Written by Dom Pius Mary Noonan, O.S.B.
Easter, April 2023


“The poison was brewed in these West lands but it has spat itself everywhere by now. However far you went you would find the machines, the crowded cities, the empty thrones, the false writings, the barren beds: men maddened with false promises and soured with true miseries, worshipping the iron works of their own hands, cut off from Earth their mother and from the Father in Heaven. You might go East so far that East became West and you returned to Britain across the great Ocean, but even so you would not have come out anywhere into the light. The shadow of one dark wing is over all Tellus”. [1]

“Do not be confused!” It came as no surprise that Benedict XVI wrote these words in his Spiritual Testament. Through it he speaks to us even in death. Confusion has never been a feature of Christian morality. In St Ignatius of Loyola’s “Meditation on Two Standards”, the enemy of the human race, Satan, is portrayed as “seated on a great throne of fire and smoke, his appearance inspiring horror and terror”[2]. The smoke evokes confusion, anything that creates a blur, that makes things formerly clear now quite unclear. Satan fishes in murky waters.

Throughout history, there have always been plenty of topics about which Christians have legitimately disagreed. It has never been a Christian thing, however, to hesitate on fundamental points of dogma or morality, and one of them is contraception. Until the mid-twentieth century, it would have crossed the mind of no Catholic – priest, theologian or layperson – to defend the moral permissiveness of contraceptive practices. The advent of the Pill, however, created a blur. So did the oft-repeated lie of over-population. The two together were the perfect recipe to inject confusion into the minds of many Catholics. In recent times, ominous signs coming from prelates in high places indicate a desire for the question of contraception to be revisited, as if the final word had not already been given.

The final word, however, has been given. The doctrine is very clear and irreformable. In fact, upon it hangs the entire moral doctrine of the Church, and therefore her fidelity to the moral law, and the salvation of the souls entrusted to her. The reason for this is simple: if it is morally acceptable for spouses to indulge in sexual gratification while positively depriving the conjugal union of its life-giving potential, then on what grounds are we going to exclude other forms of sexual indulgence that are closed by their very nature to the transmission of life, namely all forms of self-gratification and sodomy? Indeed, once sex becomes detached from procreation, then it can only be about self-gratification, and this in turn can only lead to the dissolution of the natural institution of the family. Is it any wonder that we have now redefined marriage? Or that the divorce rate continues to rise? It all begins the day man thinks he can control and use at will the sources of life, and yet continue to enjoy the pleasures divinely associated with bringing new life into the world.

After the Lambeth Conference of 1930 which opened the door to contraception in the Anglican Communion, the Catholic Church stood firm. She stood firm again at Vatican II and in 1968 when Paul VI mustered up the courage to speak the truth loud and clear. She will stand firm today, even though so much effort seems to be put into troubling the waters and creating confusion. If, however, certain members of the Church are confused, there is no confusion in the Church. To be confused on essential points already resolved is to be ipso facto outside the great tradition. There is no confusion for those who accept the splendour of God’s light and truth.

With the exception of a few personal anecdotes, everything here has been said before by others. I have simply drawn upon their wisdom, seeking to offer it once again to confirm all those who do not doubt, but need encouragement to stand firm in the present crisis when it seems everything is up for grabs. Perhaps also it may convince others who are wavering, and even those who simply disagree. “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free”[3].


I – The Truth, Goodness and Beauty of God’s Plan in the Natural Law and in Revelation

For many people, the Church’s stance on morality is due to a negative view of human nature and sexuality. In reality, it is not upon sexuality at all that the Church casts a negative look, but upon its misuse; she knows its goodness and beauty and will not allow it to be profaned.

“God saw that it was very good.” So says Genesis (1:31) after the creation of the first man and woman. He created them with sexual complementarity in order that humans would be born into the world thanks to the loving embrace of their parents. It is because God is love that humans are meant to be born out of love. Is it not one of the symptomatic ills of our day that the expression “to make love” seems to have given way to the expression “to have sex”, which reduces the act of marital intercourse to a purely biological copulation, whereas “making love” points beyond the biological to the transcendent? Animals copulate. Humans make love, and making love, of its very nature, leads in God’s plan to making babies.

What is love? Love is the selfless, preferential choice of another person for their own good. In other words, love is not about self, even though one can only find personal fulfilment in loving another person. Love is about the other; it is about wanting the good of the other. Now, one cannot truly want the good of the other if one does not respect the other. If a man truly loves a woman enough to engage in sexual intercourse with her, then he will not seek to prevent her from conceiving new life from the seed he shares with her, for the potential to conceive is part and parcel of who she is. Everything in the female body is geared towards conceiving new life, giving birth to new life, and nurturing new life in the frail stages of infancy. For a man or a woman, or both, to use contraception of any kind is to have no respect for the woman or man they unite with. They seem to be saying: “I love you because I like the pleasure you give my body, but not enough to accept you with all your potential to be the mother or father of my children.” What kind of love is that?

In reality, the conjugal union of man and woman, even if we only consider it from the point of view of what nature tells us, is such that by its very nature it signifies and is destined to achieve – if it is not thwarted by artificial means – the mutual gift of one to the other. This mutual gift of self then opens up to the miracle of new life when God creates a new soul that will live forever. Parents provide the matter, God creates the soul. In this way, married couples are meant to act as co-workers with God in procreating new life. They will never fully realise, at least not in this life, what an honour has been entrusted to them, and what a responsibility goes with that honour.

An honour indeed it is to cooperate with the Creator. It is a privilege reserved to a man and a woman who are married, that is to say, who have committed themselves to each other for life, and who have thus prepared the context into which new life can be born and nurtured. Even in that context, their union must always remain open to life. To close oneself to it by contraception in any form is to distort the sexual act and to profane what is most sacred. This is so true that it can be said that contraceptive intercourse, regardless of the method used – be it surgical (sterilisation), chemical (Pill or injections), mechanical (condoms, IUD, etc.) or simply through withdrawal –, is not marital intercourse at all.

This, in a nutshell, is the basis of what nature itself teaches us and this is what has led to the Church’s teaching on contraception. Let’s now have a look at Divine Revelation and the Tradition of the Church to see how this truth was understood and lived out from the beginning.


The Old Testament

Before we can speak of what Christianity teaches, we must first take a look at the teaching of the Old Testament. Three points will suffice.

First of all, after creating man, male and female, in His own image and likeness, God gave them His very first command, the primordial commandment given to the human race, and which has never been revoked: Increase and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it (Gen 1:28). God gives four distinct commands here, and in them we can say that the entire moral teaching of the Church on marriage and its ends is contained.

The first is: Increase, that is to say, develop your individual human life. St Irenaeus of Lyons will later say, “Living man is the glory of God”[4]. God is glorified when man lives and develops according to the laws of his nature. Any attack on that life is an attack on God. God did not create death. “By the envy of the devil, death came into the world”.[5] With this sole command God has sanctioned for all times everything that fosters the growth and development of human beings.

The second is multiply. This refers to the procreation of offspring. At the beginning, there is the first human couple, Adam and Eve. God commands them to be fruitful, to multiply, which of its very nature, implies the acts that lead to the conception and birth of new life. Here we see God sanction and bless everything connected with the bringing of new life into the world, that is to say, a lifelong commitment to provide for, nourish and lead to maturity all life that is conceived through the union of the sexes.

