The Vatican and contraception: A question of social relevance

TOMORROW a policy document signed by former president Mary McAleese and 130 other international signatories will reach a UN conference in New York. The document supports efforts by a Catholic lobby group to convince the Vatican to lift a 48-year-old veto on contraception.

Ms McAleese, a canon lawyer, supports a campaign led by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research to overturn the strictures on family planning in the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae issued by Pope Paul VI. The signatories say “there are no grounds, either from the Bible or from nature” to support a Church ban on contraception. The document will be launched by the UN’s population fund.

Though admirable, there is a sense of the absurd about the appeal, as many Catholics — a lá carte ones at least — made up their own minds about these matters a long, long time ago. The Vatican is faced with a choice though. It can, through revised rules, reflect the lives people live today, or cling to strictures that have little or no impact but make it irrelevant to millions of lapsed Catholics. It can continue to pretend — as Irish Catholicism does on the issue of baptisms, often with no purpose other than to secure a school place — that its rules have a practical substance and influence, or it can, as it has done so often, consign outdated rules to history. As ever, the choice is between social relevance or some questionable idea of purity based on contrived dogma.


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