Catholic church needs new ap­proach to con­tra­cep­tion

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IN re­sponse to “Catholics un­der the spot­light” (Le­sotho Times, Oc­to­ber 22, 2015), 57 Ro­man Catholic Church (RCC) health­care fa­cil­i­ties are said to be un­der the spot­light for con­tin­u­ing to refuse to of­fer “ar­ti­fi­cial” fam­ily plan­ning ser­vices be­cause of the church doc­trine which only ad­vo­cates nat­u­ral meth­ods of birth con­trol, and this is said to have been con­firmed by Chris­tian Health As­so­ci­a­tion of Le­sotho (CHAL) Act­ing Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Bap­tista Paseka Ra­mashamole.

The con­tro­versy car­ried on in a threat­en­ing and emo­tional at­mos­phere be­tween the adamant ad­vo­cates of “ar­ti­fi­cial’ birth con­trol ( pill) and their op­po­nents from the Catholic point of view, have over­looked the fact that birth con­trol has been in ex­is­tence since the dawn of civil­i­sa­tion.

Egyp­tian pa­pyri dat­ing from 1850 and 1550 BC con­tain pre­scrip­tions for con­coc­tions of honey, crocodile’s dung moist­ened lint and other in­gre­di­ents which were rec­om­mended for the spe­cific pur­pose of avoid­ing con­cep­tion.

The RCC teach­ings, through the pas­toral con­sti­tu­tion in the mod­ern world (Gaudium et Spes) does not con­done un­con­trolled pro­cre­ation. Mar­ried cou­ples are urged to take into ac­count both their own wel­fare and that of their chil­dren.

They are also urged to as­sess the in­ter­ests of the fam­ily and ma­te­rial con­di­tions of the times as well as their state of life.

It is for this rea­son that we say the Catholic Church is not op­posed to re­spon­si­ble planned par­ent­hood. The prob­lem lies in the means em­ployed by other or­ga­ni­za­tions or so­ci­eties.

As­sum­ing that the end jus­ti­fies the means .i.e. the end is to con­trol fer­til­ity and in pur­su­ing that end, there are dif­fer­ent means em­ployed, it is not sur­pris­ing there­fore that the Catholic church has ad­vanced her own fam­ily plan­ning method known as nat­u­ral method or pe­ri­odic ab­sti­nence.

Ba­sotho tra­di­tional doc­tors have ad­vanced their own meth­ods, so are the western so­ci­eties with their pill or ar­ti­fi­cial meth­ods.

How­ever, from my re­search, there are no fam­ily plan­ning meth­ods that are fool­proof.

Pe­ri­odic ab­sti­nence or nat­u­ral method ad­vo­cated by the RCC is based on what I might call an “obli­ga­tion ideal” that is im­pos­si­ble for re­al­iza­tion in the con­text of Le­sotho.

It must be em­pha­sized that no woman should at­tempt to use this method un­less she has re­ceived in­struc­tions from trained per­son­nel, which is non ex­is­tent in the re­mote ar­eas of Le­sotho where th­ese 57 health­care fa­cil­i­ties are mostly found.

The ques­tion is how nat­u­ral is this pe­ri­odic ab­sti­nence be­cause the ma­jor­ity of women ex­pe­ri­ence a peak in sex­ual de­sire at the time of ovu­la­tion and im­me­di­ately be­fore and af­ter the on­set of their men­strual pe­riod, and it is at this point that cou­ples are more sex­u­ally ac­tive.

Yet, it is pre­cisely at this point in time that cou­ples are ad­vised by the RCC to re­frain from sex­ual ac­tiv­ity if they wish to abide by the church’s nat­u­ral fam­ily plan­ning method. The nat­u­ral method not only in­hibits con­cep­tion, but the ex­pres­sion of af­fec­tion, emo­tion­ally, psy­cho­log­i­cally, and phys­i­cally.

Na­ture has two types of in­ter­course, one that is bi­o­log­i­cally “open to life” and the other which is not for con­cu­pis­cence. It is not by ac­ci­dent that con­cep­tion does not al­ways fol­low upon sex­ual in­ter­course.

How­ever, it has been the tra­di­tional teach­ing of the RCC that ev­ery act of sex­ual in­ter­course must be left “open” to the pos­si­bil­ity of pro­cre­ation and it is this stance which has led the Catholic church to ban the use of all so called ar­ti­fi­cial con­tra­cep­tives, while giv­ing qual­i­fied ap­proval to the prac­tice of rhythm or what is re­garded as nat­u­ral fam­ily method.

