Catholic Church’s Position on Birth Control

My Google Alerts for the subject of “overpopulation” are always filled with articles, op-ed pieces and blog postings from the Philippines.  I don’t usually pay them much mind since I barely have time to deal with items in the U.S.  But this article is noteworthy because it’s a pretty good summary of the Church’s position on birth control and reveals some little known facts about just how close the church came to approving birth control and population management during Vatican II in the 1960’s.  Before I go further, as a frame of reference, you should know that the Philipines is a very densely populated and poor country, with 717 people per square mile and a per capita GDP of only $5,000 (compared to a population density of only 83 people per square mile and a per capita GDP of $40,000 in the U.S.).  So it’s only natural that they are very concerned about the subject of overpopulation. 

Here’s a brief summary of the Church’s current postion on birth control:

Although the Catholic Church believes that sexual intercourse should only be engaged in by heterosexual married couples for the purpose of procreation and never for recreation, the Church does not oppose birth control. But the Church will only support the natural family planning (NFP) method of birth control.

The article includes an excellent example of how overpopulation is perpetuated by those ignorant of its causes and effects: 

Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources Lito Atienza, an avowed devout Roman Catholic and head of Pro-Life Philippines, believes that a population boom will pave the way for prosperity, and birth rates will drop as a by-product of wealth.

It’s difficult to imagine that there are those in power, supposedly educated people, who still believe such things – that we can escape the effects of overpopulation by further expanding it. 

Now here’s the part that I think is important for all Catholics to read:

… the Roman Catholic Church was very close to changing its moral position on sex and birth control when the Second Vatican Council was convened in the early 1960s to reexamine church teaching on this issue. Began by Pope John XXIII, and continued by his successor, Pope Paul VI, the Vatican created a Papal Commission on Population and Birth Control, composed of 15 cardinals and bishops and 64 lay experts representing a variety of disciplines.

After a two-year exhaustive study, the Papal Commission voted decisively, 69 to 10, to change the Church’s anachronistic position on birth control. Unfortunately, the minority report was written by the Polish archbishop, Karol Wojtyla, who later became Pope John Paul II. When he became Pope, he adopted his own report and rejected any change in the Church’s position.

In his minority report, Archbishop Wojtyla warned: “If it should be declared that contraception is not evil in itself, then we should have to concede frankly that the Holy Spirit had been on the side of the Protestant churches in 1930.” It should likewise have to be admitted that for half a century the Spirit failed to protect the Catholic hierarchy from a very serious error.

This would mean that the leaders of the Church, acting with extreme imprudence, had condemned thousands of innocent human acts, forbidding, under pain of eternal damnation, a practice which would now be sanctioned.

Face and Papal infallibility trumped all other considerations.

Thus, the Church’s current position on birth control is a matter of saving face for the Church.  But as the problems of the world intensify – food and energy shortages, environmental degradation and ever-rising unemployment and poverty – is the Church’s attempt at saving face being trumped by a growing perception that it’s still mired in the Dark Ages? 


3 Responses to Catholic Church’s Position on Birth Control

  1. […] Church came to supporting the practice of contraception as an outcome of Vatican II.  (See Catholic Church’s Position on Birth Control.)  Even though the Papal Commission voted overwhelmingly to approve the  use of contraception, it […]

  2. Fred Miller says:

    Dear Sirs,

    I have formulated a conclusion that I think proves that birth-control is evil. I did my own thinking on this and I would like to present it to you for your critique. With that said, I will proceed.

    I would like to start by presenting two definitions from Marian Webster’s 1974 dictionary.

    1. Coitus: Physical union of male and female genitalia accompanied by rhythmic movements leading to the ejaculation of semen from the penis into the female reproductive tract.

    2. Sodomy: 2nd: Non-coital and especially anal or oral copulation with a member of the opposite sex.

    This means that anything that is non-coitus, anything from masturbation to oral sex, is sodomy. I might add here, that, in that we have different degrees of murder, we might also have different degrees of sodomy. Therefore, I can conclude that, with the two definitions above, all homosexuals sodomites, but not all sodomites are homosexual, some sodomites are heterosexual.

    This means that a married Christian man and wife, who perform anything but coitus, are practicing sodomy. The usual justification of this is that “The Marriage Bed is Undefiled.”

    When God condemned homosexuality God condemned sex. By condemning homosexuality, the only thing about sex that was not condemned was coitus, the only thing that homosexuals cannot do; it is an impossibility to them.

