Friday, October 3, 2008

A Pet Peeve

While grabbing my links for the post below this one I noticed a rather jarring account of the Pope's message, which included the following:
The rhythm method is an acceptable form of contraception for couples in "dire circumstances" who need to space their children, the leader of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics wrote to participants in a seminar on the 1968 encyclical by Pope Paul VI.
I knew even before looking further that His Holiness Benedict XVI hadn't said any such thing. For one thing, the rhythm method is to NFP and other current natural methods of child spacing what the Apple iPhone is to the first successful telegraph machine, something Pope Benedict is clearly aware of; but then, too, there's that phrase, "dire circumstances," which fits into the media's playbook about how the evil Catholic Church wants women to have as many babies as is physically possible and/or die trying, but which never actually does crop up in any official church documents.

Fortunately, EWTN presents a clearer picture of what the pope actually said:

Benedict XVI recalls how "during a couple's life serious situations may arise that make it prudent to separate the births of children or even suspend them altogether. It is here that a knowledge of the natural rhythms of a woman's fertility become important".

"Methods of observation that enable a couple to determine periods of fertility", he continues, "allow them to administer what the Creator wisely inscribed in human nature without disturbing the integral meaning of sexual relations. In this way the spouses, while respecting the full truth of their love, can modulate the expression thereof in accordance with these rhythms. ... Clearly this requires a maturity in love, ... and mutual respect and dialogue".

The Pope then goes on to thank the Sacred Heart Catholic University for the support it gives the "Paulus VI International Scientific Research Institute on Human Fertility and Infertility for a Responsible Procreation", an organisation that seeks to "increase knowledge of methods for the natural regulation of human fertility and for the natural treatment of infertility".
Don't know about the rest of you, but I kind of see a big huge really important difference between what the secular media said the pope said and what the pope actually said. The first would cause spasms of painful unfounded guilt among many couples who are truly trying to discern God's will for their families and are using NFP or other natural means while doing so; the second makes it clear that Pope Benedict XVI is not giving some kind of grudging, tepid, backhanded support to natural means only for women in dire circumstances but is actually voicing the totally reasonable, truly Catholic way of looking at matters involving parenthood and the need for morally acceptable spacing of births under many different serious circumstances.

The secular media seldom gets the Church's teaching in regard to sexual morality, contraception, and morally licit spacing of births. My pet peeve is that this level of inaccuracy doesn't stop them from rushing to print anyway, and putting their usual spin (Pope Hates Sex!) on every article they write about the Church's teachings on human sexuality.


Charlotte said...

Your point about the secular/media interpretation on this matter is well taken and correct. However, I feel that *Catholics* themselves are the biggest mis-interpreters of Church teaching as concerns sexuality and fertility, etc. We all have individual experiences and mine (with my husband) have been anything but happy and clear-cut. Within our circle of orthodox Catholic friends, the varying opinions about what is "right" are all over place: Couples who say NFP is nothing but Catholic birth control and others who have thrown NFP to the wind and let babies come as they will to others who clearly keep mum on the subject for fear of being seen in an un-Catholic light. Not to mention middle-of-the-road Catholics who have heard of NFP, etc., and "think" they know what it's about, but don't, and quite frankly, are too scared to find out. Add into the mix people like Christopher West (great presenter, clarifies many things, but makes pronouncements that seem to be, at best, interpretations of Church teaching) and John and Sheila Kippley, who, I'm sorry, often sound to me like stern taskmasters setting the "rules" for all of us with little concern for individual/unique situations, and you've got a big ole' stew of information, teaching, and thoughts to untangle. FINALLY, mix in the advice and direction of your resident priest or spiritual director and you'll get every kind of advice and pronouncement under the sun. (I don't want to get too detailed or too personal, but for example, my husband and I have been counseled by MORE than one priest - including priests we know from experience are true to Church teachings - to use condoms on a temporary basis under situations of duress - AND - have been told by these priests that they can back up this advice not only with Church documents but also in tandem with local bishops' knowledge and agreement.) WHAT IS A CATHOLIC SUPPOSED TO DO WITH ALL THIS DIVERGENT INFORMATION AND THEN WE'RE SUPPOSED TO MAKE LIFE AND DEATH DECISIONS? My husband and I have thrown up our hands and decided to go with our own prayerful consciences because the "Church" (as represented by people like the Kippleys) either comes off as unbending, unsympathetic, and unknowledgeable as to what real people experience in their marriages OR the "Church" (via the priests we go to for direction, clarification, and help) seems to say exactly the opposite of what you thought the Church was saying/teaching. My emotions, intellect, fertility, and sex life have had it! My husband and I live in a constant state of confusion and wonderment on this whole issue. In my opinion, I just wish Rome would take the next step and write/publish a definitive guide on this subject that lays it all out clearly and concisely for the average Catholic who who wants to follow Christ and allow God to be master of their fertility and sex life. I know this comment may set off a firestorm of responses, but I'm just being honest about my feelings of frustration. These comments are NOT intended to suggest that we should ignore Theology of the Body, etc. Not at all! But on the otherhand, when a topic like this becomes so burdensome that it interferes with your spiritual life and the togetherness/love you wish to express with your spouse, I say, I'm going it alone (mostly).

