Sunday, May 16, 2010


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By Father Gerard Rusak

On the 29th of October 1951, Pope Pius XII, in a famous allocution to midwives, warned them not to be "drawn into an unjust and unbecoming (616) 1 ' for the so-called "natural" methods of birth control. For the most part, this warning has gone unheeded. In fact, we are witnessing a proliferation of propaganda in favour of "Natural Family Planning", (NFP) originating from those who should know better. Today a large family is looked upon with disdain, as a sort of "social ill", as a kind of "irresponsible parenthood" if not as bad as, at least comparable to, the evils of abortion and artificial contraception. Can such a mentality be reconciled with the teaching of the Church? Is the indiscriminate use of NFP in accordance with what Catholic Tradition calls the "primary duty" of matrimony, namely the procreation and education of children? Is it licit "to use continually the faculty proper to matrimony and lawful only therein and, at the same time, to avoid its primary duty without a grave reason"? No, declares Pius XII, to do so "would be a sin against the very nature of married life" (621).

First of all, let us take note, terms such as "Natural Family Planning" and "natural" methods' of birth control are misnomers. There is nothing natural about birth control, even when drugs are not used. Rev. Father Lavaud, O.P. deciares: "We cannot see an adaptation to nature in something which is, in effect a trick to fustrate nature. "3 Another theologian remarks that this so-called "natural" way "requires the couple to make love by a calendar, so that charts, gadgets and graphs rule romance, not the loving desire of devoted partners. Some medical men assure us a wife 's desire for marital union is most vehement precisely during the fertile period ... Even Dr. Ogino, the originator of the rhythm method, viewed this method primarily as a means of having children. 'Rhythm in reverse,' having relations on fertile days just to have children" (Integrity, June 1948). In fact, it is the desire for children and their conception, which is truly natural. However, today, many persons are beginning to look upon pregnancy as a disease, or at least a "social ill", especially when it is repeated. On the 20th of January, 1958, at an audience for the Italian Association for Large Families, Pius XII castigated this error in the following terms:
"It is fitting to class among the most harmful aberrations of modern neo-pagan society the opinion of certain men who dare to term the fruitfulness of marriage a "social ill" from which the "infected" nations should endeavor by every means to be cured. Whence the propaganda of what is called "rational birth control"(planned parenthood), supported by individuals and associations, sometimes distinguished for other reasons, but in this one, unfortunately worthy, of blame" (763).

Continuing to develop his thought, the Pope opposes "planned parenthood" with "the testimony of parents of large families" who
"reject outright in practice all intentional compromise between the law of God and the egotism of man" and accept, "with joy and gratitude, the inestimable gifts of God which children are, as many has He pleases to send" (765). 
Such an attitude
"frees the spouses from intolerable nightmares and remorse. This disposition of mind assures - and this is the opinion of competent medical authority - the most favorable physical premises for a wholesome development of the fruits proper to marriage, while it avoids, at the very origin of the new lives, that trouble and anxiety which become so many blemishes in the mother as also in the child "(765). 
For the Pope, it is not only the Catholic Church but popular good sense which
"has always and everywhere seen in large families the sign, the proof, and the source of physical health, while history makes no mistake when it sees in the tampering with marriage laws and the laws of procreation the first cause of the nation 's decadence. Large families, far from being a "social ill", are the guarantee of the physical and moral well-being of a people. In homes where there is always a cradle from which rise an infant's cries, virtue flourishes spontaneously and vice stays at a distance, as if driven away by childhood, which is renewed there like the fresh and life-giving breath of springtide" (766).

The "yes" of Pius XII to large families and the "no" to birth control and to the undiscriminated propaganda of periodic continence springs directly from the Doctrine of the Church on Matrimony. The Church teaches that the question of "birth control" or "contraception", before even being a question of means (labeled natural or artificial), is first a question of the end. "The mere fact that husband and wife do not offend the nature of the act [as they would, for example, if they used artificial contraceptives and are even ready to accept and bring up the child, who, notwithstanding their precautions, might be born, would not be, in itself, sufficient to guarantee the rectitude of their intention and the unobjectionable morality of their motives" (619). They must first respect the primary end of matrimony.