The third is fill the earth. We are constantly hearing that the earth is over-populated. However, it is not hard to see how untrue this is. Take an example. There are 801,150,000,000 (that’s 801 billion, 150 million) square meters in the state of New South Wales, and there are today roughly 8,000,000,000 (that’s 8 billion) people on the planet. If the entire world population went to New South Wales today, we would, each of us, have roughly 100 square meters to move around in. Each person would have that space, including infants. A family of four would have 400 square meters. Let’s take that in for a second. The entire world population could comfortably fit into New South Wales alone, and we would all have plenty of room to sleep, eat and even do a fair bit of exercise. We might even have a small house and garden and small animals to provide for our food. Obviously, it would not be viable longterm, but one thing should be pretty obvious: we have certainly not fulfilled God’s command to fill the earth. Now, if God said to fill the earth, He knew what He was talking about and He knows how many resources the planet has. Let’s put our trust in Him.

The fourth command is subdue it, which means that creation has been put into the hands of the human race, not to abuse, but to use according to God’s plan. Here we have all the Church’s teaching on man’s prerogative as the king of creation, often left aside today by those who seek to promote the “rights” of animals or who purport that man is the problem in the world, or that we must honour “Mother Earth” as if she were a goddess. Man is lord of creation. He does not serve the earth, the earth serves him. He must conduct himself wisely, as God’s steward, in accordance with God’s law, but he does have command over it and is meant to subdue it and make it profitable to himself and his posterity.

The second Biblical text is also in Genesis. It’s the story of Onan, son of Juda. Onan’s brother had died without leaving any children. His father wanted him to raise up a posterity for his deceased brother, whose line would have otherwise failed, and so he took his brother’s widow for wife. For some reason, Onan did not want to continue his deceased brother’s line. So what did he do? He had intercourse with his new wife, but since he did not want to father a child with her, he did not complete the act in the natural way. “When he went in to his brother’s wife, he spilled his seed upon the ground, lest children should be born in his brother’s name. And therefore the Lord slew him, because he did a detestable thing”[6].

The constant interpretation of tradition is that this text is telling us much more than that Onan was playing a dirty game and being uncharitable to his brother by refusing to provide offspring for his name. The grave punishment inflicted directly by Almighty God – death on the spot – points to a heinous crime. What was so serious about what he did? Was it just the fact that he was frustrating his brother and his wife? Or was there something else coming into play? If we consider this episode and compare it with many others in Holy Scripture, in which a man is said to “go into” his wife, we see a stark contrast. The usual context is: “he went into her, and she conceived”[7]. Such is the natural order of things. The husband goes into his wife, and the wife conceives new life within her thanks to her husband’s visit. God has written this into the very act of generation. Here, on the other hand, we have the man going into his wife, but then withdrawing before the natural completion of the act, causing the human seed to be spilled on the ground. Instead of being placed in the fertile ground of his wife’s womb – the sacred space he alone had the right to enter –, Onan chose to profane it, to take the pleasure of intercourse, all the while pretending to do what he should according to the Law, but actually lying by his action. It is highly displeasing to Almighty God that a man should do this sort of thing: to spill his seed intentionally anywhere but in the proper vessel for it, that is, his wife’s womb[8].

The third Old Testament consideration is a general one. Children are always seen as a blessing. Psalm 127 is an example among others: “Blessed are all they that fear the Lord: that walk in his ways. For thou shalt eat the labours of thy hands: blessed art thou, and it shall be well with thee. Thy wife as a fruitful vine, on the sides of thy house. Thy children as olive plants, round about thy table. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed that feareth the Lord.” Nowhere in the Old Testament is barrenness seen as a blessing, even though in Isaiah we can see a prophecy of the future spiritual fecundity of consecrated celibacy[9]. Children are a blessing, the great sign that God has not abandoned us, that He is with us. Not only has He provided for the permanence of our species, but even more importantly He is providing future saints to fill the places left empty by the fallen angels. This is why the devil, as Our Lord tells us, is a “murderer from the beginning”[10], and why he seeks to eliminate the human race: it is the only way to prevent the places left empty by himself and his diabolical consorts from being filled by humans whom he detests. In light of this, it seems obvious that the present efforts to reduce world population are inspired directly by the father of darkness and lies.


The New Testament

Many of the problems in the Church today – and not just moral ones – would be resolved if Catholics would actually read the New Testament – and believe it. That may sound harsh, but it’s a valid observation, especially in the area of sexual behaviour. If there is one thing that stands out when reading the epistles of the apostles (St Paul, St Peter, St John, St James and St Jude), it is their insistence upon the fact that Christians do not live like other people do. There are moral demands made on Christians that set them apart from others. Due to the condemnation by the Mosaic Law of various forms of sexual perversion that were rampant among the pagan peoples of antiquity[11], Our Lord had no occasion to condemn them all explicitly, for He did not encounter them. The general bent of His moral teaching is clear, however, and is summarised in the Sermon on the Mount: Whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart”.[12] “Whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another committeth adultery against her. And if the wife shall put away her husband and be married to another, she committeth adultery”.[13]Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect”.[14]

When the apostles left Israel and took the Gospel to the nations, they were immediately confronted with the appalling morals of the pagan peoples they were evangelising. This is why we find it as a leitmotiv in the epistles: “Be not conformed to this world”[15]. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from fornication: that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour, not in the passion of lust, like the Gentiles that know not God”[16]. “For the time past is sufficient to have fulfilled the will of the Gentiles, for them who have walked in riotousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings and unlawful worshipping of idols. Wherein they think it strange that you run not with them into the same confusion of riotousness: speaking evil of you”.[17]

The whole moral teaching of the apostles is substantially at odds with the prevalent morals of the time, especially in sexual matters. Nor are they content with general recommendations, but rather give specific forms of behaviour that are rejected as immoral: “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth: fornication, uncleanness, lust, evil concupiscence and covetousness, which is the service of idols. For which things the wrath of God cometh upon the children of unbelief”[18]. That is not all. This moral code is not presented as an option for Christians, but as an obligation, as so integral to Christianity that it is absolutely essential to salvation: “Do not err: neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers: nor the effeminate nor liers with mankind (practicing homosexuals) nor thieves nor covetous nor drunkards nor railers nor extortioners shall possess the kingdom of God”.[19] “God gave them up to the desires of their heart, unto uncleanness: to dishonour their own bodies among themselves… For this cause, God delivered them up to shameful affections. For their women have changed the natural use into that use which is against nature. And, in like manner, the men also, leaving the natural use of the women, have burned in their lusts, one towards another: men with men, working that which is filthy and receiving in themselves the recompense which was due to their error. And as they liked not to have God in their knowledge, God delivered them up to a reprobate sense”.[20]

The attentive reader cannot fail to notice the extraordinary realism of these proscriptions. Actions matter. They matter because we are body and soul. It is by means of the actions of our body that we go to God or separate ourselves from Him. This irremediable tension between Christianity and the world explains why, from the very start, the world has never been and never can be a guide for Christian living. As soon as a Christian finds himself taking his moral cue from the world, he has already gone off track.


Fathers and Doctors of the Church

With all this in mind, we are now in a position to understand the severity with which tradition has rejected any voluntary action that deprives the sexual union of husband and wife of its life-giving potential. Since the Fathers of East and West are in perfect agreement on this matter, a few examples will suffice.

