18 Feb 2012
Response to an NCR article on the discussion of ‘freedom of religion’ and ‘government mandated access to birth control’
What a sorry state Catholic moral theology has come to. The idea that the moment of conception brings into being an individual human being is not found in the works of even the most conservative moral theologians. The fertilized ovum develops into a pre-embryonic blastocyte that cannot be confused with being an individual human being because it is still capable of becoming more than one such being. According to the official teaching of the RC church, the 'ensoulment' of the embryo is the moment at which an individual human being is present. Thomas Aquinas--whose theology is considered the 'model' to be followed --wasn't sure when 'ensoulment' took place. He 'knew' that it was some time after conception and that boys got their 'souls' earlier than girls. Of course, no? The current science of human reproduction does not support--and is not compatible with--the 13th century's view of such things.
If we want to know what the moral status of birth control methods is within the RC church, we should ask the practicing Roman Catholics whose lives are affected rather than a minority group of supposedly celibate men, i.e., women and men who are engaged in making decisions about when and how many children to have. The overwhelming majority [+/- 98%] do not have problems of 'conscience' about using birth control methods condemned by the church. They regularly receive Holy Communion without visiting the confessional; their informed consciences do not accuse them of bad faith. After all, Humanae Vitae is an encyclical containing the opinion of a 1960's pope. It should certainly be considered, but it is hardly the final word.