The primary end of matrimony is the procreation and the education of children. "The Creator of the human race Himself, who in His goodness has willed to use human beings as His ministers in the propagation of life, taught us this truth when, in instituting matrimony in the Garden of Eden, He bade our first parents, and through them all married persons who should come after them: 'Increase and multiply and fill the earth'. St. Augustine rightly draws the same conclusion from the words of the Apostle St. Paul to Timothy: The Apostle testifies that procreation is the purpose of matrimony when, having said,
'I will that younger women should marry', he adds immediately, as though he had been asked the reason, 'so that they may bear children and become mothers of families'" (Pius XI, Casti Connubii, 1930. 274). 
Pius XII, by a decree of the Holy Office, on March 30, 1944 repudiated 
"the opinion of some authors, who deny that the primary end of matrimony is the procreation and education of the offspring, or teach that the secondary ends are not essentially subordinated to the primary ends, but are parallel to them and independent" (note 634c). 
Note well, the Church does not deny that there are secondary ends to Matrimony, such as mutual support and the remedy against concupiscence. She simply states these ends must remain what they are, that is, secondary and always subordinated to the primary end, which is the procreation and education of children.

Most couples, unlike the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph, are not meant to keep perfect continence in matrimony. It is for these that: Pius XII stated:
"The matrimonial contract, which confers on the, married couple the right to satisfy the inclination of nature, constitutes them in a state of life, namely, the matrimonial state. Now, on married couples, who make use of the specific act of their state, nature and the Creator impose the function of providing for the preservation of mankind" (621). 
Indeed then,
Marriage confers certain rights, but only because it imposes very precise duties, the first of which is the procreation and the education of children: "The individual and society, the people and the State, the Church itself depend for their existence, in the order established by God, on fruitful marriages" (621). 
Therefore, children are not obstacles to avoid, nor mere accidents that happen, but the primary end and goal of matrimony it follows that if 
"according to a reasonable and equitable judgment" (622) "grave reasons or motives" (620,621) do not intervene. Spouses who use their matrimonial rights, cannot licitly shrink from the duty "which.' nature and the Creator impose" (621). 
Or, in the words of Pius XII: 
to embrace the matrimonial state, to use continually the faculty proper "to such a state and lawful only therein, and, at the same time, to avoid its primary duty without a grave reason, would be a sin against the very nature of married life" (621).

From what precedes, it is clear that NFP cannot be used indiscriminately. To make its use licit, there are three basic conditions, which must be fulfilled simultaneously:

A. The reason for its use must be grave and morally proportioned.

B. It should fall into one of the "indications" (see below) given by Pius XII.

C. It must be possible for the spouses to practice periodic continence without sin.

If one of these reasons is lacking NFP is illicit and sinful.

A. The reason must be grave and morally proportioned.
Pius XII, in his allocutions, speaks of the necessity of

  • "sufficiently morally sure motives" (619)
  • "grave motives or reasons" (620, 621)
  • "serious motives" (622)
  • "notable disadvantages" (790).

Clearly then, NFP may not be used for any reason whatsoever. What is more, these
"serious motives' must be "independent of the good will" of the spouses (620). 
Therefore, sufficient reasons are not those which are the fault of the couple themselves, or which they could dispel if they so willed; for example, a Father who does not want to work or a mother who does not want to have children.
Those who enter matrimony are obliged to accept the duties of this state and this under pain of sin. Moreover, the allotted reasons must not be "inseparable from the law itself, nor inherent in its fulfillment" (790). 

This important precision, made by Pius XII in 1958 eliminates as reasons the difficulties that accompany every pregnancy,
the risk of deformation in every conception, the duty which all Parents have to educate their children, the normal restrictions which every new mouth to feed will put on a family budget, etc.. All of these difficulties are inherent in the fulfillment of the law of matrimony. They should have been foreseen before entering into this state. Is then any motive sufficient as long as it is extraordinary? No, it must be a "motive of serious proportions (789) that is, a weighty motive. 

