How “Humanae Vitae” helped one nun find her feminist voice

A packet of birth control pills is shown in this 2010 photo. Canadian doctors who refuse to prescribe birth control pills have become the focus of a debate over physicians' rights to freedom of conscience and religion when practicing medicine. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

I am a former radical feminist. Feminism is the belief that women and men should have equal rights and opportunities. Radical feminism goes further, denying the existence of any significant differences between men and women, except for a few “reproductive body parts” that are seen and treated as unessential and inconsequential to the person as a whole. Radical feminists believe that men and women are practically identical and should behave and be treated as such.

We now have all kinds of science that demonstrates that there are, in fact, striking differences between men and women, even in body parts that we have in common. When a woman says, “I can be as good as a man,” it is a false admission of inferiority. By adopting a supposedly gender-neutral way of being human in the world, radical feminists are actually adopting a male paradigm and obliterating the feminine paradigm and distinctly feminine gifts of the body and soul.

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As a young woman I thoroughly rejected most church teachings and was planning on leaving the Catholic Church.

I was first offered birth control pills when I was 13 years old. My pediatrician suggested I use it as a way to normalize my irregular periods. Despite being a budding feminist and fully intending to avail myself of birth control some day, I refused because I assumed she was proffering it as a “just in case I became sexually active” measure, and I was not planning on becoming sexually active any time soon. Although the pill has many benefits for those dealing with hormonal irregularities, in my case it would have masked the underlying cause of my malfunctioning thyroid. Hormonal contraceptives are classified as carcinogens and can increase risks for some cancers and can carry other potential side effects, such as depression, weight gain and blood clots.

As a young woman I thoroughly rejected most church teachings and was planning on leaving the Catholic Church. I thought the church was a draconian institution that oppressed women, wanted us barefoot and pregnant, and told us to sit down and shut up. I believed that secular culture was what gave women dignity and rights. But, ever so slowly, I gave the Catholic Church a second chance.

But, ever so slowly, I gave Catholicism a second chance. 

I began reading and studying and listening to intelligent Catholic women who found liberation in the church’s teachings. I began to realize that female contraception actually suppressed femininity, as though women were born wrong and had to “fix” their bodies to be like men’s bodies. By design, contraception thwarts a healthy, functioning system (fertility) over long periods of time. That did not seem very body positive or pro-woman to me.

I decided to seriously reconsider “Humanae Vitae.” Maybe its prescriptions were not so farfetched after all. What alternatives to the pill did it offer for spacing out births? The answer, natural family planning, makes the man attentive to a woman’s cycle. A period of abstinence is observed during the woman’s fertile time. Mother nature has cycles: It’s not always spring and summer—there’s fall and winter. Mother church has cycles: It’s not always Christmas and Easter—there’s Advent and Lent. Women have cycles—we are not always available. To say otherwise is the lie of porn, prostitution, male domination and a mistaken understanding of the Scriptures.

Contraception and natural family planning are “two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality.”

Huge flash-forward: I became a nun. So what does it matter what a celibate woman thinks about contraception? It matters for many reasons but mainly because it fundamentally shapes my self-perception as a female. I had a lesser view of myself, body and soul, when I “believed” in contraception. As St. John Paul II put it, contraception and natural family planning are “two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality” (“Familiaris Consortio,” No. 32).

One of the predictions made by Pope Paul VI in “Humanae Vitae” was the following: “A man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection” (17).

So maybe, in this 50th anniversary year of “Humanae Vitae,” we need to take another look at this document—through faithfully Catholic truly feminist eyes.

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Brenda Sheridan
3 months ago

Sister, you make it sound as if sex only happens if the man wants it. Women have desires too and I remember my high school religion teacher telling us that she had several children because though she used natural family planning, her husband traveled. So when he was there, she didn't want to abstain. Women's bodies want sex just as much as men's do. Your argument is so strange. And not every woman or girl given birth control pills for medical reasons will have it mask another problem. Too many falsities and exaggerations in your piece to give it any real credence. I am sorry, because I expected something better from the title.

