Wednesday, September 8, 2010

"Ego te absolvo." The Catholic Route to Birth Control

The Church forbids contraceptive methods. But it has always been more indulgent in the confessional, not only today but also in the past. Here is what priests did in the first half of the twentieth century, in one of the most Christianized areas of Italy

by Sandro Magister

ROME, September 8, 2010 – It is believed to be one of the most reliable proofs of the relentless advance of secularization: the contrast thought to have been created between Church teaching on contraception and the actual behavior of the population, including observant Catholics.

In reality, the divergence between the teaching, for example, of "Humanae Vitae" and the contraceptive practices in use among the faithful is by no means a new development in recent decades.

A divergence just as wide existed a long time ago, and even in places of widespread Christian belief and the generalized practice of the sacraments.

One of these "study cases" is the Veneto region during the first half of the twentieth century. Rural Veneto was at the time the most Catholic region in Italy, with an extremely solid, grassroots presence of the Church.

But even in Veneto in the first half of the twentieth century – where almost everyone went to Mass on Sundays and to confession at least once a year – the birth rate was cut in half in the span of one generation. It went from 5 children per woman in 1921 to 2.5 children per woman in 1951 because of generalized recourse to contraceptive practices, the most widespread of which was coitus interruptus.

A book has been released that analyzes and thoroughly explains for the first time – with documents never studied before – why the Church did not stop the spread of contraception even in "friendly" territory like Veneto in the early twentieth century.

The author of the book is Gianpiero Dalla Zuanna, professor of demography at the University of Padua.

The documents he has taken into examination for the first time – and published in a painstaking translation from the original Latin – belong to  two segments....

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