Thursday, August 7, 2008

Responsible parenthood sometimes demands the renunciation of procreation

Yesterday there was a discussion at Danielle Bean's blog regarding family planning, or lack thereof. Danielle chimed in today, and she took a rather providential approach to the topic. (For an explanation of providentialism, see Janet Smith's article, The Moral Use of NFP). I generally really like Danielle's writing, and I hate to disagree with her, but I was a bit disturbed by her approach to family planning.

She states:

It is not selfish for a poor mother of many to remain open to life. It’s heroic.
A woman who places her trust in God and accepts new life under less than ideal circumstances is being as generous to God, to her family, and to her community as she possibly can be.
Someone else, who has never had to decide between paying for a baby’s prescription and buying food for her family, might not understand this kind of humble heroism.

I'm curious as to how she, and others who might tend towards providentialism, explain John Paul II's thoughts on responsible parenthood:

There are, however, circumstances in which this disposition [to be a responsible parent] itself demands renunciation of procreation, and any further increase in the size of the family would be incompatible with parental duty. A man and a woman moved by true concern for the good of their family and a mutual sense of responsibility for the birth, maintenance, and upbringing of their children, will then limit intercourse and abstain from it in periods in which this might result in another pregnancy undesirable in the particular conditions of their married life and family. (JP2, Love and Responsibility at 243 (emphasis added).)

John Paul is saying that there are circumstances where a couple is morally obligated to avoid a pregnancy. Discerning family size is something God calls each couple to do--the couple should not simply let nature take it course without any thinking or planning. If circumstances are such that bringing another child into the world would be imprudent (i.e. like Danielle described, a family is so poor that they must choose between paying for a babies prescription and buying food for their family), the couple, for the good of their children, should use NFP and attempt to avoid a pregnancy. It is selfish to do otherwise.

Humanae Vitae 10 states, "If we look further to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who, guided by prudent consideration and generosity, elect to accept many children." Gaudium et Spes also states: "Among the married couples who thus fulfill their God-given mission special mention should be made of those who after prudent reflection and common decisions courageously undertake the proper upbringing of a large number of children."

Having many children is thus to be the result of "prudent consideration" not a default plan for every family. The point here is that there should be discernment.

Please know that I have the utmost respect for those families blessed with unexpected pregnancies. I obviously think we should help families in need. That being said, I find it hard to call a woman (or family) heroic, who, in the midst of poverty and difficulty providing for her already born children, fails to practice the virtue of periodic abstinence.

Please also understand that I'm not one of those use-NFP-whenever-you-want people. I most certainly believe that it can be abused.

All that being said, bring on the fury :-)

**Update--After receiving an e-mail from Danielle, I just want to clarify that John Paul II wrote Love and Responsibility before he was Pope. I was not attempting to claim that JPII's teaching on responsible parenthood was made in an infallible context. Both sides of this debate lack the support of infallible church teaching. But I have JPII on my side--and that's authoritative enough to require a pretty strong counterargument.


Sophie said...

I always love your posts, Red! Well done. I read the link you're responding to and there was just something nagging me about it that seemed just not quite in line with my understandings of church teaching. While I'm sure it is not the author's intention and I have utmost respect for her charity, there was something just a bit off. You put into a very eloquent post what I have been thinking, thank you!

All that being said, I think it is important to note that while we are called to prudence in deciding whether or not to abstain, it is not our job to judge other families who may not have done so. In other words, we must be careful not to imply that "they shouldn't have had so many kids..." It is a personal decision between husband, wife, and God. In that decision they must use prudence, and the rest of us will never know whether or not that happened.

I hope my comments are taken in the charitable tone they are written in! :)

Maria said...

I've commented extensively about this issue at my blog and over at And Sometimes Tea, so I'm just going to comment briefly here.

The Church asks us to prudently AND generously think and pray about our decision to have children. However, it is extremely vague about the particular circumstances about when to try to avoid and achieve pregnancy because each couple has a different situation based on their particular circumstance, temperments, culture, society, and call by the Lord. I'm concerned about some Catholics starting to pronounce particular situations as a time to avoid children, i.e. not affording prescriptions or taking government assistance. We are materially blessed in America. Millions of women in third world countries will NEVER have access to modern medicine or a stable food supply. Are they to be morally obligated never to become mothers? Never to enter into marriage or live practically sexless marriages? Are we saying only the middle class and rich have the right to have families?

