Commencing the Contraception Conversation

Well it’s been 82 years since Pope Pius XI penned his encyclical, Casti Connubii or “On Christian Marriage” in 1930 (An overview of the encyclical is here)

It’s been 44 years since Pope Paul VI wrote “On The Transmission of Life” or “Humanae Vitae” in 1968. (Overview here)

More recently, Pope John Paul II wrote, what some call his magnum opus, on the human person, marriage and human sexuality entitled “The Theology of the Body.This was a series of 129 lectures given by Pope John Paul II during his Wednesday audiences between September 1979 and November 1984

John Paul II also wrote other book on the topics such as: Man and Woman He Created Them as well as Love and Responsibility (Overview here)

Theology of the Body has not only generated a tremendous amount of interest but also a significant amount of resources. Two that I recommend are the Theology of the Body Institute and Ascension Press which offers an entire set of series on TOB specifically crafted for adults, women, men, teens (middle-school students), teens (high school students), young adults, college students and married couples.

So what am I getting at? The topic is contraception. I think that something interesting (dare I say profound, even “providential?”) is happening here. Six months ago, NO ONE would have guessed that the topic of contraception would be in the middle of the American media discussion much less - finally - at the center of the American consciousness. Naturally there are numerous opinions on many sides but once you get past the normal tawdry “gotcha journalism,” there is actually a rather fascinating discussion going on.

Example, I picked up on Jennifer Fulwiler’s article The Contraception Trap. What is interesting is that Jennifer was on a panel speaking on the topic with two other women. It got picked up by some pretty high powered media who, in my opinion, wove their own opinion into the content of what they wrote. For example, “Religion Writer” Michelle Boorstein from the Washington Post interviewed the three women (Ashley McGuire, Dr. Janet Smith and Jennifer Fulwiler) for her article, “Young Catholic women try to modernize the message on birth control.” About the same time, Cassie Murdoch of the general interest women’s web site, “Jezebel” commented on the article. In addition, Susan Heath of the New York Times chimed in.

Now, here’s where it get’s interesting. read the above posts AND THEN read Jennifer’s Fulwiler’s clarification about her comments here. You get a totally different nuance (dare I say, “spin”) about the article.

Here’s the good news, it’s actually being discussed. People will certainly have their knee-jerk emotional reaction to the issue. And we ALL know that the typical MASSIVELY uninformed twits will trot out the stereotypical twaddle about Roman Catholic sexuality, birth control, natural family planning and contraception. But I’m also seeing some soul-searching. I’m seeing men and women wrestling with this issue and trying to actually develop and apply some philosophical foundation to what they feel. To quote some white-robed guy in Rome named Benedict, they might be wrestling with and engaging not only “faith-AND-reason” but also “faith-IN-reason.”

For the most part, we priests have been absolutely silent on this issue for years. I also don’t think that priests are ready to start preaching about this topic “in-depth” from the podium. I don’t know if the congregations are ready and, practically and pastorally speaking, on any given Saturday/Sunday you still have to respect the fact that there are small children present at Mass. But at least NOW we can approach the subject indirectly by mentioning a whole host of related issues, personalities and topics that people are hearing anyway:

  • Kathleen Sebelius,
  • Sandra Fluke,
  • Rush Limbaugh,
  • The Obama Administration’s position on the subject,
  • The Health and Human Services mandate,
  • Cardinal Timothy Dolan,
  • The US Bishops counter-position.

I alluded to this in an earlier blog “Catholic Cat Fight between Sandra Fluke and Gloria Purvis.” I’m glad about what Jennifer (and Michelle and Cassie and Susan) have written. It’s a full-blown, out there in the open discussion. And we have a teaching moment now, a CATHOLIC moment. What a strange way for God to get some grace out there.

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