Card. Kasper made the following comments in an interview with WNYC Radio’s Brian Lehrer as transcribed in this article ‘The Church is not against birth control at all’: Cardinal Walter Kasper:

Lehrer asked whether married couples who already have “three children and live in poverty” should not be “allowed to use birth control to prevent more conception?”

[Card.] Kasper responded, “Well, the Church is not against birth control at all.It’s about the methods of birth control. … I do not want to enter into this characteristic…how they have to do it. It’s their personal conscience and their personal responsibility.”

The audio is here: The Pope's Theologian | The Brian Lehrer Show.

The question is whether the Catholic Church is NOT all against birth control, and from the Cardinal's words, whether there are licit methods of birth control.

cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2366-2372 | The fecundity of marriage


3 Answers 3


The Roman Catholic Church has always supported Fertility Awareness methods of family planning - previously the Calendar method as a form of birth control. The church is not opposed to family planning - only to methods they would consider equal to killing children who have already been conceived or otherwise frustrates the unitave marital act. Being open to what God would do in a marriage, even if precautions such as a calendar method are used, is important. Hence, Kaspar's very deft retort:

Kasper responded, “Well, the Church is not against birth control at all. … It’s about the methods of birth control.

This document in particular talks about Family Planning in the Catholic church.

As they state:

At the first stage of life, centers for natural methods of regulating fertility should be promoted as a valuable help to responsible parenthood, in which all individuals, and in the first place the child, are recognized and respected in their own right and where every decision is guided by the ideal of the sincere gift of self. (EV, #88)

What they oppose is:

It is therefore morally unacceptable to encourage, let alone impose, the use of methods such as contraception, sterilization, and abortion in order to regulate births

Indeed, surprisingly perhaps for some, the church discourages abstinence for married couples, recommending instead Love and Life in the Divine Plan - which means sex, even sex for pleasure, as long as it is truly good sex - meaning within marriage. The church has long noted God's command to procreate. It just needs to be done responsibly.

  • I'm pretty sure they support abstinence as well...
    – Narnian
    Commented Jul 23, 2014 at 20:47
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    @Narnian Abstinence! Nice!
    – user13992
    Commented Jul 23, 2014 at 20:52
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    So what's the deal against condoms then? Those prevent conception; they do not allow it then kill the new life.
    – user3961
    Commented Jul 23, 2014 at 20:53
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    @fredsbend, from one of the links above: "When married couples deliberately act to suppress fertility, however, sexual intercourse is no longer fully marital intercourse. It is something less powerful and intimate, something more 'casual.' Suppressing fertility by using contraception denies part of the inherent meaning of married sexuality and does harm to the couple’s unity." Commented Jul 23, 2014 at 20:57
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    @fredsbend Contraception-free intercourse, even where NFP is involved, is still "ordered" towards procreation: Neither the male, nor the female biology, nor the act itself is altered or inhibited. Each is "operating" in its natural state. Put another way, the persons and the act are the same act regardless of whether the act is fertile at that time. Contraception changes one of the the persons or the act. Also oft-noted, NFP demands sexual discipline; contraception generally serves a lack thereof.
    – svidgen
    Commented Jul 28, 2014 at 21:31

The two requirements of sexual intercourse within marriage are:

  1. Procreation (to make babies)
  2. Unity (union with spouse)

On the first, the Church teaches that the act must be "ordered to" procreate. Meaning that there ought to be no artificial impediment to the act of procreating. They also say that the act should be "open to life"

On the second point, the couple should have physical intimacy. (This rules out things like artificial insemination as misuse of sexuality.)

The Church has authorized a method called NFP (Natural Family Planning) which basically means you can time having sex so that you don't have kids. However, even NFP can't just be used in any circumstance because you don't want to have kids, as noted in the Catechism:

2368 A particular aspect of this responsibility concerns the regulation of procreation. For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children. It is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood. Moreover, they should conform their behavior to the objective criteria of morality:

When it is a question of harmonizing married love with the responsible transmission of life, the morality of the behavior does not depend on sincere intention and evaluation of motives alone; but it must be determined by objective criteria, criteria drawn from the nature of the person and his acts criteria that respect the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love; this is possible only if the virtue of married chastity is practiced with sincerity of heart.

Thus given the context for your question was a discussion about people in poverty, the Cardinal was talking about people in need being able to control their family size through NFP. Perhaps there is a deeper philosophical point he's trying to make that the Church doesn't categorically just say "no birth control", but NFP is really the only method we know of that meets the criteria.

The above is perhaps better explained by Humanae Vitae (Pope Paul VI, 1968). Note that it talks about:

  1. Not using birth control to prevent conception
  2. That these inanimate objects are not evil in themselves (i.e. a woman could use what is essentially a birth control pill if the objective of that pill is therapeutic for a reason other than preventing birth)
  3. That you can space out births by timing sex.

