Contraception and the Guilt of Homicide

lightningSt. Hildegard wrote that in a period of time that precedes the Antichrist the Catholic Church will be punished for many sins, noting three in particular: fornication, rapine (theft or plunder), and murder (Scivias Book III, Vision 11, Chapter 13). The case for the first two as being present today isn’t difficult to make: the clerical sex abuse of children is probably the worst sexual scandal in Church history, and the well-documented troubles of the Institute for the Works of Religion (the Vatican Bank) should be a cause of embarrassment and anger for all Catholics (see Gerald Posner’s recent book, God’s Bankers). But what about homicide?

The murder accusation could be made for a number of reasons, like supporting an unjust war or the uncovering of murderous intrigues within the higher levels of the hierarchy. The latter likely only occurs in mystery novels and the former isn’t very conceivable; on the question of war the Church seems to be moving in the direction of pacifism.

But what about the refusal of Church authorities to enforce the its prohibition on the use of artificial birth control?

Contraception itself is not murder, but according to the traditional teaching of the Church it bears the same guilt. The injunction against contraception originated in the Old Testament. Genesis 38:8-10 is the story of Onan, whom God struck dead for engaging in coitus interruptus with his dead brother’s wife, whom he was ordered to marry according to the Jewish law of Levirate marriage. St. Augustine applied the passage to all marriage:

…for intercourse, even with one’s lawfully wedded spouse, can take place in an unlawful and shameful manner, whenever the conception of offspring is avoided. Onan, the son of Judah, did this very thing, and the Lord slew him on that account. Therefore, the procreation of children is itself the primary, natural, legitimate purpose of marriage. Whence it follows that those who marry because of their inability to remain continent ought not to so temper their vice that they preclude the good of marriage, which is the procreation of children (De Conjugiis Adulterinis 2, 12).

In the twelfth-century Augustine’s words were incorporated into canon law. Another long held canon  is more direct:

If someone to satisfy his lust or in deliberate hatred does something to a man or woman so that no children can be born on him or her or give them to drink so that he can not impregnate or she cannot conceive, let this be treated as homicide. (Regino of Prum)

pius XIContraception was a canonical crime bearing the same culpability as that of murder and remained so until the twentieth-century revisions of the Church’s laws. But it was never changed or contradicted. The teaching was reaffirmed by Pope Pius XI in his encyclical on marriage, Casti Connubii (1930), where he cites Augustine:

“Since, therefore, the conjugal act is destined primarily by nature for the begetting of children, those who in exercising it deliberately frustrate its natural power and purpose sin against nature and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious” (54).

“Small wonder, therefore, if Holy Writ bears witness that the Divine Majesty regards with greatest detestation this horrible crime and at times has punished it with death. As St. Augustine notes, “Intercourse even with one’s legitimate wife is unlawful and wicked where the conception of the offspring is prevented. Onan, the son of Juda, did this and the Lord killed him for it” (55).

Pius harshly warns priests who refuse to enforce the Church’s prohibition of contraception:

“We admonish, therefore, priests who hear confessions and others who have the care of souls, in virtue of Our supreme authority and in Our solicitude for the salvation of souls, not to allow the faithful entrusted to them to err regarding this most grave law of God; much more, that they keep themselves immune from such false opinions, in no way conniving in them. If any confessor or pastor of souls, which may God forbid, lead the faithful entrusted to him into these errors or should at least confirm them by approval or by guilty silence, let him be mindful of the fact that he must render a strict account to God, the Supreme Judge, for the betrayal of his sacred trust” (57).

The Church permits the intentional delimiting of the size of a couple’s family through cooperative abstinence, but nothing else. Most Catholic couples, I believe, dissent from this teaching, preferring to rely on their own consciences for moral guidance in matters of sexuality and the family. And, in general, I believe Church authorities approve of this.

pius XIIPope Pius XII, in an address to the cardinals on November 2, 1950, explained why contraception can be viewed as a homicidal act; it interferes with the act of ensoulment:

“Such a sin prevents the Almighty hand from calling into existence the innocent souls that would have given life to those bodies and raised those limbs to the dignity of instruments of the spirit and of grace, so that one day they might receive the reward of their virtues and eternal happiness in the glory of the saints.”

The upcoming era of the Grey Wolf is when the “harsh reproach” of the Church will take place. At that time “Conscience” will have led many astray.





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