May 9, 2006 | 33 comments

One of the more shocking aspects of my journey into Catholicism is that I pretty quickly came to agree with the Church’s stance on contraception. Considering that I did not plan to have children at all just five or six years ago, that’s a big change of heart.

The first time I visited our parish I saw a little flyer posted in the parish hall that showed two different plants as symbols of the pro-life and pro-choice worldviews. The former was blossoming and alive, the latter was wilting and dying. [UPDATE: Here’s a PDF of the flyer.] The illustrations linked the use of contraception to all sorts of evils in the world, not just the obvious ones like euthanasia and abortion. When I first saw it I thought it was interesting but also quite a stretch. My thought was that the Church was taking their hangup about contraception way too far and exaggerating to try to scare people into agreeing with them.

But in the past few months of researching and thinking about it I came to see that, whaddayaknow, the 2, 000-year-old Catholic Church had more insight into the issue than I did. Case in point was simply thinking about my married life with vs. without artificial contraception. I quickly saw how radically differently I’d live my life depending on which route I choose:

Using contraception puts me in the mentality of what’s convenient for me, what the limit of kids is that I can have and meet my financial goals and remain firmly implanted in my middle-class lifestyle. It makes it easy to prioritize my personal desires over that of my children since I feel in control of when I’ll be “free, ” when my youngest child goes to school. Whereas forgoing contraception puts me in a totally different mindset. I rearrange my life and goals based on being a mother and meeting my children’s needs since I’m not sure when we’ll be “done”; talk and planning for the things I’ll do that are all about me once my all kids are in school takes a back seat since I have no idea when that will happen. And, most important, it forces me not to make material things/lifestyle a priority in my life. I’ll have to rearrange my finances based on the number of children I have, not vice versa.

And I can also see how these differing mentalities ripple through society as well. Mark Steyn explains it better than I could (though he’s specifically talking about abortion here I think a similar case can be made for the widespread use of contraception):

One consequence of abortion is that, in designating new life a matter of “choice, ” it made it easier to make judgments about which lives are worth it and which aren’t…But it’s foolish to think you can raise entire populations to make self-interested judgments about who lives and who doesn’t and expect them to remain confined to three trimesters. The “right to choose” is now being extended beyond the womb: the step from convenience conception to convenience euthanasia is a short one, and the step from convenience euthanasia to compulsory euthanasia shorter still.

All that said, choosing to forego the use of contraception is tough. Not just physically and financially, but socially I feel like a fish out of water. In my entire social network I only know one other person who is open to having a big family and uses NFP over artificial contraception. Even the few Catholics I know who seem to take their faith pretty seriously and go to Mass every Sunday have all made nonchalant comments that indicate they plan to use contraception to limit the size of their families.

Being brand new to the Church, I can’t quite get a read on where the average Catholic is on this. I live in a really liberal city so I can’t tell if that’s what’s going on or if the average American Catholic just doesn’t take the issue all that seriously anymore. Not that it affects whether or not that’s the route I’ll choose with my family, but I’m just curious to get a pulse on where other Catholics stand.

What do you guys think about all this? Is the use of contraception *that* bad? Do most Catholics seem to be OK with limiting the size of their families these days?

[I hope it’s clear that I’m not passing judgment at all on people, Catholic or not, who use contraception. I’m just think it’s an interesting issue and am trying to get a read on where other Catholics stand.]


  1. Barb, sfo

    I can only speak from my own experience here. My husband and I have used NFP since we were married 15+ years ago. For a while we were eve NFP teachers in our diocese. Our CATHOLIC parents, siblings and friends think we’re nuts. Our kids go to Catholic school. Countless other Catholic parents of other kids are quite free about “sharing” their method of birth control. We know only one couple who, like us, use NFP–and we taught them how. OK, we know one other couple who started out using NFP, but the wife got ovarian cancer, & that was that. I have no doubt that had she never gotten sick (she’s fine now) they’d be using NFP today. Instead they generously adopted 4 children.

  2. Jeff Miller

    Unfortunately I think very few Catholics are properly catechized on the subject of contraception. After Pope Paul VI enclylical Humanae Vitae there was massive dissent on the subject since they expected the encylical to allow the pill. Many priests and theologians just told people to “follow their conscience” without telling them they have to inform it first.

    It is a sad fact that there are many contracepting Catholics receiving Communion in objectively grave sin. I am sure that many of them don’t realize the gravity of the sin and that contraception is objectively evil.

    Like all Church teaching it all fits together and when you try to remove something like contraception you are also undermining other parts of the faith.

    I say this also from the viewpoint that as a former atheist I held the very same views previously and thought Catholics were silly when it came to contraception. It was only later how I saw the beauty of this teaching and how the contraceptive attitude inevitably leads to demand for abortion. It is also sad that other pro-life Christians who rally against abortion don’t see this fact or accept that the pill can also act as an abortafacient.

  3. Christine


    Jeff and Barb are right. NFP is a WAY better way to go for so many reasons. What the average American Catholic thinks about it isn’t really relevant (our pope said, when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger, that Truth is not determined by a democratic vote). What is relevant is what God tells us through His Church.

    It’s tough, but speaking from experience, NFP is a lot better for you physically and emotionally (even as a couple).

    By the way, I’ve also seen that poster you’re talking about. Can’t recall where I saw it, but I know it wasn’t at my parish, that’s for sure! 😉

  4. Ersza

    I have not made up my mind yet on the subject of birth control. We are battling infertility, and I can’t really foresee a time in my life that we will use contraception again, so this is largely a theoretical discussion for me. But I do feel that I should think about it and discern it for myself as if I needed to make a decision on the subject. I am not quite there with contraception being “an objective evil.” The church makes no allowance for extremes of circumstance, and seems to dictate the exact form and sequence of events that must happen in sexual intercourse, defining anything else as evil. And yet in any other great evil in our world, there is room for interpretation. We are allowed to kill in self-defense or in a just war. We are allowed to abort a pregnancy that is life threatening. But not allowed to use contraception no matter how justified the need? I’m just not there, at least not yet. I can’t believe that sexual intercourse is the only area of human life in which there is absolutely no gray area or room for different interpretations or practices.

