Tag Archives: contraception

Critique of Birth Control Ban Paves Way for Okaying Same-Gender Relationships | Bondings 2.0

Sometimes, you have to be grateful for the opposition.  They are often the best source for learning important news about positive Catholic LGBT items—though, of course, they don’t see these news items as very positive. This week, I learned about an important statement by an international group of moral theologians and physicians only because I read a news story about a group of conservative scholars who opposed the statement.  News about the progressive statement did not, at first, make big news, so it had not come to my attention until the conservative group opposed it.

The progressive statement to which I am referring is known as the Wijngaards Declaration, and its focus is to oppose the magisterial condemnation of what is referred to as “artificial contraception.”  The declaration takes its name from the Wijngaards Institute, a London-based Catholic think tank, which organized and released the statement.   The report, whose official title is “Promoting Good Health and Good Conscience: The Ethics of Using Contraceptives,” does a careful and specific critique of Humanae Vitae (HV),the 1968 encyclical which re-affirmed the magisterial opposition to couples using birth control.  A summary of the 20,000-word report can be found by clicking here (and it is very readable, so highly recommended).

While the declaration does not mention LGBT topics directly, it is important for Catholic advocates of LGBT issues to be aware of because it contains some critical theological arguments that could be used to advance the Church’s approval of same-gender relationships.

First, a little background as to how these ideas are connected.  In Catholic teaching on both birth control and same-gender relationships share an important common argument:  the magisterium’s claim that the natural order dictates that all sexual activity be open to procreation.  So birth control is not permitted because, depending on the method, it prevents the union of sperm and egg.  Likewise, homosexual relationships are not permitted because they are biologically non-procreative.

Source: Critique of Birth Control Ban Paves Way for Okaying Same-Gender Relationships | Bondings 2.0

Catholic church’s total ban on contraception challenged by scholars | National Catholic Reporter

Nearly 50 years since Pope Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae, the encyclical that rejected the use of artificial birth control, a group of prominent Catholic theologians, ethicists and physicians has produced a report reassessing and challenging the papal document.

The report, entitled, “Promoting Good Health and Good Conscience: The Ethics of Using Contraceptives,” was commissioned by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research, an independent think-tank based in London.

The 20,000-word academic report, which was co-authored by 22 Catholic scholars from Australia, Colombia, Europe, India, the Philippines, South Africa and the United States, evaluates, from within the Catholic tradition, the morality of using artificial contraceptives for family planning. The authors include U.S. ethicists Michael Lawler and Christine Gudorf and African theologian Nontando Hadebe.

Source:  National Catholic Reporter

Humanae Vitae: Cracks in the Wall?

In the complex house of cards that is Vatican sexual doctrine, a key element at the base is that on artificial contraception. Remove that, or even just weaken it, and the entire edifice above teeters and collapses.


That is because it rests on the dubious claim that every sexual act must be open to procreation. As Peter Steinfels points out in an important article at Commonweal, that “every” is unambiguous, admitting of no exceptions whatever:

And Humanae Vitae condemns any use whatsoever of contraception to prevent pregnancy—even as a “lesser evil … even for the gravest of reasons … even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general.” Nor, according to the encyclical, can “a whole married life of otherwise normal relations” justify such a single or temporary use.

Yet both Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI have admitted some limited exceptions, and both sessions of the Bishops’ Synod assemblies on marriage and family  carefully avoided reaffirming HV’s core insistence – that every sexual act must be open to procreation.

This is the way Church teaching has always evolved over the centuries – one small step, one minor adjustment, at a time – until the substance has changed so substantially that it becomes possible (according to temperament) either that change has come – or that teaching has “always” been thus. Herein lies substantial hope for LGBT Catholics. Once the umbilical cord tying every sexual act to procreation has been broken, it becomes possible to fully recognize the unitive value of sexual love between two people where procreation is simply not possible – and that includes the case where the couple are of the same sex.

So, let’s take a closer look at these cracks in the wall.

