Church Documents on Contraception


I am working on a large school project about the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception, and I need help finding a variety of Church documents on the subject. I am aware of Humanae Vitae, but I am curious as to whether or not there are writings from different centuries (I know condoms are quite ancient). Maybe writings from Saints as well?

Many of my fellow students have received a formal Catholic education for 12+ years so they are already familiar with the basics (artificial birth control = bad, NFP = good), but I want a convincing explanation for the Church’s teaching. Any suggestion is appreciated.


The Catechism of the Council of Trent (aka Roman Catechism) says:

"It was also for this reason that God instituted marriage from the beginning; and therefore married persons who, to prevent conception or procure abortion, have recourse to medicine, are guilty of a most heinous crime…"

Pius XI’s encyclical Casti Connubii is a very important one–see paragraphs 53 to 62.

See also these recent documents which in part deal with this issue:

Pius XII’s address to midwives

John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae:

John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Donum Vitae


There’s that biblical story in Exodus concerning coitus interruptus as well…


There probably isn’t a convincing explanation.

It was a highly debated issue amongst theologians and authorities before the definitive position of Paul VI in the 1960s. In fact the Magisterium went against the majority position.

While the actual teaching itself is fairly clear its rationale is not and never has been. It is the elephant in the room in so far as a significant number of educated and practising Catholics, especially in the US, do not in fact accept the universality of the prohibition and simply/quietly ignore the Magisterium on this point.

The quiet existence of approved medical contraceptive practises is a confusion to most faithful laity who simply cannot understand or accept that these practises have been quietly approved by the Magisterium (eg after rape, before possible rape (Congo Nuns) and even prophylactically (condoms to protect from zika). I have seen heated debates over the immorality of using condoms (to prevent certain diseases/allergies) even when the wife is already pregnant!

So the actual rationale for exactly why contraceptive acts are immoral (and why some medical contracepting is acceptable according to the principles) is a mess.

There is a strong likelihood Pope Francis may come out with something significant this year (50th anniversary of HV) or at least during his reign.


Pius XI gave the definitive judgment in Casti Connubii 56 just a few decades earlier, which of course was no different than what the Church had ever taught. My understanding is that the debate leading up to Humanae Vitae was not centered on contraception generally, but The Pill specifically and whether it violated the principles the Church had always held to (of course, this narrow question was conflated in many minds). This is why Vatican II, in Gaudium et Spes, provided a general condemnation of methods of birth control contrary to divine law citing Casti Connubii, but in the footnotes noted that certain questions were being studied, and the Council left it to the Pope to give the definitive judgment on those.

The argument for The Pill was that there was no spilling of the seed or mutilation that caused sterility or abortion (we know different now), and was simply extending the natural infertile period.

I’m not sure you’re right as to what the “majority opinion” of theologians at the time was (there was definitely not a diachronic majority!)–but it is generally understood that it was the majority opinion of the committee the Pope commissioned to study the issue. But of course, the Holy Spirit was not promised to any commission, but to the Roman Pontiff.

Similarly, St. Peter didn’t side with the majority opinion either when Christ asked him who He was (the majority said John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets). This is why we have the office of Pope.

Also, just to add, I think the rationale is clear and understandable. I think the issue is that people think it is too hard to live up to and is unreasonable in that sense (as opposed to being logically unreasonable). This was the case even back in Pius XI’s days (he addresses it in Casti Connubii in the paragraphs after his definitive judgment).


I am really referring to the universal condemnation of all contraceptive acts and the labelling of it as “intrinsically evil” always and everywhere. Significant numbers of good Catholics simply, and quietly, don’t accept this.
Nor has the Church provided a set of principles that are readily understood or applied by any lay discussion on the matter I have ever seen. The interminable debates here on CAF even amongst the theologically trained witnesses to this.

That seems very strange for something that is meant to be of natural law and accessible to reason.

Also, just to add, I think the rationale is clear and understandable. I think the issue is that people think it is too hard to live up to and is unreasonable in that sense (as opposed to being logically unreasonable).

Yes that is the usual argument rolled out by those who just repeat the contraceptive mantras without actually being able to understand or apply them (I am not referring to you). That they do not understand is evidenced by their inability to accept approved exceptions do exist (eg after rape, congo nuns etc)


Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI, 1968


Your information is incorrect. Before Humanae Vitae was published, Pope Paul VI assembled some advisors to give him their advice. The Pill was not marketed comprehensively until 1967 (approved for use by the FDA in 1960). He knew what was going on. His advisors recommended loosening the Church’s stance on artificial birth control. Instead, he reaffirmed constant Church teaching. Within 24 hours, a group of dissenting theologians, going beyond their authority, published a full page ad in the New York Times telling married Catholics that using ABC was OK. They were wrong.

