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Can Catholics Use Condoms?

Can Catholics Use Condoms?

Contraceptives are a touchy subject for a lot of people and, with those people, come some pretty loaded opinions. We all know that condoms can protect individuals from STDs and can also prevent unwanted pregnancies. It is the latter, however, that causes condoms to be a heavily debated topic in many religious communities.

Can Catholics Use Condoms? The Catholic church remains steadfast on their ban as to the use of condoms, or any other means of contraceptives for the purpose of preventing pregnancy. However, the pope has expressed his approval as to the use of condoms where a risk of HIV is apparent.

The discussion of condom use in the Catholic church is a heated topic. There are several varying opinions, but at this time no changes have been made to the doctrines set forth in the church. The ban on the use of condoms, or any other type of contraceptive device, remains intact.

The church continues to emphasize the fact that the use of contraceptives to prevent births is “intrinsically wrong”.

Contraception is defined as an action which is taken in anticipation of a sex act or an act to end or render procreation impossible. This includes not only condoms, but other barrier methods, birth control pills, spermicides, and even withdrawal.

Procreation is a gift from God. Being able to create life and bring it into the world is nothing less than a miracle. The church sees this barring of the miracle of life as a sin, as one would see the taking of a life. Therefore, use of contraceptive of any type is a sin in the eyes of the church.

Church Teachings

The Catholic church is the only institution that currently bans contraceptives in all situations. In past history, all Protestant denominations deemed the use of contraception as a sin. However, during the 1930 Lambeth Conference, there was a change in the mandates used by the Anglican Church.

The discussion became heated during the conference, with various churches having the opinion that there were some circumstances where contraception should be allowed. The Anglican church made the decision at that time to allow contraception in all circumstances as opposed to a lesser use policy.

After this monumental decision, all of the other Protestant denominations joined with the Anglican church, making contraceptives allowable for all outside of the Catholic church. They continue to state that contraception, in any form, is in direct conflict with the laws set forth by God.

The Natural Law

The church mandates state that contraception is wrong because it goes against the “natural law” that states the purpose of sex is procreation. This law reminds us that the pleasure we receive from sex is a blessing from God, but is intended to not only strengthen marital intimacy, but also offer the possibility of life.

The Church’s stance is that the intimacy in the marital bed creates an environment that will be beneficial for children in that it creates a loving and nurturing environment. Using any form of contraceptive abuses the gift of the sex act given to us by God.

Scriptural Basis

People may feel that contraceptives are a modern-day issue, and that the bible, therefore, can offer no advice on the subject. That thinking is abjectly incorrect. Birth control has been around almost as long as humans have walked the earth. Proof of contraceptives has been found as early as 1900 BC. These practices were found to have been used in Egypt as well as the Roman Empire. 

Many forms of birth control were found to have been used in these early times. These included poisons, potions, and even wool that would absorb sperm. Some centuries later, condoms were created from animal skins. Within church doctrine, only abstinence is permissible to prevent contraception- all other methods being deemed as “unnatural”.

One form of contraceptive that is highly condemned in biblical writing is coitus interruptus. In Genesis 38:8-10, Judas directs Onan to impregnate the wife of his departed brother, as was the custom. However, when Onan went to do his duty, he could not go through with it and “spilled the semen on the ground”.

Onan received death for his crime because he violated natural law by spilling his seed. For this reason, this form of contraception is now known as “Onanism.” Many people tie this back to masturbation and state that this is also a sin as seed is being spilled for self-gratification and not procreation.

There have been questions as to why contraception is not mentioned more within the Bible and biblical teachings. Scripture condemns this when it is mentioned, but the feeling is that once a moral principle has been established, there is no need to mention it in every possible application.

Church Fathers have expressed their opinions throughout their teachings of the principles of the natural law and the condemnation that accompanies not following the law. Scripture is known to encourage believers to be fruitful and multiply, but there is nothing in scripture that explicitly bans contraception. However, based on biblical teaching and theology, the Church continues to take a stance against it.

The Church has also constantly and consistently condemned contraception as a grave sin. The first church legislation forbidding contraception appeared in the 600s in a canon that specified a penance of ten years for any woman who took steps so that she may not conceive. Many other mandates and condemnations have followed.

The sentiments stated by Pope Paul VI have been restated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“[E]very action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible is intrinsically evil” (CCC 2370). “Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means . . . for example, direct sterilization or contraception” (CCC 2399).

Pope Paul VI has stated that there would be grave consequences that would come from the allowance of contraceptives. He felt that once that acceptance was made, we would begin to see the demise of not only the church itself, but of humanity.

Recent studies actually show that there is a far greater divorce rate in marriages where contraceptives are used regularly. This leads to the belief among individuals that contraceptive use is morally evil and leads to the downfall of marriages and lives. This is also in line with the fears expressed by the Pope and the Church Fathers before him.

In relation to the AIDS epidemic, the church has had mixed views. The church teaches that chastity before marriage and monogamy inside of a marriage are the appropriate ways to combat the fear of STDs. However, in the face of possible STDs, the use of condoms is the best available means to prevent infections in those who are sexually active.

Until recently, the only Catholic position that has been endorsed by Pope Benedict XVI was that sex only has one legitimate purpose- and that is procreation within a marriage. Because of that stance, there was no need to consider condoms or other forms of contraception. However, in a recent interview entitled Light of the Word, the Pope stated that condom use may be the best choice in some circumstances- such as those  where exposure to AIDS and other harmful STDS are possible.

So, though the Pope himself has expressed his blessing on the use of condoms for the protection from disease, he continues to stand by the Biblical teachings that require married couples to completely avoid the use of contraceptives of any kind.  

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