Charlotte said...

Erin - I pulled this discussion into my own blog, you can take it there or leave it here, or both, whatever you want.

Red Cardigan said...

That's fine, Charlotte. I don't agree with some of what you've been told, but we are still in a climate of confusion in some of these matters, and it doesn't help when priests don't appear to know what the Church is teaching, or why.

Anonymous said...

Pope Benedict's statements may be comprehensible by the theologians he was speaking to, but not very many other people could pin down exactly what he means when he advises us to 'administer' what God has 'inscribed in human nature, without disturbing the integral meaning of sexual relations' and 'modulate the expression' of our married love 'in accordance with the 'rhythms' of fertility and infertility. I can hardly blame the secular press, writing for the average grade five level reader, for shaking her head very vigourously and writing...okay, I heard the word rhythm, so he is still saying to use the rhythm method. Couldn't the Pope, or someone who advises him and understands that we are not all theologians, tell him to use some clear language that we all understand? To use the term Natural Family Planning, that has been in use internationally for decades? To refer to the many organizations that teach couples how to observe and interpret their fertility signs, so that they know that it works. Then allow the couple to grow, allow the Holy Spirit to do His part in leading us to trust. If only one university and one institute and one teaching group is given the Pope's okay, how limiting is that? Remember when Jesus was told--in outrage--about people outside 'their' group casting out demons in 'His' name?

Tim J. said...

The most irritating aspect of this kind of MSM coverage is that they simply will not be corrected. These mistakes have been pointed out time and again, but they ignore their blunders and charge ahead.

They will make precisely the same mistake 100 or 1000 times. This is not the behavior of someone interested in facts. It is wish fulfillment. They WANT to believe the Church is backward and barbaric, and they won't hear evidence to the contrary.

lwestin said...

Obviously the term 'rhythm' was inaccurate, and the journalist should have done better there. I'm afraid I don't see much difference in the use of 'dire circumstances' and 'serious situations'.

I have experienced a vast difference in 'presentations' from 'loophole' presentations to very spiritual ones. Although informed about NFP, we did not feel it a necessary part of our lives. We could not imagine circumstances 'dire' enough to warrant use. For us.

'For us' is the key. People need to properly form their consciences, and then use their consciences. This is not something others can do for them. Its personal. What may look like an excuse from the outside, may not be. We are , none of us, 'qualified' to judge another's decision of conscience.

On another note, I have several times been chastised for 'irresponsibility' because of NOT using NFP. Also called a 'dangerous fanatic' because I have eight children, without using NFP. Lots of judgement to go around apparantly.

