Contraception & Humanae Vitae: Affirmation of the Church’s Teaching

This statement in support of Humanae Vitae, the Catholic Church’s traditional teaching on love, sexuality, and contraception, is entitled “Affirmation of the Church’s Teaching on the Gift of Sexuality.”  It was released at a press conference at the Catholic University of America on September 20, 2016.

We, the undersigned scholars, affirm that the Catholic Church’s teachings on the gift of sexuality, on marriage, and on contraception are true and defensible on many grounds, among them the truths of reason and revelation concerning the dignity of the human person.

Scholarly support for the Church’s teachings on the gift of sexuality, on marriage, and on contraception has burgeoned in recent decades. Moreover, institutes and programs supporting that teaching have been established all over the world. Even some secular feminists and secular programs have begun to acknowledge the harms of contraception.

These facts, however, seem to have escaped the notice of the authors of “On the Ethics of Using Contraceptives” (hereafter, the Wijngaards Statement) which urges the Catholic Church to change its teaching and issue an “official magisterial document [that] should revoke the absolute ban on the use of ‘artificial’ contraceptives, and allow the use of modern non-abortifacient contraceptives for both prophylactic and family planning purposes.” The Wijngaards Statement, unfortunately, offers nothing new to discussions about the morality of contraception and, in fact, repeats the arguments that the Church has rejected and that numerous scholars have engaged and refuted since 1968.

The Wijngaards Statement seriously misrepresents the authentic position of the Catholic Church. Among the most erroneous claims made by the Wijngaards Statement is that neither Scripture nor natural law offers any support for the Church’s teaching that contraception is never compatible with God’s plan for sexuality and marriage. During the past half century, there has been an enormous amount of creative scholarly thinking around the Church’s teaching on contraception, thinking that includes profound reflections on the Theology of the Body, personalism, and natural law. In addition, there has been extensive research on and analysis of the negative impact of contraception on individuals, relationships, and culture.

The Wijngaards Statement, rather than engaging recent scholarship in support of the Church’s teaching, misdirects the conversation from the start by claiming that the argument against contraception in Humanae Vitae is based primarily on “biological laws.” Humanae Vitae instead focuses, as it should, on the person’s relationship to God and to other persons.

The points below briefly outline the true basis of the Church’s teaching that contraception is not in accord with God’s plan for sexuality and marriage. It also responds to some of the erroneous claims found in the Wijngaards Statement.

1. God is Love

The God who made this beautiful and ordered world is a loving and good God. All of His creation is a loving gift to humankind. Even after the Fall, God continued to reach out to His people, gradually revealing Himself and the depths of his love and mercy. God the Father’s gift of His Son Jesus, whose life was poured out on the Cross, was the ultimate and complete self-gift. This great and radical love is borne out in Scripture where the biblical authors in the Old Testament often speak of God in the image of husband and His people as His wife, and in the New Testament where Christ is described as the bridegroom and the Church as His bride. Throughout the history of the Church, many have seen this spousal imagery as a key to understanding God’s relationship to every human soul.

2. Made in God’s Image

Because God is Love – a communion of Divine Persons– He made men and women in His image: able to reason and to choose freely, with the capacity to love and to be in loving relationships.

3. Gift of Self

God invites all people to share in His love. Every person, therefore, is beloved by God and made to be in loving relationships; every person is created to make a gift of self to God and to others. The gift of self means living in a way that promotes the good of everyone, especially those with whom one is in close relationship.

4. Marriage: A Unique Communion of Persons

Marriage was designed by God to enable a man and a woman to live out humanity’s core identity as lovers and givers of life, to enable the two to become “one flesh” (Gen. 2:24) and for that one flesh to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28). Human sexual relations fulfill God’s intent only when they respect the procreative meaning of the sexual act and involve a complete gift of self between married partners.

5: God’s Law, not Man’s

“The doctrine that the Magisterium of the Church has often explained is this: there is an unbreakable connection between the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning [of the marital act], and both are inherent in the marital act. This connection was established by God and human beings are not permitted to break it through their own volition.” (HV12) The teaching that contraception is always against God’s plan for sexuality, marriage and happiness is not based on human law: “The teaching of the Church about the proper spacing of children is a promulgation of the divine law itself.” (HV 20)

6. Faith and Reason

God has revealed the truths about sexuality to human beings through the biblical vision of the human person and has also made it accessible to our reason. Several well-argued versions of “natural law” defenses support the Church’s teaching that contraception is not in accord with God’s plan for sexuality and marriage. Each begins with different basic truths and thus each constructs its arguments differently.