First, recall that some years ago, Pope Benedict XVI acknowledged that in the case of a (male) prostitute who used condoms to prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS, this could represent a degree of responsible moral judgement. Hardly a ringing endorsement, but nevertheless, a crack in the wall.

Much more recently, Pope Francis has said that under the threat of the Vika virus, contraception might be justified, reminding us of the approval of contraception for nuns threatened with rape in the Congo. Again, not a ringing endorsement, but in direct conflict with the substance of Humanae Vitae, as Steinfels spells out:

Francis was not talking about an apparently proactive prevention of forced conception from rapes that may or may not occur.  He was not talking about prevention of transmitting a virus, parallel to HIV, from one marital partner to another.  He was talking about the prevention of pregnancy.

Leading up to the first Bishops’ Synod assembly on marriage and family, I was confident that there would be significant attention paid to Humanae Vitae, and the entire question of contraception. The evidence from the global consultation with lay Catholics was overwhelming – worldwide, the formal doctrine is simply not supported by people with real-life experience of marriage and family. I was surprised then, when that discussion simply did not happen. (So was Peter Steinfels, he notes).

For the second assembly, it was a little different – there were a few references to HV, but only in its support, which on a cursory reading I found disappointing. Steinfels sees it differently, noting that what is important is not so much what was said, but also what was not said. In this case, what was not said was any repetition of the irrevocable link between every sexual act and procreation. And what was said, included a new emphasis on the importance of “responsible” parenthood and family planning. To be sure, that was assumed to be by means of “natural” as opposed to “artificial” family planning, but that distinction is itself an artificial one, which in the long run, surely cannot stand the close scrutiny that is becoming inevitable.

Writing about the references to HV in the final document approved by synod fathers for Pope Francis’ consideration, Steinfels notes the crucial feature:

In sum, while some may assume that the “intrinsic bond” between conjugal love and procreation or the “inseparable connection” between the unitive and the procreative or “openness to life” must apply to each and every instance of sexual intercourse rather than a larger pattern of marital behavior, nowhere do the Synod fathers spell out that conclusion.  The bishops were surely aware that this is the nub of the contraception controversy. Yet not only in these paragraphs but in many others, they refused to repeat the linchpin of the official teaching.

 This is remarkable, especially in the context of something else that did get serious attention from Pope Francis, before during and after the synod assemblies: renewed emphasis on the importance of the sensus fidelium, on the “interior forum” in moral judgements, and on the primacy of conscience.

This was highlighted further much more recently, with the formal announcement of a new dicastery on laity and .family life, and a recent Vatican seminar on the assembly, in which bishops recommended much greater involvement of laity in the planning and conduct of future synods.

Step by step, inch by gradual inch, the voice of the people will increasing be heard on contraception – and that voice, the sensus fidelium, clearly does not support the core message of Humanae Vitae. Certainly, Catholics in general are overwhelmingly “pro-life” (including those already alive as well as the unborn), but that does not imply that this is applicable to every sexual act, nor does it negate the importance of personal conscience in decision taking.

Steinfels concludes his piece:

What Francis will say about contraception, if anything, is anyone’s guess.  I hope but doubt that it will be the straightforward treatment needed in my opinion to restore the church’s credibility.  But if he follows the 2015 Synod’s lead, the teaching on contraception is well on its way to quiet modification.


cracks in the wall


Let’s Talk About – Contraception!

…no papal teaching document has ever caused such an earthquake in the Church as the encyclical ‘Humanae Vitae.’  – Catholic theologian, Fr Bernard Haring

The feature of the 2014 Family Synod that most surprised me, was the near absence of any discussion about contraception – except for repeated confirmation of support for “Humanae Vitae”. As Peter Steinfels puts it at the Washington Post,

At last October’sExtraordinary Synod on the Family, bishops grabbed headlines by debating controversial topics such as admitting remarried Catholics to Communion and acknowledging the upsides of same-sex relationships. But the discussion of contraception was perfunctory. The bishops simply called on the church to do a better job of propagating “the message of the encyclical Humanae Vitae.” In other words, the widespread rejection of the birth-control ban is simply a messaging problem.

