Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Notre Dame, Contraception, and NFP

A reader alerted me to a message from Fr. John Jenkins, president of Notre Dame, regarding the HHS lawsuit; you can read the entire message at the link.

Of course, I’m happy to see so many Catholic institutions and entities taking legal action against the Obama administration on this issue; still, it’s clear that we have a huge battle to fight within the Church on the issue of contraception. Here’s a telling paragraph from Fr. Jenkins’s message (my emphasis):

Let me say very clearly what this lawsuit is not about: it is not about preventing women from having access to contraception, nor even about preventing the Government from providing such services. Many of our faculty, staff and students -- both Catholic and non-Catholic -- have made conscientious decisions to use contraceptives. As we assert the right to follow our conscience, we respect their right to follow theirs. And we believe that, if the Government wishes to provide such services, means are available that do not compel religious organizations to serve as its agents. We do not seek to impose our religious beliefs on others; we simply ask that the Government not impose its values on the University when those values conflict with our religious teachings. We have engaged in conversations to find a resolution that respects the consciences of all and we will continue to do so.

Apparently, Fr. Jenkins has no problem with others using contraception – even if they are Catholic members of his faculty and staff – as long as they are “following their consciences”.  That indicates that Fr. Jenkins does not believe that the use of contraceptives is intrinsically evil. It also suggests that he has a poor understanding of the duty of faithful Catholics to properly form their consciences by adhering to Church teaching.

The reader who alerted me to this message, himself a priest, added that

…for a Catholic priest [this] is reprehensible, but not surprising. It seems to reinforce the theory that the Church's widespread promotion of NFP compromises or confounds her own teaching against artificial contraception (both within and without the Church).

I agree. It can be argued, of course, that NFP is not contraception per se, and that a couple using NFP for the regulation of birth is putting NFP to a licit use (provided there is a serious reason for doing so).

But take a step back and consider that NFP is not simply tolerated as a licit means of spacing births. No: it is promoted, encouraged, and even mandated by the USCCB. There is little or no mention of “serious reasons” on the USCCB web pages devoted to NFP; it seems to be offered as an alternative to artificial contraception, without actually saying so.

But what about "serious reasons"?
Similarly, those who suggest that we have to “spread the good news” about NFP have also failed to discuss the constraints on its use; they focus on the health risks of the pill and the interest of young adults to find a safe and sure method of limiting the number of children they have. From all quarters, it seems, the faithful are encouraged to “discern” whether or not to use NFP based on their own perceptions of their individual circumstances. Fr. Jenkins is not alone in failing to encourage people to properly form their consciences!

The fact is, many people are under the impression that NFP is just “Catholic birth control”, and they view it from the same perspective as they view artificial contraception – despite the protestations of NFP promoters that it’s not contraception. Catholic and non-Catholic couples alike often roll their eyes at the distinction and comment that “it has the same result”. Indeed. What’s missing for Catholics is clear teaching from the pulpit that contraception is a grave sin, and that use of NFP is only for serious reasons.

As the priest mentioned above concludes:

How can we preserve and promote a remnant of Catholic faithful when the shepherds themselves are lost? St. Michael, defend us in battle! Immaculate Mary, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

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