Pope Francis recently affirmed Catholic teaching regarding fruitful love between spouses. The affirmation came in a message for participants of the WOOMB International Congress, held at the University of the Sacred Heart in Rome, at the end of April.
In his remarks, the Holy Father declared the importance of rediscovering “the beauty of human sexuality,” which has been deformed and seriously damaged by the sexual revolution.
“In the aftermath of the so-called sexual revolution and the breakdown of taboos,” he stated, “we need a new revolution in our way of thinking. We need to discover the beauty of human sexuality by once again turning to the great book of nature, learning to respect the value of the body and the generation of life, with a view to authentic experiences of conjugal love.”
Unitive and procreative meanings of conjugal act are inseparable
Referring to Saint Paul VI’s prophetic encyclical Humanae Vitae, the pontiff noted that it is always important to “keep in mind the inseparable connection between the unitive and procreative meanings of the conjugal act.” (see Humanae Vitae #12)
He noted that by affirming the two meanings of the conjugal act “generosity of love is born and strengthened in the hearts of the spouses, disposing them to welcome new life.”
When the unitive and procreative dimensions of the marital act are lacking, “the experience of sexuality is impoverished.”
This impoverishment reduces the act “to sensations that soon become self-referential,” losing the “dimensions of humanity and responsibility.”
Use of natural methods to be encouraged
In his address, Pope Francis explained that “natural rhythms of fertility should be encouraged.”
Citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church he underscored that these methods “respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favour the education of an authentic freedom.” (CCC #2370)
Having recourse to natural methods, such as Billings, Creighton, or the SymptoThermal method, is licit for married couples. By reading the naturally occurring signs of fertility during a woman’s menstrual cycle, pregnancy may be postponed or achieved.
If a grave reason exists (for the couple to discern), they may choose to avoid the possibility of pregnancy by abstaining. However, just as importantly, the fertile signs are beneficial for determining the optimal time to achieve pregnancy, especially when the couple is finding it difficult to conceive.
Separating unitive and procreative meanings has led to the rise of artificial reproductive technologies
Pope Francis pointed out how “the ideological and practical separation of the sexual relationship from its generative potential” has led the way for “alternative forms of having a child.”
These rising alternative forms include artificial reproductive technologies that reduce the conception of a child, not as a pure gift, but as the fulfilment of a want, no matter the cost.
“…While it is appropriate to assist and support a legitimate desire to conceive with the most advanced scientific knowledge and technologies that can enhance fertility,” he said, “it is wrong to create test tube embryos and then suppress them, to trade in gametes and to resort to the practice of surrogate parenthood.”
“[A] greater understanding of the processes of procreation, using modern scientific findings, could help many couples make informed and ethically sound decisions that are more respectful of the person and his or her dignity,” the Pope said.
At the same time contraception is being used to suppress new human life both in and outside of marriages, and artificial technologies to create new human life apart from the conjugal act are becoming increasingly popular. The rise of technological methods to conceive means there are millions of frozen embryos in a state of limbo throughout the world. Further, surrogacy in all its forms, is becoming ever more mainstream.
Strong moral guidance is needed in these confused times. Procreation and the marital act are no longer viewed as intrinsically inseparable. Pope Francis’ message to the WOOMB International Congress participants was indeed very timely.