By: Christopher West
Recently passed the 40th anniversary of perhaps the most contested papal document in all of history. On July 25,1968, Pope Paul VI shocked the world with his reaffirmation of the constant teaching of the Church on the immorality of contraception in his encyclical Humanae Vitae. Two generations later, most American Catholics have made their peace with contraception. If they have even been told the official teaching of their Church — and many have not — most have politely declined it, like they would a serving of liver. What has this broad embrace of contraception turned our Church into? Steve Patton, Family Life Director for the Diocese of St. Augustine, offers some penetrating insights in a recent talk, “Why Contraception Matters.”
Contraception & Divorce
Speaking to Catholics who agree with the Church about abortion and divorce, but who don’t about contraception, Patton shows how the three are intertwined. Bottom line: By our Church’s broad popular participation in the contraceptive revolution we are, despite our pro-life and pro-marriage efforts, also participating unwittingly in the pro-abortion and pro-divorce revolutions. How does contraception contribute to divorce? Patton observes that one of the key bonders holding a marriage together is intimate, meaningful sexual union. As that meaningfulness weakens, so does the “glue” that holds spouses together. Contraception robs sex of its procreative meaning. The sex might remain physically pleasurable for the married couple. But something vital has been taken from their emotional and spiritual bond.
Patton cites in support a recent article from the Journal of Reproductive Medicine. Noting that women who have been sterilized (a permanent form of contraception) are more likely to complain to their doctors of stress in their sexual lives, the authors conclude that “tubal ligation in some way disrupts the emotional bond between the partners.” It is a tragic and ironic outcome. A couple will get sterilized or use contraception, Patton concludes, “because they think it will enhance their emotional bond. But like drinking salt water to try to quench one’s thirst, engaging in sterilized sex will not quench the human thirst for love. Not only is the deep need not met, it is worsened. Our contraceptive culture has left us bloated with sex, and dehydrated for love. And thereby inclined toward divorce.”
Healing our Withered Loins
There is a similar backfire effect with abortion. Despite whatever good intentions one might have, contraception, in whatever form it takes, “is a kind of violence done to the human body, and mind you, violence done to very special parts of the human body at the very moment when they are eagerly trying to carry out a very sacred function: to create new human life.” Once this logic of violence has taken root in the heart of a nation, it creeps onward: “Do you think that our nation’s common pattern of rejecting our fertility might have a spill-over effect in how we treat our surprise pregnancies? Is it not reasonable that violence regularly done against the life-giving potential of sex could lead toward violence done against life itself?”
Patton summons our contracepting Church to see herself for what she is. He points out that the Roget’s Thesaurus groups the word “contraception” into the category, “Unproductiveness,” along with dozens of other parched and desolate terms. He rattles off a number of them, concluding with the kicker, “withered loins.” He then contrasts this “Church of withered loins” that we have become, with what God calls us to be: “a Church of teeming loins.” It may be among the most searing and provocative litanies you might ever hear. This well-researched, entertaining one-hour talk was directed to priests and laity who sincerely don’t understand what the big deal is about contraception. If you know such a person, please get him or her a copy. But even if you already see contraception as the important moral and cultural issue that it is, I think you will find this talk enlightening and inspiring. It was for me. (Available through One More Soul, www.omsoul.com).