Excerpts from the book “THE SIN OF BIRTH CONTROL” by Fr. John P. Delaney, S.J.
[Note that the book was published in 1956: the “rhythm” (natural family planning) method has since been superseded by or replaced with much more accurate, more effective and easier to use NFP methods.]
…The above-mentioned couples are only two of dozens of couples who came to me each year asking about birth control. Maybe they are not typical, maybe they seem extreme, but I deliberately singled them out because they can best illustrate the stand of the Catholic Church concerning this matter.
If my experience is any gauge, the majority of Catholic couples seem woefully ignorant about this stand. Many of them, for instance, do not know that the use of contraceptives ―and these include drugs and syringes and what-have-you― is banned. Many who know this, however, are not aware that withdrawal is equally condemned. They do not know that the only system permitted by the Church ―and this only for good reason― is the natural or rhythm method. And this only with the consent of a priest.
Lest there be misunderstanding, the rhythm method is that which calls for sexual abstinence during that period in the wife’s cycle when she is supposed to be most fertile. Doctors can explain more or less accurately when this period is. Any other method which calls for external aids is prohibited under pain of mortal sin.
Now, what is the good reason when the rhythm method may be used? There are, actually, two. Let us take them separately.
The first is the poor health of the mother and, to a certain extent, the poor health of the father. If an honest, scrupulous doctor is convinced, for instance, that childbirth would seriously endanger a mother’s life, then there is every reason for the couple involved to abstain from using their matrimonial rights during the fertile periods. There must, however, be a genuine danger. It should be real and not imagined.
Far too often, couples come to me asking to be allowed to use the rhythm method because “another delivery would just about kill her, Father,” or “she’s not strong enough to stand up under strain of minding an infant.” In all these instances, I always ask them if they have seen a doctor, a reputable, ethical Catholic doctor. If they have not, I invariably tell them to see one and then come to me. If they have been, then I satisfy myself that that, indeed, has been the doctor’s verdict.
When the health of the father is involved, my stand is this: if his condition seriously impairs, or completely nullifies, his earning capacity, then certainly there is good reason to practise natural birth control. And that brings us to the second requirement―financial difficulty.
Financial difficulty, unfortunately, is a relative term. When is a family presumed to be in “difficult” cirsumstances? It is hard to say. A man, for instance, who is used to living on an income of P1,000 a month, would consider himself in straitened circumstance if that income were cut in half. On the other hand, a family used to making do with P200 a month would consider itself rich if made to live on P300. It is all a matter of standards.
To my mind, a man is not in financial difficulty―insofar as birth control is concerned, that is― if he can give his family enough food to eat, a house to shelter them, clothes to put on their back, and maybe enough left-over for school expenses and other necessities. There is a difference between being poor and actually being on the verge of starvation.
Just because a man thinks that if he has another child he will not be able to give him a college education, or maybe a new pair of shoes every three months, is no excuse for him to limit the number of his children. A college education, after all, is not the most important thing in life. One can go to heaven without having had an education.
God is good. He will always provide. I know of a man who has nine children and who conceivably may have more, since his wife is still young. He told me once that whenever a new kid made its appearance, he didn’t know how he would manage. But he always did; somehow, something good always happened with every addition to his family. Maybe a raise in pay, maybe a scholarship for one of his older children. “Perhaps we don’t have everything we would want to have,” he said. “But we haven’t starved yet, and we are all very happy. Big families always seem happier, aren’t they?”
Fathers who want to limit the number of their children to two―or three or even four―so that they can be sure of providing well for them, have no reason for practising natural birth control. And wives who don’t want any more kids just because they can’t stand looking at themselves in those unflattering maternity dresses, or because they don’t want to go through the travail of childbirth and infant-rearing again, have even less reasons. They are just being unmitigatedly selfish.
Selfish? Yes, selfish. These unthinking fathers and irresponsible mothers have the wrong slant on marriage. They don’t realize that in being conferred the right to have children, they have been given the privilege of opening the gateways to Paradise for these children. How is this? Every child that is born automatically becomes eligible for admission into heaven. But first, he has to be born. In denying them birth, therefore, parents are also denying them heaven.
In the face of this transcendental reality, all other considerations pale. What if the children go without the things that make for a comfortable life? What if, occasionally, they undergo privation? At least they are afforded the chances to reach heaven.
In the face of this, are the two conditions imposed by the Church before natural birth control may be allowed still stringent? No.
