By Fr. Bernard Haering, C.SS.R.
Fr. Haering, a world-famous professor of 'floral theology, has written this study of his own thought to clear up the misunderstandings which arose from an interview reported recently in the "Guardian". While rooting himself in traditional teaching, he highlights the points on which doctrinal development is most likely. IN English it is called the contraceptive or the antibaby pill. The names themselves indicate a certain kind of mentality — an anti-baby mentality.
It is an ignoble. mentality. a mental complex that sees children as an obstacle to happiness in married life. and it expresses itself in uninspired and uninspiring terminology.
"Not more than two children" is a slogan that makes no appeal to the Catholic Church and that is uncompromisingly rejected by her theology of life.
'responsible parentb Clod Anti-baby selfishness is one thing, responsible parenthood quite another. Responsible parenthood means that married people want children—as many of them as they can bring into the world, bring up and educate,, taking account of the actual measure of their God-given capacities for doing so. The Church stands for responsible parenthood in marriage, and this is also the starting-point of the theology of parenthood.
Put in prayer-form the question of responsible parenthood is: "How can we make a return to God for all that He has given to us?" In this spirit married people will talk over the subject of parenthood together and pray about it also. Their one desire will be to know the will of God in the matter and carry it out courageously.
They will take all factors in their situation into consideration material factors like health, income and housing, and spiritual ones. They will count on the strength of their faith, on their conviction that their own ultimate destiny and that of their children is eternal life, on their love, which will be perpetuated in their children.
Number of eli lid,e Considered in this way, responsible parenthood is quite compatible with having 12 children: they are all welcome and all of them bring joy. Theologians, like other people. have every reason to he grateful for life itself, and for everything else along with it, to their life-giving and courageous parents.
Still, parenthood can and does raise very real problems. Take the familiar case of a wife in weak health: another pregnancy would seriously endanger her life. There is nothing to be done in this case but to renounce the prospect of it, at least for the time being. To do so is an act of responsible parenthood.
Moreover, in very many if not in most cases. a wife and mother needs to space her child-bearing— in order that it may be responsible child-bearing. Again this is a quite different attitude from antibabyism. A properly spaced family may be a large one --larger than it would have been if repeated pregnancies in the first years of married life had worn down the mother's health and made subsequent child-bearing impossible or dangerous for her.
Tit() question of Wow?"
Responsible parenthood — that
is, real parenthood is not a matter of blind instinct. It is a matter of wisdom and good judgment. Married people have or should have these gifts from God to enable them to decide for themselves how many children they ought to wish to have.
They will not make a selfish decision about this at the beginning of their married life, but will keep themselves open to the practical possibilities of parenthood that develop with the development of married life itself.
How is responsible parenthood to be achieved in practice? Here, as in every sphere of life, the choice of means is determined by the end to be attained. Responsible, happy, grateful parenthood : that is the Christian was of envisaging the end, and from it there follows a Christian way of choosing the means.
There can be no Christian way of choosing the means when selfindulgence is given pride of place in married life. Self-indulgence leads, not to responsible parenthood, but to contraception and anti-babyism. Repeatedly a n d emphatically the Church has rejected all methods of birth-regulation that undermine the honour and sacredness of conjugal intercourse.
Stripped of its honour and sacredness, the intercourse of husband and wife inevitably becomes a repulsive system of mutual 5exual exploitation, a
system of sexual satisfaction for sexual satisfaction's sake. In such an atmosphere the spirit of true, generous, responsible parenthood has no chance of developing. Real unity and harmony of life between husband and wife cannot develop there either, since selfishness has established itself at the intimate centre of their lives. Yet parental unity and harmony are the foundation of real family life and of the happy upbringing of children.
Abstinence in married life
Normally, complete and longsustained abstinence from sexual relations in married life is beyond human strength. We have the words of St. Paul himself for that (1 Cor. '7, 5). There are exceptions, of course, the fruit of a special grace and call from God.
But usually, if husband and wife ask too much of themselves or of each other in this matter, the happiness of their marriage. if not the marriage itself, is in danger. Extreme tension can result from trying to live in marriage as if one were not married. This too undermines the desire for children — undermines the spirit of responsible parenthood. A way out of this impasse is the method of periodic continence. With due safeguards it has often been recommended by the Church. In her monthly cycle woman has a few potentially fertile days and far more infertile ones. That is the wav she has been made by the Creator Himself.
There is nothing arbitary in married people's availing themselves of this fact of nature as a method of birth-regulation, subject to two conditions.
First they must judge humbly and sincerely before God that they have a good reason for not wanting a new pregnancy at present. Secondly, in using the method of periodic continence they must foster, not thwart, the true married love that unites them and that is destined to serve, not oppose, the purposes of life,
There is, however, one big difficulty about the practice of periodic continence. Distinguishing
between fertile and infertile days is possible only when the monthly cycle is regular and when a woman has both the intelligence and the leisure to keep track of its regular variations between fertility and infertility.
When the cycle is totally irregular, a married couple are in dire straits as regards exercising responsible parenthood. The same problem arises when the husband has to work in separation from his family, as in the case of so many Italians who work in northern Europe and return home for a few days now and then, often only once a year.
'I hey may have very serious reasons for not wishing a new pregnancy to result from their short visit home to their wives, yet their visit may correspond with the fertile days of a struggling and lonely wife. What is to he done in such cases?
