A reply to Crocker’s take on NFP

A reply to Crocker’s take on NFP

In the December issue of Crisis, author H.W. Crocker wrote what was apparently intended as a tongue-in-cheek essay about NFP, in which he dismisses all the current emphasis on NFP as blather that gets in the way of the real meaning of marriage: having as many kids as possible. Canonist Ed Peters replies, mostly from a canon law perspective. (A link to the original essay is also on Peters’ page.)

Now I like satire and parody as much as the next guy and perhaps we should just believe that Crocker was making a point along the lines of Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.” And at CWR, we’ve been known to push the satirical boundaries with our own Diogenes. Hey, I even laughed at some of the lines in Crocker’s essay. Still, I think Crocker and Crisis went just a little too far this time, not in having a little fun at the expense of too-serious conservatives, but in spreading some bad information.

  • I agree. Yes I did laugh at some of Mr. Crocker’s comments. However, I think it crossed the line into denigration. Also, the accuracy(of some of the data)of the article has been called into question. I seems he was trying to say that we must not forget the wondrous Gift of Life and one should not use NFP for the wrong reasons. Afterall, what did they do in the Middle Ages? They did not have the Billings Method then.

  • What did they have in the Middle Ages? Men died in war, women died in childbirth, and everyone died in the plague.  God’s own NFP was these various foms of shortening “the fertile period”.

    Maybe some editing on the part of the Crisis staff could have given that issue more of a “First Things” polish and less “New Oxford Review” rawness.

    I’m a Crockerista.  I liked the article.

    In any case, my response is not to shut down Catholic satire, let’s have more—faster, please.

  • The Church also does say that *the care and education* of children is of *equal* importance with having them.  This will occasionally conflict with just having twenty or so and letting them run wild, as you may say.

  • Dom, I should think that procreation and unity of the spouses would be considered equals, precisely for the reasons you give. However, the Church has traditionally viewed marriage in terms of one primary end and two secondary ends; the primary being procreation, the secondary being unity of the spouses and a remedy for concupusense (sp?).

    Personally, I’ve always found this ordering of things a little troubling, and subject to misinterpretation. After all, if a couple cannot have children, do they have any less of a marriage?


  • And speaking of the Middle Ages, their being an agrarian culture, they would have had some idea of the “fertile” and “non-fertile” seasons, both on the land and in the womb. This is still true today in some Third World countries.

    By the way, though I can see how some people might, I personally didn’t see the harm in the article. I laughed my head off. Viva las Crockeristas!

  • What I meant by “What did they have in the middle ages” was rhetorical. That Mr. Crocker was attempting to place focus on the Dignity of Marriage and the Sacred Gift of Life and NOT to be seeking excuses not to have children.

  • I highly recommend the Pope’s “Theology of the Body”. Chris West does a good job of presenting it in his books and tapes. George Weigel has called it a Theological Time Bomb(I believe). It will enhance our understanding of the Sacraments(etc.).

  • Hey, David A:  I’ll take the discuss bone.  You raise an important issue.  (Where else but in the cyberpews of St. Blog’s would we be talking about this?)  The traditional hierarchy of the ends of marriage has not been abandoned, along the lines laid down by Augustine, proles (the kidlets), fides (the unity and faithfulness of marriage); and sacramentum (the divine grace of the sacrament).  This comes through unambiguously in Leo XII’s Arcanum, and Pius XI’s Casti Connubii and less formal papal statements since.  With Humanae Vitae, Paul VI moved away from this hierarchical catechesis, for his own reasons I suppose, more in the stream of Vatican II’s more personalistic language of Gaudiem et Spes.

    One practical net result of this newer approach is that many of the faithful seem to have concluded that the procreative and unitve meanings, to use HV terms, are equal in priority and that the Church has abandoned talk of first and second ends (and third, if you include Augustine’s idea).  Not true.  The ordering of the “ends” or purposes of marriage is not self-evident and requires some unpacking, but then again, so does transubstantiation, the efficacy of praying to the saints, and one God in three divine Persons.

    In other words, it’s the newer post-HV approach that may be subject to misinterpretation, given the historic tradition.

    Admittedly, the first catechetical hurdle to be overcome is explaining why “primary” does not imply “always superior and must always be consciously pursued.” 

    Discuss my discsssion.

