Catholic News Service
When a Catholic man and woman enter into marriage, they enter into another sacred institution at the same time — “responsible parenthood.” The term refers not only to the raising of children, but also to the decision of when to have them.
The U.S. Catholic bishops’ website calls it “the call to discern God’s will for your marriage while respecting his design for life and love.”
It’s a common misconception that the Catholic Church requires married couples to have an unlimited number of children. Large families are a blessing, but the church is aware also that not everyone is suited to having numerous children.
The church isn’t against limiting the number of children. It’s against refuting God’s natural law, negating his will for the sacrament of holy matrimony and using artificial contraception or using abortifacients that end pregnancies. That’s a huge difference.
The magisterium asks that couples carefully and prayerfully discern what God is telling them by their circumstances and in their hearts as to the best timing and the best number of children he’s calling them to have.
The objective is to understand and follow God’s will for that particular husband and wife and not the goading of others or the selfish or misdirected self-will of the couple.
“A particular aspect of this responsibility concerns the regulation of procreation. For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children. It is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood. Moreover, they should conform their behavior to the objective criteria of morality,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church states. (No. 2368)
For example, putting off children because a couple wants to travel first or has other superficial material goals in mind is wrongful.
Putting off children — or limiting the number — because there are serious health problems rendering one or the other incapable of adequately caring for children could be a good reason.
In this regard, the church advocates the use of natural family planning (NFP). Some people wrongly think of NFP as the “rhythm method” and consider it unreliable. Rather, NFP is a method of measuring the woman’s fertility to both achieve and avoid pregnancy.
NFP respects God’s design for married love and is safer and more effective (when used correctly) than artificial contraception. Many couples witness that NFP brought them together as friends and intimate partners.
The “Standards for Diocesan Natural Family Planning Ministry” explains it this way:
“NFP reflects the dignity of the human person within the context of marriage and family life, and promotes openness to life and recognizes the value of the child. By complementing the love-giving and life-giving natures of marriage, NFP can enrich the bond between husband and wife.”
The message and method of NFP are the same: Respect life. Children are a precious gift and should be treated as such. The church asks not that we have children unreasonably but rather that we have children out of love for God and each other. It’s a sacred responsibility.
(Fenelon is a freelance writer from Milwaukee. Her website is http://margefenelon.com.)
For more information on natural family planning, visit the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website: www.usccb.org/nfp/index.cfm
To learn about the sympto-thermal method, visit the Couple to Couple League’s website: https://ccli.org/
To learn about the Billings Ovulation Method and take online classes, visit: https://learnnfponline.com/
To learn the Creighton Model and find fertility care centers, visit: http://www.fertilitycare.org/
To read about NFP methods that use hormonal tests (sympto-hormonal) like the Marquette method, see: http://nfp.marquette.edu
To watch a video series on marital love and responsible parenthood, available in Spanish and English, visit: http://www.loveandparenthood.com/
For a summary of Catholic teaching on the moral prohibition of some assisted reproductive technologies see: www.usccb.org/nfp/catholic-teaching/upload/Life-Giving-Love-in-an-Age-of-Technology-2009-2.pdf