    I am glad that the church is out there making this argument, and I believe there is something very true about accepting that children are not an entitlement and that our reproduction is not something created for our pleasure but for a purpose and for the glory of God. I will tell you that 90% of American Catholics use contraceptions. The commenter above is right. it is not a democracy, so that figure is meaningless, but it does mean there’s a distinct lack of support for following this teaching, even within the Catholic church. It’s also true, though, that no pope has spoken infallibly on this teaching, and that the bible is silent on the subject of contraception. You will hear people insisting that you must “inform” your conscience. What they really mean is that you need to make your conscience tell you what they think your conscience should tell you. Beware of the temptation to be the most orthodox–it can overrule your conscience and you can end up getting left behind when the church moves on, as a lot of people were after Vatican II.

  5. Jennifer


    We are doomed to clash on issues of “orthodoxy”–it seems that next to you I am a stodgy old conservative Catholic. 🙂

    (And BTW I’m all for the non-exclusive, reinstitution of the Tridentine Rite, in case your wondering. Latin Rocks. And Papa Ratzi is the man.)

    But I’ve come to respect the Wisdom of the Holy Spirit that works through the Church and take her guidance on issues of moral authority very gravely.

    You are wrong. The Church DOES not permit an abortion in ANY CIRCUMSTANCE. There are no exceptions–and that is as it should be. No evil should ever be permitted no matter how good the stated intent of the action may seem. Labor maybe induced early on a child to save a mother’s life but an abortion is never permitted.

    I don’t think the Church will ever move on on the issue of contraception.

    The Pill often acts as an abortifacient so it simply cannot be allowed into the conversation.

    You might make an argument for barrier methods.

    There is no circumstance which could not be remedied by using NFP carefully. If on the rare occasion that NFP fails, perhaps, then one should consider the great odds against which that life was brought into the world.

    As women we must be open to life even if it means laying down our own in the most literal sense.

    In what ways were Vatican II folks left behind? The Church, in essentials, remains as it ever was.

    Self-defense is not the same thing as killing an innocent fetus–for self-defense to be an adequate cause, one must prove that there was an intent to kill on the one being murdered in the name of self-defense.

    The same in Just War. There must be a direct and imminent threat. But since that opens the door to American politics, I’ll bow out.

    I don’t want to get into that one.

    At all.


    You are also wrong about the bible.

    All Church teachings are grounded in scripture. Here’s a good start to look at where we get our teachings on birth control.

    If you are looking for sacred scripture to say directly to you, Catherine: “Thou shalt not use Trojans or the Sponge.” You won’t find it. But many wise people in the Church (which as Catholics we profess to believe is holy, catholic, and apostolic, and guided by the Holy Spirit)throughout the ages have agreed that the scriptures teaching on life and children can only lead one to conclude that life and the sexual union that creates is a conduit for God’s blessing.

    Any tampering with that or unwholesome perversion of it interferes with one of the main conduit’s for God’s grace that exists in the world.

    Yes, Christine, on the Papa Ratzi quote. My friend Arwen has a tshirt that has that quote on it and it says on the back: Bringing the Smack Down on Heresy Since 1986.

    I think it is only fitting that he be evoked here since this is one of the biggest heresies at work in the Church today.

    I do judge insofar as I say, well, if you contracept you are defying a major teaching of the Church. And I wouldn’t take that lightly if I were you. But it is more in the sense that I think those who contracept, for any reason, are hurting themselves and keeping God out of their lives when he so desperately wants in.

    Do a majority of Catholics choose to overlook the heretical act of contracepting? Yes.

    But a majority of the Jews chose to overlook the ban on false gods in favor of that nifty golden calf.

    I mean Moses and them tablets didn’t allow for extreme circumstances.
    We’re dying out here in the desert, and I think that golden calf might just do the trick…

    Jen, you REALLY stir it up–your inquiring mind is on fire.

  6. Lori

    Okay, first the poster…

    I believe it would be the “Roots of the Problem” poster from One More Soul ( scroll down to the bottom of the page and on the left hand side, there is a picture) One side says “anti-life” and has weeds with all sorts of words (abortion, euthanasia, etc.) surrounding the weeds. The other side says “For Life” and has flowers surrounded by all sorts of other words (premarital chastity, NFP, etc.) One More Soul is who has the “Contraception, Why Not?” tapes by Dr. Janet Smith, which if you haven’t heard it, you should. (Though if you learned NFP from CCL, then it should have come with your course kit…)

    I am a little more hopeful about the cause of NFP vs. contraception in the church. I know many many many Catholics who use contraception, though I also know many Catholics who choose to use NFP (or nothing at all). In my women’s bible study group, we will be discussing contraception in the future, but the topic comes up almost every meeting. Those who use contraception in the group struggle with the decision, and for most of them, the decision is being made with a spouse who is NOT catholic and doesn’t see what the big deal is about. I see these ladies regularly struggle with the topic, and I don’t think that the decision is being made lightly at this point in their lives (though earlier in their lives, as earlier in mine, contraception probably seemed like the only thing to do!)

    So, I guess what I am saying is that I think there are many Catholics in America struggling with the issue. Yes, there are some who have probably never thought twice about their use of contraceptives. But I see so many people struggling with the issue that I am very hopeful for the future!

  7. Anonymous

    I’ll be commenting anonymous here, though I don’t usually comment anonymous.

    I am a Catholic, an adult convert, of the practicing, communion-every-Sunday, frequent confession, involved-in-parish-life, questioning, reading-papal-writings and mostly very orthodox kind. (Yes, Jen, Latin rocks. Still, vernacular Mass is very needed. If I had the time, I would learn Latin, and Greek, and Hebrew, and…)

    On the other hand, I am a single adult woman. Not called to consecrated singleness.

    I fully agree with the Church’s teaching on sexuality. And I understand the whys of it. Still, I don’t follow it completely. I (and my boyfriend) should be completely abstaining from sexual activity. We aren’t. After more than a year of exclusive dating, it gets more and more difficult to abstain. So, we occasionally don’t.