Rhett Segall
3 months ago

Brenda, your teacher's honest sharing, about yearning for intimacy with her husband who's been away from home, is a feeling that I'm sure is experienced by many whose spouse's occupation keeps them away from home, such as soldiers, actors, athletes, etc. Sometimes, too, accidents and illness can prevent sexual intimacy between spouses. Sister Helena's point that both husband and wife have to be committed to NFP, which sometimes entails the cross, should nevertheless instill in the marriage a special sense of joy that one's spouse, who is faithful to NFP, will also be faithful when there is a necessary separation, as well as a special intimacy when they can be together again.

Lyn Heffernan
3 months ago

Sex in marriage is about so much more than gratifying lust. It is an expression of love, comfort, and sharing. NFP takes the joy, and spontaneity out of sex and makes it just another calendar event.

Robert Klahn
3 months ago

I read your first sentence and began mentally composing my rebuttal. Then I read the rest and had to admit... you got it right. Though I do believe you came down a bit too hard on NFP, the main failing of which is it's failing too often.

Robert Klahn
3 months ago

Faithful when they are separated, or not faithful as a "special intimacy" is special only because it exists at all.
Sexual relations between husband and wife should never entail the cross. Self imposed suffering is pleasing only to those with a distorted view of reality.

Rhett Segall
3 months ago

Robert, Christianity recognizes that the cross cuts across reality and is redemptive in Christ. Innumerable factors distort sexual intimacy, which is meant to be a profound joy and unifying gift: misunderstandings, workaholism, infidelity, lust, children's death, poverty, etc. The Lord is there sacramentally to nurture and comfort the couple in such times.

Tim Donovan
3 months ago

Does the opinion of a (now) celibate gay Catholic man matter? Perhaps not. However, I believe that I can relate to the struggles of people who use natural family planning. Many years ago (I'm now 56) because of loneliness I had sex with men. However, in time I saw my acts as being empty and wrong, saw the error of my ways, and received forgiveness and consolation from a compassionate priest through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I commend Sister Burns for presumably recognizing that the early feminists were pro-life and opposed the violence of legal abortion. Susan B. Anthony, who was a prominent activist in securing the right to vote for women as well as an abolitionist, along with fellow women's rights activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, assisted in editing The Revolution newspaper. According to an article written by a member of Feminists for Life, the newspaper "published advertisements from women physicians like Dr. Clemency Lozier, fellow women's rights activist and mother-in-law of Dr. Charlotte Lozier, but refused are from abortion providers." Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman in the United States to earn a medical degree, who was active in both the woman's suffragette movement and abolitionist movements, wrote, " Look at the First faint gleam of life, the life occurs embryo, the commencement of human existence. " Ironically, for some years in Philadelphia there was a center which killed many thousands of unborn human beings named the Elizabeth Blackwell Health Center. In fairness, the center did also provide some legitimate health services for women. Dr. Blackwell also wrote, ",The gross perversion and destruction of motherhood by the abortionist filled me with indignation, and awakened active antagonism. " I might note that Feminists for Life, which has established centers on some college campuses to provide pregnant students with assistance to give life to their babies, has been in the past been a group that I've contributed modest sums to. Dr. Blackwell graduated first in her class at Geneva Medical College in Geneva, New York in 1849. Also, Quaker Alice Paul , who was the author of the original Equal Rights Amendment, wrote to a colleague in 1923, "Abortion is the ultimate exploitation of women." I believe that abortion is a human rights issue. I strongly support both laws to provide maximum legal protection for the Sacrament innocent unborn, as well as education about the realities of abortion, and support for the numerous crisis pregnancy centers nationwide which provide pregnant women and their babies with practical, compassionate care. I give modest contributions occasionally to the Mother's Home in suburban Philadelphia, a home for homeless pregnant women and their children, that also provides other services as well. I also contribute to Mom's House. These are a network of about six homes that provide low-income pregnant women with free quality day care so that they can complete their education. I might add that I know several women who 'be had abortions. Although I firmly disagree with their decisions, I don't harbor feelings of "hatred" towards them. One such woman was the older sister of my friend who became pregnant at age 17 while a senior in high school by my other friend who was 19 years old and in college. Despite many difficulties, they chose life, and my friend gave birth one month after she turned 18 to a beautiful boy. My friend's for married 9 months after the birth of their son. My one friend graduated from college and became a civil engineer. His wife some years later graduated from college and became a pharmacist. Along with my friend's sister, we enjoyed caring for their son as often as we both could as he was growing up. I might add that my friends used natural family planning. Also, some years later my friend's sister who has chose the violence of abortion have birth to a daughter and raised her as a single motuer. Although I believe in the church's teachings in Humanae Vitae, which forcibly concerns contraception and abortion, but warns of the dangers of women being exploited by irresponsible men, I do favor legal contraception that isn't abortive in nature as well as legal sterilization for adults. I also believe that the Church should emphasize the benefits of natural family planning on Pre-Dana courses, and the side effects of contraception. Also, the Church has an outreach, Project Rachel, for women who've had abortions. Yes, I know I'm a gay man and so don't have to worry about pregnancy. I'll accept criticism. However, as a retired Special Education teacher of brain damaged children and as an uncle of three (now) adult nieces and one nephew, whom I helped care for as they were growing up, I believe that I have some legitimate experience in both childcare and family life!

