The Legacy of the Vision of Pope John Paul II for Marriage and Family

Not even the bullet from the barrel of an assassin’s gun could stop Pope John Paul II from emphasizing early in his pontificate the issues of marriage and family. In just the first five years, he created six key markers in these critical areas: a synod of bishops on the role of the family (1980); the apostolic exhortation, Familiaris Consortio (1981); the founding of the John Paul II Institute for the Studies of Marriage and Family (1981); the presentation of his Theology of the Body during a five-year span of Wednesday audiences (1979-1984); the reformulation of the Code of Canon Law for marriage (1983); and the declaration of the Charter of the Rights of the Family (1983).

The bullet fired by Mehmet Ali Ağca on May 13, 1981, came just minutes before the announcement of the founding of the John Paul II Institute of Marriage and Family. It delayed the announcement, but could not delay the project.

Why such urgency? Why such determination? To answer these questions, I will focus principally on the pontiff’s vision for marriage presented in Familiaris Consortio. This document was the product of a synod on marriage and family life, and, now, as the Church reflects anew on these issues, it is useful to review John Paul II’s heritage.

At the heart of Familiaris Consortio is a presentation of the four tasks given to the Christian family in the modern world. These are:

  1. Building a communion of persons
  2. Serving life
  3. Participating in the development of society
  4. Participating in the mission of the Church

I do not intend to treat these all equally, and certainly not comprehensively. Rather, I wish to touch on various themes which emerge at different moments in the document that, from my perspective, capture something of John Paul II’s vision for marriage and the legacy that he gave us.

Building a Communion of Persons

To understand why John Paul II states that the first task of the couple is the formation of a communion of persons, it is necessary to understand that the starting point for all of John Paul II’s reflections on marriage, family, and human sexuality is man created in the image of God.

Speaking to every married couple, he says that the first task is “to become what you are.” When a man and a woman marry, they establish a communion of two human persons in truth and love. By this, they become, for John Paul II, a visible sign in the world of the Triune God, who is a divine communion of persons. The face of God is most clearly reflected in the communion of a man and a woman united in marriage.

This starting point of man created in the image of God (as starting points, in general, are apt to do) determines everything. It raises the bar, so to speak, in all matters of human sexuality. Last year, I was giving a talk on the topic of homosexual “marriage,” and I made the point that civil law is restrained by natural law. One of the participants objected to my line of argument, claiming that stick-insects display homosexual behavior, and so homosexual behavior must be natural, and so, moral. Now, I have to admit that, after the talk, I scoured the internet to find something on the homoerotic behavior of stick-insects, but in vain. I did not find anything on Wikipedia about this: so I guess it cannot be true! Yet, even if (for the sake of argument) stick-insects do go in for homosexual copulation now and then, this cannot be a guiding principle for human sexual behavior, because stick-insects are not created in the image and likeness of God—anymore than the violence that is normal in animal copulation is an appropriate model for the sexual interaction of human beings.

The second part of John Paul II’s treatment of building a communion of persons is human experience, and, particularly, the experience of the human body. In this sense, the human body is our teacher, and particularly, the key concept of the spousal meaning of the body. The human body reveals the truth about the fundamental and universal vocation of human beings as spousal: it is to make a total gift of themselves to each other for the sake of a profound and permanent communion. This truth is written into the physiology of the human body—made male and female—which indicates that we are called to go out of ourselves for the sake of communion. What is taught by the physiology is confirmed by both innate sexual urge and the power to generate human life: we are “other” orientated.

One might say that John Paul II tries to capture the truth about marriage through an intellectual pincer movement: both from above, in divine revelation, and from below, in his appeal to human experience.

Serving Life

As we have seen, the second task assigned to Christian spouses is the service of life. Much of the attention in this section is on the procreation and education of children. Here I shall try to interpolate his thought on the former (procreation), especially with regard to the topic of contraception.

Now, while John Paul II makes a sustained defense of the teaching of Pope Paul VI (in Humanae Vitae), what is, perhaps, new in John Paul II’s approach to the issue, is the emphasis placed on the unitive end of the act of marital intercourse. In Humanae Vitae, the stress is placed on the procreative end, and the wrongfulness of contraception is explained in terms of how such methods of birth control directly oppose this end, intended by the Creator.

