I might add that from our conversation it was most clear that this priest believed his fellow priests and bishops were quite on board with his thinking on the subject and that they would all consider my views quite preposterous, if not offensive.
Dear Father _________________,
Recently we had a conversation regarding the message on the signage I use for my abortion protests as well as the Church’s position on contraception (and abortion). I thought it best to answer your concerns by putting my thoughts to paper and passing them along in this way.
As I see it, there are a few questions which need asking and answering.
1. How are we to resolve the question of what is the teaching of the Magisterium on the subject of contraception?
It seems more than obvious that the ordinary Catholic will consult the current Catechism of the Catholic Church on any basic question relating to faith and morals. In October of 1992, when Pope John Paul II presented the current Catechism in his encyclical Fidei Depositum, some of his instruction was as follows:
It can be said that this catechism is the result of the collaboration of the whole Episcopate of the Catholic Church, who generously accepted my invitation to share responsibility for an enterprise which directly concerns the life of the Church. This response elicits in me a deep feeling of joy, because the harmony of so many voices truly expresses what could be called the symphony of the faith. The achievement of this catechism thus reflects the collegial nature of the Episcopate: it testifies to the Church's catholicity.
A catechism should faithfully and systematically present the teaching of Sacred Scripture, the living Tradition of the Church and the authentic Magisterium, as well as the spiritual heritage of the Fathers and the Church's saints, to allow for a better knowledge of the Christian mystery and for enlivening the faith of the People of God. It should take into account the doctrinal statements which down the centuries the Holy Spirit has intimated to his Church. It should also help illumine with the light of faith the new situations and problems which had not yet emerged in the past.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which I approved 25 June last and the publication of which I today order by virtue of my Apostolic Authority, is a statement of the Church's faith and of Catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, Apostolic Tradition and the Church's Magisterium. I declare it to be a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion and a sure norm for teaching the faith.
This catechism is given to them [Church's Pastors and the Christian faithful] that it may be a sure and authentic reference text for teaching Catholic doctrine and particularly for preparing local catechisms.
Given these bold pronouncements from the Pope, let us review the Catechism’s teaching on contraception:
Beginning at paragraph 2366, the text deals with “The Fecundity of Marriage” and continues through to 2372. The key statement concerning contraception is contained in 2370:
2370 Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality. These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom. In contrast, "every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible" is intrinsically evil:
Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality…The difference, both anthropological and moral, between contraception and recourse to the rhythm of the cycle…involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality.
Not surprisingly then, we find in the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is a “faithful and sure synthesis of the Catechism” according to Pope Benedict XVI:
"What are immoral means of birth control? Every action -- for example, direct sterilization or contraception -- is intrinsically immoral which (either in anticipation of the conjugal act, in its accomplishment or in the development of its natural consequences) proposes, as an end or as a means, to hinder procreation." (Compendium, n. 498)
Therefore there can be no doubt that the Catholic who seeks an answer to the question “What is the teaching of the Magisterium on the subject of contraception?” quickly discovers from authoritative sources that, in a nutshell, it is an intrinsically evil act which is contrary to natural law, human sexuality and married love. Spouses do not have recourse to contraception if they wish to space the births of their children.
2. To press the point to a serious limit, even to questioning the essence of what the Pope asserted in Fidei Depositum, is it possible that this teaching on contraception was an orchestrated effort of Pope John Paul II to insert his personal views on this subject and that the Magisterial teaching differs substantially from this view?
To answer such a bold charge it is sufficient to examine the express statements of other Popes in modern times who have sought to address the sanctity of marriage and family. Unsurprisingly, their statements were especially pointed to what each considered to be the principal threat against marriage and family in our time, i.e. artificial birth control.
In 1930 Pope Pius XI issued the encyclical Casti Connubii. This encyclical prohibited Catholics from using any form of artificial birth control and judged that contraception was intrinsically contrary to nature, gravely sinful matter and “those who commit such an action are stained with the guilt of grave sin.”
In 1951, Pope Pius XII, in an Address to Midwives said the following:
"Our Predecessor, Pius XI, of happy memory, in his Encyclical Casti Connubii, of December 31, 1930, once again solemnly proclaimed the fundamental law of the conjugal act and conjugal relations: that every attempt of either husband or wife in the performance of the conjugal act or in the development of its natural consequences which aims at depriving it of its inherent force and hinders the procreation of new life is immoral; and that no 'indication' or need can convert an act which is intrinsically immoral into a moral and lawful one.