  • PS, some bits of Crocker’s essay made me spurt milk out of my nose.  Which is weird because I wasn’t drinking milk. 

    Yes, as Catholic education per se, the Crockster’s piece has it errors of fact.  The misstep of Crisis may have been in not clarifying the satiric nature of the bit.

  • “Errors of fact” is not a negligible observation. Partic. since I own a copy of Triumph. I hope he did not employ the same methods of research to write a history of the Catholic Church!

  • Patrick:

    Okay, I’ll take the bait.

    Thanks for reminding me of the “bona” established by Augustine, as I was thinking of that when I first wrote.

    Crocker was undoubtedly thinking of people like one writer for the Remnant I know, who maintains that Pius XII erred when he told a gathering of Italian midwives, that marital intercourse during non-fertile periods was morally acceptable. Most of us tend to think of “primary” as implying that “secondary” is expendable. Still others tend to confuse evolution in our understanding of Church teaching with change. Humane Vitae was not meant to supplant Casti Connubi, as some have maintained. When understood in the light of tradition—and I fail to see how else it WOULD be understood—the latter dealt with a particular problem of contemporary life, thus built upon the former declaration.

    (Doc, were it not obvious to a reader, that Crocker was employing a different literary method for Crisis than for Triumph, the latter would be a lot harder for that reader to get through, I should think.)

  • Dave I agree to a certain degree. However,Crocker does employ some of that tongue and cheek stuff in Triumph.  After reading some of the recommendations in the book by some solid Catholics I felt comfortable in reading it(just starting). Also, I have seen him interviewed on EWTN. He does have a sarcastic/caustic delivery. I guess it depends on what your in the mood for. The concern I have is what was he trying to achieve with the article it is okay to use humor but not at the expense of sound research. Is a satirical piece appropriate in a magazine like CRISIS? I have questioned in the past whether CRISIS is 100% Orthodox. Another article on Thomas Merton pratic. canonized Mr. Merton and denied any problems with any of his writings. THis flies in the face of numerous articles and comments from EWTN(Karl Keating for example et al.)that have spoken to some of the problems of Merton’s work(latest material anyway).

  • Doc:

    There are those who have mused, that perhaps Merton was favored just enough by the Almighty, to be taken from this life just as he was about to go too far down the wrong road. But mortal man never knows for sure. For my part, I found the bulk of his work to be quite good, and firm in its Catholicity. What little there was to be held questionable was penned later in his life, during his fascination with Zen Buddhism.

    By the way, speaking of Crocker’s irreverence, if you ever read my own weblog (and sooner or later, somebody does), you’ll find a certain degree of measured irreverence.

    Well, er… some days are less measured than others.

  • Dave no I haven’t. I will definitely join the fray. A little “measured” irreverence is good for the soul. Right?  Thanks.
    Yes I have heard the the Good Lord spared Merton from heading down that road. And the rest you say I have also seen.  Take care…

  • Speaking as one experienced in NFP, I thought Crocker’s essay was hilarious.

  • Some observations:

    1) Crocker had a few humorous lines.  Most of it just fell flat for me.  I think Mr. Crocker has some more room to grow before he begins a second career as a humorist or a Catholic Mark Steyn.

    I second Patrick Sweeney’s call for more Catholic satire.  Ideally, it would be good satire.  This effort could have benefited from some editing and a different forum.

    Some have suggested that childless (through medical reasons) orthodox Catholic couples might take offense at his attempt at Swiftianism.  Maybe that smacks too much of the humorlessness Catholics are too often guilty of or hypersensitivity our culture is drenched in.  Either way Crocker certainly must have a very forebearing wife; but it might have helped Crocker’s case had he at least gotten his facts right on NFP.  It *is effective at what it is supposed to do.  It is also not supposed to be mere birth control.  NFP families tend to be large families because they desire them, not because NFP is a sham.

    2) I have mixed feelings on the whole about Crocker. TRIUMPH, even seen as popular as opposed to academic history, and in addressing longstanding historical canards about the Church, does a fair amount of over-reaching even by my triumphalist standards.  If any Greeks manage to read it, his defense of the sack of Constantinople in the 4th Crusade may set ecumenical relations back decades. And it is not like they need much excuse to be offended in the first place.  There’s a good book to be written on the glory of the history of the Catholic Church.  I’m just not sure TRIUMPH, whatever its virtues, is it.