Michael Ward
3 months ago

Thanks for pointing that out Tim, and appreciate and affirm your experince stated here and your offering it. After having lived in an NFP marriage for all of its fertile years I can confirm that the biggest issue that it raises for men is self mastery and what it means implies for who one really is spiritually in the face of desires and honor and respect for ones spouse and her being as a woman.. Most these days think that self mastery is impossible or not valued which is why they believe that contraception is 100 percent "necessary". Many also feel that it is unhealthy or even immature to resist any desire, and that sexual urges and desire is like a "sneezing of the loins". Thats all quite untrue and even spiritually harmful from my perspective.

Tim Donovan
3 months ago

Thank you, Michael for your kind words. I admire you and your wife for using natural family planning, despite what I'm sure are some difficulties as well as pressure from others at times to use contraception. It's especially tragic that some so-called methods of contraception are abortive in nature (including IUD's). All the best to you, your wife and family.

Robert Klahn
3 months ago

The biggest obstacle to any conversation between the supporter and opponents of contraception is the tendency of those like you to trivialize the beliefs and positions, and the persons, of those who disagree with you.
You aim at the lowest level of reasoning and pretend that all who disagree with you are at that level. If it's not all, then even many do not rate discussion at all. Address the best of the opposition's arguments, else all you said is noise without meaning.

Robert Klahn
3 months ago

The biggest issue in the entire argument is justifying the position that there is some superior morality or spirituality, or respect for your spouse, in refraining from sex at some particular time, for reasons that cannot stand on their own.

I do seem to catch a whiff of women do not enjoy sex in any discussion of respecting her by not having sex with her.
The fact that I do not kill people I think deserve it is self mastery. Using NFP instead of contraception is a matter of preference.

When I find self mastery among those who preach principles they cannot defend on any other basis than spirituality I will be impressed. God never said artificial contraception is wrong that I know of. Until He does, it's not.

Michael Ward
3 months ago

Oh come on. You actually don't know me at all...or from a cord of wood as Tip O'Neill once observed. . NFP was intially completely my wife's decision as she just wasn't going to live any other way. I acceded to that out of respect for her, without of really being intellectually on board. Part of my reasoning was clearly based on reciprocity. I wouldn't put that stuff (drugs and foreign objects) in my body it it were me. So why should I expect or pressure this person I love to. Condoms have the highest failure rate so scratch that. NFP was more effective. So off we went. I neded to get my head around why. It took some time to get there. Your actually flying at a pretty superficial level in this and I'm not going to respond further.

Reyanna Rice
2 months 4 weeks ago

Condoms do not have the highest failure rate. After the pill, that are the second most readily available effective form of birth control. NFP has about a 20% failure rate. It’s the least effective! And the hormones in birth control are not “chemicals” as in synthetically produced. If hormones are “chemicals” then God has put “chemicals”, all kinds of them in our bodies.

Reyanna Rice
2 months 4 weeks ago

Condoms do not have the highest failure rate. After the pill, that are the second most readily available effective form of birth control. NFP has about a 20% failure rate. It’s the least effective! And the hormones in birth control are not “chemicals” as in synthetically produced. If hormones are “chemicals” then God has put “chemicals”, all kinds of them in our bodies.

