Question 45


Dear Fr. Matthew @ the Abbey,

As a priest I am encountering with greater frequency the following situation:

In mixed marriages, the Catholic spouse often wants to be faithful to the Church’s teaching on sexuality and contraception but finds the non-Catholic spouse to be resistant and unwilling to cooperate. I am told this puts incredible strain on the marriage and the Catholic spouse will often “give in” and contracept; the effect, I am told again, is that it actually brings (at least a perceived) unity back to the couple.

I know this is objectively not the case. I am often told by the Catholic spouse in this situation that their sex life is now great and to practice NFP would (and did, they claim) cause extreme marital harm.

Can you offer some insight to help me? I want to lead couples to the freedom and beauty of Pope John Paul’s theology. But my sharing with the Catholic spouses in this situation is contradicted by the appeal to their own “experience.” (And we know that in our society “experience” is everything, even constituting the very canon of truth!)

Thanks in advance. Father X

Dear Fr. X, Thanks for writing. This is a very important question.

Yes, “experience” is the preferred “source for morality” today. Correctly understood, one’s experience, if it corresponds with reality, is an important factor for moral reasoning. But one’s “experience” is also subject to manipulation and to either subtle or massive self- deception.

My experience with cleaning showers (scrubbing down curtains, walls and floors) is that this is a real labor, and I don’t always like that. So that was a bad experience for me. But what does “experience” tell me about morality? Usually good works exact a price from us. The fact that this cuts into my comfort zone doesn’t really affect the morality of the act. Objectively speaking, it is a good thing to clean dirty showers on a regular basis. The good experience comes later, when I get to use a clean shower.

Morality is not determined by one’s experience. Rather, as the Catholic tradition teaches (CCC #1761 and Veritatis Splendor #77-9), morality is primarily determined by the object chosen (what I choose to do), and only secondarily by the circumstances and my intended ends.

Thus, if a couple chooses to contracept, i.e., to knowingly choose to separate in the marital act what God has designed to be together (the procreative dimension from the unitive), then they are choosing the following:

-- to separate the unitive dimension from the procreative ;
-- to assume the attitude that the conception of new person would be an evil, not a good thing;
-- to willfully restrict their total gift of self and refuse to make the total self donation to the other, and to refuse to accept the other’s total self donation to them;
-- to tell God to stay out of their bedroom and love-making (How bizarre it is for a couple not to realize that everything they have – their bodies, their sexuality, complimentarity, fertility, the marital act, and their love for each other – is sheer gift from God. They act as though they gave these things to themselves!);
-- to refuse to God the right to determine, if the marital act takes place during the wife’s fertile period, whether a new person of incalculable worth will be called into existence ;
-- to establish themselves as being in total control over the meaning of marriage and the spousal act. They are re-defining marriage and the spousal act.

How can we help couples come to understand the moral evil of contraception and sterilization? I think that it helps to appeal to the “experience” of the broader society. Look at the 50% divorce rate today. There is a clear correlation between contraception and divorce. Look at the 80% cohabitation rate today. Many young couples, victims themselves of divorced parents, have not experienced a good marriage and think that it is unattainable. Look at the abortion rate today: doctors abort one out of every four unborn babies, and there are many more uncounted early on chemical abortions due to abortifacient contraception. Contraception always leads to more, not less, abortion. Look at the 85-90% rate of contraception and sterilization among Catholic couples today. Can’t people see the connections? Or do they refuse to see, to interpret reality correctly?

Contraception does not bring about marital bliss, deep commitment, or a willingness to give self-sacrificial love to the other. Contraception is very selfish. It makes orgasm the primary value to pursue. It encourages spouses to place the focus upon him or herself, instead of upon the other. Contracepting couples close doors on God, on their fertility, and on themselves. If a couple cannot be totally present to each other, and surrender themselves unconditionally, in the marital act, then how can they do this in any other aspect of their marriage? Contraception turns against love, corrodes love like an acid.

NFP forces a couple to discover what real love is. It teaches them to understand their physiological complimentarity. Periodic abstinence forces a couple to work with the full gamut of expressing their affections, instead of using only genital ones. NFP requires self-sacrifice for the benefit of the other, their marriage, and their family. Living God’s plan for the spousal act, e.g., NFP, invites Jesus into their relationship. Now they are loving as Jesus loves His bride, the Church. “Greater love has no man, than to lay down his life for the sake of his beloved.”

So, good padre, it is the task of the clergy today to help couples discover God’s plan for marriage, spousal love and the family. Contracepting couples don’t know this. They have never experienced it. And their present “experience” is very inadequate. But they are experiencing the pain and heartbreaks of divorce, broken families, and shattered self- esteem.

We can point people in the direction of the truth. We can PROpose God’s plan for marriage, spousal love and family to them, in the same manner in which Jesus himself taught. We do not IMpose God’s plan. We respect the freedom of the person in front of us. But the time will come when each person will be required to give a full accounting of how he used his freedom, of the choices he made, and of the acts he performed.

I have gone on too long, but your question is a very important one for these times. I recommend that you go to our website,, and click on “Helps for Your Homily.” You will find many useful materials there.

Cordially yours, 
Fr. Matthew Habiger OSB