Are Catholics Using Contraceptives Excommunicated?

I have been following the ongoing debate over the HHS contraceptives mandate that many view as an attack on religious freedom. Once again on Fox News this morning a person being interviewed (sorry can’t recall the name) repudiated the idea that the mandate is an attack on religious freedom stating it is just a positive for women’s health. He then interjected as part of his argument that even Catholics don’t believe that there is anything wrong with using contraceptives since “75 percent of American Roman Catholics use them” in spite of what the Catholic Church teaches. That wasn’t the first time I’ve heard that argument and actually I have even heard that the percentage is must higher than 75 percent.

Last evening while reading the forums here at CAF I happened across one on the topic of excommunication and whether or not that is really relevant in modern times. I’m new to the Catholic faith, presently in the process of converting from Protestantism and will enter the Church during the Easter Vigil. As I am taking this all very seriously, I do my best to study daily so that I can acquaint myself with what Catholics believe. Excommunication is one of the things I know little about and so that is perhaps why I was interested in the topic.

In the post I refer to, one of those who responded to the original question noted that excommunication occurs as in two ways; Ferendae Sententiae (imposed after formal proceedings) and Latae Sententiae (imposed automatically) and provided the reasons under each. Under the list of reasons for automatic excommunication was apostasy, heresy, schism.
I researched those terms further this morning and found the following;

2089 Incredulity is the neglect of revealed truth or the willful refusal to assent to it.

"**Heresy **is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same;

Apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith;

Schism is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him." [Code of Canon Law c.751]"

Source: ETWN website

Sorry for the length of the background information but I am finally getting to my question. Assume that the statement, “75 percent of American Roman Catholics use contraceptives.” My understanding is that means things like birth control pills, not something like NFP. Even though I’m new to the Catholic faith as mentioned, I was exposed to what the Church teaches about use of contraceptives very early on and have seen the information many times in books that I have used in my own personal study. I feel in other words that I know what the Church teaches and that Catholics are prohibited from using contraceptives. Thus, those who use them are obviously disregarding what the Church teaches by doing so.

So, looking at the issue of excommunication and the above list, it seems that Catholics who ignore what the Church teaches and use contraceptives to prevent pregnancy are automatically excommunicated either on the grounds of heresy or schism. As such they would be excluded from receiving the sacraments. Receiving communion would mean they were committing mortal sin.

It isn’t my purpose to be uncharitable to those who feel they have no choice but to use contraceptives because they can’t afford any more children or are at a time in life which they feel isn’t a good time for having a child. I am certainly not without sin and so am not here to cast any stones. But still I find myself curious why someone would continue to identify as a Catholic and perhaps continue going to Mass and receiving communion (I’m assuming of course that some do) when they are continually and actively living in violation of what the Church clearly teaches.

The biggest issue here, at least in my opinion is that their disobedience is then used by people like the man on Fox News I spoke of to ridicule the Catholic faith in general and to charge that the Catholic Church teachings are silly old rules that have no application to life in the modern world. It just seems that we all have a moral duty to practice what we preach and to believe what the Church teaches us and not just assume we can discard anything we find personally inconvenient to believe or to do. Any thoughts?

No, Catholics who use contraceptives are objectively committing mortal sin but are not excommunicated.

Automatic excommunication is reserved for a few particular situations.Incredulity is not one of them.

The Church’s definitive teachings are grouped into two main areas - faith and morals.

Heresy is denial (usually public denial) of a article of faith. Contraception is not an article of faith, it is an infallible teaching of the Church on a moral issue.

Schism is separating from the Church in matters of faith** and **worship. As long as a person is a practicing Catholic, he/she cannot be in schism. Also, schism is not something you do alone.

I think I would have to say, it depends. They wouldn’t be excommunicated for using contraception, per se, but if they rejected the Church’s teaching (doctrine) on contraception, they could be. Why? Because if they knew what the Church taught with regard to contraception, and either rejected outright the Church’s teaching OR held an obstinate doubt about it, then they would be heretics. And all heretics are excommunicated latae sententiae. The key here, though, is whether they really knew what the Church teaches. In our day and age, that’s not a given. Most Catholics have about a 2nd grade education in the faith, from what I’ve seen.

It is possible to be automatically excommunicated for heresy, but all the commentators on the subject that I’ve encountered have argued that it relatively difficult and presumably rare for an individual to meet the requirements for this excommunication, much more rare than the position of simply doubting or denying a truth of the Catholic faith. If I find one of these articles or audio recordings in the near future I’ll post a link on this thread.

