Is Contraception immoral outside of Marriage?

Catholic Moral Teaching

The ordinary and universal Magisterium infallibly teaches that contraception is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. The ordinary and universal Magisterium also infallibly teaches that all intrinsically evil acts are immoral solely due to the moral object of the act. If an act has an evil moral object, the act is intrinsically evil; if the act has no evil in its object, the act is not intrinsically evil. There are no exceptions.

Abortion, abortifacient contraception, and contraception are each intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. So each has evil in the moral object. If anyone says that a particular act is not intrinsically evil, they must show that the act has no evil in the moral object. Intrinsically evil acts are NEVER justified by intention or circumstances. So if anyone explains that an intrinsically evil act of abortion or contraception is moral or justifiable or is not really abortion or contraception because of an intention or a circumstance or both, their claim is necessarily false.

The font called “moral object” has a complex structure: the knowing (i.e. intentional, deliberate, voluntary) choice of a concrete act (the act in a particular case), with its moral nature as determined by its moral object. The moral object is the end, in terms of morality, toward which the knowingly chosen act is intrinsically ordered. And the moral nature of the act is nothing other than this ordering of the concrete act toward its object. Human persons do not choose moral objects in isolation from concrete acts. One can only choose a moral object by choosing a concrete act ordered toward that end. So the one knowing choice includes the concrete act, its moral nature, and its moral object. These three components of the font are inseparable: act, nature, object. You cannot choose a concrete act of abortion or contraception without also choosing its evil moral nature and its evil moral object. And no intention, however good, nor any circumstance, however dire, can change the moral nature or moral object of an act from evil to good.

The relationship between the chosen concrete act and its moral object is morally-direct because the act is intrinsically ordered toward that end. When a moral deprivation is in the object, the object is evil and the act is intrinsically evil. But if the deprivation is only in the circumstances, and not also in the object, then that deprivation does not make the act intrinsically evil. The grave sin of abortion is termed “direct abortion” by the Magisterium (see Evangelium Vitae 62) because every intrinsically evil act has a direct relationship between the chosen act and its object.

The term “indirect abortion” refers to an act that is not ordered toward the deprivation of life from an innocent prenatal, but which results in that deprivation of life only in the consequences of the act. The classical example of an indirect abortion is a woman who is pregnant and also has cancer of the uterus. If the child is too far from viability to save its life, the surgeon can morally remove the cancerous uterus, even though this will cause the death of the prenatal. The act is ordered toward the good moral object of saving the life of the mother; there is no evil in the moral object.

Every intrinsically evil act admits of this distinction between direct and indirect. The direct act is intrinsically evil, and the indirect act is not intrinsically evil (but could still be immoral based on intention or circumstances). Why is contraception moral in cases of rape? It is because the use of contraception, when a woman has been raped, is indirect and therefore not intrinsically evil. The use of contraception in such a case is morally an interruption of the rape; the deprivation of the procreative meaning is only in the circumstances, not also in the moral object.

In order to be moral, a sexual act must have all three good moral objects: the marital, unitive, and procreative meanings. All non-marital sexual acts are intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. All non-unitive sexual acts are intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. All non-procreative sexual acts are intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral.

An act can have more than one moral object. If any one or more of these moral objects is evil, the act is always intrinsically evil. To be intrinsically good, an act must have only good in the moral object.

There are three fonts of morality (intention, moral object, circumstances). All three fonts must be good for any act to be moral. If one or more of the fonts is bad, the act is always a sin.

The greater the moral disorder, the greater the sin. A gravely immoral intrinsically evil act has a greater moral disorder if it is done with a bad intention, but it is still gravely immoral if done with a good intention. If an act has one gravely immoral object, the act is objectively a mortal sin. If the act has that same gravely immoral object, along with a second gravely immoral object, the act is even more sinful. One evil moral object, such as the deprivation of the marital meaning, cannot nullify another evil moral object, such as the deprivation of the procreative meaning. Grave sin does not exempt the sinner from the eternal moral law.

Is Contraception Immoral Outside of Marriage?

Every type of contraception is intrinsically ordered, by the very nature of the act, toward the evil moral object of depriving sexual acts of their procreative meaning. Sexual acts are naturally ordered toward conception. The deliberate knowing choice of any act ordered, by its nature, toward this deprivation is always intrinsically evil. It is the procreative nature of the act of sexual intercourse that is frustrated (thwarted, deprived) by contraception, and this is the basis for the immorality of the moral object.