As I said on my blog, when God the Father sent His Only Son into the world, He did not sent Him to a wealthy family or even a middle class family. He sent Him to a humble, poor young teenager girl. No health insurance. No college fund. Heck, no hospital or doctor. God the Father chose to send His Son into the world by being born in a barn and wrapped up in rags. Shall we accuse Him of irresponsible parenthood?

I think we should spend less time trying to decide if the poor families around us are practicing responsible parenthood or not, and more time finding ways to help them through their poverty. You know, feeding the poor, clothing the naked, and all that.

Right Said Red said...


You said:

"it is not our job to judge other families who may not have done so. In other words, we must be careful not to imply that "they shouldn't have had so many kids..." It is a personal decision between husband, wife, and God. In that decision they must use prudence, and the rest of us will never know whether or not that happened."

Well said. I'm not judging individual circumstances, as that is left to the couple and God. I'm interested in discussing principles. Thank you for clarifying.

Joe said...

We all agree that the Church requires prudence in this area. But the call for prudence implies that there is a line we shouldn't cross - a line where we cross over from prudent behavior to imprudent behavior, from responsible partenhood to irresponsible parenthood. If it was impossible to have children in excess, then why would prudence be necessary?

What I'm saying is that, if you accept the premise that prudence is necessary, it is logically inconsistent to argue that no person is ever required to avoid pregnancy.

Mary B said...

"will then limit intercourse and abstain from it in periods in which this " might " result in another pregnancy undesirable in the particular conditions of their married life and family. (JP2, Love and Responsibility at 243 (emphasis added).)"

I think the word everyone is missing-- creating the fury--- is 'might'. Despite all we know about NFP, despite a couples best efforts they 'might' still conceive. One can abstain for weeks in a row, dutifully charting and trying to make it easier to improve the financial (or health) situation, and still become pregnant.
The children conceived at a poor time (in our limited view) are usually not the result of seeking a pregnancy. But the result of a single charting error over a long period of time. We are called to work at this but we are not called to succeed so much as we are called to deal well with our failures.
But the fact that one knows, by not chosing sterilization, that you'might' become pregnant, you are open to life.

I think the best comparison I can think of is the discussions that can go off course between a woman with esay pregnancies and one with difficult ones. The one with difficult pregnancies could just be a whiner or could really deserve a sympathic ear. I'd like to think we could err of the side of sympathy. After all the paper is called Love and Responsibility.

Right Said Red said...

Mary B,

You said:

"We are called to work at this but we are not called to succeed so much as we are called to deal well with our failures."

I agree. I think everyone needs to remember that the focus is PRIOR to conception. Once conception has taken place, the response should be charity, embracing the new life, and assistance.

If you take the very extreme example of a rape, obviously none of us would be supportive of the way in which the child was "created." We would all, however, agree that once created that child and mother should be treated with the utmost respect, charity, and love.

NFP and all forms of pregnancy prevention do have a "failure" rate. It's small (somewhere between 2-5%), but I think NFP has a lower user effectiveness rate b/c couples are not disciplined enough to abstain. My post was aimed at this lack of discipline OR the mistaken belief that such discipline is not what God calls some couples to do. I was not referring to those couples who get pregnant, despite their best efforts to avoid a pregnancy.

darlamom said...

Abstaining within marriage is not a virtue in itself. Far too often, this seems to be the mindset of NFP promoters.

In fact, abstinence is an imposed hardship on a marriage, one to only be taken on after careful consideration and with great prudence.

God intends sexual union as an essential, natural, and beneficial component of every marriage and to say that some couples are called to not have sex (the very poor in places like Haiti for example) is not in line with the Church's view of sex.

The Church does not REQUIRE that any married couple ever abstain or that any one of us study mucus.

NFP is an option, not a requirement.

When you start pointing fingers and saying some people "lack discipline" I have a hard time seeing that as refraining from judgment.

Maria said...

Certainly, the Church calls for prudence. If I lived in Communist China and would faced the prospect of forced abortion if I would become pregant, well, I think an argument could be made that the Church may require me out of prudence to avoid pregnancy. However, this discussion has not been centered around forced abortions or severe famines or some of the real horrors women around the world face. It has been centered on taking some freakin' free milk a few times a week or some very basic free health coverage. I simply do not see anything in the Catholic tradition that would REQUIRE these couples to avoid pregnancy.

In fact, early in Pope Benedict's papacy he was calling for countries to provide "further social and legislative initiatives be promoted to protect and support the largest families." Here we have the Pope calling for more government assistance for families while at the same time others are suggesting these families are imprudent for having children while taking this assistance.

November 5, 2005: VATICAN CITY (CNA) – Pope Benedict greeted representatives from the Italian National Association of Large Families, to whom, he stressed the importance of children for society’s future, and praised them for their courage and faith.

