The Truth About Catholic Women and Contraception

Catholics take note: When it comes to helping women understand what the Church teaches about contraception, our job isn’t nearly as tough as we thought.

I know, it doesn’t always seem that way. Especially if one of last spring’s favorite statistics—“98 percent of Catholic women use contraception”—is still echoing in your ears.

Trying to tell 98 percent of any population that they’re wrong is a task that would daunt most anyone. Make that population a female one, and even the likes of Isaiah and Jeremiah would start quaking in their boots.

Nevertheless, in presenting the Church’s teachings about married love and the gift of life, that’s not what we’re doing. 98 percent of Catholic women don’t disagree with the Church. And thanks to the Women, Faith, and Culture Project, there’s now a study to prove that.

“What Catholic Women Think: Faith, Conscience, and Contraception” was released last week by the inestimable Mary Hasson and her co-author, Michelle Hill. In great detail, it confirms what some of us have been saying all along: Catholic women’s attitudes about contraception are much more nuanced and diverse than MSNBC would have people believe.

In a nutshell, the study found that while only 13 percent of church-going Catholic women are completely on board with the Church’s teachings on family planning, young women (ages 18-34) are far more receptive, with 27 percent in full agreement with Rome.

Moreover, when the women in question are women who go to Mass weekly and have been to confession at least once in the past year, 37 percent stand with the Church on the issue of contraception.

Which, is to say that more than a third of the women sitting in the pews on most Sundays believe and live what the Church teaches.

Furthermore, the study shows that even many of the women who aren’t 100 percent in line with the Church aren’t waiting to throw rotten tomatoes at anyone who dares utter the letters “NFP.” 44 percent of all Mass-going women accept at least some of the Church’s teachings on family planning. And 53 percent of those women say they’re open to learning more about what the Church teaches. 50 percent of younger Catholic women overall said the same.

Unfortunately, not all the news from the study is quite so cheering.

The results also show that somewhere along the line, 85 percent of Mass-going Catholics have picked up the idea that they can be good Catholics without following the Church’s teachings on contraception.

But they can’t.

As uncomfortable as it is to say and as unpleasant as it is to hear, contraception is still a mortal sin, which in Catholic speak is as serious as sin gets. It’s a sin that robs the soul of sanctifying grace. And sanctifying grace is what enables us to be good Catholics. It’s the fuel upon which our souls run: It’s God’s own life in us. Without that life, we can’t receive Christ in the Eucharist. Without that life, we can’t be conformed into the images of Christ we’re called to be.

That being said, contraception is only a mortal sin if you freely choose to contracept and actually know what you’re doing is wrong, something that the study says many Catholic women don’t know. In fact, 33 percent of Catholic women think that the Church is okey-dokey with couples getting to decide whether or not they’re going to use contraception.

That’s a problem. The number of Catholic women using contraception is an even bigger problem. But they are both problems that can be fixed…or at least mitigated.

If there’s a central truth to which the Hasson/Hill study points, it’s this: Women are open to hearing what the Church has to say. Many even want to hear what the Church has to say. They’ve already heard the culture’s point of view. They’ve experienced the consequences of living according to that point of view. And they know firsthand that point of view is seriously lacking.

But if no one offers them something different, if no one steps up to the plate and shows them a better way, few will look for it on their own. Fewer still will find it.

If, as a Church, we really want to help women (and men), all of us have to get serious about showing them that better way—explaining how contraception harms their bodies, their souls, and their relationships; introducing them to natural forms of family planning that respect the Church’s teachings on life; and schooling them in the true meaning of sexuality.

On one level, that task falls to all of us—parents, friends, co-workers, and religious educators, prudently sharing our thoughts and experiences as the occasion arises.

Far more fundamentally, however, it falls to priests and bishops.

According to the study, 72 percent of the women rely primarily on the Sunday homily for their faith formation. Which means if they’re not hearing about the Church’s teachings on love and life there, they’re not hearing about them anywhere

And many aren’t. For more than two generations, there has been only silence from the majority of our Church’s pulpits on the issue of contraception. Too many pastors and shepherds of souls have kept mum on the question, instead leaving it to the culture to form the Catholic conscience. Or, more accurately, malform the Catholic conscience.

The study doesn’t give us a reason for that. Anecdotally, we can hazard a guess that a little of the reticence stems from disagreement with Church teaching; much more from the fear of alienating parishioners.

But that shouldn’t be the case. No one has to be afraid. Not anymore. The Hasson/Hill study makes it clear: Women are listening.

Doesn’t that mean it’s high time someone starts talking?

Emily Stimpson is a Contributing Editor to “Our Sunday Visitor” and the author of “The Catholic Girl’s Survival Guide for the Single Years,” where she dishes on the Church’s teachings about women, marriage, sex, work, beauty, suffering, and more.

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60 thoughts on “The Truth About Catholic Women and Contraception

  1. Concerned says:

    We used natural methods, just because I did not like condoms, not because of religious reasons. I am a strong catholic, means a strong faith in God, and read Bible regularly, and live a Christian life according to Bible. Many Catholics thinks that if they live according to churches rules, they would have salvation. Church insist on Sunday mass, and what happens, my wife will break all the traffic laws, speeding, cutting, (does not show fingers of course), just to get to church on time. So we always have a big fight in the car, before we reach the church, and by that time I have lost my frame of mind to enter the house of God. Is chuch more important the law, I don’t think so.
    Funny part is some people show fingers to you before they enter church, and this happened to me when I was going to Sunday church in Montreal Canada.
    Sex is where you lose your mind, where every rule breaks for men and women. You don’t think about Pope, when you have sex with your wife. We forget ourselves, so leave alone church, and everyone is not the same. So I am not sure about Statistics. I am not in favor of sleeping around and getting pregnant, and certainly, I have not allowed that with my daughter, she is great in that, thank God almighty. But rape is different, and I do not want to classify, to insult the victims. I have friend who was a victim and still a wreck after 15yrs, imagine having the child child of that monster as a token of horror. I do not wish that on Ryan and Aikens family, and not on any girls.
    We should use common sense, and Jesus used it to save the immoral woman from death, of he could easily killed her, as he was without sin. Did God punish those 2 daughters who slept with their father while he was drunk in order to get pregnant. No, but why.
    Finally, I think you are right in a good communication, but do not involve priests into sex education for women, but let women who has knowledge in this to teach women. I am sure priest cannot do that in the pulpit to embarrass people of different ages. Also you are putting women and priests in harms way, church has gone through enough scandal already, not more. I strongly believe, that we should have women priests to handle many of churches and our problems, let Vatican open up this issue, along with a question of priest marrying . We men have problems in still understanding our own wives completely , mentally and physically, how can a church with full of men who supposedly, never had any relationship with women could understand and resolve issues of women. Priests are also men with same feelings as others, so they definitely could make mistakes like us. So we also should act responsibly, and use common sense, instead of assuming that somehow priests turned into some other being than normal human with normal feelings.

  2. BP Pope says:

    Really….Really !!! Our Country is imploding and we are debating birth control. Fight for your children’s future, fight for your country, fight for your God!!!

    Forget the Media Spin Machine….

    Vote for our future!!!! Romney/Ryan….

  3. JEFF says:

    How can the catholic church dictate what couples do when they dont step up and assist in even education needs of children without a price tag? Children aren’t cheap. I say clean up their own before dictating what is done in peoples beds. I left the church 8 years ago due to the sex scandal and it’s handling here in Cincinnati….If you’re catholic and are not living by the teachings of the church you’re a hypocrit and need to leave the church. When they lose dollars…their way of thinking will change. Read the book “goodbye good men” by michael rose.

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