Contraception and Spousal Accountability

Everyone knows that millions of Catholic married couples are using contraceptives irrespective of the Church’s condemnation of the practice. What is interesting about this reality is that the common methods being used place the responsibility on either the man or the woman, but not both. This means that only one of the two is actively facilitating contraception. So, for example, what if a Catholic man has a change of heart on moral grounds and would rather his wife switch from the pill to natural family planning and she refuses? According to Pope Pius XI, he would not be culpable for the sin of contraception:

“Holy Church knows well that not infrequently one of the parties is sinned against rather than sinning, when for a grave cause he or she reluctantly allows the perversion of the right order [contraception]. In such a case, there is no sin, provided that, mindful of the law of charity, he or she does not neglect to seek to dissuade and to deter the partner from sin” (Casti Connubii, 1930, #59).

I think what is meant by “reluctantly” is to be interpreted in light of the “marriage debt” (1 Corinthians 7:1-4). The satisfaction of sexual desire in order to avoid concupiscence as a mutual responsibility remains valid since the marriage is still valid. The reluctance, in my opinion, should not affect conjugal relations between the couple, but is rather the unavoidable consequence of knowing that one’s spouse is committing a grave sin. Even that would be offset, however, by knowing that she was taking bad advice from moral theologians and clergy offering fallacious arguments about one’s conscience that are meant to circumvent the Will of God.

The upshot of this is that if a Catholic man charitably requests that his wife switch from the pill to NFP, and she refuses, he is no longer culpable for cooperating in a sinful act. I wonder how many Catholic men have done this or have even thought about it.

I bring it up for two reasons. First, I don’t believe that such a request would necessarily cause any serious friction or damage to the relationship. Husbands and wives can disagree on many things and still love each other. The subject can be brought up in a loving and caring manner; contraceptives are unnatural and can be proven to be harmful (see this article: “What a Woman Should Know about Contraceptives“). I believe that most dioceses have NFP counselors, it’s cost-free, perfectly safe, and about 99% effective. It’s hard to imagine that asking one’s wife to at least try it for a few months would elicit a hostile response.

The second reason is simple common sense; contraception is a very serious sin and there’s no point for a spouse to be held accountable for it if they don’t have to be. Here Pius XI was only stating what the Church had always taught:

“…[A]ny use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin” (Casti Connubii, 56).


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