CONTRACEPTION: FATAL TO THE FAITH
by Fr. John Hardon
This must seem like a strange title, “Contraception: Fatal to the faith.” What does the title mean? Does it mean that to believe in contraception is contrary to the faith? Or does it mean that-Christian believers may not practice contraception? Or does it mean that those who practice contraception are in danger of losing their faith?
Please be more clear on just what we mean when we say, “contraception, fatal to the faith?”
What do we mean by the title and what is the thesis of this presentation? We mean that professed Catholics who practice contraception either give up the practice of contraception or they give up their Catholic faith.
Needless to say, this is a startling statement that many would violently disagree with. They will point out the widespread practice of contraception among many–some would say the majority of professed Catholics in a country like the United States. They will quote from numerous professedly Catholic moral theologians openly defending contraception. They will give you the pronouncements of whole conferences of bishops who claim that contraception is really a matter of conscience. Those who sincerely believe that contraception is morally permissible may not be told they are doing wrong; they may not be debarred from receiving Holy Communion; in fact, they need not even have to confess the practice of contraception when they go to confession.
We return to where we began, to make clear what we are saying. We affirm in this conference that the deliberate practice of contraception between husband and wife is objectively a mortal sin. Those who persist in its practice are acting contrary to the explicit teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. They may protest that they are Catholic. They may profess
to be Catholics. But their conduct belies their profession.
Someone may object that we are living in a contraceptive society. Moreover, the silence of so many bishops and the overt teaching of so many nominally Catholic moralists defending contraception forbids our saying that contraception and the Catholic faith are incompatible.
In the light of all the foregoing, let me address myself to the following topics which collectively prove the underlying thesis of this
+ 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.
THE CHURCH TEACHES INFALLIBLY ON FAITH AND MORALS
There is some value in explaining that the Church’s infallibility covers not only doctrines that are to be believed, like Christ’s divinity or His Real Presence in the Eucharist. No, the Church also, and with emphasis, also teaches infallibly what the followers of Christ are to do.
In His final commission to the Apostles, Jesus told them to teach all nations, “to observe all that I have commanded you.”
To mention just one infallible teaching in the moral order: the permanence of the marriage bond. Emphatically, the Church’s irreversible doctrines include truths that we are obliged to believe. But they also include precepts that we are universally bound to obey.
This deserves to be emphasized. Why? Because there are nominally Catholic writers who are claiming that the Church’s gift of infallibility extends only to her teaching of the faith. It does not, so the claim goes, include grave moral obligations like the prohibition of adultery, sodomy or contraception. That is not true.
TWO FORMS OF INFALLIBLE TEACHING
What are the two ways in which the Church teaches infallibly? She does so whenever the Pope solemnly defines a dogma of the faith, as when in 1950 Pope Pius XII declared that Our Lady was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.
But the Church also teaches infallibly whenever her bishops, united with the Pope, proclaim that something is to be accepted by all the faithful. Thus abortion was condemned as murder by the Catholic hierarchy, under the Pope, already in the first century of the Christian era–and ever since.
It is therefore infallibly true that abortion is a crime of willful homicide. So, too, the grave sinfulness of homosexuality is infallible Catholic teaching.
INFALLIBLY TRUE THAT CONTRACEPTION IS A MORTAL SIN
We return to where we began, to the subject of contraception. It is infallible Catholic doctrine that contraception is a mortal sin? Yes!
How do we know? We know this from the twenty centuries of the Catholic Church’s teaching. Already in the first century, those who professed the Catholic Faith did not practice either contraception or abortion, which were commonly linked together.
The people of the pagan Roman Empire into which they were born universally practiced
+ Cohabitation of one man with either several legal wives, or with a plurality of concubines
In contrast with this moral promiscuity, Christians practiced monogamy, one man with one woman; they did not use drugs to prevent conception; they did not kill the newborn children whom they did not want to live; they did not practice sodomy or prostitution; and for the Christian, adultery and fornication were grave sins that might require several years of penitential expiation.
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.
What do these two terms mean?
+ Infallibility means that God protects the Church from error in her 2000 years of teaching that contraception is a grave sin against God.
+ Irreversibility means that this teaching will never be reversed. Contraception will remain a grave sin until the end of time.
