Are Catholic priests allowed to advise using contraception?

I have been married for 10 yrs, and am currently separated. I have made mistakes over the yrs, and have struggled with sexual fidelity. I have two children from our marriage. I’ve never had intercourse with another woman, but have a history of masturbation, flirting and exposing myself to women. This has destroyed the trust of my wife. There are some grey aspects involved (such as long periods without intimacy), but that is the jist. My wife decided not to have sex without contraception. This was decided without seeking counseling. My struggles continued and we are now separated. Finally, she spoke with a priest (whom I love), and was supported in demanding contraception, because of my infidelity. I had spoken with this priest over the yrs, and was encouraged to use condoms, and told he had permission to advise me to use them, in my situation. I have never heard of this. Is there any truth to this?

I am possibly interested in writing my bishop, but only to know and understand this situation and claim.

I do NOT wish to cause trouble for this priest! He is a good friend, and one of the only Catholic leaders who has been interested in working with me and my wife during this hard time.

I am trying to focus on overcoming my temptations and being a faithful husband no matter what happens. This question is just a part of what is going on in our relationship. I am not trying to claim justification for my mistakes. But, rather, defend my choice to abstain from contraception.

I realize that I have resorted to doing things WORSE than using contraception! So I understand the concept of choosing a lesser wrong. Yet, what has been proposed to me, is that my wife was justified to use contraception, and I needed to conform to using them.

I think it’s very brave of you to come on the board, even anonymously, and share personal details of this kind. it must be difficult to do so.

Have you gotten counseling for this (not from a priest but from a therapist or psychologist), because exposing yourself is (a) something that could land you in jail and (b) sign of a deeper psychological issue.

Getting professional help could be the first step to recovery from this and also a first step in rebuilding trust with your wife.

No. There is no truth to that. One cannot receive “permission” to contracept. One cannot receive “permission” to tell someone they can contracept.

If he is a good friend, I would probably talk to him one on one and express my hurt that he would counsel an intrinsic evil as part of a solution to your marital problems.

I would also ask for more detail on this supposed permission. He could be (wrongly) applying any number of church documents, “things the pope said”, or whatever (such as Benedict XVI’s comments on a prostitute using a condom as a certain stirring towards morality… that one was misquoted and misused abundantly over the last few years)-- or a misapplication of the principle of double effect.

Moreover, if he says he received “permission” it is likely someone at the diocesan level he talked to-- which means possibly a larger problem. I’d want specifics before I went anywhere with it.

I would want to opportunity to talk to him and find out where this is coming from. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

I’m glad to hear you haven’t been unfaithful to your wife, and I can tell you that a fear of STDs is behind this, I am sure. Have you gone to your doctor and asked for a full STD panel? Giving your wife those results of “negative” could help put her at ease in this regard, she may not believe you haven’t actually been with other women.

Thank you. Yes, I certainly don’t mean exposing without consent.

No. There is no truth to that. One cannot receive “permission” to contracept. One cannot receive “permission” to tell someone they can contracept.

Can this priest get in trouble?

Oh, I misunderstood. But, that’s not really better… I hope you do get help with this.

I think that’s highly dependent on the specifics of the situation and the bishop. I don’t know if “in trouble” is really the right concept here. I would hope his bishop or someone (vicar of clergy or whoever) would discuss the advice he gave with him and help him if he is in error. But, it’s hard to say what might actually occur. They are brother priests, not employer-employee. It’s a difficult thing for lay people to understand, I think. I think people expect the bishop to “do something” like “discipline” in a corporate world-- a write up maybe??? It doesn’t work that way AT ALL. And a pastor has many rights within his parish under canon law as well as responsibilities.

For example, I know of a priest who was in a parish for 30 years, and he did all sorts of things in the liturgy that are no kosher, had homilies that were eyebrow raising in some cases, and did counsel couples (including family members of ours) to use contraception. His bishops is an extremely orthodox bishop-- one whose name is practically hero level here at CAF-- and yet that priest stayed right where he was in his parish seemingly without repercussions even though several people (including me) had actually written to the bishop about his liturgical shenanigans. BUT, what we don’t know is what sort of discussions the bishop had or his reasons for leaving that priest where he was despite the issues.

Bishops have a complex and difficult job, and we cannot judge things from the outside.

