Friday, September 19, 2008


by Robert McClory - chapter 8

In a bizarre little twist, accommodations for participants at the Birth Control Commission's fourth meeting in 1965 were arranged in such a way that there was little opportunity for practicing the forbidden process, or for husband and wife to discuss the commission's progress. What it does reveal to me is the lack of understanding of the nature of marriage by the presumably celibate men (and women?) who were organizing the event and advising the Pontiff.

The fourth meeting of the Commission was held on March 25 through March 28, 1965, at the newly constructed Spanish College, a seminary on the outskirts of Rome. The unusual presence of women at a top-level Vatican meeting resulted initially in an awkward situation. When the Crowleys, Rendus, and Potvins arrived, they were informed by de Riedmatten that husbands would have their living quarters at the college, while the three wives, along with two unaccompanied women on the Commission, would stay at a sisters' convent a mile down the road. The couples took the enforced separation in stride, and Pat [Crowley]'s quip, "I guess that's one way to solve the problem," was later quoted in a range of publications from the Ladies Home Journal to the Paris Match. (p. 67 - bolding mine)

Opinions expressed at the fourth meeting:

** By Spanish Jesuit Zalba: "...current doctrine is not only irreformable but infallible. He cited the centuries-old condemnation of coitus interruptus, the teaching of procreation as marriage's primary end, and the prohibition of direct sterilization..."We stand before a practically uninterrupted tradition," he said.

** By John Ford: [He] concurred, quoting strong language from Casti Connubii: "This prescription...is in full force now as it was before, and so it will be tomorrow and forever, because it is not a mere human enactment but the expression of a natural and divine law....If that isn't infallible language, what is?"

** By Canon Philip Delhaye: Casti Connubii and other authoritative documents should be regarded...not as doctrine strictly speaking but as "pastoral guidance"--that is, explanations or updates on earlier decrees and therefore subject to modification in the light of changed circumstances. Moral matters do not lend themselves well to ultimate, unchangeable judgments...

** Jesuit Joseph Fuchs: ...the doctrine can indeed be reformed. [This represented a reversal of the position he held one year before when he came to the commission. McClory says it was in response to learning from Dr. Marshall about the fallibility of rhythm.]

** Canon Pierre de Locht and Bishop Joseph Reuss: ...the present teaching can be reformed.

** Fuchs: ...he argued, approval of the pill could open the door to the condom, coitus interruptus, and other contraceptive methods.

** de Locht: With the exception of abortion..."no method can be called intrinsically bad or good. They are all unimportant in themselves and their moral significance lies in the life of the husband and wife. Obviously, some methods are theoretically more efficient than others...It is not fertility that decides the moral value of methods; it is the way in which these methods, with greater or lesser merit, preserve the significance and authenticity of conjugal intimacies."

Haring: reiterated his own conviction that marriage as a whole ought to be open to new life but that doesn't mean every single sexual encounter between husband and wife must be."

Quotes taken from pp 70-71)

Patty Crowley remarked: "Some of those men seemed to live only in a world of ideas." (p. 71)

The Crowley's surveyed the Catholic Family Movement constituency and reported their findings to the commission:

Most say they think there must be a change in the teaching on birth control. Very few know what this change should be; they are puzzled but hopeful.

"We understand that when the Church was considering the problem of what to do about reviewing the teaching on usury, the testimony of business people was heard and considered. If there is any parallel between the teaching of usury and the teaching on family limitation, then possibly there is a precedent for the testimony of those most affected by the doctrine....Many of the couples have large families--six to thirteen children. Most are able to educate and support the children. Some have intermittent financial, physical, and in a few cases, psychological problems....Most expressed dissatisfaction over the rhythm method for a variety of reasons, running from the fact that it was ineffective, hard to follow; and some had psychological and physiological objections."
(p. 72)

One father of six wrote: "Rhythm destroys the meaning of the sex act; it turns it from a spontaneous expression of spiritual and physical love into a mere bodily sexual relief; it makes me obsessed with sex throughout the month. It seriously endangers my chastity; it has a noticeable effect upon my disposition; it makes necessary my complete avoidance of all affection toward my wife for three weeks at a time....Rhythm seems to be immoral and deeply unnatural. It seems to me diabolical."

A mother who used both the basal temperature and calendar methods, said: "I find myself sullen and resentful of my husband when the time for sexual relations finally arrives. I resent his necessarily guarded affection during the month and I find I cannot respond suddenly. I find also that my subconscious dreams and unguarded thoughts are inevitably sexual....All this in spite of a ...generally beautiful marriage and home life."
(p. 73)

A couple, both thirty-three, wrote: "As busy parents raising children, we know few moments of complete harmony and personal communion. Our physical and spiritual union, when it does occur, is just such a moment. It should not be subjected to scientific and metaphysical scrutiny. We do not believe that every time a man and wife feel a need to express their love to each other that it is a 'call from God' to raise more kids. Neither is it a resurgence of the base and selfish sex drive....We are frail and lonely people holding to the only mutual concern and affection we really know." (p. 73-74)

Pat and Patty were convinced change was coming. All signs pointed that way: the theologians' strong vote on reformability; the mellowing of some conservatives; the eagerness of the members to hear the voice of the people; the Pope's encouraging words. They were not alone in that assessment. In his fifty-eight-page report to the Holy Father (along with fifty-nine section reports), the usually cautious de Riedmatten wrote, "Everybody, conservative or progressive, theologians or laymen, all are convinced of the necessity for the Church to make a fresh move in order to face up to the distress of conscience and the needs arising from the facts that cannot be denied....Any move could only be within the framework of the teaching of Christ and of the Church." (pp 75-76)

I think that it is worth noting that had a move to accept contraception been made at the time of the commission and Vatican II, the abortifacient pill would have been accepted along with other methods; and we would now be faced with the historical precedent of acceptance of abortion by the Pope, with the inevitable ramifications this would present to a defense of a pro-life position.

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