    I fully agree with the Church’s teaching on contraception. I have been lurking on online NFP/FAM forums, and trying to learn it (still in the learning-to-read-my-body phase). And I see that even a lot of non-believers who use NFP or FAM have a very different perspective about children than people who use “classical contraception”. They believe no-one is entitled to have children, that children are a gift. And when an unwanted pregnancy occurs, they seem more open to the idea that that pregnancy may become a blessing. I believe NFP must be a great thing, though I haven’t really learned it all myself (been reading free online resources about it, and charted the last 2 cycles).

    Before I converted, I had already decided I would never take the pill or use an IUD. I have always believed that life starts at conception, so a method that can work by avoiding the implantation of a fertilized egg was always out of question to me. Besides, I believed taking hormones to alter your cycle when you don’t have a endocrine problem is altering something which is working fine, is somewhat symbolically saying that I should not be the full woman that I am.

    After I converted I read extensively about the Church’s position on the matter, and agreed completely. (Believe me, I have talked to several priests to find out my beliefs in this matter are far more orthodox than theirs). I believed that even the condom, which before conversion seemed very ok to me, deprives the couple of the full communion and I understand that every sex act must be open to the creation of life, and inside a marriage.

    So, I am not practicing what I believe. Yes, exactly. I try to avoid temptation (and my boyfriend tries too, we have the same opinion), but sometimes temptation is too strong, or we are too weak, or feel to tired to fight against it. Do we use contraception? Well, withdrawal. And yes, we know that it fails. And we know that we shouldn’t be having sex. This is why I am posting anonymous.

  8. Anonymous

    One other thing:

    Jennifer, while I believe the Church does not allow direct abortion ever, I believe it does allow medical acts that cause abortion as a non-wanted, secondary effect, if those acts are destined to save the mother’s life (so-called indirect abortion). For instance, in a tubal pregnancy, tube removal.

  9. Arwen

    Great post, Jen!

    Jennifer already covered most of what I would have said in response to Ersza’s comment. However, I’d like to add:

    I think you’re holding on to a very narrow viewpoint that is influenced by the pervasiveness of the contraceptive mentality in our culture. I especially take issue with this statement: “I can’t believe that sexual intercourse is the only area of human life in which there is absolutely no gray area or room for different interpretations or practices.”

    Au contraire. There is a very large gray area, created by the fact that the Church allows the use of NFP to avoid conception.

    Our society assumes that the regular obtainment of sexual satisfaction is a basic human right, but the Church has never taught that. Although the Church teaches that marriage is fecund by nature, she has never attempted to dictate that married couples must engage in regular sexual intercourse. In fact, she has always allowed married couples (and this would especially include those in your aforementioned “extreme circumstances”) to engage in the only form of “birth control” that is 100% effective: complete abstinence.

    Is this an easy thing? Of course not. But the One who said “take up your cross and follow me” did not establish his Mystical Body in order to make things easy for Christians.

    It is only because of (fairly) recently acquired medical knowledge that Catholics with a serious reason to avoid conception have the option of periodic abstinence. We’re actually quite lucky in that regard – NFP as they teach it today is so well-honed that those who practice it need abstain for relatively short periods of time.

    It’s only against the background of our “free sex” culture that such a regimen seems unduly constricting. Can the freedom to have sex whenever one wants really be worth risking one’s immortal soul by openly defying the Church’s teaching? (Even if you don’t believe you’re risking your soul, the Church has always taught that you are.)

    And the fact remains that NFP, which when used properly is just as effective at preventing conception as artificial contraceptives, can be used contraceptively. The teaching is that it may be used with serious reason. A couple who chose to have no children at all, to limit their family size, or to space their children without a serious and legitimate reason would be operating with a contraceptive mentality whether they used NFP to accomplish their purpose or not.

    And this is where we have a HUGE gray area: the Church has not expounded on what Humanae Vitae means by “serious reasons.” I know priests who believe that practically nothing short of life-threatening illness constitutes a serious reason for avoiding conception. (I don’t agree with them, for the record.) The more general consensus seems to be that “serious reason” is a matter for personal discernment. Some things, such as not wanting to get pregnant because you’re planning a big vacation, clearly do not constitute serious reasons. But beyond that, many things – the physical/mental health and well-being of the parents, limited financial resources, continuing education, the needs of current children – can and do constitute serious reasons for many couples. That is where each couple has the opportunity to exercise discernment and practice the virtue of prudence (of which conscience, despite her exaltation by many wishy-washy 20th century theologians, is just one small part).

    So even though the Church’s teaching on contraception may seem outdated and restrictive to modern-day Catholics, I’m sure that the multitudes of Christians for whom NFP was not an option are looking at us and thinking, “Wow, they have so many choices!” I, for one, am not sure that I’m always grateful for the freedom that NFP has brought modern Catholics, because more freedom always means more responsibility. And although we may sometimes forget, I’m sure that on Judgement Day, Our Lord will not.

  10. Jennifer F.

    Lori – that’s it! Thanks so much. I must have spent almost an hour Googling for that and couldn’t find it.

    Arwen – what a though-provoking comment. It’s so important to occasionally take a step back and look at the Church’s teaching in the broader context of history, not just through the warped lens of 21st century America.

    To everyone else – your comments continue to amaze me. I am so lucky to have such intellegent readers who have such interesting things to say. I often comment to my comment that this blog is the best-kept secret of the internet. Not because of my blabbering, but because of my great commentors.

  11. Jennifer

    You, Jennifer, ask the tough questions that get us going.

    I love a good debate.

    Your contemplation bears many fruits for others.

    Blessings on you and your family.

  12. SteveG

    Reposting to make a major correction in second paragraph…
    Would you please pick easier topics to discuss? Maybe something like what it means that Christ Conquered death. Oh, wait, that’s not easy either. ;-D

    It’s true that there has never been a papal ‘dogmatic declaration’ (i.e. the Immaculate Conception) on contraception, but that is not the same as saying that there is no infallible teaching on contraception.

    The illicitness of contraception is an infallible teaching by virtue of the ordinary teaching magesterium of the church. The VAST majority of teachings of the church which are infallibly taught have never been dogmatically declared (an official, explicit statement that THIS is an infallible teaching). Only a handful of items have been thus declared.

    Indeed the teaching on contraception is pretty unambiguously an infallible one. Whenever, and wherever the magesterium has spoken on this it has held unflinchingly that it is gravely immoral.

