It’s About Contraception

American Catholics seem to be sleepwalking toward the edge of an abyss.  It’s as if we’ve hardly begun to realize to ourselves what’s at stake in this election.  We don’t like to think about it.  We’re vaguely banking on the hope that whatever happens will not turn out to be a big deal.

One reason for the moral somnolence is that the Obama administration, abetted by the media, has been deliberately misleading the public with lying rhetoric about “access to birth control,” and a Republican “war on women.”  Vice President Biden brazenly asserted that no Catholic institution would be required to provide birth control.  The bogus “accommodation” gave supporters of Obamacare the rhetorical cover they needed to pretend that religious liberty concerns had been addressed.  “The administration backed off,” is how one friend put it to me.

The calculating mendacity of the irreligious left is one of the forces we’re contending with.  We can’t change it; we can only counter and parry as best we can.  But the rhetoric on our side, too, is partly to blame for our too-slack resistance.

Haven’t we all heard and been urged to remember and repeat that “this is not about contraception?”  Rick Santorum said it in his C-PAC speech in February.  My congressman (the good and honorable Joseph Pitts) said it too, at a meeting earlier this year with local pro-life and religious leaders.  Many have said it, politicians, prelates and lay activists alike.  And, of course, they had an important point.  Even those who don’t have objections to birth control should oppose the mandate as an outrageous violation of the “free exercise of religion” guaranteed in the Bill of Rights.  In a pluralistic society, we do well to highlight that element of the injustice.

But there’s a downside to the de-emphasis on birth control.  When Catholics remind each other and announce to the world that “it’s not about contraception!” we’re subtly training ourselves and the rest of society to think of it as a distraction, a side issue.

Then, there is “the parable of the kosher deli,” told by Archbishop Lori and others, arguing that making Catholic institutions pay for birth control is like making a kosher deli sell pork. The analogy is valid as far as it goes. But this way of framing the issue, too, has had the effect of downplaying and obscuring the real evil of the HHS mandate.

Here’s why:  It reinforces the public perception that the prohibition against artificial contraception is a kind of special religious rule relevant only to a small minority of strict Catholics.  And meanwhile, those Catholics remain perfectly free under the mandate not to use birth control if they don’t want to.  You see how a key point is lost?  Orthodox Jews don’t have a problem with non-Jews eating pork, just as Catholics don’t think it’s sinful for non-Catholics to eat meat on Fridays during Lent.  These are positive religious teachings, binding only for committed members.

The case is very different, though, with birth control.  The prohibition against birth control is not a positive religious law.  Catholics oppose birth control not because religious authorities forbid it, but because we’re deeply convinced that it harms persons, and hurts society.

The whole mission of the Catholic Church in the world—the theme and purpose and vocation of every institution and every Catholic individual—is love.  Why does the Church set up hospitals and adoption agencies and soup kitchens? Why have whole orders of nuns been founded to care for the elderly or the sick? Why did St. Damien offer to go to spend his last years serving in a leper colony in Hawaii?  Why did Mother Teresa establish homes for men dying of AIDs?  Why do countless ordinary lay Catholics give time to visit prisoners or shelter unwed mothers or bring Holy Communion to shut-ins?

It’s not for money. It’s not for recognition.  It’s not a plan to increase our numbers and our social influence. It’s not even because the Church is committed to taking care of her own. It matters not at all to any of these institutions or individuals whether the people they’re serving are Catholic.  They don’t have to be Catholic.  They can even be anti-Catholic.  We don’t do it for ourselves; we do it for love.

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Katie van Schaijik

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Katie van Schaijik is the co-founder (with her husband Jules) of The Personalist Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to the spread of Christian personalism.