That’s not true. The church’s unwillingness to grapple with a deep and highly visible gap between official teaching and actual practice undermines Catholic vigor and unity at every level. It encourages Catholics to disregard all manner of other teachings, including those on marriage and abortion. If the church wants to restore its moral authority, it must address this gnawing question.

Continue reading Let’s Talk About – Contraception!

Contraception and the Synod.

A  surprise feature of the family synod last October, was the prominent place given to language about LGBT people in the Church.  That was welcome – and is likely to feature even more prominently in the main synod, this year.

Equally surprising, but less welcome, was the absence of any discussion about contraception. This is important. The insistence that every sexual act must be open to procreation underpins so much of the rest of Vatican sexual doctrine, and most specifically, the steadfast opposition to same – sex loving relationships.  Remove the cornerstone of opposition to contraception, it becomes far more difficult for the institutional Church to justify its opposition to our relationships.

I was expecting the question of contraception to be central to the discussions in Rome last October, but that was not to be. Instead, this central issue was met by – deafening silence.  Yet we know, that the vast majority of Catholics the world over, simply reject Vatican teaching on this core issue. A cross – cultural survey before the last synod, found that only two of the fifteen countries surveyed, agreed with the Vatican position, and that by only narrow majorities, In contrast, in many countries surveyed, opposition was overwhelming.

The acceptance by the synod of the institutional view can be attributed to two main causes: in the first instance, because the limited number of lay married couples invited to the synod, were there because of their active support for this view. Contrary thoughts were simply excluded.

The second cause can be summed up in a word, encapsulated in this assessment from Commonweal:     Hypocrisy!

Perhaps the most important moment of last October’s Extraordinary Synod on the Family occured at its very beginning—when Pope Francis insisted that “speaking honestly” was the bishops’ basic responsibility: No topics or viewpoints should be out of bounds. “It is necessary to say all that, in the Lord, one feels the need to say: without polite deference, without hesitation.”

I doubt that everyone present was able to live up to that plea. For not a few bishops, self-censorship has become second nature, especially when speaking publicly with other bishops, and infinitely so when in the earshot of the pope.

Fortunately, that was not true in many cases, or the synod would not have made headlines with the several highly controversial topics served up and batted back and forth: reception of Communion by the divorced-and-remarried, cohabitation, even same-sex relationships. But could engrained inhibition have accounted for the glaring gap in the synod’s work? I refer to the apparent lack of attention to the question of contraception. Why did the synod appear to treat so perfunctorily the issue that was, and is, the starting point for the unraveling of Catholic confidence in the church’s sexual ethics and even its credibility about marriage? To which, of course, one could add further questions about this baffling silence: Does it even matter? And if it does matter, are there grounds for hoping that the bishops who will be gathering in Rome next fall to complete the synod’s work can do better?

A lot rests on the answers to these questions. A synod that grabs headlines about remarried or cohabiting or same-sex Catholic couples but says nothing fresh about the spectacularly obvious rift between official teaching and actual behavior in Catholic married life is an invitation to cynicism. It could prove to be a crucial test of Pope Francis’s papacy.

full anaysis at Commonweal Magazine.

Iglesia Descalza: Dignified sexuality and responsible fertility: What does — and doesn’t — hold from "Humanae Vitae"

(Question 41 of the current Lineamenta for the 2015 Synod deals with how to “effectively promote [openness to life] and the dignity of becoming a mother or father”, and it adds, as a minimal reference, “in light, for example, of Humanae Vitae”).

I would answer that question by saying simply three things:

1) Let’s review what the criteria for dignified sexuality and responsible fertility are: mutual respect of the individuals, just reciprocity in the relationships and responsibility in welcoming life (which excludes both procreation at all costs and uncompromising rejection of it — both irresponsible).

2) That what needs to be rediscovered, in order to make this review in its light, is not Humanae vitae, but the Second Vatican Council’s criterion on responsible fertility (Gaudium et spes, 47-52).

