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".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.
"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".
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.