Testimony Papal birth control commission

Anthony Zimmerman
Father John Sasaki
Kobe, Japan
Nov.7, 1965
Reproduced with Permission

Father John Sasaki (RIP) was one of the 57 members of the Papal Commission on Population and Family Problems in 1965-66. He submitted this paper to the Doctrinal Section of the Commission. Fr. Zimmerman helped him to prepare it. It defends the absolute ban on contraception (minority opinion) and is in harmony with the Encyclical Humanae Vitae which the Pope issued in 1968. Fr. Sasaki revealed that sometimes the discussions degenerated into shouting matches. The testimony is edited here for easier reading but the contents, except for omissions, are preserved.

(The following is submitted for use of the Members of the Doctrinal Section, in reference to paragraph "Nature and Artifice with Regard to Man.")

1. In order to be morally good, a human act must be in harmony with man's nature as an animal-rationale, ens sociale. and ens creatum. If the act is in disharmony with only one of these aspects it is vitiated, even though it may apparently harmonize with the other two aspects, according to the saying: Bonum, ex integra causa, malum. ex quovis defectu.

2. Much has been said about contraception in regard to its harmony or disharmony with man's nature as an animal-rationale,but comparatively little about its relation to man as an ens sociale and ens creatum. Many are no longer convinced that contraception offends against man's nature as an animal- rationale, at least not in certain instances when it appears to be useful to the self interest of the conjugal couple and its existing or potential offspring. We will explore some of the problems which exist when contraception is related to man as an ens sociale and creatum in the pages which follow.

3. St. Thomas takes it for granted that there is an order of reason in the performance of venereal acts; but it is highly significant that he argues that the social offense done by contraception is a measure of the gravity of its sinfulness because of its offense against reason. This can be gathered from the following passages from SUMMA-THEOLOGICA, II, II, Q. 153 and 154:

I answer that, the more necessary a thing is, the more it behooves to observe the order of reason in its regard; wherefore the more sinful it becomes if the order of reason be forsaken. Now the use of venereal acts, as stated in the foregoing article, is most necessary for the common good, namely the preservation of the human race. Wherefore there is the greatest necessity for observing the order of reason in this matter: so that if anything be done in this connection against the dictate of reason's ordering, it will be a sin. (Q. 153, a. 3).

4. As can be seen, he passes over the question whether it would be a serious sin to use venereal acts in a way not in accord with reason, if there were no social obligations attached to the acts. He asserts that man must act all the more in accord with right reason when using venereal acts because this is necessary for the common good. The social obligations reinforce and validate the obligation to perform venereal acts in accord with right reason. In fact, he implies that the gravity of the obligation to act with social responsibility defines and specifies the gravity of the offense insofar as it is against reason in the first place.

5. In Question 154, Article 2. St. Thomas again asserts that "the union of the sexes is directed to the common good of the whole human race, and common goods depend on the law for their determination. From this he concludes that"the union of man and woman which is called matrimony is determined by some law." Man's obligations to do what is necessary to preserve the common good, he thus implies, make it necessary that his venereal actions be determined by some law.

6. The basic argument of POPE PIUS XII in regard to obligations arising from use of venereal acts is similar to that of St. Thomas:

Upon couples who perform the act peculiar to their state, nature and the Creator impose the function of helping the conservation of the human race. The characteristic activity which gives their state its value is the bonum prolis. The individual and society, the people and the state, and the Church itself depend for their existence on the order established by God on fruitful marriage. Therefore, to embrace the married state, continuously to make use of the faculty proper to it and lawful in it alone, and, on the other hand, to withdraw always and deliberately with no serious reason from its primary obligation, would be a sin against the very meaning of conjugal life. (Address to Italian Catholic Midwives, October 29, 1951.)

7. Although Pope Pius XII is speaking in this passage about the licitness of periodic abstinence, the fact that he bases the obligatory limitations of this system upon man's social obligations is significant. In their comments on this address, Fathers Ford and Kelly state: "The idea of that legal justice is involved is strongly suggested by the technical language of Pius XII, especially where he uses the words "prestation" and "claimant." He represents the human race as having a claim or right against married couples to contribute to its conservation" (CONTEMPORARY MORAL THEOLOGY II, p. 411.)

8. [Omitted]

9. IMPLICATIONS OF THIS APPROACH, among others, are that the continuity of the human race might be placed into jeopardy if there were no law forbidding contraception...

