When I was a young Jesuit novice in 1963, my father came to visit me. We walked through the grounds of a beautiful orchard and, after an initial greeting and cordial exchanges, my father broke into tears, sobbing. I was shocked. I had never seen my father crying. In my amazement, the only thing I was able to say was: “What’s the matter? Why are you crying?” I believe that my black Jesuit cassock gave him permission to cry. After a long pause, he said: “This morning I went to confession. I told the priest that I enjoyed sexual intercourse with your mother but I cannot permit another pregnancy. I am having a hard enough time supporting five of you. I know we are living in poverty already.” At first I was shocked at his brutal honesty from my father at my tender age of 22. ‘The priest said he could not give me absolution because my sexual act was not intended for procreation and that was against the Church’s teaching. The priest closed the screen separating us and I was left with utter disgust with myself not knowing what to do. I knew there was something wrong here, not with me, but with the priest who handled my confession so cruelly in the name of the Church.”
The Church’s teaching on contraception is fairly complex and largely based on the mythical texts of the Sacrificial Temple Cult of a late primitive Bronze Age tribe. This is the cult that Jesus would have been familiar with since his time was before the destruction of the Second Temple 70 AD Judaism we might be slightly familiar with today, a completely different religion. Judaism, like many Christian Churches – Catholic, Anglicanism, Methodism for example – has many varied forms of practice, Reformed Judaism being totally different to Orthodox Judaism. The teaching on contraception is completely inappropriate I believe. This is because the Church sees itself as our mother caring for our souls, which does, it seems give the Church rights over our sexuality. This is a huge mistake since it is not recognised that children grow up and have their own right to dialogue and conversation with the Trinity and relation to their God. This relation is to be conducted with prayer and individual concerns and is not a spectator sport for Canon Law or others. The horror stories I could recount, for myself, and others make the Church’s misguided teaching very difficult and even dangerous, since unless you are a WIFE, then insight is not only absent, but harmful in its ignorance of the frailty and dangers, many women and families are subject to, if sensible contraceptive planning is not part of the loving, caring and couple communion, within marriage.
What my grandfather, my father’s father, way back in the late 1940s was told by his priest as the doctors believed that if his wife got pregnant again she would die giving birth confined him to a life of celibacy. Not wanting to put his wife’s life in jeopardy … “my dear Nellie” he called her, and at the advice of the priest was told he had to stop having sex with his wife. Condoms condemned. He stopped going to church … I can still hear him cursing and swearing at the Church and God … angry, oh so angry.
I give thanks that my wife and I lived in a time when more highly effective birth control was available. We are both Catholics … educated in the matter of reproductive sex. The church’s teaching in the matter of contraception at least 200 years out of date. Sex a matter of ordinary teaching subject to primacy of conscience.
Who is to say I would not have become like my angry grandfather … unnecessary suffering cause by an outdate teaching of conception prevention imposed on me by a church ignorant in matters of sex? And I think of women all over the world forced to endure their husband’s "rights to sex" ... amounting to approval of rape ... It is not right that they have no control over their reproductive life ... a message I believe Jesus would approve.