Contraception and Celibacy

What has contraception to do with celibacy? The quick witted might observe that celibacy is the most effective contraception. It’s also a sure fire way to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

However, that’s not the point of the headline. Instead I’ve been thinking about the way artificial contraception has radically changed the whole  idea not only of sex, but of celibacy, and especially the celibate priesthood.

Artificial contraception has changed celibacy because it has separated sexual activity from procreation, and once it separated sexual activity from procreation it followed that sexual activity might as well also be separated from marriage, for marriage is not only for the support and love of the spouses, but also for the security and well being of children. If sex isn’t about children, then it’s not necessarily about marriage either.

Artificial contraception has made sex into recreation rather than pro creation, and marriage has therefore changed it’s meaning. Marriage is intended to be a sacrament of self sacrifice. Now for the majority of Americans it is a sacrament of self gratification. Consequently, celibacy has also lost its meaning. Celibacy only has meaning when you understand marriage. Marriage is a life long commitment within which two people grow into the maturity of love and (ideally) do so within the natural dynamic of a large and loving family. Celibacy reflects that love when the celibate person sacrifices marital love and family love to make their own life long commitment to the greater love of God and others.

The husband and wife love one another and their children completely and fully for life. The celibate loves God and the human family of his parish and church as fully and completely as he can for life. Contraception, however, reduces the fullness of marriage and family life to unlimited sexual gratification and thus pulls the meaning out from under marriage and not only pulls the meaning and purpose out of marriage but also pulls the meaning and purpose out of celibacy.

Because artificial contraception turns marriage into little more than sex it therefore turns celibacy into little more than “not having sex.”

Both celibacy and marriage, however, are far richer and deeper and move beautiful than “just sex” or “not having sex”

Artificial contraception has not only de-graded marriage, but it has completely altered the popular conception of marriage. This, as a result, has changed totally the conception of the celibate priesthood.

Let me explain with a practical example. Before artificial contraception, marriage was a sacrament of self sacrifice. For the vast majority of men and women, marriage meant a large family, long hours of hard work to support that family and a difficult, but rewarding life of sacrifice, work, trials, tribulations, joys and sorrows. To be a celibate priest was also a rewarding life of self sacrifice but by a different path.

Think for a moment of the choice a young man would have had in a Catholic community in a place like Philadelphia in the 1940s. Read More


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  • Lynda

    True, true, true ….. and true.

  • AndrewWS

    “The poor guy who wants to be a priest is likely to face a life living alone in a big rectory, being suspected of being a pedophile and working long hours for little reward or recognition.” The answer to that, surely, is to take on poverty and obedience as well and join a community. (Oratorians, of course, don’t have to be poor, just live in common, so that makes them a very attractive option.)

  • Julie Culshaw

    Excellent article.

  • Denise

    great insightful article. Artificial contraception hurts everyone . However I would caution you that the life of a double income 2 kid family is not easy with no free time, hectic, debt filled life. I currently have only 2 girls (under 3 yrs of age) and I can assure you my life is full of self sacrifice, hard work, and no extra income for self indulgence (but we are eternally happy with our family and obedience to faith). My amazing priest friends do have lots of spare money and free time for recreation/travel as compared to the majority of families (and we are happy for them, as they serve the church well)

  • Paul Rodden

    Ockham again…

  • Paul Rodden

    …and you’re spot on, to my mind.

  • Michael

    But with NFP one can get all the advantageous of contraception with no side effects. One can still be technically open to having children but if you only have sex during infertile periods no children will be forthcoming. Doesn’t promoting natural contraception mentality encourage the same mentality as artificial contraception? As far as I know NFP, or the Catholic Church, does not set a minimum family size so one can still practice NFP and have just “two or three children” and live the hedonistic life you describe. Both situations can be used for good intentions or for bad. I can’t think of any other moral issue where the specifics of the action are more important than the intention. Surely it’s the intention that matters rather than merely the physical aspect of the act, especially in areas that involve families and children.

  • Alberto

    I think that we should talk about responsible procreation stead of contraception. The important thing is the freedom to have children that means and implies responsibility. Besides the birth control possibilities we have now, there are also DNA tests that let us know who is the responsible person almost every time.
    I think that marriage is far more than sex and is not sacrifice. I am sure that the man of today, 2013, doesn’t have the welfare of the 1960’s. The action of marriage should be the contract (hopefully until dead) to live in couple even without sex or children, not to mention without money. To bind marriage to sex or to procreation is not an idea as of 1940 but as of 1492. Any form of marriage (I mean not just the sacrament) is very important for the whole society because it determines our behavior, our “been” with the others.
    The Celibacy, which is not an exclusive catholic thing, is a very important discipline and has its own causes that should be analyze independent of marriage.