James Haraldson
3 months ago

Your reasoning is consistently shallow. Aside from the fact that the Holy Spirit speaks through the Magisterium, the evil and poisonous nature of contraception is self-evident. God is not the idiot you assume who needs to baby us.

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3 months ago

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Lillian Vogl
3 months ago

Most differences between men and women besides reproductive ones ARE only averages and often socially constructed ones at that. E.g. https://www.ft.com/paidpost/CBS/gender_differences/index.html

I don’t understand this tic of Catholics in recent years to deny the real science of sex and gender and tout pseudo-science instead. God is the original radical feminist, from declaring us equal in Genesis 1 to making Mary Magdalene the first apostles of the resurrection to putting Mary Theotokos in charge of crushing Satan. One can be for women’s equality and reject gendered stereotypes and be pro-life and a faithful Catholic. Articles like this just consign our faith to increasing irrelevance among people of goodwill who reject sexism.

James Haraldson
3 months ago

Not everyone is dumb enough and shallow enough to be taken in by the junk pseudo science of sex and gender or the twisted abuse of language and metaphysics that would contrive a nonsense accusist word like "sexism."

Robert Klahn
3 months ago

So, unless you are saying ALL research on sex and gender are pseudo science, you just accused her of favoring pseudo science over real science.

Only someone disconnected from the real world, or a sexist, would even suggest sexism is not real.

Robert Klahn
3 months ago

So very well said.

aravind aru
3 months ago

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Thanks a lot for sharing.
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Dina Janis
3 months ago

I appreciate the discussion- but this article again denies the non-unholy fact that women have desire as well as men- an equal desire for sexual gratification and intimacy. In this important sense- the article dis-empowers women again... framing the conversation about sex and the use of modern and advanced medicines as a conversation about "availability" from the man's point of view. This is so unfortunate- because it is not reflective of the equal pleasure and desire that women can have ownership of in a committed relationship. I would also add that the argument for natural conception methods based upon a belief in the women's natural calendars would certainly not be applied to cancer victims or diabetics... so this application is specific here and once again a response to "moral" issues which in this case- do not allow for women to own their sexuality and desire in a way that is revered actually- rather than not allowed. A woman is not simply an object or passive human being- whose sexuality serves the sole purpose of gratifying her partner and/or- procreation. The world is not flat... and women are not one-dimensional.

Rhett Segall
3 months ago

Dina, I think some people hold that sex is a sine qua non for human existence in the same way as food, water, and sleep. Circumstances can prevent couples from sexual intimacy as in the example of cancer you refer to. I know of a couple in a car accident on the way to their honeymoon. The accident left her incapable of sexual activity. Her husband was called to a loving commitment without the physical sexual component. And such a life can be not only meaningful but also happy. Who can bear such a cross? When Corey Ten Boom was a little girl she asked her father if she would be able to bear a cross when she got older? "Corey", her father said, "when we take a train do I give you your ticket at home?" "No, Papa, you wait till we get to the station so I don't lose it." "So too, Corey, God will give us the strength when we need it."

Dina Janis
3 months ago

Of course there are so many ways one can experience loving commitment- and sex is not in any way a requirement. But that is a different point I think. What I am saying is- that sexual desire can be a wonderful part of a relationship and that women have equal desires as men... so this discussion of availability is disempowering. Modern science and medicines are not questioned when it comes to heart conditions, diabetes, cancer- so why is it then that medicine that makes it possible for women and men to decide when they are ready to bring a new life into this world is considered a morally bad thing. Your story of your couple who were unable to have sex and/or children demonstrates a beautiful version of love. But that has nothing to do really with the argument I am making. In that sense- I am arguing that contraception can be a valuable tool and an advancement in our times that can add to - not detract from- those of us who are lucky enough to find ourselves in committed and loving relationships.