"Your presence," he told the representatives, "gives me the opportunity to recall the central importance of the family, fundamental cell of society and principal place for welcoming and serving life.”

“In the modern social context,” he said, “families with many children represent a testimony of faith, courage and optimism, because without children there is no future.”

“It is my hope”, the Holy Father stressed, “that further social and legislative initiatives be promoted to protect and support the largest families, which constitute a source of wealth and hope for the entire country."

L. said...

Hi Folks,

Since the aim here seems to be to stir up the pot (or bring on the fury as Red asked us to do), I'm going to add a bit of a twist to the discussion.

If you have time to read through the (long!) comments on Danielle's site, the discussion seems to have started with a young mom asking if anyone else in the discussion was "poor," which she defined, among other things, as receiving some form of government assistance, namely government assistance for moms and children. Several commenters replied that if a family knows they will only be able to support additional kids via "government handouts," they should try to avoid having more kids. A specific example one commenter cited was that while her husband was in grad school, her family qualified for and received such assistance, leading several commenters to reply that growing a family in such a circumstance (i.e., when there's such limited income due to being in school) was irresponsible.

I bring up this point because I'm curious about what Red et. al. think about this topic -- one that is closer to home. Juris Mater's previous post mentioned the government funded health insurance she received during her various pregnancies since her family income has been low due to her husband's grad school commitment. Red, would you say that this is the type of instance in which a family should actively try to limit family growth? Is it irresponsible, as a commenter on the original blog said, for a family to have one spouse in school, the other primarily at home, and still have children?

Again, just a different twist to add to do the discussion, in part because the timing of Juris Mater's post with this topic was just too convenient to ignore, and also because I'm curious to see if people make a distinction between what they may deem "legitimate" recipients of government assistance programs and other recipients. I tend to be more liberal in the role I think our government can and should do to support poor families and children than most of my "religious right" friends are, and I'm curious to see this group's take on the topic.

Just stirring the pot -- because Red asked us to!

Carol said...

The problem with this whole discussion is that "circumstances that warrant the use of NFP are really quite subjective. If they weren't, the Church would enumerate at least some of them as "must abstain" circumstances. But She doesn't.

I think it is safe to say that most couples who would be labeled "providentialists" are simply those who do not believe they have encountered a situation in their own lives which warrants abstaining for any length of time.

NOTE: Abstinence does not require the use of NFP. Most of us have had times in which we abstain for sometimes lengthy periods: postpartum, first trimester, high risk pregnancy, illness, etc.

PS: Ladies of "Cathedrals"-thanks for you blog. I have enjoyed peeking into your lives and conversations. :)

Anonymous said...

I read a recent article that discussed how some providentialists are "more Catholic than the Pope". This especially tends to be the case for converts, who are excited to be that big Catholic family and have babies one right after another as if it's some sort of race. One circumstance may call for one couple to delay a pregnancy, where another couple wouldn't consider it a reason for spacing; we each have our own faults, virtues, and ability to cope with different circumstances that will affect our discernment in regards to family size. My husband and I are dealing with this right now -- and frankly, I'm sick and tired of feeling like I have to justify to some of my anti-NFP friends the reasons for our spacing pregnancies at this time. There are our own reasons, it's something we've prayed about, and we are in complete alignment with Church teaching. Just as NFP teachers might look down at those of us who've had children closely spaced (16 months for us, yee-ha!), the anti-NFPers are now asking us to justify our reasons for spacing, claiming we don't have any! It's between a husband and a wife and our Lord, period. "I desire Mercy, not Sacrifice." Matt. 9:13.

Right Said Red said...


Thanks for your comment. Stir away! I just ask everyone to remain civil and kind during this discussion.

I think I'm the only builder online today, and I can't speak for the others. My opinion is that the circumstances that warrant the use of NFP are subjective and different for each couple. It isn't really something that I can judge from the outside.

I can speak personally as to the decisions my husband and I have made in the past. We had our first child on gov't assisted healthcare. (I think at least 3 of the builders have had babies on gov't assisted healthcare!) We also had WIC benefits for about 1 year in our marriage. We were both in law school and we knew that the gov't benefits were temporary. I knew our income would increase dramatically after law school, but the timing seemed right to have a baby at the time. I reasoned that we had the rest of our life to pay into the system, why not get started with our family?

I think it would be incredibly difficult to depend on gov't services for a long period of time. I don't know what God wants us to do in these situations. I think each circumstance will be different and God may very well call different couples to make different decisions. Prayer is REALLY important here!

