Pastoral Work For Contraceptors and the Sterilized

Anthony Zimmerman
December 31, 2002
Reproduced with Permission

A zealous pastor protested that I wrote too severely about the evil of contraception. "We may judge what is sinful but we may never say who is a sinner," he writes, quoting a Cardinal. And he cites another cardinal who "was known to have said that the majority of Catholics using contraception are people of sincere good will." This, he believes, is in contrast to my article "Obedience at is best: natural family planning" in the September 1998 issue of The Priest magazine.

I had written in that article that even if people do not understand why contraception is wrong, they should obey the Church and switch to natural family planing. Once they made that change to a new way of life, they will be surprised to learn that "obedience is best." They will be more at ease with God, with their partner, and with their children. I also wrote that contraception is a witches' brew that instils devilish evil into families around the globe:

Sin - and contraception is objective sin - makes it harder to go to church and pray. Attending Mass on Sundays becomes painful because God is dangerously close. Receiving Holy Communion becomes a futile attempt to affirm self. The love of children declines. Birthrates plunge. The 2,000 year-old Christian civilization of Europe and America is dimming.

Let us agree with the Cardinal who said that many contraceptors are of sincere good will, and add that subjective good faith may excuse them from committing mortal sin when they contracept. But is the maintenance of sincerity in the mis-use of the conjugal act the best that pastors can do for their faithful? We might believe that Osama Bin Laden was sincere when he directed pilots to crash into the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon. And are African crones not sincere when they infibulate and mutilate the genitals of girls in the traditional way of preparing them for adulthood? And the Talibans, were they not sincere when they banned girls and women from schools and made them hide their faces when they left home?

Christ did not stop to ask the Israelites whether their mode of life was sincere. Instead, He called upon them to change their lives to a new and higher standard: "Convert, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." He came that we may have life, and have it in abundance. Contraception is impoverishment of spirit, not life in abundance. It clashes with the natural law, is uncultured, is unholy, is offensive to human dignity, is not an ascent up the steep and narrow way that leads to salvation.

Contraception/sterilization has become a fashion, a way of life foisted upon us by overpopulation ideologues and by the media which has $ signs written on its bull-horns. Women and men have become insensitive to the natural values of family life through prolonged inelegant use of the conjugal act. Social acceptance of Pills and condoms all around them has dulled the natural perception that these are corruptive intrusions into conjugal life. Couples stray off the Christian Way when they walk in the dark of a moral no-man's land. "When every body else does it, it must be okay."

Pastors are appointed by their bishops and by God to be teachers of holiness in their parishes, especially there where unholiness and ignorance are rife. Even if all the people practice these evils in good faith, pastors are prophets to call them to repentance, for the kingdom of God is at hand.

It is true that in the USA and elsewhere, the general practice is so prevalent that this can induce invincible ignorance among the unwary. Let us review the figures. The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) states on the web ( that "between 1965 and 1988 surveys, the prevalence of surgical sterilization rose dramatically among married women 15-44 years of age in the United States, from 16 to 42 percent." A news release issued on June 5, 1997 by NCHS states that the leading method or contraception remains female sterilization (10.7 million women), followed by the oral contraceptive pill (10.4 million women), the male condom (7.9 million), and male sterilization (4.2 million).

Among women age 35-44 with at least one child, 52.3% were surgically sterile for contraception, plus another 12.5 non-contraceptively sterile and 8.5% had impaired fertility. "In 1988, one half (50 percent) of all married couples with one child or more were surgically sterilized, Among couples with one child or more in which the wife was 35-44 years of age, the proportion sterilized was about two thirds (68%)" (Advanced Data issued by NCHS Dec. 4, 1990).

During the past three decades a major shift is evident toward female rather than male sterilization. In 1970, for example, the cumulative total of sterilizations was reported to be 2,750,000 of which 52% were male and 48% female. By 1983 the trend have reversed, being 46% male, and 54% female (see report by Association for Voluntary Sterilization based on government figures). By 1995, it was 28% male vs. 72% female (NCHS, June 5, 1997).

