Why Do Most Catholics Ignore Humane Vitae?

I would like to broach this simple question. Is the problem with Catholics who ignore the teachings of the church on contraception, or with the teachings of the church?

One view of Catholic moral theology is that engaging in sexual intercourse with one’s spouse while wearing a barrier has the net effect of “using” one’s partner as a means to one’s own gratification. Well, I’d suggest that whoever wrote that probably hasn’t been in a position of trying to please one’s partner in bed. It’s not self-gratification, it’s mutual love.

I’m one of those shames of the Catholic Church – a divorced Catholic. But prior to that divorce, my ex-wife was advised by her doctors not to get pregnant again. I’m not going to divulge personal details, but suffice it to say that it was serious.

The loss of her ability to have more children was utterly devastating to my ex-wife. Did I think that I’d practice marital chastity, as my Church commands? Not for a second. To have her fertility taken out of her hands was a blow to her identity – having her sexuality dry up would be another whip of the lash. I wanted to comfort her, to make her feel whole and loved again. And I did not obey the church.

Yes, there are methods of effective “natural family planning” – which seem to me to be as natural as chewing a rough board. The “Calendar Days” approach is slip-shod effective. The thermometer approach? How natural is that? I know it works because it’s the flip side of how you optimize fertility naturally when trying to GET pregnant. But seriously, is any of that any less “self-gratifying” than artificial contraception?

I’m the last to argue that there’s not a downside to cheap and easy artificial contraception – the “demographic winter” notion is a real one facing a lot of countries, including urban centers in places like Detroit and Cleveland. But I’m really unconvinced by a Theology of the Body that says that trying to bring pleasure to one’s spouse (without getting her pregnant) is selfish.

Define “love”. How is one giving freely of himself if he is withholding part of himself (his fertility)? How is he giving entirely if he is placing a barrier between him and his spouse?

Were you not aware that there is a way to obey the Church and simultaneously express total and mutual self-giving to your spouse? If you think that NFP is self-gratifying, I would assume you’ve never practiced it.

There is a difference to bringing pleasure to one’s spouse and dragging your spouse into grave sin. The Church recognizes that there is a way to avoid lapse into sin while pleasing one’s spouse and simultaneously avoiding pregnancy. What people seem to not like about it is that it require effort, and can be difficult. Yet, I’d challenge you to find any quote from Jesus that suggests our lives in this world will be easy, or that we can do whatever makes us feel good, regardless of the sinful nature or any given act.

But I’m really unconvinced by a Theology of the Body that says that trying to bring pleasure to one’s spouse (without getting her pregnant) is selfish.

NFP allows a couple to enjoy the unitive aspect of sex even when they have serious reason to avoid. In other words the Church doesn’t teach that its selfish to want to please your wife and not have the intent to get pregnant so lets clear that up first of all.

What you seem to really have an issue with is the difference between contraception and NFP.

You seem to believe the difference has to do with the intent of the act or rather the ends that the act achieves. However the Church concedes that its entirely possible to go into both acts with good intentions. You may have a serious reasons to avoid pregnancy as the your talked about and the Church recognizes this.

The difference between contraception and NFP is based on the object of the action which is intrinsically evil in the case of contraception. See this page from the Catechism that describes the difference between the “object/means” of an action and the “intention/ends” of an action.


“My wife and I have a serious reason to avoid pregnancy (intention/ends) and we will do _________ (object/means) to achieve this.” The blank could be filled in with contraception or NFP.

Page after page here has been filled with proofs, links, quotes, and much more showing the authority of the Church on this issue. What I would ask, respectfully, is if there is any argument you would accept that would change your mind? Thank you.

Right. Try filling in the blank with either of these:
…“purposefully remove the procreative nature of sex by contracepting”…
…“avoid sex during the fertile phase”…

Avoiding sex hardly seems self-gratifying.