    From Pius the XI’s Casti Connubii to Paul VI Humanae Vitae and every other time in between or before, the church has been absolutely clear on this. That’s the Ordinary teaching magesterium in action and it is purely wishful thinking that there is going to be a change on this teaching.

    I myself indulge in such thinking from time to time when I have to abstain longer than I’d care for. ;-D

    At the same time, there is no doubt that this is a HARD teaching. It is true, but it is hard as rock. It is also a beautiful teaching. It’s as beautiful as a crucifix. And if we can endure the cross that this is it will surely lead to life…in this case…sometimes literally.

    The cross that this is, is one thing that I think is too often overlooked. NFP is great, but sometimes it presented in very pie in the sky terms. The fact is it works, but it can be a real struggle, and I think that should be more honestly discussed.

    As ever, I am stunned and awed by your humility in accepting this beautiful/hard teaching so unhesitatingly. It’s a real example for those of us who accept it also to be reminded of with what awe we first beheld it when we were convinced.

    No doubt chastity is a real struggle. Remember though that for all of us, sin has a terrible side affect. It darkens our reason and weakens our will. The longer, and more often we engage, the more difficult it is to overcome, and the more susceptible we are to other sins.

    My advice. Never give up on chastity. If you fall a hundred, or a thousand times, keep picking yourself back up. Never bastardize the truth because you fail to live up to it in order to make your self more comfortable.

    If you fall, head to confession. Pray that you won’t break the 6th or 9th commandment again that day, and….never, ever, ever, give up fighting and struggling.

    A priest once told me that only the free man can be truly happy. As long as we are enslaved by a particular sin, we are not truly fee.

    I’ll be praying for you.

    We long to look upon one who looks back in love. (Saint Augustine)

  13. Anonymous

    Thanks for your comments, everybody. There’s a lot of material for me to read and to re-learn.

    Thanks for your posts and questions, Jen.

    And thanks for your advice for me, SteveG. Thanks for the prayers and the encouragement. I really need them. (Please pray for him, too).

  14. Ersza

    This is a very interesting conversation. As I said, this is mostly theoretical for me, but if I were faced with dealing with normal fertility, I would probably follow the church teaching, even though I don’t agree with it. I see it as a matter of discipline, and obedience, but not absolute moral right or wrong. I admit that I might be wrong and the church might be right, and it is better to err on the side of caution. I guess I’m the opposite of anonymous that way.

    I am an intelligent person, I understand logic, I have read the bible, and I’m sorry, the arguments against contraception just don’t make sense to me. I have tried and tried to understand them, and just can’t get them to hold together. Ya’ll can go on as long as you like, but to me you’re all smoking crack. 🙂

    Regarding orthodoxy, I’m not against it, per se. I’m really pretty orthodox myself, depending on how you define it. But some people get in the mindset of “stricter” is better, placing more importance on strict observance of rules than being a part of the body of christ. Converts are especially vulnerable to this weakness. Jennifer, I notice that you haven’t left the church and joined a schism branch calling itself Catholic that is limited to Latin-only mass (like Mel Gibson). And I notice that you haven’t left the church because you didn’t like it when they took away the communion rails after Vatican II. Well, a lot of people *have* left the church for those reasons. For them, being orthodox was more important than being right. For them, where you put the baptismal font, or which way the priest stands during mass were a huge deal. The whole “We believe in one God…” bit was apparently just an excuse to get a good look at the priest’s backside. 🙂

    I don’t know if the teaching on birth control will ever change. The church has changed on some important points over the centuries, however, things much bigger than contraception, so I always chuckle when people say “The Church will never change on X.” I’m always a bit puzzled by people who say, “If you don’t agree with everything the magisterium says, you can help yourself out the door because you’re not Catholic.” To that I say, “This is my church, too.” If there were never any dissenters, we’d still have priests selling indulgences and an ongoing inquisition. Change can be a good thing.

    As far as infallibility goes, you could take that anywhere you want. The fact is that Jesus promised us the church would not lead us astray, but he didn’t promise it wouldn’t make us jump through extra hoops that would later turn out not to have been necessary. No one’s soul is endangered by using NFP instead of artificial contraception. That’s all we really know about that. And it’s enough, if you want to err on the side of caution for your soul’s sake. But if you have HIV or some other health conditions, it forces you to choose between your marriage and your religion.

    P.S. Someone already said this, but it is true that you can terminate a pregnancy if it is threatening the life of the mother under Catholic teaching, although specific procedures may not be licit. I looked it up before I used it as an example. Obviously, if the fetus is viable, you try to save both.

  15. SteveG

    The church has changed on some important points over the centuries,

    Can you name one issue that falls into the category of faith and morals on which the church has changed (i.e. reversed) its teaching?

    however, things much bigger than contraception, so I always chuckle when people say “The Church will never change on X.”

    I can’t say it any more bluntly then this…but if this is true, that the church can change it’s position on a fundamental moral principle, or a doctrine of the faith, then Catholicism is flat out false, and Christianity is ultimately at best a mistake, and at worst a terrible hoax. I don’t think you’ve really considered the implication of what you are putting out here.

    this is merely my opinion from observign what you’ve said (and since that’s all I know of you, I could surely be wrong), but your comments suggest that it’s possible that you are not making a distinction between what constitutes an issue of ‘faith and morals’ and what constitutes issues of practice, discipline and the like.

    I’m always a bit puzzled by people who say, “If you don’t agree with everything the magisterium says, you can help yourself out the door because you’re not Catholic.”

    Did someone here say that?

    To that I say, “This is my church, too.”

    No, no it’s not. And it’s not my or Jennifer, or anybody else church. It is the church of Jesus Christ, and none other.

    If there were never any dissenters, we’d still have priests selling indulgences and an ongoing inquisition.

    But both indulgences and the office of the inquisition (it’s called the congregation for the doctrine of the faith-and was most recently headed by none other that BXVI himself) both still do exists. But beyond that fact, both involve issues of how the church administers it’s affairs. That is not something that remotely falls under the auspices of infallibility, so we should expect that these practices should vary from time to time and culture to culture.