10. It is significant to note, in this connection, that one of the key arguments against allowing sale of the contraceptive pill In Japan, as proposed by the Planned Parenthood Federation, was that the birthrate in the nation is already too low, and that introduction of the pill would lower it still further to the detriment of the common good. ...

11. It is also significant to recall that, with only imperfect and minor exceptions, the tribes and nations of all times have demanded that two persons who have sexual union must make a marriage contract, at least if the woman becomes pregnant. Does this perhaps reflect an intuition on the part of the majority of mankind that there would not be enough children born if the sexual union could be had cheaply, without the high price of a risk of pregnancy with subsequent obligations? Or at least an intuition on part of the majority of humanity that the people who exploit this pleasurable union pay a suitable price? This intuition may be so immediate, so close at hand, yet so subtle and ill-defined, that we have lost sight of it. We fail to see the forest because the trees stand in the way, as the saying goes. It explains why there is the all-pervasive common perception through the ages indicating that an absolute prohibition against contraception exists, without however, specifying the precise rationale for its existence. Perceived inhibitions have a way of being vague, difficult to express in concepts or words, yet persisting despite all overt arguments to the contrary.

12. The question immediately arises, how is it possible that so many persons practice contraception without injuring the race, at least injuring it substantially? The race has continued until our day, as we see, and is still growing and even accelerating its growth. The answer is that the law has actually been understood sufficiently well by a sufficient number of people to ensure continuity of the race until our times. Another part of the answer, of course, is that contraception has been more difficult to practice in the past than at present, and was less effective. That infractions against the law existed is a matter of history, but the law has been able to achieve its purpose despite the infractions. There are exceptions, it seems. Many populations have become extinct, perhaps primarily because of sexual immorality.

13. It should also be noted that when a law exists but some people break it the situation is not the same as when no law exists at all. For example, traffic flows along with a modicum of efficiency when most people keep the laws, even though there are many infractions; but if there were no traffic laws at all, driving would be completely unsafe. And if there were no law against contraception, the race might die out.

14. Finally, it may even be a design of nature as fashioned by the Creator, that persons of relatively generous and noble character will understand the ban against contraception more easily, and keep it more faithfully, than people who choose a less responsible lifestyle. The result is a differential birth rate. Nature selects the morally fittest for survival and growth. She does this generation after generation, tribe by tribe, nation by nation. Nature constantly sifts, cleanses, and refines the moral quality of our race by means of the sieve of obedience to God's laws.

15. St. Thomas and Pius XII mention only the preservation of the race or of the Church and society as the elements of the common good involved in the ban against contraception. A number of other benefits derived from the law could be explored. For example, the institution of marriage and family life depends, it appears, upon the prohibition against contraception. How many persons would agree to marry for life, and to rear children, if casual sexual union were always open to them without the obligations attached to marriage? Family life, as we know it, would be in jeopardy. Thus, the existence of a ban against contraception is a pillar which supports the institution of marriage and family life.

16. When governments or public opinion are lenient towards practices of contraception, or even encourage them, then family life tends to sink to a low moral level, and numerous social evils arise. For example, it is common experience that an epidemic of abortions breaks out in the wake of the spread of contraception. For example, it has been estimated that there were about 100,000 abortions per year in Japan before World War II, and about 50,000 per year towards the end. In the postwar contraception was popularized by much propaganda, and legalized by the passage of the Eugenics Protection Law in 1948. Abortions have since then exploded to above 2,000,000 per year. It was reported at the World Population Conference in Belgrade that abortion is probably the most used method of birth control in the world today - a world in which contraception has become very popular and acceptable. At the same meeting it was reported that there are 157 registered abortions per 100 live births in Hungary (1963) and that 54 per cent of those who had abortions practiced contraception regularly. Another paper detailed a phenomenal rise of abortions In two pilot areas near Seoul, Korea, which received intensive education in contraception. A speaker from Korea mentioned that it would be a service to a population if governments legalize abortion after instituting policies to popularize contraception, because there will be many unwanted pregnancies. It does not appear to be mere coincidence, therefore, that abortion epidemics spawn in the areas where contraception is popular and widespread. There is an element of selfishness and irresponsibility in both practices. Tens of millions of people in the world have begun with contraception and slid into abortion, killing their offspring because they no longer wanted them. This is, regrettably, not an exaggeration. If, then, there were not even a prohibition in natural law against contraception, abortions would be even a greater menace in the world.

17. The question of extremely difficult cases brings up the problem of EXCEPTIONS to the ban against contraception. The argument against exceptions rests on the principle of common danger (periculum commune). Members of a community are sometime obliged to sacrifice their own conveniences, interests, even lives, when proportionate interests of the community are at stake...