Making implicit reference to Onan, St John Chrysostom taught the faithful: “Why do you sow where the field is eager to destroy the fruit; where there are medicines of sterility; where there is murder before birth? You do not even let a harlot remain only a harlot but you make her a murderess as well. Do you not see that from drunkenness comes fornication, from fornication adultery, from adultery murder? Indeed, it is something worse than murder and I do not know what to call it; for she does not kill what is formed but prevents its formation. What then? Do you contemn the gift of God, and fight with His law? … Do you make the anteroom of birth the anteroom of slaughter? Do you teach the woman who is given to you for the procreation of offspring to perpetuate killing?”[21]

St Cesarius of Arles writes: “Who is he who cannot warn that no woman may take a potion so that she is unable to conceive or condemns in herself the nature which God willed to be fecund? As often as she could have conceived or given birth, of that many homicides she will be held guilty, and, unless she undergoes suitable penance, she will be damned by eternal death in hell. If a woman does not wish to have children, let her enter into a religious agreement with her husband; for chastity is the sole sterility of a Christian woman”.[22]

The common doctor of the Church, St Thomas Aquinas, writes: “Nor, in fact, should it be considered a slight sin for a man to arrange for the emission of semen apart from the proper purpose of begetting and bringing up children…. the inordinate emission of semen is incompatible with the natural good of preserving the species. Hence, after the sin of homicide whereby a human life already in existence is destroyed, this type of sin appears to take next place, for by it the generation of human nature is impeded”.[23]

From the 13th century up until the 1917 Code of Canon Law, that is to say for a period of at least 600 years, the book of crimes in the Decretals of Gregory IX, has this harsh condemnation: “If anyone for the sake of fulfilling sexual desire or with premeditated hatred does something to a man or a woman, or gives something to drink, so that he cannot generate or she cannot conceive or offspring be born, let him be held as a murderer”.[24]

What is so striking about these texts is that contraception is clearly compared to murder. Indeed, after the murder of an innocent human being, the prevention of the conception of a new human being was always considered by the ancients to be the gravest sin. This, incidentally, is the most fundamental reason for the universal reprobation of sodomy, and why St Thomas in particular places this vice immediately after murder. It will come then as no surprise that the Catechism of the Council of Trent explicitly states: “Whoever in marriage artificially prevents conception, or procures an abortion, commits a most serious sin: the sin of premeditated murder”.[25]

Nor is this teaching reserved to the Catholic Church. All Christians up until the 20th century concurred with it. As just one example, let’s quote John Calvin commenting on the sin of Onan: “Onan not only defrauded his brother of the right due him, but also preferred his semen to putrefy on the ground…. The voluntary spilling of semen outside of intercourse between a man and a woman is a monstrous thing. Deliberately to withdraw from coitus in order that semen may fall on the ground is doubly monstrous. For this is to extinguish the hope of the race and to kill before it is born the hoped-for offspring… If any woman ejects a foetus from her womb by drugs, it is reckoned a crime incapable of expiation, and deservedly Onan incurred upon himself the same kind of punishment, infecting the earth by his semen in order that Tamar might not conceive a future human being as an inhabitant of the earth”.[26]

The teaching of Holy Scripture and of Tradition is clear and leaves no room for doubt. God’s commandments are not arbitrary. They are not designed to make life harder for us, but rather to be a recipe for happiness. How could it be otherwise when they are part of God’s revelation of Himself, as the Catechism admirably teaches: “The ‘ten words’ (that is, the ten commandments) are pronounced by God in the midst of a theophany. They belong to God’s revelation of Himself and His glory. The gift of the Commandments is the gift of God Himself and His holy will. In making His will known, God reveals Himself to His people”.[27]

If the commandments reveal God to us, then they tell us who He really is and how we can please Him. The fundamental reason for which certain actions are proscribed is that they are incompatible, and irretrievably so, with the love of God. That is why the ban on contraception is not just a positive law of God or the Church that could be changed. It is grounded in the Natural Law and is an expression of it. It can no more be changed than the commandment not to commit adultery or murder.


II – The Modern Crisis and the Church’s Response

Outside of Christianity there have always been those to pervert the beautiful teaching of the Natural Law as exposed by the Church. Among those who profess the name of Christ, however, there were virtually no dissonant voices until the late 19th and early 20th centuries. With the movement for the emancipation of women and the rapid moral landslide that followed the First World War, the traditional mores of Christians were challenged. The Anglican Communion, through its Lambeth Conference, on several occasions, reiterated the teaching of tradition. However, in 193o the floodgates were opened when, in its 15th resolution, it stated: “In those cases where there is such a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, and where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence, the Conference agrees that other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of the same Christian principles”.[28] This was the first instance in which a Christian denomination officially allowed the use of contraception, albeit limiting its scope and use. The caveat, however, would be quickly left aside, and it would not be long before contraception was accepted with hardly any restrictions at all.


Pius XI

Pope Pius XI lost no time in answering the challenge posed by the 1930 Lambeth Conference. On 31 December of that same year, he published his landmark encyclical Casti Connubii, as if to make sure that such a devastating decision as that of the Anglican bishops should be countered by an authoritative voice in the very year of its publication.

Casti Connubii, as the title itself indicates, is an encyclical on marriage, more specifically on how spouses are to maintain chastity within their marriage. After reiterating the teaching of the Church on the beauty of marriage and its great dignity, shown especially by the fact that Christ raised it to the dignity of one of the seven sacraments of the New Covenant, the Pope went on to evoke the evils that are undermining marriage in our day. Marriage is not moral license to indulge lust. Married couples are called to be chaste in marriage. What does this mean? Marital chastity is realised in two ways: the first is by mutual fidelity, which signifies that spouses may never, even in thought, indulge in intimate relations with anyone but their legitimate spouse, nor give themselves over to voluntary self-gratification; the second is by respecting the laws that govern procreation, and this means that the use of the sexual instinct must always obey the laws of nature, that is to say, be accomplished by the natural union of the two sexes in one flesh and always remain open to life. Couples who respect these two points are living conjugal chastity; they honour the sacrament of marriage by their lives. The marriage bed is thus undefiled, as we read in the epistle to the Hebrews : “Marriage honourable in all, and the bed undefiled. For fornicators and adulterers God will judge”.[29]

As regards contraceptive practices, Pius XI stated the following: “No reason, however grave, may be put forward by which anything intrinsically against nature may become conformable to nature and morally good. Since, therefore, the conjugal act is destined primarily by nature for the begetting of children, those who in exercising it deliberately frustrate its natural power and purpose sin against nature and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious. Small wonder, therefore, if Holy Writ bears witness that the Divine Majesty regards with greatest detestation this horrible crime and at times has punished it with death. As St Augustine notes, ‘Intercourse even with one’s legitimate wife is unlawful and wicked where the conception of the offspring is prevented. Onan, the son of Juda, did this and the Lord killed him for it’.[30] Since, therefore, openly departing from the uninterrupted Christian tradition some recently have judged it possible solemnly to declare another doctrine regarding this question, the Catholic Church, to whom God has entrusted the defense of the integrity and purity of morals, standing erect in the midst of the moral ruin which surrounds her, in order that she may preserve the chastity of the nuptial union from being defiled by this foul stain, raises her voice in token of her divine ambassadorship and through Our mouth proclaims anew: any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin”.[31]

Three points especially are to be noted here. First of all, Pope Pius XI’s reference to the sin of Onan is significant of what the entire Christian tradition tells us of this abominable crime. The term “onanism” has come to mean, in the broad sense, the voluntary frustration of the natural life-giving capacities of the conjugal act. In this the Pope officially confirms the traditional exegesis of the text of Genesis. The second is that the Pope clearly affirms the right of the Church to pronounce on this question, for it is to the Church that God has entrusted the defence of the integrity and purity of the moral life. Therefore, just as she can pronounce definitively on dogmatic issues – for example in teaching that Christ is substantially, and not symbolically present in the Holy Eucharist –, so can she teach definitively that certain actions are clearly contrary to God’s law. The third, and perhaps the most important, is that Pius XI teaches that such actions are intrinsically against nature and therefore intrinsically evil. The intentions that spouses might have in practicing onanism have nothing to do with the matter. Circumstances and intentions can never change the fact that all contraceptive practices are always and everywhere gravely sinful, and can never be justified for any reason whatsoever.