    As far as infallibility goes, you could take that anywhere you want. The fact is that Jesus promised us the church would not lead us astray, but he didn’t promise it wouldn’t make us jump through extra hoops that would later turn out not to have been necessary. No one’s soul is endangered by using NFP instead of artificial contraception. That’s all we really know about that. And it’s enough, if you want to err on the side of caution for your soul’s sake.

    We follow the rules so as to play it safe? We do the bare minimum to be sure we ‘sliiiide’ into heaven? Does that sound like the message Jesus Christ preached?

    P.S. Someone already said this, but it is true that you can terminate a pregnancy if it is threatening the life of the mother under Catholic teaching, although specific procedures may not be licit.

    This is incorrect. You can undertake actions to treat the problem with the mother that have the secondary effect of terminating the life of the fetus. You may not directly terminate the fetus as the sole intent of one’s action. It’s a fine line, but it’s crucial.

  16. Anonymous

    Dear Ezsra:

    I believe there are “important things” and “not so important things”, even in faith issues. I agree with you that it can (and does, unfortunately it does) happen that people who believe in God sincerely, can adhere more strongly to strict laws than to the spirit of the laws. Mere legalistic obedience can be sincere (not all Pharisees were hypocrites, some sincerely believed God wanted them to pay a tenth of the cummin seed), but it is still a poorer way of living love (the love of God and Church). Christ want us to have abundant life, so He called us, not to break the laws, the Law, but to understand it deeply and fulfill it more fully. In this specific matter (sex and contraception), I believe that a couple which uses NFP but believes children are a nuisance and must be avoided at all costs are committing a much graver sin than a couple who uses condoms but is open to children in God’s number (which may be more or less children than we would want), in God’s time (earlier or later than we would want, especially as there is never a “perfect” time to have children: we will never be ready!) and through God’s way (adopted, conceived when we want to, or unexpectedly conceived). I believe sexuality is an “important thing”, because it is related to love, life and communion. Which, if capitalized (Love, Life and Communion) are the central parts of our faith life: God and the Church.

    Now, please allow me to comment specifically some points of your comment:

    “if I were faced with dealing with normal fertility, I would probably follow the church teaching, even though I don’t agree with it. I see it as a matter of discipline, and obedience, but not absolute moral right or wrong. I admit that I might be wrong and the church might be right, and it is better to err on the side of caution. I guess I’m the opposite of anonymous that way.”

    Well, you’re not really the opposite of me. I would be the opposite of you if I thought the Church was right and understood the reasons (which I do) and didn’t follow it because I didn’t think obedience was important. That is not the case. I believe it is an absolute truth. I also believe that even if I didn’t understand it (which is not the case), I should follow it because of my obedience to the Church. (That is the case with devotion to Mary, which I simply cannot understand, but as the Church and the Bible itself commend it, I am trying to sometimes pray through her intercession. I obey even when I don’t understand. I disobey even when I understand. I am human). I deeply want to follow it. I am just weak, and stumble and fall. And get up again (and confess, and pray) and want never to fall again. And then I get weak and fall again.

    There are several reasons why converts are sometimes more strict. My personal reason is that as a convert I had to search and read the papal writings on the issues that I thought I disagreed with. And, to my surprise, I found I agreed with them. I believe they are true, so I am strict, in a certain sense. I am also weak, and my actions sometimes fall very far from my beliefs. And I am also a person who examins her beliefs (I am addicted to thinking, really!) daily. I cannot believe the Church will say contraception is OK if I completely understand and agree with the Church’s reasoning. (Which, as you know, starts with the idea that Christ is to the Church as the groom is to the bride. So, when Christ gives His body to the Church [for instance, in Communion], they become One Body, with no barriers whatsoever, in a fecund way. As Christians, we are called to make our bodies prefigurate this.) This is what I believe. This is what I TRY to do. As Steve said, it is a struggle (to me, other people may not be tempted in that area).

    It’s good to be questioned, and it’s good to have a conversation with people who disagree with us in a respectful way.

    (Please excuse me if I sound like I am trying to defend myself of the idea that I may be a hypocrite who says she agrees with the Church’s teachings on this matter but truly does not care for obedience to this matter. You didn’t say this, the part of my mind which is my own enemy did. That part of my mind wishes to see me give up. But I won’t. Because I am weak and unfaithful to God, but He is faithful. And because of Him and of His faithfulness, I’ll try again).

  17. Jennifer


    You don’t equate the liturgical reforms of Vatican II to a reversal on a teaching of birth control do you? If you do I think we need to break that down a bit, logically. If you don’t, then, come now, I don’t think your argument is intellectually honest.

    Steve is right. On issues of morality the Church remains constant. The most recent major doctrinal reversal was on the concept of Limbo–however, this did not change anything in the ethical decision making of a Catholic. There has not been ever a reversal on a question of morality and ethical decision making that I know of–can anyone correct me? Not in matters of administration or polictical positioning. In moral issues that directly guide a common Catholic’s decision making.

    Steve is also right in underscoring what has been said multiple times. Abortion is never allowed even if the mother’s life is in jeopardy. Efforts made to save the mother’s life, up to and including the induction of labor before viability are NOT the same thing as abortion. You an not take any action to directly harm the fetus.

    This is why the tube must be removed in an ectopic that will not resovle on its own as opposed to using Methotrexate or some other abortifacient procedure. It is out of respect for the diginity of the life that is still a nascent human life even though it lost its way to the womb. You may not see a difference if the child dies in the end.

    But it is the difference between treating life with dignity and treating it as disposable.

    While I’m pleased that you have read and digested the whole bible, it is kind of hard for me to understand how one could have done so and not seen the consistent scriptural reference to the sanctity and mystery of life, and to God’s direct intercession in birth and pregnancy.

    My crack habit aside, it is in fact, a consistent theme–if you are able to detect these themes, implicit as they are, and the many scriptural references that maintain that life is a blessing from God and that nascent life in the womb is indeed the very way in which God chose to enter the world (and may choose to enter the world again in the end times, for all we know), then, excuse me, it seems rather obtuse to not see where the Church is coming from, scripturally, on birth control.

    But maybe that is just the crack talking.