  • Jen

    There are two different categories of priestly vocation: the diocesan priesthood and the religious priesthood. They are not the same thing. Personally, I agree that living in community would make many things easier since you have the support of others living the same life and holding each person accountable to his responsibilities. If everyone joins a community/religious order, who will care for the parishes?

  • mike cliffson

    Another thing is wifeliness –

    No, not coming from sharia, nor the postrefermation doormatting of women; to some degree certainly from a male point of view ,( anyone married , ask your wife); cutting many long stories short, I had always understood, and have heard reinforced, that just as nuns marry Christ, clergy, as alter christi, marry the church, christ’s body
    then the job of the church, typically the local parish community, is to look after its priest(s) like a good christain wife , a the wife in proverbs, ensuring he’s decntly turned out at the gate etc.

    I do remember a private visit from a by then Archbish, who gave me a right b++++++++g(aka piece of his mind) about the tatty state state of our priest , etc.,along these very lines of christian wifeliness . He considered my protest “but he won’t let us help” feeble and insufficient.

    Well what wifes are there about to be a role model for a parish to thus lookafter its celibate priest?

  • mike cliffson

    michael :
    Having met NFP + contraceptive mentality within the catholic church , Id agree that far, but that does NOT mean that artificial contraception is thereby put on a par – it remains intrinsically evil.Check out humnae Vitae, its free online , and keep going.Internet’s agreat resource.
    Either way, most of western christendom will be moslem in a generation, marseilles and plenty of local areas already are.

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  • James

    Put another way, once a young man would look at a typical large Catholic family with the tired father working hard to take care of an ever expanding brood and say: “Hey, the priesthood seems like a pretty good option.”

    Or a young woman would look at a worn out mother, with one in the oven, another at the breast, and several around her feet and think: “Life in a convent would be pretty good.”

    You, as both a Father and a father, get to do both. Which is far harder than people realize.

  • James

    And what about those infertile couples! They sure have it easy, don’t they? #snark

    Let’s just say that most of the people who talk about how easy it is to use NFP and insist that it’s practically Catholic contraception are those who have never used it.

    There is a lot of room between “Trying to Achieve” and strictly “Trying to Avoid”. It’s not an either/or thing, but a sliding scale. Following all the rules isn’t easy, meaning that if you don’t have serious reasons to abstain, you won’t be abstaining very seriously. Which is being open to life.

    Infertility issues make the matter even more complicated. Is “letting nature take its course” when nature isn’t interested avoiding pregnancy?

  • Paul Rodden

    I couldn’t ever be truly satisfied with a fake Rolex, however real it looks, and however many others are fooled, because I would know the truth about reality.

    Likewise, I like your play on ‘sacrament’: ‘Marriage has therefore become not a sacrament of self sacrifice, but a sacrament of self gratification’. In other words, ceased to be a sacrament altogether, yet to all outward appearance, apart from the person who knows, it looks just the same, and that’s what seems to count these days: how it appears to the senses, not what it is.

    Dare I say, hypothetically, that even if the hierarchy or some priests in a country were to change their ‘stance’ on ‘homosexual marriage’ (under duress to avoid persecution by government, say) and allowed ‘it’, the one thing they – the ‘couple’ nor the bishops – will ever be able to change – however many Catholic bells and whistles they had, even to the point of having a Nuptial Mass in the Extraordinary Form – it’ll always just feel like owning a fake Rolex.

    Natural Law will always trump Naturalism, however much we go into denial, as if changing our beliefs about reality changes reality. A practicing homosexual, religious or not, will never be able to remove that ‘nagging feeling’ they think everyone around them is making them feel.
    In the same way, those in self-gratifying marriages feel that ‘nagging feeling’ and think it’s their spouse’s fault so they better find a new one to stop that feeling when it’s the aboriginal vicar of Christ speaking to them.

    You simply can’t have your cake and eat it in the real world, and God speaks pretty loudly, I think.

  • Denise

    this is refreshingly true! great NFP clarification.

  • Ed Peters

    Filled with good thoughts. Thanks, Pater.

  • Michael

    I have read Humanae Vitae many times in the past. But that is my point. An action is marked as intrinsically evil. I can’t think of any other action in Catholic moral theology that, separate from intent, is intrinsically evil.

  • Michael

    I never thought it was easy to use NFP or for that matter some artificial systems. But in either case it’s the intent that should be the deciding factor.