The USA figures contrast sharply with those of Japan where I live, and where sterilization is minimal, 5.0% of women contraceptors and 1.2% of men (Mainichi Survey 1992). Anecdotal evidence from conversations with doctors indicates that physicians are decidedly against sterilization, and even more decidedly against sterilizing their own wives.

Why this overwhelming use of sterilization in the USA (68% in families with at least one child, in which the wife is in the age category of 35-44 years) and why so low in Japan? For myself I draw the conclusion that sterilization in the USA is a landslide vote against the Pill. The figures bear this out. At age 25-34, 23.7% used the Pill, vs 23.6 were surgically sterile. Ten years later at ages 35-44, 6.3% used the Pill vs. 54.0% surgically sterile (NCHS figures for 1988). Sterilization for contraception is near the saturation by the time the wife is 44 years old or above. This appears to be especially true among Catholics at that age because they are motivated strongly to avoid abortions.

In Japan no similar passage from Pill to sterilization exists. The Pill had been outlawed until 1999; currently its sales are sluggish (only 140,000-180,000 users, about the same as those who used it for supposed therapeutic purposes before it was legalized, see Yomiuri, March 1, 2002). Summarized simply: sow Pills, harvest sterilization; ban Pills, few sterilizations. (Much of this also appears in my article in Linacre Quarterly, August 2001).

Even when people are sincere, doing this evil is not healthy, is not virtuous.

Doctor Herbert Ratner, former public health official, who had a great respect for nature's ways, wrote that nature works to save the human family from trouble by sometimes using a big stick:

Nature has a vested interest in the traditional or monogamous family: the reproductive mode of her highest creature, man. Though we think of nature as Mother Nature and credit her with all that motherhood implies, she has an inescapable shortcoming that circumscribes and limits her merciful motherhood. She is a stern teacher and disciplinarian who expects us to heed what she says or suffer the consequences. Mother Nature doesn't plead with us, doesn't cajole us, doesn't bribe us. Mother Nature says: "These are my ways. They are good. They are wise. Follow them." When nature is ignored or transgressed by free wheeling man, she fights back....(Address delivered at the tenth convention of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, 1987 titled: "The Natural Institution of the Family." Doctor Ratner passed away on Dec. 6, 1997.)

Though pastors may be loathe to charge their contracepting people with sin, they cannot fail to see that contraception is moral blight on the souls of their parishioners, and that it damages them physically and psychologically. Parents who contracept may be poor models and teachers of chastity for their children. They may also inspire few vocations for the priesthood and religious life. They may miss Mass, except on Christmas and Easter. Surely, the pastor who admits that the practice is intrinsically evil, but still wants to excuse them because they do so in good conscience, must admit that it is not virtuous, is not the way of the Lord.

To know the way of the Lord is human riches, is the standard medicament against the evils of this world. The Lord is very much concerned that people learn His ways. "He guides me along the right path, he is true to his name" (Psalm 23). "Forty years I endured that generation. I said, 'They are a people who go astray, and they do not know my ways,' So I swore in my anger, 'They shall not enter into my rest'" (Psalm 95). David prayed: "A clean heart create for me, O God" (Ps. 51).

Shall we leave our people stuck in the quicksand in which Saint Augustine once found himself: "Lord, give me chastity, but not yet!" St. Ambrose, good pastor, plucked him out of the trap. Coaches who don't win enough games get fired. Umpires who don't go by the strike zone and the foul lines lose their qualification. Do people not expect their pastors to tell them what is right and what is wrong?

Contraceptors, even those in good faith, have a wrong conscience. They will fry in heaven if they try to live there with an incorrect conscience. The strobe lights of the beatific vision sear and zap what is not true, what is not good, what is not holy. A man or woman landing abruptly in heaven still thinking that contraception is okay would make the angels giggle, like the amused boy who pointed his finger at the Emperor without clothes. Invincible ignorance, I think, is fuel for some roasting in Purgatory.

Christ did not suffer and die so that we could be covered over with a whitewash of invincible erroneous consciences. He asks for more. He asks for conversion with the help of His grace. Light must shine to brighten darkness and ignorance. All children of God should think as God does about right and wrong. Christ wants nothing more than that we become wise, that we live by the truth, not by error. He even exalted while still on the cross, celebrating the return of sinners who will praise God: "I will proclaim your name to my brethren, in the midst of the assembly I will praise you. You who fear the Lord, praise him. All you descendants of Jacob give glory to him" (Psalm 22).