7. The Theology of the Body: Saint John Paul II’s Contribution

Saint John Paul II’s Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body (virtually ignored by the Wijngaards Statement) provides a powerful defense of the view that contraception is not in accord with the understanding of the human person as conveyed by Scripture and sacred Catholic Tradition. He speaks of the “language of the body” and has shown that to violate the procreative meaning of the marital act is also to violate the unitive (the “commitment-expressing”) meaning of the marital act. There he demonstrates that our very bodies have a language and a “spousal meaning” — that they express the truth that we are to be in loving and fruitful relationships with others.

8. Humanae Vitae as Prophetic

Humanae Vitae speaks against the distorted view of human sexuality and intimate relationships that many in the modern world promote. Humanae Vitae was prophetic when it listed some of the harms that would result from the widespread use of contraception. Abundant studies show that contraception, such as hormonal contraceptives and intrauterine devices, can cause serious health problems for women. The widespread use of contraception appears to have contributed greatly to the increase of sex outside of marriage, to an increase of unwed pregnancies, abortion, single parenthood, cohabitation, divorce, poverty, the exploitation of women, to declining marriage rates as well as to declining population growth in many parts of the world. There is even growing evidence that chemical contraceptives harm the environment.

9. A Practical Help to Husbands and Wives–FABMs

In order to live God’s design for married love, husband and wife need moral family planning methods. Fertility Awareness Based Methods of Family Planning (or FABMs, i.e., the many forms of Natural Family Planning) respect the God-given spousal union and the potential to procreate. FABMs are fully consistent with the Church’s teaching on marital chastity. Couples using these methods make no attempt to thwart the power of acts that could result in the procreation of new human persons. They respect God’s design for sexuality; they help individuals grow in self-mastery; they have the potential to strengthen marriages and respect the physical and psychological health of women. Moreover, science demonstrates that they are highly effective both in helping couples limit their family size when necessary and conceive when appropriate.

10. Respect for Cultural Values, Freedom

International organizations and governments should respect the values and beliefs of families and cultures that see children as a gift, and, therefore, should not impose—on individuals, families, or cultures—practices antithetical to their values and beliefs about children and family planning. Governments and international organizations should make instruction in Fertility Awareness Based Methods (FABMs) of family planning a priority. FABMs are based on solid scientific understanding of a woman’s fertility cycle, are easily learned by women in developing countries, are virtually without cost, and promote respect for women.

11. Christ provides grace

Because of Original Sin, men and women became subject to temptations that sometimes seem insuperable. Christ came not just to restore our original goodness but to enable us to achieve holiness. The Catholic Church invites married couples to participate in the life of Christ, to participate in the sacraments, especially in Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist. The Church asks the faithful to deepen their relationship with the Lord God the Father, to be open to receive the direction of the Holy Spirit, and to ask Christ to provide the graces needed to live in accord with God’s will for their married lives, even the difficult moral truths.

We, the undersigned Catholic scholars, hold that the Church’s teaching on contraception is true and defensible on the basis of Scripture and reason. We hold that Catholic teaching respects the true dignity of the human person and is conducive to happiness.

NOTE: Institutional affiliations are listed only for purposes of identification and are not to be understood as indicating support from or endorsement by the institutions named.

Andrew Abela, PhD
Provost, Catholic University of America

Jane Adolphe, BA, LLB, BCL, JCL, JCD
Associate Professor, Ave Maria School of Law

Sr. Prudence Allen, RSM, PhD
Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Concordia University Montreal; Charles J Chaput Chair of Philosophy, St. John Vianney Seminary (CO); Author, The Concept of Woman (three volumes)

Helen M. Alvaré, JD
Professor of Law, Scalia Law School at George Mason University; Editor: Breaking Through: Catholic Women Speak for Themselves

Rev. Nicanor Pier Giorgio Austriaco, OP, PhD, STD
Professor of Biology and of Theology
Providence College; Author, Biomedicine and Beatitude: An Introduction to Catholic Bioethics

