Contraception, Politics, and Culture

Contraception, Politics, and Culture

Catholics have been energized politically since the revelation of the religious-liberty-destroying HHS mandate forcing contraception coverage in violation of the consciences of Catholic employers. While it is clear to most orthodox Catholics, some Protestants, and those well-versed in Constitutional law that the HHS mandate is abhorrent, it is equally clear that nominal Catholics, other Protestants, and secular society see no problem with contraception as health care.

Pope Paul VI. Paulaudenece1977.jpg at wikimedia commons

There is something to be said for winning small battles, and for winning political battles, and I certainly don’t want Catholics or the Bishops to let up their pressure on the Obama administration for forcing its mandate on us. I think it is shortsighted, though, to see the endgame as simply overturning the mandate; similarly, I don’t think it suffices to express our dissent from the mandate as simply because “it violates our first amendment rights.” A huge proportion of the population not only doesn’t see anything wrong with contraception, but considers it a great good for society. I imagine most of these people think it is just as odd for Catholics to be against contraception as it is for the Amish to be against electricity. Therefore, we need to not only explain why we are against the contraception mandate, but why we are against contraception itself (which T&C bloggers have done many times; some examples are here, here, and here).

In discussions among faithful Catholics about contraception, the point usually gets made that we do not hear enough about the evils of contraception from the pulpit. Not being a priest myself, I can only speculate on why this might be: 1) some priests do not know (I can’t imagine) or 2) do not agree with the Church’s teaching, continuing the “tradition” of dissent from Humanae Vitae, but the most likely reason seems to be that 3) priests do not want to alienate their flock, the vast majority of whom (they assume) buy into the secular mindset that contraception is kosher.

Why would priests assume this? Well, again, in discussions among faithful Catholics about contraception, the point also usually gets made that “90% of Catholics contracept.” It isn’t clear where this high percentage comes from, but our priests deserve to know about recent polls that refute it. Matt mentioned one a while ago, and Emily at CatholicVote mentioned another last week:

The data confirms that most Catholic women do not fully support the Church’s teachings on contraception and natural family planning. However, Catholic women who regularly participate in the Church’s sacramental life (Mass and Confession) agree with the teachings on contraception and family planning in significantly higher numbers than women overall. Moreover, many Catholic women express partial agreement with these teachings and show encouraging receptivity to learning more about them. This receptivity offers the Church a previously unrealized opportunity to communicate those teachings more persuasively and effectively…

Our data suggests that the Church might do well to focus pastoral outreach on the “soft middle,” women who neither embrace the Church’s teaching on contraception, nor reject it out of hand. A strong plurality (44%) of church-going women express a nuanced view of Church teachings, saying they accept “parts” but “not all” of the teaching on contraception. These women embrace their faith (90% overall say their Catholic faith is an important part of daily life) and few show hardened opposition to the Church’s authority (just 18% say their partial rejection of the Church’s teaching is because they do not accept the Church’s moral authority on these issues).

Fifty-three percent of weekly Mass-goers who accept parts but not all of Church teaching indicate some openness to learning more about the Church teachings on contraception. And two-thirds (67%) of these receptive women are already connected in some way to parish life. In short, they are reachable, given the right message and approach. The most persuasive messages may be more practical and benefits-oriented than spiritual or authoritative. Women show interest in hearing testimonies from other couples on the health and relationship benefits of natural family planning (23%) and natural family planning’s effectiveness (22%). They also indicate interest in a doctor’s recommendation of natural family planning and its effectiveness (23%) and studies that show natural family planning is highly effective (22%).

