Many people would say that it is not possible, but I hope that it is. Why? Because the subject is important in itself, important in relationship to other issues like world population, important due to the fact that it alienates people form the life of the church and each other, and important because such a discussion would be a sign that we as a church were ready to deal with the pressing problems that confront the church in an adult and Christian way.

I suggest three questions in order to begin such a discussion:

1. Should there a discussion on contraception?

2. Why did the popes condemn contraction?

3. Is this condemnation consistent?


Arguments against: The matter is already settled. Pope Paul VI made his decision in his encyclical letter Humanae Vitae, and the writings of Pope John Paul II have confirmed it. What they have done is to reaffirm the age-old teaching of the Church, and their statements make it clear that this decision makes it irreversible. Questioning it further would only confuse and upset people, and would show a lack of respect for the teaching authority of the Church. If the Church were to admit it were wrong on this matter, it would destroy its credibility in the eyes of the world and in the hearts of those who have made great sacrifices to uphold these teachings. God would not let this happen. The Church is not wrong and cannot be wrong in teachings like this that are so solemnly proposed.

Arguments for: It is true that there is a long historical tradition in the Church that condemns contraception, and both Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II have reaffirmed this teaching. This certainly has to be taken into account in any discussion of the matter. But the condemnation of contraception represents just one part of the Church’s teaching on the subject, and however solemn this teaching has been, it has not been proposed as an infallible and irrevocable one.
Further, arguments from authority cannot and should not be the main arguments here, for the condemnation of contraception is based on natural law, and natural law falls within the scope of human reason, and therefore the upholders of this condemnation should welcome the opportunity to show how reasonable their position is. The purpose of a new and open discussion of the matter is not to upset or confuse people, but to try to heal the polarization in the Church community that already exists. The Church’s teaching authority has already suffered an immense blow to its credibility with this teaching and how it was arrived at, and it is hard to see how a serious and responsible discussion could make matters worse.

What do you think?


The best way to answer this question is to look at the nature of the conjugal act. The conjugal act has both a physical or biological dimension, and an interpersonal or spiritual one. Physically it is a procreative act; it is designed to place the male seed near the female egg in order to fertilize it. Obviously, not every conjugal act results in conception, but this orientation to procreation is built into the nature of each act.

But the conjugal act has an interpersonal side, as well. Its exercise creates a special kind of intimacy between two people. This sharing of themselves binds them together both psychologically and spiritually and creates the best environment for raising any child that may be conceived. If the physical dimension of the act is procreative, so is this personal dimension in the large sense of the term.

There are various ways in which we can go against the nature of the conjugal act. Pope Paul VI, in Humanae Vitae, states that "every conjugal act whatsoever must be intrinsically open to the transmission of life." What he has in mind is the biological nature of the conjugal act, and he is saying that we ought not to act in such a way to thwart this aspect of the conjugal act.

But we can act against the interpersonal dimension of the conjugal act, as well. We can, for example, leave the biological dimension of the act intact, but not have the proper attitude of sharing and love that the spiritual dimension of this act calls for.

Summary: the reason why the Church condemns contraception is because it thwarts the biological procreativeness of the conjugal act.

Is this kind of analysis acceptable to people on both sides of the debate? (For a more detailed account of this kind of reasoning see the reading that is linked to this page.)


The principle objection is that the Church’s position does not appear consistent. If each and every conjugal act has to be open to procreation, how can the Church approve of exercising the conjugal act and deliberately avoiding conception, which is what happens in natural family planning?

Can anyone show that the Church’s position is not really inconsistent?

Now it is your turn to contribute to this discussion. Send us your questions and comments:

A Response

I read with interest your questions and comments regarding the church’s teaching on contraceptives. While I am certainly no theologian or writer I would like to share my experience.

