Thomas More Centre Lecture: Janet Smith champions Church's moral teaching

Thomas More Centre Lecture: Janet Smith champions Church's moral teaching

Dr Janet Smith

Dr Janet Smith, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Dallas, and a prolific writer and lecturer in the U.S., was in Melbourne as keynote speaker for the Billings Family Life Centre last month. On October 6 she conducted a workshop and gave a lecture at the Thomas More Centre - the latter drawing an overflow audience of 400. Dr Smith's visit coincided with release of the new Papal Encyclical 'Veritatis Splendor' and as a result she received considerable media coverage, including a front-page spread in 'The Australian' and an interview on ABC-TV's '7.30 Report'.

Dr Janet Smith, in her lecture and workshop at the Thomas More Centre, outlined the truth underlying the Church's moral teachings - as set out in Humanae Vitae and Veritatis Splendor - and drew attention to the damage done by contraception to a woman's body and to marriage. She also cited the advantages of natural family planning over artificial contraception.

Dr Smith argued that the Church today occupies the "high ground" as far as having all the sociological (and scientific) evidence on the side of its moral teachings. There had been no worthwhile scholarship on the subject from Church "dissenters" nor any attempt by them to engage in serious debate of the issues; they simply ignored the Pope's well-argued teachings.

The evidence is strong, she said, that marriages last longer if there is no sex before marriage and "there is overwhelming evidence that those using natural family planning don't divorce". Likewise, said Dr Smith, "those married in a church and who go to church (and who pray together) don't divorce either".

Dr Smith cited research by Robert Michaels of the University of Chicago into the link between divorce and contraception. There had been a huge jump in divorce statistics since the 1960s which closely paralleled the use of contraception. According to Professor Michaels, this arises since people using contraception have fewer children and, statistically, marriages last longer which have more children and earlier babies - at least one in first two years and another in the next two years. It then becomes harder to leave one's spouse and the baby. Spouses - Dr Smith observed - also become "better people" when they have babies which then provide added "glue" for holding marriages together.

Robert Michaels' research also noted an immense increase in adultery with use of the Pill. Adultery, in its turn, has proved devastating to the survival of marriages.

Critics of Church moral teaching, said Dr Smith, who find its supporters "incomprehensible", seem unaware of the harm "contraception has done to women and society" - contraception, has been "destructive of women's well-being and the fuel allowing the sexual revolution to rage". Most poverty today is due to "single women with children", this often being the result of sex outside marriage.

Dr Smith continued: "While thirty years ago it was possible to believe that contraception might do some good, there is no basis for thinking that today. Sociological evidence points the other way. The Church being an expert on humanity - who man is and how he ought to live - has known all that for 2000 years; and it has God on its side".

According to Dr Smith, we are much better placed today than at the time of Humanae Vitae to defend the Church's teaching. We have "the arguments and the evidence". The problem remains that while around 80 percent of Catholics do not live by Humanae Vitae, very few of them have ever read it. She suggested that copies of Humanae Vitae and Familiaris Consortio would be "ideal gifts for newly weds".

Dr Smith then outlined Pope John Paul's carefully developed teaching on the "unitive and procreative meanings of the sexual act which cannot be separated".

In the case of the procreative end, "contraception" is against the beginning of a new human life. But the sex act is ordained to produce this. Hence, as she put it, a "big 'yes' is turned into a big 'no', i.e., 'I don't want your fertility'." Pills, she remarked, are for sicknesses; "why think of fertility as a sickness?"

Female media interviewers, she said, "seem unable to take in what I am saying about what the Pill does to women, with side-effects such as irritability, depression and reduced sex drive. Why take in a huge quantity of pills when ovulation occurs only once a month?", especially when "contraception is so hostile to a woman's body". Human life is "spectacularly wonderful". The immortal soul which God gives at the point of conception is "a special act of creation by God". Contraception therefore "shuts God out of the arena He has chosen".

As for the unitive meaning of the sex act, she said, Pope John Paul II shows that contraception also frustrates this end. But "one may never do evil to achieve good" - according to the erroneous principle of "totality". Each sex act "has its own value separately - and not merely as part of some whole". By that logic, remarked Dr Smith, having "most sex acts with our spouse" and some with other people could be justified! John Paul II also suggests that the "body speaks" in the sex act saying, in effect: "I love you, I want to make you happy, I am willing to have babies with you". But if one removes one of the latter commitments, one is "living a lie" - withholding something that is essential to this act, i.e., fertility. It is then not an act of total self-giving, but rather, "I want you, but I don't want your fertility."


John Paul II, she said, encourages the virtue of "self-mastery". In this way sex is made "subordinate to the whole relationship, i.e., 'I can control my sexual desires'. As fallen creatures we all need to achieve discipline in the sexual passions. There is this fear if there is no instant sex. Abstention is as much an act of love as the sex act."

The contracepting couple, Dr Smith commented, speak of being pregnant "by accident". This inclines them to abortion - "not my fault we got pregnant. The baby was uninvited. I took all precautions". With natural family planning it is a "surprise" pregnancy. "They know how it happened. They are not mad at God".

It is curious, she added, that the "conscience clause" only applies to the contraceptive act. It is a "loophole not accepted with racism or the just wage".

What is conscience? Conscience is the "inner voice to guide us to discover what is right and wrong. Conscience is our link with God - it is not something autonomous. 'The Church says so' helps us to decide rather than to invent our moral values". Some people who practise contraception may be subjectively innocent - "like someone drinking poison who thinks it is fruit juice - but the damage is done all the same".

Dr Smith concluded that the presentation of the Church's moral teaching needs improvement so that more people are prepared to say 'yes' to it. There must also be more teaching on natural family planning - people and marriages are "transformed" when it is used.

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