Unlawful Birth Control Methods

  1. Therefore We base Our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children. (14) Equally to be condemned, as the magisterium of the Church has affirmed on many occasions, is direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary. (15)

Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means. (16)

Neither is it valid to argue, as a justification for sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive, that a lesser evil is to be preferred to a greater one, or that such intercourse would merge with procreative acts of past and future to form a single entity, and so be qualified by exactly the same moral goodness as these. Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good," it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it (18)—in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which must therefore be judged unworthy of man, even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general. Consequently, it is a serious error to think that a whole married life of otherwise normal relations can justify sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive and so intrinsically wrong.

Lawful Therapeutic Means

  1. On the other hand, the Church does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result there from—provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever. (19)

Recourse to Infertile Periods

  1. Now as We noted earlier (no. 3), some people today raise the objection against this particular doctrine of the Church concerning the moral laws governing marriage, that human intelligence has both the right and responsibility to control those forces of irrational nature which come within its ambit and to direct them toward ends beneficial to man. Others ask on the same point whether it is not reasonable in so many cases to use artificial birth control if by so doing the harmony and peace of a family are better served and more suitable conditions are provided for the education of children already born. To this question We must give a clear reply. The Church is the first to praise and commend the application of human intelligence to an activity in which a rational creature such as man is so closely associated with his Creator. But she affirms that this must be done within the limits of the order of reality established by God.

If therefore there are well-grounded reasons for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances, the Church teaches that married people may then take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile, thus controlling birth in a way which does not in the least offend the moral principles which We have just explained. (20)

Neither the Church nor her doctrine is inconsistent when she considers it lawful for married people to take advantage of the infertile period but condemns as always unlawful the use of means which directly prevent conception, even when the reasons given for the later practice may appear to be upright and serious. In reality, these two cases are completely different. In the former the married couple rightly use a faculty provided them by nature. In the later they obstruct the natural development of the generative process. It cannot be denied that in each case the married couple, for acceptable reasons, are both perfectly clear in their intention to avoid children and wish to make sure that none will result. But it is equally true that it is exclusively in the former case that husband and wife are ready to abstain from intercourse during the fertile period as often as for reasonable motives the birth of another child is not desirable. And when the infertile period recurs, they use their married intimacy to express their mutual love and safeguard their fidelity toward one another. In doing this they certainly give proof of a true and authentic love.

(the full document: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_25071968_humanae-vitae_en.html)


All forms of birth control are condemned.

Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubii (#’s 53-56), Dec. 31, 1930:

“And now, Venerable Brethren, we shall explain in detail the evils opposed to each of the benefits of matrimony. First consideration is due to the offspring, which many have the boldness to call the disagreeable burden of matrimony and which they say is to be carefully avoided by married people not through virtuous continence (which Christian law permits in matrimony when both parties consent) but by frustrating the marriage act. Some justify this criminal abuse on the ground that they are weary of children and wish to gratify their desires without their consequent burden. Others say that they cannot on the one hand remain continent nor on the other can they have children because of the difficulties whether on the part of the mother or on the part of the family circumstances. “But no reason, however grave, may be put forward by which anything intrinsically against nature may become conformable to nature and morally good. Since, therefore, the conjugal act is destined primarily by nature for the begetting of children, those who in exercising it deliberately frustrate its natural powers and purpose sin against nature and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious. “Small wonder, therefore, if Holy Writ bears witness that the Divine Majesty regards with greatest detestation this horrible crime and at times has punished it with death. As St. Augustine notes, ‘Intercourse even with one’s legitimate wife is unlawful and wicked where the conception of offspring is prevented.’ Onan, the son of Judah, did this and the Lord killed him for it (Gen. 38:8-10).
“Since, therefore, openly departing from the uninterrupted Christian tradition some recently have judged it possible solemnly to declare another doctrine regarding this question, the Catholic Church, to whom God has entrusted the defense of the integrity and purity of morals, standing erect in the midst of the moral ruin which surrounds her, in order that she may preserve the chastity of the nuptial union from being defiled by this foul stain, raises her voice in token of her divine ambassadorship and through Our mouth proclaims anew: any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offence against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin.”

How does this square with Benedict XVI's promotion of condoms or NFP? Of course it doesn't.

In his book, Light of the World pages 117-119, Benedict XVI states the following:

Question: “Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?

Answer from Benedict XVI:

“She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement towards a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality

  • 2
    To clarify your last few statements, Benedict XVI does not say condoms outside of marriage are a solution, but that they may potentially (and in my opinion, rarely) be a tool to help move toward a legitimate moral solution. Within a marriage they are never okay. A better and expanded analysis of his quote may be found here
    – Dennis
    Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 3:54
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    @apocalypse_info_click_here All good except All forms of birth control are condemned. so no +/-
    – user13992
    Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 5:05
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    It should also be noted that Benedict XVI's comments were not in the context of asking about birth control. Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 10:51
  • @apocalypse_info_click_here So, even mutual continence is condemned?
    – Geremia
    Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 17:13
  • @Geremia If the purpose is to avoid children.
    – user
    Commented Jul 26, 2014 at 19:25

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