Should We Avoid Offending People Over Contraception?
A Personal Story
Years ago, I had the privilege of accompanying Human Life International’s founder, Father Paul Marx, on several of his parish weekends. His homilies usually covered the complete range of Church teaching on sexuality, from contraception to abortion to homosexuality. Several times after these Masses, I witnessed irate parishioners publicly berate him, telling him that he should preach on the Gospel and not “offend” them by talking about “such sensitive and personal issues.” Some said that his homily represented only “his opinions,” and that they did not represent the allegedly “Catholic values” of acceptance, inclusiveness and tolerance. “Jesus loves us just the way we are!” is a phrase we heard repeatedly. And, of course, many of these upset people quoted “Judge not, lest ye be judged!” at us.
Father Marx would patiently wait until an upset parishioner finished, and then calmly ask, “Why are you so angry about this particular topic?” He never received an answer, because the parishioner would always immediately turn and stalk quickly away. But, to be fair, if you live in an insulated cocoon and have never been exposed to a contrary opinion, it can be disorienting when it finally does happen.
Father Marx told me that he was never invited back to these parishes because he had “rocked the boat” so effectively. He also said that he had talked to many other long-time pro-life members of these parishes who had never heard any of the sexual issues mentioned from the pulpit (which was usually why these parishioners invited him in the first place). In fact, some of these people remarked that they thought that there was some kind of official Church prohibition on speaking about sexual topics during homilies.
Priests who care about the state of the souls of their parishioners often find it difficult to preach against the huge galaxy of sex-related mortal sins that include fornication, homosexual acts, adultery, contraception, sterilization, divorce, masturbation, the use of pornography, and divorce. There is no better way to anger and upset people than to preach on sins that they have a particular attachment to. Unfortunately, it is safe to say that these sexual sins account for the loss of more souls than any other type of sin. As Our Lady of Fatima said to Jacinta, “More souls go to Hell because of sins of the flesh than for any other reason.”
So the Devil is quite content to watch priests and lay people avoid these topics.
Not a Matter of Personal Opinion
Contrary to what was said by the people who scolded Father Marx so disrespectfully, condemnation of artificial means of birth control does not represent our personal values. They are the eternal values of Jesus Christ, of His Church, and of the Holy Bible. Because this is so, it our sacred duty to talk about these values.
Many priests, especially in the West, have decided not to “offend” people, and so they do not talk about such touchy subjects. Certainly if the priest avoids speaking about these things, the members of his congregation will feel much more comfortable — but is he doing his job? He must ask himself what obstacles he is placing in the way of the Devil, who wants nothing more than a silent Church.
It seems that many people would like to place restrictions on priests that they would never consider burdening professionals with ― even if these other professionals make them uncomfortable indeed. After all, would you instruct your physician to avoid informing you of anything unpleasant? How about your lawyer? Your auto mechanic or plumber? We have the curious tendency to face temporal realities bravely, but eternal ones with great timidity, if at all.
Many pro-lifers blame the problems in the Church on priests not preaching about sexual morality. Certainly this contributes substantially to current difficulties, but we laity must remember that we represent 99.9% of the Church, and one-on-one evangelization and education is almost always more effective than homilies before a “captive audience.”
It is usually not wise to bring up the subject of contraception with friends, co-workers and family if it is not already being discussed. It is better to wait for an opportunity. Perhaps I have had more chances than most to address the topic ― when a relative criticizes the Pope for his stance, condemns the Church for breaching the “wall of separation between Church and state” during the Obamacare debate and, in one case, having an allegedly “Catholic” relative obnoxiously wave her packet of birth control pills around in the middle of a family reunion and loudly announce, “It’s time for my daily vitamins.”
When a person angrily tells you not to “impose your values” on a particular subject, you have obviously struck a nerve. Perhaps you can offer to meet with the person to find out why he or she reacted in such a negative fashion. This often leads to healing and repentance.
Science or Theology
Fortunately, Catholics who “know their stuff” can approach the topic of contraception from either a theological or scientific point of view.
To begin with, we must acknowledge that discussions over contraception are going to be awkward and uncomfortable. But this has never been an excuse for avoiding a topic.
From a theological standpoint, we must first be convinced of the gravely sinful nature of the use of contraception. Then we should ask ourselves the question: Would I rather offend my friend or family member now and have a better chance of spending eternity with them in Heaven, or would I rather they stay comfortable now and suffer for all time?
