I’ve expressed my opposition to the Vatican's position on birth control before – one example: (https://www.paulluverajournalonline.com/weblog/2009/03/pope-benedict-condoms-and-hivaids.html) What brings it up again is the fact that when I was at Mass this morning at the Gig Harbor St Nicholas Catholic church a young mother gave a talk before it started. She spoke in favor of "natural" rhythm birth control and insisted other means such as condoms was "a serious sin." She said it was a serious sin because the Church said so and what the Church says must be obeyed. That was followed by the Deacon giving a homily making the same assertions. I know the young mother was sincere and the Deacon following his training, but I thought this is what is meant by "blind" faith. All I could think about was the Jim Jones cult and 900 people drinking cyanide Kool Aid because Jones said to drink it. At seventy five years of age the issue isn't a cutting edge one for me personally, but as a thinking member of the Catholic church it sure troubles me.
I don’t want try to go into this theological issue in depth again, but the Church position is based upon Pope Paul VI encyclical letter Humane Vitae issued in 1968. Essentially it is the Church’s position that sexual pleasure within marriage becomes sinful when it excludes what the Church says is the basic purpose of sex – procreation of babies. I think that is entirely too narrow and restrictive a view of sex within marriage as do others, but the historical background is that the issue really is about power and not about sex.
Gary Wills, an adjunct professor of History at Northwestern University, a Catholic and Church historian has written about the history of this position in his book Papal Sin. He demonstrates that Paul’s decision to issue the letter was more about exerting papal authority then it was about birth control. Paul wanted to reserve to the Pope the single authority to decide the issue rather then let the bishops of Vatican II decide. He points out that before issuing the letter, the Pope he had created the Pontifical Commission on birth control which was charged with studying the issue of condoms and birth control. But he also insisted on total secrecy about the Commission and what they were discussing. After Paul issued the encyclical letter, Wills says that it turned out the vote of the theologians who presented their findings to the bishops on the Commission was fifteen to four against the idea that contraception as intrinsically evil. The vote of the larger group was thirty to five against the idea.
That’s when Paul out of the blue issued his encyclical, circumventing Vatican II and declared the entire proceedings of the Commission in disagreement a secret. Catholics responded with an unparalleled refusal to accept the teaching, especially in America. The great majority of Catholic theologians disagreed with the Pope’s letter as well, but then the Vatican prohibited any further theological debate. Those facts lead many Catholic theologians to believe the letter and the attempted exertion of authority is simply wrong as a moral ban. What I do know that the Pope’s letter has resulted in painful applications such as teaching birth control to teenagers as a means of preventing teenage pregnancies is wrong. It has resulted in a Vatican ban against the use of condoms to prevent AIDS in Africa and other countries where the disease has inflicted such suffering and harm. It has caused controversy among the married and theologians. It has resulted in Catholics either ignoring the attempted prohibition or simply leaving the Church. I would like to know why the Vatican prohibits theological debate on a ban that has caused so much harm.