Pius XII

Given the crystal clear teaching of his immediate predecessor, Pius XII did not feel required to publish any solemn documents on the matter of contraception. He did, however, in his famous discourse to midwives, articulate the definitive character of the received teaching in a most emphatic way by summarising the teaching and asserting that his predecessor solemnly proclaimed anew – thus making reference to tradition – the fundamental law governing the marital act: “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”.[32]


Paul VI

In the pastoral constitution Gaudium et spes, the Second Vatican Council taught: “Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the begetting and educating of children. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute very substantially to the welfare of their parents”.[33] In the following paragraph, the same document stated that “the sons of the Church may not undertake methods of birth control which are found blameworthy by the teaching authority of the Church in its unfolding of the divine law”.[34] A footnote to this passage adds that more specific instructions would be given later by the Pope.

Paul VI’s final word came in the form of the encyclical Humanae Vitae, published on 25 July, 1968, the central teaching of which is that there is an “inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act. The reason is that the fundamental nature of the marriage act, while uniting husband and wife in the closest intimacy, also renders them capable of generating new life—and this as a result of laws written into the actual nature of man and of woman. And if each of these essential qualities, the unitive and the procreative, is preserved, the use of marriage fully retains its sense of true mutual love and its ordination to the supreme responsibility of parenthood to which man is called. […] An act of mutual love which impairs the capacity to transmit life which God the Creator, through specific laws, has built into it, frustrates His design which constitutes the norm of marriage, and contradicts the will of the Author of life. Hence to use this divine gift while depriving it, even if only partially, of its meaning and purpose, is equally repugnant to the nature of man and of woman, and is consequently in opposition to the plan of God and His holy will. […] The direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children. Equally to be condemned, as the magisterium of the Church has affirmed on many occasions, is direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary. Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means”.[35]

In other words, since union and procreation have been united by the Creator in the very act of conjugal intercourse, any interference by man or woman that would prevent the natural consequences of a single conjugal act, is contrary to God’s law, and for that reason must be reproved. The definition includes any form of contraception, chemical or manual, anything “artificial” in the sense of a human act designed to interfere with the course of nature.

This is why the encyclical then goes on to mention recourse to infertile periods as a legitimate way of spacing births when there are serious reasons for doing so: “If therefore there are well-grounded reasons for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances, the Church teaches that married people may then take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile”.[36]

Paul VI made it clear that it is not within the power of the Church to change this teaching on the immorality of contraception: “Since the Church did not make either of these laws, she cannot be their arbiter—only their guardian and interpreter. It could never be right for her to declare lawful what is in fact unlawful, since that, by its very nature, is always opposed to the true good of man”.[37] Once again the teaching was crystal clear.

Tragically, in the years between Vatican II and Humanae Vitae, many theologians had voiced their personal opinions that Paul VI could and would change the teaching. This explains why the encyclical Humanae vitae, published on 25 July 1968, resounded like a clap of thunder. Several of the theologians who had been hoping for change immediately reacted with what they termed “dissent”, as if one could dissent from Church teaching and remain a faithful Catholic. Cardinal James Stafford, in an article published for the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, in July 2008, tells of the atmosphere in the United States in the summer of 1968, and how, in particular, the news of Humanae Vitae reached the public at the same time as the news of the dissent of the theologians. Stafford wrote that “something terrible happened in the Church” in that year.[38] Henceforth, next to the voice of the Church, there would be the contradictory voice of prominent theologians, soon joined by a number of bishops and priests, who would not hesitate to put their own teaching before that of the Church, leading the mass of the faithful away from the path of truth and holiness. Pope Paul, however, stood firm, and he paid a price for it. It is said he never got over the shock of the backlash. He would reign another ten years, but would never again write an encyclical.


John Paul II

When Karol Wojtyla was elected to the papacy, he promptly set himself to the task of making a specific contribution to the Church’s teaching on conjugal morality by presenting to the world what he called his “Theology of the Body”. He would spend the first five years of his pontificate painstakingly expressing for the universal Church and the world his convictions on human sexuality. This is not the place to present his thinking in detail; numerous qualified authors have done that. John Paul II relied on his personalist philosophical approach to give to the teaching on contraception some new, profound and valid insights. Some of his expressions are stunning by their concision. Here are just a few examples.

In a talk to a group of Indonesian Bishops: “Contraception is to be judged objectively so illicit that it can never, for any reason be justified… God’s wisdom supersedes human calculation and His grace is powerful in people’s lives”.[39] In the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio: “When couples, by means of recourse to contraception, separate these two meanings that God the Creator has inscribed in the being of man and woman and in the dynamism of their sexual communion, they act as ‘arbiters’ of the Divine plan and they ‘manipulate’ and degrade human sexuality – and with it themselves and their married partner – by altering its value of ‘total’ self-giving. 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”[40].

Speaking to groups in St Peter’s Square, he said: “When, therefore, through contraception, married couples remove from the exercise of their conjugal sexuality its potential procreative capacity, they claim a power which belongs solely to God: the power to decide in a final analysis the coming into existence of a human person. They assume the qualification of not being cooperators in God’s creative power, but the ultimate depositaries of the source of human life. In this perspective, contraception is to be judged objectively so profoundly unlawful, as never to be, for any reason, justified. To think or to say the contrary is equal to maintaining that in human life, situations may arise in which it is lawful not to recognise God as God”.[41] “It can be said that in the case of an artificial separation of these two aspects (namely union and procreation), a real bodily union is carried out in the conjugal act, but it does not correspond to the interior truth and to the dignity of personal communion: communion of persons. This communion demands that the language of the body be expressed reciprocally in the integral truth of its meaning. If this truth be lacking, one cannot speak either of the truth of self-mastery, or of the truth of the reciprocal gift and of the reciprocal acceptance of self on the part of the person. Such a violation of the interior order of conjugal union, which is rooted in the very order of the person, constitutes the essential evil of the contraceptive act”.[42]

