Archive for the ‘NFP Week 2008’ Category

Humanae Vitae: The Perfect Storm

Saturday, July 26th, 2008

The Perfect Storm

As viewers of The Perfect Storm know, this refers to a horrendously destructive North Atlantic storm caused by the convergence of several factors.  Any one of them would have made for a bad storm; but it was their convergence that caused a storm of epic proportions.

I think that the same can be said about the storm of discontent and dissent that arose after the publication of Humanae Vitae.  Seven factors can be identified that contributed to make a perfect storm that battered the Church with great destruction at the time and whose damaging legacy still continues. 

1.  Very short birth intervals. 
2.  Widespread ignorance about all forms of natural family planning.
3.  The appearance of the Pill
4.  The lack of defense of the Catholic Tradition in the years preceding Humanae Vitae.
5.  The effects of irenic ecumenism. 
6.  A post-Vatican II attitude of change. 
7.  The loss of breastfeeding, especially the ecological breastfeeding that postpones the return of fertility. 

1.  The late 1940s, the entire decade of the Fifties, and the early 1960s were marked by an almost unprecedented high birth rate.  The veterans of World War II married in the Forties and wanted nothing more than to raise a family.  Perhaps the experience of so much death and destruction helped them to appreciate the value of life and family.  This was the age of the baby boom and real estate developments, new schools and double sessions.  This was also the age of babies coming every year, especially among Catholics and other Christians who eschewed unnatural forms of birth control.  By the mid-1960s, the frequency of birth intervals had led to generally large families.  In addition, many mothers were feeling extremely fatigued, and some were experiencing health problems related to having a baby every 12 months or so. 

2.  Ignorance about all forms of natural family planning was amazingly widespread.  Many Catholics and other Christians and even seculars had used Calendar Rhythm in the Thirties and Forties.  Our landlord in 1964 told us that they had used the rhythm method with 100% success in spacing the births of their three children in the Thirties.  Further, there was a general reluctance on the part of the Catholic clergy to inform couples about the rhythm method out of fear that they would use it selfishly.  I heard of an older priest in the Seventies who was opposed to our teaching modern NFP because he thought that couples should have ten children before resorting to NFP.  He was quite an exception at that time, but he may not have been so unusual in the Fifties.  It almost seems that there was a considerable loss of common knowledge about the rhythm method during the Fifties.  The highly accurate calendar-temperature method had been taught and promoted in some areas since the 1940s, but the most widely read Catholic marriage manual in the 50s and 60s mentioned only calendar rhythm and provided no rules.  Readers were advised they could get those from their pastors.  Rhythm then came to get a bad name because many had picked up the general idea but didn’t know the rules.  We were a classic example.  We had heard that ovulation was supposed to take place about mid-cycle, and we had heard that egg life was short, but we had never heard about the calendar-temperature method.  So in 1963 we thought that to abstain for a couple days on either side of the presumed day of ovulation was to practice the rhythm method.  Since we had hoped only to delay the first birth for a year, we were pleased to postpone pregnancy for a few months with our first child coming 13 ½ months after our wedding.  

 3.  There is no question that the development of the birth control Pill in the 1950s and its mass marketing in 1960 added a whole new dimension to the birth control issue.  It added the aura of something “scientific,” and it brought birth control advertising from little ads for foams and jellies in women’s magazines to four-color full page ads in all sorts of publications aimed at women and doctors alike.  It raised theological confusion because some were saying that it was just a form of regulating ovulation and was not a contraceptive.  This in turn led to the appointment of the papal birth control commission, and the very fact that the issue was being studied was enough for some to think that the whole birth control teaching was under review and therefore doubtful and therefore not binding, at least until it was clarified.  That wasn’t so, but that was a not uncommon perception, especially among some of the liberal clergy who were not bashful about sharing their opinions. 

4.  During the early and mid-1960s, there was no shortage of articles calling for a reexamination of Catholic teaching on the birth control issue, and this was particularly true in 1964-1968.  The problem that also contributed to the perfect storm was the lack of articles both in the popular Catholic press as well as in the more theological journals to respond to advocates of change.  Pope Paul VI had said some things in 1964 that could be interpreted as saying we should cool it.  It had no effect on the agents of change, but when I wrote my first article on the subject in 1966, I felt almost a bit guilty of publicly entering the fray.  But I felt something had to be said, and the article, “Holy Communion: Eucharistic and Marital,” was published on February 25, 1967. 

