Sunday, 26 August 2012

Catholics and Condoms

I came across an article by Mr Peter Laurie on the Barbados Newspaper web site "NATIONNEWS.COM". In his article Mr Laurie tells of the Catholic Church discussing the matter of contraceptives at the highest level in 1963:

In 1963, because of the popularity of the “pill”, John established a small commission to study birth control. After John’s death in 1963, his successor Paul VI vastly expanded the commission.

After three years of exhaustive examination and discussion, the commission in 1966 concluded by large majority – 30 of 35 lay members, 15 of 19 theologians, and nine of 15 bishops – that the ban on artificial contraception should be lifted and it should be left to married couples, inspired by Christian values, to determine what method of contraception to use. They argued that it was not each sexual act that had to be open to procreation but marriage in its entirety. They reasoned that the distinction between avoiding pregnancy in ways conforming to natural physiological processes and using an artificial intervention was not meaningful, since humans have always used medical technology to bring nature under their control.

The report was leaked to the Press and raised huge expectations among Catholics worldwide that the Vatican would lift the ban.

But a minority faction advised Paul that to support the commission would be admitting the Vatican had been in error: its authority would be irreparably undermined.

Paul heeded their advice, rejected the report, and in 1968 issued the encyclical Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life), reaffirming the traditional position.

Mr Laurie adds some stuff in there but basically tells the truth of what happened. From the website I came across an excerpt from "The Gift of Female Fertility: Church Teaching on Contraception" that tells about the begining of the movement for contraceptives:

Much of the theological debate surrounding contraception often takes place in a breathtaking vacuum of historical ignorance. While the story of explosive dissent over contraception has been told many times, it is usually framed in parochially Catholic terms: Pope John XXIII convened a commission to study birth control, and its advisory report to Pope Paul VI was leaked in 1967. The majority of the commission voted to change the Church’s teaching on contraception, making its case in the Majority Report, as well as in a rebuttal to the commission’s minority paper (the Majority Rebuttal). The Pope rejected the majority’s recommendations and issued Humanae Vitae (“On Human Life”) in 1968, which reaffirmed traditional teaching but unleashed a firestorm of protest and dissent.(9)

The larger historical context is missing from this account: why was there such a revolution in elite and public opinion about birth control, and what ignited it? The Catholic debate would not have been possible if it weren’t for the widespread reexamination of the morality of birth control that began to be debated in America in the 1920s.

In order to understand this history of contraception, necessary for a critical appraisal of the now-dominant contraceptive ideology, one must understand Margaret Sanger (1879~1966), the American birth-control pioneer. Sanger was a committed neo-Malthusian.

The neo-Malthusian movement followed the now-discredited population theories of Thomas Malthus (1766~1834). Malthus had erroneously argued that population growth would inevitably outpace food production. The “neo” part of the movement involved promoting population control not through sexual abstinence, for which Malthus had argued, but through contraception. Neo-Malthusians were also eugenicists.

Eugenics is the belief that some people (the “unfit”) are genetically inferior and should not perpetuate their “subpar” genes by having children. Opinion varies about who counts as “unfit”: for example, the Nazis insisted that Jews were unfit, while others (such as Sanger) never evinced anti-Semitism. But all eugenicists agree on three categories of “unfitness”: the poor, the physically disabled, and the mentally or intellectually disabled.

Neo-Malthusians tied together Malthus’s population control with eugenics. One of the neo-Malthusian eugenic slogans was “quality, not quantity”--that is, eugenic quality, not population quantity.

Sanger developed a worldview that I call the “ideology of control,” which promoted three types of control: birth control, population control, and eugenic control. All of these were put in service of Sanger’s other passion, an untrammeled pursuit of sexual pleasure. Sanger insisted that women would be liberated through a free-ranging sex life coincident with eugenically limited reproduction. She was not the only, or even the first, person to link these concerns, but she was the most important because she institutionalized them in her powerful organization. She founded America’s first birth-control clinic in 1916, the earliest incarnation of the organization now called the Planned Parenthood Federation of America

The same Pauline website notes that "Margaret Sanger and the dominant culture give one answer to the question of what is bad for us: female fertility. By contrast, the Church argues that it is not the female body that oppresses women and girls, but rather that deformed desire is at the heart of all sin--and thus all oppression."

"If deformed desire is bad for us, healed desire, put in the service of self-giving love, is good for us. How do we develop such love? Periodic abstinence involved in natural family planning heals desire in a way that contraception cannot. Desire is in itself not immoral; by nature, we are creatures who physically desire, because we have bodies with senses that detect what is pleasurable. But desire must be fully human: it has to be directed by our intelligence and freedom. Some training of sexual desire is necessary in order that it find its right place."

So there are opposing views, even in the Catholic church - forty years ago, and today.

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