part 3: Is Contraception Always Immoral?

Jimmy Akin versus the Magisterium, part 3
Is Contraception Always Immoral?

In previous posts on this topic (part 1, part 2), I began to discuss three false claims taught by Jimmy Akin to his readers:

1. the claim that the Vatican translation of Humanae Vitae is faulty
2. the claim that intrinsically evil acts are not always immoral regardless of circumstances
3. the claim that the Magisterium has never taught that contraception is immoral outside of marriage

The first claim is provably false. It isn’t a matter of legitimate dispute. Basically, Jimmy Akin claims that the translation of Humanae Vitae should say ‘marital intercourse’ instead of ‘sexual intercourse’, and that therefore Humanae Vitae only condemns contraception within marriage. But the official translation does in fact say ‘sexual intercourse’. And this official translation has stood unchanged for over 40 years. It has been used by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, and by very many Bishops, year after year, as it stands. Therefore — based on Akin’s own reasoning — the Magisterium has in fact condemned the use of contraception in sexual intercourse, that is to say, regardless of marital state. All non-procreative sexual intercourse is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral, due to the deprivation of the procreative meaning in the moral object, regardless of whether the marital meaning is also deprived. See part 2 of this series for more on this point.

The second claim concerns intrinsically evil acts.

“I am sympathetic to the desire to find in recent Magisterial statements a ban on contraception regardless of the circumstances. Indeed, I used to hold that this is what the documents said….” (Jimmy Akin, The Meaning of ‘Marital Intercourse’)

This assertion is deeply troubling. Akin does not believe that contraception is immoral in all circumstances. So either he does not think that contraception is intrinsically evil, or he thinks that intrinsically evil acts are not immoral regardless of circumstances. Either position is a grave doctrinal error against the infallible teaching of the Church.

The ordinary and universal Magisterium has infallibly taught that contraception is intrinsically evil.

“the intrinsic evil of contraception” (Vademecum for Confessors, n. 4.)
“intrinsically against nature … a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious.” (Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubii, n. 54.)
“intrinsically immoral” (Pope Pius XII, Address to Midwives.)
“intrinsically wrong” (Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, n. 14.)
“intrinsically immoral” (Compendium of the Catechism, n. 498.)
“intrinsic unlawfulness of contraception” (Pope John Paul II, Speeches, 27 Feb. 1998.)
“intrinsically evil acts … something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order” (Pope John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, n. 80.)
“intrinsically immoral” (Pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, n. 32.)

So if Akin thinks that contraception is not intrinsically evil, his position would be heretical.

What is more likely, though, is that he holds to a different heresy: that intrinsically evil acts can sometimes be justified by a good reason (a good intention) or in certain circumstances. Why is this position also heresy? It is because the Magisterium definitively teaches that intrinsically evil acts are always immoral, regardless of intention or circumstances.

“It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it.” (CCC, n. 1756).

“Reason attests that there are objects of the human act which are by their nature ‘incapable of being ordered’ to God, because they radically contradict the good of the person made in his image. These are the acts which, in the Church’s moral tradition, have been termed ‘intrinsically evil’ (intrinsece malum): they are such always and per se, in other words, on account of their very object, and quite apart from the ulterior intentions of the one acting and the circumstances. Consequently, without in the least denying the influence on morality exercised by circumstances and especially by intentions, the Church teaches that ‘there exist acts which per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object’.” (Pope John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, n. 80; inner quote from Reconciliation and Penance, n. 17).

The Church teaches that some kinds of acts are inherently immoral, independent of intention and circumstances. Jimmy Akin rejects this teaching openly. In his article on intrinsically evil acts, he claims that the object of an act (the moral object) is part intention and part circumstances. (See my post with references to his claims on this point.)

The Church teaches that to be moral an act must have three good fonts of morality: (1) intention, (2) moral object, (3) circumstances. Any one bad font makes the act a sin. And when an act has an evil moral object, the act is intrinsically evil and always immoral, regardless of intention or circumstances.

Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The morality of human acts depends on: — the object chosen; — the end in view or the intention; — the circumstances of the action. The object, the intention, and the circumstances make up the ‘sources,’ or constitutive elements, of the morality of human acts.” (CCC, n. 1750)

Compendium of the Catechism: “The morality of human acts depends on three sources: the object chosen, either a true or apparent good; the intention of the subject who acts, that is, the purpose for which the subject performs the act; and the circumstances of the act, which include its consequences.” (Compendium, n. 367)

USCCB Catechism: “Every moral act consists of three elements: the objective act (what we do), the subjective goal or intention (why we do the act), and the concrete situation or circumstances in which we perform the act…. All three aspects must be good — the objective act, the subjective intention, and the circumstances — in order to have a morally good act.” (USCCB Catechism for Adults, July 2006, p. 311-312)

Three good fonts are needed for an act to be moral, rather than immoral. So when the moral object is evil, nothing in the intention or circumstances can justify the act.

Jimmy Akin and other false teachers nullify this teaching of the Church by claiming that intention and/or circumstances can justify an intrinsically evil act. Sometimes they simply state that the act becomes moral in certain circumstances; other times they claim that the act is transformed into a different type of act, one that is no longer intrinsically evil, by means of a change in intention (the purpose for which the act was chosen) or circumstances.

To the contrary, Pope John Paul II taught:

Pope John Paul II: “Consequently, circumstances or intentions can never transform an act, intrinsically evil by virtue of its object, into an act ‘subjectively’ good or defensible as a choice.” (Veritatis Splendor, n. 81.)

