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Sunday, March 11, 2007

BIRTH CONTROL AND THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

BIRTH CONTROL AND THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

I am prompted to write this blog after watching on the Fox News Channel a confrontation between Shawn Hannity and a Roman Catholic priest who was challenging Shawn on his position on birth control.

Apparently, Shawn who claims to be a practicing Catholic – and I am not too sure about this because he did not actually state it -- believes that using condoms as a method of birth control is not according to the teachings of the Church. But, when approaching those who do not believe this, he advocates the use of condoms as a method of birth control in order to prevent unwanted pregnancies, therefore reducing the incidence of abortions.

The priest was calling Shawn a bad Catholic because he advocated the use of condoms even stating he would not give Shawn communion because of it. Shawn, who is by no means a milk toast, in fact, being quite vocal in the positions he takes on almost any subject – a refreshing trait in an individual – took on the priest challenging him in his condemnation.

I tended to side with Shawn on this matter. As I already mentioned, this prompted me to “put my two cents in” on the whole matter of birth control and what I understand to be the position of the Catholic Church.

When discussing birth control we must consider that there are several methods used to achieve birth control:

1. Coitus Interruptus: This is where at the point just before ejaculation the male withdraws the penis. Unfortunately, there are drawbacks to this technique. Many fail to realize that just before that time of ejaculation there is leakage of seminal fluid (pre-ejaculate) which contains much sperm able to get someone pregnant. An important aspect is that it is most important that sperm is not deposited anywhere on the pubic area because this sperm has the tropic ability to desire to enter the vagina. After all, a rooster which does not have a penis is still able to impregnate the female bird.

2. The Rhythm Method: This is where one carefully maps out the days when the woman ovulates and not to have intercourse during that period including two - three days before and after. This will work only if a woman is regular each month and knows exactly when she ovulates. Many women are not regular and often times this method becomes a “crap shoot.” No one knows this better than in the case with my family where we had what we affectionately call our two “Rhythm babies!” By the way, Pope Pius XII condoned the use of rhythm.

3. Condoms: This is as we know to be when the male uses a condom barrier to prevent the sperm from entering the vagina. This also has drawbacks probably only when the male does not remove the penis before he becomes flaccid which may allow sperm to leak out.

4. Intrauterine Devices (IDU’S): With the insertion into the womb of a coiled, usually metal, device the womb rejects the development and attachment of a foreign object, such as an embryo, thus preventing pregnancy. This method has its advocates but there are complications in some women who just cannot tolerate these devices.

5. Birth Control Pills (The Pill): In the early 1960's The Pill was developed. The pill by hormonal action is able to prevent ovulation, thereby preventing pregnancy. Although this has become by far the most popular form of birth control, it too has some minor complications, albeit, of very low incidence. A very small percentage of women cannot tolerate The Pill, and some are not sure of any long term adverse side effects. But, nevertheless, as said, it is the most popular and also probably the safest method of birth control. A major problem with The Pill, especially for the poor, is that it is a costly expense and insurance does not pay for it and very importantly many forget to take it regularly. Pope Paul conceded a woman using a contraceptive for health purposes would not be a breach of Church policy, even if such use brought about temporary infertility. (I wonder how he would feel if our modern day psychiatrists argued the use of The Pill would be a therapeutic tool in treating some one’s fear of getting pregnant.)

6. Abstinence: Let us not forget the absolute method of birth control which is abstinence, a method not considered by those who wish to be sexually active.


THE CONTROVERSY AND PHILOSOPHICAL BASIS

The Catholic Church has a serious problem justifying the use of some methods of birth control, especially the use of condoms. And this is based upon a sound philosophical principle.

I will digress to explain where I am coming from. I was educated at Boston College, a Jesuit College, and there in those days all students had to take Philosophy. In fact, every student had more credits in Philosophy than in their Major. I was a Pre-Medical student majoring in Biology but I had more hours in Philosophy than in Biology. So, in a way, we were all “Philosophy Majors.” In this writing, I am approaching an explanation from the viewpoint of Scholastic Philosophy, the philosophy expounded by the Jesuits. Although the phylosophical principles of other Catholic teachers, such as the Dominicans and Franciscans, may differ in minor ways as how they reach a particular conclusion, they are essentially similar in their conclusions.

