By John Stang
The whole controversy surrounding insurance companies being mandated to pay for birth control has religious objections (if you’ve been following the news lately). Mainly, it comes from Catholic institutions, which feel that they will be force to have insurance policies that cover birth control. Thus, it is a religious liberty argument, as the GOP is claiming, rather than an argument against women using birth control. However, I wonder how many people (or Catholics for that matter) have actually read the Human Vitae, the Pope’s 1968 encyclical on sex and birth control or know the Cathechism’s teaching on sex. It’s not exactly bed time reading and most people probably just know that the Catholic Church is against birth control.
I am a practicing Roman Catholic, but I’m not a an expert in this stuff. The argument is quite complex and long. I decided to take a couple of parts and talk about them. I think the Catholic Church could easily change it’s policy on this matter because it looks a little outdated and the reasoning is not super sound either. I will offer an argument and an update.
First from the Catechism:
2362 ”The acts in marriage by which the intimate and chaste union of the spouses takes place are noble and honorable; the truly human performance of these acts fosters the self-giving they signify and enriches the spouses in joy and gratitude.”145Sexuality is a source of joy and pleasure:
The Creator himself . . . established that in the [generative] function, spouses should experience pleasure and enjoyment of body and spirit. Therefore, the spouses do nothing evil in seeking this pleasure and enjoyment. They accept what the Creator has intended for them. At the same time, spouses should know how to keep themselves within the limits of just moderation.146
From this, the word moderation could just mean stay within limited bounds. Don’t have sex every night of the week, but have a policy of recognizing that sex is a sacred act in the name of God.
Second point from the Humana Vitae:
The Church is coherent with herself when she considers recourse to the infecund periods to be licit, while at the same time condemning, as being always illicit, the use of means directly contrary to fecundation, even if such use is inspired by reasons which may appear honest and serious. In reality, there are essential differences between the two cases; in the former, the married couple make legitimate use of a natural disposition; in the latter, they impede the development of natural processes. It is true that, in the one and the other case, the married couple are concordant in the positive will of avoiding children for plausible reasons, seeking the certainty that offspring will not arrive; but it is also true that only in the former case are they able to renounce the use of marriage in the fecund periods when, for just motives, procreation is not desirable, while making use of it during infecund periods to manifest their affection and to safeguard their mutual fidelity. By so doing, they give proof of a truly and integrally honest love.
This is basically saying, don’t impede the natural process. The famous “sex is for procreation” line. The main problem I have with this argument is that humans do things that go beyond the natural use all the time. We eat more than we should. We use our legs for more than just walking, excerise is a pleasure. We also utilize language for other purposes, not just for communication. Yet, none of those are sinful. They become sinful when you abuse them or use them for evil. Also, sex is supposed to be used to create new life and it inhibits that when you use birth control. That argument also has flaws too. We inhibit nature to take its course all the time. Medicine cures disease that should kill you naturally. So maybe update this to say, “have sex as long as you are reasonable (dare I say moderation) and while an offspring is desirable, it does not need to be the final outcome.”
You might be asking yourself while reading this: John, we do have churches now (since the Reformation) that have different policies on this topic, why not go to those places? The answer is that I love the Catholic Church. I believe in the doctrine of Transubstantiation, pray the Rosary, don’t subscribe to some of the more literal translations of the Bible some Protestant Churches do, and think the Mass is a beautiful service. I just have some disagreements over social teachings that I think can be updated to fit the 21st Century ethics standards. It is not a topic that gets discussed much and maybe the Church should examine itself on this topic a bit. Then again, I’m not the Pope (or a scholar) and I don’t make all the rules.