    Then there is his boisterous neo-Confederate-ism.  Now I am full of admiration for Southern culture and the achievements won in blood under the Bonnie Blue Flag; I get as upset as Mr. Crocker presumably does when some NAACP hack or politically correct agitator makes yet anothert effort to yank the Battle Flag off even Confederate cemetaries.  And Mr. Crocker has every right to attend reenactments (I certainly have) and bedeck his kids in Stars and Bars fashions.  But there is a certain obsession there that still strikes an odd note for me.  Not least because it seems to inform some rather surious comments advocating unusually militaristic secular policies – even by my testosterone-laden standards.

    3) There has clearly been a shift in Church moral theology teaching on marriage as Mr. Coffin alludes to.  I also think, as he seems to, that it can be reconciled with the tradition.  I am pretty troglodyte myself but it must be said that the old manuals tended to have a blinkered view of marriage – for procreation and nothing else.  I think it takes a very cribbed reading Augustine and an even more cribbed view of Scripture to sustain that modalism, and unfortunately that seems to be precisely the reading that prevailed in some quarters.

    Casti Connubi and post -concilar encyclicals have helped rectify this tendency, but, as Mr. Coffin points out, at some risk of obscuring the hierarchies involveed, and indeed that certain elements in the hierarchy exist at all.  But there is a lot of blame to go around on that score.  Too many theologians anc clerics were seduced by or frightened into silence by the siren song of the Sexual Revolution.


  • r.com
    2005-03-10 00:19:39
    2005-03-10 04:19:39
    Dr. Bill:  Yes, and while I’ve not read it, I’m sure Triumph reflects a different tone/research methods than his rollicking Crisis essay.  (I admit my eyes rolled a tad when I read Sean “Having a big R after your name is more important than being fully Catholic” Hannity’s fantabulous endorsement on the back cover…)  An aside—how Mr. Crocker must delight in all this chatter!

    David A:  I’m down with your observations.  There *is* a tension to be grappled with between HV and the prior setting out of the issue by the magisterium—in a way not unlike the tension over religious freedom, pre- and post-Vatican II.  HV inadvertently creates some of its own fuzziness as to the relation between itself and the more “lordly” arguments given by previous Pontiff.  Compared to the august Casti, it seems kinda groovy.

    Mr. Crocker writes with a Bellocian wink at his foes on both Left and Right.  Some were outraged that he deliberately insults NFP.  A point well missed.  By pushing tongue-in-cheek for “try NFP, it doesn’t work” he’s tweaking the hidden message behind some apostolates that sell NFP as a really, really, really effective way of preventing conception—up there with the Pill. 

    HWC III’s humor also deals in paradox. NFP families tend to have larger families not because NFP doesn’t work so much as because NFP couples err on the side of generosity with their fertility.

    Alfred:  Exactly.  Thanks for the references.

  • I thought the article was great. There is no one more self righteous than those who attempt to impose NFP on the rest of us. I am sick to death of being asked, “Don’t I know about NFP?” And this by supposedly faithful Catholics. Why is our response to the challenges of having a big family to eliminate them or minimize them? Why not focus on helping big families live in dignity and ACCEPT THE CHILDREN THAT GOD WANTS TO SEND US??? Good thing St. Catherine of Siena wasn’t around- she would have been NFPed out of existence- she was the 23rd child in her family.

  • In Love and Responsibility the Pope (before he was Pope) discusses procreation as the primary purpose of marriage, but also says the the meaning of marriage and specifically of the marital act is conjugal love. 

    I honestly do not see how couples who want to conceive but who haven’t been able can take any offense to Crocker’s article. He is clearly referring to people who are not willing to have children, not unable.  Those who are unable to have children can still be fruitful, which is really what is at the heart of a Christian marriage.  Ideally that fruit is a tangible co-creation, but sometimes that doesn’t happen.  The Church doesn’t condemn couples in thsoe situations, and it is an unfair stretch to say Crocker does.

    At any rate, Crocker is over-the-top, and I understand why his comments might offend some, especially those who do have a grave reason to avoid pregnancy.  Still, there is real room for criticism of the pushing of NFP to all couples preparing for marriage.  From some marriage prep courses, you would never get the idea that it’s possible to live God’s plan for marriage without it, and there is something demonic about that.