Finally, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, promulgated by Pope John Paul II, teaches: “Fecundity is a gift, an end of marriage, for conjugal love naturally tends to be fruitful. A child does not come from outside as something added on to the mutual love of the spouses, but springs from the very heart of that mutual giving, as its fruit and fulfilment. So the Church, which is on the side of life teaches that it is necessary that each and every marriage act remain ordered per se to the procreation of human life. This particular doctrine, expounded on numerous occasions by the Magisterium, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act. Called to give life, spouses share in the creative power and fatherhood of God. Married couples should regard it as their proper mission to transmit human life and to educate their children; they should realise that they are thereby cooperating with the love of God the Creator and are, in a certain sense, its interpreters. They will fulfil this duty with a sense of human and Christian responsibility”.[43]


Infallibility of the Teaching

As we saw earlier, the teaching of Paul VI in Humanae Vitae was promptly rejected by a number of dissident theologians and priests. To justify their dissent, they contended that the Pope had not spoken infallibly. Such a contention, however, does not stand up to scrutiny, for the teaching of the Church on contraception was, even prior to Humanae Vitae, already contained in the universal ordinary magisterium. Indeed, when a doctrine has been taught consistently in every age since the beginning, it is by that very fact part of the ordinary magisterium of the Church. This was actually the case for most of the dogmas of the faith before they were defined. They only became solemn dogmatic definitions when they were contested by heretics, but before then, they were already definitively and therefore infallibly held and taught. Furthermore, there are teachings which, though never defined as articles of faith, are nevertheless definitive parts of the truth that has been entrusted to the Church, so closely connected with the revealed truth itself, that to deny them would be to imperil the faith. The constant teaching of the Church on the immorality of contraception was in this category long before Humanae Vitae, for it is part of the Natural Law which the Church has the duty to expound, as she has done from the beginning. So we know that the teaching is already infallible thanks to the ordinary magisterium.[44]

What then did the encyclical Humanae Vitae add? What are we to say of its dogmatic status? On the one hand, it was not strictly necessary. The Pope could have simply reminded the Church by means of a few words in one of his homilies, of what the Church had always held and which had been repeated by Pius XI in Casti Connubii. Instead, he chose to put the full weight of his apostolic authority behind it by publishing an encyclical that gives an authoritative decision to the debate that had been revived in recent years. Humanae Vitae fulfils the criteria for infallibility as defined by the First Vatican Council, these being 1) that the Pope exercise his role as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful, 2) on a matter that concerns faith or morals, 3) that he impose his teaching on the universal Church, 4) and that he do so in a definitive act by which his intention to resolve the question is made manifest.

A close reading of Humanae Vitae indeed shows that 1) Paul VI clearly stated that he was speaking “in virtue of the mandate entrusted to us by Christ,” that mandate being none other than to be supreme teacher of the Church; 2) the matter is “a teaching which is based on the Natural Law as illuminated and enriched by Divine Revelation” and is therefore a matter of faith and morals entrusted to the Church to safeguard and promote; 3) he addresses himself to the universal Church upon which he is imposing his decision, thus manifestly intending to bind the consciences of the faithful; 4) he directly and conclusively pronounces his judgment concerning a matter of morality, in such a way as to put an end to any doubt, stating unequivocally that contraceptive practices must be absolutely rejected and condemned.[45]

The conclusion then is that on both accounts the teaching of the Church on contraception has been definitively and infallibly set forth, and therefore we are certainly in the presence of a case in which it is entirely true and exact to say: Roma locuta, causa finita. – Rome has spoken, the matter is settled. Nor can it be reopened by anyone, including Rome. Indeed, the constant immemorial teaching of the Church binds not only the faithful, but also the shepherds, and this includes the chief shepherd, the Pope. Benedict XVI expressed it admirably only three weeks after his election to the chair of St Peter: “The power that Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors is, in an absolute sense, a mandate to serve. The power of teaching in the Church involves a commitment to the service of obedience to the faith. The Pope is not an absolute monarch whose thoughts and desires are law. On the contrary: the Pope’s ministry is a guarantee of obedience to Christ and to his word. He must not proclaim his own ideas, but rather constantly bind himself and the Church to obedience to God’s word, in the face of every attempt to adapt it or water it down, and every form of opportunism. … The Pope knows that in his important decisions, he is bound to the great community of faith of all times, to the binding interpretations that have developed throughout the Church’s pilgrimage. Thus, his power is not being above, but at the service of, the word of God. It is incumbent upon him to ensure that this word continues to be present in its greatness and to resound in its purity, so that it is not torn to pieces by continuous changes in usage”.[46]

It does not take much effort to understand how devastating it would be if a doctrine, after having been held and taught for so long, were to become a debatable one. If it were to come about that the Church were to change that teaching, or even to allow discussion on it, then there is hardly anything at all in the tradition that the faithful would consider to be non-negotiable. This is why Our Lord Jesus Christ wanted His Church to be gifted with infallibility, so that the faithful would be certain of having the truth and “so that we may no longer be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming”.[47]

God, indeed, does not speak to us in such a way as to lead us astray. If He struck Onan dead on the spot when he spilled his seed, He wanted us to understand what a grave sin that is. It is therefore unacceptable for anyone to speak in such a way as to call into doubt such truths. To do so is to combat the very faith one professes to believe. As Pope Benedict said in the text quoted above, it would be to allow God’s word to be “torn to pieces”. That is why it is so disturbing to hear a theologian or a priest – or worse, a bishop – creating a blur by suggesting that the doctrine needs to be revised, or that the debate could be reopened. This is to undermine the very existence of the Church we are intended to serve. In fact, we could go even further and say that the doctrine is so clearly affirmed and with such constant authority that even to cast doubt upon it in any circumstances is already to put oneself outside of the tradition that is faithful to Christ. This goes for anyone at all in the Church whatever might be their rank.[48] This is why it is no exaggeration to say that the entire faith is at stake in this issue. The deposit of faith has been entrusted to us to safeguard, not to dilapidate.


Fallacies about Conscience

Shortly after the 1968 publication of Humanae Vitae, one of the arguments put forward by those who sought ways around its teaching was the individual conscience argument. It goes something like this: “The Pope has stated the objective standard of the moral order, but this does not diminish the subjective rights of conscience; a couple must make their own judgment on the matter, taking into consideration what the Church says, but in the end, whatever they decide to do is good for them.”

If the argument means in practice that couples who are preparing for marriage should be taught to make up their minds about contraception and to do what they think is best, there is something cruel and heartless about it. To tell someone that they must make their own decision in conscience but without giving them the needed information so they can form their conscience according to the teaching of the Church, is irresponsible – it is a pastoral failure. Indeed the whole purpose of the teaching of the Church is to enlighten the minds of the faithful and strengthen the clergy in their presentation of the doctrine, precisely in order to guide the moral judgments of those entrusted to their care. Furthermore it is not enough to want to do the right thing. One absolutely has to have grace, and it is the Church that brings that grace to us through humble submission to God’s word and through the sacraments. If we do not give the faithful the means to obtain grace and live up to the moral law, if we pretend it is only a question of making one’s choice and living up to it, then we have fallen into the heresy of Pelagianism. If, on the other hand, the argument means that the Church’s teaching is an opinion among others, then we have a veritable betrayal of the true teaching and a grave lack of charity for the very souls we are meant to serve. Towards the end of Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul stated: “It is an outstanding manifestation of charity toward souls to omit nothing from the saving doctrine of Christ”.[49]