Paul Ferris
3 months ago

Sister Helena has a right to change her mind...a woman’s prerogative “. Still she bases her latest opinion on her reading, not based upon her experience as a wife and mother. No one ever said Humanae Vitae did not have good things to say so her quote misses the cutting edge judgment of the decision. Recommend she read John Noonan’s classic Contraception. Maybe she can change again. Paul VI bases his argument on Natural Law. The church also said slavery was acceptable as natural law. That is why priests and nuns were allowed to own slaves.

Mark Scibilia-Carver
3 months ago

Thank you Sr. Helena. Having learned something about the negative health effects of artificial contraception on women, my wife and I found Natural Family Planning's scientific knowledge to be a liberating gift. There is still great misunderstanding about NFP in some of the comments, unfortunately. Mark Scibilia-Carver

Edward Gallagher
3 months ago

Here is a passage from a 2016 AMERICA article reporting on a Pew Research poll on Catholic opinion:

"Most American Catholics, including those who go to church on a regular basis, have no moral problem with contraception, the survey found.
Just 8 percent said contraception is morally wrong, with 89 percent saying it was either morally acceptable or not a moral issue at all.
The Catholic Church teaches that artificial contraception, such as condoms and birth control pills, is morally unacceptable.
This teaching is rejected even among Catholics who attend Mass at least weekly, who tend to hold views on other social issues that fall more in line with official teaching when compared to the wider Catholic population. About one in 10 (13 percent) in this group said contraception is morally wrong, with 87 percent saying it is either acceptable or not a moral issue."

So, Sister Helena's article is terribly unlikely to convince many Catholics to flock to NFP. She's preaching to a tiny minority of US Catholics. The vast majority have firmly embraced the fruits of the Enlightenment.

Joe O'Neill
3 months ago

It seems a highly false, evidentiarily baseless, and uncharitable equivalency to ascribe irreverence, not to mention a Sex and the City lifestyle, to those many millions who simply cannot afford (if they wish to escape a subsistence or sub-subsistence life, let alone a life style) the risk of a large family that NFP combined with the non-sinful,non-exploitive need for non-scheduled sexual comfort represents. “Who am I — who can afford such risks — to say” what those struggling to get by owe god reverence-wise when it comes to loving, comforting sexual behavior?

mslitchick@gmail.com
3 months ago

I am glad Sister Helena found her feminist voice and place in the Catholic Church, but I respectfully disagree on a few points she made. First, there are many feminist theories. Radical Feminism is only one theory, and that is the one often cited that has led to the stereotyping that all feminists hate men and don't acknowledge biological and physical differences. My second issue is with artifical conception. My menstrual cycle has been highly irregular (I did not receive my first period until I was 15), and I was prescribed The Pill to help regulate it. I am a practicing Catholic, and I still use artifical birth control. The reason: I live with multiple s clerosis. Between my menstral cycles irregularity and the stress having my child put not only on my physical body, my husband and I concluded it was too hard on me to have more children biologically. Not everything is black and white. I had difficulty conceiving my daughter because of my irregular cycles, and I had been off The Pill for years.

And my husband has never treated me as less than because of artificial birth control. I won't go into details of our sex lives, but reverence has always been part of it.

Paul Ferris
3 months ago

I love what you write here. Your case is not that uncommon. For health reasons alone many women need to limit the number of children they should have. Sister Helen does not speak for them and has no experience of child birth. To quote Jesus: Father forgive her she does not know what she is doing.”

Paul Ferris
3 months ago

I find it ironic that some in the church want to “celebrate” the 50 year anniversary of a very divisive papal teaching. Normally anniversaries do not commerate such events.

Lisa Weber
3 months ago

Regardless of the theology of Humanae Vitae, its conclusions about contraception have been rejected by the vast majority of Catholics. Those not at risk of unintended pregnancy can feel any way they want about contraception while those who are at risk of unintended pregnancy use it. Generally speaking, adults don't ask for the opinions of others about their sex lives. The Catholic church offers unsolicited opinions about the sex lives of its members, and members mostly ignore it.

Ikechi Ohale
3 months ago

A woman who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to the sexual act. commenting from naija musics

Lillian Vogl
3 months ago

A woman who grows accustomed to scheduling sex according to her cycles because NFP is the only means she has of regulating births may forget that love has anything to do with sex. It’s an obligation of marriage to be calendared, like cleaning the toilets and washing the sheets.