As a long time user of NFP after once using contraceptives long ago, it is pretty “natural” to me. I charted even when we were TTC, or were completely open to life. In fact, when we were TTC, I knew I was pregnant without using a pregnancy test, from the data from the chart. I will advise all my daughter’s to chart, regardless of their state in life, married or single. It gives great information into a woman’s health at any stage, young, middle age, premenopause. Honestly, taking my temperature in the morning when the alarm goes off, as I’m trying to get a few more minutes of sleep before getting up for work is not “effort”. It certainly is less “effort” than using a barrier method of contraception, which requires some interruption of the maritial act and actually takes more time. The other parts of NFP are simply observations, not difficult tasks. I chart electronically. I spend maybe 3 minutes a day on it, max.

I have had to use NFP for lifethreatening reasons after the birth of my last child. Not only should I not bear additional children, our child died when he was 2 weeks old, from a hospital aquired infection, which was completely devastating. And now there will be no more children. So I understand completely the complex issues that can be involved.

But NFP works, even in difficult situations. Is abstaining difficult? Absolutely. It can be a real struggle at times. But it is worth it. The rewards, for us, have been great. About half my friends/couples have had unintended pregnancies WHILE using contraceptives. So, if your ex-wife had a lifethreatening issue, and became pregnant using contraceptives, then what? With NFP, in a case such as this, you can apply extremely conservative rules with great confidence, such as using post ovulatory days only with an added day, or even abstain completely if the issue is so very grave.

There is a secular version of NFP, promoted in the book Take charge of your fertility. Since it is secular, using barriers is “allowed” during the fertile phase - there are no moral arguments against them… Interestingly enough, the author strongly advises AGAINST this. Her arguement? If your contraceptive is going to fail, this is the ONLY time it will matter, is during the fertile time. If you really can’t get pregnant, using barriers during the fertile time is risky. So why do people who have no qualms with contraceptives use NFP? Many have discovered what the church teaches - they enjoy sex more without barriers or devices. They feel their spouse is “holding back” or not giving themselves completely. They feel it helps their relationships. They have issues with the abortifacient aspects of chemical contraceptives. Many who follow this method do use barriers during the fertile time, are still anxious to have “natural sex” after this period has passed. Many simply abstain. What the church tells us is true, and people outside the faith are beginning to discover it too.

The problem with anyone rejecting any teaching of the Church is always with the individual and never with the teaching, provided they have been taught what the Church teaches. Many of our bishops and priests have been woefully inadequate in teaching this doctrine. Not all of them, but I think a majority.

Keep in mind that the teachings of the Church are the teachings of Christ. From time to time, because of confusion or other problems, the Church has to come out and formally declare a doctrine that already exists. Such is the case with Humanae Vitae. The Church has always taught against artificial contraception.

What makes it worse, is that our culture is so sex-crazy. Everywhere you turn, it’s sex, sex, sex. TV, magazines, radio, movies, etc. The culture is saturated with it. Add to that a government that is now trying to sanction and institutionalize acceptance of a sexual perversion (homosexuality). Evil, if unchecked, only gets worse and worse. Such is the case here.

Avoiding sex can be very self-gratifying if it brings you and your beloved closer to God. Couples who aren’t married yet avoid sex out of love for each other, for God, and respect for their own bodies. When a person’s only means of self-gratification is an orgasm, they’re in for some difficulty.

That is a very good analogy. A couple before marriage who avoids sex out of love and respect for each other because they realize that it goes against God’s plan for humanity experiences a lot of gratification in doing so. When we identify something as God’s will it is gratifying to live it out. The same applies within marriage. NFP is incredibly gratifying when you see how it fits into God’s will for humanity. No act can ever be an act of love if its goes against God’s will.

Thank you for your reply here. It’s nice to have an experiential reply from an NFP user without the sanctimonious tone I’ve received in other replies. I’ll be sure to research what you’ve said further!

I still think it’s a good question to ask: why do so many Catholics ignore the Church’s teachings?