  • Michael

    From an evolutionary perspective natural contraception is anything but. Humans, unlike other great apes, have evolved to having a hidden female estrus cycle. As a consequence early humans, didn’t know when the woman was fertile or non-fertile and therefore males were encouraged to stay and bond with their mates independent of the period of the month. Now we are seeking to change that. Personally I have no problem with that process but it should give one pause if one seeks to determine moral laws from the natural world.

  • Michael Petek

    Contraception is also idolatrous because, by it, man takes into his own hands the power to decide on the question of whether a new human being shall be created, or not. It is the highest form of worship which Man can give himself as his own false god.

  • Mary Rose

    Also, do not forget that our society does not value marriage, which is seen as just another lifestyle option and not one that is necessarily any better than other sexual relationships (thanks, again, to contraception). Therefore, if marriage is not held in high esteem, the renunciation of marriage for the sake of the Kingdom of God will not be held in esteem either. At its root, the crisis in priestly vocations is caused by 1) a decline in faith among Catholics, and 2) a marriage crisis among Catholics, who are divorcing, fornicating, and contracepting at the same rate of non Catholics.

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  • Uomo Senzanome

    There are parishes staffed by religious orders: Franciscan parishes, Dominican parishes, even Jesuit parishes. If diocesan priests want to have community in the rectory, it is up to them; they could choose to invite retired priests or students to live with them, or members of the parish who have lost their home and wish to live in a religious household although not entering holy orders.

  • Tyler

    Michael, I agree with you that NFP can be misused. However, I hate to point out the obvious, but all contraception is marked with intention. In other words, the “intention to contracept” is latent in the products of contraception. Contraception products are not intrinsically evil because of what they are (they are just material items), rather contraception products are intrinsically evil because of their *intended* use.

  • wineinthewater

    I think the Church’s position on NFP is often misunderstood. It is not just Catholic contraception.

    There are two things at issue: intent and means. As a means, contraception is always evil, even when the intent aligns with Catholic teaching. But intent is another matter. Even the couple that uses NFP could be sinning depending on their intent. If a couple uses NFP in order to live a materialistic or hedonistic lifestyle, then they are sinning just as surely as the contracepting couple is.

    But it goes further than that. NFP, as a means, requires sacrifice. In order for it to work, the couple must embrace one of the elements of a true marriage: the sacrifice of self to the other. NFP reinforces the qualities of true marriage. Contraception does not require direct sacrifice. (The sacrifice is limited usually to the effort and health of the woman.) And by rendering every opportunity for sex infertile, it breaks the psychological connection between sex and children.

  • CS

    Thank you very much Father.

  • wineinthewater

    Other intrinsic evils in Catholic morality:
    -murder (not just killing)
    -war of “aggression”

    This list is not exhaustive.

  • Emily

    Murder of an innocent person. Fornication. Rape. Adultery. Sodomy. Cloning. Artificial reproduction.
    These actions are all intrinsically evil.

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  • Michael

    If contraception is idolatrous then natural contraception (or NFP) is idolatrous. IF you say “man [and I also assume you mean woman] takes into his own hands the power to decide on the question of whether a new human being shall be created” then that is intention, not action.

  • Matt

    Good article, Fr. Dwight, but I do take one small issue with it… not even the person engaged in the double-income two-children version of marriage will be able to escape its self-sacrificial aspect. Anyone in marriage who does not choose to give him or herself in loving self-sacrifice to his/her spouse and children will consign him-or-herself to a life of misery (and likely divorce), because, like it or not, when you’re in a family, you don’t always get to do what you want, and you can either embrace that or spend your life fighting it (and losing).

  • Paul Rodden

    Hi, Michael.

    I agree. To determine moral laws from the natural world is to apply one’s own subjective interpetation to what one is seeing, so I think it’s very risky. But, I do believe that human nature itself speaks. In other words, not something determined from, but determined by.

