Confronting a concept of controversy

Kerry Lester

Go to Villanova’s homepage and search within the University for the words “birth control” or “contraception.” With the exception of a few websites displaying resources for nurses, nothing pops up.

Young Catholics today are caught in a serious bind. Some are in serious relationships or are postponing marriage until they graduate, land a dream job or feel they have a solid financial base. Others want to be responsible for what could happen during one night of youthful indiscretion. Regardless of the scenario, they are having sex.

However, since 1968, the Catholic Church has abided by Pope Paul VI’s encyclical letter “Humanae Vitae,” which emphasizes that it is “intrinsically wrong to use artificial birth control – contraception – to prevent new human beings from coming into existence.”

Abiding by the Church’s ruling, Villanova University points to its mission statement to define its stance on birth control. The University attempts to develop “an environment in which students, faculty and staff may experience Christian intellectual and moral perspectives, believing that the teachings of the Catholic faith are applicable in every area of human activity.” Although Villanova functions as an independent institution, it “recognizes its obligation to the Magisterium of the Church.”

Some students greatly disagree with this position. “The Catholic Church needs to join the rest of the 21st Century,” junior Rebecca Szewczuk said. “Times are changing. People are waiting until their late 20s, early 30s, even 40s, to tie the knot with their special someone. They tend not to wait for marriage to have sex. So, they should at least be protected and know how to ensure that they will not contract STDs or become pregnant.”

Sophomore Patrick Thornton agreed that it seems far more logical to be safe. “I think the University should definitely supply [contraception],” Thornton said. “Students are going to have sex no matter what,” Thornton said.

Still, other students feel that it is impossible to have your proverbial cake and eat it too. Junior Jenny Schultz said she knew the rules when she decided to attend Villanova. “We are a Catholic university and therefore should respect the Church’s rules,” Schultz said. “Its kind of ridiculous to go against what you are teaching.”

Rev. James J. McCartney, O.S.A professor of philosophy, explained the University’s position. Agreeing with Schultz, he offers an analogy of walking along the Ocean City boardwalk during the summer. “There are several different ice cream vendors – Ben and Jerry’s, Dairy Queen, Kohr’s, etc.,” McCartney said. “When you go to Ben and Jerry’s, you don’t expect to get Kohr’s custard – you expect Ben and Jerry’s and that’s what you get.”

As a Catholic university, which Villanova explicitly states that it is in its mission statement, the University is obligated to follow the official teachings of the Church.

Does McCartney forsee any changes in the near future the Church’s teaching on contraception? He admitted he has “no crystal ball – no comprehension of how the Holy Spirit will work in the Church.” McCartney reminded Villanova that when Pope John XXIII was elected, everyone assumed he was a conservative cardinal, and that not much change would take place under him. “And look, nearly immediately he called the Second Vatican Council and profoundly changed the way Catholics had operated for centuries.”

As a former biology teacher at Catholic University of America in Washington D.C., McCartney said he would bring kits from the local Planned Parenthood clinics to class. The kits allowed him to show how different contraceptives worked within the body.

“Education is the name of the game here,” he said. Although Villanova refuses to support birth control as a Catholic university, as an academic institution it could provide information about how the human body works. This could include how to regulate birth cycles. “Education is not advocacy,” McCartney said. “To hand out birth control packs and condoms is a totally different issue.”

The Church has, no doubt, changed its position on moral issues with the times. “There was a time when usury [lending money with interest] was not considered to be a moral activity,” McCartney said. “Now it is the basis of capitalism. Other examples would be the stances on slavery and capital punishment. There is no principle saying it can’t change. Our understanding of natural law develops with time.”