Contraception did not cause Detroit and Cleveland to lose population; that happened because living people - singletons like myself as well as entire families - packed up and left. Years of bad foreign policies, worse political leadership, and worst quality control brought those two cities to their knees in the mid- to late-1970s. By the early 1980s, when I was first entering the workforce, unemployment was catastrophic from Cleveland over to Toledo and clear up into Saginaw and Flint. It’s not called the Rust Belt for nothing.

ABC can be blamed for some social ills, but it didn’t cause the American automotive and steel industries to collapse.


Erm, the problem is definitely, absolutely with those who ignore the teachings of the Church. To say that the Church’s teachings are in error, are even capable of being in error, is dogmatically heretical. To defy them is to place oneself at risk of damnation. The mortal sins of contraception, disobedience to the magisterium, and the pride which induces one to disobedience (plus unworthy reception of communion and insincere confession, if these are undertaken) are compounded by the sin of scandal, as you are involving your wife in this sin, too.

I am sorry for your situation. I can’t imagine the difficulty of it and wouldn’t presume to judge the goodness of your motivations. But motivations cannot make an act worthy or good; at the very best, they can only mitigate the severity of the sin (and there is no doubt even about that).

Obeying the teachings of the Church may make your wife unhappy. But disobeying them will definitely make God unhappy. Which consequence do (should) you fear more?

Excellent response. All of it.

I cannot expound the theology as well as others, but I think it’s because Catholics really don’t KNOW the Church’s teaching. Yes, they’ve heard, perhaps in the news or from an old CCD class that it’s not allowed. They’ve never been exposed to the actual documents, Theology of the Body, nothing. They don’t understand modern NFP (which includes sympto thermal, Creighton and Marquette), but think it’s the old Rythem method. I’ve never heard about it preached at Mass until recently. Since they don’t understand it, they feel free to disregard it, as “obsolete” “have as many babies as you can” or “too hard to follow”. Not only has the church failed in it’s Catechesis of this, but so have parents - aren’t we our children’s primary educators? I know many who disregard it completely - they have no idea how NFP even works, but can tell you that they are sure it won’t work for them. I’m a convert to Catholicism, and honestly, I’m appalled at how little cradle Catholics of my age know about their faith.

And because it can be a challenge. I disagree with the approach that NFP is a breeze, is simple for everyone, and if you struggle with it, it’s some sort personal flaw or defect in your attitude. When we envision our married life when we are single, how many envision long periods of abstainence? I think if we were more honest in “selling” NFP, people would go into it with a more realistic knowledge of the subject and would feel more successful and lead to more people keeping with it.

During our Bishop’s homily a few weeks ago, he spoke of a large survey asking people of all faiths and no faith where they turn when confronted with difficult moral issues. Catholics, MORE THAN ANY OTHER FAITH, had a much lower response to the answer: “faith, religion, or Church”. What did Catholics say? They turned to their own, personal, subjective, experience. And to me, that says it all.

Well, I can answer my question one way.

Catholics market NFP terribly! Seriously, the one post today by etmom is the only one that tried to explain to me, in positive language, a position that was actually surprising and new to me. And it made it sound as though it was very empowering! Hats off etmom!

I’m an epidemiologist by training, so I’ve seen plenty of studies in the past on the efficacy of “perfect” condom use. I can say that in grad school, we didn’t see studies on “fertility awareness-based” methods of family planning, e.g., the symptothermal approach. Well-intentioned Catholic friends of mine with whom I had intellectual discussions, frequently cited studies to suggest that barrier-based methods were not particularly effective. Many of the studies categorized condom use as “yes/no.” If you look at condoms that way, they don’t look effective. That being said, if you look at “perfect/imperfect” use comparisons, the effectiveness of condoms (and every approach to family planning at that) goes way up. After etmom’s post, I searched pubmed.org for “natural family planning” and “symptothermal” and found some very well-designed studies that demonstrate the efficacy of NFP, particularly the symptothermal method.