“This precept is in full force today, as it was in the past, and so it will be in the future also, and always, because it is not a simple human whim, but the expression of a natural and divine law.”
In 1961, Pope John XXIII issued his encyclical Mater Et Magistra and reiterated that artificial birth control was contrary to the “inviolable and immutable laws of God” and was a “means … opposed to right reason.”
The transmission of human life is the result of a personal and conscious act, and, as such, is subject to the all-holy, inviolable and immutable laws of God, which no man may ignore or disobey. He is not therefore permitted to use certain ways and means which are allowable in the propagation of plant and animal life. (193)
They (parents) must instill in them (children) an unshakable confidence in Divine Providence and a determination to accept the inescapable sacrifices and hardships involved in so noble and important a task as the co-operation with God in the transmitting of human life and the bringing up of children. (195)
Genesis relates how God gave two commandments to our first parents: to transmit human life -- "Increase and mutliply" -- and to bring nature into their service -- "Fill the earth, and subdue it." These two commandments are complementary. (196)
Nothing is said in the second of these commandments about destroying nature. On the contrary, it must be brought into the service of human life. (197)
In 1965, Gaudium et Spes, one of the four Apostolic Constitutions resulting from the Second Vatican Council, was promulgated. It was explicitly confirmed in n. 51 of Gaudium Et Spes that :
"In questions of birth regulation the sons of the Church ... are forbidden to use methods disapproved by the Magisterium"
Precise reference was made to note 14 in which the passage quoting Casti Connubii declares contraception to be a grave sin. Clearly Casti Connubii was considered to be authoritative teaching up to that point by the Council. The note further goes on to say that outstanding questions on the subject of artificial birth control will be taken up by the Pope’s commission, after which “the Supreme Pontiff may pass judgment” which indeed took place in 1968.
In 1968, Pope Paul VI issued his encyclical Humanae Vitae condemning any use of artificial birth control. The Pope rejected the Majority Commission’s recommendations—the Supreme Pontiff’s prerogative—and refused to overturn opposition to contraception. A firestorm of dissent erupted from this encyclical and the storm continues unabated today. However, earlier and later statements by Pope Paul VI, including his General Audience immediately following publication of the encyclical, make clear that the Pope felt the grave burden of his ruling. As Fr Lino Ciccone, C.M., Professor of Moral Theology, in Lugano, Switzerland noted:
Nothing could be clearer than the fact that for Paul VI the problem and its solution had such weight and importance that one cannot accept the hypothesis that a slight moral disorder, on the lines of "venial sin", is at stake. It is clear then, merely on the basis of these few points, that for the Magisterium contraception is such a morally disordered form of behaviour that it constitutes gravely sinful matter.
True, Humanae Vitae was not an infallible pronouncement, but what Pope Paul VI, the Universal Shepherd and Teacher, said was not only in conformity to the established Magisterium of that day, but has proved to be eerily prophetic. How should the faithful respond? Returning to Gaudium et Spes:
“Religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic teaching of the Pope, even when he is not speaking infallibly; judgments made by him must be sincerely adhered to according to his manifest mind and will.”
In 1981, Pope John Paul II, echoing the voices of fellow Bishops in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, began to make significant statements about Humanae Vitae. He said:
Thus, in continuity with the living tradition of the ecclesial community throughout history, the recent Second Vatican Council and the magisterium of my predecessor Paul VI, expressed above all in the Encyclical Humanae Vitae, have handed on to our times a truly prophetic proclamation, which reaffirms and reproposes with clarity the Church's teaching and norm, always old yet always new, regarding marriage and regarding the transmission of human life.