Juris Mater may have more thoughts on this than me, as her husband's PHD program is of a much longer duration than our short law school stint. As a result, she has likely given this issue more thought than me.

related question said...

"Is it irresponsible, as a commenter on the original blog said, for a family to have one spouse in school, the other primarily at home, and still have children?"

In a hypothetical situation like this where the husband is in school, is it better for the mother to stay home with her baby and receive government assistance, or work and send the baby to daycare (assuming her income will be enough to support the family without government assistance)?

AWOL Mommy said...

Man, oh man. Ok, time for a little blend of personal testimony combined with moral theorizing from this obscure Southwestern corner.

My husband and I met as ROTC cadets; we were engaged as seniors in college about to be commissioned as second lieutenants in the Army. Both of us had had our expensive bachelor’s degrees funded by the Army in exchange for a four year active duty service obligation. He had orders to one Army post and I to another. My priest, in the Arlington Diocese (one of the most conservative in the country) did not want to marry us in September after graduation because we told him that we planned to practice NFP until we completed our basic training and were stationed together. He explained his initial reluctance this way, "I do not believe that a couple who is not open to the possibility of life should enter into the marriage covenant." What were our choices? Without a marriage certificate the Army will not take steps to station two soldiers together, yet here was this priest who would not marry us unless I was willing to commit to single motherhood for as long as two years. Anyhow, it was a tough situation and I only bring it up to point out that I believe we should be grateful for our Church's nuanced position on the teaching of procreation within marriage because there are so many different situations out there.

In response to "L."'s comments and even Maria's comments about the humble situation of our Lord's birth. I think that couples who utilize government programs in order to sustain their large families are doing nothing irresponsible at all. In fact, I think it is a great act of humility and trust that these families do what is in the best interest of their families and accept charity. Furthermore, I see our governmental programs as the modern-day, 1st-world, equivalent of the village taking care of the family in need. God never intended a nuclear family to be self-sustaining. The Bible is not written in that context and we should not be expected to think that way. What about the 30%+ income tax rates all over secular Europe? How is it that they are less averse to taking care of their lower and middle class citizens’ health care needs than we are in the U.S.? Being Catholic means tithing, and supporting life in all of its forms -- so as long as we are willing to give some of our income to the less fortunate, why should we scorn anyone who needs to make use of this charity? I could keep going. Maybe I will chime in again later once I have my Crock Pot humming along.
Thanks, Red.

Clara said...

This conversation has me cringing on a lot of different levels. One of them is that it really sounds a lot like the EcBf-ing conversation of a couple of months ago where there was some talk about how spacing babies thru EcBF was an ideal of responsible parenthood. The implications (to me) was that there was such a thing as being irresponsible by having closely spaced children, and it is easy to take offense.
In neither of these cases has the Church spoken authoritatively, but rather gives guidelines to help us live faithfully and also generously (whatever that might mean to each family).
The tone of the EcBf conversation was really about people wanting to share the joys of the method with others, but it was still tricky. The tone of this conversation (though not particularly on this site) has not been the same.
The lived experience of fertility, marriage, parenthood and faith are so beautiful, difficult, complex and personal that I am not sure it is helpful to talk about online in relative anonymity. Maybe we ought to leave this to face-to-face conversations with friends and family.
Just a thought.

Red Cardigan said...

Hi! It's the "other Red" here.

Boy, I wish I'd had that "Love and Responsibility" quote earlier! What I've said over and over in as many different ways as I can over at my blog is that striving to be both responsible and generous in our approach to parenthood isn't optional; it's not a sign that one lacks trust in God or cares too much about money to consider whether a continued and prolonged reliance on certain types of gov't aid is a factor in one's decision to have another baby.

Juris Mater said...

On the government assistance question... another distinction is accepting government assistance versus relying on it. We accept it because it's available to us at this stage (and I'm very grateful that the government helps young families in this way--I absolutely think it should), but we could survive financially without it. But I still don't think it's irresponsible for a family to procreate when they actually, absolutely rely on every dollar they receive from the government to survive, for the reasons AWOL Mommy mentioned. I love your explanations, AWOL, about the village taking care of the family in need.

There are lots of types of assistance out there. Some families rely on grandparents to pay for their kids' educations. Other families rely on hand-me-down clothes or food surpluses passed along from other families. I think it's OK to accept the generosity of others, and factor it into our procreative decisions--their generosity in its forms allows us in turn to be generous in our openness to children. I'm not advocating mooching... back to AWOL's comments, we should welcome the generosity of "the village" in helping us raise our families, and always be mindful of giving back to the village in other ways, however and whenever we can. Pay it forward in our own way.