But what is the necessary gravity? The gravity is proportioned to the duty, which the spouses have to provide the human race with future citizens, and the Catholic Church with future believers. AND THIS IS A GRAVE DUTY, OBLIGING UNDER PAIN OF GRAVE SIN. "Therefore, the motive in question must be real and proven, not imaginary, supposed or improbable.Pope Pius XII, in his allocution to midwives already quoted, points to four sources, in which we may find truly grave motives, exempting husband and wife from their obligatory and positive debt for a long period, or even for the entire period of their matrimonial life. Since the Pope states that these four "indications" (622) arise "not rarely "(622), we shall take a special look at each of them.

B. The four "indications".
These four sources of exemption are "the so-called medical, eugenic, economic and social indications" (622), because, if one truly exists, "the general principle may be applied that a positive action may be omitted with grave motives [...] show that its performance is inopportune, or prove that it may not be claimed with equal right of the petitioner - in this case, mankind" (620). [It must be noted, however, that the sole existence of one of these four exemptions only makes periodic continence licit if the spouses are able to practice it without sin (See below: C).]

1. The Medical indication is a serious danger to the health or the life of the mother, diagnosed by a doctor, qualified either from a scientific point of view or from a moral point of view. In such a case the obligation "of providing for the preservation of mankind" (621) ceases, because a woman is not obliged. by the matrimonial contract, to expose herself to dangers or injury which are not ordinarily part of maternity (Courier de Rome, June 1991, p.2).
Rev. Fr. George Kelly, in The Catholic Marriage Manual, describes the medical indication:
"A doctor may advise a couple against having children. For example, a woman recovering from a serious operation might lack the strength to carry a child. A woman suffering from an incurable disease might face the likelihood of death soon after her baby is born." Likewise, "a husband's health might be so poor that he might not support a child" (Op.cit. p.56).
However the Manual adds a word of warning:
"It is important [...], however, not to accept the judgment of a single doctor as infallibly decreeing the death of the next pregnancy. Too many of us know of women so instructed who bore many children safely. A doctor can be wrong. The better the doctor, the less he is inclined to lay claim to infallibility in making these observations. [...] It should be remembered, too, that doctors, though men of science, are not always scientific in their practical determinations. Like anyone else, they may have a small-family mentality and are quick to convert their patients to this way of life (ibid)." 
The Manual goes on to recommend the consultation of a good Catholic obstetrician, if one can be found. The longer the spouses practice periodic continence, the graver the "medical indication" must be. According to specialists, "there are few maternal illnesses that absolutely counter-indicate procreation" and therefore authorize the perpetual practice of NFP. However, the deficient health of a mother, or a state of overwork, may suffice for the spouses to temporarily defer another pregnancy, by periodic or complete abstinence, awaiting the return of healthy equilibrium to the mother. The Church permits this spacing as long as it can be accomplished without sin.
It should be noted that breastfeeding, which is almost always a moral obligation [Pius XII, Allocution to Mothers, October 26, 1941, (Solesmes - The Woman) and June, Moral Theology. n 200) has also been shown to be a truly natural way of spacing children.

2. The Eugenic indication is the almost absolute certainty that one will bring into the world physically or psychologically deformed children. In such a case, with regard to the social good, the obligation to procreation ceases. However, it is necessary to remark "with regard to the personal good of the children, that it is better for these to exist than not." (V. Palazzini. Dictionnarium morale et canonicum see continentia periodica - Courrier de Rome, Loc. cit.). Since the existence of every human being, once conceived, is sacred, the abortion of any fetus known to be deformed is completely unjustified. It is very sad to note that today, through genetics and embryo farming, Godless science and government are leading us into a world of a new super-race into which even many like ourselves will be refused entry.

