Contraception and the Church

Contraception: A History of Its Treatment by Catholic Theologists and Canonists

by John T. Noonan Jr.
Harvard (Belknap Press), 390 pp., $7.95

The Pill

edited by Leo Pyle
Helicon Press, 225 pp., $1.65 (paper)

The Priest: Celibate or Married

by Pierre Hermand
Helicon Press, 144 pp., $3.75

Catholics, Marriage and Contraception

by John Marshall M.D.
Helicon Press, 224 pp., $4.50

Today humanity is threatened from without by overpopulation and the possibility of thermonuclear destruction. It is threatened from within by the near collapse of any coherent religious system and the failure to regulate conduct in the light of agreed principles. Millions of people do not believe God exists. More millions reject Christianity as irrelevant to the human situation, as a religion whose residual traces are no more worth following than the tracks of a rabbit in the undergrowth. A large number, however, are in the position so aptly described by Anthony Padovana in his book, The Estranged God:

Modern man is the product of a world which has moved too quickly for him to assimilate, a lonely creature who wants so much to communicate, to have someone understand him, a rebel without a cause, a lover who finds no one to love. He is perplexed by his world, paralyzed with doubt, filled with fear, alienated from a God, grown it seems, silent.

In other words they are seekers, unable to live without a religion, unable to live with the one their cultural environment would most readily suggest. And what is happening? Confronted by the greatest challenge and therefore the greatest opportunity in her history, the Roman Catholic Church is convulsed by a controversy which has nothing directly to do with religion at all.

Dominicans, Franciscans, Redemptorists, Carmelites, Benedictines, Rosminians, and Cistercians are sitting with heads tied up in flannel, their apartments strewn with the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, Patrologia graeca, Patrologia latina, volumes of moral theology, collections of cannon law, and articles in French, German, and Dutch; highly intelligent people have convinced themselves that a solemn encyclical can be interpreted as meaning just the opposite of what it says. Perplexity disturbs the peace of the Confessional; talks to engaged couples falter; parish priests give interviews with journalists and are whisked off to do penance in the Campagna; the laity disclose how some of their children were conceived as a result of mistaken temperature readings due to a fault in an electric blanket; the correspondence columns in the Catholic press are filled with exhortation, reproaches, and heart-searchings; priests explain the difference between ovarian repose and temporary sterility; in the same month that an Archbishop tells his flock they must follow their consciences, a learned canonist announces that disobedient couples should not be admitted to Holy Communion: and after two years of anxious debate a papal commission is on the point of making a pronouncement. All this to decide, not if it is desirable to have as many children as God gives, but which methods to prevent their appearance are most pleasing to Him.

JOHN T. NOONAN, JR., is a Professor of Law at the Notre Dame Law School, Director of the Natural Law Institute, and editor of Natural Law Forum. He has already written a book called The Scholastic Analysis of Usury published, like his present volume, by the Harvard University Press. I have not read it, but I…

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