CATHOLICS & CONTRACEPTION
A Belated Apology to Pope Paul VI

May 1997By George D. Wignall

George D. Wignall is a research scientist and lives in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Recent petitions by German, Austrian, and French Catholics have demanded that the Church reconsider her ban on artificial contraception. Closer to home, a coalition of some 20 organizations called We Are Church launched a similar petition drive last year demanding, among other things, “primacy of conscience” in moral decision making, including “birth control.” Despite the fact that the Church has consistently taught that “each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life” and continues to reiterate this instruction (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2366), this issue seems to provoke massive disobedience among Catholics, even otherwise loyal Catholics. It has been a strange experience to read the dissenting voices, along with those upholding the Church’s Magisterium, knowing that I could have supported either position at different stages of my life.

When I met my wife just over 25 years ago, I was eagerly awaiting Pope Paul VI’s pronouncement

on the issue, knowing full well that just about every “eminent” theologian (e.g., Curran, Häring, Schillebeeckx) was encouraging a change of direction. There may have been other, orthodox theologians, but the media had no interest in anybody who supported the traditional teaching, so one never heard about them. I remember being very disappointed when Pope Paul’s Humanae Vitae appeared in 1968, reiterating that artificial birth regulation is not permissible. It was easy to feel that the input of married people was being ignored, and similar sentiments continue to be expressed by many Catholics.

Fortunately, my wife could tell the difference between the credibility of Peter’s Successor and that of media theologians, even if I couldn’t, and she made it quite clear that she wanted us to do our best to follow the Church’s guidance. There were no Natural Family Planning (NFP) classes available where we lived, but even then there were people like Evelyn Billings who asserted that it was possible to control fertility without resort to drugs or devices. Thus, we bought ourselves a thermometer, read up on NFP, and hoped that Billings and the Pope knew what they were talking about.


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