DAILY CATHOLIC     WEDNESDAY     July 21, 1999     vol. 10, no. 135

NEWS & VIEWS
from a CATHOLIC perspective

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NEW VATICAN DOCUMENT ON PENANCE, CONTRACEPTION

          VATICAN (CWNews.com) -- In a new document, the Vatican has issued guidelines for priests who hear the confessions of married people who use contraceptives.

          The 223-page document, issued by the Pontifical Council for the Family, has been published by Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Entitled "Conjugal Morality and the Sacrament of Penance," and currently available only at the Vatican, it is designed as a deeper analysis of the guidelines first published in 1997, and intended to help priests be more effective as confessors-- specifically in relation to difficult questions involving chastity within marriage.

          The question of contraception is one of several issues treated in depth in the 13-chapter book. The Pontifical Council stresses the importance of providing proper formation for the consciences of penitents, making sure that they understand the "hard truth" of the Church's teaching that the use of contraceptives is a serious sin. This is particularly important today, the Council notes, because in a society "marked by a profound crisis" in morality, "the truths concerning marriage and the family-- and especially the role of procreation-- are very often obscured."

          Particularly in the Western world, the Council observes, the general acceptance of contraception is so widespread that it is difficult to convince married couples of the "objective gravity" of the sin. That gravity cannot be ignored, the document says, but at the same time confessors should recognize that-- because of the widespread ignorance on this question-- penitents may not bear the guilt of having freely and knowingly chosen this evil. Priests are therefore encouraged to help the penitents understand the truth of the matter, and to deepen their spiritual understanding so that they may come to a recognition of the sin and embark on "the path to sincere repentance."

          The Pontifical Council draws a distinction, however, between two different types of penitents who have used contraceptives: on one hand those who show a sincere desire to amend their behavior, and on the other hand those who show neither repentance nor any inclination to change. In the latter case, the document suggests, it might be proper for the priest to refuse absolution.

          The new Vatican document provides a detailed analysis of the means of contraception, written by a priest who is also a physician. It deals in some detail with the compound moral problems involved in the use of contraceptives which act as abortifacients.

          The document also includes a chapter on concrete means of promoting family life in a manner consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church, such as the use of natural methods of family planning.


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July 21, 1999       volume 10, no. 135
NEWS & VIEWS

DAILY CATHOLIC

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