Of the Church and contraception

The Catholic Church’s stance on contraceptive birth control is wrong and as a result is largely ignored by practicing Catholics.

There are two realistic methods to limit the size of families – now a matter of necessity not just for health concerns but also for family and economic stability: contraception and abortion. To suggest the two are the same is nonsense.

Contraception is a means to prevent conception. Abortion is the termination of a fetus. Since no one can say with absolute certainty when human life begins, the Church is correct in condemning that practice. The fetus – be it a person or a potential person (a life-in-waiting) – is entitled to the benefit of the doubt.

Family planning is now a fact of life for reasons that are self evident. By treating contraception and abortion alike, the church undermines its position on abortion. Is the act of preventing life the same as taking life? A huge majority of Catholics and, I daresay, most priests see the distinction. Most Catholics understand that having more children than you can nurture and support is wrong. That is why one rarely hears a sermon on responsible parenting as it relates to contraception. A married clergy would better understand this dilemma.

The bishops would lose the current argument if it was focused on the issue of contraception, so they have made it a freedom of religion issue. To maintain that sexual relations not “open” to procreation is somehow evil is misguided in two respects: (1) It makes family planning a game of Russian roulette, and (2) It suggests that sex for its own sake within a loving, spousal relationship is sinful.

I was born, bred, educated, and will die within the Catholic Church. For me, it best explains God’s relationship to man. The doctrine of original sin helps me understand human nature’s obvious flaws. The Church is not immune from these weaknesses, so evident in ourselves and our institutions.

The child sex abuse scandal is only the most recent example of human beings within the church at all levels failing to act responsibly. Even good and sincere persons are afflicted with human frailty. They can be wrong, and in the case of artificial contraception, I believe they are.

Faith is the affirmation of hope. It is the act of believing in things that cannot be proved – that are beyond our capacity to reason. On such matters, I submit to the authority and teachings of the Church. There are also issues, like contraception, that most view as capable of analysis. When a doctrine defies reason, and a majority of Catholics conscientiously believe it is misguided, the Church hierarchy should reassess its position. Unfortunately, that is something the Church has been reluctant to do for fear its authority would be undermined its authority. Fearing scandal, the hierarchy sometimes overlooks its own humanity. Perhaps there is a lesson to be drawn from Saint Peter’s denial of Christ three times before the crucifixion. Despite this manifest weakness, Christ made him the first pope.

Insurance coverage for contraceptive services is a thin reed upon which to base a religious freedom challenge but, given the uproar in an election year, the White House has come up with a compromise.

This “victory” should not be viewed as a validation of the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception. Sometimes it’s how you frame the issue, and not its substance, that determines the outcome.

James W. Dolan is a retired Dorchester District Court judge who now practices law.