As the Lord tells us:
If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand.
But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you will have saved your life [Ezekiel 3:18-19, RSV].
In other words, the very unpleasant reality for many Catholics is that one day we may hear Jesus say to us: “I sent you to save this person’s soul at exactly the right time, but you were embarrassed or afraid to talk to him. Because of this, not only is he suffering eternally, but you will now join him.”
Are there people so steeped in sin — e.g., abortionists tearing the arms and legs off unborn babies, or terrorists planting bombs in crowded malls, or hired killers murdering targeted individuals, or practitioners of sodomy, or facilitators of pornography or illegal drug sales, etc. — that they don’t even recognize the wickedness of what they are doing?
It would appear that way.
What is more wicked than abortion? And yet seven members of the U.S. Supreme Court found this wickedness to be a constitutional right. So obviously there are some people who need to be warned of their wickedness.
And when these purveyors of wickedness stand before God on Judgment Day, they will not be able to plead ignorance of the evil nature of what they did. For they should have known from the natural law that God places in the hearts of every person that their deeds were wicked. What St. Paul said about the Romans could easily be applied to persons today:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against every impiety and wickedness of those who suppress the truth by their wickedness. For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they have no excuse; for although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks.
Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened.
While claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of an image of mortal man or of birds or of four-legged animals or of snakes.
Therefore, God handed them over to impurity through the lusts of their hearts for the mutual degradation of their bodies. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
Therefore, God handed them over to degrading passions. Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another. Males did shameful things with males and thus received in their own persons the due penalty for their perversity. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God handed them over to their undiscerning mind to do what is improper.
They are filled with every form of wickedness, evil, greed, and malice; full of envy, murder, rivalry, treachery, and spite. They are gossips and scandalmongers and they hate God. They are insolent, haughty, boastful, ingenious in their wickedness, and rebellious toward their parents. They are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know the just decree of God that all who practice such things deserve death, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:18-32)
It is tragic that so many people, deliberately or otherwise, confuse the difference between judging the person and judging their souls. We should clearly understand that “the LORD sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” [1 Samuel 16:7, RSV]. So only God can judge the state of a person’s soul, but, as we have seen, it is our duty to oppose sin.
Since the God Who creates is the God Who reveals, the findings of science always support the theology of the Church regarding sexual issues. This means that we can also approach the question of contraceptive use by Catholics by using scientific evidence.
The most compelling evidence that artificial birth control is contrary to a healthy life is the “Highlights of Prescribing Information” pamphlet for the brand of birth control your friend is using. These can usually be found on-line in PDF format and can easily be printed out. These pamphlets are standardized and are produced by the actual manufacturer of the method of birth control, so there can be no accusations of “pro-life bias.” Paragraph 12.1, “Mechanism of Action,” shows that all methods of hormonal birth control, without exception, are abortifacient. Paragraphs 5 and 6, “Warning and Precautions” and “Adverse Reactions,” provide an impressively lengthy list of side effects, some of them quite severe.
If you cannot find it, I can e-mail you the pamphlet for whatever brand and method of birth control you need; just e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send it to you.
Also, it may sound strange, but the best way to heal a hurting or damaged marriage ― or to ensure that your marriage is durable ― is to avoid using contraception, or quit using it if you already are. This obliges husbands and wives to learn how to communicate with each other during the fertile times. My wife Kathy and I taught natural family planning for years, and we heard too many wives talk about how the only communication they had with their husbands was in the bedroom. As any wife (and many husbands) will tell you, communication is the lifeblood of a marriage. This is reflected in the hugely disparate divorce rate between contraceptive users at about 50% and NFP users at about 2 – 5%.
As we can see, both the temporal and eternal damage caused by the use of contraception far outweighs its benefits. For the good of those we know, for the good of both our Church and our society, and for our own good, we should all speak against it at every available opportunity.
NOTE: For a large selection of materials that assist priests in preaching fearlessly against abortion, contraception and related evils, visit the website of Priests for Life.
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Dr. Brian Clowes has been HLI’s director of research since 1995 and is one of the most accomplished and respected intellectuals in the international pro-life movement. Best known as author of the most exhaustive pro-life informational resource volume The Facts of Life, and for his Pro-Life Basic Training Course, Brian is the author of nine books and over 500 scholarly and popular articles, and has traveled to 70 countries on six continents as a pro-life speaker, educator and trainer.