For this reason the Synod Fathers made the following declaration at their last assembly: "This Sacred Synod, gathered together with the Successor of Peter in the unity of faith, firmly holds what has been set forth in the Second Vatican Council (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 50) and afterwards in the Encyclical Humanae vitae, particularly that love between husband and wife must be fully human, exclusive and open to new life (Humanae vitae, 11; cf. 9, 12)."(83)
In a Wikipedia article on Humanae Vitae, Pope John Paul’s contributing thought is offered:
After he became pope in 1978, John Paul II continued on the Catholic Theology of the Body of his predecessors with a series of lectures, entitled Theology of the Body, in which he talked about an original unity between man and women, purity of heart (on the Sermon on the Mount), marriage and celibacy and reflections on Humane Vitae, focusing largely on responsible parenthood and marital chastity. John Paul II readdressed some of the same issues in his 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor. He reaffirmed much of Humanae Vitae, and specifically described the practice of artificial contraception as an act not permitted by Catholic teaching in any circumstances. The same encyclical also clarifies the use of conscience in arriving at moral decisions, including in the use of contraception. However, John Paul also said, “It is not right then to regard the moral conscience of the individual and the magisterium of the Church as two contenders, as two realities in conflict. The authority which the magisterium enjoys by the will of Christ exists so that the moral conscience can attain the truth with security and remain in it.” John Paul quoted Humanae Vitae as a compassionate encyclical, "Christ has come not to judge the world but to save it, and while he was uncompromisingly stern towards sin, he was patient and rich in mercy towards sinners".
In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI, in his encyclical letter on the Church's social doctrine, Caritas in Veritate, referred to Humanae Vitae, affirming its importance "for delineating the fully human meaning of the development that the Church proposes" (Caritas in Veritate, no. 15). He pointed out that the teaching of Humanae Vitae could not be brushed off as simply a matter of "individual morality:"
Humanae Vitae indicates the strong links between life ethics and social ethics, ushering in a new area of magisterial teaching that has gradually been articulated in a series of documents, most recently John Paul II's Encyclical Evangelium Vitae (Caritas in Veritate, no. 15).
In the Wikipedia article on Humanae Vitae previously cited, we are reminded of Pope Benedict XVI’s explosive characterization of Humanae Vitae, likening it to a “sign of contradiction,” which, in Catholic theology, refers to someone who, upon manifesting the presence of Christ, is subject to extreme opposition:
On 12 May 2008, Benedict XVI accepted an invitation to talk to participants in the International Congress organized by the Pontifical Lateran University on the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae. He put the encyclical in the broader view of love in a global context, a topic he called "so controversial, yet so crucial for humanity's future." Humanae Vitae became "a sign of contradiction but also of continuity of the Church's doctrine and tradition... What was true yesterday is true also today." The Church continues to reflect "in an ever new and deeper way on the fundamental principles that concern marriage and procreation." The key message of Humanae Vitae is love. Benedict states that the fullness of a person is achieved by a unity of soul and body, but neither spirit nor body alone can love, only the two together. If this unity is broken, if only the body is satisfied, love becomes a commodity.
To summarize, beyond a reasonable doubt we can say that, even if we exclude the time frame before Humanae Vitae, in our present time the ordinary and universal Magisterium has taught against contraception definitively and infallibly.
3. What of those who deny the teaching of the Church on contraception?
To deny all these—and more—official statements of Popes, including supporting evidence from Vatican II and various Synods of Bishops, in favour of arguments from theologians and others who, in many cases, promote and agitate for change with personal opinions in favour of contraception, is, I believe, to cross a dangerous red line. However, a few comments are in order.
In the world of faith and religion heresy is a real phenomenon. At least it surely is in the Catholic world. In regard to Church teaching on contraception, a knowing choice to reject the plain teaching of the Magisterium on this, as in any important matter of morality, constitutes formal heresy. Many Catholics are fully aware and publicly proclaim that the Church teaches the immorality of contraception, but then go on to repudiate the teaching. Again, by simple definition, this is an act of formal heresy.
What of the claim that whether the use of contraception is moral or not depends on the person’s judgment, i.e. his conscience or the advice of his confessor?
First, let’s address the conscience claim. Let the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI settle the question, from a 1990 address entitled Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian delivered as Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect for Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Church’s highest doctrinal office. Pope John Paul II ordered its publication.
38. Finally, argumentation appealing to the obligation to follow one's own conscience cannot legitimate dissent. This is true, first of all, because conscience illumines the practical judgment about a decision to make, while here we are concerned with the truth of a doctrinal pronouncement. This is furthermore the case because while the theologian, like every believer, must follow his conscience, he is also obliged to form it. Conscience is not an independent and infallible faculty. It is an act of moral judgement regarding a responsible choice. A right conscience is one duly illumined by faith and by the objective moral law and it presupposes, as well, the uprightness of the will in the pursuit of the true good.
