National Conference of Catholic Bishops1
good of the individual person and that of human society are intimately bound up
with the stability of the family. Basic to the well-being of the family is
freedom from external coercion in order that it may determine its own destiny.
freedom involves inherent personal and family rights, including the freedom and
responsibility of spouses to make conscientious decisions in terms of nuptial
love, determination of family size, and the rearing of children. The Church and
the State must play supportive roles, fostering conditions in modern society
which will help the family achieve the fullness of its life and mission as the
means ordained by God for bringing the person into being and maturity.
address ourselves here to certain questions of concern to the family, with
special reference to public policies related to social conditions and the
problems of our times.
so doing, we speak in the light of the Pastoral
Constitution on the Church in the
Modern World adopted by Vatican Council II. Faced with our Government's
stepped-up intervention in family planning, including the subsidizing of
contraceptive programs at home and abroad, we feel bound in conscience to
recall particularly the solemn warning expressed in these words:
are many today who maintain that the increase in world population, or at least
the population increase in some countries, must be radically curbed by every
means possible and by any kind of intervention on the part of public authority.
In view of this contention, the Council urges everyone to guard against
solutions, whether publicly or privately supported, or at times even imposed,
which are contrary to the moral law. For in keeping with man's inalienable
right to marry and generate children, the decision concerning the number of
children they will have depends on the correct judgment of the parents and it
can in no way be left to the judgment of public authority" (Church in the Modern World, Section 2,
a major preoccupation in our present statement must be with the freedom of
spouses to determine the size of their families. It is necessary to underscore
this freedom, because in some current efforts of government—federal and
state—to reduce poverty, we see welfare programs increasingly proposed which
include threats to the free choice of spouses. Just as freedom is undermined
when poverty and disease are present, so too is freedom endangered when persons
or agencies outside the family unit, particularly persons who control welfare
benefits or represent public authority, presume to influence the decision as to
the number of children or the frequency of births in a family.
decision is curtailed when spouses feel constrained to choose birth limitation
because of poverty, inadequate and inhuman housing, or lack of proper medical
services. Here we insist that it is the positive duty of government to help
bring about those conditions of family freedom which will receive spouses from
such material and physical pressures to limit family size.
promotion of family planning programs as part of tax-supported relief projects
may easily result in the temptation and finally the tragic decision to reduce
efforts to foster the economic, social, and indeed moral reforms needed to
build the free, enlightened society.
connection with present and proposed governmental family limitation programs,
there is frequently the implication that freedom is assured so long as spouses
are left at liberty to choose among different methods of birth control. This we
reject as a narrow concept of freedom. Birth control is not a universal
obligation, as is often implied; moreover, true freedom of choice must provide
even for those who wish to raise a larger family without being subject to
criticism and without forfeiting for themselves the benefits or for their
children the educational opportunities which have become part of the value
system of a truly free society. We reject, most emphatically, the suggestion
that any family should be adjudged too poor to have the children it
freedom of spouses to determine the size of their families must not be
inhibited by any conditions upon which relief or welfare assistance is
provided. Health and welfare assistance should not be linked, even indirectly,
to conformity with a public agency's views on family limitation or birth
control; nor may the right to found a large family be brought properly into
question because it contradicts current standards arbitrarily deduced from
general population statistics. No government social worker or other
representative of public power should in any way be permitted to impose his
judgment, in a matter so close to personal values and to the very sources of
life, upon the family seeking assistance; neither should he be permitted to
initiate suggestions placing, even by implication, public authority behind the
recommendation that new life in a family should be prevented.
these reasons, we have consistently urged and we continue to urge, as a matter
of sound public policy, a clear and unqualified separation of welfare
assistance from birth control considerations—whatever the legality or morality
of contraception in general or in specific forms—in order to safeguard the freedom
of the person and the autonomy of the family.
previous occasions we have warned of dangers to the right of privacy posed by
governmental birth control programs; we have urged upon government a role of
neutrality whereby it neither penalizes nor promotes birth control. Recent
developments, however, show government rapidly abandoning any such role. Far
from merely seeking to provide information in response to requests from the
needy, government activities increasingly seek aggressively to persuade and
even coerce the underprivileged to practice birth control. In this, government
far exceeds its proper role. The citizen's right to decide without pressure is
now threatened. Intimate details of personal, marital, and family life are
suddenly becoming the province of government officials in programs of
assistance to the poor. We decry this overreaching by government and assert
again the inviolability of the right of human privacy.
