Page 5, 4th October 1996

4th October 1996
Page 5
Page 5, 4th October 1996 — A better egg-timer

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A better egg-timer

WILLIAM ODDIE argues that the arrival of an electronic gadget to aid natural contraception only serves to underline traditional Catholic teaching


for Catholics of the fact that it is now possible to obtain a computerised gadget which by means of a simple urine test carried out at home will allow women to be 95% certain that sexual intercourse will not be followed by pregnancy?

The answer is that, by itself, this development does not mean as much as it would if we had not some time ago reached the stage (one fully recognised by non-Catholic medical opinion, and duly certified by an article in the British Medical Journal) at which natural birth control had become at least as reliable as the Pill.

It is that which constitutes the real breakthrough, a breakthrough the significance of which has not even begun to be recognised by the makers of Catholic opinion. Consider: if, when ' Humanae Vitae' was published by Pope Paul, this natural and reliable contraceptive technology had been easily available, is it conceivable that the Church could have been ripped apart by this greatly maligned encyclical in the way it was? The argument among Catholics was not, remember, that what was needed was a means of contraception which would make possible a sexual revolution: what they said was needed was something to get rid of the uncertainties of what was acidly know as " Vatican roulette". Now, thirty years later we have it.

Put it another way. Here is another question : since Catholic teaching still is (for practising Catholics uncontroversially) that sexual relations should be confined to marriage; and since this new technology (with or without the gadget) is well-adapted for use by married couples; why have we not heard anything from critics of the present Popc and his predecessors, to the effect that here at least one source of Catholic division can now cease?

For, it is not merely because of the superior effectiveness of the new natural family planning that we can now see that the time has come for a new stage in the reception by modern Catholics of Humanae Vitae. It is also the case that enough time has passed for it to be more and more clear that Pope Paul was right anyway.

When I became a Catholic, Humanae Vitae was one of those topics on which I delayed judgement until I could approach it within a fully Catholic perspective. All I knew was that since I disagreed with its opponents on everything else (and particularly on the subject of the present Pope), I was likely in the end to see the point of it. But if I am to be frank, I avoided the subject.

Curiously enough, it was one of Pope John Paul's most obdurate enemies who made me see the point of Humanae Vitae. It was Peter Hebblethwaite who pointed out in a kind of radical manifesto called Modern Catholicism (1991) that Humanae Vitae was prophetic in two senses at least, The feminist move ment has combined with ecology to make many women feel that stuffing themselves with pills is not what Mother Nature wants, and that learning to understand their bodies by the rhythm method is better."

Now, we are in a position to add that we have a natural method which has the same advantage but which is now reliable: it was, remember, precisely the unreliability of the rhythm method which led liberal Catholics to reject it in favour of "stuffing themselves with pills". But it was another reason which led Hebblethwaite to question their wisdom: here, he is worth quoting at length: "Second", he wrote, "how liberal Catholics poohpoohed when Paul VI said that the widespread use of contraceptives "could open the way to marital infidelity and a general lowering of standards". No, they said, we are talking only about the responsible use of contraceptives by those who have already had several children, Here, not much study was needed ( a few David Lodge novels would do ) to show that the Pope was right and the liberal Catholics wrong".

TO THIS WE need to add another danger prophetically perceived by Pope Paul: that modern contraceptive methods (together with abortion) would make it possible for the State to use contraception as a means of social control. Think only of modern China, where a woman who has had one child must fit an abortifacient device or become sterilised, and where those women who disobey and become pregnant a second time can be arrested in the middle of the night and their child aborted at gunpoint. Remember too, the use of aid blackmail by Western countries as a means whereby white Western males exert power over third world females to have small families against their will and the norms of their culture.

The fact is that there is now no respectable argument which can justify those Catholics who insist on continuing to use artificial contraceptives. They can no longer plead that this is an argument for and against responsible family planning. It has now become clearly and indisputably what it actually was all along: an argument for and against nature itself.

But it goes deeper than that. What we have now with no possibility of avoiding it by sophistry or obfuscation is an unambiguous choice between the destructive selfwill of the modernist mind and that humility before God without which no man can be saved.

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