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  • Mary-Lynn Ott

    I agree. Besides the moral issues of contraception which I think the church bravely proclaims, I think woman are not getting told the big picture. The use of contraception has medical side effects.For example, oral contraceptives have been linked to breast cancer (the leading cancer among woman) and the World Health Organization has labelled them carcinogenic. The media side steps all this and claims they are safe and wanted by the majority of woman. I am a mother of three teenage daughters and would never put them on artificial hormones. I do not want to pay for any woman’s choice of contraception. They need to be informed and make their own choice and then pay for their choice. There are alternatives to artificial hormones to treat woman’s medical issues that are safe, healthy, and far less expensive. Woman need to be empowered with the beauty of their own body, not make themselves slaves to a pill or patch or IUD or… Women need to be told the truth. I am tired of certain men and woman saying what I need or want…..when they are completely wrong, AND they do not speak for me.

  • Hieronymus

    Let’s face it: the Church in America is deeply hurt at all levels. Even
    though there is a growing number of prelates and rank-and-file Catholics
    who try to uphold the Magisterium, an average “Catholic” in the pews is
    misinformed about the fundamental truths of the Faith, corrupted by the
    “social justice” heresy and badly contaminated by the secular ideology.
    Let’s hope in God’s grace to prevent such an outcome but I strongly
    believe that a split is inevitable. Faithful Catholics will separate
    from the nominal ones, this is only a question of time. Much depends on
    the results of the current US elections, even more on the next Pope. We
    can only wait, pray and choose the right side.

  • JD

    Bravo Ms. van Schaijik! This is the time for the Church to be courageous and unapologetically proclaim the fullness of her teaching on human sexuality. We cannot draw analogies with Jewish or Jehovah’s Witness liturgical law. This is the natural law, the moral law we are talking about and all are bound by it.

    Thanks for your article.

  • Bill Walker

    Katie,
    Outstanding, as a 64 year old, it took me years to realize that my church was so correct about birth control. It makes sex a sport, rather than its real meaning of a married couple’s intimacy creating life. If a woman becomes pregnant in the secular world it becomes, “a problem”. Is a baby supposed to be an error, a mistake? Human sexuality is a gift from God for the creation of life. And secular society realizes that sex means children, but they want to bypass the Love and responsibility that comes with a family. We must vote for prolife people and share our voice for our Lord and our church.

  • Peter Nyikos

    In acknowledging that it is not just about contraception, one crucial item was left out: it is also about very early abortion, because IUD’s have the effect of preventing a very early developing human from implanting, and hormonal contraceptives also have the same effect.

    The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) tried to obscure this fact by redefining conception as implantation (rather than fertilization) but just as a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet, so the ensuring of the death of a developing child by any name at all smells to high heaven. And Catholics are not alone in this: many Protestants, especially evangelicals, feel the same way; and even those who do not, can appreciate not having to pay for others to do it.

  • TeaPot562

    Beginning in 1968, many “Catholic theologians” rejected the teaching of Pope Paul VI on the sinfulness of using artificial contraceptives. Unfortunately a fair proportion of the bishops and priests in the English-speaking world bought into the argument that the encyclical of Paul VI was “not in the spirit of Vatican Council II”. and neither accepted, nor preached about the evils proscribed.
    This lack of reaction by US Catholics is a sad result of the infidelity above. Our bishops and priests in many cases chose to ignore that teaching to avoid criticism, and court popularity.
    When the truth is not told, the people perish.
    TeaPot562

  • Doug

    A letter to the editor of our small-town paper was from an irate Catholic. He objected to a sermon which practically ordered him to vote a certain way. In his opinion the sermon was ‘close to’ violating the federal restrictions place on religious organizations, which get many tax exemptions. IMO if a lay Catholic has that impression, then his local Church may indeed have gone over the line. Perhaps Catholic bloggers could take up this “cause”. Or not. Not my problem.
    By the way, doesn’t the nation’s coinage have a motto that suggests a solution for Christians?

  • Matthew Ogden

    As soon as I realized what the Catholic Church is about (not that the ecclesiastical un-catechesis would help or anything), I realized that the United States is essentially opposed on very principle to the sacred deposit of faith and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s a hopeless effort on the part of the Church hierarchy to hide behind the essentially false and destructive premises of religious liberty and other American garbage to attempt to defend against the rapidly eroding freedoms of the American people. (And it’s all people, not just Christians. Remember the involuntary detention bill earlier this year?)

