Dear Father Angelo,
I am confused regarding the use of contraceptive methods, which is obviously a grave sin, if not even mortal, before God.
As far as I know, the only way to avoid a pregnancy that is approved by the Catholic Church is to compute the days of a cycle (which is often unreliable).
My questions are:
1. Isn’t this also a contraceptive method?
If sexual intercourse itself is meant for the spouses to be an act of conception, isn’t then Ogino-Knaus also a contraceptive method that precludes the right to not conceive a life?
2. I had an example very close to home of how fallible this method can be, especially in women with an irregular cycle such as I am, and it is very likely that, were I to place myself in the hands of God, I would be popping out one child after another!! The mere thought of it terrifies me!
What should I do? Sometimes I think that I should abstain from intercourse, but this obviously could not be a valid solution in regards to my husband because I would not be fulfilling my marital duties.
Thank-you for your response, which I presume will be very thorough.
1. Contraception and natural methods are not the same thing.
To use an example, a seed thrown on hard cement cannot germinate, but if it is thrown on fertile ground it can.
2. When Karol Wojtila was the archbishop of Krakow he wrote: “If the possibility of parenthood is deliberately excluded from marital union, the character of the relationship automatically changes. The change is away from unification in love and in the direction of mutual or rather bilateral enjoyment. (Love and responsibility, p.228).
Also, “by doing violence to nature one also violates the person by making it an object of enjoyment rather than an object of love. Acceptance of the possibility of procreation in the marital relationship safeguards love and is an indispensable condition of a truly personal union”. (Ib., p. 229-230).
3. The added value that changes the nature of the relation is precisely the openness to procreation, that, even though it may not be desired, is not however excluded or rejected, as is the case of contraception, which clearly alters God’s plan on human love and sexuality.
4. It is true that the natural methods may be used with a contraceptive mindset. John Paul II says: “The use of infertile periods in a marital life together may turn into a form of abuse if the spouses seek to elude procreation without justified reasons, lowering it to a level of births below what is morally acceptable for their family. Such a level must be established taking into account not only the good of one’s own family and the state of health and possibilities of the spouses, but also the good of the society they belong to, as well as of the Church, and even of humanity as a whole” (General Audience 5.9.1984)
He adds: “The person may never be considered as a means to an end, especially not a means of ‘enjoyment’. It is, and must be the only end of every act.
Only then the morally correct regulation of fertility, is what corresponds to the true dignity of the person”. (Ib.)
When John Paul II says: “It is, and must be the only end of every act” he means that the marital act must be one by which one gives oneself to the spouse and not an act where the spouse is simply used as an object for one’s own carnal pleasure.
5. A recourse to infertile rhythms can be motivated by serious considerations, beginning with those of an economic and logistical nature. Pius XI already wrote in Casti Connubii: “Nor are those considered as acting against nature who in the married state use their right in the proper manner although on account of natural reasons either of time or of certain defects, new life cannot be brought forth. For in matrimony as well as in the use of the matrimonial rights there are also secondary ends, such as mutual aid, the cultivating of mutual love, and the quieting of concupiscence which husband and wife are not forbidden to consider so long as they are subordinated to the primary end and so long as the intrinsic nature of the act is preserved” (CC 59).
6. Piux XII too, in his speech to obstetricians expressed himself along the same lines: “The spouses may continue to exercise their matrimonial rights in their days of natural infertility… By doing so they neither prevent nor prejudice in any way the consummation of the natural act and its natural consequences” (29.10.1951).
7. Blessed Paul VI affirms in Humanae vitae that there is a substantial difference between periodic continence and contraception: “(This act)… moreover, does not cease to be legitimate even when, for reasons independent of their will, it is foreseen to be infertile. For its natural adaptation to the expression and strengthening of the union of husband and wife is not thereby suppressed. The fact is, as experience shows, that new life is not the result of each and every act of sexual intercourse. God has wisely ordered laws of nature and the incidence of fertility in such a way that successive births are already naturally spaced through the inherent operation of these laws” (HV 11).
“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, thus controlling birth in a way which does not in the least offend the moral principles which We have just explained” (HV 16).
8. Contraception is instead an obvious alteration of God’s plan, and for this very reason it separates us from Him. And because sexuality touches the intimacy of the person, the separation from God occurs deep within that person. God ceases to be the starting point and the point of arrival of that act.
God is not denied, but he’s removed. This is the grave fault, the damage one brings upon oneself. Grave sin and mortal sin are one and the same thing, as John Paul II explicitly stated in Reconciliatio et poenitentia :”In the church’s doctrine and pastoral action, grave sin is in practice identified with mortal sin” (RP 17).
9. There are several natural methods that are based on the rhythms of infertility. Ogino-Knaus was the first. Since then others have been discovered that are less cumbersome and more reliable. Combining two or more of them together increases their effectiveness considerably. According to the experts, if they are mastered and used well their reliability surpasses that of birth control devices.
10. Therefore it’s not true that the only alternative to contraception is procreation. There is also the middle ground of the acts performed according to God’s plan. This is marital chastity, which is very different from abstinence.
These acts are defined as “chaste intimacy”.
Contraceptive acts are defined as “disordered intimacy”, and are contrary to God’s plan and contrary also to authentic love.
I wish you all the best, I recommend you to the Lord and I bless you.