J. Budziszewski, PhD
Professor of Government and Philosophy, University of Texas at Austin; Author,Commentary on Thomas Aquinas’s Treatise on Law

Sr. Sara Butler, M.S.B.T., S.T.L., Ph.D.
Professor Emerita, University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein

Very Rev. Donald H. Calloway, MIC, STL
Vicar Provincial – Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception
Best selling author and international speaker

Sr. Catherine Joseph Droste, OP
Vice-Dean of Theology

Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum)

Eduardo J. Echeverria, PhD, STL
Professor of Philosophy and Theology
Sacred Heart Major Seminary;
Author, “In the Beginning…” A Theology of the Body

Maria Fedoryka, PhD
Associate Professor of Philosophy
Ave Maria University

Richard J. Fehring, PhD, RN, FAAN
Professor Emeritus and Director, Marquette University’s Institute for Natural Family Planning

Prof. Secundino Fernandez, MD, PhD
Dean, School of Medicine
Universidad de Navarra

Pamplona, Spain

Angela Franks, PhD
Professor, the Theological Institute for the New Evangelization, St. John’s Seminary (MA); Author, Contraception and Catholicism: What the Church Teaches and Why

John H. Garvey, JD
President, The Catholic University of America

Fr. Wojciech Giertych OP
Theologian of the Papal Household
Vatican City

John S. Grabowski, PhD
Associate Professor and Director of Moral Theology/Ethics, School of Theology & Religious Studies,
The Catholic University of America
Board Member, The Academy of Catholic Theology; Author, Sex and Virtue: An Introduction to Sexual Ethics

Prof. John M. Haas
PhD, STL, MDiv, KM, President, The National Catholic Bioethics Center; Consultor to the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Care for Health Care Workers, Vatican;
Member, Pontifical Academy for Life, Vatican; Member of the Directive Council for the Pontifical Academy for Life, Vatican

Mary Rice Hasson, JD
Director, Catholic Women’s Forum, Ethics and Public Policy Center;
Editor, Catholic Women Reflect on Feminism, Complementarity, and the Church

Mary Healy, STD
Professor of Scripture, Sacred Heart Major Seminary; Member, Pontifical Biblical Commission; Author, Men and Women Are from Eden

Thomas W. Hilgers, MD, Dip ABOG, Dip ABLS, SRS
Senior Medical Consultant, Obstetrics, Gynecology, Reproductive Medicine and Surgery; Clincal Professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Creighton University School of Medicine; Director, Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction.

Jokin De Irala, MD, PhD
Professor of Epidemiology, Preventative Medicine and Public Health
School of Medicine, University of Navarre
Corresponding Member, Pontifical Academy of Life

Stephen M. Krason, JD, PhD
Professor of Political Science and Legal Studies, Franciscan University of Steubenville; President, Society of Catholic Social Scientists; Co-Editor,Encyclopedia of Catholic Social Thought, Social Science, and Social Policy

Angela Lanfranchi MD FACS
Clinical Assistant Professor of Surgery, Rutgers UMDNJ Robert Wood Johnson Medical School
New Jersey State Director Catholic Medical Association
President Breast Cancer Prevention Institute

Mary Hayden Lemmons, PhD
Association Professor of Philosophy, President of the University Faculty for Life, University of St. Thomas, MN
Founding President, Society for Thomistic Personalism; Editor, Women as Prophet in the Home and the World: Interdisciplinary Investigations

Steven A. Long, PhD
Professor of Theology, Ave Maria University; Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas, Rome; Author, The Teleological Grammar of the Moral Act

Fr. Grzegorz Mazur, OP, STD
Professor of Moral Theology
Dominican College of Philosophy and Theology
Krakow, Poland

Monica Migliorino Miller, PhD
Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Madonna University (MI);
Author, The Authority of Women in the Catholic Church

Jennifer Roback Morse, PhD
President, The Ruth Institute;
Author, Smart Sex: Finding Life-Long Love in a Hook-Up World

Michael Novak
Distinguished Visiting Professor, The Catholic University of America;
Author, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism

Ermanno Pavesi, MD
Psychiatrist, Psychology Senior Lecturer (Emeritus), Theologische Hochschule Chur, Switzerland
Secretary General, International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations (FIAMC)

