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The History of Birth Control in the Catholic Church

Throughout the world, Catholics endure unease, conflict of conscience and suffering on account of the Church’s official ban on means of artificial birth control. In its session of October 2014, the Synod on Marriage and the Family ignored this. It simply reaffirmed the teaching of Humanae Vitae (1968).

“In the wake of Vatican II, the papal Magisterium has further refined the doctrine on marriage and the family. In a special way, Blessed Pope Paul VI, in his Encyclical Humanae Vitae, displayed the intimate bond between conjugal love and the generation of life.” (Report § 18).

“Pastoral work in this area needs to start with listening to people and acknowledging the beauty and truth of an unconditional openness to life, which is needed, if human life is to be lived fully. This serves as the basis for an appropriate teaching regarding the natural methods for responsible procreation, which allow a couple to live, in a harmonious and conscious manner, the loving communication between husband and wife in all its aspects, along with their responsibility at procreating life. In this regard, we should return to the message of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae of Blessed Pope Paul VI, which highlights the need to respect the dignity of the person in morally assessing methods in regulating births.” (Report § 58)

Does this response do justice to the factual plight of Catholics?

Background information

Dates
300 – 1900 AD Church leaders judged any form of birth control sinful. Underlying reasons:* The male sperm was considered to contain the future person. Spilling sperm equalled abortion.

* Following St Augustine, all sexual acts between partners were deemed sinful unless aimed at procreation.

1930 In his Encyclical Casti Connubii Pope Pius XI forbids any form of artificial contraception. “Any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin.”
1963 – 1966 The question of contraception was raised at the Second Vatican Council. Pope John XXII established an international commission of experts to study the question. Pope Paul VI extended the commission to 72 members from five continents. The commission concluded [with a majority of 68 to 4!] that artificial birth control was not intrinsically evil and that Catholic couples should be allowed to decide for themselves about the methods to be employed.

We have an online presentation of what happened. Click on the image and click again on the opening page!

1968 Pope Paul VI issues the Encyclical Humanae Vitae. “Sterilization is to be condemned, as the magisterium of the Church has affirmed on many occasions, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary. Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation – whether as an end or as a means. [Nothing can justify] something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order . . . sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive and so intrinsically wrong.”
1968-1980 Humanae Vitae is implicitly or explicitly rejected by many in the Church. * Bishops’ Conferences tell their faithful they can, as a last resort, follow their own consciences. See extensive report on this by Joseph Selling.
* Theologians world wide express their disagreement. Full online report to follow.* In educated countries 74% of Catholics ignore the Pope and use contraceptives. See the Response in the USA.
* Because of the official prohibition of birth control a large section of Catholics stops going to church. Full online report to follow.
1980 Synod of Bishops on the Role of the Family takes place in Rome. * The Bishops are not allowed to discuss artificial birth control.
* Vatican officials suppress many recommendations put forward by the Bishops.
Full online report to follow.
1981 – now The overwhelming majority of Catholics in educated countries use articificial means of birth control in spite of the official Vatican guidelines. In the USA, for example, 98% (!) of all Catholic women of reproductive age who have ever had sex have used a method of contraception other than natural family planning. Among women who are currently at risk of unintended pregnancy, 87% of Catholics use contraception:
68% of them employ sterilization, an intra uterine device or the pill.
15% rely on condoms.
4% use other methods, such as withdrawal.
Guttmacher Report, April 2011. Detailed statistical facts about many countries to follow. See also information on the UK from Prof Michael Hornsby-Smith See here and here and here

Read also the testimonies of Catholics who speak about their experiences with birth control in response to the Pope’s invitation prior to the 2014 Synod on the Family.