The approach proffered (and perhaps preferred) in the Theology of the Body and in Familiaris Consortio, without denying the validity of other approaches, emphasizes more the unitive dimension of sexual intercourse and the deleterious effect of contraception on this dimension of marital intercourse. The point is made that contraception thwarts the total self-giving that should be part of marital intercourse. The idea is expressed in terms of, what John Paul II calls, the “language of the body”, in other words, that the human body “speaks” in the conjugal act. It says: I am all yours (totus tuus). The problem with contraception, in light of this analysis, is that this very language is contradicted by the use of contraception. John Paul II expresses this point as follows: “the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other.”1

But the question might be asked: why so much attention on the seemingly rather peripheral issue of contraception? Again, there can be no doubt that the reason for this is because of the profoundly different views of the human person that underlie pro- and anti-contraceptive mentalities. John Paul II states that:

Only an adequate vision of the human person can be the basis of the truth about marriage and particularly sexuality. An adequate anthropology is constructed by considering man in the light of Christ (Gaudium et Spes §22). The difference in attitude about human sexuality as conceived by those in favor of contraception, and by the Church, reflects a difference of opinion about man himself.2

John Paul II develops this point throughout his Magisterial writings on marriage. It boils down to this difference: contraception is effectively a claim that mankind can assign the meaning of sexual intercourse, independent of its God given nature. Mankind, thereby, sets himself up as his own Creator. Or, contraception is a manifestation of a view of man as a consumer, rather than as one called to find himself through self-donation. Or, again, contraception views the body as something subhuman and sub-personal, rather than seeing the body, and the generative power that is part of the body, as fully personal, and so, necessarily, part of the personal communion sought for in marital intercourse. These are subtle but very important insights, and this is not exactly the place to go into them in detail. However, his point should be luminously clear: to support contraception and see it as normal behavior, or to oppose it, is to have two profoundly different views of what it means to be human.

The Truth about Love

The topic of contraception not only brings into sharp focus disputes about the nature of the human person, it also touches upon different understandings of love—both, what love is, and whether true love is really possible. Remember, John Paul II tends to frame the question of contraception in terms of how it negatively affects the unitive dimension of sexual intercourse. This amounts to saying that contraception is a failure to make a sincere gift of one’s self to one’s spouse, which—since love and self-gift are synonymous—is a failure in love. Contraception, for John Paul II, isn’t just anti-life, it’s anti-love. Of course, if you are of the mindset that love is just an emotion or some purely biochemical phenomenon in the brain, then there can be no objection to contraception. But if love is total self-gift then contraception is anathema. The dispute is more about love than about techniques.

The controversy over contraception also throws up the question of whether love is really possible. It asks whether a radical and total self-gift of one person to another (with all the possible consequences that such a gift entails) is really possible. John Paul II’s answer to this question is, of course, an emphatic “yes.”

In fact, the question of the feasibility of love is really the modern question. There is a bridge in the city of Salzburg where lovers, having bought a padlock and inscribed their names upon it, then lock it to the bridge and throw the key into the river below. It is interesting that none of the thousands of padlocks are combination locks—locks that might be undone. The gesture is one of definitive self-giving. This leads me to conclude that the modern lover knows what love is: his doubts are more on the side of its feasibility.

Finally, given what we have said about the creation of man in the image of God, it should be clear that human love is made in the image of divine love. This means that any slur made against human love is, ultimately, a defamation of divine love. Wojtyla gives artistic expression to this connection between human love and divine love in his play, The Jeweller’s Shop. There is a scene in which the two young lovers (Andrew and Teresa), recently engaged, find themselves standing before the jeweller’s shop looking in through the window at the wedding rings. The mysterious figure of the Jeweller represents God.

Andrew recalls:

Though we were still standing in front of the jeweller’s shop … it was nonetheless clear that his shop window had ceased to be a display in which everyone without exception could find an object for himself. It became, however, a mirror reflecting us both—Teresa and myself. Moreover, it was not an ordinary flat mirror, but a lens absorbing its object. We were not only reflected, but absorbed. I had the impression of being seen and recognized by someone hiding inside the shop window.3

The point of this scene seems to be, to communicate the truth that the human love of Andrew and Teresa finds its origin and its pattern in the love of God, represented by the Jeweller: while standing outside, they see themselves in the shop.

Thus, when we compromise and settle for weak human love, we settle for a distorted image of God. We misrepresent God. We proclaim a kind of anti-gospel. Consequently, in defending the character of human marital love as a radical and total gift of self, John Paul II is defending the very honor of God.

Deeper Concerns: Defending the Bridgehead

Concern for the truth about the human person, as well as the truth about love, both human and divine, undergird the concern of John Paul II for issues of marriage and sexuality and account for the urgency.

