Can anyone claim whether to use contraception is merely a matter of conscience?
Is it enough to think it over, or even to pray about it?
So long as each person deliberates on the topic, is their decision to use birth control just as moral as not to use it?
Many Christians these days would argue yes. A majority of Christians, and sadly a majority of Catholics, use contraception as it is. Is this proof Catholics and other Christians are free to use birth control?
Someone can think long and hard on a topic and still arrive at the wrong answer.
FATHER JOHN HARDEN EXPLAINS
In his famous article, “Contraception: Fatal to the Faith,” Fr. John Hardon explains why contraception contradicts morality.
“[T]he deliberate practice of contraception between husband and wife is objectively a mortal sin,” he states clearly.
Fr. Hardon points out it is not enough to claim to be Catholic. “They may profess to be Catholics. But their conduct belies their profession.”
The Jesuit priest breaks it down in a syllogism this way:
“+ The Catholic Church teaches infallible doctrine, both in faith and morals.
+ This infallible teaching is done by the Church’s extraordinary and by her ordinary universal authority or magisterium.
+ The grave sinfulness of contraception is taught infallibly by the Church’s ordinary universal teaching authority.
+ Therefore, those who defend contraception forfeit their claim to being professed Catholics.
+ Consequently, those who persist in their defense of contraception, deprive themselves of the divine graces which are reserved to bona fide members of the Roman Catholic Church.”
Simple enough, really.
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH TEACHES AUTHORITATIVELY ON FAITH AND MORALS
Fr. Hardon goes on to defend the Catholic Church’s teaching authority. It alone was established by Christ Himself to teach objectively in Christ’s name here on earth.
The priest born in Pennsylvania goes on to break down the two forms of infallible teaching the Catholic Church maintains.
The first is when a pope declares something ex cathedra. That is, “from the seat,” or “from the chair.” This has occurred twice in human history.
A second, much more common form of infallible teaching remains. It too is binding on all Catholics to be believed to be saved.
“But the Church also teaches infallibly whenever her bishops, united with the Pope, proclaim that something is to be accepted by all the faithful,” the late priest illuminates.
In other words, if all the bishops are in agreement on a particular matter of faith or morals, in accord with the pope, then that teaching is binding on all Catholics.
Among the teachings in this category remains the prohibition on using contraception.
He goes on from there to show that the Catholic Church has prohibited contraception use since its origin.
The Jesuit priest elaborates, “What do we call the Church’s unbroken tradition in forbidding contraception? We call it her ordinary universal magisterium or teaching authority. This has always been considered a proof of infallibility, or from another perspective, irreversibility.”
To put the great priest’s words a different way: the Catholic Church has taught contraception is gravely immoral from its founding. This teaching has never changed and could never change.
IS CONTRACEPTION USE A MORTAL SIN?
Fr. Hardon makes an interesting admittance near the beginning of his article.
He says some people may use birth control, but not be guilty of a sin.
Whoa! How can this be?
For someone to be culpable for their wrongdoing, they must have knowledge of the sinful nature of their act. It is possible someone could have never been told.
On top of needing full knowledge, two other requirements must be met for someone to be guilty of a mortal sin. One, the act itself must be gravely immoral. As Fr. Hardon has made clear, contraception use certainly qualifies.
The last requirement for guilt of a mortal sin is full consent of the will. In other words, you must know it is wrong and still choose to do it anyway.
For anyone who didn’t know contraception use was a grave sin, they do now, after reading this article.
If all these criteria are met, then yes, a Catholic can be guilty of mortal sin by using contraception so as to avoid a pregnancy.
As well, we did not address it particularly in this post, but I have covered it in the past. That is, we all have knowledge of the sinful nature of using contraception by way of the Natural Law.
So, going back to the original question: can someone’s use of contraception be simply a matter of conscience decision-making?
I am not sure how anyone can make that claim. Clearly God considers contraception a mortal sin (Genesis 38 and the Sin of Onan). Does God really not care whether someone practices a mortal sin?
I imagine people will want to weigh in on the question of birth control use as a matter of conscience.
Please share your thoughts below!