I also saw one study reporting that the vast majority of Ob/Gyn physicians, including Catholic ones, have no compunction with recommending artificial contraception to their patients. The study also found that the majority of Ob/Gyns surveyed thought that NFP was a poor choice for women. The study has a pretty good discussion of why this is, including that most Ob/Gyn doctors aren’t aware of the science on NFP. It cites other studies that say that when an Ob/Gyn becomes aware of the science, they become more receptive to it.

I have to say that I’ll be taking this science very seriously from here on out. I still don’t think that most of the commentators here are right in suggesting that couples who use other means of contraception aren’t truly and earnestly loving. However, etmom’s reply managed to get me to think differently, and for that I thank her.

I will say that sanctimony and the finger-shaking it involves doesn’t sell NFP at all. If NFP is the Catholic (and evidence-based) alternative to having healthful sexuality between couples, then there needs to be a much more systematic approach to getting the word out!

I’m aware that I started this thread by coming out swinging, so for that I’m sorry. If I’m any indication, Catholic moral theology isn’t a very good way to market NFP, especially when couched in terms that cast aspersions on relationships in which other means of contraception aren’t earnestly loving. My eyes are somewhat more opened now, though, so thanks for bearing with me.

Be aware that when someone talks about the act not being “loving” they are not talking about the motivations of the couple. Rather they are speaking towards what the act itself inherently says. Thus no one would dispute that a couple having sex while using contraception may have all the love in the world for each other in their intent, the act itself contradicts their motivations even if they don’t realize it.

An example of this could be euthanasia. Lets say one of my relatives is currently in extreme pain and the doctor has said they will die for sure within the next 6 months. I’ve got 20 second opinions that all say the same thing. I could opt to kill my relative now as they have repeatedly asked me too, and relieve them from the excruciating physical and emotional pain or we wait 6 months and they die anyways. The only apparent difference between the two options is one option equals 6 more months of pain.

While my motivations in killing that person might be loving in that I wish to allow them to not have to live through all that pain, what I’m doing is not loving because it contradicts the dignity of the human person and the will of God. A lot of people would say “God is the arbitrator of life”. That applies not only at the end of life but at the beginning of life as well. Anytime we act contrary to our God given nature’s we do harm to ourselves and offend God whether we mean to or not.

Well, “love” is the willing of another’s good. Properly understood, then, love requires a desire that one’s beloved avoid sin. Inducing one’s beloved to sin is therefore contrary to love.

My husband says this all the time :slight_smile:

First, I was there in the late 1960s. As I entered my early teens, I began to hear whispers from the older “cool” guys at my Catholic school that we won’t have to wear ‘rubbers’ anymore. Girls would just go on the Pill. “Girlie magazines” were rare and hard to find. The only easy to get girlie magazine was Playboy. It was a “high class” publication that featured interviews with Communists like Fidel Castro and articles and artwork that suggested the intended reader was not just interested in mostly nude women but had a full, engaging intellect and sophisticated tastes in clothes, cars and alcohol (each issue weighed around two pounds). In other words, he was a broad-minded, stylish gentleman who happened to buy into the Playboy Philosophy which Hugh Hefner had been peddling since 1953. And the philosophy was: sex is primarily for pleasure.

Hugh relied on the Kinsey Reports: Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953). They were both discredited:


I bring this up to provide the background for what led up to the Sex is for Pleasure Revolution in the late 1960s. Americans, young and old, were more trusting of their government - Federal, State and Local, and more trusting of experts. We were more trusting and helpful as neighbors as well. We were years away from the ACLU removing creches from the front of public buildings along with religious paintings and monuments. The media reflected the way we actually lived quite closely, which gave us confidence that our way of life would not be disrupted as we got older. Trust. We trusted the nuns who told us sex was reserved for marriage. There was to be no sexual intercourse while dating. Once again, we trusted authority in general a lot more than today. We, imperfect as we all were, tried to live out what we were taught in religion class in our daily lives. The Detroit newspapers would write beautiful editorials about Christmas and the birth of Jesus.