Pastors have that chutzpah - Christ called it salt - to invite erring and ignorant people back to a life of virtue. Whether conversion follows a long and contorted path, whether it is delayed even until the death bed, or whether it can be done overnight, conversion of parishioners from error to the truth and salvation is the apostolate of all pastors. They are careful to not quench the flax so long as it still smokes. They use the crook of their shepherd staff to gently constrain sheep that stray. They do not quickly disinherit the prodigal son but gaze down the road awaiting his return. Like Christ, pastors search the high ways and hedges to cajole people into the banquet hall. Bishops coach their priests on how to face the problem of mass contraception and sterilization, perhaps planning wise diocesan strategies with them.

I don't think that it is right for pastors to hope that their people will be saved from the spiritual and temporal ravages of habitual contraception if their "attitude is right." I cannot agree fully with the same pastor mentioned above who wrote as follows:

Serious matter: While surely everything involving human reproduction is "serious" in many ways - biologically, psychologically, spiritually, etc. - valid questions arise about calling particular marital acts (out of 2,000-4,000 in a lifetime) involving no physical harm or other "optic" evil - "serious" matter. In all other human activities, the absence of resulting evils is chief reason for down-grading from the serious category. People like Fr. Zimmerman have claimed psychological and/or spiritual damage from contraceptive acts as such. While there is little real evidence for such claims, a selfishly-motivated contraceptive attitude could be another story. But even then, it is the attitude, not the individual act, that would cause the damage.

Yet we must stand by the moral principle that the goodness or evil of the act itself is the prime determinant of its goodness or badness. Whatever the attitude of Bin Laden may have been, it was his act that demolished the twin towers of the World Trade Center and crushed to death or incinerated thousands of innocent people. The man who shoots his wife in the head to end her sufferings may claim that his attitude and motivation is one of love, but attitude does not alter the lethal effect of the bullet as it tears through her brain. We are adopted sons of God - sons in the Son - and what is foreign to God is necessarily also foreign to His sons, members of His family..

The same pastor wrote that Pope Paul VI "stated plainly he was not speaking infallibly." This appears to be a common misconception, It was not Pope Paul VI who said this, but the Vatican Official who declared this on his own impulse and without authorization when announcing the Encyclical Humanae Vitae at the news conference. An Encyclical does not have to be tagged as infallible in order to be true. And what can anyone do against the truth? Two and two equal four, without need of an infallible papal declaration.

My viewpoint is that Christ, who gave the keys to Peter, bound in heaven what Paul VI bound on earth. Actually the Pope wrote:: "We think it right, through the power given to Us by Christ, to give an answer to these weighty questions." He was aware that he was teaching "through the power given to (him) by Christ." A pope who claims that he is teaching with the power of Christ will not lightly admit that the teaching may be wrong. Christ would be an incompetent CEO of the Church if He were to allow a pope to make a mistake in so grave a matter. He would undermine the authority of the Pope on earth who speaks with Christ's Personal backing from heaven. We cannot escape the conclusion that the encyclical proclaims the truth.

Contraception and sterilization: a blight on marriage and family life

A practicing psychiatrist, Dr. Bernharda Meyer, wrote volumes about things that she learned from couples who came to her clinic for marriage therapy. I edited some of her pages, and posted extensive passages on my site: Read some of the things she wrote and weep:

"If we include vasectomized male spouses, the number of sterilized couples may reach as high as 60% or 70%. More than half the couples actually live neuter gender sex, having excluded their heterosexual humanness of being men or women. Why have so many done it? Many decide on this permanent form of unnatural birth control because they have that choking fear of "needing an abortion." Or they may dread that if they lack physical love-making during abstinence time when following natural family planning, their marriage may break up.