It should be noted that ac­cord­ing to the Catholic church trans­for­ma­tion, nei­ther in re­cent years nor be­yond has there ever been an in­fal­li­ble def­i­ni­tion by a pope or an ec­u­meni­cal coun­cil con­cern­ing spe­cific moral is­sue, there is a broad con­sen­sus among catholic the­olo­gians that even in the ex­er­cise of its or­di­nary uni­ver­sal mag­is­terium, the church has never taught in­fal­li­bly in the area of con­crete moral norms.

For this rea­son, many catholic the­olo­gians main­tain that the use of ar­ti­fi­cial con­tra­cep­tive does not con­sti­tute a moral evil or sin, and it is not as a re­sult an ob­jec­tive moral wrong to use ar­ti­fi­cial con­tra­cep­tives.

A typ­i­cal ex­am­ple is the up­heaval in the Congo where nuns were raped, and the views of moral the­olo­gians was sought whether un­der such cir­cum­stances it was law­ful to use the pill or ar­ti­fi­cial con­tra­cep­tives for the nuns.

Mgr Lam­br­us­chini , pro­fes­sor of moral The­ol­ogy at the Lat­eran Univer­sity pointed out that the vic­tims of rape can­not choose to ab­stain as mar­ried peo­ple can, there­fore in th­ese cir­cum­stances it would be jus­ti­fied in pro­tect­ing her­self by the sup­pres­sion of ovu­la­tion.

It has been through the rad­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion within the RCC that a num­ber of con­fer­ences of Catholic bish­ops i.e. the bish­ops of coun­tries like: Hol­land, France, US, Canada, Scan­di­navia, Aus­tralia, Bel­gium and South Africa, have writ­ten their pas­toral let­ters ad­vis­ing catholic spouses of their right in con­science and of their pos­si­bil­ity for le­git­i­mate moral dis­agree­ment with the teach­ing of the church.

The South African Bish­ops in their pas­toral let­ter have cat­e­gor­i­cally said the fol­low­ing with ref­er­ence to ar­ti­fi­cial con­tra­cep­tives: “Sit­u­a­tions will, no doubt, arise in which an­other preg­nancy is un­ac­cept­able for rea­sons such as health or dif­fi­cult do­mes­tic con­di­tions, and where a regime of con­ti­nence would threaten fam­ily peace, mar­i­tal fi­delity or the fu­ture of the mar­riage it­self.

“Here, in com­mon with many other hi­er­ar­chies, we would say that it is best for the par­ents to de­cide what, in their given cir­cum­stances, is the best or only prac­ti­cal way of serv­ing the wel­fare of the whole fam­ily”

(Full text of the South African Bish­ops let­ter ap­pears in The Tablet, (March 3 1974).

The above text means that catholic spouses are urged to, re­spon­si­bly and with­out guilt or con­fes­sion, use ar­ti­fi­cial con­tra­cep­tives. How­ever, cou­ples must re­main open and hon­est in pe­ri­od­i­cally reeval­u­at­ing their sit­u­a­tions so as to avoid caught in the con­tra­cep­tive men­tal­ity which can un­for­tu­nately be­come a threat to their mar­i­tal chastity and fi­delity.

It is not the RCC which re­fuses to of­fer ar­ti­fi­cial fam­ily plan­ning ser­vices to its health­care clin­ics and hospi­tals, but the Le­sotho Catholic Bish­ops Con­fer­ence, as stated in the “Guide­lines for Catholic Med­i­cal Ethics for Le­sotho” (1981 p12 ) The LCBC teaches that nat­u­ral meth­ods (for ex­am­ple the mu­cus ovu­la­tion method) are the only meth­ods ac­cept­able by the Catholic church and that the church de­clares any me­chan­i­cal or chem­i­cal means used for the pur­pose of pre­vent­ing pro­cre­ation to be an il­licit means of birth con­trol.

But this tra­di­tional Catholic doc­trine based on Hu­manae Vi­tae of 1969, is called into doubt or ex­pressly de­nied to­day within the very Catholic church by var­i­ous bish­ops con­fer­ences as men­tioned above, pre­cisely be­cause Hu­manae Vi­tae is not the in­fal­li­ble or ir­rev­o­ca­ble catholic doc­trine.

We ex­pect the LCBC in the same man­ner to re­lease their pas­toral let­ter on fam­ily plan­ning based on re­cent find­ings and ev­i­dence and not hide be­hind the gen­eral pope`s teach­ing of 1969.

