Responding to a recent Agence France Presse (AFP) article that criticized Catholic teaching on contraception, well-known professor, Dr. Janet Smith, said that in her opinion, the poorly researched piece “was inaccurate and slanted from the beginning.”
In light of the recent 50th anniversary of the Pill being released to U.S. markets, the AFP reported on Thursday that in spite of Church teaching, the majority of Catholic women today use contraception.
“Catholics use the pill the same way everyone else does ... Priests don't even preach against it any more,” Jon O'Brien, president of the dissident group Catholics for Choice, told the AFP on Wednesday.
AFP also made reference in the article to a commission of bishops and lay people who recommended in 1968 that the Church should change its position on contraception. The AFP article argued that Pope Paul VI “ignored” the commission in his writing of “Humanae Vitae” and “banned” Catholics from using the Pill.
The article also mentioned that less than five percent of Catholics use the “rhythm method,” which it called the one of the “birth control methods allowed by the Church.”
During a phone interview with CNA on Thursday, Dr. Smith, a professor at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, said that it was obvious the writer of the AFP article did “minimal research.”
Not only did the writer mention the “rhythm method,” a term that Smith said “no one is using,” but the commission surrounding Pope Paul VI was “simply an advisory panel.” The Pope, said Smith, did not “ignore” anyone by opposing contraception, but rather, upheld the tenets of the faith on the belief that birth control would have devastating societal consequences.
The AFP article, she summarized, “was inaccurate and slanted from beginning to end.”
Defending the Church's teaching that contraception affects society in negative ways and is immoral, Smith noted that “more than one out of three babies in the United States are born to a single mother, one out of four pregnancies are aborted,” and that “more than one out of two marriages end in divorce.”
“If people were living by the Church's teaching on sexuality, those things wouldn't be happening, and those things are a path to misery,” she underscored.
“People born out of wedlock have a very hard life, as do their children. People who get divorced have a very hard life as do their children, and their friends and their family,” Smith asserted, adding that on the other hand, “people who don't get divorced and stay married and raise their children, generally have very good lives.”
“Couples who use natural family planning almost never divorce,” she pointed out. “The divorce rate at tops, we think is around 4%.”
In light of these facts,“who looks foolish?” she asked. “The Church for not changing a teaching that almost guarantees happiness or a culture that is pushing an agenda that almost guarantees misery?”
Also, “it is really, patently absurd for women to be putting chemicals in their body to correct a condition that is not a defect.
“Fertility is a perfectly healthy condition,” Smith emphasized.
While it is true, said Smith, that many Catholics do not follow Church teaching on contraception, many Catholics “also don't abide by the Church's teaching about not having sex before marriage and not getting divorced and even, I'm sorry to say, having abortions.”
Smith even referenced areas outside the realm of sexuality that Catholics “are at odds with their Church,” such as, resistance to Church teaching on receptivity towards immigrants.
Contraception is “not an isolated teaching that's being ignored.”
On the reasons why many Catholics today are disconnected from Church teaching, the noted professor offered two explanations. “One, is that the influence of the culture is just overwhelming – the prominence of the media and the slant of the media on everything. Catholics are going to Church at most, once on Sunday but they're watching TV and reading the media hours and hours and hours of every week.”
“So what's going to have more influence on them?” she asked. “Their Church or their culture?”
The second reason for the modern disconnect between Catholics and Church teaching is “the dissent that happened in the 1960s against 'Humanae Vitae,'” Smith explained.
“A lot of priests were actually taught in the seminaries that the Church was going to change its position on contraception and therefore they shouldn't really bother to teach the Catholic faithful about it,” she said. This confusion over Church teaching on human sexuality is why “John Paul II made it one of his flagship items of his pontificate.”
One of Pope John Paul II's seminal works, the “Theology of the Body,” has “taken off like wildfire around the United States,” Smith told CNA. One the main purposes of the writings, she explained, “was to defend the Church's teaching of contraception.”
According to Smith, the U.S. is responding. “Young people all over the place come to huge conferences” on the theology of the body “and certainly, the training in the seminary is very different now – seminarians are learning the Church's teaching.”
Smith herself has had “over a million” copies of her talks on the Church's teaching regarding human sexuality distributed in recent years.