    In fact, I’d bet $100 that if government successfully removed every vestige of homophobia in a society, and even promoted it positively in Sex Ed classes, the homosexual still wouldn’t ‘feel right’ – and the same would go for the married man committing adultery, the unmarried couple living together who claim not to worry about ‘the piece of paper’, and even the celibate breaking his vow…

  • mike cliffson


    The west , for the last two millenia mostly within the Catholic church , incorporporating that greek thought that is behind modern science , has been going from HOW we are to the natural law implied, and quite impressively.
    One quarrel that many other scientists, including some atheists, have with orthodox darwinists is that their evolutionary arguments are circular,as regards past causes, rather than evidence based.
    Nowadays ,men are statistically better than womenat spatial memory- it looks innate more than learned, but I doubt this has been conclusively proved, (and eg proper British rather than associative (USA) uses of English pronouns).
    Add the fact that we can look at modern hunter gatherer tribes, we have archeological evidence of hunter-gatherer lifestyles of preagricultural/ pastoral peoples , add darwinian principles, and we say the human race evolved to better-more fitly for the immediate purpose at hand, noshing- survive by specializing sexual roles, the chaps hunted, the ladies stayed home wi’ kids and multitasked – all very reasonable.
    But what’s the evidence ? HOW WE ARE. The rest is a just-so story, with openly stated assumptions and a hidden agenda.
    Like what you quote above.
    Even without the help God gives his church , I think western tradition arguing from HOW WE ARE has the darwinists beat hollow, for reasons FR has easily 30 posts on, better said and more eruditely than I can. look up older posts.
    If you coherently want to be darwinian , survial of your genes being the only good, which is a purely rhetorical suggestion, and God forbid you should, be a Genghis khan – quite a high percentage of the human race have his genes, the obvious way, at that. If this is not the only good you recognize, whence come your ethics and morality?

  • mike cliffson

    Fr: Is 30 relevant posts on the high side? Quite a number, certainly.

  • Lisa

    Excellent article Father. Thank you. On the other side of it you have married couples with large families who are scorned at in public. Also, please don’t be so quick to remark about people only having two, maybe three kids. I am expecting my fifth, but most people think I only have two kids. Two I lost during pregnancy. I know you meant no malice, but mothers grieve those losses their whole lives. Please, pray that is baby is healthy!

  • Paul Rodden

    Michael, you ask, ‘Doesn’t promoting natural contraception mentality encourage the same mentality as artificial contraception?’. I don’t think so. I’d suggest that is to put the cart before the horse, as many discussions do in relation to Catholicism.

    Before we were married, my wife and I were told that we wouldn’t be able to have children. Was this an opportunity to say, ‘Way-hay!!!!’ and go at it like rabbits, knowing there weren’t any consequences? Not for us. To be Catholic isn’t to be hide-bound by rules and legal structures, but charity, dignity, mutual respect, and as Father points out, not self-donation.

    Neither of us were in it for the child and guilt-free sex we could have had, but to have the best unitive experience we could have, which is far more than the conjugal act.

    The biggest surprise was for her to get pregnant 12 years into our marriage! We have always seen our boy as a special gift.

    What you’re describing is someone who starts off with a contraceptive mentality and then sees themselves restricted, or puzzles over how they can get round the rules – which is to get the Catholic ‘thing’ backwards.

  • Angel

    NFP usage is for spacing and serious issues. NFP is not the same as Birth Control (Contraception). Here’s an analogy: You have an old rich uncle who is going to die soon and you know he will leave you tons of money so what should you do to get the money?:
    A) Get a gun and kill him so you can get the money ASAP (CONTRACEPTION)
    B) Wait it out until he die naturally (NFP).
    So Michael what would be the moral thing to do?
    Abstain or Contracept?
    God is truly saying- “Why don’t you go along with the system that I have set up in your body. It’s a bit of a sacrifice (to wait), but I did my own sacrifice.”
    Here is God saying: “Don’t separate sex from marriage, don’t separate a husband from his wife (divorce),don’t separate a child from his/her mom (abortion), don’t separate a child’s brain from his skull during abortion, don’t separate an egg from the sperm (contraception). Do you see where I’m going with this? Everything is interconnected! You separate one thing and the whole thing falls apart! Welcome to the fallen human race!
    NFP is use so the woman can tell if she is in her fertile period or not (nothing is contracepted!)
    And look at the mess that we’re in now. Contraception is an enabler to fornication and adultery. And when the contraception fail then abortion is the next form of contraception.

  • Br. Tom Forde OFM Cap

    This is a fine article and you’re right, the vocation of the priest is linked to the vocation of marriage. Celibacy is a witness to the Kingdom because it is the giving up of a good, albeit a life of sacrifice, in view of a greater good, a life of sacrifice for the sake of the Kingdom. Indeed not just celibacy but vowed chastity makes the one who embraces it into a ‘spiritual parent’. The priest, diocesan or religious, is a spiritual father to those he serves.

    Contraception and the contraceptive mentality have other effects though. They enshrine in society and in the family the idea of children as a product that is planned not a gift that is embraced. Humans become things not persons. When the vocation of marriage becomes a contract not a covenant, when it is about ‘what you do for me and I do for you’ rather than ‘how can I serve you better’ then the environment that nurtures vocations is undermined and eventually collapses. It is no accident that the traditional Catholic home produced so many vocations.