Illustrating in his person true pastoral charity for souls, Pope John Paul II insisted on numerous occasions on the necessity of forming consciences. For example: “It is not enough to say that we must always follow our conscience. Each one of us must ‘form’ a right conscience, one that seeks to know the truth as revealed to us by God, according to His wise and loving plan”.[50] In a World Day of Peace message: “Yes, the conscience is supreme – but not as a source of truth. And yes, a person has to follow his conscience, but a person does not manufacture truth. A person must learn from revelation and other sources”.[51]

We must also add that humans are very good at fooling themselves and making themselves believe they are following their conscience when they are actually being guided by passion or self-interest. The saints tell us that habitual sins, especially those of the flesh, are one of the causes of spiritual blindness which can lead a soul to actually think they are doing the right thing when in reality they have allowed themselves to go down a path that at the start they had misgivings about, but on which they gradually became accustomed to sin and consequently dulled and silenced their conscience. In the novel quoted at the beginning of this article, C. S. Lewis conveys the drama of the person who has little by little stifled his conscience and finds himself on the brink of death and damnation: “Often the man knows with perfect clarity that some still possible action of his own will could yet save him. But he cannot make this knowledge real to himself. Some tiny habitual sensuality, some resentment too trivial to waste on a blue-bottle, the indulgence of some fatal lethargy, seems to him at that moment more important than the choice between total joy and total destruction. With eyes wide open, seeing that the endless terror is just about to begin and yet (for the moment) unable to feel terrified, he watches passively, not moving a finger for his own rescue, while the last links with joy and reason are severed, and drowsily sees the trap close upon his soul. So full of sleep are they at the time when they leave the right way”.[52]


Role of the Clergy

Towards the end of Humanae Vitae, Paul VI turns to priests: “Beloved sons, you who are priests, you who in virtue of your sacred office act as counsellors and spiritual leaders both of individual men and women and of families — We turn to you filled with great confidence. For it is your principal duty — We are speaking especially to you who teach moral theology—to spell out clearly and completely the Church’s teaching on marriage”.[53]

The Pope here was simply repeating the teaching of his namesake: “Preach the word: be instant in season, out of season: reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine”.[54] If a pastor does these things, he can expect that many will go away saddened saying: This saying is too hard[55]. But he must not falter when he meets apparent failure; rather must he be renewed in his faith in Jesus his Lord, and know that by preaching the truth, he is truly promoting the interests of the kingdom of God and those of the people he serves. The truth! We must be co-workers with the truth: Cooperatores veritatis.[56] It is only in and through the truth that the Kingdom can be established and spread.

All priests know by experience of the difficult situations that parents sometimes find themselves in, and the difficulty can be great to place upon them the full demands of the moral law. But we also know that those same parents who today are perhaps saddened by the burden of another child, some years down the road, may come and thank that priest for having been so demanding with them. The truth – only the truth – saves.


III – How Contraception Damages the World

Paul VI had also pointed out a number of serious consequences that would follow were artificial contraception to become widespread. He mentions in particular: Greater marital infidelity, a general lowering of moral standards, growing disregard of men for women, increased power of governments over people’s  lives.

More than half a century later, it is all too obvious that Pope Paul was right. Concerning fornication and marital infidelity, the fear of conceiving out of wedlock has always been a great deterrent. The Pill gave the impression that this was no longer a problem. When sterile sex becomes possible, the door is opened to promiscuity. This of course leads directly to the lowering of moral standards. It also explains the sexualisation of our youth and the growing number of teenage pregnancies. Contraceptives are distributed in schools to prevent pregnancy, but contraceptives are not entirely reliable and their very availability tells the kids that they are free to do as they please. As a consequence, most of our adolescents lose their virginity before they even know its value, and too many girls fall pregnant falsely thinking that they are “safe”.

As for the disregard for women, we need only consider the great numbers sold into the sex slavery of pornography as well as the rise in sexual violence against women in general. All this was made so much easier by the Pill. In former times, a man would hesitate before putting a woman at risk of conceiving. Nowadays it’s “her problem”. Really? How can it be just a “woman problem” when she needs a man to conceive? The sad reality is that contraception has made too many men irresponsible in their dealings with women and oblivious of their duties to them. In the minds of too many men, women have become toys to be used and discarded at will: if women don’t want to protect themselves, they think, that’s their problem! And this of course emasculates a great number of men and turns them into lifelong adolescents, fantasising about women they have never learned to respect, and for whom they would never take the least responsibility. Such men never grow up; they become moral failures, and contraception has played a significant role in their demise.

Sadly, most women nowadays are using or have used some kind of contraception. Often they don’t like it, they don’t want it, but they feel trapped, and they can see no way out. One of the saddest experiences I have had as a priest was meeting a woman who at the time was beyond child-bearing age. She had three children, but had used contraception for years to avoid having more. In prayer it was given her to realise the gravity of what she had done. When she thought of those other children she could have had, and who will never be, it became unbearable. I have seen women weep bitterly over abortions they have had, but none as bitter as this poor woman when she realised she had closed her womb and her heart to several children who, at that very moment of her life, might have been there to help her bear the burden of old age. She wept and she cried. Had she been younger, she could have tried to have more children to make up for the ones she had refused, but now it was over; it was too late to do anything about it. I did my best to console her, and I think that she left having recovered some peace or at least hoping that God’s omnipotent grace has ways  unknown to us of making up for human sins and blunders.

The loss of potential lives to contraception is no small matter. Many years ago, someone in the pro-life movement did a cartoon in which a man is seen raising his fist to Heaven and saying: “God, why have you not given us a scientist with a cure for cancer?” And the answer came down: “I did, but you aborted him”. Even though I saw this drawing decades ago, I have never forgotten it. It keeps coming back to me when I see brave couples struggling to raise the children God gives them. How can you know what these children will become? One of them might change the course of history for the better.

This is true of abortion, but it is also true of contraception. C.S. Lewis once again brings this truth home in a stunning way. Towards the end of the book, when the world is about to be engulfed in irretrievable disaster, Merlin is brought from the Middle Ages to save it. He points out that God wanted to send a man to prevent the world from reaching its present state of disaster, but that child had been refused… by contraception. Speaking of the main characters, Jane and her husband, he adds: “Sir, it was the purpose of God that she and her lord should between them have begotten a child by whom the enemies should have been put out of Logres for a thousand years.”  – “She is but lately married,” said Ransom. “The child may yet be born.” – “Sir,” said Merlin, “be assured that the child will never be born, for the hour of its begetting is passed. Of their own will they are barren: …. For a hundred generations in two lines the begetting of this child was prepared; and unless God should rip up the work of time, such seed, and such an hour, in such a land, shall never be again”.[57] Those are sobering thoughts. They remind us that it is never a good idea to play God. You can really mess things up if you do.


Contraception and Euthanasia

Of potential geniuses lost to contraception we will never know for sure. One deprivation that is clearly before us now is the loss of inter-generational assistance. In God’s plan, people between the ages of 20 and 50 are meant to bring children into the world and support them in their education, but at the same time, these are the same people who must support their ageing parents. What will happen – what is already happening – when the people in that age frame are too few because of contraception, and older people are more numerous because of longer life-expectancy? Euthanasia becomes a solution. So is revealed another bitter fruit of the Pill.

In his commentary on the Fourth Commandment – Honour thy father and thy mother – St Thomas points out that in God’s providential plan, children, who owe everything to their parents, have the opportunity later on to give back what they had received. When we are small, our parents nurture us; when they grow old, we care for them. In this way, justice is accomplished among generations.