The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan records the experience of a small group of American and British soldiers on D-Day. Yet, one can feel a certain sympathy for their enemy, led by German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel (the Desert Fox). He alone is able to correctly size up the threat facing the Germans by the event of the Normandy invasion. He counsels an immediate counterattack, saying that it will be necessary to throw the Allies immediately back into the sea, because, were a bridgehead to be formed in Normandy, this would surely lead to the ultimate defeat of the Third Reich. His superiors do not listen to his advice, preferring rather to delay a counterattack until after a foothold has been established. The rest is, as they say, history.

The point is this: the issues that surround marriage and human sexuality are like a bridgehead of the truth about love and about the human person. John Paul II believed that, if even an inch of ground were given here, then the battle for the truth of the human person would be lost. I think it is on account of this, that his whole approach to marriage has—from the perspective of his opponents—the mark of intransigence. It is the intransigence of a man who knows what is at stake!

The Struggle of the Forces of Good and Evil

And let’s be honest: we are at war here. In the Letter to Families, John Paul II says that “the family is placed at the center of the great struggle between good and evil, between life and death, between love and all that is opposed to love.”4 This, I think, explains the attention that he gave to marriage and family in his pontificate. It is about much more than the family: it is about the whole vision of human life and love.

Yet, the fight here is not ultimately against flesh and blood (Eph 6:12). John Paul II makes this point in his exegesis of the story of Tobias (from the Book of Tobit) in the Theology of the Body. The seven previous husbands of Sarah have died on the night of their wedding, because they have given in to the power of Asmodius, the demon of lust. Tobias only overcomes this with prayer and the help of the Archangel Michael. John Paul II notes that in marriage and in the marriage bed, the forces of good and evil are struggling for ascendancy, and these forces are not merely human.

A Realistic Confidence

What is particularly striking about John Paul II’s approach to contraception is the confidence he has, that this teaching is both most reasonable and eminently liveable. In his Letter to Families, John Paul II says that “the foundations of the Church’s doctrine concerning responsible fatherhood and motherhood are exceptionally broad and secure.”5

However, John Paul II is very realistic about the day in, day out realities of married love. I have to say, that I find Wojtyla’s own understanding of human love, especially the love between a man and a woman, to be astoundingly profound. When one thinks about it, Wojtla’s exposure to happy family life and the dynamics of a husband and wife was very brief. His mother died when he was nine, his only sibling when he was 14, and his father when he was 21. But providence gave him a very acute insight into human love, including romantic love.

This is, to my mind, most evident in The Jeweller’s Shop, especially in the character of Anna, a kind of disappointed housewife whose hopes of fulfilment in marriage have turned definitively sour. She complains of her husband, Stefan:

It was as if Stefan had ceased to be in me.
Did I cease to be in him too?
Or was it simply that I felt
I now existed only in myself?
At first, I felt such a stranger in myself!
It was as if I had become unaccustomed to the walls of my interior—
So full had they been of Stefan,
That without him, they seemed empty.
Is it not too terrible a thing
To have committed the walls of my interior to a single inhabitant
Who could disinherit myself
And somehow deprive me of my place in it!

In the second act of the play, she flirts with the idea of going off with other men, in each case strangers. She teeters on the edge of betrayal. One of the strangers, driving by in a passing car, lowers his window and invites Anna to get in. She reflects:

He indicated the seat next to him. In a while, he will start the engine. We shall move off. We’ll drive into the unknown. A man’s hand on the wheel. One could lean slightly against his arm as he unfolds the ribbon of the road. Then the lights from above … I shall be someone again. …6

The empathy is palpable, and Anna’s inner struggle with the temptation to adultery is portrayed in the most sympathetic light. The whole drama is framed within the deep desire of Anna to experience the love she deserves as a wife, but does not find in her husband: “I shall be someone again,” she says.

What I want to point out here is that there is something utterly realistic about Wojtyla’s understanding of love between a man and a woman. He is able to get right inside this love. Thus, what he teaches from the Chair of Peter is not taught from some celibate ivory tower, but, rather, in the face of the real—and sometimes distressingly difficult—reality of love between the sexes.

So, Wojtyla is clearly very aware of the difficulties inherent in human love, and yet he holds fast—and with confidence—to the teaching of the Church. How can this be? What lies behind the pope’s confidence that the Church’s teaching on this issue is both feasible and liveable? The answer is what he calls “the redemption of the body.”