    Before Vatican II, Catholics were at pains to show that we were as American as anyone else. The hierarchy took the lead on this. It was a ridiculous argument to make, and thankfully what they wanted (the symbiosis of American nationality and Catholic faith) is essentially unobtainable. It’s the square circle. Since Vatican II, we’ve only seen that Catholics were able to “assimilate” to the United States by no longer being Catholic: thanks of course to the abuses of the council rather than the council itself.

    I believe that in the end the persecution of the Church is only going to increase in this God-forsaken country. This is just the beginning. But remember what happens to every society that attacks the Church: it collapses. Take a look around: the signs are everywhere. And the United States has a leg up on this because this country (note: not “my” country: my kingdom is not of this world) because it was founded on Enlightenment principles, which were from the beginning a rebellion against God.

    Honestly, I am sympathetic to our persecutors because they do not realize what they do. If they did, they wouldn’t do it. The United States is constructed on a foundation that is essentially naive, if not outright stupid. And no one should dare pretend this is or ever has been a “Christian” nation. Please do not insult Christ this way.

    My answer: Get out Old Glory and burn it in the middle of the street. Then incinerate as many copies of the 1789 constitution as you can find. This country deserves to collapse, and it will. Probably in our lifetimes.

  • Emily

    Matthew, were not many of the colonies established to avoid religious persecution in Europe?

  • Jan Nichols

    I could hardly believe this was posted today as my husband and I were just discussing contraception today at lunch. In our case, we have 2 adopted children and 1 biologic and although we wanted to be blessed with more, that was God’s perfect number for us. I vividly remember when my two older children were in college and my youngest was in HS and suddenly I thought I might be pg. For years, we were ready, willing and able but I cannot tell you how petrified I was to “buy the kit.” (My husband was, by the way, perfectly ready to have more) Not to mention, that my OB doctor’s nurse gave me several tongue lashings on how I “could still get pregnant!” The idea that using birth control actually inhibits a marital relationship is something that should be taken seriously. Abstinence, whether within our outside marriage, can actually bring the couple closer because they are doing what has been done for thousands of years. I believe that we do not need to have 19 children to please God unless that is his will for you. I do believe that abstinence outside of marriage should be promoted far more than it is in the Catholic Church and that once married, with NFP, abstinence/self control can only make a marriage stronger and healthier!

  • Jim

    Dr. Hilgers has a great book for the laity on NaPro Technology, and the great work they do at the Pope Paul IV Institute. Us as the Catholic faithful need to educate ourselves! ! !

    Thank you for the great article, and God bless!

  • Matt

    This country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles and for most of its history was a Christian, though Protestant, country at its heart. The abandonment of religion is a relatively new phenomenon, and can be reversed. I believe the Catholic Church will be at the center of this country’s renewal, in that it is the only religion that that’s not abandoned truth in favor of convenience. God has favored America in the past, and may yet do so once again. There may just be some hard times in the intervening years.

  • Matthew Ogden

    It can definitely be changed. That’s what happened in the late Roman Empire. But this was never a Christian country, at least not legally. There has always been a tension between the Deist Enlightenment principles of the United States and the Christian (even the Protestant) population that has lived here. So it wouldn’t be a reversal. Culturally Christian, yes, but not politically.

    Part of the problem with the United States was that the government made the country rather than the other way around. The Founding Fathers just came along and told the people in the several states that they were a country. Other countries don’t have that. Take France for example. The French president is officially styled “President of the Republic,” not “President of France.” “France” goes back to late antiquity; but the Fifth Republic only to 1958. But because the U.S. government made the country rather than the converse, it’s difficult if not impossible to separate the government from the country. Since 1789, France changed governments at least eleven times (depending on whether you count for one or two Bourbon restorations). Would the United States exist if the 1789 constitution ceased to be the law of the land? Not necessarily.

    Cardinal George said it best with his famous “I will die in my bed” quote, which ended by saying that after society collapses, the Church will help build a new society as she has done so many times before. And it’s my earnest hope that when the new society comes along, we will never hear again about “the inalienable rights of man,” “religious freedom,” “liberal democracy,” and other such destructive nonsense.