When I became engaged 20 years ago I began to pray and discern what to do regarding artificial birth control. I had begun a close walk with our Lord at a young age and realized that ultimately my true happiness would be found in attempting to live within God’s will for me. My husband was not Catholic and had no problem considering artificial contraceptives. We were both in college and working and thought it would be best to hold off having children until we were done with school. I had been taught in high school that each person needed to pray and discern for themselves, ultimately following their own conscience, regarding Church teaching. I thought I understood the Church’s stance regarding the unitive and procreative natures of conjugal love. After much prayer and discussion with my fiancee we decided that there were many important reasons to delay children and that the unitive nature of our love would not in be impaired by temporarily closing the door to the procreative side.

After our fourth child was born I knew I was at my limit. Our third child was (and still is) very challenging. Our oldest was only 6 and money was tight. My husband's job was in turmoil and our home was small. So when I found out I was expecting again (in spite of artificial contraceptives) I literally found myself face down on the floor crying out to God.

At that moment I knew something was terribly wrong. I professed to believe that God would not allow anything in my life that I could not handle if I walked with him. I claimed that Jesus was my hope and my salvation, and I should not be afraid. Yet my thoughts and actions denied this.

Through much prayer and a renewed desire to abandon myself to His will I began to think again about the contraception issue. I began to see how our decision was rooted in fear and cloaked in a sincere desire to be responsible. Church teaching seemed to fly in the face of reason, but it became apparent that I needed to follow it. Meanwhile my husband lost his job when I was 8 months pregnant.

Once I realized that using contraceptives was detrimental to my spiritual life I tried to find a way to share it with my husband. I had a limited understanding of the Church's teaching and, although my husband had entered into full communion with the Church, he had nothing in his upbringing to suggest that using contraceptives was anything but acting responsibly.

My husband was understandably frustrated with my revelation. His love and respect for me along with what I call his faith in my faith led to his consent to stop using contraceptives. We began learning about NFP and I started researching Church documents for a fuller understanding of her teaching. What I found articulated in those pages was the most beautiful understanding of what our Christian marriages are called to be. What truly amazed me was they were written by celibate men!

It soon began to weigh on my heart that we needed to open our union to more children. I started to see that my decision to limit our family size was deeply rooted in my self-love and a trust in my ability to prayerfully discern God's Will for my life. This was a very painful revelation for me. I have to tell you I was frightened. The steps I was taking were totally in faith. I could only offer God my will and begged him to change my heart and that of my husband. These were difficult years but I received many spiritual consolations. My husband agreed but his reluctance and my inability to articulate what I was experiencing in prayer and meditation left an unspoken wedge between us.

Our union was blessed with more children. I continued to study and pray. I recognized a need for, and asked God to foster, the virtues of humility, meekness and obedience in my life. As they started to take root, my understanding and heart came in line with my will. My fear was displaced by trust in Him. I was able to witness to this in word and in action and the wedge between my husband and I grew smaller and smaller until it finally disappeared 5 years ago on the night we conceived our daughter Ellen. It is not about numbers, but we have 10 children. Even in the midst of the challenges that result in a family this size, not a day goes by that I do not marvel at the incredible love of a God who knows so much better than I what is good for me. To date we do not use NFP. I would suggest that contraceptives encourage a lack of trust in God's providential love.

Can this trust be lacking in couples that use NFP? Definitely. NFP can be used with a contraceptive mentality. It can be the birth control of choice with trust being placed in it's effectiveness in avoiding pregnancy. As I read the popes' encyclicals I hear understanding and compassion for the challenges in our lives that would lead us to discern that it might be best to limit our family size. At these times we are called to act with an open heart in ways that respect the gift of fertility and full nature of the conjugal act.

My observation has been that among my friends and acquaintances that practice NFP, some do it with a contraceptive mentality while others act with an open heart. The former have treated their unexpected pregnancy as an "accident" resulting from their miscalculations, while the latter see an unexpected gift from a loving God who knows better then they do what is best for them.

The years since then have been challenging and blessed. Great spiritual fruits have followed my attempt to foster abandonment and obedience in my life. The most unexpected fruit has been in my relationship with my husband. Over time I became aware of a deeper intimacy within our relationship that I sensed had its roots in our conjugal love. While I never felt that using contraceptives damaged the unitive nature of our relationship, I began to see that the fullness of the spiritual procreative nature was blocked along with the physical procreative dimension of our conjugal love.