Right Said Red said...

"In a hypothetical situation like this where the husband is in school, is it better for the mother to stay home with her baby and receive government assistance, or work and send the baby to daycare (assuming her income will be enough to support the family without government assistance)?"

Again, this is circumstantial. It probably depends on how much you would make if you worked, part time options, etc. My gut says take the gov't handout and stay with your baby! Your baby comes 1st!!!! But I could be talked out of this position in certain circumstances. I know, I know, this is out of character for me ;-)

Juris Mater said...

I have to admit I'm not crazy about conversations like this one. As Catholic parents, I think we need to guard our generous spirits very carefully, and I always get this feeling that conversations like these overanalyzing the use of NFP in the abstract can be detrimental to our spirit of generosity and our abandonment to God. We constantly hear the world telling us to have babies only if the time is exactly right. I'm not a providentialist, but I do believe that walking the "openness to life" journey with God during marriage is perhaps the greatest way of abandonment to Him in our lifetimes. It's easy to overlook what a gift, and also a cross, but definitely a gift it is to never totally know when a new baby is coming... and to be able to surrender to Christ with each pregnancy, particularly the unexpected ones. How beautiful. We're rarely as close to Our Blessed Mother as when we accept an unplanned pregnancy by turning to Christ and saying "I'm very afraid, but your will be done, not mine." Being too hung up on on "prudence" and "when we are demanded to renounce procreation" may make us approach the whole issue wrongly, negatively, and can sap some of the joy from the whole spirit of openness.

Right Said Red said...


We really have no life to both be posting on a Friday night ;-) Must be an attorney thing. My attorney husband is still at work! You, the attorney spouse are probably still working!

You said,

"Being too hung up on on "prudence" and "when we are demanded to renounce procreation" may make us approach the whole issue wrongly, negatively, and can sap some of the joy from the whole spirit of openness."

Maybe for some this is the case. As someone who teaches NFP, I have counseled numerous women who felt that they couldn't have this sort of conversation with anyone. They were unaware that sometimes it is in the best interest of their family to use NFP. The very idea of responsible parenthood was VERY freeing for them--in a spiritual sense and took away the unhealthy "guilt" they were feeling about practicing NFP. I think conversations like this are really important and we shouldn't be afraid to discuss it. The discussion should obviously be done in charity. My choice of words was taken directly from the writings of JP II. I don't think he intended to take joy away from our spirit of openness. Life is hard, NFP is hard, and decisions about family planning are sometimes really hard. It is sad that sometimes it has to be so hard.

Anonymous said...

Another (non-practicing now SAHM) attorney piping in here on a Friday night! ;) The conversations here and on Danielle's blog are surrounding finances -- but what about other reasons to space pregnancies? What about the emotional needs of a high-needs child? The real basic needs of every child under the age of 3? The decision to breastfeed -- most women, like myself, have a drastic decrease in milk supply and another early pregnancy can mean not breastfeeding or supplementing before your baby turns 1. In these NFP talks, a lot of people concentrate on finances and seem to think that those using NFP to space a pregnancy are doing it to be selfish or overly concerned about financial prudence ... but I personally believe in Sheila Kippley's the first three years -- isn't there something to be said for taking this true need of a child into account when choosing to space or achieve another pregnancy (surprise pregnancies aside)? I am often surprised to see some of my Catholic mom friends tell me that they switch the locks on doors so they can lock their <3yr. old children in their room to force them to sleep, etc. Personally, I would love to welcome another child into our life right now, but our other children are so very young (we've had some very close together) and it doesn't seem responsible vis-a-vis them, not us. Shouldn't we also concentrate on the children's needs here and not just the adult concerns (like finances).
I hope this still makes sense at this hour, I'm not a night person! :)

Kristen said...

Re: government assistance... It has become my stated policy that I am providing taxpayers for the United States government to rely upon beyond my old age...and enough of them, ahem, at this time, that I have covered for quite a few of my childless co-patriots. Therefore, "accepting government assistance" can rightly be called an investment in the future of this great big country, honey, and don't you ever feel bad about that. You are raising up the next generation of citizens.

We qualified for all sorts of help when my hubby was in grad school too. And I took it. Because GOd as my witness, I don't think there will be much left in the Social Security fund by the time we are all gray and drooling.

Mary Alice said...

I am neither an attorney nor a theologian, but here is what I have been thinking:

It is moral to use natural methods to space children only when justice demands it. Therefore, if there are times when it is moral to use it, at those very times it would be immoral not to use it, it would be unjust either to mother, child or family.

