The History of Contraception & the Catholic Church

Many would claim that the Church's teachings against contraception are new constructs imposed on the masses by a prudish male-dominated institution. Others would say the teachings are out-dated and based on a first century view of human sexuality. Both, however, are incorrect. The Church's teachings have persisted since its earliest days, but the message is just as relevant today as it was in times past. Most importantly, the message is not one of prudishness, but rather great reverence and awe for human sexuality.

In the 4th century, St. Augustine wrote about the 3 ends of marriage (offspring, fidelity and sacrament), declaring spouses must respect the procreative aspects of sex. A 6th century penitential rite claimed "If someone ... does something ... so that he cannot generate or she conceive, let it be held as homicide." In the 13th century, St. Thomas Aquinas discussed contraception as being an act against nature, and thus immoral. Then, in 1930, the Anglican Church permitted contraceptives for married couples. In response, the Catholic Church under Pope Pius XI issued a more direct statement, Casti Cannubii, which declared contraception illicit because it opposed the benefits of matrimony.

Then began the turmoil of the 20th century. With the advent of the hormonal contraception pill, many assumed the Church's teachings would change as the pill somehow, seemed less intrusive on the sexual act compared to the barrier methods and douches that were previously used. In 1966, the Church, under the leadership of Pope John XXIII and later Pope Paul VI, called a commission to discuss this very topic as well as other family issues. These meetings were supposed to serve in an advisory capacity to the Pope. However, the Draft of a Document Concerning Responsible Parenthood, later referred to as the "Majority Report", was leaked to the press. This document, not only called for the acceptance of contraception, but questioned if the Church had the moral authority to decide on matters such as these. Thus, the world over assumed contraception would soon be acceptable under Church teaching.

Then amidst the chaos and violence of 1968, Pope Paul VI published his beautiful and serene document, Humane Vitae (Regarding Human Life). To the shock of many, the Pope once again declared contraception to be morally illicit. Furthermore, he used this document to assert the Church's role as a moral voice; to pronounce the blessings of Natural Family Planning; to prophesize about the dire societal consequences should contraception be used; to call on married couples to use responsible parenthood in building their families; and to ask scientists and healing professionals to use their skills to help couples achieve this task in a way that respected the dignity of the marital embrace as well as restore and heal the human body.

The rest of the story is probably known to most of our readers — this document was met with great outrage and this topic continues to be one of the greatest controversies for the Catholic Church. What you might not know, however, is that Pope John Paul II would later publish, A Theology of the Body, a beautiful teaching explaining how our bodies, especially sexual love, can be used as a study of God. Today, A Theology of the Body is so intertwined with Humane Vitae, one cannot exist without the other. And fortunately, it provides the answers when one asks "Could the Church be right?"

What's in a name?

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."  —Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

As Juliet laments her disastrous fate, she asks if a rose called by any other name would cease to be a rose. Certainly a rose would be just as beautiful if a new word was chosen to designate it from other flowers. Thus, we have to ask, how important is a name?

The Unique Subject Matter of Bioethics

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Infertility and the Catholic Church

As physicians, we are taught that to alleviate one's suffering is our most noble gift and certainly, infertility is one of the greatest hardships one can face.

A Meditation on the Passion, a Medical Point of View

Many scholars throughout history have sought to discover the cause of death of Our Lord. Some would say asphyxia, others pulmonary embolism or even "ruptured heart."

The Making of a Miracle: Medical Miracles and Canonization

On August 9, 1845, Saint André Bessette was born near Montreal, the 8th of 12 children. From the beginning, he was sickly and weak. He was orphaned at the age of 12 and became a farmhand.

The Legacy of St. Luke

In 1912, His Eminence William Henry O'Connell, Archbishop of Boston, evoked the spirit of St. Luke and founded the first Catholic Physicians Guild.

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