What happens when couples no longer have children, or too few children to assist them in their old age, especially when modern medecine allows them to live longer? Add to that the fact that nowadays most women have jobs, which means they have little time for helping their parents. The solution is often a nursing home, and everyone knows how little nursing homes resemble home. In that context, when health is weakened, there are no loved ones, few or no grandchildren, for the children too are now on contraception, euthanasia can be seen as a plausible way out.


Contraception and Abortion

One of the arguments used to promote contraception is that it reduces the number of abortions. The reality turns out to be quite different: abortions have only increased. The reason is simple. Since the Pill promises to prevent conception, sexual activity increases, but in reality the Pill often fails for any number of reasons, and so the number of pregnancies increases. Since people count on the Pill to prevent conception, when they do conceive, they feel like they have a right to abortion.

There is another connection, however, that many women are not aware of, namely that most contraceptive pills can and do cause early abortions because they have the secondary effect of making it impossible for the fertilised egg to nestle in the uterus. A sexually active woman who uses contraception daily, will most probably, without her being aware, abort once or twice a year, and that’s a very conservative figure. In addition, there are certain methods promoted as contraceptives, such as the IUD, which by their very nature are abortifacients, for they do not prevent conception but nidification.


Contraception and Homosexuality

Contraception has created a situation heretofore unknown in human history: sexual activity is no longer about procreation. If sex is not about procreation, then it can only be about mutual gratification. If it is permissible for married couples to have sterile sex, then why is it not permissible for anyone to have sterile sex with anyone else? Two men? Two women? Father and daughter? Mother and son? Brother and sister? Adult and child? The widespread use of contraception and its approval, by its very nature, opens the door to any form of sexual activity that supposedly gives satisfaction. This is made clear by the expression which, already a few decades ago, was used by practicing homosexuals to taunt contracepting heterosexuals: “We are all sodomites”. What it means is this: “You condemn us for sodomy because sodomy is barren sex. You are no better than us, because you too engage in barren sex. That makes you a sodomite like us. We are all sodomites now”.

There is, however, another less obvious aspect to the question. It concerns the physiological effects of hormonal contraception, not only on women, but on men. Dr. Lionel Tiger relates a 1972 experiment he performed on a tribe of stumptail macaque monkeys who were colonised on a small island off the coast of Bermuda. Researchers observed that the alpha male monkey, whom they named “Austin”, while free from human interference, had three favourite females as his usual sexual partners. The researchers injected some of the female monkeys with Depo-Provera at different times. When Austin’s favourite sexual partners were injected, he stopped copulating with them and replaced them with non-injected females. When his replacement mates were injected, he became disinterested in them too. Finally, all the female monkeys were injected. “Austin began to attempt rape, masturbate, and behave in a turbulent and confused manner,” Dr. Tiger explains, adding that Austin “hovered anxiously. But no matter what he did, there was never the usual episode of intercourse”.[58] For Dr. Tiger, Austin’s response was due to the fact that hormonal contraception creates a “chemical pregnancy” and eliminates the primal desire to procreate. In other words, the injected female monkey’s pheromones persuaded Austin against having sexual relations with them.

Other primate studies have shown similar effects on males’ attraction to females when hormonal birth control is introduced. Evolutionary psychologist Dr. Sarah E. Hill details how studies have shown that in both macaques and chimpanzees, females injected with hormonal birth control are less likely to be approached for sex than females not on birth control. She also discusses a study on cynomolgus monkeys, where the frequency with which males had sex with females on birth control was no different from the frequency with which they had sex with females not on birth control — but there was one key difference in their sexual activity: When having sex with females on birth control, the male monkeys never ejaculated. It was as if the pheromones put out by the injected females signalled to their sexual partners that they were a “reproductive dead end,” as Dr. Hill describes it[59]. In other words, when females are on contraception, males are sexually less attracted to them.

It takes little effort to imagine the consequences that contracepting women and girls have on men around them: if women are not ovulating because they are “chemically pregnant” and therefore producing pheromones that signal they are “reproductive dead ends”, they will need other ways of attracting men, such as provocative fashions and attitudes; the consequences on public modesty are all too evident. Furthermore, it is hardly a stretch of the imagination to think that if men are not drawn to the women around them because they are not ovulating, they may unconsciously seek an outlet in other males. It may legitimately be asked whether this is one of the reasons for the rise in homosexual tendencies.


Contraception as Sin

Not a few authors insist upon the bad effects of contraception on women and society at large. What is often missing is discourse on the reality of contraception as sin. Contraception offends God. It offends Him gravely. It is serious, mortal sin, that gives death to the soul, deprives it of sanctifying grace, hands it over to the realm of darkness and, if not repented of, leads to eternal damnation. If you touch fire you get burnt. When you knock your head against a wall, you don’t hurt the wall: you only hurt yourself, and that hurt can be irreparable.

The Church, with its 2,000 year tradition tells us with utmost clarity: contraception is evil. Don’t do it! If you do, you can be lost forever. You may repent, as with any sin, but be careful, because some vices can take such control over you that to turn back requires a major intervention of Divine Grace. The pandemic of pornography makes this all too evident. Men who use pornography often find themselves locked up in a prison they feel powerless to get out of – it is a merciless addiction. So with contraception or any kind of sterile sex that is indulged in: there is a terrible risk of addiction. The bodily addiction that has chemical explanations is also compounded by a spiritual addiction called blindness. Our tradition tells us that repeated sins of the flesh blind the mind.[60] A person who consistently turns his eyes down lest he see heaven, as the Book of Daniel (13:9) says of the wicked old judges who tried to seduce and then murder the chaste Suzanna, often finds himself in utter spiritual darkness, no longer able to see what a lamentable state he is in. Grace can overcome the evil and heal, thanks in particular to intense prayer and the Sacrament of Penance, but the battle is fierce and could have been avoided with proper formation and guidance. This is another reason for which the shepherds of the Church cannot omit consistent catechesis and preaching on these matters, especially for the young, for it is in adolescence that such habits are formed. “Not much experience is needed,” wrote Paul VI, “to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings — and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation — need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law”.[61]


Our fidelity to the goodness of our God and to the goodness of His creation is intimately bound up with tranquil possession of the truth on the matter of contraception. On it depends our fidelity to Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life. On it depends the future of humanity and the begetting of souls who are destined to see God and glorify Him for all eternity.

Eternity! Let that be the final word. It is only for having forgotten it that we find ourselves where we are, for if all Christians would only fix their gaze intently on eternity each day of their lives, the trials of each day would pale in significance. If our youth were taught that life is essentially a preparation for death and judgment, they would find the courage to be chaste and wait for marriage, and many of them would even discover the beauty of consecrated virginity and celibacy. If married couples remembered that they are bringing up children who are called to a blessed life of communion with the Triune God for all eternity, the daily burdens of bearing and rearing them would be so much lighter, and courage would be given them to welcome with joy any new additions to their family.

Let me conclude with a very personal story. I am the last of ten children. My nine siblings were all baby-boomers. They followed each other in birth by a year or two, from 1949 to 1961 – that’s nine children in twelve years. When my mother, pregnant for the seventh time, went to see her doctor, he wanted to terminate the pregnancy and “fix” my mother to make sure this wouldn’t happen again. Brave, God-fearing woman that she was, she left that doctor’s office and never returned. She had four more children, two of whom are now priests.

