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Concienc Latinoam. 1991 Apr-Jun;3(2):4-7.

[Towards an evolution of sexual ethics].

[Article in Spanish]



The position of the Catholic Church on contraception is well known. It has been reiterated in travels of Pope John II to such countries as Kenya, where the average woman has 8.1 children, and India, a country with 700 million inhabitants. The Church's stagnant position on family planning is very different from its more progressive pronouncements on socioeconomic topics in general. The Pope has spoken out against apartheid, hunger, poverty, colonialism, militarism, and excessive external debt. The position of the Church regarding women and the use of modern contraception in contrast has been closed and intransigent. The sexual ethics of the Catholic Church has continued under the influence of the thought of Saint Augustine, who was born in 354, for over 1500 years. The official church position on sexual ethics and procreation is based on Saint Augustine's dictum that sexual relations, even with the legitimate wife, are illicit when an attempt is made to impede conception. In Saint Augustine's thought, sexuality and procreation were inseparable; sexual desire was seen as an animal tendency but justifiable when and only when the sex act had procreation as its finality. Augustine's idea on sexuality were adapted and incorporated into the Magisterium---the body of teachings and declarations of popes and bishops intended to regulate the behavior of Church members. The Magisterium represents the official Church position but is not regarded as infallible; its pronouncements can be modified and corrected. The Magisterium holds that matrimony is indissoluble and that the sex act should occur only within matrimony. Procreation is the finality of the sex act, and attempts to prevent procreation by direct intervention to prevent conception are illicit. It must be recognized that the obligatory linking of sex and procreation has been a source of social and sexual control over women. Although the thought of Augustine has dominated, there have been signs of change in the past 50 years. The 1930 letter of Pope Pius XI, Casti Conubi, largely reiterated the traditional teachings but also declared that the happiness of the couple, not just procreation, is a finality of marriage. In 1951, Pope Pius XII in a famous address to a group of nurses and obstetricians recognized the possibility of spacing births by the rhythm method, which was regarded as "natural" because it did not impede procreation in a direct form. In 1963, during the 2nd Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII created a commission to study the question of birth control. Its 68 members were unable to agree and presented 2 reports to Pope Paul VI, who adopted the minority position, held by only 4 members, that maintained the traditional Church position but without proposing theological reasons. The 1968 letter Humanae Vitae once again declared sex and procreation inseparable and all attempts at birth control illicit. It is time for a new ethics that recognizes sex as a vital and marvelous dimension of sexuality.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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