The Side Effects of the Pill: Why the Church Has So Much to Say about Contraception | Dr. William Newton | HPR
The Church pays special attention to the issue of contraception because so many of the modern errors in moral theology converge in this particular question of conjugal morality.
There is an impression out there–in the world and even within the Church–that the Church is obsessed with the question of contraception, or at least gives too much attention to it in comparison to other issues. So, for example, one modern moral theologian, reading Veritatis Splendor, sees in it nothing more than a Trojan horse for another attack on contraception. He says:
It is not easy to avoid a sense of profound anti-climax, combined with a strong suspicion that what purported to be a critique of certain moral theories was, after all, only one more assault against the critics who found no real plausibility in certain official Catholic teachings about sex and, in particular, about contraception. 1
My contention in this essay is that the Church does, indeed, pay special attention to the issue of contraception, and with good reason. This is because so many of the modern errors in moral theology converge in this particular question of conjugal morality.
The truth of this contention is made evident by a careful reading of the famous–one might say infamous–Majority Report of the Papal Commission on Birth Control. For our purposes here, the significance of that report lies not so much in the fact that it advised a change in the Church’s teaching on contraception, as in the fact that it took to heart various systems of moral reasoning that are contrary to sound morality, and that are endemic in so much modern thought on moral issues. The aim of this essay is to examine them, thereby demonstrating the significance of Humanae Vitae, and the Church’s teaching on contraception, as a bulwark against a tidal wave of erroneous moral thinking. In short, these principles are: the principle of totality, the theory of proportionalism, the ideology of man’s unlimited control over nature, and a false notion of the sensus fidelium. 2
The principle of totality
Applied to the issue of contraception, the principle of totality claims that if a couple, on the whole, remain open to having children, then using contraception every once in a while, or for a certain period of their married life, is not wrong since these isolated acts are absorbed into the general orientation of the couple towards procreation.