It is a fact that the mag­is­terium within the RCC is vested in the pope, but the bish­ops have au­thor­ity in their re­spec­tive coun­tries.

This is the rea­son why we have seen bish­ops in dif­fer­ent coun­tries re­leas­ing their pas­toral let­ters con­trary to the one pro­mul­gated by the pope through Hu­manae Vi­tae.

It is a fact that Chris­tian Churches from an­cient times to date , in mat­ters of moral­ity have erred and com­mit­ted blun­ders in their teach­ing so much that there is a grow­ing gap be­tween what the Chris­tian church lead­er­ship of­fi­cially teach and what the faith­ful have come to be­lieve and prac­tice as a re­spon­si­ble way be­fore God.

Dis­agree­ing with the church on moral is­sues such as the use of var­i­ous fam­ily plan­ning meth­ods must be re­garded as an ex­pres­sion of Chris­tian re­spon­si­bil­ity, pre­cisely be­cause the church is not with­out spot or wrinkles, it has short­com­ings even in her teach­ing.

This is the rea­son why the catholic spouses are ad­vised of their right and pos­si­bil­ity for le­git­i­mate moral dis­agree­ment with the church teach­ing.

The catholic com­mu­nity should un­der­stand that in search for truth, it will hap­pen rather fre­quently and le­git­i­mately so that with equal sin­cer­ity, some of the laity will dis­agree, crit­i­cize, de­bate and take is­sues with the church lead­er­ship that is what has made the RCC church strong, the prin­ci­ple of unity in di­ver­sity.

It is not hereti­cal to say that it per­mis­si­ble and jus­ti­fi­able, within the con­text of Le­sotho, for cou­ples to use fam­ily plan­ning meth­ods of their choice for dif­fer­ent and ob­vi­ous rea­sons such as de­lay­ing preg­nancy, to­tally or par­tially avoid­ing fall­ing preg­nant, child spac­ing and above all preven­tion of HIV/AIDS.

The pro­vi­sion of fam­ily plan­ning ser­vices within the catholic health­care clin­ics and hospi­tals is a mat­ter of ur­gency for the good of our bish­ops, priests and nuns and the catholic pop­u­la­tion, be­cause in one way or the other, if the bish­ops are not in­fected, they are af­fected by poor health or death of their fam­ily mem­bers some of whom die very young be­cause of HIV/AIDS or other re­lated dis­eases.

The prob­lems em­a­nat­ing from large fam­i­lies has a neg­a­tive so­cioe­co­nomic im­pact to all Ba­sotho, Catholics or protes­tants, so pro­vi­sion of ar­ti­fi­cial fam­ily plan­ning in the Catholic health­care clin­ics will ben­e­fit us all, ir­re­spec­tive of our political af­fil­i­a­tions, race or de­nom­i­na­tions.

Fam­ily plan­ning ser­vices must not only be ac­ces­si­ble but af­ford­able and avail­able through­out all catholic health­care clinic and hospi­tals, this is my prayer to the Le­sotho Catholic Bish­ops Con­fer­ence, to avoid sub­se­quent de­ci­sion ei­ther to avoid un­wed par­ent­ing by re­course to abor­tion or to bring a child to birth un­der cir­cum­stances which se­ri­ously jeop­ar­dize his/her well-be­ing.

It is a fact that to­day chil­dren born out of wed­lock are be­com­ing part of our cul­ture, which is un­for­tu­nate be­cause that threat­ens God’s plan for mar­riage and re­spon­si­ble par­ent­ing.

More­over, or­phan­ages that are mush­room­ing all over the coun­try must be re-eval­u­ated and not be glo­ri­fied for per­sonal gain by cer­tain in­di­vid­u­als or or­gan­i­sa­tions.

Let us all urge LCBC not to hide be­hind the Old Catholic ec­cle­si­ol­ogy “Roma Lo­cuta Est, Causa Fi­nata Est”, mean­ing Rome has spo­ken, the case is ended.

Le­sotho Catholic church is not, or ought not be, a fran­chise of Rome. It is high time our Le­sotho Catholic Bish­ops Con­fer­ence, as­sisted by the the­olo­gians and schol­ars of the church, pro­nounce their pas­toral let­ter on the use of ar­ti­fi­cial fam­ily plan­ning for the good of all the catholic com­mu­nity and the pub­lic.

Glory and hon­our be to God.

Ben Ma­joro.

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