Catholic Teaching On Contraception

The Catholic Church clearly teaches that contraception in any form, including sterilization, is a gravely disordered act.

It is necessary that each and every marriage act remain ordered per se to the procreation of human life. . . . This particular doctrine . . . is based on the inseparable connection . . . between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.

2366, Catechism of the Catholic Church

Every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes . . . to render procreation impossible is intrinsically evil.

2370, Catechism of the Catholic Church

The regulation of births represents one of the aspects of responsible fatherhood and motherhood. Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception).

2399, Catechism of the Catholic Church

Unlawful Birth Control Methods: The direct interruption of the generative process already begun. . . [is] to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children. Equally to be condemned. . . is direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary. . . . Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation.

Humanae Vitae, Paragraph 14


The Catholic Church teaches that having many children is a good thing.

Fecundity [having children] is a gift, an end of marriage, for conjugal love naturally tends to be fruitful.

2366, Catechism of the Catholic Church

Sacred Scripture and the Church's traditional practice see in large families a sign of God's blessing and the parents' generosity.

2373, Catechism of the Catholic Church


The Catholic Church teaches that there are circumstances in which not having children might be desirable.

For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children. It is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness.

2368, Catechism of the Catholic Church

The regulation of births represents one of the aspects of responsible fatherhood and motherhood.

2399, Catechism of the Catholic Church


Consequences to Society


An objection to this Catholic teaching is that it will result in overpopulation. If large families were the norm, there would soon come to be a point at which the earth would not be able to provide the required resources and mass starvation would result. This certainly is not an outcome desired by God.

There is a "wishful thinking" solution to this in which new resources would be discovered or we would colonize space so that overpopulation would never occur. This is not a very satisfying solution.

Another possible solution is that perhaps God would intervene in some way so that most married couples don't have large families even though they try to. Again, this is a "wishful thinking" solution. It certainly conflicts with the teaching that large families are good.

So how do we have large families without overpopulation?

One approach is to start from the reality that most people don't believe or practice these teachings with the result that everyone except those who are orthodox in their Catholic faith will have small families. Over time, the population of these orthodox Catholics will increase in proportion to the rest of the population with the ultimate result that the entire world will one day consist entirely of Catholics. Thus, the doctrine which opposes contraception and abortion is the ultimate evangelical tool.

The problem with this view is that once the world becomes 100% Catholic we now have the same problem — how are we to avoid the human misery that results from overpopulation?

Perhaps God knows that there will never be more than a small percentage of people who follow his revealed truth so the problem of overpopulation will never in practice arise. But why would God design his moral law to work for good only if it were practiced by only a few?

There must be a better answer. I present two possibilities. (But why doesn't the Catholic Church address this topic?)


Scenario #1: Small Families


In this scenario the bad effects of overpopulation will result in the necessity of limiting family size. Since this can't be done using contraception and abortion, abstinence will be required. The key to this is to use Natural Family Planning (NFP) to reduce family size.

Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality.

2370, Catechism of the Catholic Church

Some object that NFP is merely a form of contraception because the intention is to avoid procreation. However, this is not a correct understanding for the following reasons ...

The Catholic teaching in the first section only addresses what is moral and immoral during the sex act. It does not address the topic of whether or not we are obligated to have sex when the woman is most likely to conceive. Therefore, abstaining from the sex act when the woman is most likely to be fertile is not immoral.

Perhaps living in a world which is becoming overpopulated is a sufficient cause for couples to begin limiting their family size.

This raises the issue of determining whether or not the world is overpopulated at a particular population level. I suppose the Catholic church would issue guidelines about this when the day comes.

There are many today who think the world is already overpopulated. Having studied the topics of the environment and sustainability,I agree with this. Since the Catholic church has not spoken out one way or the other on this topic, Catholics are free to form their own opinion.

The "small family" solution to the problem requires that most or all couples practice NFP or abstain from sex altogether. This is a radical change from the thinking of our modern world in which sex and lots of it is considered to be desirable.

This plan would have to be implemented freely by everyone in the whole world. But since this discussion assumes that everyone in the world is an orthodox Catholic this causes no problem at all. The Catholic church would merely ask Catholics to change their behavior and it would be so. Although it might be difficult for couples to do this, they will be happy to commit themselves to the task.


Scenario #2: Singleness for Most


In this scenario couples would continue to have large families but only an average of two or three of these children per family would get married and have children of their own. The remainder of the children would choose of their own free will to remain unmarried.

I suppose many of these would join religious orders or lay orders.

This plan involves the free-will cooperation of everyone in the whole world. But since this discussion assumes that everyone in the world is an orthodox Catholic this causes no problem at all. The Catholic church would merely ask Catholic young people to seriously consider living a consecrated single life and many would do it. Although it might be difficult for these young people to choose to remain single, they will be happy to commit themselves to the task.

Based on this scenario, the Catholic church's emphasis on people choosing to be a religious (by joining an order and remaining single) is the proper thing to do.

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