3. The Economic indication is a real concrete situation, which obliges the spouses to realize that their economic means are insufficient to assume the expenses joined to the arrival of another child. In such a case, the obligation to procreation ceases, although
the Church counsels to confide in the Providence of God, Who "does not refuse the means to live to those He calls to life" (Pius XII, Jan. 20, 1958)
Concerning this economic indication, The Catholic Marriage Manual states:
"The obligation of parenthood does not require a couple to have as many children as is humanly possible, as some critics allege. However, they should have at many children as they can support reasonably. This does not mean that they must be deeply in debt to the loan companies before practicing periodic continence. Nor does it mean that rhythm is justified until they have sufficient savings to insure a college education for the child." (Op.cit. p.57). 
However, we can only too highly recommend generosity and confidence in Providence. Without these, we would not have had a St. Bernadette of Lourdes, born of a large family in extreme poverty, and a St. Catherine of Siena, a 23rd child.

4. The Social indication is made up of "serious reasons in the social order". Father Kelly gives the two following examples: poor housing conditions, which force a couple to live in such crowded quarters that an additional child would indeed create a great burden; a man who expects to be sent to work in a distant place for a number of years, incapacitating him to fulfill his responsibilities as a father (The Catholic Marriage Manual , p.57). Another example would be the social conditions during wartime.

Father Ceriani adds:
"A large family requires a number of conditions which are not always present; among these are found, not only the physical health of the mother, but also the spiritual capabilities [or psychological qualities (trans.)] of both partners: prudence, the capacity of making decisions, strength of character, nervous equilibrium, calm, etc.. "The primary end of matrimony is the procreation and the education of the offspring. The Church recognizes the value of education, especially of a Christian formation, which infinitely supersedes that of simple birth. "Catholic doctrine does not in any way adopt the theory of those extremists who are in favor of procreation; it could be that prudence at times may not advise births too close together, which put obstacles to education."On the other hand, we must not forget that a large family offers a special means for the acquisition and practice of the virtues: denial of self, love of work, poverty, mutual aid, fraternal correction, etc.. The family, with one or two children, does not facilite a Christian education. "There is a virtuous equilibrium that should be established (according to the physical condition of the spouses', as well as the circumstances in which modern anti-Christian society 'obliges' catholic families to live), keeping in view only the glory of God and the salvation of their souls and those of their children. Evidently in this, more than in other cases, the counsel of a priest is necessary (Jesus Christus, June-July 1992,p.8). 

One last word concerning the "social indication ". Some persons affirm that it would even be sinful to bring children into our present modern society. Despite its noble appearance, this is in reality a most cowardly and ridiculous assertion. In fact, it is because of the immensity of the evil forces that all Catholic parents are obliged to do all in their power to bring into this world and to educate good and Catholic children to counteract, if necessary by the blood of martyrdom, the evils of today. Catholic parents must take courage and fulfill their glorious role in forming the Christian soldiers of tomorrow.

Nor is it reasonable to say: "The world is overpopulated with children, no use our adding to the mess." Even if the world were overpopulated, it is not overpopulated with good and Catholic children, who, in principle, should not add to the mess but help clean it up.
"Christian parents must realize", states Pius XI, "that they are called not merely to propagate and preserve the human race on earth, nor even to procreate men who worship the true God in just any way, but to give children to the Church of God, to procreate fellow citizens of the saints and members of God's household (see Eph. 2. 19), so that the number of worshippers of God and of our Savior may be constantly increased."(Casti Connubii, Dec. 31. 1930, 276). 
It is not only the salvation of the children, which should encourage parents to generosity, but also their own salvation. Men should remember their duty, imposed upon Adam by the Creator (Gen. 3; 17-20), to work to support their family. In being faithful to duty, they will save their souls. "Women,", says St. Paul, "will be saved by childbearing, if they continue in faith and love and holiness with modesty" (1 Tim. 2;15). These words of Holy Scripture may not please the emancipation movement, but they remain the Revealed Word of God, and thus, worthy of serious meditation.

To summarize what we have seen concerning the 'four indications", we once again quote Fr. Ceriani:
"The will of God in the domain of procreation is manifested to the spouses by all of the events in their domestic life, which do not escape the plan of Divine Providence [...] According as such an event is translated by a difficulty [a serious difficulty, as we have amply seen, ed.] of a medical, eugenic, economic or social order, the spouses will recognize the will of God, permitting for them, in this case, as long as should last, periodic continence, compatible with the Law of God (Ibid, P.8-9).. 
Note well, the last condition that, even if one of the four "indications" is present, the periodic continence, as practiced by the spouses, must be "compatible with the law of God". This means that the practice of NFP must not place either of the spouses in a near occasion of mortal sin. Let us consider this important condition.