TO DEFEND CONTRACEPTION FORFEITS THE CATHOLIC FAITH
As Christianity expanded, the inevitable happened. Once professed Christians lapsed into their former paganism.
We read in the first three centuries about the thousands of Christians who chose to be thrown to the lions, or beheaded, or crucified–rather than conform to the pagan immorality that was so prevalent in the culture in which they lived.
It is possible to misunderstand the Age of Martyrs of the first three centuries of the Christian era. We are liable to associate professing the Christian faith by refusing to drop a grain of incense before a statue of one of the pagan gods. No, the issue was much deeper and more serious. To be a Christian meant to refuse to conform to the pagan morality of those who did not believe in Christ. To be a Christian meant to reject the pagan immorality of the contemporary world–at the heart of which was the practice of contraception.
THE SITUATION IN THE MODERN WORLD
Contraception as a general practice is a recent innovation in the western nominally Christian world.
Its rise is partly explained by the medical discovery of drugs which either prevent conception, or which destroy the unborn child in its mother’s womb.
But the rise of contraception is mainly the result of a widespread propaganda by women like Margaret Sanger and the powerful forces of population control.
What have been the consequences of this return to prechristian paganism which is now “the law of the land” in once Christian nations like the United States? The consequences are inevitable.
The once solitary defender of the sanctity of marital relations is now on trial for the profession of its Catholic faith.
In 1968, when Pope Paul VI published
Bishops in what we call the “Third World Countries” stood firmly behind the Pope’s teaching. But the bishops of so-called developed countries, like the United States, or Canada, or France, or Germany, or Austria, or Scandinavia issued long documents that, to put it mildly, compromised the teachings of the Vicar of Christ.
What followed was as inevitable as night follows day. Once firmly believing Catholics became confused, or bewildered, or simply uncertain about the grave moral evil of contraception.
The spectacle of broken families, broken homes, divorce and annulments, abortion and the mania of homosexuality–all of this has its roots in the acceptance of contraception on a wide scale in what only two generations ago was a professed Catholic population.
CONTRACEPTION FATAL TO THE FAITH
We come back to where we started–by claiming that contraception is fatal to the Catholic Faith.
By divine ordinance, those who call themselves Catholic must subscribe to the moral teachings of the Catholic Church of which the Bishop of Rome is the visible head.
This Catholic Church now stands alone in the world as the one universal authority which condemns contraception as contrary to the will of God.
Within the Catholic ranks has arisen an army of dissidents who speak and write in defense of contraception. The sex-preoccupied Andrew Greeley of Chicago recently devoted a whole chapter of a book entitled, “That damned encyclical,” referring to
When the present Holy Father made his first pilgrimage as Pope to the United States, he pleaded in Chicago with the American bishops to do something over the scandal of so many Catholics on Sundays going to Holy Communion and so few going to confession.
All the evidence indicates that the core issue at stake is contraception. If contraception is not a grave sin, well then what is? And why go to confession if I am still in God’s friendship although practicing contraception.
What is the new conclusion? That the single, principal cause for the breakdown of the Catholic faith in materially overdeveloped countries like ours has been contraception.
St. James tells us that faith with out good works is dead. What good is it to give verbal profession of the Catholic faith, and then behave like a pagan in marital morality?
The single most crucial need to stem this hemorrhage from the Catholic faith is for the Church’s leaders to stand behind the Vicar of Christ in proclaiming the Church’s two millennia of teaching that no marital act can be separated from its God-given purpose to conceive and procreate a child.
I make bold to say that the Catholic Church, the real Roman Catholic Church, will survive only where its bishops are courageous enough to proclaim what the followers of Christ have believed since apostolic times. But the bishops are frail human beings. They need, Lord how they need the backing and support of the faithful under their care. So I would like to close with a prayer:
“Lord Jesus, you ordained your Apostles as Bishops at the Last Supper on Holy Thursday night. We beg You to give our bishops the wisdom to see that contraception is fatal to Catholic Christians. Above all, give them the courage of Thomas a Becket and John Fisher, to stand firm against the demonic pressure to destroy the human family by contraception. Amen.”
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Copyright (c) Trinity Communications 1994.
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