I definitely will do everything I can to avoid harm to his ministry. I love him dearly. He is the most engaging pastor I’ve ever known.

I don’t remember the terms he used. He claimed to have been instructed with this authority at seminary. The thing is, is that if things between my wife and I worsen, she may file civil divorce and seek an annulment. She has hardened her heart (because of my sins). But I know for sure, that this issue would come up in the annulment process. I would like to address it with him and possibly the bishop, while avoiding going down this road of divorce.

I’m glad to hear you haven’t been unfaithful to your wife, and I can tell you that a fear of STDs is behind this, I am sure. Have you gone to your doctor and asked for a full STD panel? Giving your wife those results of “negative” could help put her at ease in this regard, she may not believe you haven’t actually been with other women.

I haven’t actually had intercourse with anyone, but have exposed (stripped) and masturbated while being watched. I consider this very unfaithful, yet perhaps short of adultery. Either way, I committed the sin of infidelity and have caused my wife both hurt and a temptation to divorce.

Help is not the easiest thing to find, afford, or maintain. I am not opposed to help. It becomes a matter of what is actually the best means of help. Obviously, I need the Holy Spirit, but in whom do I trust to share and take counsel?

I think that’s highly dependent on the specifics of the situation and the bishop. I don’t know if “in trouble” is really the right concept here. I would hope his bishop or someone (vicar of clergy or whoever) would discuss the advice he gave with him and help him if he is in error. But, it’s hard to say what might actually occur. They are brother priests, not employer-employee. It’s a difficult thing for lay people to understand, I think. I think people expect the bishop to “do something” like “discipline” in a corporate world-- a write up maybe??? It doesn’t work that way AT ALL. And a pastor has many rights within his parish under canon law as well as responsibilities.

For example, I know of a priest who was in a parish for 30 years, and he did all sorts of things in the liturgy that are no kosher, had homilies that were eyebrow raising in some cases, and did counsel couples (including family members of ours) to use contraception. His bishops is an extremely orthodox bishop-- one whose name is practically hero level here at CAF-- and yet that priest stayed right where he was in his parish seemingly without repercussions even though several people (including me) had actually written to the bishop about his liturgical shenanigans. BUT, what we don’t know is what sort of discussions the bishop had or his reasons for leaving that priest where he was despite the issues.

Bishops have a complex and difficult job, and we cannot judge things from the outside.

Interesting. In any case, I will try to avoid trouble and hardship for those who wish to help. I just wish there were wise people around my wife and i, who were able to counsel while conforming to Catholic Teaching. And I wish I was able to conform to Catholic Teaching also.

What would be the best way for me to get a definitive answer to this? And I mean one that would hold my pastor and wife accountable for trying to push contraception?

Again, my intention is not to justify my wrong choices, but to justify my intention to not use contraception.

I honestly believe that there are reasons beyond my infidelity that cause my wife to want to contracept. But I’m not interested in trying to accuse or judge her intentions. I have contributed greatly to damaging her trust in me. But this issue is so difficult, because the actual position on contraception by the Church is constantly attacked,and from all angles!

Contraception just keeps coming up as the necessary solution! And in my situation, my faults are used to try and discredit my attempt to reject contraception.

I believe that abstinence and marriage counseling (along with my personal therapy) is the proper and healthy way to deal with things. But contraception was promoted as a means to get to a healthier relationship.

The problem is, is that it bothered my conscience too. And because I knew that it was having sex without true healing and trust first.

I was trying to seek marriage counselling and reject contraception, and when that was denied, I resorted to worse choices.

Not unless they wish to be automatically excommunicated. If in doubt, look at Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae.

There is a saying, “You don’t need a parachute to skydive. You need a parachute to skydive twice.”

You have identified your problem. Now, as charitably as I can I’ll say this. Stop it ! You know your problem, you’ve done it once (probably more than once from your post),you can’t equivocate or self justify from here on and it sounds like you realize that… My suggestion, go to Mass, when the celebrant consecrates the Eucharist and God Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit descends to the altar in front of you, at that moment make a promise to God Himself, that you will end this behavior. Then man up and do it.

Kudos for having the intestinal fortitude to face this publicly.

