CONTRACEPTION: FATAL TO THE FAITH
by Fr. John Hardon
This must seem like a strange title, "Contraception: Fatal to the
faith." What does the title mean? Does it mean that to believe in
contraception is contrary to the faith? Or does it mean that-Christian
believers may not practice contraception? Or does it mean that those who
practice contraception are in danger of losing their faith?
Please be more clear on just what we mean when we say,
"contraception, fatal to the faith?"
What do we mean by the title and what is the thesis of this
presentation? We mean that professed Catholics who practice contraception
either give up the practice of contraception or they give up their
Needless to say, this is a startling statement that many would
violently disagree with. They will point out the widespread practice of
contraception among many--some would say the majority of professed
Catholics in a country like the United States. They will quote from
numerous professedly Catholic moral theologians openly defending
contraception. They will give you the pronouncements of whole conferences
of bishops who claim that contraception is really a matter of conscience.
Those who sincerely believe that contraception is morally permissible may
not be told they are doing wrong; they may not be debarred from receiving
Holy Communion; in fact, they need not even have to confess the practice
of contraception when they go to confession.
We return to where we began, to make clear what we are saying. We
affirm in this conference that the deliberate practice of contraception
between husband and wife is objectively a mortal sin. Those who persist in
its practice are acting contrary to the explicit teaching of the Roman
Catholic Church. They may protest that they are Catholic. They may profess
to be Catholics. But their conduct belies their profession.
Someone may object that we are living in a contraceptive society.
Moreover, the silence of so many bishops and the overt teaching of so many
nominally Catholic moralists defending contraception forbids our saying
that contraception and the Catholic faith are incompatible.
In the light of all the foregoing, let me address myself to the
following topics which collectively prove the underlying thesis of this
+ The Catholic Church teaches infallible doctrine, both in faith and
+ This infallible teaching is done by the Church's extraordinary and
by her ordinary universal authority or magisterium.
+ The grave sinfulness of contraception is taught infallibly by the
Church's ordinary universal teaching authority.
+ Therefore, those who defend contraception forfeit their claim to
being professed Catholics.
+ Consequently, those who persist in their defense of contraception,
deprive themselves of the divine graces which are reserved to
bona fide members of the Roman Catholic Church.
THE CHURCH TEACHES INFALLIBLY ON FAITH AND MORALS
There is some value in explaining that the Church's infallibility
covers not only doctrines that are to be believed, like Christ's divinity
or His Real Presence in the Eucharist. No, the Church also, and with
emphasis, also teaches infallibly what the followers of Christ are to do.
In His final commission to the Apostles, Jesus told them to teach
all nations, "to observe all that I have commanded you."
To mention just one infallible teaching in the moral order: the
permanence of the marriage bond. Emphatically, the Church's irreversible
doctrines include truths that we are obliged to believe. But they also
include precepts that we are universally bound to obey.
This deserves to be emphasized. Why? Because there are nominally
Catholic writers who are claiming that the Church's gift of infallibility
extends only to her teaching of the faith. It does not, so the claim goes,
include grave moral obligations like the prohibition of adultery, sodomy
or contraception. That is not true.
TWO FORMS OF INFALLIBLE TEACHING
What are the two ways in which the Church teaches infallibly? She
does so whenever the Pope solemnly defines a dogma of the faith, as when
in 1950 Pope Pius XII declared that Our Lady was assumed body and soul
into heavenly glory.
But the Church also teaches infallibly whenever her bishops, united
with the Pope, proclaim that something is to be accepted by all the
faithful. Thus abortion was condemned as murder by the Catholic hierarchy,
under the Pope, already in the first century of the Christian era--and
It is therefore infallibly true that abortion is a crime of willful
homicide. So, too, the grave sinfulness of homosexuality is infallible
INFALLIBLY TRUE THAT CONTRACEPTION IS A MORTAL SIN
We return to where we began, to the subject of contraception. It is
infallible Catholic doctrine that contraception is a mortal sin? Yes!
How do we know? We know this from the twenty centuries of the
Catholic Church's teaching. Already in the first century, those who
professed the Catholic Faith did not practice either contraception or
abortion, which were commonly linked together.
The people of the pagan Roman Empire into which they were born
+ Cohabitation of one man with either several legal wives, or with a
plurality of concubines
In contrast with this moral promiscuity, Christians practiced
monogamy, one man with one woman; they did not use drugs to prevent
conception; they did not kill the newborn children whom they did not want
to live; they did not practice sodomy or prostitution; and for the
Christian, adultery and fornication were grave sins that might require
several years of penitential expiation.
What do we call the Church's unbroken tradition in forbidding
contraception? We call it her ordinary universal magisterium or teaching
authority. This has always been considered a proof of infallibility, or
from another perspective, irreversibility.
