At the November meeting of
the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, following the adoption by
the whole body of bishops of the document “Married Love and the Gift
of Life,” I was chosen to represent the Committee on Pro-Life
Activities at a press conference.
A reporter asked me why the bishops were issuing this statement on a
matter where so many Catholics do not agree with the church ’s
I replied: “We [bishops] do not need to teach about doctrines
everyone accepts. We need to devote much of our teaching to address
those issues that many of our people are struggling to accept. ”
With this column, I conclude this series of my reflections on the
church’s teaching regarding artificial contraception and marital
chastity. In issuing “Married Love and the Gift of Life,” the
bishops acknowledged that part of the reason so many of our people
do not understand and accept this moral doctrine has been our own
failure to be effective teachers. With the experience of the past 40
years providing so much empirical data about the negative
consequences of artificial contraception impacting young people,
marriages and society, I believe we have arrived at a teachable
I chose to devote several columns to this issue because I believe
that strong marriages are the foundation of strong families. Strong
family life is essential for a healthy nation and society.
Moreover, each Catholic family is a little church that serves as the
foundation upon which our parishes, dioceses and the universal
church are built.
During his pastoral visit to St. Louis in 1999, the late Pope John
Paul II said: “As the new evangelization unfolds, it must include a
special emphasis on the family and the renewal of Christian
marriage. In their primary mission of communicating love to each
other, of being co-creators with God of human life, and of
transmitting the love of God to their children, parents must know
that they are fully supported by the church and by society. The new
evangelization must bring a fuller appreciation of the family as the
primary and most vital foundation of society, the first school of
social virtue and solidarity. As the family goes, so goes the
Recently, I received a letter from a member in the archdiocese that,
among other things, said: “It is ludicrous for celibate men to
lecture caring, committed, prayerful married couples about what
should and should not take place in their act of greatest intimacy.
” This is very similar to much of the criticism directed at Pope
Paul VI when he issued “Humanae Vitae” in 1968. Unfortunately, it
was effective in silencing many bishops and priests from attempting
to preach the fullness of the church ’s teaching.
The reality is that marriage matters —not just to the couple and not
even just to their children, but to culture, society and the church.
The church ’s teaching about artificial contraception was not an
innovation of Pope Paul VI, but it was the clear and consistent
teaching of the church throughout its history. It was also the
teaching of every other major Protestant denomination until 1930.
The church’s teaching is premised on the reality that fertility is
not an illness. Oral contraceptives are not medicines that combat
disease, but are chemicals used to disrupt that which is healthy and
In the very first chapter of the first book of the Bible, we read:
“God created man in his image, in the divine image he created him;
male and female he created them. ” Part of the way in which we image
our Creator is our capacity through love to create a new human life.
Artificial contraception disrupts the design of the Creator. It has
effectively disconnected the most powerful physical expression of
human love with the power to conceive a new life. In so doing, it
has disrupted the balance that God designed into the act of sexual
intercourse. Severed from the ability to give new life, the
fundamental meaning of sexual intimacy has been changed.
I will not repeat the many manifestations of the social disaster
that has ensued from this redefinition of the meaning of sexual
intimacy. Suffice it to say, the widespread acceptance of artificial
contraception has cheapened the meaning of sexual intercourse. It no
longer need be the physical expression of committed, faithful love,
but can mean something far less.
Even within the marriage covenant, the severing of the life-giving
power from its love-giving capacity alters the significance of each
expression of sexual intimacy.
Less this be discounted as just the lecturing of an old male
celibate, I want to conclude this series of articles by sharing some
of the testimonies from married couples regarding their experience
from living the church ’s teaching:
“Natural Family Planning made our union different, more of a total
giving. . . . Because we’re open to life, we’re giving everything.”
“Natural Family Planning has helped me to mature, though I have a
long way to go. . . . It has called me to cherish my wife rather
than simply desire her. ”
“Natural Family Planning does require communication and commitment,
but isn’t that what marriage is all about? We have gained so much by
using Natural Family Planning and have lost nothing.”
Used by permission -
The Leaven, the newspaper for the Kansas City, KS archdiocese