C'onsider again the situation of a woman during the first nine months after she has borne a child. A healthy woman who nurses her child herself acquires thereby a certain natural immunity from the process of ovulation : that is another of nature's in-built marvels. The Creator Himself provides for the spacing of her child-bearing.
But here too nature often fails to function as it should, ideally speaking, and moreover the woman may not be in good health at all. Statistical researches in technically advanced countries have shown that even when the mother can and does nurse the child herself, complete nonovulation occurs in about 70-80 per cent of cases, leaving 20-30 per cent of mothers with nnrsling babies who ovulate sometimes and so can become pregnant again.
Anyway breast-feeding is simply not possible for a large number of women, for one reason or another, even when nothing would please them more to do it if it were possible.
Certainly there are married couples who can and do rise above these grave problems in their married life. They are men and women of great self-restraint. They have trained themselves with time
— it may have taken a long time
— to live in marriage without marriage intercourse. showing their affection and love for each other in a thousand little tendernesses, not going beyond that, husband and wife though they are.
This kind of married love is, however, easier as a rule for a wife to accept and bear than for a husband, A wife feels more for the husband she loves than for herself in such a case. His long day is spent outside the home toiling for her and for the home: she has at least the advantage of living her life in the personal atmosphere of the home.
Theologians and the Pill
Then came the new pill. A few days before his death, in one of his last addresses, Pius XII spoke about it. Was it the remedy for all problems? Certainly not. Rejecting the indiscriminate use of it, Pius XII left the door open for the use of it in cases where it was medically indicated.
Since that time moral theologians have thought and written a lot about the question of the pill. The bounds traced by Pius X11 for its use determined the field of discussion.
Nearly all came to agree eventually that. when medically indicated, progesteron pills could be taken to normalise an irregular monthly cycle. What about taking them for sufficient reasons during the nursing period?
This has been discussed during the last six years, and opinions have been divided. Many theologians opposed their use during this period, but many others took the contrary view, reasoning that such use of the pill represented a
medical help to the normal forte' tioning of nature.
In every other matter involving medical intervention do we not go on the principle that it is lawful to make up for the deficiencies of nature by medical means?
True, in this case there is a particular purpose for the intervention, namely to enable married couples who cannot responsibly bring another child into the world just now to give full and anxietyfree expression to their married love: hut this makes no difference to the fundamental principle involved.
The purpose in question is a good one in the circumstances: it is to secure for this woman -by medical means what nature itself, the handiwork of God, provides for other women. We presuppose of course that the right attitude to having children is there throughout and will become effective again when present difficulties in the way of its realisation cease.
According to several theologians. this more humane solution of the problem holds also for women who, through no fault of theirs, cannot breast-feed their child, Here too medical science is only making op for a deficiency of
After six years of discussion (since 1958) these are considered to he open questions and everybody is free to follow the stricter or milder opinion on them as his personal conviction and personal conscience decide,
The present discussion
A new aspect of the pill problem has been considered in recent discussions. It was brought forward for discussion by several moral theologians at about the same time by Professor Janssens of Louvain, by Dr. Reuss, Auxiliary Bishop of Mainz, by Professor L. Weber of Solothurn (Switzerland), soon followed by several others.
They unanimously and firmly reject the indiscriminate and arbitrary use of progesteron pills. They do not put forward the pill as a ready remedy for all problems of married life. They emphasise the fact that there can be no such thing as a sound married life without effort, love,
self-control and self-control and ge They also believe however that the judgment on the pill given by Pius XII does close the subject once and for all. Medical and anthropological knowledge has made further progress in the mean
limNaturally they claim no more
for their view on this point than that it should be heard and given fair consideration. The final decision, as always, remains with the teaching authority of the Church. They submit themselves fully in advance to her decision, whatever it may be.
With these necessary preliminaries they ask the following questions: Is it sinful to use the pill, not only during the nursing period but at other times also, to enable married people who, from a sense of responsibility to God and man, cannot bring new life into the world in their present circumstances to give full expression to their married love?
Can the sinfulness of this procedure be sufficiently established from Holy Scripture, Tradition, the teaching authority of the Church and the theological consideration of the available scientific evidence?
Again it is assumed that antibabyism has no place in the mentality of the married people concerned. Oo the contrary they willingly hold themselves at the service of life; they would gladly welcome a new child to their family when they could bring it into the world responsibly.
Several theologians have expressed opposition to this new trend in theological thought on the subject of the pill. Several others urge caution in out-of-hand rejection of it.
Let us not, they say, put a heavy burden on the shoulders of married people and back it up with the threat of mortal sin unless we are quite sure that we speak in this matter as God wants us to speak. Others again fear an inrush of lax thinking about marriage among Catholics if the new view gains ground.
As stated, they say, it carries the danger of anti-babyism with it, especially as many married couples have pretty lax consciences already and will not in practice hold themselves to the comlitions laid down by theologians for rightful use of the pill.
At the moment of writing no final judgment can be expressed on this much-debated subject. There is need for further medical evidence on it too, as to whether (a) the pill is safe -from the health point of view, and (b) it involves no direct sterilisation. Well-known gynaecologists have already firmly declared that the pill is not a steriliser: others still hesitate on this point.
In my opinion it is too soon yet for married people to conclude from current discussions that the pill is a positively acceptable method of birth-regulation. raising no difficulties or problems from the moral point of view. We must have patience and await further developments in the weighing of all the pros and cons.
And of course every theologian and every Catholic will humbly accept a decision by the teaching authority of the Church on this subject. if such a decision should be given, even if it runs counter to his own previous opinions.