Immediately, many people who do not understand Catholic theology (and have no intention of ever understanding Catholic theology and teaching) flipped out. Depending upon their political stance, their reactions varied between "This guy isn't even Catholic any more" and "I bet this means Catholics will get to use the Pill without going to confession". Some of the more bizarre members of either side of the spectrum decided this means we can have Women Priests.
The Catholic Church teaches:
2370 Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality. These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom. In contrast, "every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible" is intrinsically evil:
- Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality. . . . The difference, both anthropological and moral, between contraception and recourse to the rhythm of the cycle . . . involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality.
Anyone who takes the time to read this section of the Catechism is going to focus on the word 'rhythm" and start laughing. O those crazy Catholics - still using the 'rhythm method'. Others are going to wonder how avoiding having sexual relations with one's spouse during peak times of probably fertilization is any different than artificial contraception - after all, aren't you doing that for the same reason? To avoid children? Why is one ok and the other a sin?
Both attitudes fail to notice the essence of the teaching; that being the idea of total self-giving that should define a marriage. Too long have we labored under the impression that marriage is a 50/50 proposition. This idea has lead to divorce. Bringing two people together and telling them to meet each other halfway means that each one gets to decide where that halfway mark is and whether or not they have met it to their own satisfaction.
Telling a man and a woman that marriage is 100/100 percent, each spouse required to give themselves totally and completely to the other, is not in accordance with today's mindset. Being willing to sacrifice, to nurture, to give until one is totally spent is considered old fashioned, unhealthy, and a way towards domination of one person over the other.
To be fair, there is a reason for this: rarely has this notion of total self giving and sacrifice made itself into the mainstream in a fair and reasonable manner. What has happened, over and over again, is that the physically weaker of the species has given of itself to its detriment. Those of the physically stronger sex - usually male - who have given totally of themselves to their mate have been derided as weak - I believe the term used has been 'pussy whipped' - and so made to feel as though the only way they can really show how wonderful they are is to impose their will on the other person 'for their own good'.
The translation into the secular legal system was not kind to females. People forget. We were not allowed to have our own bank accounts, our own lines of credit, given a seat in the classroom of higher learning in places like Harvard or Yale because we might take a spot from a man who would need it to support a family. Women were not appreciated for their talent or their intelligence except in rare cases.
While we may today sing out loud that the woman is the heart and soul of the home, often times that translated into never being able to leave the home. My experience is becoming that many of our younger, male Catholic writers have failed to acknowledge this and spend far too much time lamenting and wishing for the 'good ol' days'. Most of the time they forget - some of those days were far from good, if you were a woman who had been dumped at the side of the road for a younger model or beaten into submission, or essentially sold into slavery by parents who wanted you to have a 'good marriage'.
All this is acknowledged and understood. I do not believe the feminist movement of the 1950's,60's or 70's came into being in a vacuum. I am not so naïve.
What I like to point out in this teaching, however, is the overlooked word "respect".
Catholic Teaching on procreation, sexuality, and the body focuses one on respect for the natural functions of the body. It urges one to learn about how the body works, to understand the marvelous mechanism that was given to us by our Creator, and to respect its right to function without artificial restraint. Instead of making a woman ingest chemicals that expose her to harm in order to avoid conceiving a child, it asks a man to respect her right to not have sexual relations with him during her fertile time. Instead of asking a man to surgically mutilate himself, we as women are asked to include him in our decision making, to teach him about how we function and to respect him by loving him enough to fully incorporate his needs and wants into our lives. The man is asked to love us as Christ loves the Church - and for those who care to think about this, Christ gave up His Life for The Church.
Today I look back on my life and see so many places where I went wrong. I do not regret the past, but I wish sometimes I had taken the time to learn what The Church teaches about love, marriage and sexuality. I wish I had not limited myself and my freedom by trying so hard to live the way the world told me a young, liberated woman should live.
I wish I had not believed the lies.
The Holy Father is right. Catholics are not asked to breed like rabbits.
We are asked to be fruitful and multiply.
There is a big, big difference.