With women and men now having a simple way to control or prevent the conception of a child while engaging in sexuality at will, society adopted wholesale a contraceptive mentality. Sixty-two percent of all women of reproductive age use a contraceptive method. And, 90 percent of those who cohabitate do likewise. Our society flaunts its permissiveness. Any restraint on sexual activity is seen as a diminution of personal freedom.
Up until the early 1900s, all Christian churches opposed artificial birth control. There were dissenters, but they were few. Then, in 1930, the Anglican bishops held an historic meeting. They gathered for the Lambeth Conference, convened every ten years by the Archbishop of Canterbury. They decided to change the Anglican Church's position. They ruled that married couples could now use artificial birth control to avoid conception.
This 1930 ruling of the Anglican bishops looked to the motives for avoiding birth and not the objective morality of the means to do so. It looked to the choices that individuals make and not to the inherent meaning of human sexuality. Their decision was based on situation ethics.
Soon after, all other Protestant churches followed the lead of the Anglican Church. On Feb. 23, 1961, The National Council of Churches stated that "the general Protestant conviction is that motives, rather than methods, form the primary moral issue provided the methods are limited to the prevention of conception." Today most Christians accept artificial contraception. Even a majority of Catholics!
Nonetheless, the Catholic Church has remained constant in her teaching on the meaning of human sexuality. Fifty years ago, in his encyclical Humanae Vitae, Blessed Pope Paul VI reaffirmed the Catholic teaching on married love, responsible parenthood and the continued rejection of unnatural forms of birth control. More recently, in his Theology of the Body, Pope St. John Paul II provided an integrated vision of the human person. He spoke of the body not as an object to be used for pleasure or to be manipulated at will. As previous popes, he taught that marital love must be procreative and unitive at the same time in order to be the total self-gift of one spouse to the other.
The Catholic Church does not bless the use of artificial contraception because it separates the procreative and unitive aspects of the marital act. Artificial contraception is contrary to the good of the transmission of life (procreative aspect of marriage) and to the reciprocal self-giving of the spouses (unitive aspect of matrimony). It harms true love and denies the sovereign role of God in the transmission of life. This teaching continues to cause discomfort for some and anger for others. But, many of the effects of accepting artificial contraception have hardly contributed to the good of the spouses or to the common good.