In my last reflection we examined married chastity. But I did I leave out one aspect of this virtue; that for the marriage act to be considered chaste it needs to be open to the creation of new life. The Church has, from the first century, interpreted this to mean that artificial means of birth control go against the natural law of God and are to be avoided. This is not an easy teaching to accept and, I can testify, not an easy teaching to preach and defend. But we can not avoid things that make us uncomfortable if we are to truly grow in our life as Christian disciples.
In 1968 Pope Paul VI promulgated the encyclical letter Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life) that restated the traditional Christian teaching that artificial methods of birth control go against God’s plan. The Pope wrote that the ready availability of artificial birth control would: 1) increase the temptation to infidelity in marriage; 2) eliminated the need for self control in marriage, making it easier for spouses, especially husbands, to pressure their partners into having relations against their will; 3) make it more difficult to promote chastity among the young; 4) open the possibility that governments might force these devises and drugs on the public in order to achieve social policy goals.
This message was not well received by the faithful, and by many priests as well. Studies have shown that the vast majority of the faithful in the United States ignore this prohibition, and many priests don’t defend it. Those who oppose this teaching argue that the use of artificial birth control takes economic and emotional pressures off of couples, by allowing then to regulate births at will. At the time it was argued that with these pressures alleviated marriages would be happier, and divorce rates reduced. It was also argued that the wide use of birth control would reduce unwanted pregnancies, thus reducing the numbers of abortions.
Since the pill was introduced fifty years ago divorce rates have sky rocketed, as have out of wedlock and teen pregnancies. Abortion on demand has become the law of the land, and roughly 1.5 million babies are aborted every year. Birth control devises are distributed in some cities to young people in schools, and some countries like China use forced sterilizations and abortions as means of social engineering. While we might not be able to prove scientifically that these things are related, it is hard to argue that the ready availability of birth control has prevented these problems from developing.
In light of these realities I would argue that Paul VI was a prophet. But his wisdom was not his own. As the successor of Peter he had the help of the Holy Spirit. He also made it clear priests needed to promote this teaching in light of mercy of Christ, who came to be our savior, not our judge. It is in this spirit that I offer this reflection.
So ends these reflections on marriage, though I’m sure we’ll be returning to the topic now and again. I hope they have been helpful to you.