Yet Another False Claim About Contraception

Jimmy Akin versus the Magisterium, part 4
Yet Another False Claim About Contraception

To the heretical errors already discussed, Jimmy Akin adds another gravely disordered false claim.

He suggests that the Church cannot, or at least should not, teach on whether contraception is immoral outside of marriage. This assertion is absurd, since the Magisterium has already taught that contraception is immoral, regardless of marital state. See this post and this earlier article. But the additional error here is the claim that the Magisterium is restricted from teaching on an important matter of faith or morals. Akin goes so far as to say that moral theologians (and apparently also Catholic bloggers) can answer the question, while the Magisterium should not.

“The Church holds that all sexual acts outside of marriage are gravely sinful. To start exploring the question of contraceptive use outside of marriage would put the Church in a really weird position that could lead to the subversion of the very moral values it is trying to promote.

We all know how in the public schools sex-ed teachers often pay lip service to the idea that people shouldn’t have sex before marriage and then spend enormous amounts of time spelling out just how to do it and what contraceptive and “safe sex” alternatives there are. The frequent result is thus a message of, “Don’t, but allow me to give you an extended discourse on just what to do in case you decide otherwise.”

School kids recognize the phoniness and pretense of this and that it amounts to a tacit permission for them to go off and sexually misbehave.

The Church, understandably, does not want to be put in the same position. It’s about calling people to authentic moral and ethical values, not giving them advice on how to sin.

And so it’s left the field largely to moral theologians to discuss and not really treated it on the Magisterial level.” [Jimmy Akin, Understanding the Pope’s Dilemma]

Basically, Akin is saying that the Magisterium should not answer the question as to whether the use of contraception outside of marriage is moral or immoral because it would put the Church in the position of advising people what to do while sinning gravely. Sex outside of marriage is a grave sin, so Akin thinks that the Magisterium can’t or shouldn’t tell people committing that sin whether or not their other choices related to that sin are moral or immoral.

However, the ability of the Magisterium to teach on the subject of the entire moral law is a dogma of the Faith. It is heresy to claim that there are questions on grave matters of morality (such as whether contraception use outside of marriage is moral) that the Church cannot or should not answer. The argument that, even by exploring such questions, the Church would subvert its own moral values is absurd. The Church has always taught moral truth on every type of question in every area of morality.

Pope John Paul II: “The Church, in her life and teaching, is thus revealed as ‘the pillar and bulwark of the truth’ (1 Tim 3:15), including the truth regarding moral action. Indeed, ‘the Church has the right always and everywhere to proclaim moral principles, even in respect of the social order, and to make judgments about any human matter in so far as this is required by fundamental human rights or the salvation of souls’.” (Veritatis Splendor, n. 27).

Pope John Paul II: “The Church’s Magisterium intervenes not only in the sphere of faith, but also, and inseparably so, in the sphere of morals. It has the task of “discerning, by means of judgments normative for the consciences of believers, those acts which in themselves conform to the demands of faith and foster their expression in life and those which, on the contrary, because intrinsically evil, are incompatible with such demands”. In proclaiming the commandments of God and the charity of Christ, the Church’s Magisterium also teaches the faithful specific particular precepts and requires that they consider them in conscience as morally binding. In addition, the Magisterium carries out an important work of vigilance, warning the faithful of the presence of possible errors, even merely implicit ones, when their consciences fail to acknowledge the correctness and the truth of the moral norms which the Magisterium teaches.” (Veritatis Splendor, n. 110).

The Church teaches that all sexual acts outside of marriage are gravely immoral. Does this imply that the Church is unable to discuss the morality of any acts or elements of an act that occur during extramarital sex? Not at all. For example, the Magisterium teaches that rape is gravely immoral, but that rape of a child is graver still (CCC, n. 2356). Neither does this teaching imply that the Church is advising rapists on how to commit rape.

As an analogy, bank robbery is a serious crime; bank robbery with a firearm is even more serious. This aspect of human law does not amount to the legislature telling robbers how to commit bank robbery. Any act that makes a crime a more serious offense carries a greater penalty. This principle of human law is a reflection of the eternal moral law. Anything that makes a knowingly chosen act more gravely disordered, makes the act more sinful.

In another example, the Magisterium not only condemns artificial procreation, but also condemns various immoral acts that occur as part of the process used to achieve it (see Donum Vitae). Also, artificial procreation using the gametes from a husband and wife is a grave sin; but if gametes are used from one or two persons other than the spouses, this greater disorder makes the act a greater sin.

It is a basic principles of ethics that a greater moral disorder in any act makes the act more sinful. Akin’s position implies that, whenever a person commits a mortal sin, the Magisterium becomes unable to say what would make that sin graver still. To the contrary, committing a mortal sin does not place one’s act outside of the moral law, nor outside of the teaching authority of the Church.

How absurd is this position, held by several different commentators, that rapists, fornicators, and adulterers can use contraception, and only married persons cannot! For this is what is implied (and even stated) by some authors. Certainly it is true that married persons cannot morally use contraception. But the teaching of the Magisterium that the use of contraception is intrinsically evil necessarily implies that unmarried persons also cannot use contraception. And this truth has been taught by the Church.

It does not put the Church in a weird position to tell persons that extra-marital sex is a grave sin, and that contracepted extramarital sex is graver still. For the Church also teaches that extra-marital sex is more sinful when it is also adultery than when it is not, that rape of a child is even more sinful than rape of an adult, that any intrinsically evil act is more sinful if it is done with a gravely disordered intention, or with graver harm in the circumstances.

The Magisterium has the ability and the authority to answer all questions on matters of morality. To say otherwise is to restrict the authority of Christ and of the Holy Spirit to guide us concerning right and wrong.

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)

Yet again we see that the teaching of Jimmy Akin is incompatible with the teaching of Pope John Paul II and the Magisterium. So, who are you going to believe?

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

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