"These fears are not necessary, and are entirely out of touch with reality, if we view what is going on in the field of natural family planning, where couples are well adjusted. People who do not know NFP, however, are probably not going to bo convinced. Before living it, they don't believe. It is a no-win situation: they won't believe it until after they live it; but they won't live it either because they don't believe it works. Stuck in their prison of self-imposed ignorance, they mis-opt for that tragedy of sterilization.

"Bearing and rearing their children, they may admit, sadly, that they no longer have sexual relations since frigidity or impotence have become a problem.

"In some cases there is a restless search for "satisfying sex" which can almost take the form of rape if done with the spouse; or there is incest, a hidden affliction about which reports are increasing. Or the search for sex may be done outside, especially because "one is protected in any case."

"The divisive psycho-sexual consequence of sterilization is something which even love cannot prevent or neutralize, because the very core of a human being is an inseparably interlocked unity of body + psyche. Because of sterilization, spouses cannot accept each other as intact human beings in their male and female sexuality. There always remains an awareness about the rejection of the essence of the spouse in his/her total self, even if this is only felt subconsciously (and nine tenths of our feeling and thinking is subconscious).

"Sex, done for its own sake and not as an inter-relation of persons, is not love. Sex from which the natural openness to life has been blocked out lacks any glory and splendor. The fun eventually ceases to be real fun and no longer brings contentment. Contraceptive sex is distant, a gap between the two. It is not a heterosexual relationship because the partner's opposite and complementing sexuality is neutralized. The much touted method to allow uninhibited sex, blissfully free from fear of pregnancy, has in reality mis-developed; it now causes friction and/or flat, dead, or broken-up marriages.

"Couples who have been sterilized can tell about this experience most clearly. Initially there is relief, and this time varies in duration. But the time comes when the husband can no longer perform well sexually; ejaculation praecox or impotentia coeundi may occur. This has roots in the subconscious, the abiding awareness of the non-reversible mutilation of their fertility which constitutes the essence of their sexual identity, male or female.

"On the other hand, the woman may be the first to find the sex act boring, routine, flat. She may no longer "need" conjugal sexual intercourse. Increasingly she may remain dry, not perceiving any desire for the act, resenting the man who wants intercourse. She may detest his penis, she may feel physically nauseated by her man, may come to hate him. (This is reported to happen after abortion too by some women.) She may feel a revulsion when he touches her, since it is a suggestion of the sexual act, even when the husband may intend a non-genital caress. The situation keeps deteriorating, becoming distressful to the extreme for both. Living together is troublesome, irritating, unrewarding. They slip into the "sad" marriage, or the "dead" marriage, where they may still be fond of each other, or may be perseveringly committed to the upbringing of their children but they have no longer any hope left that they will ever be able to melt in marital oneness in the unique way of the intimate marital act. (End of quote from correspondence with Bernharda Meyer.)

Might her experience be exceptional, perhaps anecdotal? I think not. If fifty percent of marriages now end in divorce, the underlying cause must be quite universal. Look at USA statistics: only 393,000 divorces in 1960 before the Pill but 1,036,000 after (1975). That's a blockbuster explosion of broken marriages by 264%. The explosion continues to roll on and on. We would need ideological blinders to avoid seeing in the lock-in-step sequence a suggestion of a causal connection.


Induce your sterilized couples to make a good confession, then give them a penance to maintain an inner conversion. Some penitents should reverse the surgery; others should practice abstinence during ten days of each menstrual cycle. Couples thereby prove to themselves that this can be done, and that they should have done so instead of being sterilized. Pastors can support their repentant people by a simple prayer to heaven. Celibacy has that special unction which is as good as a white telephone to God. When African Bishops met in Council at Carthage in the year 390, they renewed their pledge of celibacy by saying:

As was previously said, it is fitting that the holy bishops and priests of God as well as the Levites, i.e. those who are in the service of the divine sacraments, observe perfect continence, so that they may obtain in all simplicity what they are asking from God: what the apostles taught and what antiquity itself observed, let us also keep.

Make provisions for the teaching of natural family planning for the young in the parish. Make the teaching obligatory during marriage preparation courses. Let each pastor charm his people back into the fold, let each bishop court the pastors to do this. On the morrow after that is done, we will have a new and vibrant Church in America and in Japan.