    Call me a fool, if you will, for respecting the Church’s teaching on the culture of life. It is not out of mere legalism (that applies to the schismatics to whom your refer but not on issues of morality for obvious reasons) but out of a profound sense of awe at the symbolism of using a the humble vessel of the womb for bringing grace and renewal into the world.

    Anything else, to me, is a gross reduction, and a disrespect for the Lord himself, on par with defectaing in a sacred place.

    I understand that not all people see it in just this way and think me too extreme or too scrupulous in my address of human reproduction.

    But I can only feel sad that they don’t experience that same sense of awe and respect for life that has made my heart swell and my spirit sing. In my mind, anyone who has experienced that feeling couldn’t possibly consider the Church’s position on birth control passe.

    Otherwise, they haven’t truly experienced it.

  18. Anonymous



    “This is why the tube must be removed in an ectopic that will not resovle on its own as opposed to using Methotrexate or some other abortifacient procedure. It is out of respect for the diginity of the life that is still a nascent human life even though it lost its way to the womb. You may not see a difference if the child dies in the end.

    But it is the difference between treating life with dignity and treating it as disposable.

    Understood. Thanks for spelling it out clearly.

    Call me a fool, if you will, for respecting the Church’s teaching on the culture of life. It is not out of mere legalism (that applies to the schismatics to whom your refer but not on issues of morality for obvious reasons) but out of a profound sense of awe at the symbolism of using a the humble vessel of the womb for bringing grace and renewal into the world.

    God is strange. I come to this comments repeated times to try to get strength and learn from others about chastity, contraception and sexuality. Instead, I read the expression I marked in bold and devotion to Mary suddenly starts to make sense. I didn’t expect that these two matters were related (even though in my last comment I talked about the two), but suddenly it seems they ARE related. (or maybe as I have been struggling with these two issues, everything I read seems related to them).

    Thanks for all your discussion. I will keep lurking here.

  19. SteveG

    Steve is right

    Well, of course. 😉

    But I do need to clarify one thing you mentioned.

    On issues of morality the Church remains constant. The most recent major doctrinal reversal was on the concept of Limbo

    This was not a doctrinal reversal (there can be no such thing). Limbo always and everywhere when spoken of by the teaching Magesterium was referred to as theological speculation. It had never been considered doctrine, and the recent ‘dismissal’ of it was the churches way of saying that this particular speculation has past it’s due date.

    Again, everyone should realize how absolutely critical this issue is. If it can be proved that the Church taught error in either faith or moral doctrine, it puts to lie the Church itself.

    If they were wrong on the ‘doctrine’ of Limbo (which if it really had been a doctrine would have clearly been a matter of faith), then there is really no reason that we should be able to trust that they got ANY of the doctrines correct. That includes the Trinity, the dual nature of Christ, the resurrection….EVERYTHING.

    On the one hand it’s a frightening thing to realize, but…either God is real, Jesus was who we believe him to be, and His church really IS protected by the Holy Spirit in these areas, and we have nothing to fear, or …not.

    The wonderful thing is that we’ve seen the ‘expirement’ running for 2000 years, and it is utterly astounding that this has in fact never occurred (a reversal on doctrine). Utterly. Astounding.

    This is the thrilling romance of Orthodoxy. People have fallen
    into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy,
    humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy. It was sanity: and to be sane is more dramatic than to be mad. It was the equilibrium of a man behind madly rushing horses, seeming to stoop this way and to sway that, yet in every attitude having the grace of statuary and the accuracy of arithmetic. The Church in its early days went fierce and fast with any warhorse; yet it is utterly unhistoric to say that she merely went mad along one idea, like a vulgar fanaticism. She swerved to left and right, so exactly as to avoid enormous obstacles. She left on one hand the huge bulk of Arianism, buttressed by all the worldly powers to make Christianity too worldly. The next instant she was swerving to avoid an orientalism, which would have made it too unworldly. The orthodox Church never took the tame course or accepted the conventions; the orthodox Church was never respectable. It would have been easier to have accepted the earthly power of the Arians. It would have been easy, in the Calvinistic seventeenth century, to fall into the bottomless pit of predestination. It is easy to be a madman: it is easy to be a heretic. It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one’s own. It is always easy to be a modernist; as it is easy to be a snob. To have fallen into any of those open traps of error and exaggeration which fashion after fashion and sect after sect set along the historic path of Christendom–that would indeed have been simple. It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect.

    (G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy)
    *shiver runs up spine*

    Jennifer F. See why I love Chesterton?! 😉

  20. SteveG

    I think we are both ‘technically’ right in a sense…

    1. A principle or body of principles presented for acceptance or belief, as by a religious, political, scientific, or philosophic group; dogma.
    4. Archaic. Something taught; a teaching.

    …but I’ll note that the ‘teaching’ aspect is explicitely marked as archaic usage.

    Surely we don’t want to suggest that in Catholic understand that the fact that something is taugth in ccd (especially in the mid-seventies) 😉 that this rises to the level of doctrine as commonly understood.

    How about we split the difference? I’ll add that it’s never been considered by the magesterium, or any pope as an infallible doctrine of the faith, which is really what I was getting at.

    Despite it’s appearance in the Baltimore catechism (not an infallible document by any stretch, but rather a guide, as any catechism is), it is very clear that from a magisterial standpoint, this simply never rose to anything other than the level of theological speculation.

    BXVI (as Cdl. Ratzinger) even explicitly commented on this…

    Personally, I would let it drop, since it has always been only a theological hypothesis.

    Limbo Consigned to History books

    I don’t mean to nitpick, but I am taking pains to be clear on this because it is so important that we understand what the church really means when it claims infallibility on doctrinal matters of faith and morals.

  21. Jennifer


    You crack me up, my friend.

    I’ve already conceded your point.

    You are right.

    And, I’m offended it was NOT CCD! It was Catholic School—pre-Vatican II nuns and old ladies. Equipped with rulers and rosaries chanted in Brooklyn accents.


  22. SteveG

    sorry. 🙂 I am a stickler for details. 😀

  23. Jennifer


    Oh Steve, you caught me on some sloppy language–maybe.

    You can use doctrinal reversal as in doctrine = “things taught”–I THINK that it is an acceptable loose term of the word doctrine.