C. Periodic continence must be mutually agreed upon and possible for the spouses without sin.
Like Pope Pius XII, Paul VI spoke, in his encyclical "Humanae vitae" (n 10) of the possibility of practicing periodic continence "for serious reasons and in respect for the moral Law". It is this "respect for the moral law" that interests us here. The Catholic Marriage Manual quotes on this point, Father John A. Goodwine, of St. Joseph's Seminary, Dunwoodie, N.Y.. Assuming that, in one particular case, circumstances of a medical, eugenic, social or economic nature justify periodic continence, Father Goodwine explains that there would already be sin if mutual agreement on its use was not present.
"Neither partner may insist on abstinence against the reasonable protest of the other. The reason for this is the marriage contract. By that contract each partner agrees to satisfy the reasonable and serious request of the other for marital relations; for one partner to default on this contract would be a serious violation of justice. Accordingly, the practice of periodic continence would be lawful when, and just as long as, it is mutually agreeable to the spouses (Op. cit.,p.57)." 
Father Goodwine continues:
"The second requisite is that both husband and wife must be able to practice continence during the so-called fertile days. The use of periodic continence demands no little self-control. When a couple attempts to restrict the use of marriage to the sterile period, there may arise occasions of serious sin. The attempt may lead to sins of self-abuse, to mutual fondling to the point of culpable pollution, and even to infidelity. These dangers are especially great in the case of men; but women are by no means exempt from them." 
The Catholic Marriage Manual continues:
"If the necessary conditions are not met in a particular case, would a couple sin in practicing periodic continence? If it is sinful, how serious is the sin?" 
Writing in The American Ecclesiastical Review, Father Goodwine has answered:
"If any one of the required conditions (that the parties be willing to abstain, that they be able to abstain without proximate danger of serious sin [...) is not met, recourse to periodic continence will be sinful. In certain cases, seriously sinful. For instance, if the first condition is not verified, and the practice of periodic continence is insisted on by one partner against the reasonable objections of the other, a sin of injustice would be committed. [...] So also, If the second condition is not met, and the practice of periodic continence becomes a proximate occasion of sins against chastity, there would be a serious sin." 
Would it also be a serious sin to practice NFP without grave motive, that is, without one of the four serious "indications" mentioned by Pope Pius XII? Fr. Ceriani answers, presenting two possibilities:
a) "If the use of matrimony is limited exclusively to the periods of natural sterility deliberately so as to perpetually avoid the conception of a child, without any other reason than to satisfy sensuality and egoism, wishing to enjoy marriage while rejecting its inherent duties, a mortal sin would be committed, from the very first conjugal act, realized with this intention. 
b) "When matrimony is used exclusively on infertile days, with the intention of avoiding only temporarily, the conception of a child, there will be mortal sin when two or three children are not born as a consequence of this practice." 27 
Other moralists say the use of this practice, for the space of a year, without a proportional reason would already constitute a mortal sin. Father Goodwine states bluntly:
"There is a tendency to limit the discussion of periodic continence to questions of strict morality, to concentrate almost exclusively on right and wrong, to attempt to draw the line between what may and what may not be done without committing sin. All too often, such discussions lose sight of the Christian ideal of family life. Hardly ever do we hear any mention of the ideal of parenthood or of family life as the ideal type of married Life. "God instituted marriage as the means for the propagation of the race. The fruitful marriage, therefore, and not the sterile marriage, is the marriage that falls in best with God's plan. Having children is the primary goal of marriage. The family, therefore, consisting in father, mother and children is the ideal for the Christian. "There is something amiss when a couple wishes to marry, yet does not want to have any children; or determines to postpone having children for one, two or more years; or intends to have only three or four or six children but no more. A priest friend of mine likens such people to a young man, seeking ordination to the priesthood, who makes the stipulation that he will never have to say Mass, administer the sacraments, preach, or take duty. Such a young man would be seeking to avoid the very purposes for which men are ordained to the priesthood. So, too, the married couple who, without sufficient reason, fail to fulfill their purpose in life. Even the couple, which has a sufficient reason for practicing rhythm, can be counseled to do more than is required by duty; to strive deliberately and consciously after the ideal."