    In addition widespread use of contraceptives, coupled with other factors, leads to a decline in fertility and once the net fertility rate is below replacement rate then a society is on the road to collapse. Most of the West is already far down this path. Just watch Japan. For vocations it means that there are simply fewer men to recruit to the priesthood. All those who advocate, or at least excuse the use of contraceptives by Catholics, are killing the Church.

  • Paul Rodden

    Yes. And of course, celibates are ‘out of touch’ and can’t understand*, as the tired rhetoric goes, eh? :)

    The problem is the people who say this have a habit of yoking all Truth to experience. Empirical truth helps me with mending my dishwasher, not how to get close to God.

    I thank God for holy priests and religious. They’ve taught me so much…

    * “All such complaints boil down to one thing. It is that the moral teachings, or sometimes the mysteries, of a given religion restrict some of the complainers’ worldly ambitions. The usual code-word expressing this complaint is “relevance.” The complainers worry that the church is becoming “irrelevant” to their lives. Only if the church agreed with their views on contraception or whatever would it become “relevant” again.”
    Searching for one-size-fits-all religion

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    I think the promiscuous sex addicts are out of touch

  • Jim Anderson

    Everyone: I would recommend listening to Jason Everts talk:
    Life-giving Love…Understanding Chastity In Marriage.
    You buy this cd, you get the copyrights to make copies and give away.

    Definitely worth giving it a listen.

  • Proteios1

    my sister in law actually mispronounced “chaste” during a word game. I corrected the pronunciation. She replied, well I’ve never heard that word before. I proceeded to define it and then said, ‘now that my niece is going Catholic school, I think you should probably know its meaning.’ She laughed, but I shuddered to think she never heard of the word. I think it reflects on our modern world.

  • Dominic Jenkinson

    Great post. As the eldest of 11 children raised by holy parents it has been obvious to me that life is about self sacrificial love in imitation of Christ and the choice is whether to live that out as a father of biological or spiritual children. I am applying to be accepted for the priesthood because of my holy parents and their example of a life of love and service to God. If you are married and want to save the Church and save the world abandon yourself to God’s will and be fruitful and multiply! Be simple, obedient Catholics. Give everything to God, he will bless you in return beyond your wildest dreams.

  • Michael

    An intrinsic evil is one that cannot be justified in any circumstances.Therefor for a couple to use a condom to prevent the spread of HIV from husband to wife is not morally acceptable because the prevention of the spread of this disease cannot countervail the use of artificial contraception.

    Take for example if murder, or the taking of innocent life, were to be classified as an intrinsic evil then no extenuating circumstances could justify taking an innocent life. The bombing of civilian targets in WWII and Vietnam would be impermissible, the accepting of “collateral damage” in a missile or drone attack would be unacceptable and nuclear weapons would be totally immoral, even as a reply attack. One’s country could have nuclear weapons raining down on it but to launch in retaliation at targets in the attacking country where innocent lives would be knowing taken would make it immoral.

    Your list isn’t exhaustive, it just hasn’t been thought through.

  • Suzanne Carl

    At our city-wide history day competition this week, two junior high aged boys had an entry titled, “Immaculate Contraception.” The entry was as bad as its title. The theme was Turning Points in History. I wish you had been there to talk to those boys about the real meaning of that change in our world. Great article.

  • Maria

    Good article. I’ll take it a step further. I see priests now with a “contraceptive” mentality. By that I mean: they want to make their schedule as easy as possible, have a big staff to take care of the stuff they’d rather not do (similar to nannies and maids), live comfortably with regular vacations and a fairly high degree of autonomy. Are they really concerned whether they are “bearing fruit”, i.e., that the life of Christ is growing in the womb of their parish? Sometimes they seem to be just going through the motions without expecting or looking for results. Certainly I’m not talking about ALL priests any more than ALL married couples contracept.

  • Dan Grimm

    Priestly vocations are from God, but they come to men formed in the Church of their time. We need a collective examination of conscience on how Catholics have rejected God’s revelation about marriage and sexuality. The number of children abused by priests is a tiny faction of the number aborted, abused, euthanized or prevented from coming to be by the Catholic laity in the past 50 years. I believe that if the laity had accepted Humanae Vitae there would not have been an abuse scandal, Roe vs. Wade would probably not have happened, and the US Church would be evangelizing the world, rather than asking the Third world churches to send us priests.