    As I was taught about limbo–both limbus patrus and limbus infantium–in catechism as a young Catholic shool girl in the mid seventies, I can safely say that it was a doctrine in that it was “something taught”–

    While it was not perhaps a true reversal (in the sense that we are not saying this is a proposition whose opposite is true) it was a case of doctrinal revision.

    Unless there is a very rigorous understand as what is doctrinal and what is traditional–I guess, okay, I’m conceding–I should have classified it as a TRADITION.


    The differences? Anyone want to take a stab? They are fine points.

    Love the Chesterton quote. As this book was recommended to me yesterday (I’ve only read Chesterton’s biography of St. Francis at this point) I think it is about time I pikced it up.

  24. Jennifer

    Thank you for this post. I have enjoyed reading your thoughts on the matter and that of the commentators.

    There is a beautiful (recent) saint that embodies the choice of the baby’s life first, St. Gianna Beretta Molla. She past away in 1962 and was canonized in 2004. Her life is an amazing tribute to motherhood.

  25. Jen_SteveG

    Yo! Wazzup with all the Jens? 🙂

  26. Jennifer

    The 70’s was the Jennifer Generation.

    It wasn’t, in fact, Gen-X, but Jen-X. It is a common misconception.

    At my all girls high school we figured out in math class that 1 in 10 girls at the high school was named Jennifer.

  27. Ersza

    I’ll have more to say on this subject in my blog later. I’ve appreciated everyone’s comments here on contraception and am keeping them in mind as I conduct my own studies on it. I would like to point out, though, that the discussion of contraception in the catholic church is never far from the subject of dissent. Those who advocate for the church’s position on contraception are quick to attack those who dissent, not on the basis of their arguments, but for their character. I see that happening in this discussion, as well. Steve G implies that I’m not going to heaven because I dissent with this teaching. I know he means well, but to answer your question, Steve, whose faith is greater. Those who follow the teachings of the church because they are completely happy and comfortable with every single thing in it? Or those who follow the teachings of the church out of loyalty, even though some of them are difficult to understand or confusing? Don’t presume that I am a bad Christian because I’m not cheerleading for the magisterium. And I admit to feeling just slightly hurt that Jennifer thinks that I do not respect life, or seems to anyway. Friends, let’s not let this issue divide us. Debate on an issue is healthy. Although no one here has told me to leave the church if I disagree, there are many who would do so (and have). Steve–yes, it is MY church, just as much as it is yours. If it is not MY church, then I have no place, there at all.

    Jennifer–to answer your question about Vatican II, I was addressing the issue of orthodoxy for the sake of orthodoxy, not the teaching on contraception, which, you are right, carries a lot more weight than the details of the mass, etc.

    I will post later on historical changes in moral teachings of the church in my blog.

  28. SteveG

    I am literally in shock from your comment.

    Steve G implies that I’m not going to heaven because I dissent with this teaching.

    If this is what you took from my comments, I take full responsibility for poorly conveying what I intended, but THAT was definetely not what I intended.

    I can only surmise that this comment…

    We follow the rules so as to play it safe? We do the bare minimum to be sure we ‘sliiiide’ into heaven? Does that sound like the message Jesus Christ preached?

    …was what made you feel that was what I was saying.

    I was only trying to point out the respective attitudes that I felt were being displayed, and did a poor job of it at that. In no way was I attempting to judge either the state of your soul, or who is a better Christian.

    I have very little doubt that in act and deed, I am a sinner indeed and would stack up very poorly agains most Christians. I would never claim to be a better Christian than anyone, espcially someone I don’t know other than from a few words on a computer screen.

    I actually really respect the idea of obedience even when we don’t agree, and I respect that you have the integrity to say that you’d be obedient.

    I apologize for implying otherwise.

    I can see from the rest of your comment that there is some sort of serious disconnect or miscommunication going on (likely because of poor explanation on my part) so I think I’ll refrain from responding directly much further lest I dig myself into a deeper hole.

  29. Ersza

    Thanks, Steve, for the clarification. I wasn’t sure what you meant by that exactly, so I’m relieved to know you didn’t mean what I thought you did. Likewise, I’m sure that Jennifer wasn’t really questioning my respect for life, just pointing out another source of inspiration. It’s just easy to start feeling sensitive when you perceive yourself in the minority. I would like to be in full agreement with the church on this, which is why I’m spending some extra time discussing and reading on the subject. Truly my mind is open, and I do not have a dog in this fight as the issue of artificial contraception is completely irrelevant to my life.

  30. Anonymous

    Hello everyone!

    I find this discussion very interesting because I, like most other Catholics I know, have struggled with NFP. I grew up thinking I would not even have children because I quite honestly don’t even like kids. However, when I found a wonderful Catholic man and fell in love, I started to rethink the notion. We were both faithful to the church teaching on chastity while dating and were both virgins on our wedding day. This was a HUGE blessing to us, as we have the rock-solid unifying knowledge that neither of us have ever been with anybody else sexually. What a huge gift! I only hope I can convey to my own children what a blessing this has been for us.

    But I digress. Deep down, I think I honestly believed I would be one of the infertile women of the world (and I was MORE than ok with this notion!!) because I felt so ill-suited to motherhood, even though I absolutely adored my husband and loved being a married woman. Having both come from traditional Catholic families, the idea of contraception never even entered our minds. Still, I was in shock when I found out I was preganant 11 months into our marriage. We had tried NFP for the first couple months of marriage, but I quickly threw the stupid thermometer away when I realized that my temps were all over the place, and I was sick and tired of having to wake up every morning to take my temp at the same time. I was getting pretty tired, too, as I don’t fall back asleep easily. LOL!