It’s an interesting question. I know my father, who has converted and become an orthodox, practising Catholic, and his wife, who has reverted and is also orthodox, do, for the time being, knowingly choose to use non-abortifacient forms of contraception, even though they fully accept Church teaching on this matter. They do have a very good reason for avoiding another pregnancy and they are, as far as I’m aware, investigating NFP, but for the time being, they are aware that they are committing mortal sin in using contraception and they do not receive Communion. I think in this particular case, neither of them is excommunicated.

What if their contraceptive acted as an abortifacient?

Many thanks to all for the well explained responses which I believe have very adequately answered my question. Also, I know I wrote a great deal of background too and I’m thankful to those who read it. These forums have been such a wonderful resource in my journey thus far and am so thankful for CAF. God bless you.

As far as I know, abortion results in excommunication. I’m not an expert here, but that is an interesting question and I’ll be interested in the answer with regard to both abortifacient and non-abortifacient contraception, and in cases of accepting Church teaching but refusing to follow, or in rejecting Church teaching all together.

Abortion incurs automatic excommunication if it is a direct, procured abortion. Taking a contraceptive that has a **possibility **of causing an abortion does not meet that definition, although it is still gravely sinful.

Thanks, I never knew that.


The phrase lies, damn lies and statistics comes to mind! I would like to know the source for this 75% of Catholics who ‘use’ artificial contraception, and also the format of the questioning. We could hold our own poll on this web site based on the number of postings. Do I use or agree with the use of artificial use of contraception? No, I do not! So far, using this poll, that is 100% of Catholics questioned against artificial contraception and its use.

God bless

This anecdote is rather shocking to me, far more so than the mere idea of someone rejecting the Church’s teaching on contraception so as to justify using it, but certainly it demonstrates that the sin can be committed without rejecting the teaching which condemns it.

Did they ever repent?

That is correct only if the person knows that abortion carries such a penalty.

Meaning that if one doesn’t know that abortion incurs automatic excommunication, he/she isn’t excommunicated?

I listen to Priests for Life regularly and I have never heard from any Church official that procuring an abortion is an automatic reason for excommunication. They do stress the need for attending confession, but their site promotes healing with such groups as Rachel’s Vineyard and other programs that support and help women who have had abortions. :shrug:

First of all, when someone like this makes a statement that “75% (or whatever number) use ABC” they are usually using a very wide definition of “Catholics.” Many former, estranged or non-practicing Catholics will still identify themselves as “Catholics” when asked if they belong to a particular religion. If you were to ask practicing, devout Catholics, I’m sure that percentage would be much lower.

Besides, it is still a moot argument. Catholic doctrine teaches that ABC is prohibited even though some Catholics still use it. So what? Even if the number were 99%, it wouldn’t change the fact that the Church’s position is No ABC. Some people seem to think that if enough people dissent, then the rules no longer apply which is not true. The Church (in effect) teaches against robbing banks too, yet I’m sure there has been a Catholic or two who at some point in history did rob one. Does that mean the Church should soften its stance on stealing?

Apologies to the OP for getting off on a tangent. The Topic here is excommunication; not really ABC. :o

Using ABC is grave matter. If the other two conditions are met (full knowledge and full consent), then the person has committed mortal sin. If they aren’t, they haven’t.

We are all called to sanctity. That does not mean that we are all perfect. We all have different temptations and different willpower. We are meant to try our best though.

Whether in this case the sin is mortal or not is a very intimate matter between penitent and confessor.

But to answer the question, no, it does not incur excommunication. As for the sin, although grave matter as I said the degree of culpability is best determined in the confessional.

That is correct.
Also, if a woman does not know an abortion is a sin of grave matter then she has not even committed a mortal sin by having one.

I don’t think that is correct. Some things are written on the conscience, and the Catholic Church consider abortion to be one of them. The only exception to something like that might be someone who is mentally disabled who really doesn’t know that pregnancy means giving birth to a child and that abortion ends a pregnancy. Or possibly a young child who doesn’t understand what the procedure is or that they’re pregnant, and their parents getting it for them. But for the most part, a woman seeking out an abortion knows deep down that they are ending the life of a human being–they just let society “convince” them it is otherwise. But can they really stand before God and say “I didn’t know”?

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