It's a strange church that would see the anniversary of its ban on contraceptives as a cause for celebration.
But in perhaps one of the more curious displays of Catholic exceptionalism, Catholic institutions and organizations around the world are presenting Masses, symposiums, documentary films and other kinds of jamborees to fete the 50 years that have passed since the publication of , it often seems, can be categorized in two extremes: the natural family planning fanatics who extol the document as prophetic and courageous; and the vast majority of lay Catholics who have rejected the teaching, finding it so unreasonable that it isn't worth another thought.
In all of these cases, none of these women are able to receive contraceptives, reproductive health care befitting their dignity and their needs. We have a church that sponsors so many excellent services for the marginalized, a social justice tradition that promotes care of the poor and sustainability for the Earth and a pope who has won the world's affection with his radical message of love for the destitute, the sick and the refugee, and, yet, this same institutional church staunchly enforces a teaching that only exacerbates the plight of those who already suffer disproportionately.
Some have argued that the hierarchy's ongoing fight against contraception is a sign of how little they understand modern family life.
Instead, they concoct far-fetched claims that birth control is part of a culture of death that leads to the "hypersexualization" of youth and the destruction of human society. The intensity of their lobbying and their high-powered legal teams, supported by well-oiled groups like the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, not only led to success in the courts, but also built up enormous political capital that paid off with the election of Donald Trump, who fulfilled his promise to extreme religious leaders by signing an executive order that allows any employer, religious or secular, to opt out of the contraceptive benefit on the basis of any vague moral objection.
That benefit allowed 55 million women access to contraception at no cost.
According to a 2016 report by the United Nations Population Fund titled "Religion, Women's Health and Rights," each year globally there are 290,000 maternal deaths, 74 million unintended pregnancies and 3 million newborn deaths.
Adding to this catastrophic suffering, a 2016 study published in the Lancet found that nearly one in four pregnancies ends in abortion worldwide, with 90 percent of abortions occurring in developing countries where people have limited access to family planning services and contraceptives.
In fact, some may have joined the priesthood to escape it.
Most priests were taught three models of female sexuality: the pure and holy virgin, the chaste mother who only engages in sex for the sake of conceiving a child, or the wanton woman who is in need of repentance and the directive to "sin no more." These men were never expected to imagine what a women's real life was like, what kinds of complexity she faces in her decision-making and what capacity she has to make judgments about her own sexuality.