The head of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, Archbishop Paul Coakley, recently reaffirmed the Catholic Church’s teaching against contraception, explaining why “it is sinful,” and how it has contributed to moral decline, abetting adultery, divorce, abortion, pornography, so-called gay marriage, and disrespect for women.
Archbishop Coakley’s remarks, in his March 28 column in the diocesan newspaper Sooner Catholic, come in the 50th year since Pope Paul VI wrote his controversial encyclical Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life), which defends the Church’s teaching against contraception. (The encyclical was published on July 25, 1968.
Although many Catholics do not obey the Church’s prohibition against contraception, the Church does not have the authority to change the teaching, although some bishops and a new commission at the Vatican reportedly are pushing to change it “in practice,” in its “pastoral” application.
Pope Francis, when asked in 2014 if the teaching on contraception could be changed, said, “It all depends on how the text of Humanae Vitae is interpreted. Paul VI himself, toward the end, recommended that confessors show great kindness and attention to specific situations.” He added that it is not a question of “changing doctrine, but to go into the depths, and ensuring that pastoral [efforts] take into account people’s situations, and that, which it is possible for people to do.”
That language, “people’s situations” and what “is possible for people,” is nearly identical to what the Pope and certain bishops have said in justifying allowing people in adultery — the divorced and civilly remarried — to receive Holy Communion at Mass. The actual teaching does not change, but in its practical application, its pastoral approach, the teaching in effect does change.
Archbishop Coakley’s column makes it clear that Humanae Vitae cannot change despite the efforts of the secular world and liberal Catholics. Humanae Vitaeteaches “that something as sacred as the transmission of human life cannot be cut loose from its moorings without grave consequences to individuals, marriages and families, and to society as a whole,” said the archbishop. “The transmission of life and dignity of married love are integrally entwined. Both are sacred.”
“The moorings that ensure respect for the dignity of human sexual love are rooted in God’s plan for marriage,” he said. “The conjugal act (sexual love between spouses) has a meaning that comes from the Creator. As a sign and expression of the covenant between spouses, every conjugal act ought to be both unitive (an act of mutual self-giving love) and procreative (open to the transmission of life).”
“To engage in sexual activity outside of marriage or for selfish purposes or while interfering with its natural fruitfulness by contraception,” said the archbishop, “is a rejection of God’s intended meaning and purpose. It is sinful.”
The “secular mentality” rejects that view, said Archbishop Coakley, because if falsely believes that “human beings, rather than God, are the measure of all things…. This worldview values results over reason.”
The archbishop then detailed some of the dire social consequences, predicted by Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae, of using contraception and ignoring God’s plan for sex.
“Separating sex from babies has disastrous and far-reaching consequences,” said Archbishop Coakley. “A contraceptive mentality would lead inevitably, he [Paul VI] said, ‘toward conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality.'”
“It would be disastrous for marriage and families,” said the archbishop, leading to loss of respect for women, ‘to the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his (man’s) respected and beloved companion.'”
“Certainly, many family problems and social ills are linked to this widespread contraceptive mentality that separates sexual love from its proper context in the divine plan for marriage,” said Archbishop Coakley. “The recent judicial redefinition of marriage is a clear result of this separation.”
He continued, “A refusal to accept God’s plan in creating us male and female with a natural complementarity between the sexes has led to gender confusion on a massive scale. It has led to plummeting populations and a ‘demographic winter’ in many countries.
“Skyrocketing divorce, widespread tolerance for extramarital and homosexual activity, abortion and a host of other problems follow in its wake.” he said. “The loss of respect for God’s plan for marriage erodes respect for the dignity of human sexuality and the sacredness of life.”
There are more disastrous effects.
The use of contraception “has contributed to the explosion of pornography as a multi-billion-dollar industry and society’s slide toward embracing euthanasia, embryonic stem cell experimentation and even human cloning,” said the archbishop. “Instead of reverencing one another, we use one another as instruments for our own selfish purposes and enjoyment.”
“The Church cannot change its teaching on the immorality of artificial contraception, however unpopular and admittedly difficult it can be to embrace and live,” he said. “The Church does not create the moral law, but is only its guardian and interpreter.”
“Ultimately, contraception is morally unacceptable because it is contrary to the true good of both the human person and marriage,” said the archbishop.
The late Pope St. John Paul II (1920-2005) strongly defended the teaching in Humanae Vitae on multiple occasions, perhaps most forcibly in his 1981 letter Familiaris Consortio (On the Christian Family in the Modern World).