During an address at the Australian Family Association Conference in Perth in October 1992, Archbishop Barry Hickey of Perth spoke of the ways in which contraception could undermine the Christian concept of marriage.
We can list a host of factors - sociological and psychological - which attack and undermine a marriage union. But one element - contraception - perhaps goes deeper than all these other factors since it attacks the fundamental sign and symbol of loving unity - I mean the sexual union that symbolises the mutual love and that deepens it.
The world finds it very hard to understand the Church's opposition to contraception and even many Catholics find it extremely difficult to understand because it doesn't seem to be such a 'big deal.' What do a few pills or devices matter? Why, then, is this issue important? It is important because it seems to me that contraception has a destructive power.
Insofar as contraception prevents the procreative outcome of sexual union, it separates sex from marriage itself and encourages fornication and casual sex. Once you separate that sexual union from marriage then it is freed from marriage and takes on other features. Casual sex indulged in before marriage then makes it very difficult for a man or a woman to be faithful to the one embraced within marriage. If they have had other partners before marriage, fidelity can be a great struggle.
This also makes it difficult to associate sex always with love since such previous experiences tended to associate sexual expression with lust, self-expression or with selfish pleasure. Its meaning in those contexts is totally other than the meaning it has in Christian marriage.
Within marriage itself, contraception can undermine trust to the point where spouses begin to doubt whether the act itself is really an expression of love or whether one is using the other. The worst part of contraception is that it can create an anti-baby mentality predisposing both married and unmarried people to contemplate abortion.
Randall Terry, the founder of Operation Rescue in the United States, listed reasons given why Christian couples use birth control: "We've just got married and we're not ready for kids; we want to give quality time to the children we already have; we simply can't afford another child; I'd go mad if we had more kids." Then he said, "Where have I heard all this before? I have heard these same reasons on the doorstep of an abortion mill."
The mentality that contraception tends to create is thus the same mentality that predisposes people to consider abortion. It is a pity that the present-day insistence on free choice, on personal freedom and on women's rights has deflected attention from the negative aspects of widespread contraception.
Yet of all the unpopular messages I need to communicate, this will be one of the most unpopular, because it will not be understood or be seen to be unsympathetic.
I spoke to Fr Paul Marx of the Human Life International during his recent visit to Australia. Fr Marx referred to a U.S. study which found that very few couples who adopt and live by Natural Family Planning ever divorce. There is a message here.