Now, there are no absolutes laid out, so we have to pray and decide. For Red, nursing a baby is currently a reason to avoid conceiving, for me it wasn't and now I have had to wean that baby because of a condition of my pregnancy. In my can/must reasoning, does it then follow that one of us is wrong? All you lactivists, I know how you feel about it, and you provedentialists too, so this was NOT meant to open a conversation about which one!

Katherine said...

I must say that I am deeply disappointed in this site. I have been following it for a while with interest, enthusiasm and admiration.

I understand that many of the posters, including the original, want to give "respectful" comments in a "civil" manner. But does no one realize that when you "civilly" claim that parents who have children one way or another way are "irresponsible" or "imprudent", you are not being respectful or civil.

The hypocrisy stuns me. So many people are ready and willing to wave the Church's teaching on prudence in avoiding conception and then pass judgement on specific situations, such as a poor mother who can't afford prescriptions or a couple in school, etc. The Church herself refuses to be specific on what circumstances would tend in a particular direction and yet others here (and on D.B.'s blog) seem ready to pass judgement.

I'm a stay at home mom to two little girls. My husband is in school and teaching. We don't receive any gov't assistance though we probably would qualify but our parents greatly support us financially and will until my husband finishes school. In fact, we pay for almost nothing right now. I look forward to each pregnancy and won't avoid one. Some would consider me "imprudent" and "irresponsible." But as the Church leaves those decisions up to my husband and myself and God, no one here, or anywhere for that matter, should be declaring us to be so.

So if a poor mother of many remains open to life, none of us have any justification to judge that she is imprudent or irresponsible

Right Said Red said...


Your comment is the first to really sadden me. Why is it that women cannot discuss a principle without someone screaming "you're judging me." If the Pope can make this point in the abstract why can't we cite it and discuss what he might have meant.

I have expressed no opinion on any particular circumstance. I just thought that as educated women we would be capable of discussing this issue in the abstract. I guess this is why most philosophy majors are men!

I think the reason Danielle Bean shut comments down on her site is because people started attacking and making judgments about individual circumstances--rather than discussing the principle.

In addition, the majority of the comments on this site, in particular the comments from the builders, have been VERY supportive of families having children while receiving state benefits or benefits from family/friends/charity. I am curious as to whether you actually carefully read any of the comments. It doesn't seem to me that you have.

You state:
"Some would consider me "imprudent" and "irresponsible." But as the Church leaves those decisions up to my husband and myself and God, no one here, or anywhere for that matter, should be declaring us to be so."
This strongly indicates to me that you are misreading the discussion. I don't remember ANYONE here claiming that a particular situation like yours was imprudent or irresponsible.

I think what really upsets you, and some others, is that some of us actually think there needs to be discernment involved in bringing another life into the world. I think in general people just want an easy answer--just don't use NFP. Unfortunately, it makes us all a little uncomfortable that things aren't that clear cut.

Anonymous said...

I just saw this thread now (great blog, btw!), and I have to say that some posters, on a few different blogs, including the latest Inside Catholic article by Danielle Bean, have this weird over-sensitivity and emotionalism; I posted this the other day on Red Cardigan's blog:

My point about the skewed emotionalism is not that there is emotion expressed, but that it is used as a weapon. Here's the example:

Person 1 says something that Person 2 believes must be refuted.

Person 2 states, plainly, without ad hominem, "I disagree, because of A, B and C. I ask questions 1, 2, and 3"

And the response from Person 1? "I don't like the way you said that! I want you to speak differently! You are uncharitable!" (Note: they didn't say they might have misunderstood; could there be clarification? They simply tell you - in a most charitable way - to shut up. Now Person 2 is the bad guy and Person 1...wins?)

I see pulling the "uncharitable" charge not unlike how politicians play the race card; it ignores the issues all together, casts aspersions on Person 2 and basically, is a passive-aggressive control issue.

I won't buy into it.

And there is also the concept of having an opinion and defending it; it can't be correct that that's wrong. I do think that all sides: the infertile, the super-size families and the smaller families mostly need to grow a thicker skin or not participate in these threads. I happen to love hashing things out and find that if you not take everything personally, use anecdotals sparingly, refrain from ad hominems and ask and answer questions as plainly as possible, the conversation can go far.


theologusmoralis said...

Right Said Red,

I wanted to intervene and make a few observations.
First, you will be hard-pressed to find documents of the Magisterium that seek to tell couples that they should limit how many children they have. Rather, it is usually the other way around. The Magisterium is trying to give a solid rationale for those couples who seek to space children or not have children. Humanae vitae is a good example.

