Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Ratzinger on contraception

Salt of the Earth
Peter Seewald interviews Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
(Ignatius Press, 1997)

Your Eminence, many Christians do not understand the Church's position on contraception. Do you understand that they don't understand it?

Yes, I can understand that quite well; the question is really complicated. In today's troubled world, where the number of children cannot be very high given living conditions and so many other factors, it's very easy to understand. In this matter, we ought to look less at the casuistry of individual cases and more at the major objectives that the Church has in mind.

I think that it's a question of three major basic options. The first and most fundamental is to insist on the value of the child in society. In this area, in fact, there has been a remarkable change. Whereas in the simple societies of the past up to the nineteenth century, the blessing of children was regarded as the blessing, today children are conceived of almost as a threat. People think that they rob us of a place for the future, they threaten our own space, and so forth. In this matter a primary objective is to recover the original, true view that the child, the new human being, is a blessing. That by giving life we also receive it ourselves and that going out of ourselves and accepting the blessing of creation are good for man.

The second is that today we find ourselves before a separation of sexuality from procreation such as was not known earlier, and this makes it all the more necessary not to lose sight of the inner connection between the two. . . .

It really is true that increasingly we have the development of two completely separated realities. In Huxley's famous futuristic novel Brave New World, we see a vision of a coming world in which sexuality is something completely detached from procreation. He had good reason to expect this, and its human tragedy is fully explored. In this world, children are planned and produced in a laboratory in a regulated fashion. Now, that is clearly an intentional caricature, but, like all caricatures, it does bring something to the fore: that the child is going to be something that tends to be planned and made, that he lies completely under the control of reason, as it were. And that signals the self-destruction of man. Children become products in which we want to express ourselves; they are fully robbed in advance of their own life's projects. And sexuality once again becomes something replaceable. And, of course, in all this the relationship of man and woman is also lost. The developments are plain to see.

In the question of contraception, precisely such basic options are at stake. The Church wants to keep man human. For the third option in this context is that we cannot resolve great moral problems simply with techniques, with chemistry, but must solve them morally, with a life-style. It is, I think — independently now of contraception — one of our great perils that we want to master even the human condition with technology, that we have forgotten that there are primordial human problems that are not susceptible of technological solutions but that demand a certain life-style and certain life decisions. I would say that in the question of contraception we ought to look more at these basic options in which the Church is leading a struggle for man. The point of the Church's objections is to underscore this battle. The way these objections are formulated is perhaps not always completely felicitous, but what is at stake are such major cardinal points of human existence.


God and the world

with Peter Seewald

Is it a different understanding about life, about people, that makes the Church forbid contraception?

Indeed, the Church sees sexuality as a central reality of creation. Here man is brought into the closest proximity with the Creator, into the highest degree of responsibility. He himself is allowed a responsible share in the source of life. Each single person is a creature of God—and he is at the same time the child of his parents. For this reason there is to some extent an intermingling of divine creativity and human fruitfulness. Sexuality is a powerful thing; we can see that in the fact that it also involves the responsibility for a new person, who belongs to us and yet does not belong, who comes from us and yet not from us. From that viewpoint, I think, it’s understandable that it is at the same time something sacred to be able to give life and, in return, to have responsibility for it beyond its biological beginning. For all these various reasons, the Church had to expound what is important here and what is basically being said to us in the Ten Commandments. She has always, again and again, to bring this as a responsibility into human life.

Can you be a good Christian if in questions of sexual morality you are always running counter to the Church’s ideas of what is right?

The other side of this is that we always fall short of the great things that the Church, in expounding the Word of God, proclaims man to be capable of. If, at any rate, one wants to stay on the path, if one retains a basic recognition of the sacred nature of this co-creation with Christ, then one does not cease to be a Catholic simply on account of failure. Then, in our very searching, we remain, if you want to put it like that, a “good Catholic”.

The Italian bishops have asked people to have more courage in begetting offspring. For a society that is afraid to beget children is, they proclaim, becoming “less human”.

Wherever love for children is extinguished, then really a great deal is lost. Italians used to be famous for their love of family and children. Today, some regions of Italy have the lowest birthrate in the world. Here, something fundamental has changed with newfound wealth. This is in fact a great temptation for Western societies, to see children as competitors who take away from us something of our living space, something of our future. In just the same way, children are then regarded at best as a possession and as an image of oneself. People are not, in the end, ready to accept them in their own right, with all that must be given them in terms of time and the whole of one’s life.

An Italian bishop once said to me that poor people invest in life; they look on children as their future; rich people invest in things. I don’t want to exaggerate what he meant by that, but it is obvious with us the investment in things, insuring oneself by the value of things, which are a multiplication of our own self, is stronger than our readiness to stand at the service of another life. Even if we take the problem of population growth quite seriously, we still have to recognize, on the other hand, the problem of an aging society that is robbing itself of its own future.

The catchword population growth.The Church is accused of aggravating serious problems in some parts of the Third World with her strict policy of forbidding the use of contraception, to the point of real misery.

That is of course complete nonsense. The misery is the result of a breakdown of the moral sense that once gave order to life in tribal societies, or in the community of believing Christians, and that thus prevented the great misery we can see nowadays. Reducing the voice of the Church to no more than a prohibition against contraception is utter rubbish, based on a completely distorted picture of the world, as I will explain in a moment.

The Church still teaches above all the sacredness of marriage and faithfulness in marriage. That is her true voice. Where people listen to this voice, then children have a sphere of life in which they can learn love and self-restraint, the discipline of the right way to live, in the midst of any poverty. Where the family is functioning as a sphere of fidelity, people have patience and consideration for each other, providing the necessary preconditions for the practice of natural family planning. The misery comes, not from the large families, but from the irresponsible and undisciplined procreation of children who have no father, and often no mother, and who, as street children, have to suffer the real distress of a spiritually distorted world.

We all know, besides, that in Africa today the opposite danger has long since arisen, through the rapid spread of AIDS: not a population explosion, but the dying out of entire tribes and the depopulation of the countryside.

When I think, besides, that in Europe they pay farmers subsidies to kill off their livestock, to destroy grain crops, grapes, all kinds of fruit, because we supposedly cannot control overproduction, then it seems to me that these knowledgeable managers ought still to reflect on how, instead of destroying these gifts of creation, we could make good use of them all.

The misery is not produced by people who bring up children to learn faithfulness and love, respect for life and self-restraint, but by those who try to talk us out of morality and who see man only in a mechanistic way: the condom seems to them more effective than morality, but when they think you can replace the moral dignity of man with condoms, so as to make his freedom no longer a danger to him, then they have stripped man of all dignity, down to his most basic self, and have produced exactly what they claim to be preventing: a selfish society in which everyone lives his own life and is responsible for nothing and no one. Misery comes from demoralizing society, not from moralizing it, and the condom propaganda is an essential part of this demoralizing, the expression of an attitude that despises people and that in any case thinks people capable of nothing good whatsoever.

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