3) That it be made clear, when talking about the Church’s teaching on these issues, what holds and doesn’t from Humanae Vitae. What holds are its two main criteria on dignity and responsibility in the marriage relationship and the acceptance of life. What doesn’t hold and must be overcome: its narrow interpretations of sexuality and its negative conclusions about birth control methods. That is, all that remains of Humanae Vitae is what is not originally its own, but of Vatican II from which Humanae vitae unfortunately backpedalled.

The aforementioned question 41 alludes generally to that very controversial encyclical which has caused so much loss of credibility in the Church.

The question is inspired by paragraphs 57 and 58 of the Relatio Synodi, which seems to echo the abundant negative reactions to the Lineamenta of the previous year, and is limited to recommending “appropriate teaching regarding the natural methods for responsible procreation,” inviting us to “return to the message of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae…which highlights the need to respect the dignity of the person in morally assessing methods in regulating births.”

(A Vatican-style diplomatic formulation which leaves room for assenting to the principles and dissenting from the conclusions. It would be preferable to acknowledge the limitations of the earlier teaching, which should always continue to develop and evolve historically, and admit that it forces us to combine assent to valid criteria with disagreement with its applications).

The Lineamenta for the 2014 Synod insists on reaffirming Humanae vitae. The summary of the responses (Instrumentum laboris, 2014) showed negative reactions to these questions. The current survey for the 2015 Synod appears to have taken that into account and opens the door for more open, positive, and advanced answers.

One third of the answers proposed here, at the beginning of this post, is what some of us have been presenting in moral theology classes for the last three decades, recognizing that this opinion is not in accord with the one expressed in the documents of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

A brief summary — a mere thematic index — of what holds and doesn’t from Humanae vitae is as follows (which I’ve developed in greater detail in the essays Tertulias de Bioética, Trotta, 2006, andCuidar la vida, Herder y Religión Digital, 2012).

What holds of Humanae vitae: two major excellent premises.

What doesn’t hold: two controversial minor premises and two deficient and inconsistent conclusions.

1. Two major premises that are still valid: A) the criterion of mutual respect for the dignity of individuals in the marriage relationship and dignified and just sexual intimacy; B) the criteria of openness to welcoming life and responsible birth, with decisions made in conscience and shared between the spouses.

2. Two minor premises that ought to be corrected: A) the narrow interpretation on the inseparability of the unitive and procreative aspects of each and every act of intimate union; B) the erroneous interpretation on the natural and the artificial, as if everything artificial were anti-natural, forgetting that, as Saint Thomas says, “it’s quite natural for human beings to resort responsibly to the artificial.”

3. Two deficient and inconsistent conclusions: A) the indiscriminate rejection of methods improperly deemed “unnatural” because they are artificial, and the naively optimistic recommendation of so-called “natural methods” as if they couldn’t be irresponsible or infringing on the dignity of the couple when both don’t agree with their practice; B) the regulatory imposition of openness to life as indispensable in every act of intimate union or as if that end were an indispensable condition for the legitimacy of said union.

(This is nothing more than the index of a one semester course on the good and bad points ofHumanae vitae. Each of these three points could be completed with the writings of reputable moralists like Bernard Häring, Marciano Vidal and Javier Gafo.)

Cross-posted with permission, from Rebel Girl at Iglesia Descalza  


Worldwide, 78% of Catholics Support Contraception.

It’s a myth that Catholic support for contraception is restricted to the wealthy countries of North America and Western Europe. A 2014 global survey of self-identified Catholics in twelve countries (those with the largest Catholic populations) has found that overall,  78% of Catholics worldwide support the use of contraception. Even in Africa, Catholics are divided, without a clear majority backing the official Catholic prohibition.

Do you support or oppose the use of contraceptives?Contraception, global surveyIn this diagram, “100%” represents the extent of agreement with the Vatican position, and so the points closest to the centre are those most strongly disagreeing with the Humanae Vitae prohibition on artificial contraception. It’s clear that none of the countries included show any strong support for the Vatican position, and most are firmly against. Continue reading Worldwide, 78% of Catholics Support Contraception.