Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Pope Francis upholds Catholic ban on contraception

Humanae Vitae Summary - Catholic Diocese of Gibraltar

Pope Francis has sent a message to a Natural Family Planning (NFP) conference in which he upheld the central teachings of Humanae Vitae, the papal encyclical of 1968 that prohibited married Catholics from using contraception.

The Pontiff stated that the unitive and procreative aspects of sexual intercourse were “inseparable” and he called for a counter-sexual revolution.

He warned Catholics that the widespread use of contraception had impoverished many societies and that some countries were now in danger of demographic collapse.

“There is a need always to keep in mind the inseparable connection between the unitive and procreative meanings of the conjugal act,” he said in a message to a Rome conference celebrating the Billings Ovulation Method of NFP.

The Pope said: “When these two meanings are consciously affirmed, the generosity of love is born and strengthened in the hearts of the spouses, disposing them to welcome new life.

“Lacking this, the experience of sexuality is impoverished, reduced to sensations that soon become self-referential, and its dimensions of humanity and responsibility are lost.”

Quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis said that “the use of methods based on the natural rhythms of fertility should be encouraged, emphasising the fact that they ‘respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favour the education of an authentic freedom’.”

“In the aftermath of the so-called sexual revolution and the breakdown of taboos, we need a new revolution in our way of thinking,” reported Catholic News Agency. 

“We need to discover the beauty of human sexuality by once again turning to the great book of nature, learning to respect the value of the body and the generation of life, with a view to authentic experiences of conjugal love.”

“In a world dominated by a relativistic and trivialised view of human sexuality, serious education in this area appears increasingly necessary,” Pope Francis said, “requiring an anthropological and ethical approach in which doctrinal issues are explored without undue simplifications or inflexible conclusions.”

The Pope also pointed out the benefits of the Billings method and others for using modern scientific findings to help couples struggling to conceive.

A greater understanding of the procreative processes, he said, “could help many couples make informed and ethically sound decisions that are more respectful of the person and his or her dignity”.

“Today the ideological and practical separation of the sexual relationship from its generative potential has resulted in the quest for alternative forms of having a child, no longer through marital relations but through the use of artificial processes,” he said.

“However, while it is appropriate to assist and support a legitimate desire to conceive with the most advanced scientific knowledge and technologies that can enhance fertility, it is wrong to create test tube embryos and then suppress them, to trade in gametes and to resort to the practice of surrogate parenthood. 

“At the root of the current demographic crisis is, along with various social and cultural factors, an imbalance in the view of sexuality.”

Pope Francis also spoke about the importance of an authentic sexual education and “the connection between sexuality and the fundamental vocation of each person, the gift of self, which finds particular fulfilment in conjugal and family love.”

He said: “This truth, while present in the heart of each human being, requires education in order to achieve full expression,” he said.

The remarks of Pope Francis will inevitably disappoint people who were hoping that he might attempt to reverse or modify the teachings of Pope St Paul VI, whose encyclical shocked many Catholics when it clarified the teaching of the Church against contraception.

The Holy Father explained in his address that the plea by Pope St Paul for scientists to discover new and effective ways of fertility regulation which respected Catholic moral teaching were already fully realised.

Francis said: “In the second half of the last century, as pharmacological research for fertility control expanded and the contraceptive culture was on the rise, John and Evelyn Billings conducted careful scientific research and developed a simple method, accessible to women and couples, for natural knowledge of fertility, offering them a valuable tool for the responsible management of procreative choices.

“In those years, their approach might have appeared outdated and less reliable in comparison with the purported immediacy and security of pharmacological interventions. Yet in fact, their method has continued to prove timely and challenging.”

He said the proven efficacy of NFP has spurred “a serious reflection” on “the need for education in the value of the human body, an integrated and integral vision of human sexuality, an ability to cherish the fruitfulness of love even when not fertile, the building up of a culture that welcomes life and ways to confront the problem of demographic collapse”.

The Pope’s message was sent to participants in an international conference called “The ‘Billings Revolution’ 70 Years Later: From Fertility Knowledge to Personalized Medicine”. 

Besides Billings, a variety of NFP methods have been developed in recent years. None is contraceptive in its action but instead rely on accurately identifying the fertile days of a female reproductive cycle and abstaining from intercourse then to avoid pregnancy. They included the Creighton method and NaProTechnology. 

Advocates say such methods are not only highly effective but are free, or comparatively cheap, environmentally friendly, and free from side effects.

The remarks of Pope Francis came about a month after a new report from the University of Oxford showed that every type of hormonal contraception dramatically increases a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer.

Scientists have previously linked the combined contraceptive Pill – which is made up of oestrogen and progestogen – to a 20 per cent increase in developing the disease, while similarly high rates have been identified in the coil and contraceptive implants.

According to British researchers even the new generation of hormonal contraceptives can be just as dangerous.

A team analysed data from more than 9,000 women aged between 20 and 49 who developed invasive breast cancer and compared their lifestyles to 18,000 closely-matched women who did not develop the disease.

They found that women who had used the progestogen-only Pill, the newest generation of oral contraceptives, also increased their risk of developing breast cancer by 20 to 30 per cent.

Once women stopped taking the Pill, the risk of developing the disease progressively declined, according to findings published in the journal Plos Medicine.

Gillian Reeves, Professor of statistical epidemiology and director of the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at the University of Oxford, said: “Yes, there is an increase here, and yes, nobody wants to hear that something that they’re taking is going to increase their risk for breast cancer by 25 per cent.

“The main purpose of doing this research was really to fill a gap in our knowledge,’ she told the Daily Mail.

“We’ve known for many years that combined oral contraceptives, which women have been using for decades, also have an effect on breast cancer risk, a small increase in risk which is transient.

“We weren’t absolutely sure what the corresponding effect of these progestogen-only contraceptives would be.

“What we’ve shown is that they’re just the same in terms of breast cancer risk, they seem to have a very similar effect to the other contraceptives, and the effect that we’ve known about for many years.”

In 2020 about 3.2 million women in England were using the combined Pill and a similar number were using the progestogen-only Pill.

Besides the Pill, studies around the world have also shown abortion to be a causal link in the development of breast cancer.

Scientists have said the cancer was caused by high levels of oestradiol, a hormone that stimulates breast growth during pregnancy. The effects of the hormone are minimised in women who take their pregnancy to full term but it remains at dangerous levels in those who abort.

There has been an 80 per cent increase in the rate of breast cancer since 1971, at the same time as the number of abortions rose from an annual 18,000 to well over 200,000 a year.