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Will the Catholic Church Rethink Contraception?

A break with a view of sex and procreation rooted in medieval ideas of natural law is long overdue. In fact, the very existence of the Church’s current doctrine prohibiting contraception, and its survival without any liberalizing modifications, is a historical accident that has depended on untimely papal deaths.

MELBOURNE – Could the Roman Catholic Church be ready to reconsider its prohibition of the use of contraception? The fact that prominent Catholic conservatives have felt the need to speak out against such a possibility gives some grounds for thinking that, within the Church itself, and under the protection of Pope Francis, a movement for change is underway.

Theologians going back to Thomas Aquinas have said that interfering with sexual intercourse to prevent procreation is a misuse of the human genital organs, and therefore wrong. Earlier popes had also opposed contraception.

Nevertheless, the development and release of oral contraceptives in 1960, and subsequent evidence that many Catholic couples were using contraception, triggered calls within the Church for a reconsideration of the prohibition. In response, Pope John XXIII set up a Pontifical Commission on Birth Control, but did not live to see it complete its work. Instead, the commission sent his successor, Pope Paul VI, a report noting that the Church was already allowing couples to calculate the days of a woman’s cycle when she cannot conceive a child and restrict sex to those days.