Experts often say that the Catholic Church’s ban on artificial contraception is among its most ignored teachings. Pope Francis took special care in an unprecedented survey he sent out last fall to bishops worldwide to ask Catholics’ views on the morality of contraception and how ethics comes into their thinking on family size. In a series we launched called The Pope Asks to mark Francis’s 1-year anniversary – Thursday, March 13 – we are sharing these questions with you. We found people are hardly “ignoring” the teachings, but instead have strong feelings and arguments about them. Here are some of the many responses we have received. Most respondents are Catholic.
Pope Francis: What’s the biggest obstacle for you when you think about the church’s opposition to contraception?
“The belief by hierarchy that sex is only for procreation. If they accepted that it also can be an expression of love, a relief from tension, a form of pleasure, and an outlet for natural urges, their position should change. From my experience being raised Catholic, the Church was saddled with certain negative ideas about sexuality that came down from certain early Church Fathers. For example, St. Paul said that celibacy was a preferred state, but, if you can’t restrain your sexual urges, it is best for you to marry. Several of them had very negative attitudes toward women. This legacy has created a view of human sexuality that is highly theoretical and not consonant with the real world,” Peter Hartmann, 69, Pennsylvania.
“The Church is not sensitive to the economic costs that can affect a family due to a pregnancy. My major ‘obstacle’ is that the Church is an all-male established institution with little or no sensitivity to the needs and individual human rights of women. The men who run the institution are so tone deaf they can’t even fathom that,” Patrick Hirigoyen, 62, Saint Paul.
“I find that the ‘one size fits all’ rules are inclined to follow the letter of the law. I would like to see a little more personal concern for families in less than ideal circumstances. General proclamations from above often serve to drive people from any institution, particularly when the people affected have had no input and no explanation,” Cheryl Blake, 63, St. Louis.
“You seriously even need to ask that? AIDS, of course. Second, this Earth cannot feed any more people, health care stinks. We need to slow down,” Laura Parker, 56, Illinois.
“The opposition to contraception is abstinence except in the interest of procreation, which is simply incompatible with how humans act. Sticking to such an archaic and simplistic dogma only hurts the integrity of the Church,” Christopher Siess, 24, New York.
Pope Francis: What would have to happen for society to become more open to people having more children?
“Children are God’s way of saying tomorrow is beautiful. It’s an old cliche but very true. If people’s lives and spirit were truly open to having more children the world would be a better place. Not necessarily because of the children but rather because of the genuine openness to grace and God’s love that the willingness to have children carries with it,” Hazel Philbrook, 67, Oregon.
“This is a complex question. Needless to say we live in a society that elevates money, power and material possessions. One could argue that has to change in order for society to be more open to have more children. For now to have a post-graduate degree, a 100K+ job, houses, and cars, children are seen as an obstacle to those dreams of capitalist America,” Jaime Briceno, 32, Illinois.
“The question is framed to suggest that low population is a problem. I reject the premise. I’d rather focus on how we better care for the children we have, not worrying about creating more of them,” Tom Riendeau, 47, New York.
“Our world has not benefited from treating children like a disease that needs to be cured. We would need to stop obsessing over everything going perfectly, trying to plan everything, and treating people like profit and loss centers,” Matthew Braun, 39, Virginia.
Pope Francis: Do you see any moral differences between various forms of family planning, or contraception?
“To be able to love is to be able to sustain God’s creation with things material and immaterial. Contraception – whether artificial or natural, if used for the sake of birth spacing and family planning, achieves that goal to love,” Lailany Gorospe, 36, home state not included.
“Generally, no. However, abortion as a form of birth control has some differences from others. It is a contradiction to say that sex must only be engaged in when there is the possibility of conception since that is ordained by natural law. However, the Church permits rhythm, which is intended to allow sex without conception (unless the method fails). Furthermore, the Church does not disallow sex in post-menopausal women, infertile couples, or women who have had a hysterectomy for cancer, for example. So, if sex is permissible when conception is not possible, then that cannot be a rational reason to prohibit contraception. The affirmative value of having children must be balanced by the real difficulty of raising a large number of them in non-agrarian societies. Prohibiting contraception has resulted in immense suffering, which seems incompatible with the desires of a loving God,” Hartmann of Pennsyvlania.
What do you think about contraception and family planning? Let us know in the comment section below, or participate in a multi-question survey here.