The research doesn’t paint the rosiest of pictures; Catholics have not been immune from the sexual licentiousness our culture has been bent on promoting for the past half-century. But I think the following conclusions can certainly be made:

  1. If priests do not talk to their congregations about contraception, the culture will. I can’t imagine another issue of Church teaching where priests would defer to the majority opinion on the matter. The culture doesn’t seem too keen on accepting that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist or that he was God as well as man, but no priest would back down on these teachings. While every priest would promote the eighth commandment, what is contraception if not lying with one’s body?
  2. The people in the pews every week are a much more sympathetic audience than priests may think. Even if a large proportion of Catholics use contraception (which is disputed), the proportion falls dramatically when you look at regular Mass attendees. And even among those who don’t fully agree with the Church’s teaching, many are open to hearing more.
  3. Educating the parish is not just the priests’ job. The laity, who may have more medical knowledge or practical experience with NFP and the side-effects of contraception, need to step up as educators, mentors, and friends for those who struggle with the Church’s teaching or with using Natural Family Planning.

So be emboldened, priest-readers of T&C. Many in the pews agree with the Church’s teaching on contraception, many want to hear more about the Church’s teaching on contraception, and very few adamantly disagree with it. Don’t be concerned that some may think  “this saying is hard; who can accept it?” When you preach on this subject, you will be preaching to the choir but the choir will thank you for it.


  1. First, we need to start with the men and especially being role models for boys. Teach them to be a man: love Our Lady and spouse, love children, be a provider, and have children.

    Two, stop making NFP the go-to solution. (While it is better than contraception for a variety of reasons, we are still not truly abandoning ourselves to Divine Providence. Many will disagree, but the full Church history shows large families-if God grants a couple this-are His work, not one or two. ).

    And yes, I am married with a child and fully hope for more, despite not being worldly wealthy, spiritually immature, but granted many blessings by God.

    • I disagree. Reforms must begin with females.

      Why? Because boys and men aren’t the ones chugging down contraceptive pills. Nor are condoms popular with them.

      • Reforms must begin with both boys and girls. Teach them to treat their own bodies with respect, and the bodies of the opposite sex with respect. Teach them from the beginning that their bodies are made for God and for their spouse, when the right time comes. Talk to them early and often about the expectations of a Catholic man or woman in how they treat their bodies and the bodies of others. It worked for my son, and he helps to elevate his female friends because he treats them with respect.

  2. “However, Catholic women who regularly participate in the Church’s sacramental life (Mass AND Confession) agree with the teachings on contraception and family planning in significantly higher numbers than women overall.”

    What percentage of Catholic women who attend mass regularly also go to confession regularly? I go to confession every couple of weeks and strangely (I think) see about 3 times more men than women. But then there’s only 20 in the line up in a parish with 2000 families.

    • Wow ! What a faithful parish. I go to confession regularly at various locations. Even during Lent there were not 20 people waiting in line for Confession. Most parishes offer a 30-60 minute per week time period per week to service 2,000 families also. What does that tell you about attendance? At one parish the priest does a peak-a-boo from the sacresty and leaves the box unattended until someone shows up. Christi Fidelis !!

  3. I am old enough to remember when “the pill” did not exist. I was married around the time it came into use, and most of my friends just shopped around for a priest who gave them permission to use it, because they did not want to end up like the “Good Catholic Families” before us: 8, 10, 12 children per family. We were to “plan” our families, rather than let nature (GOD!) take its course. I agreed 100% with Church teaching and did not want anything artificial interfering with fertility. When Pope Paul VI published “Humanae Vitae” I wrote him a letter thanking him for this beautiful encyclical, and did get a reply from the Vatican. We lost our 6th child in a miscarriage, and decided because of husband’s age and doctor telling us I could never carry another child to term because of uterine problems, we learned NFP and used it for nearly 20 years. We also tried promoting it in our diocese. It is really tragic that not only did priests not explain the immorality of artificially interfering with fertility cycles, but we did not have Bl John Paul II’s Theology of the Body to explain it all in detail, why it is so demeaning to women, to begin with. Perhaps priests and deacons should study PPVI’s wonderful letter to us, and JPII’s writings, to give a logical explanation of WHY contraception is always wrong, and now we know that it is also abortifacient in many cases. Big Pharma knew that all along, but many doctors were ignorant of the facts. Women are the biggest losers in all this, and both men and women need to hear over and over, if necessary, the facts and the reasons. Especially that pleasing God and not ourselves should be our motivation in living life. The “pill” will never enhance the love between spouses, nor engender respect for our bodies. The sacrifices entailed in using abstinence will pay big dividends in marriage. A clear conscience is just the beginning…

    • I agree, for many years we have been wondering when the priest were going to start preaching to us at Mass. Most of the homilies are dull and happy, not to offend anyone.
      Okay,most of can read the Pope’s writings, but it really need the priest to tell us why its inportant.

