As Americans rethought sex in the twentieth century, the Catholic Church's teachings on the divisive issue of contraception in marriage were in many ways central. In a fascinating history, Leslie Woodcock Tentler traces changing attitudes: from the late nineteenth century, when religious leaders of every variety were largely united in their opposition to contraception; to the 1920s, when distillations of Freud and the works of family planning reformers like Margaret Sanger began to reach a popular audience; to the Depression years, during which even conservative Protestant denominations quietly dropped prohibitions against marital birth control.Catholics and Contraception carefully examines the intimate dilemmas of pastoral counseling in matters of sexual conduct. Tentler makes it clear that uneasy negotiations were always necessary between clerical and lay authority. As the Catholic Church found itself isolated in its strictures against contraception—and the object of damaging rhetoric in the public debate over legal birth control—support of the Church's teachings on contraception became a mark of Catholic identity, for better and for worse.Tentler draws on evidence from pastoral literature, sermons, lay writings, private correspondence, and interviews with fifty-six priests ordained between 1938 and 1968, concluding, "the recent history of American Catholicism... can only be understood by taking birth control into account." The paperback edition includes a new preface by the author.
"In Catholics and Contraception: An American History, Leslie Woodcock Tentler treats American Catholic culture across the 20th century. . . . Tentler says, lay people today are exercising individual moral authority without communal shaping influences. . . . In her view, even Catholics who disagree with the Church's teaching on contraception want pastoral leadership and a corporate identity as Catholic, not just American. 'Desires like these,' Tentler concludes, 'ought to form the substance of ongoing communal reflection'—of conversations that involve every constituency in the church. How ironic, not to say tragic, that birth control gets in the way."—Books & Culture
"Tentler shows the larger forces of cultural change and the development of mores which would impact views of sex and sexuality beyond simply the contraception question/issue. Her work brings together an incredible amount of research into the archives of dioceses and religious orders, especially those who preached the once popular parish missions which were a bulwark of support for the Church's position on birth control. . . . This book deserves to be read not only by historians, but by all theology students, clergy, bishops, and everyone who wishes to have a better understanding of how the constant Tradition of the Church develops in this critical area."—Catholic Books Review
"Catholics and Contraception is a welcome exploration of the Catholic discourse on birth control over the century leading up to 1968. Tentler's work is thorough, nuanced, and engaging. Her argument about the centrality of birth control practices in lay lives and the significance of Humane Vitae in the church's history is so persuasive and well supported that her work stands as a definitive history of contraception and a major contribution to our understanding of the broader American Catholic history in the twentieth century."—Journal of Social History
"Tentler's account is thoroughly researched, well written, and makes good use of clergy interviews and Catholic archives and publications."—Journal of Religion