Contraception and Conscience
Posted by shane
Most Rev. John Charles McQuaid, D.D. Archbishop of Dublin, Primate of Ireland.
25th November, 1970
For some time past, in this Diocese, statements have been made by various categories of people in the daily press and in magazines concerning the regulation of birth. Any writer or speaker who wishes to venture into the area of the doctrine of the moral law is gravely obliged to understand correctly and to state accurately the objective moral law as the teaching authority in the Church explains that law.
In a Diocese, there is only one teaching authority who, under the Pope and in union with him, is competent, by virtue of his sacred office, to declare the authentic and objective moral law that is binding on all the Faithful of his Diocese, both priests and lay folk. That authority is the Bishop.
Accordingly, to correct the confusion that has been caused in the minds of the Faithful of this Diocese, we hereby formally declare the doctrine of the objective moral law concerning the regulation of birth: every action which, either in anticipation of the marriage act or in the accomplishment of that act, or, in the development of the natural consequences of that act, proposes, either as an end or as a means, to make procreation impossible, is unlawful in itself. In other words, any such contraceptive act is wrong in itself.
This is the constant teaching of the church. This is the teaching recently reaffirmed by the Pope, supreme Teacher of the Law of God in the Church of Christ. Much is being written about conscience, as if conscience can make right that which is wrong in itself. Conscience is a judgment by which an individual decides from general principles that a particular act is good or bad. That judgment is for each man the rule of his moral conduct but his judgment, if it is to be right according to the objective moral law, must agree with that law. A man, through blameless ignorance or confusion, may be mistaken in the judgment that a particular act is right. Because of that blameless ignorance or confusion he is excused from personal sin; none the less his judgment is false and his action is wrong in itself. Hence the serious obligation binding on every man to inform himself correctly, especially in the Sacrament of Penance, concerning what is objectively right and wrong, so that, in his particular judgment, he may act only in agreement with the moral law.
Our Divine Master has Himself established in His Church the teaching Authority that, with full certainty, can declare, make clear and defend the moral law. To observe that law, we need not merely knowledge but grace that will sustain our weakness, in even the most difficult circumstances of human life. That grace we can always obtain by humble prayer and by the reception of the Sacrament in which we meet the Author of grace Himself. “Come to Me,” He has urged, “and I will refresh you, for my yoke is sweet and my burden light.”
May the Mother of God, by her most powerful intercession, obtain for the Faithful of this Diocese, priests and lay folk, the signal grace loyally to accept in all their life the doctrine of the moral law that the Church unfailingly affirms.
17th February, 1971.
Our faithful people continue to be assailed by public pleas for civil divorce and contraception. Civil divorce is proposed as the right of minorities, contraception is proposed as the right of married persons to control birth.
The words ‘right’ and ‘control’ lend a false appearance of reason and morality but civil divorce is evil and contraception is evil. There cannot be, on the part of any person, a right to what is evil. A right is the moral power of a human person to do or to possess or to exact. Being a moral power, it can be founded only in reason and in the objective moral law. Its purpose is to give to the human person the moral power or authority freely to choose what leads him securely to his final end, which is God. Civil divorce and contraception are each a violation of the objective moral law, a very grave offense against God, the Author of that law. Our faithful people, as by an instinct of the Faith, grasp at once this truth and will be guided by the Church which has been founded by Jesus Christ Himself to be the authentic interpreter of the objective moral law.
22nd March, 1971.
Confusion continues to be spread among our faithful people by the frequent and inaccurate use of terms such as planned or responsible parenthood. The natural use of marriage is not a merely animal act to which human beings are driven by blind instinct. It is a reasonable human act to which, according to the law of God the Creator, responsible human beings mutually consent. In that sense, the natural use of marriage is planned and is responsible but, if by planned is meant the spacing of births by contraception, then that use of marriage is not in agreement with the law of God. It is not planned according to the rational nature of man as such. It is not responsible for it is not a deliberate act that, by its agreement with the law of God, assists man to reach his final end.
By contraception is meant every action which, in anticipation of the marriage act, or in the accomplishment of that act, or in the development of the natural consequences of that act, proposes, either as an end or as a means, to make procreation impossible.
Any such contraceptive act is always wrong in itself. To speak, then, in this context, of a right to contraception on the part of an individual, be he Christian or non-Christian or atheist, or on the part of a minority or a majority, is to speak of a right that cannot even exist.
When one considers the use of marriage by Christians who have received the Sacrament of Marriage, the natural use of marriage is not only a reasonable, responsible and planned action; it is also a sanctified act that can merit an increase of God’s grace and a reward in eternal life. This is the authentic teaching of the Church, guardian, by Christ’s own appointment, of the Sacrament of Matrimony.
Confusion is further being spread by an often inaccurate use of terms such as private and public morality. The use of a contraceptive by an individual person is an act that primarily concerns that person and as such is a matter of private morality. Publicly to make contraceptives available is a matter of public morality.
Given the proneness of our human nature to evil, given the enticement of bodily satisfaction, given the widespread modern incitement to unchastity, it must be evident that an access, hitherto unlawful, to contraceptive devices will prove a most certain occasion of sin, especially to immature persons. The public consequences of immorality that must follow for our whole society are only too clearly seen in other countries.
If they who are elected to legislate for our society should unfortunately decide to pass a disastrous measure of legislation that will allow the public promotion of contraception and an access, hitherto unlawful, to the means of contraception, they ought to know clearly the meaning of their action, when it is judged by the norms of objective morality and the certain consequences of such a law.
To add to the confusion, it is being suggested that our society ought to be brought into line with the outlook of other countries. Hitherto, we have endeavoured to legislate according to the established beliefs and standards of our own people. One can conceive no worse fate for Ireland than that it should, by the legislation of our elected representatives, be now made to conform to the patterns of sexual conduct in other countries.
It is also being suggested that such uniformity of sexual outlook and practice can, in some obscure way, assist the reunification of our country. One must know little of the Northern people, if one can fail to realize the indignant ridicule with which good Northern people would treat such an argument. It would indeed be a foul basis on which to attempt to construct the unity of our people.
It may well come to pass that, in the present climate of emotional thinking and pressure, legislation could be enacted that will offend the objective moral law. Such a measure would be an insult to our Faith; it would, without question, prove to be gravely damaging to morality, private and public; it would be and would remain, a curse upon our country.
Your faithful servant in Christ,
+ JOHN CHARLES
Archbishop of Dublin, Primate of Ireland.
Posted on August 28, 2010, in Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, Birth Control, Bishops' Pastorals, Catholic Social Teaching, Irish Church-State Relations, Media Archives. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.