The Catholic Marriage Manual also states:
"Practicing rhythm is particularly inadvisable for young couples. During the early years of marriage, the emotional and physical needs for intercourse probably are at their greatest. Moreover, a young husband and wife who abstain during the fertile 'period have no way of knowing whether their marriage really will be fertile. And If they are not fertile, the best time to discover this condition is when they are young - and when cures for sterility have the best chance to succeed." 
If rhythm is not advisable for young couples, self-restraint is. Pius XI warns that the married should:
"use their matrimonial rights always in a Christian and sacred way, especially in the early days, so that, should circumstances subsequently require them to observe continence, their habit of self restraint will help them more easily to do so" (Casti Connubii, Dec. 31, 1930, 377).
It may indeed become absolutely necessary, especially because of the "medical indication", to avoid the conception of a child. It is then that the Church and ethical medical science recommend complete abstinence as the safest solution, providing it, too, can be kept without sin. "It will be objected, as it could be for periodic continence, "that such an abstention is impossible, that such heroism is asking too much." This, says Pius XII, is "a false conclusion." And to confirm his assertion the Pope quotes these words of the Council of Trent, taken from the works of St. Augustine:
"God does not command the impossible, but, while commanding, He warns thee to do what thou art able, and to pray for what thou art not able (to do), and He aids thee that thou mayest be able. (626). 
Pius XII explains:
"He who does not want to master himself is not able to do so, and he who wishes to master himself relying only upon his own powers, without sincerely and perseveringly seeking divine help, will be miserably deceived" (627).
Such ideas are indeed foreign to the society in which we live, in which there is little question of even entering into matrimony, never mind respecting its primary duty and also its sacred character. On the contrary, like Pius XII, we should deplore that the Christian dignity of matrimony has been smeared by a "Natural Family Planning" mentality, by this anti-Christian hedonism which inculcates the intense desire to ever increase the pleasure in the preparation and in the performance of the conjugal union; as if in matrimonial relations, the whole moral law were reduced to the normal performance of the act itself, and as all the rest, in whatever way it is done, were to be justified by the expression of mutual affection, sanctified by the Sacrament of Matrimony, worthy of praise and reward before God and conscience. There is no thought at all of the dignity of man and of the Christian - a dignity that restrains the excess of sensuality.
"No; the gravity and sanctity of the Christian moral law do not admit an unchecked satisfaction of the sexual instinct, tending only to pleasure and enjoyment,' they do not permit rational man to let himself be mastered to such an extent, neither as regards the substance nor the circumstances of the act. "There are some who would allege that happiness in marriage is in direct proportion to the reciprocal enjoyment in conjugal relations. It is not so indeed, happiness in marriage is in direct proportion to the mutual respect of the partners, even in their intimate relations,' not that they regard as immoral and refuse what nature offers and what the Creator has given, but because this respect, and the mutual esteem which it produces, is one of the strongest elements of a pure love, which, for this reason is more tender" (648,649,650).
The ideal of matrimony and its "sacrificial aspect" (770) preached by Pius XII (Message to the World congress of the Family, June 10, 1958) is at antipodes with contraception. One may well ask, is there, can there be a "Catholic alternative to contraception"? The answer is clearly no, if is sought another means to satisfy the passions, without assuming one's obligations. The answer is yes, if is sought the will of God. And what is this "alternative to contraception"? It could be, in some cases, we do not deny, periodic continence or, if necessary, perpetual abstinence. But it could also be a large family. Whatever it is, it will not be found without the Cross and sacrifice, for it is only by these that a Christian marriage will bring forth fruit. "Whosoever does not carry his Cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple" (Lc. 14;27).
Footnote: (1) The numbers in parentheses found throughout this article after certain papal statements refer to the paragraph numbers in Papal teachings MATRIMONY, Selected and arranged by the Benedictine Monks of Solesmes, St Paul Editions 1963.


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