After the ninth birth in 1961, my parents must have gotten the impression that God had decided their family was complete. Several years passed. Things were difficult. My mother, in particular, had a heavy load on her shoulders, what with all the usual challenges of so many youngsters in the house, and the hardships involved in making ends meet. My father never had a high paying job, and he supplemented his low salary by spending his weekends working on a farm. My mother knew she needed help. She had so much on her hands, and she did not know how she could possibly do it. Through her faith, she knew prayer is always the solution, and so in January 1967, she made a novena to Our Lady of Lourdes, leading up to her feast day (11 February). At its conclusion she had an appointment with the doctor, and lo and behold, she was pregnant for the tenth time! Eight months later I was born. My parents told me that they always considered my birth to be an answer to prayer. Our Lady heard the prayers of a poor, tired mother and answered them by giving her an extra load to carry – a handful I was, no doubt! My mother told me that my birth resolved many of the problems she had at the time. The new baby created unity and bonded my siblings stronger than before.

The family I was born into was certainly not perfect – is there such a thing as a perfect family? –, but I cannot help wondering what life would have been like for my parents had they caved in to the ambient spirit of the age, had they thought they had enough children and didn’t need another one. There would have been no joy around a crib in October 1967; there would have been no resolution to potential family conflicts; there would have been no Benedictine monk to sing the praises of God, and no priest to offer the Holy Sacrifice and preach the truth to souls. But these things did happen, and they happened only because my parents knew from Divine Revelation that it is never a good idea to tamper with the sources of life. Human life is the means God chooses to enter the world. It is His way of meeting us and bringing love among us. This is why the words of the archangel Gabriel to Zachariah, the father of St John the Baptist, have always touched me deeply: “Many shall rejoice at his birth”[62].


[1] C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, ch. 13, Scribner Space Trilogy edition (2003) 290.
[2] St Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, 140.
[3] Jn 8:32
[4] “Gloria enim Dei homo vivens, vita autem hominis visio Dei”, Adversus haereses, 4, 20, 7.
[5] Wisdom 2:24.
[6] Gen 38:8-10.
[7] See for example Hosea 1:3 or 2 Sam 11:4-5.
[8] For a more in-depth treatment of the sin of Onan, see Brian Harrison, O.S., “The Sin of Onan Revisited”, in Living Tradition, No. 67, September 1996, pp. 1-9. The article was republished in full in Homiletic & Pastoral Review, December 1997, pp. 30-32, 46-50, and again, in abbreviated form, as “The Real Sin of Onan”, in Catholic Answers Magazine, March-April 2017, pp. 38-41. The online version is at http://www.rtforum.org/lt/lt67.html
[9] Cf. Isaiah, 56:4-5.
[10] Jn 8:44.
[11] See for example, Lev. 20:10-21.
[12] Mt 5:28.
[13] Mk 10:11-12.
[14] Mt 5:48.
[15] Rom 12:2.
[16] 1 Th 4:3-5.
[17] 1 Pt 4:1-4.
[18] Col 3:5-6.
[19] 1 Co 6:9-10. The Douay-Rheims version we follow here translates the Greek term literally as “liers with mankind” that is to say men who sleep with other men. The RSV reads “male prostitutes”, the NAB reads “sodomites”. In any case, the text refers to unnatural relations between males.
[20] Rm 1:24-28.
[21] St. John Chrysostom, Homily 24 on the Epistle to the Romans, emphasis added.
[22] St Cesarius of Arles, Sermons 1:12.
[23] St Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, 3, 122.
[24] Decretals, Book 5, title 12, chapter 5.
[25] The Roman Catechism, Part II, Chap. 7, No. 13. In the encyclical Humanae Vitae, Paul VI will reference this text.
[26] John Calvin, Commentaries on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis, Ch. 38: 9,10.
[27] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2059.
[28] Lambeth Conference, 15 August 1930.
[29] Heb 13:4.
[30] St August., De coniug. adult., lib. II, n. 12.
[31] Pius XI, Encyclical Casti Connubii, 54-56.
[32] Pius XII, Discourse to Midwives, 29 October 1951 (emphasis added).
[33] Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et spes, 50.
[34] Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et spes, 51.
[35] Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, 12, 13, 14.
[36] Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, 16.
[37] Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, 18.
[38] Cardinal James Stafford, “Humanae Vitae, The Year of the Peirasmos – 1968”, originally published in the L’Osservatore Romano and republished by The California Catholic Daily, 29 July 2008.
[39] John Paul II, 7 June 1980.
[40] John Paul II, Familiaris consortio, no.  32.
[41] John Paul II, L’Osservatore Romano, Oct. 10, 1983.
[42] John Paul II, General Audience of 22 August 1984.
[43] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2366-2367.
[44] For a more in-depth explanation cf. John C. Ford, S.J., and Germain Grisez, “Contraception and the Infallibility of the Ordinary Magisterium,” Theological Studies 39:2, June 1978, pp. 258-312.
[45] Cf. in Humanae Vitae the preliminary address to the universal Church as well as paragraphs 4, 6 and 14. To go further, cf. Ermenegildo Lio, OFM, Humanae Vitae e Infallibilità: il Concilio, Paolo VI e Giovanni Paolo II, Libreria Ed. Vaticana, 1986; Brian Harrison, O.S., “The Ex Cathedra Status of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae”, in “Living Tradition: The Organ of the Roman Theological Forum”, September/November 1992; Andrew Kong, “A Canonical Investigation of the Infallibility of the Teaching in Humanae Vitae” in “Living Tradition, The Organ of the Roman Theological Forum”, No. 152, May 2011; John P. Joy, Disputed Questions on Papal Infallibility, Os Iusti Press, 2022, pp. 70-76: “Whether the Pope Speaks Infallibly in Humanae Vitae?”.
[46] Benedict XVI, Homily of 7 May 2005.
[47] Eph 4:14.
[48] This was made clear by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith when, in its explanation of the profession of faith on 29 June 1998, it declared: “Every believer, therefore, is required to give firm and definitive assent to these truths, based on faith in the Holy Spirit’s assistance to the Church’s Magisterium, and on the Catholic doctrine of the infallibility of the Magisterium in these matters. Whoever denies these truths would be in a position of rejecting a truth of Catholic doctrine and would therefore no longer be in full communion with the Catholic Church.” Note also that just one year earlier, the Pontifical Council for the Family had published a Vademecum for Confessors Concerning Some Aspects of the Morality of Conjugal Life in which one can read these words: “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.”
[49] Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, 29.
[50] John Paul II, General audience, August 17, 1983.
[51] John Paul II, January 1, 1991.
[52] C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, p. 350.
[53] Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, 28.
[54] 2 Tm 4:2.
[55] cf. Jn 6:61.
[56] Cf. 3 Jn:8
[57] C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, ch. 13, Scribner Space Trilogy edition, 2003, p. III/275-276
[58] Lionel Tiger , The Decline Of Males, St. Marin’s Griffin (2000) 39.
[59] Sarah E. Hill, This Is Your Brain on Birth Control: The Surprising Science of Women, Hormones, and the Law of Unintended Consequences, Avery (2019) 139.
[60] See, for example, St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, IIa-IIae, q. 153, a. 5.
[61] Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, 17.
[62] Lk 1:14.
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