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  • Paul Rodden

    But Michael…
    …as in many of these discussions, but particularly this one, I think you’re conflating two categories than cannot be conflated (for the convenience of your argument). It’s like saying that a wax effigy of a policeman and a policeman, are equivalents. (H/T Elizabeth Anscombe)

    I don’t think you’re that stupid reading your other comments, so when you do this, you’re just being disingenuous, I feel. Please find out what we actually believe, not what some commentator or popular view states we believe – and don’t just make it up on the fly.

    When Elizabeth Anscombe was giving the example of the category mistake, she said to mistake the wax effigy for the real thing is, of course, a silly one. but when you come in here, commenting as you do sometimes, it look rather silly to us.

    But maybe you don’t care whether you look silly to us as we’re not in one of the groups you do trying to impress and where looking silly would matter?

    In other words, either truth matters to you. period, rather than how you’re perceived, or you’re selective, and truth only matters when you’re dealing with people from whom you want adulation?

    That’s a relevant moral issue.

  • Paul Rodden

    …and they’re the very ones I hear saying celibates are out of touch. Projection is always the best medicine in the realm of self-deception :)

  • Michael

    “contraception products are intrinsically evil because of their *intended* use.” If that were only the Catholic teaching it would be much more reasonable.

  • jy

    “The poor guy who wants to be a priest is likely to face a life living alone in a big rectory, being suspected of being a pedophile and working long hours for little reward or recognition.”

    This is absolutely not true when the priest welcomes the old Latin Mass, for which his parishioners are starved and longing, in his parish.

  • jy

    “Conversely, while marriage gives celibacy meaning, it may be now that celibacy may begin to give meaning back to marriage.”

    This is true, and it’s precisely what happened in late antiquity, especially in the fourth century when the Christian Roman Emperors lifted the ban on celibacy that had stood since the Augustan age, as the ascetic movement whose hallmark was celibacy revolutionized marriage as an institution in the Empire.

  • jy

    “Conversely, while marriage gives celibacy meaning, it may be now that celibacy may begin to give meaning back to marriage.”

    This is true, and it’s precisely what happened in late antiquity, especially in the fourth century when the Christian Roman Emperors lifted the ban on celibacy that had stood since the Augustan age, as the ascetic movement whose hallmark was celibacy, revolutionized the Roman institution of marriage.

  • chris awo

    in the 1980s and 1990s families with large number of children were presented as the best examples of christian marriage. Last month at a catholic church somewhere on this planet the officiating catholic priest yelled angrily that God will punish any couple with large number of children. Two kids will suffice he concluded.
    i can hear the atheists laughing.
    i am not.

  • ATT

    Right, because everything in the world would be just peachy if we celebrated Mass in Latin.

    You do realize that the world doesn’t know the difference between the Latin and the vernacular? Society is still going to suspect him of being a pedophile. He’s still going to work long, hard, unrewarded hours. He’s still going to live alone in that big rectory. He’s still going to stand in the middle of secular society and be seen as strange, weird, different, etc. The language he celebrates Mass in is not going to make a difference to people who only see him in terms of his celibacy. Which is how most of the world sees him, including probably many Catholics.

  • ATT

    The vast majority of the abuse happened in the ’50s and ’60s, before the encyclical. Humanae Vitae had nothing to do with the scandal – but it has vast repercussions in the fight to prevent future abuse.

  • Michael

    Sure human nature is important. We all share a common evolution and qualities of empathy and compassion and that needs to be fostered. But nature is not normative as countless examples can show. It’s not up to government to remove “homophobia”, it’s up to society to change just as we changed on mixed race marriages and women’s role in society. Not being homosexual, I can’t speak for them but of my friends and aquaitances that are gay they have the same relationship to their spouse as I have to mine and many of their relationships are quite a bit more heathly and mature than my heterosexual friends and collegues.

  • Michael

    Whether or not evolutionary arguments are circular is a good question. Often by looking at similar traits in related species can we see commonality or differences. But the idea that nature is normative is a non-starter. I was merely commenting upon the “natural” vs “artificial” aspect of contraception and wonder why that distinction in this one particular case is so important.

    As to my morality of I needed to find it from one of the ancient books various groups of humans follow rather than through reason, empathy, compassion, discussion, experience and evidence I would be in a sorry state. As it’s only through these common attributes that you know what part of your sacred text to follow and what parts to discard.

    Prof. Dawkins said it much better than I in response to a Muslim’s questioning.