  4. Despite what conservatives everywhere are saying, constitutional case law is clear: a law of general applicability is valid to regulate religious practices if the law is not motivated by hostility to the religion per se. It is not constitutional law, but the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which suits challenging the HHS mandate have referred to in order to overturn the mandate. You can thank Gingrich for the RFRA, btw.

  5. Amen! When my husband and I went to a priest for marriage prep (36 years ago), we were told that it was okay to use Birth Control Pills as long as we planned on having children down the road. 10 years later, post 2 children and 30lbs. heavier, I was taught the truth by a faithful priest who came to speak at a retreat I attended. NFP classes were soon attended and eventually I became the NFP coordinator for our diocese for approx. 10 years. I am blessed to have a faithful and cooperative husband so the transition although challenging was pretty smooth. We planned and added to our family two additional children. We are extremely thankful that we put that part of our marriage in order and now that we are way past child bearing age we enjoy and value our intimacy just as much.

  6. Why is sex education taught in parochial schools and CCD classes? See on the series “Growing In Love” that spoils youths minds and encourages sinful practices. This curriculum is approved by the U S Bishops. Only 10% of the teachers in the parochial schools accept the Catholic teachings on contraception. What are parents to do with this disobedience? The Saint Joseph Foundation canonist give absolutely no assistant. Pro life groups will not expose the corruption of youth in the bishops’ schools. The Alan Guttmacher Institute states that abortion is secured with sex education. When will people stop financially supporting the demise of Catholicism using our youth as fodder? How long will major pro life groups be silent on the disobedience of the U S Bishops? It’s about salvation of souls. Who will begin the crusade?

    • Pope Pius XII already wrote that “sex education” is wrong outside the home. While future popes have written on the topic of relations, it was due to such a change in society’s actions-particularly catholic’s-that prompted such writings, as in the past (eg, Pius XII writing to Italian families regarding sex and children).

      If Catholic Teachings-the only needed ones-are given by parents and clergy, there is no need of such classes, “education”. Theology of the Body beyond a writing, that is, into the form of a class, has already been condemned and I believe that stats on behaviors and beliefs shows this.

  7. @Craig – I agree. Too little time and energy are spent ensuring that men are responsible to they’re spouses. Conjugal love is a shared experience.

  8. There is strong scientific evidence against ingesting birth control drugs. For the innocent, these are W of Mass Destruction. For a female, these are carcinogenic.
    For a man, these are a sin waiting to happen.
    So, for people to willingly want to get cancer, murder tiny fetuses, and go to hell—now ALL FOR FREE!—as a way to good health, good parenting, good Christian living….this is so-o-o-o idiotic. People just aren’t thinking like humans, but thinking like a bunch of mindless, blind/deaf goats.

    NFP is the only way to go if you’re human, at all.

  9. Our CCD class had a sex-ed component.

    We were taught several errors – a few highlights:

    1. Masturbation is healthy.
    2. Sexual behavior is only a sin if you have intercourse.
    3. Birth control is a responsibility.
    4. The Real Presence is something the Church used to teach.

    When these are the lessons every Sunday for 12 years, it’s no wonder Catholics don’t know the teachings of their Faith.

    I thank God for putting a very special religious sister in my life when I was a young mother. He used her to steer me to Him and the true teachings of His Church.

  10. But…Is it not sad that so many families over the entire history just delt with whatever came? I am not underestimating the effects of a miscarriage, lower income, smaller house, etc, but that is part of life. And i do have family who has gone through such problems.