…Why, then, must Catholics be … denied the use of contraceptives…? Suppose it is sure death for a mother to have another baby, is it right that she be forced to adhere to a system which is undependable [sic]?
Very good questions, all demanding equally good answers. It must be remembered that sex is a natural function. God gave it to man so that he may reproduce his kind in the same way that he gave man the power of speech, another natural function, so that he may communicate with others. Now, if sex is practised, it must be for the purpose it was intended―procreation. If it is practised for any other purpose―for pure enjoyment, that is―that is an abuse of the natural function. In the same way, we misuse a natural function when we utilize our faculty of speech to tell lies.
Abstinence from sex―and that is all that the rhythm method amounts to: partial abstinence―is not abuse or misuse, it is just non-use. Man is under no compulsion to make use of his sexual function under all circumstances and notwithstanding all difficulties, just as no man may be forced to talk if he has good reason not to.
Suppose a couple resorts to the rhythm method not because of a desire to limit the number of children but simply to insure proper spacing, is it wrong?
I remember two young people who came to me with just this question. I remember their case particularly because it was so unusual. Ten months after they were married, they were blessed with a fine, healthy boy. Eleven months after that, they were twice-blessed―with twin girls! They loved children, all right, and they wanted to know if it was all right to take certain precautions so that the babies would not come one after another at such dizzying intervals.
“My boy is actually just a toddler yet,” the wife said. “But now, with the twins around demanding all my attention, I cannot even baby him or cuddle him as I know he wants me to. He feels lost and unwanted.”
“We just want to make sure that there are decent intervals between babies,” the husband put in. “Is it all right to use rhythm?”
My answer in this case was “Yes.” But it need not always be “yes,” since each case must be judged on its own merits. But before saying yes, I always make sure that the people involved understand that it is a conditional answer. Yes, only if the intention is proper spacing for definite reasons. No, if the intention is limiting the number of children.
Not all would concur with me on this point. But I don’t see why it is wrong when many competent obstetricians are agreed that the ideal interval between children is somewhere between fourteen months and two years. For the sake of the children, if not of the mother, the stork’s visits should sometimes be delayed.
I have noticed that today, people don’t do so much talkiing about the desirability of a small family of two or three children. Somehow, they seem to have awakened to the fact that the happiest, most closely knit families are the big ones. Who is to say when a family is too big? No arbitrary standards can be set.
On the other hand, it may be argued that no law, ecclesiastical or otherwise, specifically orders couples to have as many children as they can. That is true, too. That is why, whenever confronted with a situation like this, I always adopt the approach I used in talking to the amazingly prolific couple I mentioned earlier in this piece.
“You say,” I began, “that you have six children?”
“Six in seven years, Father,” the man said. “Don’t forget that.”
“In seven years,” I said. “And how are they?”
“Wonderful, Father,” the woman said. “You’ll never see any six children more wonderful.”
“And you love all of them?”
“And they all give you joy?”
“Oh, yes, Father!”
“Do you have any reason to believe that if you have a seventh, he will not give you joy and that you will not love him?”
“No reason at all,” the man said.
“Why then deprive yourself of the joy of having a seventh child?”
“But you see,” he said, “my income is more or less constant while our expenses are not. The more children we have, the higher the expenses. If my income doesn’t grow, the time will come when there just won’t be enough to go around. As it is now, things are already tough.”
“You mean you are starving?”
“Of course not, Father. It is just that there are so many things I want my children to have, things I can no longer afford because our budget is strained to the limit.”
“Such as what?” I asked.
“Such as a tricycle. I bought one for the eldest, and now the second eldest wants one, too, and I cannot give it to him.”
“Maybe it is best that way. They will learn to share, to be unselfish. As you know, children who are indulged too much quite often do not amount to much when they grow up. If children early in life are taught to get along without a lot of things, they will learn to value these things more when they do get them later.”
Of course, if the mother’s health had been poor, or if the family was really in dire financial straits, my answer would have been, “Go right ahead and stop having children. You’ve done your share.” I did authorize them to use the rhythm method―for more judicious spacing.
They left convinced, however, that if the Lord should will that they have another child, so be it. But if no new additions come, well, that would be all right, too. (Incidentally, I saw this couple only recently. It turned out that they had added three more to the brood. They were both very happy about it.)
I first heard about the book being available at the U.P. Main Library from a blog post by ‘Digital Crusader’:
More about the holy man, Fr. John P. Delaney:
U.P. Parish of the Holy Sacrifice
Suggested U.P. Diliman tour 🙂 beginning with this historic work of art: