WASHINGTON — The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will examine a new document this week that gives an overview of Church teaching on married life and human sexuality.

Authored by the conference’s Pro-Life Committee, Married Love and the Gift of Life is intended to help Catholics understand God’s plan for married life and clarify why the Church cannot condone contraception.

“This is probably the most misunderstood teaching in the Church,” said Theresa Notare, assistant director for the bishops’ Natural Family Planning Program. “People think it’s a quaint little teaching that’s unrealistic, and when the Church catches up to modern times, it can change. They don’t understand that these teachings are basic truths that have been handed down since the apostolic age, and are based in Genesis.”

Notare said the document is an easy resource that priests can use in marriage preparation and other stages of married life. It has been tested in marriage prep programs by several dioceses, and feedback from couples has been very positive. Many of the couples reported that the document was engaging and clarified Church teaching.

“This document can hopefully get the conversation going again about why it’s important for Catholics to pay attention to it,” said Notare. “It’s not supposed to supplant Humanae Vitae, but it certainly is trying to get people to take a second look.”

Father Jeffrey Gubbiotti, parochial vicar at Most Holy Trinity Church in Wallingford, Conn., is looking forward to the document because, he said, it’s hard to find good resources on the subject. The challenge in talking about contraception from the pulpit is that priests are mandated to preach on the Gospel, he said, and when it is possible, they have to be sensitive to younger age groups. The biggest challenge, however, is the sheer depth of the teaching.

“We’ve so lost our sense of anthropology of how the human person is. If you don’t understand that, you don’t understand why NFP is the best way to exact stewardship when it comes to fertility,” said Father Gubbiotti. “When there’s so much groundwork that has to be laid, there’s no way you can present the entire argument for the sinfulness of contraception in the course of one homily. You can only make a few points and hope that they’ll go out on their own and discover the beauty of NFP.”

The document sprang from committee discussions on the need to inform Catholics about the abortifacient potential of chemical contraceptives, said Notare. But the discussion soon turned to why Catholics shouldn’t be using any contraception.

 

Root Cause

Steve Koob, director of One More Soul, an apostolate promoting God’s plan for marriage and family, thinks that’s a wise approach.

“Contraception is wrong, period, not because it’s an abortifacient,” he said. “We should be opposed to it because it’s against God’s will, nature and the fundamental sexual act. It’s clearly been demonstrated what contraception has done to the culture. Hopefully this document will be a conversation starter.”

Notare echoed that sentiment.

“Society is really trying to cling to this idea that sex can be had with no consequences. But you don’t even have to be religious at this point; a thinking person can look at how poorly we treat sexual intercourse and connect the dots to pedophilia, the gross rise in pornography, abortion, divorce, delay in age in marriage, and the number of children we’re having.”

The conversation is starting to ripple through the pro-life community, which Koob said is a welcome sign because the abortion issue won’t be solved until contraception is addressed.

Many pro-life leaders, especially evangelicals, have maintained that contraception is not their issue, but they’re coming to see that it leads to abortion, said Ruben Obregon, co-founder of No Room for Contraception, a website that addresses the personal and cultural consequences of contraception.

“With contraception, abortion is skyrocketing, and non-Catholics are starting to see that it’s an inseparable issue that has to be dealt with,” he said.

As an example, Obregon posted an article on the website by Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, called “Can Christians Use Birth Control?” In it he wrote: “The effective separation of sex from procreation may be one of the most important defining marks of our age — and one of the most ominous. This awareness is spreading among American evangelicals, and it threatens to set loose a firestorm. … Most evangelicals responded with disregard to Pope Paul VI’s famous encyclical Humanae Vitae and became devoted users of birth control technologies.” But a growing number “are rethinking the issue of birth control and facing the hard questions posed by reproductive technologies. … The most important of these is the abortion revolution.”

Pro-Life Action Ministries decided to address contraception at its national conference in September. Director Joe Scheidler said they wanted to bring people from all areas of the pro-life movement together to see if they could come to a meeting of the minds on the root cause of the anti-life/anti-family mentality — contraception.

“We were told by other pro-life groups that we were committing suicide by even bringing it up, but we can’t dodge it anymore, and we don’t intend to,” he said. “It was hard to reason against the proof presented by people at the conference who aren’t even on the same wavelength as us.”

Presenters included Lionel Tiger, a professor of anthropology from Rutgers University and an atheist, who showed how the contraceptive mentality has affected men and possibly led to the rise in homosexuality. Allan Carlson of the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society gave a history of how Protestant churches came to embrace contraception, and acknowledged that Pope Paul VI was prophetic.

“They can see that contraception is a plague,” said Scheidler. “We have to get to the root cause of this anti-life mentality. We’re using God’s gift for pleasure and not for what it was intended.”

Barb Ernster is based in

Fridley, Minnesota.