  • Matthew Ogden

    Yes, but that’s where the Founding Morons made their fatal flaw. They naively believed they could separate religion completely from the state. If a government has no state religion, it is not a government at all. The purpose of government is to make for a happy society: but this can only be done if the good is known for what it is, for which there is the Church. Hence if a government does not work for the good (for which it needs the Church), it’s no government at all.

    And on a purely practical note, how naive was it to think you could just sideline religion as they figured? Religion is such a huge sociological issue; it’s inevitable that it will affect government. Granted, they did not see fit to sideline religion as the liberals of today do, but even so. The naïveté is the same, it’s just more shrill now.

    Further, you have to remember that the colonies were not the United States. And the United States did not inevitably develop as it did from the colonies. It could have been different. So even if the colonies were founded on religious principles, the state quickly scrapped that to avoid religious warfare. Did they succeed? Look at how divided society is today: the statists versus religious people of conscience. It’s religious warfare in modified form. They “utterly failed” (to quote Angela Merkel) in their attempt to create an unjust peace. As Churchill said: “You chose dishonor: you will have war.”

  • Matt

    Your comment about never hearing again about the inalienable rights of man is disturbing, and I doubt Cdl. George would agree with those sentiments. The Church recognizes and supports those rights, which are not destructive, but uphold man’s God-given rights. We need religious freedom because if we are not free to assent to God’s call without coercion, then our assent is meaningless. (I agree, though, about the “liberal democracy” part, since we were founded as a Constitutional Republic, not a democracy, and mob rule does not serve us well.) The fact that we are not born of a single nation but rather a conglomeration of people from many nations under one government (supposedly) of, by, and for the people is what makes America great. The way to change America is by bringing the message of Christ to every individual in a society now dominated by the culture of death. Once people receive and accept and are transformed by that message, our culture and government will be transformed as well.

  • chaco

    Whew ! – Mattew, I’m just not feeling the optimism with you. [Maybe it's from the lack of body language here or somthing.] Surely, you aren’t belittling the shining Jewel contained in our constitution, namely; Freedom of religion. Oh sure, I agree that God’s enemy has to come in Sheep’s Clothing but we can build on the sheep’s clothing without becoming overcome by the evil underneath it, can’t we ? Isn’t inalienable rights a good place to “get a foot-hold” while trying to “Build a more perfect union” ? If we keep Relativism Morality “in our sights” as the main enemy, while exercising our freedom to follow our conscience, won’t we eventually arouse the ill-formed conscience of the relativism masses ? COME ON NOW ! Show a little Hope & let’s work with the Sheep’s Clothing while we go about revealing any of the evils beneath it. ["You will have trouble in the World but take courage; I have overcome the World." (Jn. 16: 33) ] If I’ve learned anything in my 55 years, it’s that we need to love “the journey” – not just the getting there. “The War” is already won. All that is left is to “Stomp Out the remaining brush fires”.

  • catharine_christian_carpenter

    I can’t believe that everybody on these boards agrees with the church’s stand on artificial birth control. Let’s face it, some people are just not cut out to be parents of large families. God gave us the gifts of sexuality and sexual expression, to be used within marriage, but He also gave us brains to use as regards our physical and emotional limitations.

    Human beings use sex as a means of procreation, as animals do; but we also add the element of expressing love, which is not present in the animal kingdom, so TO ME, saying that we cannot use birth control doesn’t acknowledge that we are above animals.

    Paul VI was ready to change the church’s teaching on artificial birth control, but for reasons I don’t understand, he was convinced/persuaded not to. I think as a result, many good Catholics were caused and continue to be caused a lot of unnecessary hardship, turmoil and mental anguish.

    I never see any opinions like mine expressed in any of these forums and message boards, which is another thing I don’t understand, so I am led to believe that either only those in total agreement take the time to respond to such articles or else alternate opinions are censored and not printed.

