Twenty-three years ago, Lincoln Catholic Diocese Bishop Glennon Flavin issued a letter to parishioners and physicians, decrying birth control as evil and immoral.
He warned Catholic couples using contraception and the Catholic physicians prescribing it they were “committing grave sin.”
On Tuesday, Bishop James Conley issued his own letter to parishioners reaffirming the Catholic church’s stance prohibiting the use of all contraceptives, but explaining the stance in much gentler tones.
Conley will talk about the letter during an appearance on Spirit Catholic Radio (102.7 FM) at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Every priest in the diocese has been asked to discuss the letter and talk about contraception during Mass this weekend, Conley said.
Conley was a chaplain at Wichita State University’s Newman Center when Flavin’s letter, “In Obedience to Christ,” came out in 1991.
“I used his letter in teaching college students about the church’s position on contraception and human sexuality,” Conley recalled. “At the time that letter was one of the few documents from a U.S. bishop that dealt so clearly with the issue.”
He has kept the letter all these years, referring to it on occasion and knowing he would revisit it when he was named bishop of the Lincoln Diocese.
“We really live in a wounded world when it comes to the family,” Conley said in a telephone interview.
He said he chose to issue the letter during Lent because of its theme of love and sacrifice being the language of love.
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“We live in a world short on love," Conley writes in the letter. "Today, love is too often understood as romantic sentimentality, rather than unbreakable commitment. But sentimentality is unsatisfying. …
“Love -- real love -- is about sacrifice and redemption, and hope.”
Whereas Flavin’s letter took a strong, authoritative tone and called contraception “gravely immoral ... intrinsically evil … contrary to the law of nature and nature’s God,” Conley’s explains the church’s stand based on understanding God.
God created marriage to be unifying and procreative, Conley writes.
“Our church has always taught that rejecting the gift of children erodes the love between husband and wife.
“... The use of contraception gravely and seriously disrupts the sacrificial, holy and loving meaning of marriage itself.”
People who use contraception “diminish their power to unite,” Conley writes, “and they give up the opportunity to cooperate with God in the creation of life.”
Flavin told Catholics “contraception is intrinsically evil, it may never be practiced for any reason, no matter how good and urgent. A good end never justifies the use of an evil means.”
Conley is careful not to use words like evil, sinful and immoral. Rather, he appeals to the human heart and soul. And in addition to addressing matters of faith, he raises concerns about the risks of chemical contraceptives.
Referring to contraceptives as health care is a paradox, he says.
“Healthcare is the art of healing,” Conley writes. “Contraception and sterilization denigrate and degrade the body’s very purpose.”
And just as Flavin did 23 years ago, Conley encourages Catholics to practice natural family planning -- limiting sexual intimacy to infertile times of the month, but always being open to God’s plan.
Reach the writer at 402-473-7217 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter @LJSerinandersen.