Red Cardigan said...

Lwestin, there's a great deal of difference between "dire" circumstances and "serious" ones. "Dire," as defined by an online dictionary, means:

"1. Warning of or having dreadful or terrible consequences; calamitous...
2. Urgent; desperate..."

While "serious" from the same dictionary means (among other meanings which I've left out because they aren't germane to this use of it, such as "serious" study of a subject):

"1. Grave in quality or manner..."
"3. Concerned with important rather than trivial matters..."

If we're going to form our consciences correctly on the use of NFP or other natural means of child spacing, we need to know that the Church does *not* teach that we must be urgently facing desperate calamity or disaster before it's morally acceptable for us to even consider discussing the possibility of NFP use with our spouses.

"Grave" and "serious" are sometimes used interchangeably, which is fine so long as the English speaker using them understands that "grave" doesn't mean the mother faces the real prospect of ending up IN the grave before it's okay to postpone; rather, "grave" and "serious" are meant to mean the same thing, which is that the reasons under discussion shouldn't be trivial ones.

But "dire" clearly means something much more dreadful in import than "serious" does. A serious reason for NFP use might be maternal physical or mental health factors, financial trouble that makes providing for the needs of one's existing children somewhat precarious at the present time, or a lapse in health insurance due to a job change, for example; if we are going by "dire," then another pregnancy would have to mean that Mom faces certain death or the family total penury/starvation or some equally catastrophic circumstance before NFP would be justified.

So, if "dire" was the word the Church really wanted to use, then she would use it, knowing full well that most people currently using NFP would suddenly not be able to consider their reasons "just" (another word the Church uses in discussing NFP, btw). But she does not, and news reporters who use it don't do faithful Catholics any favors by reporting a word the Church has never, to my knowledge, used in any official context when discussing NFP.

eulogos said...

Honestly, if you looked at the history of the issue, it was a big concession that the church allowed NFP at all.

My own feeling is that Red Cardigan's set of criteria come rather close to taking the use of NFP as a norm. She isn't quite at the "Use NFP instead of contraception" level. But I feel as if, the way she puts it, it would be an easy move to that level.

There is some kind of continuum from serious to grave to dire, but in my understanding of the English language, grave is closer to dire than it is to serious. The encyclicals of course, wasn't written in English; who knows Latin well enough to grasp the nuances of the word used? You would probably have to look into the state of the discussion at the time and what kinds of circumstances were being discussed which made the issue pressing, to get at the intent. (A kind of historical criticism applied to the text of the encyclical!)
My feeling is that the history of the position the church took about this subject would lead one to conclude that something closer to dire was meant. I also don't know in what language the Pope's recent talk was made and again translation is an issue. If after investigation he is using a word closer to serious than to grave or even dire, then it is an indication that there has been movement on this issue in the mind of the church.

At least one ought to understand the historical attitudes as a reference point. Whether this historical reference point is part of the doctrine today, is, I think clearly disputable. It is one of those open and unresolved points.

Considering that those using NFP are clearly accepting limitations to the use of marital sex in order to obey the church, or in order to use their sexuality in accordance with God's plan, there should be no doubt that they are faithful Catholics no matter what criteria they use.

I do want to point out, though, that giving a lapse in medical insurance coverage as a serious reason to postpone pregnancy, assumes a middle class situation. Many people in this country live most of their lives without medical insurance. A couple composed of a short order cook and a part time nursing assistant in a nursing home would be unlikely to have medical insurance, yet their income puts them above medicaid eligibility levels. There are "just for pregnancy and birth" insurance programs run by many states which are accepted at clinics, and in which one wouldn't have much of a choice of one's doctor or birth situation. Sometimes, in some states, alas, being married to someone who works at all disqualifies women for these programs (another marriage disincentive built into the poverty benefits system). So do you think short order cooks and nurses aides should never marry? If they marry, they have to intend to have at least some kids. Yet they may never escape a level of insecurity which you would indicate as a serious reason to use NFP to avoid pregnancy. And that is just considering people in 'first world' countries.