This idea of the redemption of the body is a key concept in the Theology of the Body, but often plays second fiddle to other concepts, like Original Solitude and Original Nakedness. John Paul II gets this idea directly from Scripture as St. Paul speaks about it in Romans 8:23. It means this: while we often talk about the salvation of souls, the redemption won for us by Christ includes the whole person—body and soul. One might say that redemption goes all the way down to the tips of our toes. This, in turn, means that grace, even in this life, has an effect on the body. Certainly, the final effect of grace on the body will be its glorified state at the resurrection of the body; but, even now, those appetites which we have because we have a body (including our sexual appetites) are affected by grace.

In the second chapter of Theology of the Body, John Paul II goes into quite a lot of detail, highlighting, in particular, the infused gift of piety. The details are not important for us at present. What is important, is to see that because of the redemption of the body, John Paul II can be utterly confident of the reasonableness and feasibleness of the Church’s teaching on sexual morality. To say otherwise would be to deny redemption. As far as I know, John Paul II never says this explicitly, but the import of his position is that to say that contraception is okay is to deny the Gospel and redemption: it is a dogmatic error, and not just an error in morality.

Participating in the Development of Society

John Paul II energetically defends marriage as the first vital cell of society, because he believes that nothing less than the future of civilization depends upon it.

Certainly, the right ordering of the political community depends on it, because the correct political order demands that something stands between the might of the state and the individual, and this something is the family. When the family is weakened, the state drifts towards totalitarianism as it fills the social vacuum. This inevitably leads to an overbearing influence of the state on the lives of individuals, and, ultimately, to oppression and a loss of freedom. The individual is no match for the state, but the family is. One only has to think of which culture in Europe most successfully resisted communism—it was the culture where the family was strongest: Poland.

But, other and higher things than good politics are at stake here. Monogamous lifelong marriage is also the foundation of high culture, understood to include good literature and high artistic expression. In his book, The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom narrates his experience (as a professor of literature at Cornell) of the demise of liberal arts education in America. Among the two most important factors, in his experience, were the increase in divorce and the rise of sexual promiscuity. His career spanned the sexual revolution, running from the early ’50s to the mid ’80s, and reflecting on this experience, he notes that children from broken homes often found it too painful to engage seriously in the study of classical literature and philosophy, because it opened up to them a world that was agonizingly different from their own. Furthermore, students who entered the university, already sexually active, had lost the vital energy needed for the pursuit of higher things.

This last point, reminds me of a startling comment of Wojtyla’s in Love and Responsibility, where he calls the sexual urge “a natural drive born in all human beings, a vector of aspiration along which their whole existence develops and perfects itself from within.”7 The sexual urge is a powerfully creative energy, but as Wojtyla goes on to explain, it needs honing and directing by the virtue of chastity, if it is going to flower into something authentically great. No doubt, this is why the unchaste culture of modern Europe cannot hold a candle to its ancestors in matters of artistic expression.

It is worth noting here, that Allan Bloom was a practicing homosexual who died of AIDS in the first wave of casualties in the 1980s. He had no axe to grind: it was merely his observation that, “the free choice of marriage and the capacity to stick to it, not merely outwardly, but also inwardly, is a proof of culture.”

Participating in the Mission of the Church

On the 20th anniversary of the promulgation of Familiaris Consortio, John Paul II beatified the married couple Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quattrocchi. The first reading for the Mass of Beatification was the story of Moses and the defeat of the Amalekites (Ex 17:10ff). Joshua leads the Israelites into battle, while Moses sits as spectator on a neighboring hill. As long as he keeps his arms raised to God, the Israelites have the upper hand. But as his arms tire and drop, the Amalekites move into the ascendancy. Hur and Aaron, therefore, take hold of Moses’ arms, and raise them up until victory is won. In the homily that followed, John Paul II, in particular, praised that missionary zeal of the Quattrocchis, and went on to make the following rather curious request. He said: “I ask all families to hold up the arms of the Church, so that she may never fail in her mission.”

This is an urgent invitation—often repeated throughout the pontificate of John Paul II: to become involved in the evangelizing mission of the Church. Now, this mission is, first of all, ad intra, meaning it is directed by the parents towards their own children. I have to say, that in countries with which I am familiar, the two evangelizing arms of the Church—the parish and the Catholic schools—have grown tired. More and more, the responsibility of passing on the faith falls directly to the parents. If they do not pass it on, it will not be passed on.