    If God condemned everything a homosexual does in sex, He, therefore, condemns the homosexual’s reason for having sex. Since sodomy is defined as non-coitus, coitus is the only thing God can approve of. Therefore, coitus is the only justification of having sex , hence, since this leads to procreation, procreation is the only justification for engaging in sex.

    In other words, the homosexual’s only justification for having sex is recreation and, since homosexuals perform sex for recreation, recreational sex has been condemned by God when He condemned homosexuality.

    If this is true, then birth control has to be condemned as sodomy, since engaging in sex while practicing birth control is only for pleasure. And, as was pointed out above, the only purpose for sex is procreation. Engaging is sex for pleasure is the same reason homosexuals engage in sex. God condemned everything a homosexual does; non-coitus and its reasons for engaging in it, recreation, is condemned.

    Condemning abortion without condemning birth control is hypocritical. Abortion is just another form of birth control. It is a product of relativistic morality. Before condemning abortion, one should consider the morality of birth control. Is birth control evil? If it is, then abortion is evil, first of all because it is birth control, secondly, because it is murder. Basically, people who practice birth control are in the same category as people who practice abortion, both produce barrenness and both have sex for pleasure only. It is only the means that are different. It is commonly concluded that the ends do not justify the means, however, does the means justify the end? So, since the “pill” is non-violent, it is OK, reminds me of the argument of the woman propositioned by the wealthy man. After accepting his offer of a million dollars for use of her body, he changed his offer to only $25. She protested by saying what kind of a woman do you think I am. With which he responded by saying that we have already determined that, now all we have to do is settle on the price.

    Christians have already determined that they want birth control, but some of them think that abortion is too high a price for it.

    Both abortion and chemical birth control result in the same end: Childlessness. And barrenness is its own punishment. Birth control, along with divorce, has destroy the family. Our fear of Islam is justified, they have sex for procreation, they have large families, and, in another 30 years, we will all be Muslims because we have sex for recreation.

    Fred Miller

  3. Pete Murphy says:

    Fred, I certainly won’t be able to sway such fervently held beliefs, so I make the following comments not in an effort to do so, but for the benefit of other readers.

    First of all, when you list the various things that God condemns, it would be helpful to cite the biblical passage you have in mind. Otherwise, it’s impossible to question the interpretation.

    Secondly, you say that “when God condemned homosexuality God condemned sex.” But you then go on to exempt “coitus.” I don’t follow the logic there. Coitus is an act of sex. How do you conclude that He exempted coitus?

    You equate birth control and abortion. Abortion is one means of birth control, but certainly not the only one. Although my post used the term “birth control” in discussing the Church’s near-acceptance of the practice, it was intended to cover contraception and exclude abortion.

    When it comes to population, you have to ask yourself what God really intended. Clearly, He didn’t intend for our population to grow infinitely. Otherwise, He wouldn’t have put us on a finite planet. He gave us the procreative capacity necessary for our survival as a species in our early history, when the death rate was sky high and life expectancy was somewhere around 30. But He also gave us the intellectual capacity to improve our lives, reduce our death rate and extend our life expectancy. I doubt that anyone would argue that it’s a sin to use our intellect in that way.

    Then does He not also expect us to use that same intellect to rein in that procreative capacity (in an ethical manner), once it’s no longer needed? Otherwise, since He has clearly placed limits on the planet that prevent never-ending growth, His plan would be that we arrive back at the same point, where a high death rate is what brings growth to a halt. I believe He does expect us to use our intellect to prevent that. It then becomes a matter of what’s ethical.

    It’s difficult to believe that God is so petty and hair-splitting that He would see abstinence acceptable as a method for reining in that procreative capacity, but not artificial means of contraception. The end result is the same and no one is hurt. It can be argued that abortion is a different matter. In that case, a life has been created and whether or not it’s ethical to end it is another issue altogether.

    Denial that our population could ever grow to a point where natural forces would bring growth to a halt isn’t an answer. It can. If you don’t understand that, some simple physics might help – like the fact that human flesh is mostly water and there’s only a finite amount of water on the planet. That’s a ridiculous extreme, but it illustrates the point. So if God intends for our population to stabilize at some point anyway, wouldn’t He want us to stabilize it at a level where all people can enjoy a decent standard of living, instead of letting it grow to the point where all live in squalor, a condition already reached in places like Bangladesh?

    My conclusion is that God intends for us to stabilize our population. It’s then up to man to use his free will to decide how and at which point it should happen. My goal is to promote the idea that there’s an economic factor at work that says we need to stabilize it below a level at which unemployment and poverty start the process of making our lives miserable once again.

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