By 1967, dissenters inside and outside the Church were trying to undermine clear Church teaching about marriage and children. Pope Paul VI had a consulting committee prior to the release of Humanae Vitae that encouraged him to ease restrictions a little. He did not follow their advice. What happened?

"It caused a firestorm.

"Within 24 hours, in an event unprecedented in the history of the Church, more than 200 dissenting theologians signed a full-page ad in The New York Times in protest. Not only did they declare their disagreement with encyclical’s teaching; they went one step further, far beyond their authority as theologians, and actually encouraged dissent among the lay faithful.

"They asserted the following: “Therefore, as Roman Catholic theologians, conscious of our duty and our limitations, we conclude that spouses may responsibly decide according to their conscience that artificial contraception in some circumstances is permissible and indeed necessary to preserve and foster the values and sacredness of marriage.”

"Among Catholic laity, Humanae Vitae was also greeted with consternation. A Gallup survey done less than a month after the encyclical was promulgated showed that of those Catholics who had heard of it, only 28% agreed with the Pope’s teaching. Fifty-four percent disagreed with the Pope explicitly; others refused to assent.

"Even among bishops, the encyclical was often received with what could hardly be described as an ardent embrace in obedience and faith. On Sept. 27, 1968, the bishops of Canada, united in plenary assembly at St. Boniface in Winnipeg, Manitoba, issued a declaration on Humanae Vitae that has come to be known as the Winnipeg Statement.

"Oddly enough, the statement does not use the term “contraception” even once, substituting instead the euphemism “any positive intervention that would prevent the transmission of human life” (No. 8). Still, the statement seems to be headed in the right direction, as it acknowledges the magisterium’s right to pronounce itself on the question of the responsible regulation of births, along with the duty of the faithful to form their consciences according to that teaching.

"But then, No. 26 makes its appearance, in which all of the above is thrown to the winds:

“Counselors may meet others who, accepting the teaching of the Holy Father, find that because of particular circumstances they are involved in what seems to them a clear conflict of duties, e.g., the reconciling of conjugal love and responsible parenthood with the education of children already born or with the health of the mother. In accord with the accepted principles of moral theology, if these persons have tried sincerely but without success to pursue a line of conduct in keeping with the given directives, they may be safely assured that, whoever honestly chooses that course that seems right to him does so in good conscience” (italics added).

“In other words, the Canadian bishops affirmed that Catholics may in good conscience choose to disregard Humanae’s Vitae’s teaching on the intrinsic evil of contraception (found in the encyclical’s No.14).”

Source: regnumchristi.org/english/articulos/imprimir.phtml?se=362&ca=967&te=707&id=21122&opcion=1

We were misled, and I didn’t know about it at the time. Attempts were made to guide dissenting priests.


Part Two:

"Now that the bishops have had time to see the dissident priests, it is opportune to publish the conditions laid down.

"Priests are required in preaching, teaching, in the Press, on radio, television or public platforms, to refrain from opposing the teaching of the Pope in all matters of faith and morals.

"If a priest is unwilling to give this undertaking, the bishop will decide whether he can be allowed without scandal to continue to act in the name of the Church.

"Although he need not be required to cease celebrating mass, a priest may not normally hold faculties to hear confessions without undertaking to declare faithfully the objective teaching of Humanae Vitae in the confessional and when giving spiritual guidance.

"A priest who is unwilling to accept these conditions will be maintained by the diocese until he has been able to find suitable employment. This is, of course, in keeping with current canonical practice. Stories of priests in want for the sake of conscience should be accepted with the greatest reserve.

“Religious superiors have been invited to make similar proposals to those of their members who have publicly rejected the encyclical. It is the fervent hope of the bishops that all their priests, religious and faithful, united in prayer, will grow in love of God and his Holy Church.
Taken from:
L’Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
7 November 1968, page 3”


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.