“An entire conjugal life willingly made sterile”

“An entire conjugal life willingly made sterile”

I’m looking forward to seeing this new document from the Pontifical Council on the Family, not because it contains groundbreaking new “condemnations from the Vatican” as some media would have us believe, but because it offers some interesting clarifications. According to the Catholic News Service story, the document has some interesting things to say about Natural Family Planning. While NFP has legitimate uses and may be used to space children when there are serious reasons, such a vague limit inevitably leads to a wide variety of application, including what some people call “Catholic birth control,” i.e. the use and promotion of NFP as a form of contraception, which although natural stems from a contraceptive mentality.

The document, “Family and Human Procreation,” addresses this specifically:

When for the good of the entire family it is best to avoid having another child, couples can abstain from sexual intercourse during fertile periods to avoid a pregnancy, it said.

However, using natural family planning to have only one or a maximum of two children “is nothing other than a kind of series of brief parentheses within an entire conjugal life willingly made sterile,” it said.

That’s a very strong statement by the council, and note that this is written in reference to people using NFP, not the Pill or sterilizations or other artificial contraceptive methods. This should cause a furor among NFP proponents.

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  • The paragraph you’re highlighting is exactly right—and, by the way, something we explored in the seminary, to all who assume seminaries don’t talk about Church teaching in these areas.

    But ask the question: how many couples solely practicing NFP, only have 1 or 2?

    One of the virtues of NFP is that it inculcates an openness to children. I’m not saying one can’t be as the paragraph supposes; but I think NFP, by it’s nature, militates against that.

  • My point was not that NFP-only couples would have more kids because either it failed, or they failed be diligent about it; but rather, that NFP inculcates in couples an openness to children—as well, it fosters a deeper awareness of the wonder and meaning of what God has given them in their bodies.

    Further, I would say this: a couple practicing NFP diligently will know whether a particular time will be “risky” for conceiving; and sometimes they will go ahead and have relations—and they will conceive. Is that a “failure”? I think not. Rather, it may simply mean they really did “listen” to their body, including their body expressing the desire to give life.

    That’s a key difference between NFP and contraception: with contraception, you don’t have to care, because you render your body sterile.

  • “But that sounds so crass…”

    That’s because it is.

    Granted, it’s hard to take seriously someone who expects a standard of behavior from you that they don’t expect from themselves. But if they don’t say it, who does? We are all called to holiness, but without Grace we all fail. Some are given more than others, and from them more is expected.

    The use of NFP mainly as a means of avoiding pregnancy, has been a bone of contention among some traditionalists for years. And since no one comes out and says, okay you’re supposed to have x number of children by now, it’s hard to point to one couple or another and say who is and who isn’t doing the right thing.

  • NFP has always been kinda tricky for me – only as a moral argument and not in real life, since, pity me, my wife isn’t Catholic, which is a whole ‘nuther cross to bear.

    I guess it comes down to the intent of the parents, as Robert points out above.  If they’re specifically abstaining on particular days to avoid pregnancy – are they actually closing themselves off to potential blessings? 

    In my own situation, my wife was on the pill, despite my reasoned and fact-laden discussions against it.  I might as well have been talking to Spongebob about it.

    In any event, she went off the pill for some medical reason, I forget why now, and the FIRST time we shared in marital frivolity, she got pregnant.  She was 44 at the time, and it was NOT easy on her at all.  But despite her being “pro-pill”, abortion was and never is an option for her.  Ever.

    So after our bundle of joy arrived, (he’s now 2 1/2), I occasionally remind her about all that time “we” spent saying “No” to God, and how, at the smallest window of opportunity, He slipped in a blessing. 

    And how, if she’d not ditched the pill, this little treasure would never have been.  I’ve told her that for ALL that time, God was waiting to bless us with someone, and for all that time, the door was closed to it.  How many other couples are missing out, due to their own selfishness?

  • I guess it comes down to the intent of the parents, as Robert points out above.  If they’re specifically abstaining on particular days to avoid pregnancy – are they actually closing themselves off to potential blessings?

    It all comes down to attitude.  I heard it put really well:

    “If you would be ticked off if you discovered you (or your wife) were pregnant, it’s sinful”

    If you would accept any children with joy, even if you are working actively within the operational perameters of God’s creation, you’re ok.

    This statement is my opinion only.  I don’t know if it reflects authentic church teaching.

  • Not to be combative, but I wonder what Ann means by saying that in some cases having only 1 or 2 is heroic.  Maybe I lack eyes to see or brain to think, but I’m hoping she’ll give me a “for instance”.

    I have 4 – I grew up thinking 6 would be a great number to have, but I’ll be limited to 4.  The first was overwhelming, as I’m sure many parents will attest, and I’m sure that after that first one, many parents think that there’s no way they could possibly handle another.  But with each child, you’re better prepared and more mature. 