One other suggestion. Talk to several different priests, make a retreat (but don’t just take the word of one person) and investigate the Church’s position on infallibility, personal conscience, the nature of sin and culpability, and personal responsibility before God and yourself. It may be helpful in your understanding of your course of action.

Shalom

This is excellent advice. The only clarification I would add is that it can be permissible to do something that has a contraceptive side effect, provided that there is a primary reason that is sufficiently serious. For instance, it can be OK to take medications, even the very hormones specifically used to achieve contraception, provided they are meant as a legitimate treatment for a condition serious enough to warrant the loss of fertility as an unsought side effect.

Compulsive behaviors often require a great deal of work and the help of a mental health professional to stop. Sometimes, the impulse to commit the behaviors interfere with the person’s free will so seriously that it is difficult to say the person is even culpable for the act itself any more, but only (perhaps–this is an example) responsible for avoiding the triggers that lead inexorably to giving in and repeating the unwanted behavior.

A true compulsion goes beyond what can realistically be mastered by will power alone, by the “man up and do it” approach. Yes, some people can stop compulsive behaviors on their own, but some people can also teach themselves foreign languages. The most reliable (and therefore the most mature) route to the necessary change is to humbly admit the need for help, get help, and then do everything possible to support the likelihood of compliance to the directions of the professionals consulted.

I would expect that someone consulting a priest about this would be directed by the priest to seek the help of someone who is professionally trained and has specific experience in helping others to quit compulsive behaviors.

If you are still struggling with any of those compulsive behaviors, this fire has leaped the boundaries of will power. Do not attempt to fight it yourself. Call the fire department.

As for the problem of contraception, it is simply a no-go. You cannot agree to that. It would be permissible for you to have marital relations with your wife if she were the one choosing to contracept over your objections–a wife cannot go on contraception as a way to evade her devout husband sexually–but that is not a “loop hole” that allows you to say “well, you can do it, but I can’t.” You are duty-bound not to have anything to do with encouraging anyone else to contracept, either.

Prayers out for you brother. No suggestions, but wish you luck.

Btw, this priest told me my stance on contraception is “fanatical”.

Unfortunately for him and his parishioners, his are heretical.

He also told me, if it “bothered my conscience, I could poke holes in the condom”

I found that to be very silly.

And risk a possible defect pregnancy thanks to spermicide? Doesn’t sound like the most brilliant of priests nor does he even seem to know what the Church teaches, or he just doesn’t care. Why do you attend this guy’s parish again?! Do you and your wife pray together often? Perhaps you should quit talking to this priest and start doing a daily rosary with her.

I’ve heard this before and a few other similar things as well. Even occasionally by the clergy (like in your case) and by religious sisters. Even more often I’ve been told that although it is not “ideal” to use contraception, not everyone is expected to live up to the ideal. Those of us that do are also apparently not better Catholics for doing so.

Pray for your priest. Pray for our Church. Pray for all of us, that true conversions of heart will occur. I will be praying for you, your wife, your marriage, and for the healing necessary to move forward.

Why is your wife insisting on contraception? Is it to avoid pregnancy or because she’s worried about STDs/unfaithfulness? If the former, you could offer to take an NFP class with her. If the latter, you ought to consider getting tested for everything to put her at ease.

Contraception is intrinsically evil and it says as much in the catechism and in Humanae Vitae. It is not fanatical to believe what the Church actually teaches; though I can understand how a person who has probably counseled other couples to contracept might wish this were some fringe teaching that no one really believes anymore. Your faithfulness to this doctrine is a witness to your wife and to your priest.

It can be permissible to maintain conjugal relations with a contracepting spouse under the principle of double effect if your objection to the contraception is made known. In other words, if your wife insisted on use birth control, you would not be required to abstain from marital relations with her, but you could not encourage or assist her contraception use (“Here honey, it’s time for your pill”) and she would have to be made aware that you wish she were not using contraception. You could not use condoms yourself.

And as noted above, medical therapies that have infertility as an unintended side effect can also be morally permissible when used to treat an illness or disorder in the body (not used to avoid pregnancy or avoid illness caused by pregnancy).

I can understand the desire not to get your priest friend in trouble, but he is seriously jeopardizing the souls and marriages of the people under his care. It would be an act of love to discuss this with him and/or raise the issue with his bishop.

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