By Dan Russo
DYERSVILLE — It’s the elephant in the room, or rather, in the bedroom, whenever Catholics discuss sex — contraception. The church has held firm in its condemnation of contraception and other forms of artificial birth control. Instead, the church advocates the use of Natural Family Planning (NFP), a method that tracks natural signs of fertility to postpone or achieve pregnancy.
Despite the official teaching of the magisterium, a majority of Catholics today reject the church’s position on contraception, a reality Anthony J. Digmann, a teacher at Beckman Catholic High School in Dyersville, knows well.
“It was something I was interested in when I was 18. I went from being a cradle Catholic to someone who was starting to take a serious interest in my faith and this topic came up when I was considering why do I even want to be Catholic. Is Catholicism true?” said the 33-year-old, who is now the father of two children.
After grappling with contraception and other teachings of the church, which many see as controversial, Digmann, a self-described “natural born skeptic,” decided to remain Catholic and become a teacher of theology. In his marriage, he and his wife decided to live out the call to use Natural Family Planning, and he has recently finished his first book.
Released in December, “Contradiction: Contraception, Natural Family Planning, and Catholicism,” focuses on scientific research on the effects of contraception since the wide-spread use of artificial birth control began in the 1960s, an explanation of NFP and Catholic teaching and a look at the history of the issue of family planning among Christians and society in general.
Digmann came up with the idea for the book while studying for a master’s degree in theology at Loras College in Dubuque.
“In my moral theology classes there, it was a contentious issue. I witnessed there what the national average is,” said Digmann. “80-90 percent of Catholics don’t agree with the church’s teachings and only about two percent of fertile Catholics are actually using Natural Family planning. (Many people) didn’t agree with it, but I thought it was largely based out of ignorance and not in a bad way — not like they were stupid. They just didn’t know what we’ve learned over the last several decades. What the sociological data is showing.”
Digmann chose contraception and NFP as the topic for his master’s thesis. After graduating in 2010, he spent time perfecting his manuscript and finding a publisher. The book will have its formal launch on Jan. 31 at 4 p.m. at St. Francis Xavier Basilica in Dyersville, when he gives a talk on his research, focusing first-and-foremost on some of the new data on the topic of family planning.
“I wanted to reach out to young adults like myself and give them this information because we’ve really been fed what our parents decided to do,” said Digmann. “They were largely influenced by my grandparents generation. My grandparents were around in the 60s. They made the decision not to accept church teaching for the most part and they taught it to my (parents’) generation and all of those (women and men) and the kids I teach at Beckman, they’re just kind of picking it up because that is all they see.”
The first chapter of Digmann’s book delves into two areas where there is new research of the impact of contraception— divorce rates and ecology.
“One of the things that really speaks to my students, speaking to our generation is the divorce issue,” the author said. “NFP family planning couples have divorce rates no higher than 5 percent—anything that can reduce the divorce rate is something that really gets the attention of my students and even my generation.”
With the environmental consciousness of Catholics a major topic these days in light of Pope Francis’ Encyclical, “Laudato Si,” Digmann’s points about contraception and the environment are relevant to the dialogue.
“With respect to hormonal contraceptives, the damage related to that on the environment has been a little bit scary,” he said. “It has affected fish, alligators. It’s feminizing fish so that male fish will be female. Some species are switching from male to female, which is wreaking havoc on their reproduction. A lot of this they are seeing down in the Gulf of Mexico because they’re seeing all this stuff flushed from the Midwest (and other areas); they’re getting higher concentrations of the hormonal contraceptives down there. The question is being raised – what is the effect on humans? We have an infertility rate running around 20 percent of couples. Is this part of it? When you put all these hormonally based pharmaceutical contraceptives in the environment, you’re bound to have repercussions from this. Are they contributing to infertility rates and divorce rates? An empirical argument can be made. I think so.”
Digmann is hoping his book inspires Catholics to take another look at the church’s teaching in the areas of NFP and contraception.
“I want to say it’s a controversial topic within Catholicism, but it’s not even controversial anymore because so many people have rejected the teaching and they’re not looking back,” said Digmann. “This is an opportunity where I’m trying to step out there and say, ‘Hey guys, this seriously deserves reconsideration. You’ve got to take a look at what’s happened in the last 30-40 years.’”
For more information on Digmann, his upcoming speaking engagement at the basilica or his book and videos, visit his website: anthonydigmann.com.
This story is provided courtesy of The Witness, the official publication of the Archdiocese of Dubuque.