Someday I’ll write a post about lies, damned lies, and statistics so you will know that the “98% of Catholic women use artificial birth control” you’ve seen bandied about as though it were gospel is a distorted statistic turned damned lie. I’ve already written one in which I touched on how it doesn’t matter if every self-identified Catholic on the planet uses birth control; the Church isn’t a democracy–it’s here to proclaim the truth, not to succumb to the culture.
However, it is sad but true that most Catholics ignore the Church’s teaching on this issue. And while I’m in no position to know the hearts of every contracepting Catholic out there, it doesn’t seem like there’s a whole lot of painful soul-searching and conscience-forming going on. And the failure of the majority of even weekly mass-goers to adhere to this teaching cannot be solely blamed on them. True, we are all products of a culture that puts things before people and gives us all kinds of messages about why small families are desirable and that artificial contraception is the way to achieve that. But our Church has a much more compelling message, full of truth and wisdom and beauty, and it’s not being heard. Why?
It’s not being HEARD, because it’s not being spoken. By the Vatican, yes. In the teachings, yes. By teachers and parents and priests, from whom the majority of Catholics receive their catechesis? Not so much.
Speaking for myself, I remember knowing, without knowing HOW I knew this, that the Church believed birth control was wrong. I also recall having the definite impression that this was some old-fashioned idea we were all free to ignore. Everyone used birth control, right? In high school we watched some squicky movie about Natural Family Planning but all that cervical mucus talk was a big turn-off. No one ever told me, NOT ONCE, why birth control was wrong.
What changed my mind? I took a Christian Marriage class in college. I read Humanae Vitae. I squirmed uncomfortably as I read it, realizing that it made a lot of sense, that a Church with 2,000 years of Tradition and brilliant theologians and the Holy Spirit to back it all up probably was more trustworthy than the current culture I’d been raised in. I could feel my conscience pricking me as I properly informed it. But it wasn’t all negative–not at all! The teaching was beautiful! The Church’s vision of marriage and family–we read Familiaris Consortio as well–was so elevated compared to the world’s! As I read, I was thinking, “Why did no one ever tell me this? Why doesn’t everyone know this?”
I was already engaged–to a Protestant (at that time) who did not want children right away and did not (then) buy into all these “new” ideas I was sharing. Fortunately, my Christan Marriage class also required that we read The Art of Natural Family Planning. I was ready to read it then and I was sold. I was able to convince my husband-to-be based on the science behind the method. Not that our path to conforming to this teaching was smooth and easy–following your conscience can be hard.
What’s wrong with this picture? I went to Catholic schools for 12 years. I attended Mass every Sunday and lots of other days besides. But I had to be a Senior in college taking a non-required class to hear this message.
My Catholic-school educated kids have heard a lot more. They’ve gotten an earful from me, of course, but they’ve also heard at least some of this in their religion classes in high school. I’m sorry to say though that if what they tell me is true, Catholic moral instruction should be starting a lot earlier. And what about kids who get one hour of CCD a week?
I’m sure they go over all this in Engaged Encounters, but let’s get real. Most of those couples are sexually active and contracepting already.
I have never, ever heard a priest address this from the pulpit. NEVER. I’ve heard there are some that do, but it’s rare. Why? For starters, a lot of them don’t buy into it themselves. Or they feel that as celibates they cannot speak to this with authority. My husband and I once went to discuss a disagreement we were having over family planning–not HOW but WHEN–with one of our priests. Almost the first words out of his mouth were, “You know you can follow your conscience in family planning matters.”
Finally, does anyone want to tell all the people at Mass that somewhere around 85% of the sexually active ones need to confess their contraceptive use and change their ways before they approach the altar for Communion? Of course they don’t.
But they need to. If the recent brouhaha over insurance coverage for contraceptives has shown us anything, it’s demonstrated that even Catholics who dissent from these teachings respect the Church for holding fast to them even in opposition to most of their faithful. Maybe, just maybe, if the Church would be as brave about proclaiming the teaching to its flock as it has been about defending it from the wider culture, more people might take it seriously!
I would never argue against the primacy of conscience. But if you haven’t prayerfully studied Humane Vitae, the Catechism, and other Church teachings on these issues, your dissent is based on ignorance, not conscience. If you would never, ever eat meat on Friday during Lent, but you swallow a birth control pill every day without thinking twice about it, maybe you should.