The leaders of the Catholic Church take the position that contraception is immoral in all or virtually all circumstances. Famously, this view is not widely shared. Indeed, its position has undermined its authority with most Catholics.
In sharply disagreeing with the Catholic Church, many too easily slide to the conclusion that in a marriage the practice of contraception raises no moral issues. But there is a middle ground between the positions that contraception is always immoral or always moral. In 1930, the Lambeth Conference expressed “its strong condemnation of the use of any methods of conception control from motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience.”
In the same vein, Boston College theologian Richard Gaillardetz asked in a facebook comment the other day: "’What if’ Paul VI had adopted a more personalist approach to the issue of contraception, one that focused on the need for marital couples to be genuinely open to children in their marital relationships without focusing on each individual marital sex act? People would have understood that the Catholic tradition stands for generous, self-sacrificial love in marriage, a love that would generally include openness to children. They would have recognized that in church teaching it would be wrong to use artificial contraception for the purposes of mere convenience and in furtherance of a selfish lifestyle. * * * This approach would have condemned a ‘contraceptive mentality’ while allowing for the exercise of conscience to determine when a couple could use birth control ‘with right intention’ to exercise their obligations to responsible parenthood.”
In this connection, the 1958 Lambeth Conference expressed the belief that “the responsibility for deciding upon the number and frequency of children has been laid by God upon the consciences of parents everywhere; that this planning, in such ways as are mutually acceptable to husband and wife in Christian conscience, is a right and important factor in Christian family life and should be the result of positive choice before God. Such responsible parenthood, built on obedience to all the duties of marriage, requires a wise stewardship of the resources and abilities of the family as well as a thoughtful consideration of the varying population needs and problems of society and the claims of future generations.”
I suspect that the Catholic Church’s clinging to an unpersuasive natural law argument has played a major role in entirely removing moral reflection from marital decisions whether to use birth control. At this point, most may think this is a good thing. Not me. I think the Lambeth Conferences got it right in 1930 and 1958.