By Dominic Pedulla, M.D.
Precisely when Humanae Vitae was being publicly rejected by many bishops and priests, scientists were enrolling their parishioners into the three landmark contraceptive studies of the 1960s finding excess suicides, neurotic depression, accidents, violence, sexual dysfunction, divorce, and other problems among “ pill” users. Investigators attributed these bad outcomes not to altered biochemistry but rather to contraception itself—i.e., the precise behavior these pastors should have consistently condemned.
Recent studies have only confirmed these findings, documenting increased neuroticism, hostility, anger, depression, sexual dysfunction, and suicidality in women. An April 2007 study on tubal ligation, the “most popular form of birth control in the U.S.,” showed a 200-percent increase of sexual dysfunction associated with tubal ligation.
Without excluding the man, God has placed woman alone with Him at the epicenter of new life. In sexuality a woman is chosen and deeply affirmed as woman and mother simultaneously, in a very significant and human way. The successful adjustment to motherhood and secure development of new life requires this unique act of complete intimate self-disclosure—existential nakedness—for it is only she whose sexual identity includes the capacity for conceiving.
In fact, a woman’s need for authentic procreative self-actualization and affirming love appears to be so important that it constitutes the only reason sufficient for nature to permit this intimate vulnerability, this dangerous core self-exposure. As an absolute moral and existential requirement then, honest intercourse requires a woman to be wholly accepted in what amounts to an act of integral, non-dissociable, all-or-nothing acceptance, the conjugal act.
Contraceptive intercourse betrays the woman by rejecting her in her totality since her procreative powers are defining elements of her person, and this abandonment is the cause of the suicides and negative outcomes we have noted. This contraceptive betrayal diminishes women, placing their marriages and families in grave danger.
How many of us, though, have had to watch friends trapped in deteriorating contraceptive marriages circling “the drain,” while the one person with the moral authority to truly make a difference—the pastor—refuses to help? For the clergy to approve of contraceptive acts, whether actively or through a conniving silence, means among other things refusing women the basic and most fundamental help they need, i.e., the recognition of their basic vulnerability. It also means the refusal to stand by them at all costs.
The terribly sad abandonment of women on the part of many priests and bishops is a massive pastoral failure, and who cannot see how it has affected the Church in the United States? The Church has been forced to live with a weak laity, endure a sub-optimal Christian family life, produce few and weak priests, and endure impoverished and debilitated faith communities. Abandon women and you abandon marriage and family. Abandon families, and you abandon the Church!
Not all priests have abandoned women this way. A growing number of “Humanae Vitae priests” have refused to meekly and passively tolerate this contraceptive tumor in the Church. They increasingly have “set their faces like flint,” manfully taking up the challenge to excise it. Not having been emasculated into silence, nor having their pastoral instincts eviscerated from them, they already suspect pastorally what research proves psychologically: women need to be defended against contraception and sterilization at all costs.
Such priests know that our problems today (e.g., eclipse of the sacrament of reconciliation), demand first tackling the widespread practice of contraception among Catholics. As they survey their congregations, they refuse to ignore what they often see—relatively affluent and falsely self-assured couples who must be cured of their false sense of comfort for their own good and that of the Church. They understand that Our Lord wants them to help these poor couples, healing their sin and lifting them out of it.
The body can’t coexist with cancer, and the Church can’t coexist with contraception. Let’s excise the tumor!
Dominic M. Pedulla, M.D., FACC, ABVM, ACPh, is associate clinical professor of medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, founder and president of the Oklahoma Vein and Endovascular Center and a Creighton Model natural family planning medical consultant. He and his wife have nine children. This commentary was originally published in the April 17, 2008, issue of Humanae Vitae Priests, Human Life International’s e-newsletter for priests, deacons and seminarians, and is reprinted with permission.