Catholics, Contraception & The Heretical 98%

By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

Last Sunday, most U.S. Catholics heard a letter read from the pulpit imploring them to oppose the Obamacare provision requiring most healthcare plans to cover contraceptive services for women. The reason given was that Catholic hospitals and universities would have to “shutter their doors”  in order to avoid heresy and be true to the faith. As part of the concerted effort, the chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Religious Liberty announced that the Obama administration’s requirement goes against “the mandate of Jesus Christ.”  Even though the earthly mandate contains an exemption for purely religious organizations, the all-male U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is clearly on the offensive in this politically charged debate about women, privacy, and the right of families to decide for themselves the number of children they can support.

Since the 1930s, most denominations have left the issue of contraception up to the conscience of the parishioners. The Catholic Church has stood virtually alone since 1951 by requiring its adherents to use only the “rhythm method” as a means to prevent pregnancy.  All other forms of contraception were deemed an interference in God’s Plan and hence heretical.  In the early 1960s with the reforms of Vatican II in full swing, the Pope appointed a 90 person committee to evaluate the Church’s position on contraception. 75 of the 90 recommended the Church allow contraception by means other than the rhythm method.

Disregarding the recommendation, Pope Paul VI issued his famous encyclical, Humanae Vitae, which reaffirmed the Church’s solitary position. The Pope reasoned that, “The Church, nevertheless, in urging men to the observance of the precepts of the natural law, which it interprets by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life.”  The Pope then waxed philosophic about the danger of government mandated contraception akin to that seen in China:

Careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone.

That textual cudgel has now been taken up against Obamacare.  Catholic apologists like Jennifer Brinker in the St. Louis Review have argued that the Pope was right and the government is now in the business of  pushing contraception for political reasons. Brinker even argues ironically that the mandate is a “dissolution of freedom.” Brinker reminds Catholics that disapproved contraception is a “sin” and that most Catholics don’t understand the reason for the ban.

What do Catholic women think about the Church’s unyielding stand on artificial birth control? In April of  last year, Reuters reported that a Guttmacher Institute poll showed that 98% of sexually active U.S. Catholic women used contraception methods outside of the Church’s teachings.  The numbers held up for women who regularly attended Catholic services as well as those who didn’t. In fact, the findings showed American Catholic women were just as likely to use artificial contraception as those in other denominations.

“In real-life America, contraceptive use and strong religious beliefs are highly compatible,” said the report’s lead author Rachel Jones.  Catholics overwhelmingly rely on the most common methods of birth control. Nearly 70 percent of Catholic women use sterilization, the birth control pill or an IUD, according to the Guttmacher Institute research.

What then are we to make of the schism between Church’s dogma and the reality of its followers?  Are 98% of the Church’s women sinners and heretics? Can a religion be viable if one of its fundamental tenets is  ignored on a daily basis by almost all of its “faithful”?  Can a male dominated authority maintain credibility in the modern world when it dictates to women on issues that are overwhelmingly that gender’s concern?

These questions do not seem to be troubling Church fathers.  In fact, they appear to be looking for a testosterone fueled showdown. As one recently said, “We cannot — we will not — comply with this unjust law.” They may do well to look over their shoulders as they climb up that political hill, theological banners flying. A cursory view of their ranks will likely find few honest Americans and almost no honest women.

Source: CNN

~Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

178 thoughts on “Catholics, Contraception & The Heretical 98%

  1. “The rest of us have a battle to fight.” -Swarthmore mom

    Yep… a mighty battle, Swarthmore mom. I hope that we’re up to it… I have to believe that we are…

  2. Catholic bishops group denounces contraception compromise
    http://www.cnn.com/2012/02/11/politics/contraception-controversy/?hpt=hp_t2

    Excerpt:
    The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops denounced President Barack Obama’s compromise over whether to require religiously affiliated institutions to provide contraception to female employees, saying the proposal raises “serious moral concerns,” according to a statement posted on its website late Friday.

    “Today’s proposal continues to involve needless government intrusion in the internal governance of religious institutions, and to threaten government coercion of religious people and groups to violate their most deploy held convictions,” the statement said.

    Under the new plan announced by Obama Friday, religiously affiliated universities and hospitals will not be forced to offer contraception coverage to their employees. Insurers will be required, however, to offer complete coverage free of charge to any women who work at such institutions. Women who work at churches, though, will have no guarantee of such contraception coverage — a continuation of current law.

    News of the compromise came after days of escalating partisan and ideological rhetoric over the divisive issue. The White House originally wanted to require hospitals and schools with religious ties to offer full contraception coverage. Many Catholic leaders and other religious groups strongly oppose any requirement for contraception coverage on theological grounds.