18. We have an example of the sacrifices which individuals are obliged to make in the case of Christian marriage. Gustave Thibon expressed it well in reference to partners of unhappy marriages, who are not permitted to divorce and remarry:

Why are these unfortunates obliged to drag along all through their lives the results of a sudden and often involuntary mistake -- and why should one action, perhaps the most ridiculous of their lives, be a permanent stumbling block to their future?

If these psychologically catastrophic unions fulfill the formal conditions for a true marriage, the answer is as plain as it is hard: the Church commands these "unloved ones" and these unsuitably joined persons to renounce utterly all expectation of love and human happiness. But to what does she sacrifice them? Quite simply to the common good, which, where compromise is not possible, must always be put before the good of the individual. The principle of indissoluble marriage is like a gate attacked by the tempest of passions and personal interests: if it is half-opened, it is no longer possible to keep it on its hinges; a hurricane will blow it off entirely. The victims of marriage deserve all possible sympathy, but not that exceptions should be made in their favour. If even one exception is made, it leads to another. In fact, are not all human situations exceptional in that they are unique and cannot be paralleled? And so the rule which is the main beam of the social edifice is destroyed (See LOVE IS FOREVER, a symposium published by Sceptor, Dublin, 1964, pp. 60-61. Trans. from French).

19. Thibon also adduces the example of the soldier who is obliged to die for the welfare of his country, a welfare which he will not share. Victims of the Seal of Confession come to mind. In order to preserve the confidence of the community in the secrecy of the Sacrament, individuals must be willing to suffer great injustices, even death. A religious must suppress his own desires and allow his talents to remain undeveloped when the common good of the community requires that he serve in an unsuitable post under obedience. The citizens of an entire nation may be obliged to bear a great deal of injustice from a tyrant because frequent assassinations or revolution would weaken the structure of society excessively.

20. There seems to be no possible method of legalizing exceptions against the law which prohibits contraception, without doing extensive damage to the common good of the human race, that is, to all of us. Let us suppose that the Church, or the State, would declare that all parents of four children, and only they, could be permitted contraceptive practice. The first danger would be that accidental fifth pregnancies would be aborted. The second danger, and the fundamental one, is that people would excuse themselves en masse. We all know how easy it is to persuade ourselves that something is licit and even good in our own case, when the formation of conscience is not assisted by some clear cut and objective norm. For example, in Japan abortion is supposed to be permitted only when continued pregnancy or birth would cause grave danger from the physical or economic viewpoint. Practically everyone who wants an abortion can persuade herself of this. Doctors routinely circle the "economic" difficulty indicated in the form, and patients consent just as routinely. Who is not without an "economic difficulty?"

21. It has even been suggested that an Ecclesiastical or Civil Court might be established to hear cases and issue grants for contraception. This would help little if at all. The courts would have no acceptable manner of controlling and enforcing their decisions. Couples to whom the courts refuse permission could easily persuade themselves that the courts did not understand everything, and that they are free to do as they see fit before God. Other couples would decide the same without going to court. If such a court would exist and grant exceptions, the dike against contraception would be sliced open and washed away.

22. The existence of the law is indeed an invitation to rise to higher levels of virtue. As Thibon wrote in reference to victims of the prohibition against divorce and re-marriage: "The very barrier which prevents human happiness can lead them to seek higher grounds for a purer happiness. When a road on earth is closed before and behind there is only one way out: the sky" (loc. cit.). If married couples were left in uncertainty about contraception's illicitness, it would be relatively difficult for them to perform heroic deeds to obey. But if the law is as solid as the Rock of Gibralter under their feet, and their duties are as clear as crystal, then those who choose to obey generate the necessary energy, and adopt practical measures, to keep this law. With good will and the help of grace, the couple can bring itself to do what it might have thought to be impossible in the absence of dire necessity. They enter more fully into the kind of love for each other on which their marriage is modeled, namely the love of Christ for His Bride, the Church. Christ's love for the Church reached full tide when He hung upon the cross for her, giving all He had with the entire energy at the command of His human will. There was no sense pleasure in the bite of the nails, but He love His bride unto the end. Couples who grow in this quality of love for each other become more closely conformed to Christ.

23. If exceptions were conceded to the ban on contraception, the need to make heroic sacrifices would disappear. Couples would not be forced to rise above themselves in the manner indicated. In fact, it would not be reasonable nor virtuous to abstain with great effort from contraceptive acts, if contraception were sometimes permitted. The removal of an absolute and irrevocable barrier would deprive us of a powerful stimulus to practice virtue, to reach higher for maturity and sanctity.


