Anglicans, Married Priests, and Contraception
A friend of mine, a former Anglican actually, brought up an issue that I hadn’t thought about with respect to the new Anglican rite: contraception. In 1930, the Lambeth Conference declared that contraception was not always immoral, and could be used (for serious reason) to regulate the number of children that a married couple had. That declaration prompted a negative response from the Roman Catholic Church–the encyclical Casti Connubii, which declared that the use of contraception was never morally permissible. As most people know, that stance was reaffirmed by Humanae Vitae.
Now, the Roman Catholic Church teaches that the prohibition against contraception is not a matter of “rite” or religious practice–it is a matter of natural law, binding not only upon Catholics, but upon all persons. So Anglicans who join the Catholic Church will be expected to conform to the prohibition There is no such thing as a dispensation from the strictures of negative moral absolutes. It’s true, of course, that many Roman Catholics make their own decisions about this matter, and come to their own private peace with God in the “internal forum” of their conscience. But the new influx of Anglicans will include people who will not be able to come to a purely private peace–the married members of the clergy, who will be required to follow Humanae Vitae no less than other married persons.
As far as I am aware, however, the morality of contraception under certain circumstances has been more or less a settled issue among Anglicans–even traditionally minded Anglicans. How will this change work out? Are Anglican priests prepared to balance the demands of a big family with the demands of a big parish? What about the wife of the priest? I know a number of Anglican priests whose wives (and husbands, but that is not an issue here) work full-time to supplement the salary. Are wives willing not only to convert, but to convert on the matter of contraception? Are Roman Catholics willing not only to see, but to support financially and in other ways, married priests with six, seven, or eight children?
From a theoretical perspective, this is an important question. If Anglicans are fleeing their communion because they reject the ordination of practicing homosexuals, they need to see that the Roman Catholic Church rejects contraception for much the same grounds that it rejects homosexual acts–it’s against the natural law as authoritatively interpreted by the magisterium –the Pope they wanted and now have. (Incidentally, what I call the “everybody’s suffering” argument has been a major defense on the part of traditionally minded Catholics to the charge of discrimination.) Anglican ethical analysis has reached a different conclusion, in my view for two reasons. First, they tend to focus on the broader relationship between a husband and wife, and not the single acts that traditional Catholic moral theory does. Second, they tend to give more weight to Scripture, which they view as condemning homosexual acts but not contraception. Traditional Catholic moral theory–based in natural law–doesn’t parse the question in the same way.
Some argue that NFP is very reliable–but many have argued that it’s not. I’ve also come across traditional Catholics who complain about the “contraceptive mentality” of their fellow Catholics in the pews, citing the fact that they only have two or three children as evidence.
Whatever problems the celibate priesthood has, at least we have been spared speculation about the contraceptive practices of our priests.
This ought to be an interesting social experiment.