The right conscience of the Catholic theologian presumes not only faith in the Word of God whose riches he must explore, but also love for the Church from whom he receives his mission, and respect for her divinely assisted Magisterium. Setting up a supreme magisterium of conscience in opposition to the magisterium of the Church means adopting a principle of free examination incompatible with the economy of Revelation and its transmission in the Church and thus also with a correct understanding of theology and the role of the theologian. The propositions of faith are not the product of mere individual research and free criticism of the Word of God but constitute an ecclesial heritage. If there occur a separation from the Bishops who watch over and keep the apostolic tradition alive, it is the bond with Christ which is irreparably compromised(38).
Secondly, now look at an official Church document entitled Vademecum For Confessors Concerning Some Aspects Of The Morality Of Conjugal Life which instructs confessors (priests, Bishops, etc.) on the subject of contraception:
Prop. 2.4. The Church has always taught the intrinsic evil of contraception, that is, of every marital act intentionally rendered unfruitful. This teaching is to be held as definitive and irreformable. Contraception is gravely opposed to marital chastity; it is contrary to the good of the transmission of life (the procreative aspect of matrimony), and to the reciprocal self-giving of the spouses (the unitive aspect of matrimony); it harms true love and denies the sovereign role of God in the transmission of human life.33
Imagine the vast and profound damage done in a society such as Canada when Catholics who seek the forgiveness of God and whose intention is to lead better, reformed lives, are confused and deceived by confessors who, knowing the official teaching of Mother Church, fail to transmit the truth of the faith in clarity and simplicity. It is no surprise then that some, including Cardinal Edouard Gagnon, PSS (1918-2007), one-time President of the Council for the Family, have characterized the Canadian Catholic Church (i.e. the majority of the Bishops of the Canadian Catholic Church) as one in de facto schism with Rome and the Pope.
There are other heresies related to the teaching on contraception, e.g., that contraception, while immoral, is not intrinsically evil. These can similarly be refuted.
4. Is it not possible to argue from the theological principle of probabilism that since there are good reasons and good authorities on both sides of the moral issue of contraception that Catholics are free to make up their own minds?
Some have claimed that Catholic theology retains a path to liberal pluralism in moral matters and this method is called "probabilism." Put another way, probabilism is said to “bless diversity of opinion in morally debated areas.” Many opposed to Church teaching posit that any significant debate among theologians and the faithful can constitute a sensus fidelium and invoke it in order to contest the teachings of the Magisterium. In fact, probabilism is used by a multitude of wayward Catholics to justify abortion, contraception, homosexual sex, same sex “marriage” etc.
Dr. Brian Clowes of Human Life International provides a useful summary of this principle and its proper application.
The fundamental principle of probabilism is “lex dubia non obligat” or "A doubtful law does not bind." This leads to the obvious conclusion that an established law does bind, and that the principle of probabilism may never be used when a prohibiting law is certain, as is the Church's prohibition of abortion.9 Maguire's statement that "... probabilism taught that in respectably debated issues, where good people for good reason disagree, conscience is free" is obviously a thinly disguised endorsement of situational ethics, and is completely false.
Our Sunday Visitor's Catholic Encyclopedia describes the proper role of probabilism: "Probabilism asserted that liberty from a law was to be held in possession until the opposite was held to probably be the case."10
Theologians originally proposed the principle of probabilism only for those very rare instances where scientific or theological knowledge of a subject was incomplete, or where the Church had not yet clearly outlined its teachings on the subject.
There is no doubt whatsoever about the Church's condemnation of abortion, sterilization and contraception. Probabilism can never apply to a universal moral prohibition. Therefore, the principle of probabilism does not apply in these cases.
---CFFC Argument #2: 2(a)
The ultimate extension of the principle of probabilism, when used to oppose Church teaching, is an argument for the primacy of conscience, superseding even the Magisterium.
5. On what basis can abortion and contraception be characterized as evil twins?
It has been established that the Magisterium of the Catholic Church has taught that both abortion and contraception are intrinsic evils. Intrinsically evil actions are opposed to the moral law and may never be engaged in under any circumstances. There are many other evils named by the Magisterium, such as embryonic stem cell research, cloning, rape, incest, etc. but abortion and contraception can be uniquely paired as explained by Pope John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae.
