Humanae Vitae: Contraception and divorce

March 18th, 2018

One of the Big Lies about contraception is that it promotes happier marriages. It doesn’t, but the propaganda sounds so good.  The hypothesis has long been that if a couple have unlimited sex and very few children, they will be happy.  The hypothesis has been widely tested, and its falsity has been demonstrated.  On the other hand, limited data indicate that the divorce rate among couples who practice natural family planning is not over five percent.  That’s too high; every one is a tragedy, but that rate is only one-tenth the American cultural divorce ratio of 50%.

In 1910, the year of the last census before Margaret Sanger started her birth control organizations, the ratio of divorces to marriages was one divorce for every 11.4 marriages.  Currently it is one divorce for every two marriages.  The numbers show that the culture that overwhelmingly has adopted the Planned Parenthood way of “family happiness” has experienced a 500% increase in its family unhappiness and dissolution rate.  The numbers show that the hypothesis is wrong.  But why?

1.  Married couples have the God-given right to engage in the marriage act.  The Catholic Church defines this as the act that of its very nature is oriented toward the generation of children.  The Church clearly teaches that the marriage act is intended to strengthen the bond between the spouses as well as to co-create new lives destined for eternal happiness with God.  Contraception, however, falsifies the would-be marriage act.  The contraceptive “marriage act” is not a true marriage act.  Therefore, while it denies the procreative aspect of the act, it also does not accomplish the bonding that God intended.

2.  Why isn’t it a true marriage act?  God intends that the marriage act should be a renewal of the marriage covenant.  It ought to say in a symbolic way, “Again, we take each other for better and for worse.”  However, the body language of contraception speaks loudly and clearly: “We take each other for better but definitely not for the imagined worse of possible pregnancy.”  Therefore the contraceptive marriage act is invalid as a renewal of the marriage covenant.  It is intrinsically dishonest.
Which marriage is more likely to last: the one in which the couple regularly renew their marriage covenant, for better and for worse, or the one in which the couple keep saying “for better but not for worse”?

3.  Couples need the grace of God to persevere in faithful marriage “till death do we part.”  Recourse to unnatural methods of birth control repudiates the grace-bearing commandment not to act in that way.  The habit of saying “no” to God’s graces carries over into the rest of marriage.  The problem is that sooner or later almost every married couple experiences marital disillusionment.  To overcome this problem, the couple really need to cooperate with the grace of God.  How do spouses who have been badly hurt undergo conversion and exercise mutual forgiveness without cooperating with the grace of God?  But if their habit is in the other direction….

4.  The use of unnatural methods of birth control not infrequently leads to feelings of being used and being a people-user.  To say the least, this is not conducive to the development of married love.

Everything considered, the high divorce rate among couples who use unnatural methods of birth control is not surprising.  A return to marital chastity is of crucial importance for a restoration of marital permanence.
John F. Kippley
Sex and the Marriage Covenant

Humanae Vitae: The Conversion Value of NFP continued

March 11th, 2018

The second reason why it is realistic to fear that parishioners will vote with their feet is the almost complete failure of parishes to teach the real content of Humanae Vitae and to provide the practical help of Natural Family Planning.  As a result, some think that no matter what they do, they will have ten children in a dozen years, and others think they will almost never be able to engage in the marriage act if they do not want more children.  This is a tremendously false picture, but it is fostered by the almost complete absence of relevant preaching and teaching at the parish level.

On the other hand, the wonderful reality is that the truths reaffirmed by Humanae Vitae and the practice of Natural Family Planning attract those who want to live the truth about love—and there are many such couples. Repeatedly couples have witnessed to the fact that the practice of natural family planning was the starting point of their journey to the Church or back to the Church. I am convinced that the practice of marital chastity opens the mind and heart to the fact that it is Christ Himself who continues to teach the demands of love in and through his Church.  In most cases, however, it is not just the periodic abstinence of NFP that has convinced couples; it is also the fact that they learned some of the reasons behind the teaching of Humanae Vitae.

In the early Eighties, I received a letter informing me that the writer, his wife and his family had entered the fullness of the Catholic Church.  He described himself as having been a fundamentalist married to a Baptist.  They had been practicing NFP because the wife did not want to use the Pill; he very reluctantly went along with this but only because he loved and respected his wife.  One evening as he was waiting for dinner, he picked up my organization’s newsletter and read something that rang true.  He remarked to his wife that there was a lot more to this NFP stuff than just mucus and temperatures; there were good reasons for it.  She answered that she had thought there were and had been waiting for him, the more philosophical of the duo, to explain them to her.  Then they figured that if the Catholic Church had it right on this one, they owed it to the Church to take a look at its other claims as well.  In due time and with the grace of God, he notified me of the family’s entrance into full communion with the Catholic Church.  Praise the Lord!

The names of Scott and Kimberly Hahn are well known in the Church today.  Back in their Protestant seminary days, they found something I had written about birth control and found it persuasive.  They accepted the universal Christian Tradition against unnatural forms of birth control, a Tradition taught almost exclusively by the Catholic Church today, and acted accordingly.  I believe that living this part of Catholic teaching gradually helped to open their hearts and minds to the fullness of the truth.

And the process continues.   I once read a comment from a couple applying to become teachers of natural family planning.  “Also, NFP has brought us, to a large degree, into the Catholic Church.”

Truth attracts and retains people of good will.  That’s why it is necessary to preach, teach and practice the truths affirmed by Humanae Vitae.
John F. Kippley
Sex and the Marriage Covenant

Humanae Vitae: The Conversion Value of Natural Family Planning

March 4th, 2018

Ever since the publication of Humanae Vitae on July 25, 1968, a great fear has cast a sickly hue over the pastoral work of the Church.  This malady is simple to diagnose but difficult to cure.  It can be stated this way:  “We fear that if we teach that it is immoral to use unnatural forms of birth control, our parishioners will vote with their feet, the pews will be emptied, and how will we pay the bills?”

There are two primary reasons why that fear can be realistic.  First of all, in recent years the educational ministries within the Church have generally failed to build faith in the Church as the Body of Christ.  All too many Catholics have a liberal Protestant view of the Church as just a religious organization in which I feel comfortable.  If it starts to preach something I find uncomfortable, I simply shop around for another church.  And no matter what my church says officially, I can interpret my Bible to mean whatever I think it means.

Catholic belief in the Church is simultaneously more demanding and more liberating.  It is more demanding because it requires the believer to believe all that the Church teaches because it has been revealed by God Who can neither deceive nor be deceived.  It is more liberating because it frees the conscientious person from endlessly trying to figure out his own interpretation of the Bible or which of contradicting interpretations he thinks is correct.

And why should a person believe that the Catholic Church teaches with the authority of God—especially today?  He needs to understand what Jesus Himself did to ensure that his teachings—including the divine truth about human love—would endure till He returns.  So the question is really this.  Why should a person believe that Christ Himself continues to teach in and through the Catholic Church that He established?  The answer starts in the Bible including some very important teachings at the Last Supper. (Jn 14:15-26; 15:26-27; 16:12-15)  And the rest is history, as they say.

Truth attracts people of good will.  The fear that teaching the fullness of the truth will lose parishioners is realistic only when the local church fails to teach the saving truth that it is Christ Himself who teaches in and through the Catholic Church, regardless of the sins of those who do not follow that teaching.  The answer is simple: correct preaching and catechesis.

Next week’s blog: the second reason for fearing the teaching of Humanae Vitae.
John F. Kippley
Sex and the Marriage Covenant