Can Catholic hospitals dispense contraception to unmarried persons?

Some Catholic commentators claim that the Magisterium has no teaching on whether or not contraception is moral outside of marriage. This claim implies that the administrators of a Catholic hospital can use their own moral judgment as to whether or not to distribute contraception to unmarried persons.

But this claim can be refuted by citing a number of different magisterial documents, which wholly condemn, without qualification, the promotion and distribution of contraception by governments and other institutions (Familiaris Consortio, n. 30; Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, n. 234).

This claim can be refuted by citing Casti Connubii, in which Pope Pius XII quotes Augustine, thereby teaching the Church using the words of that Saint and Doctor: “Intercourse [concumbitur] even with one’s legitimate wife is unlawful and wicked where the conception of the offspring is prevented.” (Casti Connubii, n. 54; De Conjugiis Adulterine, 2.12). Contraception is gravely immoral ‘even’ in marriage, not ‘only’ in marriage.

This claim can also be refuted by the fact that the Bishop of the Phoenix Diocese publicly rebuked a (now formerly) Catholic hospital, St. Joseph’s Hospital of Catholic Healthcare West. The Bishop has proclaimed that this hospital can no longer be considered Catholic or use the term ‘Catholic’. He listed only three reasons for this strong action: (1) performing direct abortions, (2) performing direct sterilizations, and (3) distributing contraception.

He could have taken the same action against the hospital solely for performing direct abortions. He could have listed only direct abortion and direct sterilizations as the reasons for his action. But he included the distribution of contraception, without any qualification — he did not limit his rebuke to distribution to married persons. The Bishop took this action of condemning the distribution of contraception because the use of contraception is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. And he did not restrict his rebuke of this sin as if contraception were only immoral when used by married persons because the magisterial teaching against contraception is not restricted solely to its use in marriage.

The use of contraception is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral, regardless of marital state. And that is why the CDF has condemned any cooperation by hospitals or other institutions with contraception or direct sterilization. The following quote is also cited by the USCCB Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, Fourth Edition.

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: “Any cooperation whatsoever, institutionally-approved or tolerated, in actions which are in themselves (that is, by their nature and condition) ordered toward a contraceptive end, as well as any that impede the natural result of the sexual act [actuum sexualium] allowing it to be subjected to deliberate sterilization, is absolutely forbidden.” (CDF, Quaecumque Sterilizatio, 3a.)

This condemnation of contraception and direct sterilization does not mention marriage at all. And there is no use of the Latin terms conjugium or conjugalis, which some commentators claim limits the condemnation of contraception to its use within marriage. The term used to refer to sexual intercourse in this Latin document is actuum sexualium (the sexual act), a general term that is certainly not limited to sexual relations within marriage. Contraception and direct sterilization are condemned by the Magisterium regardless of marital state because human sexuality and the sexual act are inherently ordered toward procreation.

by Ron Conte

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