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Question 7 – Extraordinary Synod on the Family

7. The Openness of the Married Couple to Life

a) What knowledge do Christians have today of the teachings of Humanae vitae on responsible parenthood? Are they aware of how morally to evaluate the different methods of family planning? Could any insights be suggested in this regard pastorally?

When was the last time the average Catholic heard a homily on Humanae vitae? We had a Dominican priest speak about it here at Holy Family Parish a few years ago and I got a letter of complaint and another one went to the Archdiocese. The dissenters count on silence and threaten to hold back financial support otherwise. Many priests also dissent (although they are an aging group) and one told me to my face that he assured penitents that taking the pill was responsible parenthood and not a sin. I chastised him in private and when he refused to change his errant ways I reported him to the Archdiocese. What happened? Nothing, he remained in place with a good size parish and school until he died a year ago. All most people know about the teaching is what the news media and biased family and friends tell them. Kids often stop taking catechesis in eighth grade and the more complicated topics like birth control are not age appropriate. Do our marriage preparation efforts bring it up? Humanae vitae requires a basic shared appreciation of Christian anthropology: the nature and purpose of the conjugal act, a respect for the dignity of persons, acknowledgment for the design of the Creator and his providence, and the inseparability of union and an openness to procreation. A general shallowness makes it difficult or impossible for many people to comprehend the Church’s argument. While fidelity was once procured because of a profound sense of duty and obedience; such comes across today as arbitrary and overly complicated. We cannot blindly trust in a deontology toward authority when Church leadership has been compromised and maligned. High school and young adult catechesis has to be broadened and made attractive. There is just no way to communicate a cohesive understanding of human personhood and values to children and disinterested adolescents. A grade-school catechesis does not prepare Catholic adults for responding as people of faith in the modern world.

b) Is this moral teaching accepted? What aspects pose the most difficulties in a large majority of couple’s accepting this teaching?

Do we even have to ask this question? The teaching is broadly rejected. Contraception is the easy way out and now with the HHS Mandate, it is free. Ours society takes pills for everything. We are conditioned to be pill takers. NFP would demand a degree of responsibility and abstinence that some find difficult. Not only are we dealing with sexual addiction, but there is a basic disconnect between the marital act and having babies. Fertility is increasing looked upon as a disease and pregnancy is the expensive curse that results. Contraception permits irresponsibility and the treatment of bodies as toys for recreation. The dignity of the human person is undermined.

c) What natural methods are promoted by the particular Churches to help spouses put into practice the teachings of Humanae vitae?

Various forms of NFP are promoted. Critics often confuse them with the older form of Rhythm which often failed because it wrongly treated all female cycles as the same.

d) What is your experience on this subject in the practice of the Sacrament of Penance and participation at the Eucharist?

Some would throw in my face that Father So-&-So said it was okay. At one time there was some debate. However, now it is almost never mentioned. They have been told that it is all up to their consciences. Of course, the clergy who told them this neglected to mention the need for a properly formed conscience. I doubt that many would even understand the meaning of a dynamic Christian conscience. It needs to be formed in such a way that any judgment made conforms to the truth and respects the Church. The same can be said about the Eucharist. Almost everyone receives, even those in bad marriages and in serious sin.

e) What differences are seen in this regard between the Church’s teaching and civic education?

The Church still generally teaches the orthodox position, but not everywhere. I know one girls’ high school where the religious sister said that she could not formally teach them about contraception but she could pass around a picture book (for educational purposes) with all the available forms of birth control imaged. Civic education is at least more honest, even if more hostile to the faith. Not only is artificial contraception taught, but condoms and similar services are rendered to students. Indeed, my public high school (Suitland, MD) regularly had the school nurse walking kids down to the local abortion clinic during our one hour lunch break. There is also disagreement on other topics like homosexuality and what constitutes tolerance.

f) How can a more open attitude towards having children be fostered? How can an increase in births be promoted?

Such can only be promoted if Catholics themselves are willing to be a real sign of contradiction. I know one couple with five or six children who are even harassed by parents and siblings for having “too many children.” They argue the economic issue and a lifestyle they are sacrificing. They speak about the environment and accuse them of being selfish for placing such an increased burden upon an already crowded world. Instead of converting the world, Catholics are increasingly trying to live traditional values within a self-imposed ghetto of like-minded “home-schooling” friends. Meanwhile, pressure is building to force them and others to conform to the contemporary hedonism. Benefits are being stripped from those who refuse to attend traditional schools. This has often landed families and home-schooling organizations in the courts. Some jurisdictions have attempted to outlaw home-schooling or to interfere with the curriculum. Is there a way to encourage larger and more faithful families without resorting to an isolation that might later make us more vulnerable to a hostile society? It seems to me that proper formation must come along with an aggressive evangelization. The Catholic/Christian message must be given its place in the public forum. That would also include the usage of all the modern technological ways that people communicate, today.

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