Why do the popes condemn contraception? The presentation of church teaching in your website seems very limited in its understanding. I believe it is partly because they understand very well the procreative aspect of the unitive/spiritual dimension and recognize it’s intrinsic link to the physical procreative dimension of conjugal love. I found this to be very apparent in their writings and echoed in my own experience.

In Christ's Peace

The Editor Responds

I am touched by the obvious sincerity of these remarks, and by the desire that shines through them to be open to God's will. I also think that their author raises a very important point. She not only gave up artificial contraceptives, but natural family planning, as well. In one way, this is, indeed, the most logical position if we are to take seriously Humanae Vitae's admonition that each and every conjugal act should be open to procreation. It also highlights, to my mind, the deep similarity between natural family planning and other non-abortive forms of contraception.

But the concrete answer given here, while heroic, will not appeal to everyone. There will be some people who feel called to have as many children as come as a sign of openness to God's gifts, but I don't think this can be raised to the level of a general principle, especially in light of questions about world population. Another alternative would be to simply refrain from sexual relations when a child was not desired. This, too, would be heroic, but not for everyone. Neither in natural family planning nor in certain forms of contraception is each and every act open to the conception of new life. We do these things because we want to enjoy sexual union, but not conceive a child at that time. I believe that we need to go with prayer and reflection towards a solution that will fit our own personal circumstances, and it would be a help in this regard if the Church would clarify its teachings on this matter. The answer does not lie in insisting over and over again that natural family planning is so different from certain non-abortive forms of contraception that this, alone, solves the question.

Another Response

The lady who is fully in accord with the traditional teaching on birth control is fortunate. She is apparently maternal and pious; she is able to act consistently with her beliefs, and seems to have derived deep satisfaction from doing so. I would say she represents a small minority. Perhaps she is one of the righteous few in a worldly society. But I doubt it.

Having had courses in Christian marriage in high school and college, I long ago decided that RC teaching largely falls apart under close scrutiny. NFP is as closed to procreation as any other anticonceptive practice, especially if it is effective. It’s like the difference between putting a shield before the target and firing when the target is not there. I suspect (1) that, like the Mosaic laws on divorce, it is a partly a concession to "hardness of heart" and (2) that clerics like NFP because it reduces the frequency of intercourse; the term "periodic continence" is telling. Anyway, RC teaching seems to have little relevance to the realities of marriage and childrearing; I have been married almost 40 years to the same woman and we have raised children. From this experience I have learned that the most "unitive" factor
s in a marriage are unreserved mutual commitment and open, honest communication. As for conduct in the marital bed, the important norms are mutual affection and consideration, which includes, inter alia, one spouse backing off if the other is tired or disinclined. This, of course, may seem a counsel of perfection compared to the mandate of St. Paul, which I paraphrase: If one of you wants it, the other one’s gotta come across. Victor.


Another Response


The purpose of this article is not to explore all aspects of the question of the morality of contraception, but to focus on the question of whether parents by conceiving many children are giving more individuals eternal life or rather are increasing the pace at which souls are created by Lord that are of the number that He had forewilled to exist.

There is an indefiniteness and incoherence to the claim that an individual potential parent could have prevented the creation of a particular identity. Exactly, which acts give the veto to someone's eternal life? Do single people, including nuns, monks, and priests, prevent God from ever creating a particular soul? Does the shedding of sperm (whether accidental or willful), or maybe wearing tight pants, nix an eternal soul? Does simply failing to engage in sexual relations at a particular time prevent an individual from ever coming into being? Those who argue that contraception prevents a soul from coming into being simply spotlight contraception and sterilization. But there is no logical reason why anyone should assume that any one of these particular activities, as opposed to any number of other activities, might prevent the existence of an eternal individuality.