Moreover, Pope John Paul II has specifically said that contraception can NEVER be approved:

Pope John Paul II: “Contraception is to be judged objectively so profoundly illicit that it can never, for any reason, be justified. To think, or to say, anything to the contrary is tantamount to saying that in human life there can be situations where it is legitimate not to recognize God as God. Users of contraception attribute to themselves a power that belongs only to God, the power to decide in the final instance the coming into existence of a human being.” (Pope John Paul II, Address on Responsible Procreation, 17 Sept, 1983)

The holy Pontiff, Pope John Paul II, teaches that contraception is so profoundly immoral that it can never be approved for any reason. Jimmy Akin teaches that the Magisterium has not condemned contraception in all circumstances. Pope John Paul II teaches that intrinsically evil acts are always immoral, regardless of circumstances, and that contraception is intrinsically evil. Jimmy Akin teaches that contraception may sometimes be moral, perhaps outside of marriage, or perhaps in some circumstances within marriage. The Magisterium teaches that to be justified by the principle of double effect, an act cannot be intrinsically evil. Jimmy Akin teaches that the principle of double effect might justify contraception.

Who are you going to believe? The Magisterium or Jimmy Akin? Pope John Paul II or Jimmy Akin? You cannot believe both. Akin’s teachings are fundamentally incompatible with, and contradictory to, the definitive teaching of the Magisterium on many important matters of faith and morals.

It is just astounding for me to read, repeatedly on Akin’s blog on various topics, one false teaching after another, one heresy after another, taught by Akin to his readers along with the claim that these very grave doctrinal errors are acutally magisterial teaching or sound theology. Often, he simply makes a false assertion with nothing to support it. “The Magisterium teaches this.” “The Magisterium has never taught that.” And yet any knowledgeable Catholic should know otherwise. Basically, false teachers like Jimmy Akin take advantage of the fact that most Catholics have been poorly catechized. He preys on the weak and ignorant among the faithful, leading them away from Christ and His Church.

Now for Akin’s third claim on this topic of contraception. He asserts repeatedly that the Magisterium has never taught that contraception is immoral outside of marriage. His assertion is simply false. But it takes few words make a false assertion and many words to refute it. Here is my comprehensive article on this point: the use of contraception outside of marriage. I’ll summarize the main points of that article below, but see the article for quotations and citations from magisterial documents.

a. The Magisterium condemns the distribution and promotion of contraception, regardless of whether it is used in marriage or outside of marriage, as a grave offense.

b. The Magisterium teaches that contraception is immoral because it separates the two meanings, unitive and procreative, found in human sexuality and in the being of man and woman. This basis for the immorality of contraception does not rely on the marital state, but on the nature of man and woman, on the nature of the human person.

c. The Church opposes teaching young unmarried persons how to use contraception in sexual education programs. This opposition is not based solely on the possibility that those young persons might eventually marry and use contraception in marriage. Neither is it based solely on the Church’s opposition to the sin of pre-marital sex. The Church opposes teaching the young how to use contraception because contraception is intrinsically evil and therefore always immoral. Her opposition to the distribution and promotion of contraception by governments and other organizations is in agreement with Her opposition to sexual education programs teaching the young how to use contraception.

d. The Magisterium teaches that direct sterilization is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral because it deprives sexual acts of the procreative meaning. Direct sterilization is condemned by the Magisterium, regardless of whether the individual is married or single. And direct sterilization is not necessarily permanent, since the procedure often can be reversed. Contraception is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral for the same reason as direct sterilization, the deprivation of the procreative meaning from the moral object.

e. The Magisterium condemns artificial procreation for the same reason as contraception, the unitive and procreative meanings are not united in one and the same act. The deprivation of either or both the procreative and unitive meanings makes the act intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. But artificial procreation is condemned regardless of whether a couple is married or not, because the basis for the condemnation of artificial procreation is not the presence or absence of the marital meaning, but the separation of the unitive and procreative meanings. The same is true for contraception; the act is condemned because the unitive and procreative meanings are not united in one and the same act. The presence or absence of the marital meaning does not substitute for this sin of separating the unitive and procreative meanings.

f. Catholic hospitals are not permitted to dispense contraception, neither to married couples nor to unmarried persons. If the Magisterium taught that contraception were only immoral within marriage, there would be no reason to restrict physicians in Catholic hospitals from dispensing contraception to unmarried patients in accord with the consciences of the physician and the patients, especially for non-Catholic physicians and non-Catholic unmarried patients. But such is not the case. Why? It is because contraception is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral, and so is formal cooperation with contraception.

g. Pope Pius XI strongly condemned contraception, saying that no reason could justify this intrinsically evil act. He then went on to teach the Church through the words of Saint Augustine:

“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 Judah, did this and the Lord killed him for it.’ ” (Casti Connubii, n. 55; inner quotes from: St. Augustine, De Adulterinis Coniugiis, Book II, n. 12; Genesis 38:8-10)

The wording used by Saint Augustine and quoted by the Pontiff is this: “even with one’s legitimate wife”. By this wording, Augustine is condemning contraception both outside of marriage and within marriage. He is saying that contraception is still immoral, even within marriage, which implies that it is also immoral outside of marriage. And Pope Pius XI quotes him on this point without any disagreement, correction, or qualification. Then Pope Pius states that this teaching against contraception is an “uninterrupted Christian tradition,” implying that the teaching is the infallible of the Church, not ‘merely’ the opinion of a Saint and Doctor of the Church.

h. Finally, and most importantly, the Magisterium teaches that contraception is intrinsically evil. The Magisterium teaches that any knowingly chosen act with an evil moral object is intrinsically evil, and that intrinsically evil acts are always immoral. The evil moral object of contraception is the deprivation of the procreative meaning. This deprivation occurs in the use of contraception outside of marriage as well as within marriage. Therefore, contraception remains intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral, regardless of marital state. The moral object is unchanged and the moral object is what makes any act intrinsically evil and always immoral.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic moral theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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