indeed bless the marriage then I believe it is safe to assume that a couple would consult the moral doctrine of the Church before making a decision in good conscience.
    Many couples may also have decided that “we are the ones having the babies” so the Church should trust that any use of contraception was not done so lightly or just to pursue sexual happiness.
    And sadly since the sixties we have witnessed the clerical sexual abuse crisis in the Church which has certainly tainted the Church’s authority to speak on sexual matters in the hearts of many faithful Catholics.
    Patrick.

    • Thomas J. Hennigan

      Do you mean to say that what the Church teaches which is the truth and based on what Jesus himself taught is something which can be considered optional? “Follow your conscience” is a buzz word for saying that you do whatever you want. Catholics can only form their consciences by guiding them according to what the Church Magisterium teaches, as Jesus established things this way. Haven’t martyrs always followed their consciences and made the most heroic sacrifices? If everyone can decide for himself what is right and wrong, then that means that the teaching of Jesus in the Gospel is no use and everyone can do as he or she pleases. Thi sis the Protestan principle and it has resulted in 39,000 Protestant sects. IT IS NOT CATHOLIC AND THEREFORE NOT IN ACCORDANCE WITH WHAT JESUS TAUGHT.
      As for contraception, it is a lie, as the very act of sexual union is saying basically that each one of them is for the other and gives himself or herself to the others withouth physical or chemical blockages which deny the very nature of human sexuality and it smbolizes the love and self-giving of Christ for his Church as St. Paul explains in Ephesians 5,22-32..
      I invite you to read Fr. Paul Quay’s, The meaing of Human Sexuality in order to help you undestand what human sexuality is all about and why the Church teaches everything it teaches about the matter. There he states regariding contraception: “Here also there is a withholding; a barrier is placed to the gift of all one’s self. Although one is going through the motions of love and even though there may be a genuine urgeing and prompting by love, yet by imposition of this barrier of attachment to sin or shame to acept forgiveness, whatever love may be pesent is rendered fruitless and inefficacious. For in Communion God not only gives us all but asks all from us. So also, the contracepting partner withholds the pecreative pwoer of love and thus knowingly refuses the total gift of himself. Barring the creaturely conditions for God’s creating new life, and eve as the impenitent communicant bars the creturely conditions for God’s recreating the supernatural life, he symbolizes a violation of wht is holy and commits something akin to sacrilege”. (p 81). You could also enlighten yourslef with all the teaching of St, John Paul II on the matter.

      By the way, what has this to do with the failure of some priests and the scandal caused by them? The Holy Catholic Church is much moe than any of this and it comes from Jesus Christ, through the apostles, martyrs and saints throughout the ages, whose example we have to follow, not rationalize and exusce our sins due to the sins of some ministers of the Church. This is a fallacious argument.

      Since God does not require of anyone what is imposssible, as this would be saying that he is some kind of a tryant, Catholics should put their trust in God’s grace and where necessary apply the modern and efficacious methods of Natural Family Planning, such as the Billings method, which are approved by the Church and not convert themselves practically into Protestants who think they have no need for the guidance of the Church which Jesus established when he said to the Apostles “He who hears you, hears me”.

  • bernie

    Bishop James Conley of Lincoln NE issued a Pastoral Letter in March 2014 entitled “The Language
    of Love”. Please, everyone read it. It so good, so Catholic, so positive, so helpful and so clear that it deserves, in my opinion, to be at the top of everyone’s reading list. It is available on the Net with a quick search of his name.

  • Thomas J. Hennigan. Perhaps you should read my post again. For example “the Winnipeg Statement from the Canadian bishops didn’t help matters…” I was giving examples of what may have been guiding Catholic couples during those turbulent times in the sixties up to the present day. I wasn’t denying or not denouncing teachings of the Church. And as Fr. Champlin said these are difficult decisions not whims for faithful Catholics.
    Have you never in your life had to ask for help from the Holy Spirit in guiding you and your conscience in making a decision based on your real life experiences and the teachings of the Church?
    Patrick.

    • Fr Kloster

      Mr. Sheahan, the teaching is very clear. The Holy Spirit has spoken (past tense). Read the catechism. Any decision between Catholic couples absolutely eliminates the possibility of using contraception. No amount of moral gymnastics from any corner changes that fact.

  • bernie

    So much of this discussion seems to be about NFP, as in, marriage is Not For Propagation, except on my terms. Christ is the light of the world but when he shines his light he creates shadows. Some want to stay in the shadows and debate things forever. Its easier than accepting the light since it is harder instead to convert our hearts. In earlier days of the Church, and even up to more modern times, before pills and systems, two words played a bigger part in married life. They still represent the spiritual dimension. They are “generosity” and “continence” (not a calculated generosity or a calculated continence). Today, “me” is their substitute. When elements within our Church pushed love and friendship into a position of equal importance to propagation, the victims were the children, followed quickly by the rise in the divorce rate, but not before real virtue went out the window first. Someday, a remnant of the Church will consist of those who had children with a generous heart. Note too that “generous” is not a number, it is a state of heart.

    • Bill Beckman

      Perfect! Thanks. Generous-hearted means open to life. Simply, L’chaim and shalom, never forgetting the source of both.

      • bernie

        Yes, but loved, not just tolerated

  • eddie too

    I think all moral teaching revolves around the Lord’s teaching that only the “pure of heart” will see God. as I understand the concept of the “pure of heart”, it refers to the new commandment given us directly by the Lord, that we love one another as He (Jesus) has loved us. this begs the question, how has Jesus loved us? He loved us without reservation and without any consideration for Himself. He loved us in this manner always and everywhere. thus, the Church’s teachings on human sexuality ( as well as its other moral teachings) revolve around how we, the faithful, are to become “pure of heart”. it revolves around loving others as Jesus has loved us, without reservation, without any self-interest, always and everywhere.
    the Church’s teachings on artificial contraception are based on the married couple’s free giving of themselves to each other in the procreative act without reservation and without self-interest, always and everywhere. why? because that is the path to eternal life. that is what it means to be “pure of heart”, to love one another as He has loved us. the Church cannot change its teaching on the morality of artificial contraception because its use is a definitive (although it may well be temporary) step away from being “pure of heart” which is the desired and ultimate destination God has for every human soul.
    of course, most of us, if not all of us, are “practicing catholics”. that very term implies that most of us, if not all of us, have not yet become perfect in heart and mind always and everywhere. we are not yet “pure of heart”. we are not yet loving as Jesus loved us. but, instead of these missteps meaning that we can stop trying, it means that we must repeatedly repent of the times where we acted contrary to the teachings of Jesus. it never means that the teachings of Jesus are wrong or non-applicable. that is also why, when the possibility of pregnancy is considered a death sentence (if that is possible and I do not know the possibility because I am not a qualified obstetrician), the moral decision is abstinence.