That brings me to the second point. Let's have a fuller text of HV 10 that speaks about responsible parenting:
[begin quote}
"If we look further to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who, guided by prudent consideration and generosity, elect to accept many children. Those are also to be
considered responsible, who, for serious reasons [seriis causis] and with due respect for moral precepts, decide not to have another child either for a definite or an indefinite amount of time.

The responsible parenthood of which we speak here has an another intrinsic foundation [intimam rationem] of utmost importance: it is rooted in the objective moral order established by God -- and only an upright conscience can be a true interpreter of this order. For which reason, the mission [munus] of responsible parenthood requires that spouses recognize their duties [officia] towards God, towards themselves, towards the family, and towards human society, as they maintain a correct set of priorities.

For this reason, in regard to the mission [munere] of transmitting human life, it is not right for spouses to act in accord their own arbitrary judgment [arbitratu suo], as if it were permissible for them to define altogether subjectively and willfully [modo ominino proprio ac libero] what is right for them to do. On the contrary, they
must accommodate their behavior to the plan of God the Creator, a plan made manifest both by the very nature of marriage and its acts and also by the constant teaching of the Church."
[end quote}
There are several points that I want to highlight. (1) Notice the context of the discussion of prudence and generosity towards a large family and then of serious reasons for periodic continence. One needs to be prudent to know when serious reasons exist in which case a couple should not get pregnant.

(2) I would think that any reasonable Catholic couple should know and realize that the default position of the conjugal act is OPENNESS TO LIFE. Indeed marriage's two concerns revolve around the procreation of children and the union of the couple. Marriage by its very existence is propelled towards new life. When a couple decides to have intercourse whether during a fertile or infertile period, this is sort of the default position for those who wish to follow the Church's teaching. So I find it hard to believe that a reasonable Catholic couple accidently "stumbles" into sexual intercourse and gets pregnant. Some thought and deliberation may have already taken place about the disposition a couple has towards sexual intercourse. No deliberate decision making need to be involved in each and every sexual act. Some discern that they prefer to be generous and allow God to bless them with many children. That alone can be a prudent consideration. Such a prudent consideration gives an openness to God and his plan. It also displays a very trusting attitude towards God that He will take care of a family's needs.

(3) Being open to God's creative act gives the primary place to our duty towards God. Note that the conception of a new life is not just the work of the couple. God intervenes and brings the conjugal act to fruition. God blesses the couple. Each and every child is a blessing from God. Just because it happens in a "not-so-deliberate" fashion does not negate that this new life is blessing and unique creation of God -- NOT AN ACCIDENT! Human beings can't just bring new life without God! God allows/gives us these new lives to treasure and take care of.

(4) We have to re-orient our modern minds away from the mentality that children are burdens; we need to see children as blessings and indeed blessings from a very generous and hospitable God who have given us everything and who will take care of our needs.

(5) This is where our parishes and communities and extended families should step up and help out those families who are open to God's blessings in abundant numbers.

Not that I want to continue on much more, but for those interested, You can find John Paul II's thoughts on Humanae vitae in his Wednesday audiences of July 11, 1984 through November 21, 1984. You can find these texts in the revised work of his audiences on his catechesis of a theology of the body Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body (2006) pp. 617-57 or the originally entitled Theology of the Body: Human Love in the Divine Plan (1997) pp. 386-423. You can find Italian/Spanish texts on the Vatican website, though not English translations.

First, some of his commentary on HV 10 (Man and Woman He Created Them pp. 627-28 or Theology of the Body p. 394. [Please note that I follow the revised version of these texts}:
"It follows from this that the concept of 'responsible parenthood' contains the disposition, not only to avoid 'a new birth,' but also to increase the family according to the criteria of prudence."

Further on p. 637 (or p. 402 for older edition), expanding on just (serious) reasons for periodic continence, John Paul II writes, "The use of 'infertile periods' in conjugal shared life can become a source of abuse if the couple thereby attempt to evade procreation without just reasons, lowering it below the morally just level of births in their family. This just level needs to be set by taking into account not only the good of one's own family and the state of one's health as well as the means of the spouses themselves, but also the good of the society to which they belong, the good of the Church, and even of humanity as a whole." This point and the following point both confirm what I said at the very beginning of this post. The Magisterium seeks to provide a rationale for a "minimum" of children for a family -- it never seeks to give a method for calculating what is too many children. Continuing JPII writes, "Humanae vitae presents 'responsible parenthood' as an expression of a high ethical value. In no way does it aim one-sidedly at limiting, even less at excluding, children; it means also the willingness to welcome a greater number of children."

