I recently read Excerpts From the Synod’s Final Report published online Oct. 24, 2015 in CRUX, All things Catholic. I was very disappointed to read that there are no breakthroughs or even glimmers of light, regarding the issues that most affect the lives of American Catholics. Nothing on the horizon concerning: priests being allowed to be married, opening up the priesthood to current Deacons or women religious, more acceptance and understanding of LGTB Catholics, divorced and remarried Catholics, and the use of artificial contraception by Catholic couples to control the size of their families.
The last item is what I am most disappointed about. I really feel this church teaching is doing more to hurt people all over the world than any single church doctrine. After Pope Francis statement to a journalist in January 2015 “Some people think that …. In order to be good Catholics we have to be like rabbits,” I had hoped there would be open discussion on this topic and a much broader interpretation to come forth from the bowels of the Vatican.
I understand that the Catholic teaching is that human sexuality is to be expressed solely between a man and a woman, the God given purpose of the sexual act itself is for the couple to be open to life, they are to be willing to allow a new life to be conceived anytime they engage in sexual intercourse. But I believe that this is a very unrealistic ideal, the ‘gold standard’ if you will. How many married couples, both committed practicing Catholics, are truly open to the concept that they may be creating a new human being every time they engage in intercourse? And of this small set of Catholics, how many are successful at using abstinence from sexual behavior to control procreation? In order for this couple to be in compliance with church teachings, they could not engage in other sexual behavior that might result in ‘the man spilling his seed’ or other means of sexual stimulation for the purpose of alleviating tension that results from unrelieved sexual desires. (See http://www.catechism.cc/articles/QA.htm ). So you see how difficult this teaching is to live out for even the most devout Catholic couple, let alone for two healthy young people who love one another and need to maintain their physical intimacy to enhance and bless their relationship.
Let’s look at reality. In most married couples where one or both are Catholics, it is not likely that both will be devout enough to put their selves or their marriage through such rigors, just to obey some rule that has no spiritual meaning for them. And then there are the marriage that are not ‘made in heaven’ and for whatever reason the woman is the only one responsible for controlling her fertility. She may chose to bar her husband’s amorous advances to keep from becoming pregnant, or she may just be too tired and give in. The worry over yet another baby, another emotional and physical strain on her already overworked drained life is not a spiritual blessing. And if she goes against what the church teaches, and uses contraceptives she has a whole other set of issues. Does she risk telling Father in confession and being reprimanded, have this man who has nothing remotely close to her experience to help him understand her situation, tell her that she has to cease and desist in order to obtain his benevolent words of ‘absolution’ supposedly from Jesus himself. (This happened to me years ago.) If this poor woman is lucky enough to have a good merciful priest who truly represents our Lord, there would be no judgment, no shame, only love and understanding. Forgiveness is not needed because she has not sinned; only done what she needs to do to survive.
Now let’s go away from the married persons, to the single women and men who do not want to have children. The first thing that comes to mind, is they should not be engaging in sex if they are not married, so therefore birth control should not be an issue. NOT! These young persons, if they are still practicing Catholics, probably do not go to confession and they do not feel condemned for their life styles, so why would they not use contraceptives. Unless there is some magic way to get them to change their behavior, and there is not, then they need to have access to affordable contraception.
And lastly I’m going to the edges of society; to those who live on the margins, the boys, girls, women and men who are living in vicious cycles of dysfunction and pain, living only to survive. Some are living only for their next infusion of chemicals that keeps them from crashing. These people reproduce. They engage in sexual acts and give birth to babies, babies that are then neglected, barely on the radar of those who should be loving and nurturing them. Many of these persons will lose custody of their children, only to bring more into this world. These persons are emotional children trying to be mothers and fathers. They cannot do it. No one has nurtured them. No one has showed them how it is done. All they know is that they want to feel good, blot out their own pain. And they have no sense of the consequences.
How can the Catholic church continue to teach that to help the least of these, so they are not trapped in cycles of pain, bringing children into the world who will in turn become part of the cycle of pain, by giving them access to free contraception and helping them to at least not bring babies into the world is wrong? As our society evolves and grows, maybe someday we will have the means to fix the evils that perpetuate this problem, but for now we need to help break the cycle. Praying for these, the least of our brothers and sisters and getting involved in any way you can, is a start.
If we have any awareness of the suffering and pain the babies and children, the victims of this evil must endure and how their lives are begun with no love or hope, then how can we say this is God’s will, that it is ‘wrong’ to put off the birth of such infants until there are healthy loving parents to care for them?
I do not have workable solutions for these grave social ills, but I do know the Catholic Church can start by being a source of hope and help to all and not shame any person for not wanting to bring children into this world.