The Catholic Church in this country and around the world has been suffering for more than 40 years from massive contraception by Catholics and also from the effort to avoid the issue. Marital contraception is truly the elephant in the sanctuary. Everyone knows it’s there, but it’s the unmentionable subject. After a US Bishops committee urged, in 1989, that every engaged couple should be required to attend a full course of Natural Family Planning instruction, that good idea has been adopted by only six dioceses with a seventh trying to get there. The pews continue to empty, schools are being closed due to lack of students, parishes are closed or consolidated, and the basic cause—marital contraception—continues to be ignored.
And then there are the millions of aborted babies. Abortion is a fatal fruit of the modern sexual revolution that started with the acceptance of marital contraception. How can we reasonably expect to stop abortion without a huge increase in the number of voters who refuse to accept unnatural forms of birth control? Build a Humanae Vitae population within the Catholic Church and legalized abortion is over.
How does this affect us?
The 43-year tradition of ignoring the elephant in the sanctuary has tangible results. Only about 1.1 percent of churchgoing fertile-age Catholics are using any form of systematic NFP. Others are breastfeeding or just letting the babies come as they may. But the rate of non-contraception is still very low, about 10% at best. When we started teaching NFP in 1971, there was a market of couples who had formed their consciences—at least partially—before Humanae Vitae. Many of our early students were using unnatural forms of birth control because some priest had told them directly or implied that it was now okay to do so, but they still felt uneasy about it. Our NFP services and our Catholic teaching freed them to accept and to live out the truths of the encyclical.
But now there is almost no market for NFP services geared to couples of normal fertility. In the once-very-Catholic western part of Cincinnati, our pastor is the only priest who requires his engaged couples to take an NFP course, so we teach very small classes at his parish. I’ve talked with most of the other pastors (but some won’t return my calls). They say they accept Humanae Vitae, but they will not do anything effective such as requiring an NFP course. In response to my recent request to the Archdiocese, I received a page and a half of difficulties and problems they saw with an NFP requirement. Parish bulletin announcements rarely bring a response. The elephant in the sanctuary remains undisturbed.
Next week: What can I do about it?
John F. Kippley