But this evangelizing mission assigned to the domestic Church is also ad extra: it is to be focused outward beyond the confines of the family to those who have not yet encountered the love of Christ. I like to think of it this way: just as nation states represent themselves in foreign lands by way of embassies, so the Church, more and more, relies on the domestic church to represent her in lands increasingly foreign to Christian culture.

The importance of this came home to me a few years ago. For two years, we had a seriously ill child, sick from birth. As part of the social care in the country where we live, a young woman (let us call her Katherine) came once a week to help us for a few hours. This was paid for by the state for six months. Katherine was a very open and kind woman, perhaps around 30 years of age. Yet, despite being brought up in a traditionally Catholic country, she knew nothing about the faith.

After six months of this help, the state would no longer pay for it. Seeing as we did not really need her help (we had friends who could help us in a similar way), we said that we would not continue with her. Katherine looked very disappointed with this. The next week, she called to say that she had spoken to her boss, and that he had agreed that we could pay half the normal cost. We felt terrible saying to her that we still did not want to continue. The next week, Katherine simply turned up at the door and announced that she had spoken to the boss, and now it was free! What transpired was that she simply wanted to come to spend time with our family, and she was determined to find a way to make it work. She was fascinated by being with a Christian family who had a clear goal in life and a plan for living family life. She obviously found it a striking experience, and often said so. Katherine would never have had any contact with the Church in her normal course of life. She had lived 30 years in a country full of Catholic churches, without ever having had contact with the Church. For her, our little domestic church was truly an embassy which gave access to what was, for her, a foreign land.

Bright Spots and Shadows

I have tried to put before you the rich and beautiful vision of John Paul II for marriage and family life, focusing on the fourfold mission of the Christian couple. It is undeniable that John Paul II contributed to some major advances in the theological understanding of marriage. And yet, during his pontificate, the actual situation of marriage and family life deteriorated. The vision became more beautiful, but the reality more ugly. In 1981, John Paul II spoke of the bright spots and the shadows in the situation of family life. There can, equally, be no doubt that during his 27-year pontificate, the shadows lengthened: more divorce, more cohabitation, more single parents, the emergence of a worldwide homosexual culture.

Is this because there really is, after all, something lacking in the vision of marriage offered by John Paul II? I contend that there is not. It is not that this vision has been tried and found wanting: it is that it has never been tried.

The crisis we find ourselves in is not one of doctrine needing more development—say, on matters of homosexuality or divorce—the teaching is there, and it is well explained for those ready to listen. The crisis isn’t even a pastoral one, as if we could solve the difficulties with a new program. The crisis is a crisis of confidence and a crisis of faith.

On the one hand, there is a loss of confidence in presenting the Church’s teaching. It is seen by many (including many pastors) as too demanding. Being a ring bearer can be an arduous task: are we called to heroism, even if we would prefer the life of comfort, the life of the shire? There is doubt over whether heroic virtue (which the teaching demands) is really for the average Catholic—let alone the average human being. Cardinal Walter Kasper has recently voiced these very concerns in regard to divorced and remarried Catholics: “To live together as brother and sister? Of course, I have high respect for those who are doing this. But it’s a heroic act, and heroism is not for the average Christian.”8 Wojtyla gives voice to this concern in the Jeweller’s Shop when the chorus asks:

How can it be done, Teresa,
For you to stay in Andrew forever?
How can it be done, Andrew,
For you to stay in Teresa forever
Since man will not endure in man
And man will not suffice?9

How can it be done—how can one stay faithful to another for a lifetime? How can a couple stay open to life in every act of marital intercourse? And so on. Man is not capable of this, since “man will not suffice.” The answer is, of course, that man cannot do it.

And here enters the second crisis, the crisis of faith: we seem to have forgotten that God has not left us to our own devices. It is precisely on account of the difficulties, that he has made marriage a sacrament, a source of grace.

Yet, we are like the protagonist of Claude Beri’s film Jean de Florette. Jean is a city man, but he inherits a farm in rural Provence (France). Two neighboring farmers (Papet and Ugolin) want to buy this land, and so, before Jean arrives to take possession of the land, they seal and hide a natural spring on Jean’s land. Jean must fetch water from a source far away, and so, for lack of water, all Jean’s agricultural endeavours fail. He dies, and his widow is forced to sell the farm to the conspirators.

The point is this: I can’t help thinking that so many married Catholics (including myself) are just like Jean. Hidden in the field of our marriage is an inexhaustible source of grace. This is what we mean by saying that marriage is a sacrament. Without this grace, it is impossible to fully embrace the vision offered to us by John Paul II. But we are either ignorant or forgetful of the presence of this spring. In consequence, the marriage fails, or just limps along. Changing the teaching (changing the vision) isn’t just a bad idea, it won’t make any difference. What is needed is not a new vision, but, rather, harnessing the power given in the sacrament. What is needed is access to the power to live this vision—because “Man does not suffice!”