[disclosure; I didn't have medical insurance during many of my pregnancies; sometimes I had some, very inadequate insurance. I didn't pay off the bill for the first child until around the time the third was born, and I must have been paying for the second and third for years, although this has become blurry in my mind. After that I had a doctor who accepted whatever insurance I had as complete payment, or 'courtesied' the charge if I had none. I had the rest of the babies at home so there was no hospital bill. A $75 charge for my RhoGam shot was all I paid for several pregnancies. Few people are this lucky. I have friends who were completely dependent on free clinics, and one friend who had her seventh baby without any contact with a medical provider, something one cannot recommend. I just say this to jolt the discussion a bit out of the setting of middle class expectations. )

I see that I have switched from refering to our blog host in the third person to the second person. I apologize for whichever is the more offensive. I probably should have addressed Erin directly from the first. Saying "you" sounded challenging and accusatory.

And, Iwestin, congratulations on your eight. I don't know if you are still in your childbearing years, but if you are, I think you can at least imagine some circumstances which are past serious and into grave and even dire. One friend with nine children suddenly found herself RH sensitized during the ninth pregnancy, despite having had RhoGam whenever it was recommended. That baby experienced minor consequences, but it could be expected that another would experience more serious consequences and the situation would worsen after that. She had no more. There are women who develop cardiomyopathy during a pregnancy even when they bore several children previously without a problem. Some women wind up with dangerously stretched uteri which threaten rupture. Then there are family situations; perhaps the father in not mentally completely stable and the thought of the burden of the responsibility of another child tends to destabilize him even though he wishes to welcome it.
I was blessed to be able to have my nine children, though in poverty and in a rather stressed marriage, and you to have your eight, perhaps in better circumstances than that. But I don't think we can say we can't imagine a point where it was time to stop. But then, I think you were just saying you were able to welcome them and didn't feel a need to set a limit.

I have gone on too long here.
Blessings to all!
Susan Peterson

Red Cardigan said...

"My own feeling is that Red Cardigan's set of criteria come rather close to taking the use of NFP as a norm. She isn't quite at the "Use NFP instead of contraception" level. But I feel as if, the way she puts it, it would be an easy move to that level."

Well, Susan, I can only say you're wrong here. I'm the second of nine, and had every intention of having as big and boisterous a family as the one I came from, until my health problems surfaced. Sometimes God's plans for us are different from what we'd plan for ourselves, and I think you're being a bit harsh, here, considering that I have talked about my personal reasons for using NFP and my growing awareness that despite the caricatures, few if any Catholic couples embrace the cross that is NFP for some kind of empty frivolous reason like "we want to buy a new boat."

Each of my deliveries cost in excess of $2000-$3000 out of *our* pockets, and that was only a fraction of the 12K plus that the hospital was charging us--the rest was covered by insurance. And, no, we couldn't have gone on government health insurance or any other aid, not unless my husband quit his job in the middle of one of my pregnancies. Home birth is not an option for a woman whose first two pregnancies involved preeclampsia, either.

But it's so easy for us to judge each other, isn't it? If anything, that's why I write so passionately about this subject. We need to put charity first, no matter what; it's not up to us to judge the seriousness of each other's reasons to use NFP, or the decision not to do so.

And as far as the encyclical (Humanae Vitae) goes, the Latin word used is perfectly clear: the word "seriis," which gets translated "serious" means "serious or earnest." That's it. No connotation whatsoever of "on your deathbed, and even then you should chose the heroic death in childbirth before ever thinking about NFP" which is how a lot of people like to think of it.