Those of us who were Catholic also had to take Religion. Those who were not Catholic could take Religion, but they were not required to do so. One of the basic Religious and Philosophical Principles was that “it was against the Natural Law to set an appetite in motion and at the same time prevent that appetite from achieving its potential.”

Let us examine why lying is considered a sin according to this principle. The so-called “appetite” or function of speaking is to convey truth from one individual to another. When one lies, one sets the appetite in motion then prevents it from achieving its natural goal of conveying truth. A bad result of this is that a degree of trust among men is destroyed when one is expecting truth to be conveyed and it is not. And so, the Natural Law is frustrated and broken.

With the case of sexual intercourse – an appetite – an object is to procreate offspring. There are other reasons for sexual intercourse other than procreation, such as pleasure, but that is not within the area of this discourse. With the use of a condom, one has set an appetite in motion while preventing it from achieving its end according to the Natural Law. And so, on purely philosophical grounds the use of condoms is wrong.



THE PILL

I must single out the use of The Pill, because with its use, the Church had a way out of its philosophical dilemma. With the use of The Pill, the act of ovulation is prevented, thus avoiding the problem of thwarting a natural appetite with its use.

Pope John XXIII set up a Pontifical Commission to study the Church in the modern world. Most members of the Commission argued that it was time for the Church to face the realities of the modern world. They said that with the increasing emancipation of women and the introduction of safe contraceptives it was now time for the Church to change its position.
However, a minority disagreed and published its own report advocating the Church not change.


Pope John XXIII died and his successor, Pope Paul VI – a very weak and indecisive Pope -- alive at the time of the report, decided to take the view of the minority and published the well known Encyclical letter, entitled Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life). This Encyclical clearly stated that the use of The Pill incurred “a mortal sin.”

Pope John Paul II – probably the worst Pope we have had in my lifetime and one who set the Roman Catholic Church back 2,000 years or , at least back to the Middle Ages – decided to support Pope Paul’s view on birth control in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae (the Gospel of Life).

If Pope John XXIII – probably the best Pope of my lifetime were to remain alive, things would have been different.

An Encyclical is a Letter and nothing more than that, but it is promulgated to the entire body of the faithful stating that the Church did not condone the use of The Pill and that it was a Mortal sin to do so.

Important to note is that the Pope did not speak ex cathedra. This is when the Pope promulgates a position but states that it has come from a personal revelation from God. The last time this occurred was on November 1, 1950 Pope Pius XII spoke ex cathedra with “Multicentissimus Deusi” on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven. Popes are extremely careful when they speak ex cathedra so that they do not say something – that is, a direct communication from God – which might be proven wrong at some later date.

The fact was that the promulgation about The Pill was just an encyclical – a letter – which other Bishops do not have to follow.

In the Roman Catholic Church, a Bishop is the ultimate authority on matters of faith and morals and in the interpretation of the bible. The Pope cannot tell a Bishop how to interpret such matters. After all, the Pope is just another Bishop. He is the Bishop of Rome. The only time a Pope can over rule another Bishop is when he speaks ex cathedra -- some thing which does not occur often, the last time having been 1950.
So here I am in the Arch Diocese of Washington, DC, where Cardinal O’Boyle states that it is a Mortal sin to use The Pill, and up there in Boston where I grew up, Cardinal O’Connell said use your own conscience. If you think using The Pill is sinful then it is sinful for you to do so, but if you believed it is not a sin, then it is not sinful.
My wife, at the time, did not want to use The Pill because we were under the jurisdiction of Cardinal O’Boyle. My answer was: “Let’s move to Boston!” We solved our problem by placing ourselves under the spiritual jurisdiction of Cardinal O’Connell while still abiding in Maryland. The Jesuits, God bless them, taught me the art of rationalization!

BACK TO HANNITY

As I said earlier, I sided with Shawn Hannity over the Catholic priest who I believe was way out of line in criticizing Shawn on his advocating people who did not believe using condoms was sinful to use a method of birth control avoiding unwanted pregnancies, thereby avoiding the need for abortions.

In life we are always asked to choose the moral path. I acknowledge it is difficult some times to stay the high moral ground, but we do the best we can without harming others who must walk the planet along side. If one had to choose between the use of contraceptives and abortion, the conclusion would be considered a “no brainer,” especially to those who abhor abortion.

nicola michael c. Tauraso, M.D.
Director, Tauraso Medical Clinic
Author of: How to Benefit from Stress, and
Awaken the Genius in Your Child

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