  • Michael

    I do know Catholic teaching having been an ardent Catholic for the fist 35 year of my life. In fact I was attempting to clear up the misconception (no pun intended) hat many Catholics have about artificial contraception is that intent is a part of the moral issue. It is not. It’s the artificial aspect of contaception and the removing procreation from sex. Use of a condom by a married Catholic couple to prevent transmission of HIV is not permissible because in Catholic moral teaching artificial contraception is intrinsically evil and cannot be justified in this situation.

    Please tell me in what way I cam being silly. I know the Psalmist says (twice) that being an atheist I am a fool, but rather than call me silly argue specifically where I am being silly or ingeniousness.

    Finally I could care less about adulation, only God seems to want that, not I.



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  • jy

    The comment, ATT, is about how “alone” the priest is and feels. You see, it is about his relationship to his parish. Yes, he’s still going to stand in the middle of secular society and be seen as strange. That’s what being a Christian is supposed to be like vis-à-vis secular society.

    Should I bother to respond to your trolling ignoratio elenchi about everything in the world being just peachy? What is so terrifying about the Latin Mass that you feel the need to go into attack mode if someone suggests that responding charitably, hospitably and, above all, in accord with Summorum Pontificum and Universae Ecclesiae to the longing of parishioners for Latin Mass?

    I’m not talking about abolishing anything, but taking the gag away as the shepherds of the church have been instructed in no uncertain terms by the Holy Father to do.

    Seriously. What is so terrifying to you about the Latin Mass that if someone asks for it—as his inheritance and his communion with the countless Catholics of many centuries—you feel the need to go into attack mode?

  • Christina

    I really appreciated this article. As a new(ish) Catholic, I’m often barraged with the half-interested-yet-still-wildly-accusatory questions like “Why won’t you use contraception?!!?” and “Why can’t priests get married??!” Your thoughts here tie the answers to these questions together in a way that I hadn’t previously considered. Thanks! I really enjoy your blog.

  • mike cliffson

    (BTW Hmm
    That’s the most charitable explanation I’ve seen yet for the difference in the way prof Dawkins speaks to Muslims.)
    Be that as it may, such an argument in itself is close to what CSlewis called Tao,yes, the chinese name, which is not unlike natural law.See his collected articles etc. I hae me doots, but this is not the moment.
    However , dislike, putting it mildly, as I do finding the contraceptive mentality amongst catholics as a result of NFP use or abuse, if you are a human being I think you can nonetheless appreciate even nearworst cases’ differences and advantages of NFP over artificial:
    A lot of prayer and dialogue and self control and thought and cherishing of one’s better half are necessary for NFP to be efficient – all of these make for a more fulfilling marriage , even in wholly this-worldly terms.
    Artificial methods have no necessary scope for any of the above .
    Catholic-taught NFP also intends to inculcate happy and loving acceptance of any children God wishes the parents to be blessed with despite “upping the ante ” on the chances of not having them.
    Again, I have strong reservations about this in practice , but it’s poles apart better than the world’s pushing of hedonism me-first continuum through multiple-partnered immediate gratification via contraception and abortion. Which happens. Do you have any idea what your kids are being taught at school?
    Another difference you may appreciate : Catholics are not supposed, as you know, to use NFP except for, usually temporary, serious or grave reasons – such reasons , if insufficiently grave or serious , would still be insufficiently grave and serious in the case of the easier option , see above, of artificial contraception, nonethess, by not going in for something as easy and materially drastic as hormones which upset a women’s rhthyms, the pill, or barrier methods, such as condoms, this relative lack of gravity and seriousness wi ll end up rebounding less to their hurt than it would have.
    This is not necessarily to say they will necessarily obviously outwardly suffer raging agonies and their marriage hurtfully “break up”- it may- but it is enough that they have LESS of marriage than they would have had.
    Finally, there is going to be more coming out as the years go by about sideeffects of artificial contraception, believe you me.
    That said , NFP most definitely IS a menace , for a number of reasons. The way its sold and taught, for one, even when used according to the church’s precepts, for really truly grave reasons, the amount of prayer necessary to NOT fall into the thought pattern of considering NOBABY a GOOD in itself !

  • Jen

    I appreciate this article. And, while your article clearly states “artificial contraception”, by referring to large families in the article, it sounds as if you are opposed to nature family planning as well. I have 2 young children, work long hours to support my family. I am not ashamed to have a small family and use nature family planning. I don’t think it has hurt my marriage or degrades the importance of celibacy of priests.

  • Michael

    from There is no mention of NFP only in extreme measures unless you mean the regulation of birth for responsible parenthood. Your position would make more sense to counter the contraception mentality but it isn’t the position of the Catholic Church.