Rev. Thomas Petri, OP, STD
Vice President and Academic Dean
Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception
Dominican House of Studies

Alexander Pruss, PhD
Professor of Philosophy, Baylor University; Author, One Body: An Essay in Christian Sexual Ethics

Christopher C. Roberts, PhD
Archdiocese of Philadelphia
Author, Creation and Covenant: the significance of sexual difference in the moral theology of marriage

Tracey Rowland, PhD, STD
Dean, John Paul II Institute for Marriage & Family, Melbourne, Australia; Author,Catholic Theology

Deborah M. Savage, PhD

St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity; Director, Siena Symposium for Women, Family, and Culture, University of St. Thomas (MN)

Michele M. Schumacher, STD, PD
University of Fribourg, Switzerland
Author, Women in Christ: Towards a New Feminism

Josef Maria Seifert
Founding Rector, International Academy of Philosophy, Liechtenstein; The Dietrich Von Hildebrand Chair for Realist Phenomenology, International Academy of Philosophy, Liechtenstein; Instituto De Filosofia Edith Stein, Granada, Spain

Susan Selner-Wright, PhD
Associate Professor, Philosophy Department, St. John Vianney Theological Seminary (CO)

Mary Shivanandan, M.A. (Cantab), STL, STD
Former Professor of Theology,
John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage & Family at the Catholic University of America; Author, Crossing the Threshold of Love: A New Vision of Marriage in the Light of John Paul II’s Anthropology

Janet E. Smith, PhD
Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics, Sacred Heart Major Seminary; Author, Humanae Vitae: A Generation Later

Pia de Solenni, SThD
Associate Dean & Professor of Moral Theology
Augustine Institute – Orange County

Richard A. Spinello, PhD
Associate Professor, Boston College
Adjunct Faculty Member, St. John’s Seminary, Boston; Author,Understanding Love and Responsibility: A Companion to Karol Wojtyla’s Classic Work

Mary Elizabeth Stewart, MS, MFS, MPh, PhD
Vice President General, World Union of Catholic Women’s Organisations; President Elect, National Council of Catholic Women

Rev. Dr. Joseph Tham, LC, MD, PhD
Dean, School of Bioethics, Pontifical Ateno Regina Apostolorum
Visiting Professor, Holy Spirit Seminary College, Hong Kong
Fellow, Bioethics Resource Center of the Holy Spirit Seminary College, Hong Kong

Maximilian B. Torres, PhD, JD
Centesimus Annus Della Ratta Family Endowed Professor
The Busch School of Business and Economics
The Catholic University of America

GP Obstetrician, Senior Lecturer, School of Medicine, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

Senior Lecturer, School of Medicine, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

Rev Professor Dr. D. Vincent Twomey, SVD
Professor Emeritus of Moral Theology, Pontifical University, St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Co. Kildare, Ireland; Author, Moral Theology after Humanae Vitae

Michael Waldstein, PhD, ThD
Max Seckler Professor of Theology
Ave Maria University, Florida
Translator, John Paul II, Theology of the Body

Helen Watt, PhD
Senior Research Fellow, Anscombe Bioethics Centre, Oxford
Author: The Ethics of Pregnancy, Abortion and Childbirth: Exploring Moral Choices in Childbearing

George Weigel
Distinguished Senior Fellow, Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington, D.C.; Author of two-volume biography of Pope St. John Paul II, Witness to Hope and The End and the Beginning

Christopher West
Founder and President, The Cor Project; Senior Lecturer of Theology & Christian Anthropology, Theology of the Body Institute; Author: Good News about Sex and Marriage: Answers to Your Honest Questions about Catholic Teaching

Susan Windley-Daoust, PhD
Chair, Theology Department, Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota;
Author, Theology of the Body, Extended: The Spiritual Signs of Birth, Impairment and Dying

For a complete list of signatories of this “Affimation of the Church’s Teaching on the Gift of Sexuality,” a statement which upholds the teaching of Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae with regard to contraception, click here.   For a more extensive explanation of the principles undergirding this statement and the Catholic Church’s teaching on love, sexuality and contraception, click here.  For a bibliography on the subject, click here.



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