    Think of so many families in all countries, of all beliefs, who were happy to have another child, strong in their family life. This is not a judgement, just an obvious fact. May Jesus, Mary, and Joseph guide and protect us.

  11. In regards to any call for “hearing it from the pulpit” (if this means during Mass) needs to be tempered by the understanding that there is an obligation of the priest or deacon to do the homily as presenting a reflection on the readings of that Mass. Noted there are exceptions, but to say “we need to hear more ____ from the pulpit” assumes that the homilist has a choice as to what “topic” he might want to preach on.

    Granted there needs to be other venues for current issue “teaching” but the pulpit is for the Liturgy of the Word. When the readings point to certain topics that is when it is appropriate to preach current issues.

    Here’s an example. Not too long ago we had a Gospel about Jesus healing a leper. The first reading was about the O.T. law on lepers, that they must be sent “outside” the community. It was fully appropriate to say in a homily that today the “lepers” on the fringe of society are the unborn, the poor and the disenfranchised. It was a good set of readings to do social justice. However, to stretch the readings to an unrelated topic would be superficial.

    • Thanks for the clarification, Deacon Peter. I certainly applaud the intention to keep the homily related to the readings; besides an OT reading about Onan, I can see how it may be difficult to incorporate a message about contraception.
      I mentioned above that priests need to talk to their congregation, which doesn’t necessarily imply that the homily be the only medium; the parish bulletin could be used. I also mentioned in my point #3 that the laity need to be much more involved in parish education (both as teachers and students).
      Regarding the homily, though, the original document ( reports that “72% of Catholic women say the weekly Mass homily is their primary source for learning about the faith (page 11).” The document is very interesting and deserves a wide read by clergy and laity alike, IMHO.

      • While not a clergy who gives sermons, I have a hard time believing that much of the sermons content can refer to these topics. Advent itself can have such themes as abandonment to Divine Providence with having families; fatherhood and responsibilities with Saint Joseph; Mary’s “fiat” and Christ, along with portraying true Motherhood: submission, respect to God and spouse, and lifetime of self-sacrifice to God and Holy and human families. So much to work with…Just go with the flow of our liturgical year and feasts, especially our Traditions. May the Holy Family guide and protect us.

  12. I’m in my 70s, and I don’t recall ever hearing contraception mentioned in a sermon or homily.

  13. I think right now we need to focus on exactly the message the bishops are focusing on: appealing to Americans’ strong sense that it’s not right to force anyone to violate their religious beliefs. We are winning the PR battle right now on this, and as far as the PR goes it could muddy the waters to try to do too much.

    That’s not to say that we shouldn’t really start teaching why the Church believes as we do…in particular, it’s time for priests to man up and start gently but truthfully teaching this to their congregations. They KNOW they are all using birth control, and GOD KNOWS that they know! If they weren’t using it, they’d have more than 1.5 or 2.5 children (there’s no evidence that large numbers of people are using NFP, and they can’t all be sterile!).

    Anyway, the good news is that women are receptive to the teaching…

    Priests who don’t agree with Humanae Vitae need to get with the program. Their souls are in danger. I mean it, just like that.

    NOW, the researchers report that more women than expected “agreed with” Church teaching. But the more relevant question is, do they abide by it? “Well, my husband believes in artificial birth control so we use it”…that’s the answer to the question they didn’t ask… My sisters in Christ, it’s time for you to man up and refuse to do what you know is wrong…and pray hard and learn about NFP and then gently, lovingly, convince your husbands to do what is right! (Or husbands, if your wife is the problem…)



  1. Bible Trivia App Homeschooling Rerum Novarum Contraception | Big Pulpit - [...] Contraception, Politics, and Culture – Tim Shaughnessy, Truth & Charity [...]
  2. Truth & Charity - [...] week’s Wednesday Edition, when it linked to not one but two of my blog posts, including my T&C post…