If we're going to consider history, we might consider the fact that a woman who had eighteen pregnancies and nine births during the course of her married life would be considered lucky beyond belief to raise four or five of the children to adulthood for most of human history, which puts the Church's view of natural family planning in context. Moreover, until the split between East and West the notion of "fasting" from marital relations during certain times, and even after the split in the West at times especially before receiving Communion (some confessors used to counsel married couples to abstain from marital relations at least a week before approaching the Holy Altar to receive the Eucharist) was a common practice, though no one has ever documented this practice's effect on family size.

I have personally encountered women who have suffered terribly because they believed that only "dire" reasons would "allow" them to use NFP, including women who have had mental breakdowns because they ignored the warning signs of such problems as postpartum depression or other mental ills. Those things just weren't "dire" enough, but each subsequent child added to the pressure until it all became too much. We should be wary of placing a heavier burden on married couples than the Church does; in charity for each other, we should try to avoid this!

Charlotte said...

Thanks, Erin, for pointing out, correctly, that we're all so quick to judge each other. I just asked that very same question on my blog - and if I had went further, I would have asked: Why is the SPECIFIC topic of NFP so divisive amongst Catholics? When I read other blog discussions on NFP it seems to always degrade into pointing fingers at one another, which is another reason why some Catholics, I think, don't even want to learn about it - they see how all the "good" Catholics are acting and think they don't want to be a "good" Catholic if that's what it's like. We need to think about how these discussions can be perceived by those from the "outside."

Charlotte (Matilda) said...

Why is the SPECIFIC topic of NFP so divisive amongst Catholics?

Because as fallen humans so many people want to prove that their way is "the right way" and if someone else made a different decision it is perceived as a negative judgment of someone who chose differently.

Personally, I think it also has a lot to do with our generation reacting to the changes of the previous generation who was not interested in truth, limits or rules. The people in the Church today seems to be saying, "Just tell me exactly what I have to do to get to Heaven and I will do it." The notion that there might be different paths to the same Heavenly destination sounds too much like the hippy-drippy messages spewed from the ones who came before us.

eulogos said...

I tried to moderate my comments so as not to be offensive but I guess I didn't succeed. I wasn't talking about your practice, Erin. And it never occurred to me to question your choices related to your health problems.

I must say I am aghast at the cost of having a baby. Is this the normal cost of having a baby? My last was born in 1989, and at that point my husband had gotten his post office job and did have insurance. I think the doctor/midwife practice (not the one who did it free when I didn't have insurance, since I had moved) charged something like $1000 or $1500, which the insurance paid most of. I might have had to pay a few hundred, plus my rhogam shot. And yes, I was very lucky to have no major health problems and to be able to deliver at home. I did start out with a C section and had to fight my way to the place where I felt able to have babies at home; I had some without a birth attendant, but with the availability of a back up doctor for advice and to meet me at the hospital should that be necessary. But all the determination in the world would not have overcome some health problems, which it is certainly no virtue of mine not to have had but an unmerited blessing.