5.  Also important was the irenicism that characterized the ecumenical movement within the Church since the 1965 end of Vatican Council II.  Some Catholics who read certain Protestant theologians seemed to think that about the only thing that separated us was the birth control issue, so let’s not say anything about it.  That’s an almost verbatim quote from one of my theology classmates who was also engaged in parish adult education.  That get-along attitude diminished considerably as one Protestant body after another climbed on the abortion bandwagon, but it was still pervasive at the time of Humanae Vitae

6.  Important also was an overall atmosphere of change.  The discipline of Friday abstinence had been changed.  The Liturgy had been changed.  We were singing hymns written by Protestants.  Writers were advocating a change in the teaching on birth control and not being excommunicated or penalized in any way.  The sexual revolution was in full swing.  Change was in the air. 

7.  Of special importance to us are the effects of the bottle-feeding culture within the Church as well as in the culture.  Pope Pius XII took time out from his busy wartime schedule in the fall of 1941 to urge all mothers to breastfeed their babies if at all possible.  This was very important.  Here we had the Vicar of Christ urging mothers to breastfeed their babies.  But who ever heard of it?  I know we had learned about it by 1995—54 years after the event—when we were writing the Fourth Edition of The Art of NFP, but I cannot remember if we knew of it much before then.  We probably learned of it through Dr. Herbert Ratner, who wrote about it in Child and Family magazine, and Fr. W. Dennis Virtue who quoted it in his 1994 doctoral dissertation, Mother and Infant

What if the Church in general had picked up on the exhortation of Pius XII?  What if bishops and priests had really welcomed, encouraged, and promoted the work of La Leche League when it was founded in 1956?  What if a very significant proportion of Catholic mothers were doing the sort of breastfeeding then promoted by LLL, something quite close to eco-breastfeeding, and what if the mothers were having babies on the average of every two years instead of every year?  For these moms the panic and fatigue factors of annual babies would have been greatly reduced, and they would have a much better appreciation of God’s way of doing things. 

If we look back and ask “What if?” we can see that there is little that could be done about some of the factors that made up the perfect storm of discontent and dissent.  There is nothing that dioceses and parishes could do about the invention of the Pill or the lack of responses to the agents of change, although much more could have been done in the pulpit.  There is not too much that the local Church could have done about an overly irenic ecumenism or the spirit of change.  What the local Church could have done is to make sure that parishioners knew as much about NFP as was then known including both the highly effective calendar-temperature form of NFP and a very natural form of breastfeeding.  This combination would have greatly helped families to avoid the duress of annual births and sometimes having three children in diapers. 

What if there had been a large proportion of young Catholic families who had been well informed about breastfeeding and the calendar-temperature method (today’s STM without the mucus)?  I think this would have robbed the dissenters of the huge percentage of parents in their 20s and 30s who were feeling panicked and therefore discontent.  There would have been large numbers who could cite their own experience in favor of the Tradition.  In short, the dissent movement would have made a big fuss, but it would not have been the perfect storm whose damage still surrounds us. 

Applied to today, it seems to me that the modern parish is making a big mistake if it does not require engaged couples to attend a full course on NFP.  By a full course I mean one that includes specific teaching on marital chastity and teaches ecological breastfeeding for the natural spacing of babies as well as for the well-being of mother and baby.  It has to happen.  The question is, how long it will take for pastors to do it?

Tomorrow: Upcoming World Breastfeeding Week: Going for the Gold.

John F. Kippley
Sex and the Marriage Covenant

Humanae Vitae: What to Do for the Next 40 Years?

Friday, July 25th, 2008

Today is the 40th Anniversary of Humanae Vitae!  What about the next 40 years?

If you were born in 1950, you would have been 18 in 1968, and you were probably not vitally affected by all the turmoil that summer about Humanae Vitae.  If you were born after 1950, you were probably even less interested that summer, but almost every Catholic born after 1950 learned about it later and how to dissent from it.  You may have been taught that the dissent was something purely spontaneous or, on the other hand, that it was based on serious theological reflection on what the encyclical actually said and taught.  Both versions are inaccurate.

Prior to 1960, birth control was more or less a taboo subject.  You didn’t read about it in the papers, but after the Pill was mass marketed in 1960, birth control almost immediately became the daily or weekly news subject that it still is today.  In this context, liberal Catholics began to publish their wishful thinking.  They were hoping that because the operation of the Pill was not immediately seen, it might be considered as a medical regulation of ovulation rather than a form of contraception or sterilization.  They wrote magazine articles and pamphlets, and lucky was the parish that didn’t have these publications available in the church literature racks.  They tried to assure their readers of two things.  First they tried to show that the Church could change its teaching on birth control and still claim that it hadn’t changed infallible teaching and therefore could still be consistent in claiming to teach infallibly on matters of faith and morals.  Second, they would almost invariably assure their readers that they would accept the decision of the Pope, whatever it was.  Maybe they were sincere at the time, but they certainly switched tracks. 