    The question of whether institutions with religious ties should be required to offer insurance plans covering birth control and the so-called morning after pill, among other things, hits a number of political hot buttons. Liberal groups have pushed for an expansive contraception coverage requirement on grounds of gender equality in health care. Conservatives generally consider it a violation of the First Amendment and an infringement on religious liberty.

    The statement released by the Catholic Bishops conference said the proposal requires “careful moral analysis,” saying it did not appear to offer clear protection for self-insured religious employers or religious and secular for-profit and non-profit employers.

    It came hours after the president briefed New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, head of the Catholic Bishops conference. Dolan later released a statement declaring “while there may be openness to respond to some of our concerns, we reserve judgment on the details until we have them.”

    But ‘today’s decision … is a first step in the right direction,” he said.

    Under the proposal, there will be a one-year transition period for religious organizations after the policy formally takes effect on August 1.

    “No woman’s health should depend on who she is or where she works or how much money she makes.” Obama said at the White House. But “the principle of religious liberty” is also at stake. “As a citizen and as a Christian, I cherish this right.”

    The president also discussed the decision with Sister Carol Keehan of the Catholic Health Association and Cecile Richards, head of Planned Parenthood.

  3. Bishops call Obama’s contraception compromise ‘unacceptable’
    http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0212/72751.html

    Excerpt:
    Hours after calling the Obama administration’s contraceptives compromise a “first step,” the Catholic bishops said Friday night they have “two serious objections” to the new policy and will fight its enactment.

    First, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the administration’s plan still includes a “nationwide mandate of insurance coverage of sterilization and contraception, including some abortifacients.”

    “This is both unsupported in the law and remains a grave moral concern,” the bishops said in their statement. “We cannot fail to reiterate this, even as so many would focus exclusively on the question of religious liberty.

    And while Obama’s new plan allows religious-affiliated employers to refrain from paying for contraceptive coverage — insurers would be obligated to provide the coverage for free — the bishops said the change doesn’t go far enough.

    “It would still mandate that all insurers must include coverage for the objectionable services in all the policies they would write,” the bishops said. “At this point, it would appear that self-insuring religious employers, and religious insurance companies, are not exempt from this mandate.”

  4. Mike S.,

    It would certainly be an interesting twist, wouldn’t it? Strange times, so who know what could happen…

  5. A few posts back I said, “I am of the opinion Obama completely outsmarted the Repubnuts on the debt crisis…. now think about this: the contraception issue will probably help Santorum especially now during CPAC… helping Santorum keeps the Republican primary war going and makes life tough for Romney…..

    Think of the political brilliance of Obama’s move in effectively helping Santorum which ultimately is great for Obama….. The guy is really a master political strategist.”

    Seems I was not alone in this view. Andrew Sullivan wrote a piece that included:

    “The more Machiavellian observer might even suspect this is actually an improved bait and switch by Obama to more firmly identify the religious right with opposition to contraception, its weakest issue by far, and to shore up support among independent women and his more liberal base. I’ve found by observing this president closely for years that what often seem like short-term tactical blunders turn out in the long run to be strategically shrewd. And if this was a trap, the religious right walked right into it.”

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/02/12/andrew-sullivan-how-obama-set-a-contraception-trap-for-the-right.html

    Reminder, in the real world, prescribing birth control pills is a standard treatment for woman who have ovarian cysts, endometriosis, and many other non birth control related conditions.

    The church and the Republican/Tparty call Obama’s policy a “war against religion”. I call the church and the Republican/Tparty a war against womant and the rights of everyone.”

  6. I am a Catholic female who was on the pill at one time, yet I strongly agree with Church’s stance on the pill. Am I a heretic? I don’t think so… I was put on the pill in high school because I did not have my period for almost two years. Once my periods were regular and steady, I went off of it. The doctor suggested this, and this is what I did. But even if I had taken the pill as a method of birth control, and then decided later on to research the stance of the Church and discovered the truth in these teachings, I would still be in the “98%”, but my current beliefs would be no more heretical.

    Yes, there are many Catholics who are currently on the pill, and you may like to throw that number at me. However, the truth is the truth no matter how many people fail to confront it. The truth that the pill hurts women, men, families, and our society is real whether or not you want to see it, and citizens of this country should be allowed to practice their religion freely even if it is not the religion of the majority.

    I know that you are upset, and I know why… opposing the pill does not make any sense at first glance. However, I challenge you to read Humanae Vitae (that you reference) and the Theology of the Body by Blessed JPII, You may be suprised to find your heart softened by truth that will actually liberate you and show you the key to sexual freedom that is truly freeing.

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