The Betrayers of Humanae Vitae

A battle for the soul of Catholic Christian morality is underway. And the true teachings of the faith are losing ground. The enemy is within our own ranks. Heretical Catholic teachers are spreading grave moral errors, under the guise of presenting true doctrine. And their favorite point of attack is the doctrine of intrinsically evil acts.

When an act has an evil moral object, the act is immoral by its very nature. Such acts are termed intrinsically evil and they are always wrong to knowingly choose. This doctrine is infallible under the ordinary and universal Magisterium. It is found in Sacred Scripture (according to Pope Saint John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor 82). It is the cornerstone of Catholic ethical teaching. And it is systematically being dismantled, contradicted, and/or radically reinterpreted by various false teachers, who wish to approve of popular intrinsically evil acts in certain cases.

One method of attack on the doctrine of intrinsically evil acts is to claim that the moral object is determined by the will of the person who acts. Thus, any act becomes possibly moral, if the person wills it for a good purpose. But this false teaching contracts the true teaching of the Church (in Veritatis Splendor and the CCC) that the moral object is the end toward which the act itself is ordered. It is an end inherent to the chosen act, not an end chosen freely by the human person. In truth, whenever a person knowingly chooses any act, he chooses the act, its inherent moral nature, and its moral object. The one choice encompasses all three parts of the act: the act itself, its nature, and its object. You cannot associate any object with any act; the object is inherent to the act (being the end toward which the act is ordered, by its nature).

Yet false teachers have found various clever ways to contradict, ignore, or radically reinterpret this difficult truth. Is it really true that a faithful Catholic cannot tell a venial lie, even in order to save many lives? Yes, it is true. But given the difficulty of this teaching, some faithless teachers have approved of lying. Some say that lying simply is not always wrong. Some say that lying should be redefined, so that the deliberate assertion of a falsehood is not always defined as a lie. When lying seems like it should be permitted, they say it is not really a lie. Only the lies that seem wrong are defined as lies. Of course, this approach is a blatant usurpation of the eternal moral law. Instead of faithful Christians adhering to the teachings of Christ and His Church, they decide for themselves what is right and wrong. They redefine every term, and rearrange every teaching, until every act they wish to approve is defined as good, even when it is intrinsically evil.

Humanae Vitae

Contraception is very popular among Catholic Christians. A majority of married Catholics use contraception. Many single Catholics are sexually-active, and use contraception. Yet they attend Mass, receive Communion, and do not confess their sexual sins, nor their sins of contraception and abortifacients. (And while there is a loud call for the divorced and remarried to be denied Communion, they do not call to prohibit Communion to persons who use contraception, or who commit intrinsically evil sexual acts, without repentance.)

Certain Catholic teachers, wishing to have a large audience to praise them, have decided to provide theological rationalizations for the use of contraception. These false teachers claim to support and promote Humanae Vitae. Instead, they have radically reinterpreted Humanae Vitae so as to approve of the use of contraception and abortifacient contraception in many cases.

Dr. Ed Peters is one of these betrayers of Humanae Vitae. He claims that the condemnation of contraception as an intrinsically evil act by Humanae Vitae is limited to its use within marriage.

“Moreover, Church teaching on the immorality of contracepted marital acts is, I believe, taught infallibly; but, even if I were wrong about that technical claim, there is no question about what that teaching is, namely, that contracepting acts of marital intercourse, whether doing so as an end in itself or as means to some other end, is objectively immoral.

“A discussion could be had, I think, on whether non-marital sexual intercourse is subject to the same moral requirements as that to which marital intercourse is held. Humanae vitae does not, as far as I can see, address that question.” [Misunderstanding the (alleged) ‘Congo contraception’ case]

Yes, it is an infallible teaching. And yes, you are a teacher of heresy for substantially distorting that teaching. The approved English translation of Humanae Vitae clearly condemns the use of contraception in acts of sexual intercourse, not solely marital intercourse.

“Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.” [Humanae Vitae 14]

The phrase is sexual intercourse, not marital intercourse. And when the Pontiff says “similarly excluded”, he is comparing contraception to “permanent or temporary” sterilization and to abortion. No one thinks that sterilization, even when temporary, is only immoral in marriage. And contraception is similarly excluded.

Now the claim is made by certain authors (Janet Smith; Jimmy Akin) that Humanae Vitae contains a translation error, such that “sexual intercourse” should have been translated as “marital intercourse”. But this is easily refuted by looking at other magisterial documents on contraception.

For example, Quaecumque Sterilizatio condemns contraception because it “impede the natural result of the sexual act [actuum sexualium].” There is no use of the Latin term “conjug-” here. The teaching against contraception is certainly broader than solely marital intercourse. Moreover, the document Casti Connubii uses the Latin term “conjug-” (with various Latin endings) to refer to non-marital sex three times, thus proving that the use of that Latin word in Humanae Vitae does not imply a restriction of the teaching solely to marital sexual acts.

Janet Smith is one of the chief architects of the rebellion against Humanae Vitae. Both Ed Peters and Jimmy Akin seem to be heavily influenced by her false teachings on this subject. She redefines lying so that many lies are no longer condemned as intrinsically evil, being called “false signification” instead of lying. Putting a new label on intrinsically evil acts that one wishes were moral is a common approach of these false teachers. They go so far as to say that contraception used outside of marriage is not really “contraception” at all.

