The beloved founder of Human Life International, Fr. Paul Marx, was not known to mince words when it came to what he called the “conspiracy of silence” from the pulpits of our Church on the issue of contraception, but his insights of twenty and thirty years ago were right on target and remain true to this day: “Future generations,” he said, “will wonder why so many Catholic bishops and priests in the West didn’t see contraception as a seminal evil and the chief cause of the Church’s swift decline.“ There is the core issue. Priestly silence about contraception is deadly both to the Church and to our society.
To this day the vast majority of Catholic clergy refuse to talk about contraception despite their moral obligation to do so. I can tell you that it is not only in the United States that this is the case; it is true in every part of the world. The reasons for this negligence range from outright heresy to lack of moral courage to inexcusable ignorance of the subject matter. Whatever the reason, the effect is the same: something I call clerical contraception.
Contraception itself is a rejection of God’s sovereignty over one’s marriage and a refusal to obey the Lord’s command to “be fruitful and multiply.” The priest, though not married, analogously contracepts the life-giving seed of truth when he refuses to preach the Catholic Faith-all of it. Faith comes through hearing, says St. Paul, and it is through the priestly ministry that Christ transmits the Faith to His bride, the Church, so that she can be fruitful and multiply the souls who are brought to salvation.
This is probably the main reason why so many Catholics today contracept or sterilize themselves and see absolutely no contradiction in receiving the Eucharist every Sunday and believing themselves in perfect communion with the Church. They’ve never been admonished that it is a mortal sin to use contraception or get sterilized. They’ve never been told of the physical and spiritual danger of these practices, and they’ve never been made aware of the magnificent, life-giving alternatives that the Church offers to the Ideology of Infertility.
Priests who are silent about the teaching on contraception also forget two very important things: first, priestly vocations generally come from large families. Failure to preach openness to life and generosity with children has a direct effect on how many men will be standing in the trenches with us later on. Contracepting this teaching has the same effect as contracepting the marital act: sterility. The persistent sterility of priestly vocations in the West is caused by priests who are silent about the plague of contraception among the laity and forget that their own vocations are the result of their parents’ generosity with life. Overworked priests will be reaping the fruits of their silence on contraception for a long time.
Secondly, priestly silence about contraception has eternal consequences. The price of that silence is the loss of souls.
Contracepting men and women who are not warned of their sin and who therefore do not repent of it risk the death of their immortal souls, and that is a scandal of immense proportions. To be warned is to be forewarned, especially about something so crucial. Perhaps the only danger of greater consequence is the danger to the priests themselves who don’t do their job: they risk their own spiritual deaths because in the end they will be held accountable for preaching the Church’s full message “in season and out of season.”
All priests should read the Lord’s message to the prophet Ezekiel to know the high stakes of failing to preach the fullness of Christ’s teaching: “If I say to the wicked man, You shall surely die; and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his wicked conduct so that he may live: that wicked man shall die for his sin, but I will hold you responsible for his death” (Ez 3:18). May every priest take this warning to heart!