Robert Klahn
3 months ago

"contraception and natural family planning are “two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality”

Actually, they are not. Other than the idea that sex is holy or dirty that is. In fact, it is neither, it is a natural function of every animal, and humans are animals in that area.

Sex produces babies, and for that reason should be approached carefully and intelligently, but it is not some religious ritual, just a powerful force intended to provide for the survival of the human race. If pregnancy was the only purpose of sex human women would not be open to enjoying sex when not fertile, just as animals are not. Humans are one of the few, if not the only, animals who have sex when pregnancy is not possible. Humans also continue to have sex after the woman is no longer capable of conceiving. Think about that and try to understand why that is. It does contribute to the survival of the human race.

I would like one person who thinks contraception is a great sin to tell me contraception is just as bad as abortion. Given those choices I support contraception.

BTW, that was why Margaret Sanger started Planned Parenthood and it's predecessors, because abortion, though illegal, was quite common back then, and she advertised for women to prevent pregnancy, not kill their babies. And yes, that is just how she described it.

Julie A Miller
3 months ago

I respect the reasoning behind the teaching against use of birth control, and exclusion of divorced Catholics from the Eucharist and remarriage. On the other hand, the first is almost universally ignored, making hypocrites of most most Catholic couples; and the second has done more to empty pews than perhaps any other dogma.

Robert Klahn
3 months ago

Exclusion from communion because of remarriage is about the easiest rule to get around. Just go to a new and large church. Nobody will know you unless you allow them to.

Julie A Miller
3 months ago

I had the money and the time- got an annulment.

Pam Garand
3 months ago

To clarify: divorced Catholics who have not remarried are NOT excluded from the Eucharist. It is the remarriage that is the issue, if it is done outside of the Church. It is so sad when people unnecessarily deny themselves the Eucharist based on this misconception.

arthur mccaffrey
3 months ago

sister helena--your lovely article reads like the opening chapter of an unfinished book......you chose to become a celibate nun, so you did not know the dynamics of living with another person of the opposite sex. If you had gone that route, you would have written more chapters of your book to share your experience of sexual love as having an intrinsic value, not just for procreation. Paul VI --another celibate-- gave us the theory of ideal sexual union, but it was exactly that, an unattainable ideal that does not make sense for every Catholic who makes life-changing decisions about whether to have children or not. Many husbands use contraception without losing their sense of reverence for their wife, despite Paul's paternalistic concerns. I know Paul sounds like a feminist in his concern that women be treated right, but Humane Vitae was written by a guy who knew the theory but not the practice--which is why so many Catholics don't treat it with the same reverence you do. Keep writing, however, about your perceptions, you have a very refreshing POV.

Stanley Kopacz
3 months ago

Your post is a refreshing example of polite and respectful disagreement.

Crystal Watson
3 months ago

It's really disheartening to read this article and to realize that the Jesuits of America magazine support this view. It is an extremely conservative minority view that is contradicted by both science and common sense. Most Catholics ignore this stuff - most use contraception, most feel women should be allowed to be priests because they are ontological equals in the eyes of God. Humanae Vitae was voted down by those at Vatican 2 - it was the minority view that the then pope forced on the church. And it caused dissent from bishops conferences and theologians around the world. And some wonder why the church is failing ... "More Catholics are leaving the faith than ever before - more so than in any other religion ..." ... https://cruxnow.com/church-in-the-usa/2018/01/17/new-study-seeks-unders…

Reyanna Rice
2 months 4 weeks ago

Humanae vitae was never put before the bishops at Vatican 2 for a vote nor was any discussion of birth control. Paul VI removed birth control as a topic for discussion at the Council because the birth control commission was already working on it. Vatican 2’s last b was in 1965. HV was promulgated in 1968.

Crystal Watson
2 months 4 weeks ago

Contraception was absolutely discussed at V2. It was a huge topic, in part because the year before, John Rock, a Catholic doctor who had helped create the birth control pill, had written a book on why it should be accepted by the church (The Time Gas Come ... https://www.amazon.com/Time-Has-Come-Catholic-Proposals/dp/B0000CLWEL).

Here's a bit from Jesuit John O'Malley's book, What Happened at Vatican II ...

