Questions about Humanae Vitae

In the combox of the post "Family exasperated at Tablet & condoms, Seamus asked the following:
I always thought the Church taught that THE purpose of sexual intercourse was procreation? If one practices NFP the intention is not to reproduce, but to express one's love for one's partner. Is the problem of contraception not that it 'reduces' (big inverted commas here for emphasis) sexual intercourse to pleasure, or is it that it prevents the creation of human life?And another thing. What does one do about communion when one's partner who is not a Catholic uses contraception. Does this condemn the Catholic partner to never being able to take holy communion?
I will try to answer the two questions in turn.

1. The Church teaches that the two ends of the marriage act are the procreation of children and the unity of the couple, and that neither of these should be deliberately frustrated. With the use of artificial contraception, both the act itself and the intention are ordered to making procreation impossible. (As a matter of fact, those working in maternity wards and those who care for women in crisis pregnancies, offering alternatives to abortion, witness to the fact that a considerable proportion of pregnancies occur when the couple are using one or other method of contraception.)

The use of Natural Family Planning involves periodic abstinence from the marriage act. The Church teaches that this may be done if there are serious reasons for limiting the number of children. However, the act itself is exactly the same. The intention is indeed to limit the number of children but the Church's teaching does not require couples to intend to have children if there are serious reasons for them not wanting to have any more children for the time being.

Aside from this rather theoretical way of stating the matter, couples who use Natural Family Planning speak warmly of the benefits it brings to their marriage. As a matter of fact, the rate of breakdown of marriages in which the couple uses NFP is estimated at around a tenth of the normal figure.

One of the best writers on Humanae Vitae is Janet Smith. There are several articles by her on the internet; Sacred Heart Seminary, Detroit, has a long list. (Some of them argue complex issues with other moralists.) The one Humanae Vitae: The Church's Best Kept Secret? has some personal testimonies.

2. If a non-Catholic spouse insists on using contraception, the Pontifical Council for the Family's Vademecum for Confessors allows that the co-operation of the Catholic spouse may be licit if the following three conditions are all met:
1. when the action of the cooperating spouse is not already illicit in itself;
2. when proportionally grave reasons exist for cooperating in the sin of the other spouse;
3. when one is seeking to help the other spouse to desist from such conduct (patiently, with prayer, charity and dialogue; although not necessarily in that moment, nor on every single occasion).
The first would be met if the Catholic spouse is not themselves using a condom or some other contraceptive. The second would be met if it was a matter of avoiding serious damage to the marriage. The third is the most important in practice and the qualifications set out seem to me to be very compassionate and pastoral.

However, the Vademecum continues:
Furthermore, it is necessary to carefully evaluate the question of cooperation in evil when recourse is made to means which can have an abortifacient effect.
This refers to the "Contraceptive Pill." The makers of this drug include in their notes to physicians, a statement that the action of the drug may be to prevent implantation of the fertilised ovum. This would mean that an action had been taken which might kill an embryo and therefore a more serious moral problem exists with regard to co-operation.

I hope that those are reasonable answers. Seamus raised these questions politely and in good faith so any comments should be in the same spirit, please.

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