Humanae vitae also presumes a degree of self-determination that many women do not enjoy, especially (but not exclusively) in the developing world. Paul VI warned that contraception would leave women vulnerable to sexual exploitation by men. Sadly, such abuse long predated the Pill. What reliable contraception does—especially contraception that women control—is give women greater determination over their reproductive lives, even if their partners are indifferent to their well-being and that of their children. What Humanae vitae described as self-indulgence sounds to many women like self-defense, or at least self-care and more responsible parenting.
During the papacy of John Paul II (one of the few members of the birth-control commission who had supported the line taken by Humanae vitae), adherence to the church’s teaching against artificial contraception became an unofficial criterion for ecclesiastical promotion, a policy that eventually unified the church’s leadership in opposition to a practice accepted by most lay Catholics. Over time, a culture of silence took hold in parishes; people stopped confessing the use of birth control, believing in conscience that it was not sinful (even as confession itself became rare for most church-going Catholics). Priests, many of whom also harbored private disagreements with the teaching, largely dropped the question.
And now? The church stands uneasily divided: many bishops continue to argue that the teaching of Humanae vitae is an important marker of Catholic identity, giving this aspect of moral teaching an unwarranted significance. Most of the laity find the teaching unconvincing and so disregard it. Priests stay quiet, lest they be caught between their congregations and their bishops. A few bishops are calling for a new look at the teaching in light of its near-universal lack of reception by the laity. It remains to be seen whether Pope Francis will revisit the question.
Doctrine should reflect the way those basic values are incarnate in the lives of Catholics, and especially women, whose voices have largely been absent from the formulation of the church’s teaching on this question.
To double down on a doctrine that presents an unnatural vision of sex to Catholics who know better would only exacerbate the atmosphere of distrust between the laity and their bishops. Silence is not the answer.
- My ex-wife and I had 9 kids. We were married in the Catholic Church and raised our children Catholic. We used birth control and Natural Family Planning to space our children.
- I have never found the RC's teaching on birth control convincing but its teaching on human sexuality has some good aspects to it which I find empowering and affirming.
- It could be argued that the RC's teaching on birth control has been more oppressive and disempowering to women than respectful and protective.
- Jesus, the God of Christianity, had very little to say about sex and I think would be supportive of birth control as a means of limiting reproduction while supporting what the RC calls the "unitive" contribution of human sexual behavior.
- Unitarian Universalism has little to say about sex other than it needs to be respectful of the inherent worth and dignity of every person and it should promote justice, compassion and equity in our human relations.
- Roman Catholicism has been hurt by the teachings of Humanae Vitae because it does not fit with the lived experience of most Catholics who have followed their own consciences which has brought them into opposition to the teachings of their church. This phenomenon has led to demoralization and defection from RC to other Christian denominations or religions or none.
- It would seem that at this point in human evolution, the limiting of human reproduction is a desirable thing for the planet and the survival of our species and other species. Out or respect for the interdependent web it would appear the teachings of Humanae Vitae, while perhaps well meant, are unethical and immoral.
- I don't regret having nine children and I believe it was God's will for me and my partner, but today this might be considered self indulgent and anti-social.