  • I think Crocker is a convert.  He should have known better than to wade in where angels fear to tread.  This has been the ****HOT**** issue of Catholicism for 50 years and shows no sign of letting up.

    Reactions are unpredictable in this area and a lot of people are just plain nuts on this topic.  Fact.  I’ll probably get flamed just for pointing out this obvious fact and not taking sides!! 

    I’m a convert too.  There are a good dozen issues which are *hot* and this is the Queen Mother of them.

    It’s a very strange experience to convert to the church, ask a simple question (birth control, liturgical music, etc etc) and get looked at like you were Mussolini or something. 

  • “The Church, as has been mentioned previously, teaches, and has always
    taught, <objectivity in his thinking on sexual matters, and above all in his behavior.
    This objectivity is the foundation of conjugal morality.” (Love and
    Responsibility, p. 66)

    “14. According to the plan of God, marriage is the foundation of the wider community of the family, <i>since the very institution of marriage and conjugal love are ordained to the procreation and education of children, in whom they find their crowning.(34)</i>”(John Paul II, FAMILIARIS CONSORTIO)

  • Sorry, that first post should’ve read:

    “The Church, as has been mentioned previously, teaches, and has always
    that the primary end of marriage is procreatio, but that it has a secondary
    end, defined in Latin terminology as mutuum adiutorium. Apart from these a
    tertiary aim is mentioned—remedium concupiscentiae. … The ends of
    marriage, in the order mentioned, are incompatible with any subjectivist
    interpretation of the sexual urge, and therefore demand from man, as a
    objectivity in his thinking on sexual matters, and above all in his
    This objectivity is the foundation of conjugal morality.” (Love and
    Responsibility, p. 66)

  • Why, I’m shocked, shocked, to see that Diogenes seems to be an invention of the CWR staff. I thought he was real (even if writing under a nom de plume).

  • I think Crocker is a convert, that’s all.  Converts sometimes get ambushed by the Catholic culture….. 

    The statistics I cited there are local ones—from a conversation wiht a good priest here just yesterday.

    There is a large study from Catholic University of America, but they admit they don’t chase everyone down and interview them.  It’s a phone survey and only interviews those who don’t hang up on them.  There’s a fair number of people who drop out too.  The NCCB says that is something greater than 7%.

  • It’s only by the grace of God that anyone gets through RCIA still wanting to be Catholic.  It’s a tough call for parents who have to weigh which will be more damaging the CCD Confirmation program or RCIA. I haven’t made up my mind about it yet.

  • My RCIA (confirmation part) was a joke taught by a looney lefty nun who may have believed in something but never conveyed it to us.

    I’ve been educated by EWTN, New Oxford Review, Latin Mass Magazine and Bettnet.

    Anything that rolls out of a parish is bound to be tripe.

  • It is getting better out there, for a lot of reasons, but it’s still chancey in RCIA.

    One of the reasons dissent has been so pervasive in RCIA programs is that this program was targetted specifically as a method for changing the church.  RCIA was supposed to fill the church with new left-leaning converts who would be used to change the church from inside.  It was supposed to effect a social transformation, and that’s one of the reasons it is no longer done in the priest’s office but in the middle of mass where all can see.

    It has only worked partially.  There are a couple of reasons for this, I think.  But the effort to change the church via RCIA has been extensively documented.  I am surprised more people don’t talk about it.  It is/was very blatant.


  • Book titles you might enjoy, in light of my previous comment:  “The RCIA: Transforming the Church: A Resource for Pastoral Implementation,”  “Rcia: Renewing the Church As an Initiating Assembly,” “A Church for the Next Generation : The Sacraments in Transition.”

    Quotes from the USCCB Document, “Journey to the Fullness of Life”:

    “From the comments of the neophytes to the insights of the bishops in the survey responses, it is clear that the RCIA is one of the most successful elements of the renewed liturgy. As envisioned in the General Directory for Catechesis, the RCIA provides a comprehensive formation process that integrates evangelization, liturgy, catechesis, and the life of the local faith community, and it has the potential to renew parish life in our country. “

    There are, of course, at least two ways to read such a general passage.  There has been a concerted effort to introduce counter-traditional practices and beliefs into parishes by means of the RCIA.  In many places it has worked, but only partially.

    Converts have largely turned out not to be the maleable mass of dummies the catechists thought they might be.