The dissent was ignited before most people including bishops had a chance to read the encyclical.  Very importantly, it was well orchestrated.  The results were disastrous, and almost any informed Catholic could easily fill a column with the damaging effects of the sexual revolution that started with the acceptance of marital contraception. 

The big question is this:  What is to be done in the next 40 years?

Let us assume that the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae might mark the end of the modern Babylonian Captivity of the Church by the liberal dissenters.  They are dying and not being replaced.  Their arguments have been analyzed and found to be hollow.  Does that meant that the laity will more or less automatically accept the teaching of Humanae Vitae?  By no means.  What the dissenters have succeeded in doing is changing a whole culture within the Church.  At one time Catholics were known for being different; today they are known for having assimilated the neo-pagan secular culture of the West.  True, there are many Catholics who continue to stand out in the counter-cultural effort to stop abortion, and undoubtedly some head up good abstinence-only programs for adolescents.  But by and large, marital contraception and a process of marriage, divorce, annulment and remarriage are more or less taken for granted.  Further, for the most part the liberals still control institutions of Catholic education from grade school through colleges.  Even marriage preparation right within the parish may be seriously tainted.  Will non-repentant contracepting and sterilized parishioners teach lifelong acceptance of Humanae Vitae?

In 1989 a committee of U.S. bishops issued a document on marriage preparation that was a great step in the right direction.  They urged that every engaged couple should be required to attend a full course in natural family planning as a normal part of preparation for Christian marriage.  Some 19 years later, there are only about a half-dozen dioceses that have announced such a policy, and the recommendation was not repeated in the bishops’ 2006 booklet on natural family planning. 

Obviously, there needs to be a thorough house-cleaning in many institutions of Catholic education.  That may take time, and it will be complicated by the tenure of many dissenters.  But what bishops can do right now is to insist on a thoroughly Catholic preparation for marriage.  That means that everyone connected with diocesan and parish marriage preparation needs to believe and practice in accord with Humanae Vitae and the other relevant teachings such as Donum Vitae regarding in vitro fertilization, etc. 

With regard to NFP courses, bishops and priests need to realize that differences in NFP programs are not limited to differences in methodology (only one sign or crosschecking signs, etc.)  Of more importance is whether any given program transmits the call to chaste Christian discipleship or is simply a short course on the female reproductive system.  To be very specific, do NFP programs convey Catholic teaching against the sins to which married couples are tempted during the times of abstinence—masturbation and marital sodomy?  Masturbation includes mutual and solitary acts; marital sodomy includes oral and anal copulation.  Published surveys have reported that oral-genital copulation has been accepted by over half of teenagers in some parts of the country.  If such people later find themselves in a required NFP course, won’t they be thinking in the same terms to avoid abstinence?  Yet, from what I can gather, this unpleasant subject is simply not addressed within the NFP movement except by the program headed by my wife and myself, NFP International.  If I’m wrong, please correct me. 

So, yes, requiring engaged couples to attend a full NFP course is important, but how can it lead couples to the practice of marital chastity if it does not teach chastity?  The goal of Church-related NFP instruction is not just fertility awareness but Christian chastity.  The NFP course offers bishops and priests an excellent opportunity to evangelize their young people, and it can make a difference.  Bishops and priests, however, need to ensure that the courses to which they are sending couples are making a conscious effort to place NFP in the context of authentic, chaste Christian discipleship.  To see how we attempt this, you can read Chapter 1 of our online NFP How-to manual, Natural Family Planning, at the top of our home page.  Your comments about our blogs, our NFP manual, and other website items are always welcome.

Readers might be interested in an informative comment posted at the end of the July 23rd blog on Humanae Vitae and Sterilization.

Tomorrow: The Perfect Storm 

John F. Kippley
Sex and the Marriage Covenant: A Basis for Morality

The Repentant Sterilized Couple

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

The Repentant Sterilized Couple

Imagine that you had yourself sexually sterilized at a time when your faith was weak, and then something happened to wake you up.  You somehow heard that your Catholic Church taught that such behavior was immoral.  You realized you should not be receiving Holy Communion in such a state.  Then you learn about systematic NFP.  Now you are really mad.  Why didn’t someone tell you years ago?  You wish that you had never been sterilized.  You would like to have it reversed and then practice systematic NFP and periodic abstinence during the fertile time.  Then you learn about all the costs of reversal surgery, and you break out in a cold sweat.  You would have to put a second mortgage on the house, and you can barely make your current payments right now.  You have what many would say is an “extraordinary” financial burden to attempt to restore your fertility.  What can you do?  Are you required to abstain for the rest of your fertile years?  Or can you go to confession, confess the sin of mutilation, do the penance assigned by the priest, and have no change in your subsequent behavior?  Or after confession are you obliged to abstain during the fertile time, that is, practice systematic NFP for avoiding pregnancy?

