Three Proposed Dubia on Contraception


D. 1. Whether the teaching of the Magisterium condemning contraception as intrinsically evil is to be understood as applying only to its use in marital intercourse.

D. 2. Whether the teaching of the Magisterium condemning contraception as intrinsically evil includes its use in sexual intercourse outside of marriage, as well as within marriage.

D. 3. Whether the teaching condemning contraception as intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral is set forth by the ordinary and universal Magisterium to be believed as divinely-revealed.

My Answers:

1. Negative
2. Affirmative
3. Affirmative

I have published this proposed set of dubia (which I have not sent to the CDF) as a way to initiate a discussion on the topic of contraception and the Magisterium. I intend to send these dubia to the CDF, if and when an opportune time arises.


1. Many prominent conservative Catholic leaders have asserted publicly, with little or no theological explanation, that the teaching of the Magisterium on contraception is restricted to its use in marital intercourse. Most of the time, this is asserted without basis or explanation. Ipse dixit.

Some authors claim that Humanae Vitae contains a translation error, such that the passages which speak of forbidding contraception in regard to “sexual intercourse” should have been translated as “conjugal intercourse” or “marital intercourse”. They say that the Latin term “conjug-” (with various Latin endings) only refers to marriage. This claim is absolutely refuted by the use, in Casti Connubii, of that same Latin term, three times, to refer to sex outside of marriage.

Moreover, some magisterial documents condemn contraception without any reference to marriage and without any use of the term “conjug-” in Latin or “conjugal” in English: e.g. Quaecumque Sterilizatio 3.a. Latin and English. My explanation of the Latin issues: On the Use of Contraception Outside of Marriage and On the Latin text of Humanae Vitae.

No proponent of this claim of a translation error has ever replied to the above argument.

Certainly, the Magisterium often refers to marriage and the marital act when speaking of contraception. And the reason is obvious: sexual relations is only moral within marriage, and so contraception should not be an issue outside of marriage, not for believing and practicing Catholics. However, when the Church speaks of government programs promoting contraception, or of Catholic hospitals dispensing or cooperating with contraception, or of sex education programs for the young, She absolutely forbids contraception, not only its use, but its promotion and approval, regardless of marital state.

Most notably, in Casti Connubii, Pope Pius XI condemns contraception in the words of Saint Augustine: “Intercourse even with one’s legitimate wife is unlawful and wicked where the conception of the offspring is prevented.” Notice the wording: “even with one’s legitimate wife”, not “only with” one’s legitimate wife. The meaning is clear: contraception is intrinsically evil regardless of marital state.

This claim of the conservative Catholic subculture that the teaching of the Magisterium, a teaching they generally admit to be infallible under the ordinary and universal Magisterium, is substantially restricted so as to apply only to sexual acts within a valid marriage, is unsupportable. It also has the effect of justifying most uses of contraception.

The claim also implies a rather hypocritical and absurd conclusion: that the divorced and remarried — persons in an invalid marriage — do not violate Church teaching in their use of contraception. Thus, some conservatives are saying to the divorced and remarried, you may not receive Communion because you are committing adultery — but your commission of adultery exempts you from Church teaching against contraception. Ridiculous. What reasonable faithful Catholic believes that a Pope or an Ecumenical Council will ever tell the Church and the world that contraception becomes morally licit, when combined with a grave sexual sin, such as fornication or adultery? And yet that is what these false teachers imply.

Certainly, direct sterilization is intrinsically evil regardless of marital state. And this truth implies that temporary sterilization, i.e. contraception, is also immoral regardless of marital state. In fact, some types of sterilization are reversible, and therefore not entirely permanent. Is direct sterilization only immoral within marriage?

2. Instead, the true meaning of the teaching is that contraception is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral, regardless of marital state. The procreative faculty is inscribed in human nature, in the natures of both men and women, which is why contraception is against nature — not merely against marriage. And while it is true that the use of contraception within marriage constitutes an offense against the marital state — a state ordained by God primarily for procreation — the ability to procreate is not found only in marriage.

The evil moral object of contraception is the deprivation of the procreative finality from sexual acts. And this is also an evil moral object found in homosexual sexual acts. So there is a consistency to Church teaching, whereby She condemns non-procreative sexual acts, whether that deprivation results from contraception, or direct sterilization, or inherently non-procreative sex.

The only moral sexual act is natural marital relations open to life. This act has the three moral objects required by the eternal moral law, required by the love of God above all else and the love of neighbor as self: marital, unitive, procreative. All sexual acts which are non-marital are intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. All sexual acts which are non-unitive are intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. All sexual acts which are non-procreative are intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral.

3. Casti Connubii based its condemnation of contraception, not only on natural law, but also on Sacred Scripture:

“55. 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.’ “

Although modern theologians often dispute the assertion that Onan’s sin was that of contraception (i.e. withdrawal), the Magisterium unequivocally teaches that it was. Therefore, the teaching against contraception by the ordinary and universal Magisterium is divinely-revealed truth, and the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt contrary to that truth is heresy.

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

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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9 Responses to Three Proposed Dubia on Contraception

  1. Matt Z. says:

    You make some good arguments, but why Catholic theologians dont see this is beyond belief. This one is common sense. An act that is contraceptive goes directly against the dignity of the human person in marriage and out of marriage.

  2. Tom Mazanec says:

    Ron, do you have links to Catholics who are
    1) Conservative, and
    2) Pro-contraception? That would be just weird. Conservatives are supposed to be prudish, aren’t they? It would be like a liberal who is in favor of segregation…it doesn’t add up.

    • Ron Conte says:

      conservatives who claim that contraception is moral outside marriage: Dr. Ed Peters, Janet E. Smith, Jimmy Akin, Jeff Mirus of, and many other authors and sources. It’s hard to find a source that doesn’t make that claim. There are also many authors who justify contraception within marriage for a medical purpose or in other cases. Akin seems to think that contraception in marriage might be justified for a non-contraceptive intention or in a dire circumstance.

      The current consensus among conservatives approves of all manner of sins, which should be condemned as intrinsically evil. The root of the problem is the rejection of the teaching that intrinsically evil acts are always immoral. And once you start rationalizing excuses for some acts, all of Catholic moral teaching crumbles.

  3. Tom Mazanec says:

    This is what your links to
    conservative Catholics incorrectly portray themselves as Orthodox →

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  4. stefano says:

    Concerning contraception outside marriage, the only point of reason I can see is that you prevent an irresponsible conception of human life outside a family. But that is a very hypocritical argument: If you prostitute yourself for living, saying that you use condoms, however, doesn’ t make you a more responsible person than if you didn’t. And such is the reason, I believe, why the Church cannot allow contraception regardles of marital status, because it would be like promoting “responsible” extra marital relations, whereas the only responsible sexual acts are those arousing from a valid marriage.

    • Ron Conte says:

      I don’t understand your argument. Moral responsibility is not based solely on the anticipated good and bad effects, but from the intention and moral object also.

    • stefano says:

      Do you mean that a prostitute (for example) acts morally with regard to contraception when uses condoms with the good intention of not giving birth to an unhappy child? Did I get you right?

    • Ron Conte says:

      What? Contraception is always wrong, regardless of intention, circumstances, or marital status.

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