The teaching of the Magisterium is absolutely clear that sexual acts must be marital and unitive and procreative to be moral. If a sexual act is marital and unitive, but contracepted (the deprivation of the procreative meaning in the moral object), then the act is direct contraception; it is an intrinsically evil act.

If a husband and wife commit an unnatural sexual act, the act is neither unitive, nor procreative. In truth, unnatural sexual acts between husband and wife are not really marital acts at all. This is not the type of sexual act God intends for any marriage. So there are three evil moral objects in such acts. The greater the moral disorder, the greater the sin.

Some Catholics have proposed an interpretation of Humanae Vitae, which concludes that the Magisterium has ONLY condemned the use of contraception within marriage. Some claim that the Magisterium has not yet taught on whether contraception is immoral outside of marriage. Others claim that contraception is morally-neutral outside of marriage. Still others claim that the Magisterium has specifically taught that contraception is only immoral within marriage. ALL SUCH CLAIMS ARE FALSE.

Some commentators base this claim in part on another claim, that the document Humanae Vitae has a translation error. They say that the Latin word ‘conjugale’ must always be translated as referring to marital sexual relations, never as referring to sexual intercourse in general, and never as referring specifically to non-marital sexual relations. And from this premise they conclude that Humanae Vitae only condemns the use of contraception in marriage, as if the Magisterium were entirely silent on its use outside of marriage.

My five-part series “Contraception and Heresy” refutes the many severe errors on contraception spreading among the faithful today.

The first article refutes several common grave errors on contraception, and proves from magisterial documents that contraception is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral: Contraception and Heresy — Part 1 The More Common Heresies.

The general claim that the immorality of contraception is based solely on the marital state is refuted at length in the second article: Contraception and Heresy — Part 2 the use of contraception outside of marriage.

The specific claim concerning the Latin text of Humanae Vitae is thoroughly refuted by the third article: Contraception and Heresy — Part 3 On the Latin text of Humanae Vitae.

The fourth article explains the moral object of contraception, and the relationship between the marital, unitive, and procreative meanings: Contraception and Heresy — Part 4 The Moral Object of Contraception.

The fifth article refutes the claim that the use of contraception outside of marriage is morally-neutral as well as the claim that the Church has not condemned the use of contraception outside of marriage: Contraception and Heresy — Part 5 contra Jeff Mirus on Contraception.

If a married couple use contraception, their chosen act is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. If an unmarried couple have sex using contraception, their chosen act is more gravely disordered, since it has two evil moral objects: the deprivation of the marital meaning and the deprivation of the procreative meaning. Contraception is direct and therefore intrinsically evil whenever this deprivation of the procreative meaning is in the moral object of the chosen act, even if the act has another evil moral object, such as the deprivation of the marital meaning. The grave sin of sex outside of marriage does not exempt the sinner from the eternal moral law. The greater the moral disorder in any act, the greater the sin.

I must also point out that those Catholics who claim that contraception is moral outside of marriage generally do not distinguish between mere contraception (e.g. condoms) and abortifacient contraception. In their rush to please their listeners and justify popular grave sins, they ignore the deaths of innocent prenatals caused by abortifacients.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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2 Responses to Is Contraception immoral outside of Marriage?

  1. Michael says:

    Thanks for the wonderful article Ron. I do have a question. Did Abraham commit an immoral act when he had sexual relations with Hagar for the sole intention of procreation?

    • Ron Conte says:

      Intention does not determine moral object. A good intention is not itself sufficient, but a correct choice of actions is also needed. To be moral, a sexual act must be marital, unitive, and procreative.

      [Genesis 16]
      {16:1} Now Sarai, the wife of Abram, had not conceived children. But, having an Egyptian handmaid named Hagar,
      {16:2} she said to her husband: “Behold, the Lord has closed me, lest I give birth. Enter to my handmaid, so that perhaps I may receive sons of her at least.” And when he agreed to her supplication,
      {16:3} she took Hagar the Egyptian, her handmaid, ten years after they began to live in the land of Canaan, and she gave her to her husband as a wife.

      Hagar was the wife of Abraham. Natural marriage permits multiple wives; the Sacrament of Marriage is only between one man and one woman. The act was marital, unitive, and procreative, and therefore moral.

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