Let us further imagine you find my book, Sex and the Marriage Covenant: A Basis of Morality.  Let’s imagine that the idea that the marriage act ought to be a renewal of your marriage covenant makes sense to you, and that you realize that contraceptive behavior contradicts this built-in meaning of the marriage act.  Then you read its chapter on “The Sterilized Couple.”  You read that well respected theologians of the recent past have taught that repentant sterilized couples should undergo reversal surgery and then practice systematic NFP if they had a serious reason to avoid pregnancy. 

Now it gets confusing.  You learn that some theologians say that if a couple have an extraordinary reason not to have reversal surgery, they don’t have to have the reversal surgery and they also don’t have to abstain during the fertile time.  To use the vernacular, all they have to do is confess it and they are “home free.”  Just a few prayers.  No reversal.  Continued sexual sterility.  No abstinence.  It sounds too easy to be true, and that’s my opinion. 

Why does it sound too easy to be true?  Can you think of any sin where repentance doesn’t call for a change in behavior?  More directly, can you think of any sexual sin where repentance does not involve a change of behavior?  Of course not.  So what is so special about the sins of sexual sterilization and consequent sins of contraceptively sterilized intercourse? 

I am convinced that repentant sterilized couples are obliged to practice the same marital chastity as normal fertile couples who believe they have sufficiently serious reasons to avoid pregnancy.  That means that they will practice systematic NFP with chaste abstinence during the fertile time.

In a previous discussion on this matter, I was accused of imposing an unnecessary burden on repentant sterilized couples.  This raises a question about my accusers’ attitude towards systematic NFP?  Do they think that the self-discipline of periodic abstinence is some sort of extraordinary burden?  A burden, yes.  Extraordinary, no.  Far from it, such self-discipline is the normal practice of every chaste married couple once they reach the point where they are still mutually fertile but think that God is not calling them to have any more children. 

In my opinion, the “too easy to be true” advice may be the single biggest reason why Catholics frequently resort to sterilization.  What comes across is a simple one-sin, one confession approach to a complex and enduring sinful situation.  “Get sterilized.  Go to confession.  Say your penance prayers.  And you are home free to have as much sterilized sex as you can.” 

Are the sterilized couples who take such an approach truly repentant?  Are some priests teaching such couples that the canonical penance—the few prayers usually assigned as penance—constitutes the true repentance called for by the Lord?  Doesn’t repentance mean “I wish I had not done it.”?  Doesn’t repentance also entail the attitude that “if I had it to do all over again, I wouldn’t do it”?  Applied to sterilization, doesn’t that mean that the repentant sterilized couple wishes they had not done it and would not do it over again?  And doesn’t that mean that they wish they were still fertile?  And if so, would they not be practicing systematic NFP if they had a sufficiently serious reason to avoid pregnancy?  And so, how could such a repentant couple or their consulting priest think that the obligation to abstain during the fertile time as part of their change of heart is somehow out-of-the-ordinary? 

Sometimes I wonder if those who think that my position is too demanding actually think that systematic NFP is too demanding for real men.  If so, that implies that those of us who have accepted it are really sort of an effete elite.  On the contrary, I suggest that the real men of the Church and of our culture are those who accept the great challenge of chastity in a sexually saturated society.  Most such men and their spouses readily admit that chaste periodic abstinence is difficult and that they need prayer and grace to live a life of Christian chastity.  Not easy but true. 

I am convinced that this “too easy to be true” confessional practice must be changed as part of the authentic reform and renewal needed in moral theology.

*  *  *

Allow me to suggest that you obtain and read Sex and the Marriage Covenant: A Basis for Morality.  I don’t know where else you will find a 20-page chapter supporting the argument that the repentant sterilized couple ought to practice systematic NFP.  Father Peter M. J. Stravinskas expresses the same conviction in The Catholic Answer Book (OSV, 1990).  My chapter not only quotes him but also addresses at some length the various objections to our common conviction.

Tomorrow: What to do for the next 40 years?

John F. Kippley
Sex and the Marriage Covenant