Don’t refuse children without grave reasons

Don’t refuse children without grave reasons

Apropos of recent discussions about natural family planning, here is Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil of India’s Syro-Malabar Catholics writing to them about having children. The cardinal warns India’s Catholics not to view children as a “hindrance to a life of pleasure” and telling them, “Those who have the means should come forward to have more children and bring them up.”

Cardinal Varkey noted “today the tendency to avoid having children is on the increase among the couples who are motivated by selfishness to seek their own enjoyment.”

In the strongest language in the letter, the Cardinal warns Catholics that it is sinful to refuse God’s gift of children without grave reasons.  “There is sin and injustice to society behind the decision of not having children by those parents who have the means and normal health,” said Cardinal Varkey.

While he addresses the particular situation of Indian Catholics, the principle remains the same for all Catholics. Economic factors are often cited as the reason for avoiding children, but he points out that while even poor Indian families continue to struggle to keep up with cultural customs of lavish parties associated with events in children’s lives, the “need” or desire for such affairs does not outweigh the moral imperatives in parenthood. In other words, while we may want to give our children the best of everything that money can buy—even good things like a college education—these good things do not make avoiding children moral necessarily.

Today there is also the tendency to spend extravagantly to obtain prestige and positions in the society,” Cardinal Varkey stated in his letter. “Often celebrations of marriage, betrothal, wedding anniversary, birthday celebrations, baptism, first holy communion, etc. become celebrations of extravagance. This is an indication of the wrong priorities of values.”

The Cardinal added, “The hopeless debt trap into which many families have fallen after such celebrations is also a problem to be seriously considered.”

The entire letter is available online.

Again, the avoidance of children—even using morally licit means such as natural family planning—can be sinful if you don’t have grave reasons. Don’t know if your reasons are grave? Consult your priest, whether your pastor or a priest whose judgment you can trust.

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Written by
Domenico Bettinelli
8 comments
  • Domenico, you’re a brave man, even bringing this topic up.

    I rather think by “spacing children” the Vatican might mean something like putting off sex for a night in order to take care of kiddie #9 because he has a problem and needs to talk to parents.

    I really don’t think they mean waiting several years between kids so you can buy that new SUV.  Or deciding that after the obligatory 2.5 kids, you’re done.

    BTW, here’s my little dash of nerve:  I have a huge problem with lay church employees who have the obligatory 2.5 kids and no more.  I think the church should absolutly avoid even the impression that this is not taken seriously.  For instance, youth group leaders ought to be chosen from those who have (or have had) tons of kids.  Even lectors etc should be people who are either married with lots of kids or unmarried and NOT cohabitating.

  • So by your logic, michigan catholic, a couple who is infertile for medical reasons should be barred from serving in the church? Because from the outside you can’t tell who is open to life and who isn’t.

  • Maybe that couple who only has two or three (nobody has 2.5) children really really wants more but hasn’t been given them. Who are you to judge them?

  • Being open to life means being open to as many children as God decides to send you. God doesn’t necessarily decide to send lots of kids to every family.

    By your criteria, Mary and Joseph and Elizabeth and Zehcariah would all have been excluded from ministry in the Church since both couples only ever had one kid.

  • Renee,

    I resent the implications that people who don’t get married until they are older are somehow not as open to life as people who get married in their 20s.

    Dom and I didn’t get married until we were both in our thirties. Believe me, it wasn’t because we weren’t looking to get married nor were we not open to life. We just hadn’t yet found the person we were compatible with.

    I know many of my peers who would love to be married; but when you are a faithful catholic who is open to life, there’s a precious small pool of people you are compatible with in our materialist, secular, life-denying society. It is quite painful for people who feel a calling to the married life but have not yet found a spouse. Having recriminations heaped upon their heads makes matters even worse. Please try to feel compassion for single people, who don’t necessarily have control over their single state, it takes two to get married.

  • I did find the references in Divini illius magistri, Pius XI’s document on Christian education.

    68. False also and harmful to Christian education is the so-called method of “coeducation.”

    and

    79. From this it follows that the so-called “neutral” or “lay” school, from which religion is excluded, is contrary to the fundamental principles of education. Such a school moreover cannot exist in practice; it is bound to become irreligious.

    I would caution against reading these statements out of context. If one is looking to put these into practice he must read the whole of the document and understand what the Pope is actually saying.

    Nevertheless, this is going off-topic so if anyone wants to contnue the discussion of Catholic education, they can do so in the Bettnet forum.

  • But in terms of procreating and children, we can’t hold someone who was married at 35 to have just a large family compared to someone who married at 23.

    No you can’t. And looking at my peers who have six or eight kids now, I am a little sad that we will probably not have as many children as they do.

    But I object to being told that I am any less open to life than they are.

    Open to life means being open to God’s plan for you. To some people God’s plan only includes one or two children even when they are married quite young. For others even when they are open to life, God will give them no children.

    I see the judgemental attitude among Catholics far too often which assumes only people with large families are good Catholics and open to life. But reality is much more complicated. You simply can’t judge a person’s state of mind by the number of children they have.

    And it is cruel in the extreme to imply to a childless couple or a couple struggling with infertility that they are unfaithful because of their lack. I’ve seen it happen over and over again. I wish people would mind their own business and give other the benefit of the doubt.

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