Or maybe not – at least, not in the way people might expect…
I’m sure some readers have noticed a distinct, and perhaps surprising, lack of discussion about Catholic teachings against artificial contraception since this blog began. Surprising because I suspect that for many moral theologians, contraception and particularly taking a stance on the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae that discusses the church’s teachings, has been one of the central questions in moral theology since 1968 (when Humanae Vitae was promulgated). 1968 was the year when moral theology became theologians versus the magisterium, for many. That sense was only heightened in 1993 with the release of Veritatis Splendor (“The Splendor of Truth”), when Pope John Paul II took very definite stances against some strands of moral theology that arose in North America and Europe. Some of those strands of theology arose, in part, because of efforts to reason about acceptable uses of contraception.
Like the abortion debate in the US, any debate about contraception has reached an impasse. The chief difference to abortion is that, as many opponents of the church’s teachings point out, at least 96% of Catholics, or more, use artificial contraception, which puts NFP use in a tiny minority. Effectively, this means that any moral theologian who speaks positively about NFP is likely to get some form of incredulity, except in a few small arenas where NFP use is discussed and welcomed; a moral theologian who speaks positively about artificial contraception is likely to get mostly high fives from a lay audience and for free. Neither of these situations promotes all the good discussions and other things that this blog is about.
So, here I am writing a post anyway. The relatively recent web brouhaha about Open Embrace: A Protestant Couple Thinks About Contraception has led me to want to think about this. For those who don’t know the background, Sam and Bethany Torode (now Bethany Patchin) wrote Open Embrace back when they were nineteen and newly married. A scant few years later, they found themselves overwhelmed with four kids and considering conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy. (Some Eastern Orthodox churches prohibit contraception use, but many take no particular stance.) Fast forward to this column from a couple weeks ago, when columnist Mark Oppenheimer suggested, via discussions with Bethany Patchin, that NFP caused more harm in marriages than good.
What has followed since then has been a couple weeks’ worth of commentary via blogs and discussion forums. Depending on the person’s personal stance, the discussion usually boils down to: “Aha! See! They finally came to their senses and realized the reality of where most people are….” Or: “That’s incredibly sad, but NFP isn’t at fault here because…. [fill in the blank].”
And once again, it’s an impasse. In the next post, I want to address this impasse and see whether there’s a possible way through the impasse, or at least a possible way to find some points of collusion and discussion.