The Catholic Church in the United States is waging a valiant defence against a federal government plan to make all employee insurance benefit programs pay for contraceptives. The Church, led by the U.S. bishops, has argued that it would be a violation of the religious liberty to force Catholic institutions to pay for contraceptives.
Something, however, is being lost here. By making this solely a religious liberty issue, the Church is strongly implying that the decision not to use contraception is a religious duty of Catholics, one somewhat akin to the right to worship and to educate children in the faith.
In fact, the Church's teaching on contraception is nothing of the sort. It is a teaching that any use of artificial contraceptives for preventing human conception is intrinsically evil. In other words, for any human person to act in a morally rational manner, they must refrain from using contraceptives.
This is a teaching that the world does not take seriously, indeed, that it laughs at. Yet, for the Church to be true to itself, it must grasp teachable moments such as the current controversy and proclaim the truth in fair weather or foul.
The consequences of unbridled use of contraception over the last 50 years have been catastrophic. Moral theologian Janet Smith has noted that in 1960, six per cent of babies born in the U.S. were born out of wedlock. In 2003, 34 per cent of U.S. babies were born outside of marriage. Further, with the spread of both divorce and abortion, she concludes that only 28 per cent of babies conceived in the U.S. will actually be born and born to a mother who is married and who will remain married the rest of her life.
As Smith states, if you want to know why massive social problems exist in the U.S., that statistic is a good place to begin your investigation.
However, the Church reached its judgment about the immorality of contraception long before such statistics were even anticipated. It bases its teachings on the nature of marital love. Marital love is a communion of persons, a communion that is always open to the creation of new life. That communion calls for both love and continence.
Love, by its very nature, is over-flowing; it strives to give more and more of itself. Such over-flowing love is not a diminution of the human person, but rather the path to our fullest humanity. When a married couple use contraception, their love is radically impaired. They treat each other as objects of self-gratification rather than as persons.
The world, especially the Western world, desperately needs to hear this teaching. Our greatest crisis is a love crisis, not a crisis of resources or anything material. The Catholic teaching on marital love needs to be spoken, not covered over in silence as we strive to protect our religious freedoms.