One of the most widely covered Catholic issues in the media today is the Church’s opposition to the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act. The mandate requires that Catholic institutions and Catholic business owners fund employee insurance coverage for contraception. For nearly three years, the Church has been advocating against this new law, a law that ignores basic Constitutional protection for religious liberty and rights of conscience.
I’m often asked why the Church is so adamantly opposed to the contraceptive mandate. After all, critics point out, a majority of Catholic couples use contraception, which has come to be regarded as a basic standard of care for women’s health.
It’s true, unfortunately, that many Catholic couples have used contraception. Like most Americans, Catholics have been taught that contraception is an ordinary, even responsible, component of family life. And, at times, the Church has failed to adequately and consistently teach the clear reasons why we oppose contraception: namely, our high regard for the family, for the dignity of women, and for the gift of sexual intimacy. Contraception has been framed as a human good, even a human right, and we now live in a culture where contraception use is the norm.
But our culture’s contraceptive mentality is very dangerous. The widespread use of contraception opposes a truth as old as humanity itself: that men and women, in the intimacy of sexuality, can share in the active and creative love of God. We’ve forgotten that, and now we face real and immediate consequences.
Pope Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae, the landmark papal encyclical clarifying the Church’s consistent teaching on the immorality of contraception, in 1968. He warned that widespread use of contraception would lead to dangerous social consequences. In particular, he said, a contraceptive mentality would lead to four dangerous trends: “a general lowering of moral standards”; increased infidelity in marriage; mass objectification of women by men; and coercive use of reproductive technology by civil government.
In the past 45 years, it seems apparent that each of Paul VI’s predictions has come to fruition, pointing to the prophetic nature of that 1968 document.
As Pope Paul VI predicted, women, in particular, suffer the consequences of our modern ethos. Today women are objectified and dismissed, too often treated without regard for their profound “feminine genius.” Women have something unique and beautiful to offer the world, precisely because they are women. But today, too often, what makes women unique is forgotten.
Among the casualties of the contraceptive mentality is the sacredness of sexual relationships. When sex is divorced from procreative potential, infidelity abounds. Sexual license thrives. Pornography flourishes. Divorce abounds. Most tragically, when sex becomes merely about pleasure, it seems to lose its full splendor, and becomes a commodity, an exchange, or a service. It is no wonder that the boundaries of sexual expression are pushed ever outward, as men and women seek to find some meaning, some reality, some happiness, apart from the profound, creative, regenerative reality of a fruitful conjugal life.
Finally, Pope Paul VI predicted that widespread use of contraception would lead to governments that “impose their use on everyone.” Since 1979, the People’s Republic of China has forced families to use contraception, and if that fails, abortion, in order to limit their family size. Across the globe, the United Nations incentivizes the use of contraception among the poor. And today, in America, the federal government now mandates that access to contraception be funded and facilitated, even by those who object in conscience.
Yes, we are suffering the consequences of a contraceptive mentality in America. And we will continue to suffer, until more people chose to be open to the gift of life. My prayer is that all Catholics would joyfully accept the Church’s full teaching on human sexuality, and thus build a culture of life and of love, that will transform our world.
Next week, in the pages of the Southern Nebraska Register, I will issue The Language of Love, a pastoral letter on the use of contraception. I pray that you will read it carefully with your family. I pray that you will consider its message. And I pray that you will know the blessing of God in the gift of Jesus Christ, and in the gift of life.