This encyclical is very clear about the licit use of contraceptive pills to solve a medical problem. Any assumption about why Catholics do or do not follow this encyclical is pure speculation. The rationale for this encyclical is a reaffirmation of every encyclical that came before it. The “mess” was created by dissidents inside and outside the Church who were promoting sex with anyone, including with people they were not married to.

Please don’t suggest a problem with Church teaching when there isn’t one. Slavery to the flesh is a bad idea.


The darkening the intellect is one of the effects of original sin, especially in moral matters where the concupiscence of the flesh comes into play. (I’m not saying I’m any better; I have my own issues I just take the Church’s word on). Again though, it only seems to be a more recent phenomenon where this particular point has become controversial. For whatever reason, people in different times and places tend to have problems with different moral truths. For whatever reason, trying to justify this sin is a common issue of our time…

These seem to fit logically to me into the greater framework of Catholic morality as a matter of self-defense. No one would deny in other cases of self defense that one can repel an unjust aggressor or hold oneself or part of oneself back from him. A victim fighting off a rapist mid act would not be sinning, even though coitus would be interrupted, etc. The same with holding back one’s ovum or repelling the attackers sperm, etc. In those case, there is no intent to engage in the conjugal act at all by the party doing the holding back or repelling.

I think it is important to note that the Catechism of Trent, Casti Connubii, and Humanae Vitae all place this point of morality in the context of marriage where there has been an exchange of consent.


Please quote exactly what I stated that you disagree with.


You may not have been listening to the actual point I am observing…

Do you agree there are acceptable instances where intended medical contraception is OK?


So lets first answer the basic question before jumping too quickly into your analysis.

  1. Is contraception of the attacker’s sperm intended at Catholic hospitals in such treatment after rape?
  2. Is it acceptable for the Congo nuns to intentionally medically contracept when taking the pill at their mission station?

If you agree how do the allegedly clear principles of Paul VI and JPII allow this…


The reasoning against contraception is summed up in Casti Connubii:

Since, therefore, the conjugal act is destined primarily by nature for the begetting of children, those who in exercising it deliberately frustrate its natural power and purpose sin against nature and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious.

In this case, the person interrupting the coitus, expelling or killing the sperm, or withholding the ova are not exercising the conjugal act nor intending to do so while frustrating its purpose. Their intention is to frustrate an act carried out on them against their will.

Again, here we have someone repelling or holding themselves back from an unjust aggressor, not someone willfully abusing the conjugal act.


Which leads an ocean of folks wondering why the Catholic Church is “ok” with NFP when the very object of that “game” is to “deliberately frustrate [the conjugal act’s] … purpose [the begetting of children]”.

“Hey baby, wanna fool around?”
“No way!!! I’m either ovulating or within 7 days of it!”

How very “open to life”…


It’s part of the woman’s cycle. Is it sinful to engage in marital relations any day other than the days where she is possibly fertile? That would severely hamper the unitive aspect of sex, in my opinion. It’s my impression that NFP uses natural parts of a woman’s cycle to allow couples to engage in unitive sex while minimizing the chance of procreation. No barriers, total self-giving, and consent to parenting a child should they be conceived from that sex is probably needed.


Sure. Deliberately harnessed and tracked for the sole purpose to "deliberately frustrate [the conjugal act’s] … purpose [the begetting of children]”, borrowing language from CC.

That’s not what we’re talking about with NFP and you know it.
What we’re discussing is abstaining from marital relations on days where she is likely fertile. That’s how NFP functions as a contraceptive.

Sure, other than only willfully consenting to sex when procreation should be biologically impossible.
The ovulation cycle itself is used as a barrier.
No wonder JP2 was leery of NFP.


Just Google it and you’ll find apologetics to read until the cows come home. I’m fuzzy on why, exactly, but I’m not married and don’t plan on being for a while so it doesn’t really matter how I see it until it comes time to use it.


I do also know that it at least helps practice two of the four cardinal virtues, those being prudence and temperance. If a couple is not ready for a new addition to their family through circumstances that they can’t change before sex (Finances, etc.) then they have to make the decision that sexual relations can only be engaged in during times where the likelihood of pregnancy is reduced. It also tempers their sexual indulgence in one another, ensuring that the other aspects of their marriage don’t fall to the wayside once their bedroom door closes.


Abstaining is not exercising the conjugal act while frustrating its natural power–it is not exercised at all.

Exercising the conjugal act during an infertile period is not frustrating its natural power, since during that time the natural power is accepted as it is at that time, it is not frustrated in any way.


Exercising the conjugal act ONLY during an infertile period does frustrate its natural power - by design and intent.

This is what NFP essentially is.

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