As I read John Paul II, if you have serious reasons to not get pregnant, then prudently you should abstain from sexual intercourse during fertile periods (and possibly infertile periods) depending upon the serious reason in question. On the other hand, if no serious reason hinders you, then you should display a willingness (openness) to welcome a large family. God loves bestowing the gift of life; we see that from the many new lives that greet us each day throughout the world.

I want to harbor a small guess as to why you will not find such a recapitulation of what Wojtyla said in Love and Responsibility in his writings as John Paul II. Before 1968, the teaching of Humanae vitae as not articulated. After Paul VI articulated the ordinary magisterial teaching of the church in HV, that became the basis for further reflection, especially in light of the qualifications that Paul VI makes in regards to limiting children in responsible parenting.

Katherine said...


I don't have an objection to the abstract. But specific examples were given. Danielle Bean was replying to a specific case written on her board which you quote and specifically state you disagree with her. While you did not specify how, I can only assume it was with regards to how prudent you feel the woman was. Another very specific example was presented:"Is it irresponsible, as a commenter on the original blog said, for a family to have one spouse in school, the other primarily at home, and still have children?"

I don't see how any of this is abstract.

I was a philosophy major.

I have no objection to others using NFP to avoid conception in a manner appropriate to a faithful Catholic and in accord with Church teaching.

christine said...

You are so right, Katherine. None of this is abstract. If it were abstract, why would all these people not be satisfied with merely saying, "Sometimes couples have serious reasons to avoid pregnancy and the Church allows the use of NFP in these circumstances"?

No. They want to talk about when you MUST use it.

They talk about continuing to have babies while receiving WIC and is that OK? Or they talk about continuing to have babies while one spouse is in school and the family is receiving government assistance and is that OK? They talk about continuing to have babies while one spouse is disabled and is that OK?

The problem with talking specifics is that no matter how much we say "Of course we're not judging" IT'S ALL ABOUT JUDGING. The next time you hear of someone conceiving under these circumstances we've discussed and determined as ones where couples are OBLIGED to avoid pregnancy, what are you going to think? Congratulations? Hooray for them? Thanks be to God? Hardly.

Joanne said...

I am coming late to the conversation, but it is so interesting to me I have to comment. I really feel like being open to NFP (and closed to artificial contraception) has been a life saver for my marriage and family. My husband and I have only been married for four years and we have two children, but we are both 40 this year and I think about how many more children we'll have with great frequency. We talk about it all the time, and I think that is the best gift of being open to life - that we really do trust in God and it makes us so happy. Our son is three, and on the autism spectrum and our daughter is 7 months, and never sleeps, so we are often tense and tired. We are just trying to get our son started in a school and therapy that will help him and it's all coincided with my daughter being born and sometimes it feels like too much and I think I can't have another baby! Ahhh!

BUT. Then time passes and I pray on it and I remind myself that I am called to the vocation of married person and mother and I will be okay. I trust God in a way that I don't know that I could if my husband and I weren't working together with Him on our family by being closed to artificial contraception and open to life. Maybe we will have another baby, we don't know (as we answer hundreds of times weekly when seemingly everyone we know asks us if we are 'done').
I, for one, am thrilled to see discussion about NFP by people that actually practice it. It's so exciting to me that we are all doing God's work, in whatever way, that we can get down to the nitty gritty of it. It's a really great thing, to me. So thanks. This comment is all over the place and I apologize, I am going to blame it on sleep deprivation, like I do everything else. :)

Anonymous said...

I hope this is relevant enought to the topic...I apologize if it's off-base, but just hoping for some direction on how to use NFP to avoid a pregnancy when nursing and then weaning. Red, I know you are a NFP teacher and mentioned CCL is putting out updated information on breastfeeding and NFP in the Fall? Is that still when it is expected to be out? Briefly, is there anything different about using NFP to avoid a pregnancy when breastfeeding/weaning? Thank you!

Right Said Red said...


NFP is a bit different when breastfeeding. It is harder, because when fertility returns it can be irregular. It is pretty much a mucus only method, so there is no temperature cross-check. It's a pretty basic patch rule, anytime you observe mucus, abstain until 4 days post drying up. The current NFP book mentions the patch rule, but the detailed book regarding this will not be available until the fall. I believe Creighton has very similar information out right now--so you might want to look into that if you are desperate for immediate help.

I hope this helps!

I'm closing comments on this post now. Anonymous if you have more questions on this topic, feel free to e-mail me at