My general feeling, not aimed at you, is that a lot of people cheat themselves out of the joys of having more than a few children because they are afraid of insecurity and falling below the middle class. There is considerable territory between there, and the situations you describe. I haven't met these people who think they mustn't use NFP even to the point of mental breakdown. In fact, I know few people who even use NFP. Of my three friends who didn't contracept, one used NFP to some degree for spacing but was not too wholehearted about it until a health problem developed with the ninth pregnancy. Her husband had a steady job not paying a whole lot of money, on which they somehow lived fairly comfortably. One was blessed by long breastfeeding infertility and had fairly wide spacing of her nine. Her husband sometimes had good work supervising construction projects, and then was intermittently unemployed, so sometimes she had some insurance and often she didn't, but then there were clinics available. I believe they paid midwives for some of their home births in kind as her husband was a fine cabinetmaker and would make something beautiful for the midwife. (I myself caught her eighth and ninth babies, requiring as a condition of my doing this that she have prenatal care from the clinic, not be anemic, and have a sonogram to show that she was carrying one baby head down.) Although not financially secure they were a close and happy family, on the whole, as families go. Another friend, a college graduate herself, was married to an uneducated man who worked sporadically on crab and oyster boats and as a housepainter; he was also an alcoholic. As poor as I have been I could not myself have endured the level of insecurity that she did, all the while taking good care of her children and giving them one unshakable fixed point. I mean living without heat or hot water, sleeping in front of a fireplace and feeding all the kids on her WIC checks. I mean being kicked out of apartments and living in motels, living in campers and hiding them in the country so they wouldn't be repossessed. Our friendship wavered because at one point I looked on the chaos of her life and told her she had to leave him, and she was angry at me. I don't think for a minute that she believed NFP was wrong in her circumstances, but it isn't easy to practice NFP in such chaos without any hope of cooperation from one's partner. She was really a good Catholic and didn't believe in either contraception or divorce, and I believe she really loved this man. There was never any physical abuse of her or the kids, just drinking up what money he made, crashing their trucks, and so on. They wound up having eleven children. He settled down to a very great degree, eventually, and they actually have owned a house now for a number of years, something I would never have thought possible. At one point she went back to school and earned a master's degree, but he wasn't happy with her not at home and she didn't pursue it further. For a while she wrote a column for her local paper. Her oldest child is an accountant and owns a restaurant and helps the other children get started. In this situation my friend's loyalty to her husband and her openness to life was finally rewarded with a degree of security and peace, when no sane and reasonable person could have thought such a thing possible. The children I met the last time I visited her seemed relatively unscathed. I understand the child who is an accountant has reacted by taking great care for financial security, but I am not sure anyone would say that means she is scarred by her life.

I am not sure exactly how this speaks to the point, except that it gives me a sense that accepting life with generosity is possible and has its rewards in many less than ideal circumstances. I don't think either of the two friends who had a lot of financial insecurity, would have been wrong to use NFP to postpone a child during particularly trying times, but particularly trying times and NFP don't always go together too well. In retrospect I know they are both glad for all the children they have.

That is my real caveat, I guess, to too much prudence about finances. In the end, as long as you can make it somehow, a child is the most valued outcome. With respect to health, just so long as a doctor isn't telling a woman she medically shouldn't have more when this is really his social and political opinion, which does happen, but if there is a real problem for mother or potential baby, that is a whole different story.

As far as the history goes, I don't believe that even the intention of avoiding children in marriage was accepted . I said that I didn't think this needed to be our guide now. We have a more developed theology of the other purposes of marriage. The church has steered a course for us between an absolute condemnation of any birth limitation and buying into the whole modern contraception thing.
That channel is marked for us so that we could almost forget that it was a difficult channel to mark. For me, this is one of the evidences that the Holy Spirit is alive in the church.

And the channel, difficult as it was to mark, does have some width to it. People can take an attitude somewhat more prudential, or somewhat more providential, and still be steering inside the channel.

Susan Peterson

Red Cardigan said...

Susan, I appreciate your comments; I think that the problem with deciding what constitutes too much or too little prudence (or too much or too little providentialism) is that we really can't tell from the outside of a marriage. The couple, in concert with their spiritual advisers, are the only ones who can know for sure.

As far as childbirth costs go, yes, two different resources I found quoted somewhere between $7,800 and $10,000 for a normal uncomplicated delivery in a hospital today; granted, this will vary some by region, but as an average it's about that much. Insurance for most people will cover about 3/4ths of that, though some people's plans cover most of it while other people's plans can leave them with 40% or more of the costs.

Some of mine were slightly higher because the first two were completely induced about 3.5 to four weeks early; the extra costs would be for the induction drugs/monitoring etc.

So it's not really possible for most people who are, perhaps, temporarily uninsured but do not qualify for Medicaid or similar aid programs to pay this bill in cash in anything like a reasonable amount of time; bear in mind that pregnancy is a "preexisting condition" for many insurers, meaning they aren't always required to pay costs for a pregnancy begun *before* the coverage was purchased.