    Of course, all of mine were spaced a few years apart.  What it’s like to have more than one under the age of 4 is like another world to me :o)

  • Mary et al:

    There is at least one other couple who used NFP during their marriage and only had one child—mine.

    In my first marriage, we had one miscarriage before Paul, and two after that. You can basically kiss any conjugal life goodbye after that happens. Probably why the whole deal went south.

    On one hand, I had only one child to support. On the other hand, when I get older, only one child will support me. That’s assuming he sticks around. I try not to think about it, except I’m not getting any younger.

    Then there’s my parents. They had four of us. With Dad having MS for years now, and Mom having more difficulty taking care of him, they are able to continue staying at home while the others pitch in. One sister is a geriatric nurse, while my brother is an engineer, who contracted the renovation of the house to put in a wheelchair-accessible bedroom and bath. The grandkids mow the lawn.

    Me? I’m the only kid who left Ohio. I get to stay out of the way and have my opinions justly ignored. So it works out for everybody. Let no one tell you different than the Gaels used to say: “Bairns are a blessin’.”

  • Bless you Ann, for this:

    One never knows what marriage and life will bring and it is entirely possible that having only one or two children for some couples is heroic.

    Paul N asked for a for instance. Here’s mine.  Sorry for the length.

      I don’t claim to be “heroic” but my dh would differ.  I began having GYN surgery in high school, and continued to have significant problems for years.  When I was just out of college and newly married, my doctor told me that I needed yet another operation.  Knowing my history, including major nausea post-op, he suggested that I sign a blank permission form giving him full authority to do whatever he deemed best while I was on the table, instead of discussing the options & then going in for yet another procedure w/ all its inherent risks.  To cut to the point, he performed a tubal on me – and not the reversible clip type.  For years, dh & I thought we could not have children.  We signed up for adoption through a Catholic organization and waited a year just to get on the waiting list for an evaluation appointment.  The dr. had meanwhile left the country under threat of numerous lawsuits from other women.

      Eventually, a new dr. offered to try an experimental microsurgery repair procedure.  It meant quite a few hours on the operating table & no guaranty of success.  In fact, he said that I had a strong chance of an ectopic pregnancy, such as had nearly killed my SIL. Dh was understandably not in favor. It did not appear that we’d ever get to adopt (too few babies available) and we did not even consider going the petrie dish route.  I updated my insurance, finally wrote a will and went to Confession.  Months passed and nothing happened.  I drove my dr. nuts.  Finally, I went back for yet another procedure (removing scar tissue.)  That one did the trick.  Baby #1 followed in 9 1/2 months.  Baby #2 came 15 months later – we did not want to take any chances that scar tissue would prevent a second pregnancy.  By the time #2 was a few months old, I was back in the OR.  Several more operations followed, then finally a hysterectomy before #1 began kindergarten. 

      Our kids are now in college, with multiple academic scholarships, and are a joy to be around.  Both are faithful Catholics. I’d have welcomed a dozen more, but would never want to seem ungrateful for the two blessings we received.

      I cannot begin to count the number of times someone has implied that we deliberately limited our family.  OTOH, there were also those who said that we “should” restrict ourselves to two and later congratulated us for being so sensible, having no clue about the reality of the situation.  One was my own mother, who responded to the news of baby #2’s pending arrival with a warning to stop after that.  As I was her third, hearing that two children was the “ideal” in her mind just confirmed her previous comments about “accidents” and “mistakes.” 

      I look forward to reading the new document.  However, I dread the spate of judging and gossiping that is likely to follow as some folks worry more about others’ possible sins than their own.

  • I’m a little old-fashioned. I think inquiries about how many children a couple should have is… well, nobody’s business. You can talk about large families of “the good old days” all you want, but people didn’t do it to compete with the Joneses or prove their Catholicity. In these discussions, it’s all too easy to forget that decisions concerning the size of a family are, in the end, a private matter to be left to the wife and husband.

    Again, to say that does not deny marriage as being open to the Divine Will, and the transmission of life.

  • I know a family. They’ve used NFP to try to conceive. They were married seven years before they had a son, nearly two. He’s my godson. They’ve been open their entire marriage. They made trips to see Dr. Hilgers in Omaha, the whole 9 yards, before they had their little boy. Many, many days of frustration and tears.

    They are open to more. Mom will soon be 42 and Dad is a few years older. We’ll see.

  • I also believe that the Church has been divided on the subject from the day Paul VI promulgated HV, and that division is one reason why married Catholics largely ignore HV.

    Carrie, the reason married Catholics largely ignore HV is that they have never heard of HV.

  • And that’s the end of this thread. Personal attacks have no place on this blog. Mary Alexander assumed too much and initiated the attack. Jeanne responded. That’s the end of the issue. Any further attack comments will be deleted without notification.