Surveying the numerous and sizable problems that confront marriage and family 30 years after Familiaris Consortio can be dispiriting. Reading the Instrumentum Laboris (the preparation document for the new synod of the family), as problem after problem is put before our eyes, we are reminded again of the truth of the words that “man does not suffice.” What solution might John Paul II, now looking down from the window of his Father’s house, offer us? I think he would simply remind us of the words that launched his remarkable pontificate: “open wide the doors to Christ.”

  1. John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio §32. 
  2. John Paul II, Address to the Professors and Students of the Institute for the Family, 19 December 1981 in Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II IV.2 (1981): 1168-1169. 
  3. John Paul II, The Jeweller’s Shop (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1980) 41-42. 
  4. John Paul II, Letter to Families §23. 
  5. John Paul II, Letter to Families §12. 
  6. Wojtyla, The Jeweller’s Shop, 61. 
  7. Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility (Boston: Pauline Books, 2013), 46. 
  8. Commonweal, 7 May 2014, commonwealmagazine.org/merciful-god-merciful-church, accessed 24 August 2014. 
  9. Wojtyla, The Jeweller’s Shop, 41. 
Dr. William Newton About Dr. William Newton

Dr. William Newton is an associate professor of theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville and Chair of Faculty, Austrian Program.

Comments

  1. Michael Baker says:

    What has happened to Cardinal Burke and his stand on Catholic Doctrine on Family Life is terrible. We must pray that the Liberal acceptance of second best is not allowed to destroy the Catholic Church in the same way it has destroyed the Anglican Church .

  2. P Thomas McGuire says:

    As a married man, I find your article does not capture my experience of love and marriage. The doctrine needs to be seen in light of multiple human experience. How can you explain the heroic love of one man for one woman in marriage who practice birth control? In theory, one might say it is not heroic, but when one looks at the action in the life and deeds who are living as heroic loving couples one can question whether the teaching has captured all that is to be said about the love of God. We need a much deeper reflection on human experience and find ways that the teaching of Jesus Christ is present and can grow in the life of people who seek love.

  3. john frawley says:

    It is time that the issue of contraception within marriage, as opposed to outside marriage is seriously addressed, having consideration of what marriage really represents. The signature of Catholicism is SACRAMENTALITY, the one thing that Protestantism abandoned in the English Reformation of the Catholic Church in England. It was, in passing , the Anglican Church which lead Christianity outside Catholicism to the ‘responsible acceptance’ of contraception at the Lambeth Conference in 1930, at a time when the whole of Christianity considered contraception to be contrary to the Natural Law and immoral in its practice. Marriage in Catholicism is a Sacrament, a covenant (an immutable, everlasting contract) between God the Creator and a man and woman as the instruments of God’s creation of human life. Thus within marriage, sexual intercourse morally requires that the act is open to the creation of human life. However, in the light of the knowledge of the Science of conception, which was only scientifically defined with any certainty in the mid- twentieth century, with the advances of microscopy and the knowledge of hormones and their effects, that conception was clearly defined by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology as “implantation of a fertilised ovum in the womb”. That is, not at fertilisation which occurs some 6-7ndays before implantation and takes place not in the womb but in the abdominal cavity and in the Fallopian tube. The time is long overdue that the Church addresses the Science and recognises that while the prevention of fertilisation does not permit implantation and thus conception, it is very different from the deliberate prevention of implantation, that is, conception, or the destruction of an implanted embryo by contraceptive measures which constitutes abortion of established early human life. Perhaps there are grades of immorality here, venial in anti-fertilisation measures and grave (mortal)
    in anti-implantation measures. Much as a slap in the face is venially immoral compared with mortal murder. If anti-fertilisation contraception is indeed venial within marriage then such contraception pales in comparison to the necessity for responsible parenthood, the other essential requirement of the Sacramental marriage covenant with God. Anti-implantation contraception, however, always represents the destruction of established human life and can never be admitted as anything other than immoral and an alienation from God’s grace.

  4. walther, charles says:

    The bullet that left the assassin’s gun was on May 13, 1981. The date cited of May 11, 1981, was apparently a typo, but a significant error nonetheless. (Editor’s comment: The date has been corrected; thanks for the heads-up! Our apologies.)

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