    So there I was pregnant, and I figured, “Ok, God, surely You know what a non-maternal person I am, so You simply are going to HAVE to instill some serious maternal instincts in me upon delivery of this child” I really thought that was going to happen, too. Imagine my dismay and shock when the baby was born, and I didn’t find myself feeling one iota more mother-like. Breastfeeding was miserable (I persevered, though, at least in part due to the breastfeeding fanatics who had me convinced my child would surely grow up needing therapy or at least would be in chronic poor health, if I didn’t), and I fell into a deep post-partum depression. AND I was pregnant again 6 months later (breastfeeding baby on the breast constantly not withstanding). After I had #2, I was pregnant again 6 months later, despite taking CCL classes and digging that stupid thermometer out of the garbage. Two miscarriages, then another two healthy pregnancies, despite taking Ovulation Method (Creighton Model) classes and working with an NFP instructor on a regular basis. Then another two miscarriages. Then another two healthy pregnancies. Somewhere along the way, I was diagnosed with a chronic illness and needed some heavy-duty meds (steroids, immune suppressants, etc—I honestly think the financial, emotional, and psychological stress of having so many kids so close together did a whammy on my physical health) and hospitalization. All along the way, we tried charting and periodic abstinence, but somehow ended up getting pregnant on a regular basis anyway. What would happen is that we would end up having to abstain for weeks at a time because of my constant fertility signs (I don’t know if I am just a total anomaly or what, but I have constant fertility signs and temps that bounce all over like a superball), then we would get desperate and just say the heck with it, and BAM, I was pregnant. It was very difficult. I did seek help with the postpartum depression, accepted the fact that not everybody likes being around kids (although I LOVE my own children and want the best for them, don’t get me wrong), and found a career I love which allows me to work opposite my husband so we never need childcare. It’s been a long, hard journey. We had six children (and lost 4 to miscarriage, which was a difficult journey emotionally and physically as well) in 10 years, and I still struggle on a daily basis with the fact that having so many children around me constantly frays my nerves and totally makes me cranky. I never even babysat as a teenager (except for my 3 younger siblings) because being around kids irritated me so badly!!! My girlfriends are all in amazement that I’ve had so many kids myself when I am so NOT maternal. Thankfully my husband is a kind, loving, and nurturing man who enjoys the presence of children. Let’s hope he can make up for my motherly insufficiences!! LOL I always tell him to forget saving for college, just save for their therapy sessions.

    So where does that leave us now? Even in an anonymous response, I wouldn’t feel comfortable revealing anything so personal as our birth control decisions. We both come from very traditional Catholic families and have a circle of very staunch Catholic friends who would be in total shock and would probably ostracize us and totally lose respect for us should it ever become known that we made a decision other than NFP.

    I will say that I think hormonal methods of birth control are anti-woman (I am quite a feminist in many ways) and have been basically forced on us women by a patriarchial society who somehow convinced us it’s good for us. I think it’s poison, myself. On the other hand, I can see that there ARE NO easy answers when it comes to the spacing of children.

    We know a lot of couples who practice NFP (or don’t practice any method of birth control whatsoever), and I have to say that they are not any happier than the couples we know who DO practice artificial contraception. We know quite a few couples who have 6,7,8, or more kids who just keep getting further and further into financial distress, and one in particular is just about to crack psychologically yet is convinced she is being a good example to the rest of the world by continuing to gestate a new baby every 18 months or so. It’s pretty scary, actually. I find this puzzling, because the bible says we can know a tree by it’s fruit, yet so many of the couples/families I see having huge families are not any happier or more loving than families with 2 or 3 kids who have practiced contraception. This really surprises me.

    Well, I have written a book here, and duty calls (i.e. mountains of laundry and housekeeping, plus 6 kids to get ready for school). I just thought I would add my observations as a person who has lived NFP and has been very open to life but is still on the fence about it all.

  31. Pansy Moss

    Sorry I am late responding to this. I would have right away, but I had morning sickness and it was hard for me to stay online for so long without getting seasick.


    I could have written your entire post. I am now pregnant with number 6, and the last three were conceived using NFP to the bst of my ability, both CCL and CrM. I have also struggled with PPD.

    I think we are also one of those families falling into financial distress. Well, maybe not falling, but never really been wealthy.We have had to make more efforts, my dh is going to school full time now, I have a small PT job…etc.

    I think the only differecne is in the beginning, I really wanted a large family and loved nursing, APIng, being a Mommy, but by Number 4 I started with the PPD and started feeling physically and psycholigicaly burnt out. I was very sad when I found out about number 6 about a month ago and didn’t even tell anyone for a bit. Like maybe if I forgot about it, it would go away. But I know from experience that each child is someone in my life I could not bear to be without, so why focus on the negative?

    Anywho, prior to getting pregnant this time (I was so sure I was going to get the NFP right), I even considered artificial birth control, because deep down inside, I knew eventually I would get the NFP wrong. I didn’t think on the first month…

    I just can’t go to artificial birth control. Sometimes I wonder that if I love the Church’s teaching on contraception because I love the Church, or I love being Catholic because I wholeheartedly belive birth control is wrong, and being Catholic gives me an excuse to really embrace thet belief and get people off my back about it to a small extent.

    If I started using abc, I would cease to be me. It is not about trying to “show the world” as you said that I am so right. (On the contrary, I find myself hiding from people because I feel like we are a freakshow at times with “soooo many kids”.) But like I said, I define myself by the things I hold important, and by my efforts to live those standards. I would feel I have turned my back on God and myself, and my husband if I resorted to abc.

  32. Anonymous

    I have been reading for a short time and decided to go back to the early posts. I am saddened and a little put out that the last two entries on this thread are real life struggles and difficult situations that no one responded to. All the theory and doctrine that has been discussed, and no one has any thing to offer the two women struggling with the reality of no contraception. That’s lousy.

  33. eulogos

    I think the last comment responded to the next to the last comment.

    I would respond to the next to the last comment that one cannot tell from the outside whether a couple is “happy” or not. If doing the right thing is stressful, did you expect something else? I used to wonder why Catholic families always had a crucifix above the bed in the parents bedroom. We can’t really expect worldly happiness. If some comes our way it is a blessing to be thankful for, but it isn’t our right or something we should expect to be the norm. It sounds as if you have the blessing of a family which accepts your family and number of children and which reinforces obeying the church. If despite this you contracept, you have less excuse than many. Can you really imagine facing God about this and having Him say to you, don’t worry about it, its fine with me, its just the church which is hung up on it? Really?

    Thats what I want to say. I don’t think we should always just say things which are accepting. Yes, it can be tough. I have despaired at times and I have done wrong, and I have made excuses and said God wouldn’t want me to suffer and all that. But I only reaped long term joys from my obedience and long term suffering for myself and others from my disobediences.
    Susan Peterson

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