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John Wayne's Holster: Celebrating 40 Years of Hypocrisy
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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Celebrating 40 Years of Hypocrisy

Photo Credit: Bennetton Talk

This year (2008), the Catholic Church is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the publication of Humanae vitae - a papal encyclical released by Pope Paul VI which outlined the “Church’s teaching on birth control and the sanctity of human life as properly contained within the marital relationship”.

Essentially, HV reaffirmed the Church’s position that the use of all forms of artificial birth control, such as condoms, are immoral. They justify their position on the grounds that such acts are contraceptive. According to HV, contraception is defined as, “any action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act [sexual intercourse], or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” (HV 14). In other words, every conjugal act must be open to the possibility of creating life.

Since the time of its publication, HV has often been the center of a great deal of controversy and criticism, from both Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Many feel that the Church has no right to intrude on activities that take place between two married persons in the privacy of their own bedroom. Others feel that it is precisely these kinds of issues where the guidance of the Church is sorely needed. In recent years, secular opposition has increased in light of the spread of HIV, as well as other STDs.

I will leave the argument about condoms and the spread of AIDS for another time. That is a completely different issue that is focused on disease prevention, and more often than not occurs in a context outside the marital relationship. Arguments about contraceptives and extra-marital affairs will also not be addressed here – at least not directly. Similarly, post-conceptual means of birth control, for which there can be no moral justification, will not be discussed.

The issue that I would like to address is that of the use of artificial contraceptives within the confines of marriage. Essentially, the Church teaches that, “…each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life.” (HV 11). Having said that, the Church recognizes that there is more to sex than just having kids. Accordingly, the so-called “marriage act” has a two-fold significance, the unitive significance and the procreative significance. As such, “…the fundamental nature of the marriage act, while uniting husband and wife in the closest intimacy, also renders them capable of generating new life.” (HV 12).

Okay, fair enough. The Church has clearly stated its position, and backed it up with sound principles based on natural law. Or have they?

Certainly, I think one could argue that any sexual act, even within the context of marriage, that treats the sex partner as a mere object, or a vehicle by which one obtains self-pleasure, is immoral. Similarly, a relationship that treats a spouse as an incubator for growing children should also be viewed as such. But what about a loving relationship wherein a couple wants to limit the number of children they conceive, either for economic or health reasons. Or perhaps to devote the proper amount of time to the children they already have. Is it really responsible parenthood to continue to churn out child after child after child? Or is a couple wishing to limit their family size supposed to avoid all manners of sexual relations in order to remain moral?

In order to address this problem, the Church has created “something” that, in my opinion, is a loop-hole. They have cloaked this escape chute with shallow academic sophistry. As such, they have severely contradicted themselves and exposed the inherent errors in HV’s core teaching. That “something” is Natural Family Planning, or NFP.

NFP essentially states that, “…married people may then take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile, thus controlling birth.” (HV 16). This clearly is a contradiction of HV 12, which expounds on the so-called inseparable nature of the unitive and procreative aspects of the marriage act. Moreover, by limiting sexual intercourse to naturally infertile times, one is clearly intending to avoid conception. In other words, such acts, by their very nature, are contraceptive. There are no two ways about it!

Self-righteously, the Church responds to such criticism of NFP by maintaining that it is natural, and therefore good. Because no artificial barriers are used, it is said that those practicing NFP still remain open to the possibility of conception. However, it should be pointed out that Church proponents of the NFP have long promoted its use over other artificial means by pointing out its superior effectiveness of 98-99%. Condoms and other artificial means, as have been shown by multiple studies, are less effective than NFP. Under these terms, it can be logically argued that sex with condoms or diaphragms remains more open to the possibility of conception than sex as prescribed by NFP guidelines.

Those not wishing to engage in the “nature” argument have claimed that the Church’s teachings on NFP are misunderstood. They point out that NFP is not intended for routine use by couples, but rather should only be used for “just reasons”, whatever that means.

