Contraception and the Catholic Church

By Roger Heppleston | 28 February 2016

It is surely time for an open, direct, and formal renunciation of Humanae Vitae – the 1968 anti-contraception encyclical from Pope Paul VI.

Surely, one of the Catholic Church’s most inhuman dictates is its attitude to contraception. The Church has always had a problem in dealing with matters of sex. It fundamentally believes that sex should only be for procreation but never enjoyed. Nothing about contraception is mentioned in the Bible. The ban of artificial contraception is at the behest of celibate old men. The tradition goes back to the 2nd century AD. Among the early condemnations of contraception is one by Jerome referring to the ‘murder human beings… before their conception’. Pope Paul VI formally expressed the Roman Catholic position in 1968. Artificial contraception was considered intrinsically evil but methods of natural family planning (i.e. the rythym method) were permissible in some circumstances.

Since then there have been some chinks in the Church’s position. In the 1960s Pope Paul VI permitted nuns in Africa who were at risk of wartime rape in the 1960s to use birth control, saying “avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil”.

In 2010, following the Aids epidemic, Pope Benedict XVI conceded that “male prostitutes” could use condoms. However, their use by other Catholics was still banned; apparently the risk of further spread of the disease was of less concern than the ‘evil’ use of artificial contraceptives.

Recently Pope Francis has indicated that the Catholic Church is prepared to condone artificial contraception to avoid pregnancy in response to the Zika virus. Zika is suspected to be the cause of thousands of cases of microcephaly (unusually small heads), leading desperate women to rush to terminate pregnancies in heavily affected areas such as South America. Abortion, of course, is seen as an even ‘greater evil’ by the Catholic Church.

As Barbara Ellen said in her Observer article of 21st February:

While many Catholics already discreetly protect themselves from pregnancy and disease as they see fit, it would be a mistake to dismiss the church’s international influence, particularly in poor, uneducated communities. Rome’s official stance would also have a beneficial effect on the quality of help and support that somebody could access. However, [after Pope Francis’ pronouncement], there’s one major, closely related incongruity that’s impossible to ignore. While the response to Zika is encouraging, doesn’t it also serve as a disturbing contrast to the Vatican’s continuing refusal to condone condoms as protection in Aids-afflicted Africa?

Why is “permission” being granted to safeguard against one virus, Zika, but not against HIV and Aids? While Zika is horrific, how many lives has Aids claimed and ruined, including babies who are born HIV-positive? A disgrace, then, that, in all these decades, the issue has been persistently dodged by the Vatican.

No matter that artificial contraception prevents uncontrolled population growth and the consequent poverty and malnutrition of disadvantaged communities. No matter that it also prevents the spread of infectious diseases through unprotected sex. The old men of the Catholic Church still insist that artificial contraception is ‘evil’.

Reprinted with permission from the author.

Melinda Gates: ‘I’m a Catholic, but women need access to contraceptives’

Birth Control is Sin

Vatican control of World Health Organization population policy: An interview with Milton P. Siegel

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