What do these two terms mean?
+ Infallibility means that God protects the Church from error in her
2000 years of teaching that contraception is a grave sin against God.
+ Irreversibility means that this teaching will never be reversed.
Contraception will remain a grave sin until the end of time.
TO DEFEND CONTRACEPTION FORFEITS THE CATHOLIC FAITH
As Christianity expanded, the inevitable happened. Once professed
Christians lapsed into their former paganism.
We read in the first three centuries about the thousands of
Christians who chose to be thrown to the lions, or beheaded, or
crucified--rather than conform to the pagan immorality that was so
prevalent in the culture in which they lived.
It is possible to misunderstand the Age of Martyrs of the first
three centuries of the Christian era. We are liable to associate
professing the Christian faith by refusing to drop a grain of incense
before a statue of one of the pagan gods. No, the issue was much deeper
and more serious. To be a Christian meant to refuse to conform to the
pagan morality of those who did not believe in Christ. To be a Christian
meant to reject the pagan immorality of the contemporary world--at the
heart of which was the practice of contraception.
THE SITUATION IN THE MODERN WORLD
Contraception as a general practice is a recent innovation in the
western nominally Christian world.
Its rise is partly explained by the medical discovery of drugs which
either prevent conception, or which destroy the unborn child in its
But the rise of contraception is mainly the result of a widespread
propaganda by women like Margaret Sanger and the powerful forces of
What have been the consequences of this return to prechristian
paganism which is now "the law of the land" in once Christian nations like
the United States? The consequences are inevitable.
The once solitary defender of the sanctity of marital relations is
now on trial for the profession of its Catholic faith.
In 1968, when Pope Paul VI published , the episcopal
conferences of one country after another met in solemn session to pass
judgment on the teachings of the Vicar of Christ.
Bishops in what we call the "Third World Countries" stood firmly
behind the Pope's teaching. But the bishops of so-called developed
countries, like the United States, or Canada, or France, or Germany, or
Austria, or Scandinavia issued long documents that, to put it mildly,
compromised the teachings of the Vicar of Christ.
What followed was as inevitable as night follows day. Once firmly
believing Catholics became confused, or bewildered, or simply uncertain
about the grave moral evil of contraception.
The spectacle of broken families, broken homes, divorce and
annulments, abortion and the mania of homosexuality--all of this has its
roots in the acceptance of contraception on a wide scale in what only two
generations ago was a professed Catholic population.
CONTRACEPTION FATAL TO THE FAITH
We come back to where we started--by claiming that contraception is
fatal to the Catholic Faith.
By divine ordinance, those who call themselves Catholic must
subscribe to the moral teachings of the Catholic Church of which the
Bishop of Rome is the visible head.
This Catholic Church now stands alone in the world as the one
universal authority which condemns contraception as contrary to the will
Within the Catholic ranks has arisen an army of dissidents who speak
and write in defense of contraception. The sex-preoccupied Andrew Greeley
of Chicago recently devoted a whole chapter of a book entitled, "That
damned encyclical," referring to . This priest remains in
good standing in ecclesiastical circles.
When the present Holy Father made his first pilgrimage as Pope to
the United States, he pleaded in Chicago with the American bishops to do
something over the scandal of so many Catholics on Sundays going to Holy
Communion and so few going to confession.
All the evidence indicates that the core issue at stake is
contraception. If contraception is not a grave sin, well then what is? And
why go to confession if I am still in God's friendship although practicing
What is the new conclusion? That the single, principal cause for the
breakdown of the Catholic faith in materially overdeveloped countries like
ours has been contraception.
St. James tells us that faith with out good works is dead. What good
is it to give verbal profession of the Catholic faith, and then behave
like a pagan in marital morality?
The single most crucial need to stem this hemorrhage from the
Catholic faith is for the Church's leaders to stand behind the Vicar of
Christ in proclaiming the Church's two millennia of teaching that no
marital act can be separated from its God-given purpose to conceive and
procreate a child.
I make bold to say that the Catholic Church, the real Roman Catholic
Church, will survive only where its bishops are courageous enough to
proclaim what the followers of Christ have believed since apostolic times.
But the bishops are frail human beings. They need, Lord how they need the
backing and support of the faithful under their care. So I would like to
close with a prayer:
"Lord Jesus, you ordained your Apostles as Bishops at the Last
Supper on Holy Thursday night. We beg You to give our bishops the wisdom
to see that contraception is fatal to Catholic Christians. Above all, give
them the courage of Thomas a Becket and John Fisher, to stand firm against
the demonic pressure to destroy the human family by contraception. Amen."
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Copyright (c) Trinity Communications 1994.
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