I think it should be readily apparent to any unbiased reader that these responses from the Church are nothing more than syllogistic slights-of-hand. The Church can dress the issue up any way they like, but the intentions of both the artificial and "natural" actions are the same. The means don’t justify the end. The whole story is reminiscent of the way the Church repackaged divorce, and resold it as annulment.

That being said, I think something about the nature of the argument gets lost when statistics and numbers start get tossed around. The focus of the original argument is birth control, and whether its use is to be considered licit or illicit. If the Church wishes to remain consistent, then the answer is quite clear.

When you boil it all down, the goal of NFP, like that of condom use, is to avoid pregnancy. As such, if the use of condoms and such devices is illicit, then the practice of NFP must also be deemed illicit. If on the other hand, the Church recognizes that couples may have legitimate reasons for limiting the number of children they wish to conceive, then they must make allowance for contraceptive methods that are practiced within the confines of a loving relationship and that do not harm existing life.


At 9:22 AM, Anonymous David Lally said...

Wait a second...does that mean I can use the "Fleshlight" without a condom?

At 2:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would not have made comments like these....BECAUSE.....When you least expect it.........THE OFFICERS OF THE SPANISH INQUISITION WILL DRAG YOU FROM YOUR BED SOME DREARY NIGHT.


At 5:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you have twisted this to suit yourself. In NFP the two purposes of the marriage act are not separated. If you cannot use the procreative purpose then nor do couples use the unitive. They abstain. Ends do not justify means. I can intend to lose weight - I can cut back on my food or I can eat as much as I like and then make myself vomit. the two are not the same morally. So even if the intention is the same i.e. to postpone pregnancy, the means of doing that, abstaining in the fertile time or using artificial contraception are not the same morally. what a blessing Humanae vitae has been on marriage for those who worked to understand it.

At 9:27 PM, Anonymous Joe Verica said...

Dear Anon

I beg to differ, but I am not twisting anything here. You need to stop using the fire God gave you to burn incense all day, and use it for something else.

If you read HV carefully, you will recall that contraception is defined as "any action which... proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible”

Just what exactly is being proposed by limiting sexual relations to infertile periods? What is the intent of NFP practioners?

All this non-sense about the act being open to the possibility of conception is just that - nonsense. The Chruch can not hide behind such sophisty.

And just for the record, I have not agenda to promote the use of condoms. I have never, and will never, use them. The point of my blog posting was simply to point out the inherent contradictions of HV and NFP.

At 4:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And you are calling 'abstaining' an action????? Since that paragraph comes after statements on abortion and sterilization it is clear that it is artificial means that are being referred to here i.e. putting on a condom, popping a pill etc.These are 'intrinsically disordered ACTs' i.e immoral. the moral use of rhythms created by God himself is not a disordered action. There are no contradictions. Pray about it!

At 5:54 PM, Anonymous Joe Verica said...

Dear Anon

For starters, this debate is not intended to be personal. If I came across that way, I apologize. That being said...

Last time I checked, abstain was a verb (i.e action word), and it is NOT equivalent to doing nothing. It requires active participation of the person abstaining. The intent of such action is to avoid pregnancy. In addition, by actually engaging in sexual relations during infertile times, one is directly intending to avoid conception.

In regards to condoms, etc and intrinsically disordered acts, I won't argue that point - that is why I never use them. And I am not calling for their use either. What I am pointing out is that the act of abstaining (and it IS an act), as well as that of confining relations to infertile periods, are, according to the Church's own definition, contraceptive. As such, they are also intrinsically disordered.

At 5:59 PM, Anonymous Joe Verica said...

Dear Anon

Do you have a blog? If so, I would like to read it.


At 6:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

sorry I don't have a blog! In fact you might like to know how I stumbled across yours - I was searching google for an illustration to go on my ticket for a dinner celebrating humanae vitae! The pic of condoms came up and I was curious! yes OK I do agree abstaining is theoretically an action but a MORAL action (I know NFP can be used selfishly which is akin to contraception)NFP does not place a barrier to conception nor does it make the processes of conception dysfunctional which artificial methods do. So I disagree that you can call moral NFP use either contraceptive or disordered. Couples should of course pray about whether to postpone or invite a pregnancy.


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