**** Saigh [Patriarch Maximos IV Saigh] was as usual boldly outspoken and direct. He began "I call your attention today ... to birth control." It is a pressing problem that the council must confront. For the faithful it is a sad and agonizing issue, for there is a cleavage between the official teaching of the church and the contrary practice in most families. Moreover, the population explosion in certain parts of the world is condemning hundreds of millions of human beings to misery without hope. The council must find a solution. It must ask whether God really wants this depressing and unnatural impasse: "Let me speak frankly: do not the official positions of the church in this matter require revision in the light of modern research - theological, medical, psychological, sociological?"

It was Suenens' [Leo Jozef Suenens, Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussel] speech, however, that caused a sensation .... First he more than intimated that a change might be in order. We have learned a few things, he said, since Aristotle and Augustine. He invoked development of doctrine and called attention to the population explosion. He injected a dramatic note into his presentation with the statement, "I plead with you, brothers. We must avoid another 'Galileo case'. One is enough for the church." Second, at the very end he called on Paul VI to make public the names of the members of the Papal Commission [Pontifical Commission on Birth Control]. That way, he said, the members will receive the most copious information on the subject, and the whole people of God will be represented ... When he finished, applause broke out ..... (pp. 236-38)
***

Frank Lesko
3 months ago

This article shows a common misconception with Humanae Vitae. The guidelines of HV, especially the prescription for NFP, can suggest a wonderful spiritual practice. It can get you in tune with the rhythms of nature, your body and it acknowledges the reign of God. However, the Church gets into trouble mandating this practice for all people in all times and places.

There are religious orders who walk barefoot for the same reasons. Walking barefoot acknowledges the limits of the human body, it gets you in touch with the rhythms of nature and it ultimately acknowledges the reign of God. No one in their right mind, however, would mandate this practice for all people in all times and places. It is simply a spiritual practice that is meaningful for some people in some contexts.

Natural rhythms were developed over millions of years of evolution and we should be wary of going against them. The same is true, though, with every system in the body. Instead of the reproductive system, consider the circulatory system: We are better off eating properly, exercising and managing stress than taking blood pressure medications and installing stints into our arteries. There is tremendous wisdom in choosing the former set of practices over the latter, perhaps even spiritual insights. Human intervention should always be a last resort. However, there is a time and a place for both in our muddled world. We humans have a vocation to work and we are co-creators with God. We make shoes. We perform surgery. We can space children, too.

Jennifer Staszak
2 months 4 weeks ago

She writes from a privileged white American POV. These are FOR SURE first world problems. As a privileged, white American feminist, my husband and I started using NFP for health and safety concerns but then learned the spiritual benefits as we went along. We have the three kids we asked for, when we asked for them.

BUT. Reproductive control becomes a social justice issue in the third world and that is where the church has to--and yet refuses to--grapple with it. Couples trapped in extreme poverty cannot practice NFP in any of its forms. Can't afford the basal thermometer. Can't afford the paperwork or app to track cycles. Can't afford the nutrition to support regular cycles. Can't afford the babies that a loving marriage in that situation will produce. Abort female babies who will cost more money than they earn. Sell older children into slavery to feed the younger ones. That is a reality in too many places.

American feminists who support reproductive rights are not thinking about their own sexual freedom. They are worried for their third world sisters who are trapped by their fertility in cultures where men and the church overwhelmingly make the rules. That has to change.

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Joshua HrenOctober 23, 2018
Venezuelan migrants walk across the border from Venezuela into the Brazilian city of Pacaraima. (CNS photo/Nacho Doce)
About 5,000 people leave Venezuela every day. According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, at least 1.9 million Venezuelan citizens have left the country since 2015, fleeing from the economic and political crisis that the country is experiencing under President Nicolás Maduro.
Filipe DominguesOctober 22, 2018
Sexual orientation by itself is irrelevant to child sexual abuse. The risk factors include impulse control problems and substance abuse, and offenders take advantage of situations in which they are trusted.
Thomas G. PlanteOctober 22, 2018
“Jesus finds people where they are, but he never leaves them where they are.”
Gerard O’ConnellOctober 22, 2018