support all needed research toward medically and morally acceptable methods
which can assist spouses to make responsible and generous decisions in seeking
to cooperate with the will of God in what pertains to family size and
well-being. A responsible decision will always be one which is open to life
rather than intent upon the prevention of life; among religious people, it
includes a strong sense of dependence upon God's Providence.
should be obvious that a full understanding of human worth, personal and
social, will not permit the nation to put the public power behind the pressures
for a contraceptive way of life. We urge government, at all levels, to resist
pressures toward any merely mathematical and negative effort to solve health or
population problems. We call upon all—and especially Catholics—to oppose,
vigorously and by every democratic means, those campaigns already underway in
some states and at the national level toward the active promotion, by
tax-supported agencies, of birth prevention as a public policy, above all in
connection with welfare benefit programs. History has shown that as a people
lose respect for any life and a positive and generous attitude toward new life,
they move fatally to inhuman infanticide, abortion, sterilization, and
euthanasia; we fear that history is, in fact, repeating itself on this point
within our own land at the moment.
government has a laudable history of dedication to the cause of freedom. In the
service of this cause it is currently embarked upon a massive, unprecedented
program of aid to underdeveloped nations. Through imaginative and constructive
efforts, it shows itself willing to do battle with the enemies of freedom,
notably poverty and ignorance. We gladly encourage our government to press this
struggle with all the resources at its disposal and pledge our cooperation in all
the ways in which we or those responsive to our leadership can be of
assistance. Our nation's duty to assist underdeveloped countries flows from the
Divine Law that the goods of the earth are destined for the well-being of all
the human race.
the international field, as in the domestic field, financial assistance must
not be linked to policies which pressure for birth limitation. We applaud food
supply programs of foreign aid which condition our cooperation on evidence that
the nations benefited pledge themselves to develop their own resources; we
deplore any linking of aid by food or money to conditions, overt or oblique,
involving prevention of new life. Our country is not at liberty to impose its
judgment upon another, either as to the growth of the latter or as to the size
of its families.
as it does so, our country is being cast in the role of a foreign power using
its instrumentalities to transgress intimate mores and alter the moral cultures of other nations rather than in
the historic American role of offering constructive, unselfish assistance to
peoples in need. Indeed, we are aware of existing apprehension in the minds of
many of the peoples of the world that the United States, in its own great
affluence, is attempting, by seeking to limit their populations, to avoid its
moral responsibility to help other peoples help themselves precisely that they
may grow in healthy life, generous love and in all the goods which presuppose
and enrich both life and love.
inhibiting new life, above all when linked to offers of desperately needed aid,
are bound to create eventual resentment in any upon whom we even seem to impose
them and will ultimately be gravely detrimental to the image, the moral
prestige, and the basic interests of the United States.
therefore, international programs of aid should not be conditioned upon
acceptance of birth control programs by beneficiary nations. Equally obvious,
however, should be the fact that, in the practical administration of overseas
assistance, neither direct nor indirect pressures should be exerted by our
personnel to affect the choice of spouses as to the number of children in their
family. In the international field, as in the domestic field, both our
government in its policy and our American representatives in their work should
strive above all to bring those economic and social advances which will make
possible for spouses conscientious family planning without resort to
contraceptive procedures fostered among them by controversial policies backed
by American political power and financial aid.
lessons of history clearly teach that only those nations remain stable and
vigorous whose citizens have and are encouraged to keep high regard for the
sanctity and autonomy of family life among themselves and among the peoples who
depend in any way upon them. Let our political leaders be on guard that the
common good suffer no evil from public policies which tamper with the instincts
of love and the sources of life.
Because the documents of Vatican II were issued in 1965, the American bishops
decided not to issue their own Pastoral that year. At the November 14-18, 1966,
meeting, the National Welfare Conference, which had served as the general
secretariat of the American Bishops since 1919, was reorganized as the United
States Catholic Conference, and the Bishops' organization was restructured as
the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.
the formation of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1966, their
Statements have not been signed. Where the title would not make the subject
completely clear, an introductory sentence was usually used by the bishops to
explain the topic. This original format is followed in this volume.