    “2370 Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality.158 …… In contrast, “every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible is intrinsically evil:159

    2399 The regulation of births represents one of the aspects of responsible fatherhood and motherhood. Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception).
    As a note : Having sex during an infertile period “render[s] procreation impossible” and therefore is “intrinsically evil”. Having sex during a fertile period with a condom only makes conception less likely as condoms fail.

  • August

    This is one of the reasons that celibacy as a sign of contradiction isn’t any good anymore.
    The only sign that works is the fruit of a proper marriage- i.e. children. Healthy ones, preferably home-schooled. Not the ‘accident’s’ that get schlepped of to that local prison they call school everyday.
    A celibate priests looks pretty much like every other lonely guy out there, and he probably goes home and plays video games too, if he is young enough.
    The arguments against ordaining married men seem to be collapsing to me, and it is as if the only reason we hold to it is because we don’t want to be perceived as giving in to critics. I don’t care about the critics; we don’t have enough priests- the idea of the Church as hospital has become laughable. We are wounded and forever lacking.

  • Cecy_TOB

    I’m about to finish “How to live Virginity and Celibacy” from Raniero Cantalamesa and I found your blog. WOW!!! so much interconnects now that I’m having my AHA moment. Thank you for this words!

  • Cecy_TOB

    Could this be the reason why many women are going into religious orders to become celibate for the Sake of The Kindom?? I’d suggest Theology of the Body for you! maybe then you could try to understand why it is such a precious gift to our Church virginity and celibacy. Blessings.

  • James

    Michael is right that the traditional Natural Law teaching is inadequate to explain the Church’s prohibition of contraception and acceptance of Natural Family Planning. This inadequacy is, in my opinion, why so many Catholics disagree with the teaching.

    Noah Millman best sums up my position. Any teaching based on the Natural Law is subject to change based on our understanding of nature. And, as Michael pointed out, periodic continence is far from natural. Plus there is the question of whether non-procreative sexual activities are truly unnnatural, but that is well beyond the scope of a blog post.

    In the case of the Catholic teaching on contraception, the most common defense of the teaching comes from Aquinas and Aquinas’s medieval understanding of biology was just plain wrong. (He assumed a reasonable man would want to conserve semen, when modern biology states that semi-regular release is good for prostate health and improves odds of procreation. As for women, Aquinas didn’t really address that.)

    But the Church’s teaching is what it is and the Church has reason for teaching it. I think that Theology of the Body is the beginning of a new way of thinking about sexuality. Our sexuality is not just for procreation, but is an integral part of who we are. We are created to love and given a vocation. TOB is about using our sexuality in a manner that is consistent with love and vocation. TOB grounds the teaching not in nature, but in love, vocation, and interpersonal ethics.

  • James

    For the last time:

    Avoiding pregnancies with NFP is objectively moral. NFP to avoid involves (1) charting (2) abstaining during fertile days and (3) using infertile days. (1) Charting is merely gathering information. No matter the use, charting creates excellent records of women’s health. Charting is good for single women, who have no need for family planning. (2) Abstaining is not acting. There is no obligation to have sex at any given time, therefore abstinence is not immoral. (3) A married couple can make love whenever they choose. During the infertile time, the act is naturally infertile and not infertile due to the actions of the couple. The couple has done nothing to separate sex from procreation.

    Put another way, NFP is not contraception, but well-timed abstinence.

    As for intent for couples avoiding pregnancy, the Church teaches that one of the purposes of marriage is having children and raising them in the faith. This involves (1) having children and (2) being responsible parents.

    The Church states in the Catechism: “For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children. It is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood.” CCC 2368. See also HV 10.

    Put another way, spouses may delay pregnancy, but should do so for good reasons and not selfish ones.

    Whether reasons for avoiding are “just” or “selfish” is something between the spouses and God and perhaps a confessor/spiritual advisor. The couple who you think has a “contraceptive mentality” may really be infertile or have serious health reasons for avoiding another pregnancy. They may have very serious reasons to avoid, even this doesn’t seem so from their outward appearance.

    On that note, I leave you with CCC 2478: “To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way.”

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  • Bill

    ATT is right on. It’s not an attack on traditionalism.

  • linred

    Sorry. NFP is approved by the Magisterium of the church and, therefore, is not intrinsically evil.

  • linred

    Well said, James. Thank you, very much!

  • linred

    Well said, James. Thank you, very much.

  • linred

    Well said, James. Thank you very much.

  • linred

    James, Thank you for “one last time” explanation a few posts down from here. Very well said.