  • Midwester

    You are, unfortunately, out of step with the perennial teaching of the Church. Read Humanae Vitae again in light of the developments of our modern culture. Pope Paul VI was prophetic in his insights into the long term effects of contraception on the relationship of men to women, women to their own bodies, and parents to children. In the case of contraception, the use of artificial means to prevent conception (or to prevent implantation which is a form of abortion) is intrinsically evil. If, in your conscience, you believe it is not, you must give the benefit of the doubt to the Church and through prayer and study educate yourself on the matter from a Catholic perspective. Otherwise, you run the risk of losing your soul. As a Catholic, we cannot choose which dogmas and doctrines we believe or feel are convenient to us. We must keep the Faith whole and entire. To do otherwise is to risk apostasy and damnation. I hope you find your way to an authentic understanding of human sexuality in line with the teachings of the Church.

  • Midwester

    The Federal Restriction you reference is, in itself, a violation of the First Amendment. The IRS has no authority to prosecute and as of this moment has never prosecuted a case involving this since they know that they would most likely lose. They just use it as a phantom stick with which to beat pusillanimous clergy…

  • Annie

    Catharine,

    I completely agree with you. I would bet many of those who have responded get the flu shot every year to prevent getting the flu even though there are other natural ways to prevent the flu, like eating better,washing your hands often, taking vitamins, not eating out very often, etc. They want the “easier” way even though it means putting a virus in there body.

    I have three children and after a great deal of prayer my husband and I felt that was enough, especially because we planned to send them to 13 years of Catholic school, which is very expensive. I cannot imagine having sex with my husband with the worry of getting pregnant every time; we would surely be divorced. Married sex if to show love, support, fun, to relax one another. Every time should not have to be some deep love experience. It is the fact that you want to be together in the closest of ways. I feel sorry for those that put such a limit on it when it can be so much more between a husband and wife.

    Bottom line is that I have children and I should be able to decide the best way for me not to have anymore. Do you really think that God wants some drug addict to get pregnant? Most of those children are being born into a “hell” none of us will ever understand. Learning differences, addicted to drugs, no family, abuse, etc. God doesn’t plan that for a child; those pregnancies need to be prevented in anyway possible.

  • Annie

    I went to 12 year of Catholic school and have worked at a Catholic high school for twenty years and there is not one priest there who has ever told me my soul is at risk because I used birth control after having three children of my own. I am certainly not going to give the benefit of the doubt to a group of men who have never had a relationship with a woman and who have never raised children. I completely disagree with you information on the use of contraceptives hurting relationship; in fact, it is probably the opposite. If I had to constantly worry about getting pregnant with another child that I feel I might not be able to care for financially, emotionally, or physically than none of my relationships were going to be good ones. God blessed me with a wonderful education both in college and in the church. He also blessed me with common sense and wonderful priest that too had common sense, who told me having three children is fine and how I dealt with having no more was between God and myself and that He would understand. I don’t care if someone as damning as you are understands. That has no place in the Catholic Church. Are you a convert?

  • Juan Diego

    Contraception is the short cut that is todays societies acceptable practice.Unfortunately we may have to pay later for our sins of today. Its not easy to be a Catholic,your call.

  • ade

    The problem, as I see it, is that certain politicians pick and choose what they want from Catholic Social Teaching — highlight what they want — especially the republicans funded by billionaires — then say you are not being faithful to your belief if you vote XXX. We need to take back the agenda and say — this is Catholic Social teaching in its entirety — – for example social justice demands that we consider the needs of the poor — the vast inequalities in our society are immoral, and anti-Catholic.

  • Midwester

    Annie, I am not a convert. I am a cradle Catholic, not of the Modernist or Progressive stripe. Jesus never said it would be easy to be a Catholic. The Church has always considered contraception to be a grave moral evil. Apparently I hit a nerve. To answer each point of your argument would take more time and space than I have at the moment. However, I would challenge you to do your homework on this and study the teachings of the Church prior to Vatican Council II on this issue, then read Humanae Vitae. You would not have answered me in such an angry manner if you had a clear conscience on this. I hope that you will repent of your use of contraception before you die. God will forgive us if we are sorry for our sins and ask Him for His mercy.

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