Speculation may arise whether the licitness of periodic abstinence (Rhythm) poses similar dangers to mankind's common good as would the licitness of contraception. Reflection shows, however, that Rhythm does not threaten the race with danger to such an extent that it must be outlawed completely. The core reason is the very difficulty involved in adhering to the stern discipline of the Rhythm system. There is a built-in guarantee that abuse of the system will be far less frequent than in the case of contraception. By and large, those who employ Rhythm for a long time successfully, have a strong motive for doing so, else they would give it up or fail.

This also makes it less likely that they would abort an unplanned child. Partners who follow the Rhythm system do so out of a tender and sensitive regard for each other's spiritual integrity in the sight of God They recognize the fact that they have only limited rights over each other. Furthermore, each month brings with it the necessity for great self control, sometimes to the point of heroism; the two refuse to follow the easier path of contraception out of regard for the law of God. Hence, when an unplanned pregnancy occurs, they are likely to continue to follow the law of God in a spirit of obedience and humbly accept the inevitable burden. From this, and from other considerations, and also from experience, it can be concluded that the legitimate use of Rhythm does not impose excessive threats against the common good of the human race. Such is the essential difference between periodic abstinence and contraception, in reference to the long-term welfare of the human race.

This brings us to the third criterion to recognize the morality of human acts, namely their harmony or disharmony with man's nature as an ens creatum.

24. The natural law is a participation by man through his intellect and will in the eternal law of God, who wills from all eternity that creatures tend towards their proper and suitable purposes. Sometimes, however, even in the natural law, the thoughts of God are higher than those of man, especially of man in his fallen condition. That the designs of God in regard to the sexual drive may be superior to the natural tendencies of man should not come as a surprise

25. God may wish the human race to continue on earth for many generations to come, whereas contemporary generations have little to gain from this master plan of God. One of the methods by which God achieves His design is to attach the joys of sexual union exclusively to married couples who consummate their union without preventing offspring by contraception. The sexual stimulus is admirably designed to achieve God's master plan if man obeys the rules. The heart draws man and woman to unite and thus to achieve the plans of God even though the future of the human race may not be foremost in their thoughts. Once united in love, they then also accept and educate the children. Each successive generation thus continues to carry out God's plan for the race during its limited time on earth.

26. Man, on the contrary, may have little interest in making sacrifices to preserve the race for thousands of years in the future, an investment from which he does not gain anything here and now. He may be opposed to admitting more and more people onto our globe who appear to compete with existing people for resources and conveniences. God's greater design for man may conflict with the smaller minds of humans. If Adam and Eve and their children had contracepted, it is not likely that we would be here today.

It is apparent that God created this immense earthly habitat to serve mankind for a very long time. His first love in the cosmos us humans, whom He loves as their Father. Man's love for future generations of people is less intense than the bountiful thoughts of God. If man would have his way, and could satisfy the sexual drive without risk of procreation and education, he might well be content to let the human race die out gradually. He lives on the earth now, not in the future. His thoughts are mostly concerned with one generation, not with many generations. His vision into the future may be a mere hundred years, not countless generations to come. He is not much inclined to invest sacrifices now for distant generations of the future who will live here after he is gone. He may even be jealous, and wish to prevent increasing numbers of competing humans from being given access to the globe. Hence God's love for the race impels Him to withdraw from the jurisdiction of man all direct disposal of sexual acts. No matter what ideas man may have about what is good for the race, God does not permit him to sabotage His design that sexual acts remain always open to fruitfulness. This greater design is made in heaven rather than on earth. This plan of heaven extends to countless generations successively living during uncounted thousands of years, whereas man's vision is fixated more on the current picture of perhaps a mere three generation of his span of life on earth.

27. If the above interpretation is true, then it will be difficult for men who do not share God's generous love for the human race to understand why contraception should be prohibited. Nevertheless, people who believe in God and choose to obey His ban on contraception, will tend to promote God's greater design whether they understand it entirely or not. As a result, they will likely have a higher birth rate, and their offspring will enjoy numerical advantages in the battle of the cradle. New generations educated by those who obey God will hopefully educate their offspring in obedience also. Thus successive generations of humans are sifted by the screen of obedience to God. The sieve discriminates in favor of the obedient. These have a long-term selective survival advantage in generation after generation of human history. The children of parents who obey God tend to inherit the land in the next generation, and in the next, and again in the next, until the end of time.