Therefore We base Our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children.
Equally to be condemned, as the magisterium of the Church has affirmed on many occasions, is direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary.
Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.
Neither is it valid to argue, as a justification for sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive, that a lesser evil is to be preferred to a greater one, or that such intercourse would merge with procreative acts of past and future to form a single entity, and so be qualified by exactly the same moral goodness as these.
Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good," it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it—in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which must therefore be judged unworthy of man, even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general. Consequently, it is a serious error to think that a whole married life of otherwise normal relations can justify sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive and so intrinsically wrong.
Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, 14
Reflection – So here it is: the actual magisterial ruling, binding upon all the Catholic faithful, regarding what actions must not be taken to regulate fertility. The Pope, in the fullness of his authority as Vicar of Christ, entrusted with the safeguarding and handing on of Catholic doctrine, affirms here what has been the teaching of the Church for 2000 years.
Abortion, the in utero killing of a human being, is wrong, permanent sterilization which is the physical mutilation of a human being is wrong, temporary sterilization as in the birth control pill is wrong, and any other methods of acting to prevent or block the procreative nature of sexual intercourse are wrong.
The reasons behind this and the larger spiritual and theological context of those reasons are found in Humanae Vitae pp 1-13, every word of which I have presented on this blog these past few weeks. I won’t go over them all here; if you have just stumbled across this post and haven’t read the rest of the series, the label at the bottom of this post will bring you up to speed on the whole picture.
Pope Paul VI makes a good distinction, more necessary today than ever, between tolerating a lesser evil for the sake of a greater good and doing evil for the sake of a greater good. The first is unavoidable in a world of finite beings with finite powers; we almost always have to put up with things that are simply wrong because the course of action needed to fix them would be worse. Almost always there is some level in which our own actions are cooperating in the evil choices of others, and the Church has developed a very nuanced and delicate moral theology of cooperation that is a most useful diagnostic tool for how to navigate those murky waters.
But we must never, ever do an evil act to achieve some good purpose. To perform an abortion because a woman or young girl is in terrible trouble is to sacrifice one innocent life for the apparent good of another. To torture a terrorist so as to extract information about a possible attack is to deny the very sanctity of life and the person that we are supposed to be concerned for. To tell a deliberate lie so as to achieve some good end or other is wrong, even if in extreme circumstances (the classic ‘hiding Jews from Nazis’ scenario, which of course we all do every day) the wrong is so minuscule and the good so profound that the guilt of the lie is almost nil.
Consequentialism, the moral theory that a good intention sanitizes the evil of an action, or that there is no such thing as actions that are in themselves evil, only good or bad intentions, is the prevailing ethos of our day. It is not limited to the political left or right, as the examples I give show. It is common to all, and it is simply wrong.
It is, factually, an utterly incoherent theory. The example of torture shows this. We are against terrorism, of course, because it is wrong to brutally assail human life for a political end. And we express our opposition to terrorism by… brutally assailing human life for a political end! Or we are motivated to help a woman in a crisis pregnancy because people matter, dammit, and human life and happiness is a precious good. And we help her by… killing a human life and snuffing out any chance that the human being she carries in her womb will have for happiness. So I guess human life doesn’t really matter, then, does it. It is incoherent madness.
The only way to pursue the good of human life is by doing good actions and avoiding evil actions, even though in the short term this may entail suffering, sacrifice, painful struggle and hard choices. When we depart from that path to the easy quick way of life, we ultimately do no good to ourselves and damage our neighbor and the whole fabric of the world. There is, obviously, much more to say about all this, but that is quite enough for one day.