It is frequently asserted that contraception, if made safe and available to all, is the most effective remedy against abortion. The Catholic Church is then accused of actually promoting abortion, because she obstinately continues to teach the moral unlawfulness of contraception. When looked at carefully, this objection is clearly unfounded. It may be that many people use contraception with a view to excluding the subsequent temptation of abortion. But the negative values inherent in the “contraceptive mentality – which is very different from responsible parenthood, lived in respect for the full truth of the conjugal act – are such that they in fact strengthen this temptation when an unwanted life is conceived. Indeed, the pro-abortion culture is especially strong precisely where the Church’s teaching on contraception is rejected. (my emphasis) Certainly, from the moral point of view contraception and abortion are specifically different evils: the former contradicts the full truth of the sexual act as the proper expression of conjugal love, while the latter destroys the life of a human being; the former is opposed to the virtue of chastity in marriage, the latter is opposed to the virtue of justice and directly violates the divine commandment “You shall not kill”.
But despite their differences of nature and moral gravity, contraception and abortion are often closely connected, as fruits of the same tree. It is true that in many cases contraception and even abortion are practiced under the pressure of real- life difficulties, which nonetheless can never exonerate from striving to observe God's law fully. Still, in very many other instances such practices are rooted in a hedonistic mentality unwilling to accept responsibility in matters of sexuality, and they imply a self-centered concept of freedom, which regards procreation as an obstacle to personal fulfillment. The life that could result from a sexual encounter thus becomes an enemy to be avoided at all costs, and abortion becomes the only possible decisive response to failed contraception.
So here we have two evil actions which have been described as fruits of the same tree, although their differences in nature and moral gravity have been acknowledged. Taking the analogy just a little further, any two fruits from the same tree are of the same species, like brothers or sisters, though they may have different outward characteristics. Being of the same species they both draw from the same genetic parental makeup so it is only a small step to call them twins. In this same sense abortion and contraception may be termed evil twins. They are both evils and they both originate from the same parents, moral indifference or rebellion.
In addition to being linked through a common mentality, as indicated by Pope John Paul II, abortion and contraception are linked in other more practical ways. As Father Frank Pavone of Priests For Life explains:
They are linked sociologically. Every culture and subculture which has opened the doors to contraception has likewise experienced an increased practice of abortion. The Alan Guttmacher Institute, a research division of Planned Parenthood, indicates the following as the main reasons women offer for their abortions. Ask yourself what resemblance they bear to the reasons for birth control. "On average, women give at least 3 reasons for choosing abortion: 3/4 say that having a baby would interfere with work, school or other responsibilities; about 2/3 say they cannot afford a child; and 1/2 say they do not want to be a single parent or are having problems with their husband or partner" (from the website www.agi-usa.org ).
They are linked in law and jurisprudence. In 1973, the Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion clearly built upon the recognized privacy right behind contraception. In 1992, the Supreme Court reaffirmed Roe in its Planned Parenthood vs. Casey decision, and explained that they could not remove the "right" to abortion from "people who, for two decades of economic and social developments, have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail" (505 U.S. 833, 835).
They are sometimes linked by being identical. Some "contraceptives" have a backup mechanism whereby a newly-developing life may be destroyed in its microscopic stages. These drugs and devices are abortifacients, capable of causing early and usually unknown abortions. The morally relevant point here is that "it is objectively a grave sin to dare to risk murder" (Declaration on Procured Abortion, 1974, n.12-13). If your action might kill a person, and you do it, you declare your willingness to kill a person (like shooting at what is behind the bush when you are uncertain whether it is a bear or a man).
Pope Benedict XVI at various times also highlighted the connection between the two evils. In 2010 he told a group of visiting Romanian bishops to resist the “scourges” of abortion and artificial birth control. Speaking to Latin American bishops in Aparecida, Brazil in May 2007, Benedict XVI also condemned abortion and contraception and laws that permit them. Such laws, he said, are “threatening the future of peoples.” We see here that Pope Benedict recognized that civil authorities had the duty to proscribe the evils of society and placed contraception in the same category as abortion, as an evil that civil authorities should outlaw.
Even Pope Pius XI in his 1930 encyclical Casti Connubii recognized the “evil twins” link. His encyclical repeats the Church's sweeping condemnation of abortion in every instance and observes a very real connection between parents who contracept and the same parents who will kill their unplanned children.
. . .those wicked parents who seek to remain childless, and failing in this, are not ashamed to put their offspring to death.
I believe, Father, that the message contained on the signage which I use outside various parishes is indeed 100% faithful to the teaching of the Catholic Church and is an urgent message needing courageous response from all Canadian Catholics, whether laity, priests or Bishops. Furthermore the graphic image of abortion which I use alongside the text message testifies to the horror of a current evil practice about which we, as a society, are more or less silent. God have mercy upon us!
May God guide you today and always.