The nature of identity is a mystery materialism can never explain. Why I was conceived and not someone else, such as my hypothetical identical twin, can never be explained by the laws of mechanics. It does demonstrate one thing though, the view that my identity equals my genetic code cannot be true. If this were true, identical siblings would be the same identity. But each one is an eternally individual soul. Sometimes people fall into the error of thinking that we are our genetic code because our genetic code was a necessity for the beginning of life at conception. But the importance of our genetic code at conception is that it gives those capacities to the newly created one celled embryo that make an organism an organism (as opposed to a body cell). And because this new organism is the offspring of humans, that makes it a human organism. But the fact that every human life begins at conception should not mislead us to believe that we are our genetic code. God creates every identity individually. He has decided who He wishes to exist. We are most precious in His sight. To suggest that a soul's creation or noncreation is determined by human caprice and accident cheapens life. The Lord's providence would never leave this most important of functions to be determined by others, especially by those who would be unaware of how their actions are determining who is, and is not, being created or not created forever.

One of the reasons we owe God adoration is because we owe our existence to Him. Yet if our creation would not have happened if our particular parents had failed to conceive us, then this would mean we would be indebted to rape, adultery, or incest if that is how we were so conceived (especially if circumstances were that would be the only manner that our parents could have gotten together). We would be indebted by justice, in a certain degree, to wickedness in a similar manner to our Creator. Of course the world was sold into slavery through Adam's sin. But while we may have been indebted to sin in regards certain pleasures we have derived from it, no one ever owed their very eternal existence to an evil choice. Human parents are not determiners of their children's existence. They determine the where, when, and how of their children's conception, but not the fact of their children's conception. If human parents were determiners of their children's existence, that would be the most important aspect of parenthood. Yet the Blessed Mother is not the determiner of God's existence, but She is TRULY the Mother of God. If part of parenthood was the determination of whether a particular individual is eternally created, this would indicate a defect in our Lady's divine maternity, which could never be. Our Lady's maternity was perfect and complete.

The view that parents are creators of their children's eternal existence has help to blur the distinction between abortion on the one hand, and anything that hinders conception (celibacy included) on the other hand. The view that particular parents by conceiving more children are giving more people existence sometimes leads to destructive behavior. Consider the mass creation of embryos in fertility labs. Some prolife people feel reluctant to condemn this because they think that at least these embryos have been given life even if they never get a chance to be given a womb to grow in. Similarly, some people have justified an abortion with the belief that their "normal" child wouldn't have existed if his handicapped sibling's abortion didn't happen since the "normal" child was conceived shortly after the abortion. I, myself, have talk to a woman who had a third trimester abortion because her child was handicapped. She justified her abortion since she conceived her "normal" child shortly after her abortion. She said that if not for her abortion her "normal" child would never have existed. Indeed, much of the feeling of pride and power of pro-abortion people is the same as that of anti-contraceptionists. Both see themselves as the "givers of life". In the case of pro-abortionists, the attitude is "since I created life, I have the right to take it away". They will tell you this feeling is "empowering". Likewise, those anti-contraceptionists who think they are the determiners of their children's souls, will tell them "If it were not for me, you would not exist". A know of a number of people whose parents have said this to them. Such an attitude serves nothing but bloated pride. To be certain, there is great beauty and dignity in a godly Christian family. The family mirrors something of the nature of the Trinity. Human begetting is, in some manners, an earthly reflection of the eternal generation of the Son in the Godhead. When Christian parents conceive a child with the loving intent that they will raise him to serve God, they perform one of man's most noble and important deeds. Also, though not the determiners of whether their children would ever be conceived, still parents are the determiners of where and when and under what circumstances their children are created through conception, which is a great gift and responsibility from God. However, conceiving is not a virtue in and of itself. Rapists and prostitutes have no reason to pat themselves on the back for conceiving children through sinful behavior with the thought "well, these children would never have existed if not for me". They have only caused children to be conceived, who would have been conceived regardless, and that in a way that is against God's will. Their children are God's will, though not their wicked deeds. God had no need of their evil to created their children. If not conceived in this fashion, perhaps they would have been conceived under more wholesome circumstances.

Reading: Online book: Is There a Solution to the Catholic Debate on Contraception?



How to contribute to this discussion