Smith has gone so far in her attacks on Humanae Vitae as to retranslate that document from the Latin, adding words and phrases not based on anything in the Latin text. [Janet Smith’s new translation of Humanae Vitae] She justifies contraception outside of marriage, since the sexual acts are non-marital. She justifies the use of abortifacient contraception, even within marriage, calling the deaths of innocent prenatals a small but acceptable risk. See my previous posts on her errors here.

She is one of the main proponents of a radical revision of the Church’s teaching on intrinsically evil acts, a revision which allows every intrinsically evil act to become moral by redefining the act itself, and by claiming that a good purpose in one’s mind changes the moral object of the act. In this way, she justifies lying, contraception, abortifacient contraception, direct sterilization, and unnatural sexual acts in marriage (including marital sodomy). Her teachings are thoroughly heretical, and yet she is treated as if she were a faithful Catholic teacher.

On the subject of Humanae Vitae, there is a real danger that her reading of the text will prevail, thereby perverting the true teaching of Pope Paul VI and Pope Saint John Paul II. Recently, U.S. Archbishop Joseph Naumann spoke on Humanae Vitae using her language, asserting her grave error: that each and every marital sexual act must be open to life. He stated that “there is an intrinsic evil to use it [contraception] because it cuts off one of the goals of marriage, which is an openness to life.” But that is not the teaching of the Church. Rather, the teaching is that contraception deprives sexual intercourse of its procreative finality, not solely marital intercourse. See my proof of this point here.

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 [Familiaris Consortio, n. 32].

Pontifical Council for the Family: “The artificial methods of birth control as well as sterilization do not respect the human person of a woman and man because they eliminate or impede fertility, which is an integral part of the person.” [The Ethical and Pastoral Dimensions of Population Trends, n. 76]

Direct permanent sterilization is gravely immoral, regardless of marital state. It eliminates fertility, which is integral to the human person. The temporary sterilization offered by contraception is also gravely immoral, regardless of marital state, for the same reason. It would be absurd to say that permanent sterilization is wrong regardless of marital state, but temporary sterilization is fine for the unmarried.

Catholic hospitals are forbidden from dispensing contraception, even when it would be dispensed by a non-Catholic physician to a non-Catholic unmarried couple. If contraception were only intrinsically evil in marriage, the Church could not justify such a restriction.

Pope Pius XI, in Casti Connubii, cites the condemnation of contraception by Sacred Scripture and by 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.’ ” (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 also infallible.

Thus, it is a heresy to claim that the condemnation of contraception is limited to valid marriages. How often is contraception used outside of a valid marriage? Very often. Excluding these uses of contraception from the condemnation of Humanae Vitae removes very many, if not most, uses from the scope of the teaching. This narrowing of the condemnation of a gravely immoral act does much harm to souls.

But then it gets worse. Many of these same teachers, who restrict the condemnation of contraception to marital acts, also find that contraception and even abortifacient contraception may be morally used within marriage. For they have redefined the basic teachings of the Church on intrinsically evil acts. The result is that they claim the use of abortifacient contraception within marriage is permissible, if the couple has a medical purpose in mind. But of course, that is not how the dogma of intrinsic evil works. When an act is intrinsically evil, it is always wrong, regardless of the purpose for which the act is chosen, and regardless of the circumstances. And even if it could be shown that the use of abortifacient contraception had a good moral object in treating a disease, it certainly still retains its evil moral objects of depriving sexual intercourse of its procreative finality, and depriving innocent prenatals of their lives.

But abortifacient contraception is not only intrinsically evil, as a form of contraception and a form of abortion, under the moral object; it is also immoral under the circumstances of the act. For the use of abortifacient contraception results in the bad consequences of the deaths of innocent prenatals. And these deaths can be entirely avoided, while still obtaining the medical benefit, by refraining from sex while using the pill. It is never moral to cause or permit the loss of life of innocents, in order to obtain a benefit, when that benefit can be obtained in some other way, without the loss of any lives. The real decision in the case of abortifacient contraception for a medical purpose is that being able to continue having sex is worth more than the lives of one’s own unborn children.

Some authors approve of the use of contraception within marriage for any of a range of purposes, as long as the purpose is not contraceptive. Some approve of the use of abortifacient contraception for any medical purpose, while remaining sexually active. Some approve of the use of condoms to prevent the transmission of disease. There are many different versions of this heresy. What they all have in common is that the teachers of these errors are widely-accepted among conservative Catholics, and are seen as defenders of Humanae Vitae, even though they are betrayers of that holy document and its insightful teachings.

As the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae approaches, on July 25th, you will see these false teachers again repeat their gravely immoral teaching, while being praised as if they were faithful.

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

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4 Responses to The Betrayers of Humanae Vitae

  1. Mark P. says:

    Is it that perhaps the authors you mentioned use the term “marital intercourse” not because they approve contraception outside of marriage, but because when addressing a Catholic audience they are presupposing that a Catholic should already know that any sexual relations outside of marriage are forbidden?

    • Ron Conte says:

      No. There are a number of very specific assertions on this point. I’ve covered this in past posts. They are very clearly excluding non-marital sex from the condemnation of contraception.

  2. stefano says:

    Frankly, I do not understand this discussion. Contraception is a sin, as well as adultery. But even if contraception in itself were not a sin in the context of adultery, adultery alone, being a gravely immoral act, would be enough to comdemn the sinner for eternity (“The Law indeed makes up one inseparable whole, and St. James recalls “Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it” – CCC #578). I might have missed something.

    • Ron Conte says:

      The greater the moral disorder, the greater the sin. Contraception used in sex outside of marriage is more sinful, as the act has the sin of contraception as well as the sin of sex apart from marriage. The error is to claim that contraception is not itself sinful outside of marriage.

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