The Natural Family Planning Debate

From time to time discussion arises, as it has in the Register, regarding the conditions under which NFP [natural family planning] can be used. Must the grounds be grave and serious or just and reasonable? I'd like to offer a few considerations not often presented.

In the English translation, Humanae Vitae No. 16 states that births may be spaced out for “serious motives” (iustae causae in Latin). However, further down in the same paragraph the expression “iustas rationes” is translated “just motives.” Additionally, when the first passage is quoted by John Paul II in one of his general audiences on the encyclical (Aug. 1, 1984), the English edition of L‘Osservatore Romano translates iustae causae as “reasonable grounds.”

Next consider No. 2368 in the English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children.” The Latin typical edition of the catechism uses the expression iustis de causis here. This phrase is a more elegant way of saying iustae causae and is essentially the same expression.

We should bear in mind that the English translation of the Catechism was taken from the original committee and given to a committee supervised by Cardinal [Joseph] Ratzinger [of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith] himself. The translation was, for this reason, late in appearing. It is hard to imagine, when the translation of the Catechism is given to a group specially picked by Rome to make sure that the English-speaking world gets it right, that the correlating of iustis de causis and “just reasons” is not compelling.

Let's get to more evidence that “serious” or “grave” — “reason” or “cause” — does not adequately translate iustae causae. There is a perfectly good Latin word for “grave” or “serious.” It is (amazingly) gravis. Not only that, but it is used for exactly this purpose in the new Code of Canon Law. Furthermore, the expression iusta causa also occurs in the new code for less weighty requirements.

To get to some examples, Canon 290 says that a cleric “loses the clerical state ... only for serious reasons (graves causas) and ... presbyters only for the most serious reasons (gravissimas causas).” On the other hand, Canon 918 stipulates: “It is highly recommended the faithful receive Holy Communion during the celebration of the Eucharist itself, but it should be administered outside of Mass to those who request it for a just cause (iusta de causa), the liturgical rites being observed.” ... There are many other examples as well.

Last, the word “gravis” does not appear in Humanae Vitae No. 10 or 16.

The expression seriis causis in Humanae Vitae No. 10 cannot be equated with “grave causes.” Serius, in this context, generally means “serious” in the sense of “not frivolous.”

The above information leads to the conclusion that neither Humanae Vitae nor subsequent documents of the magisterium require more than a just cause for married couples to use NFP.

Father Jeffrey J. Lucas

Erie, Pennsylvania

Oh, dear. Just when I thought we were actually making progress toward the acceptance of natural methods of family planning, along come the letters from Dermott J. Mullan and Christina Watkins (“Only Serious Concerns Justify NFP,” Nov. 7-13), impugning the motives of NFP [natural family planning] users, implying that it's sinful not to want at least a dozen kids, and promoting the rigid, “one size fits all” view of the family that led so many to reject Humanae Vitae 30 years ago.

With all their citations of that landmark document, however, these writers seem to have forgotten one of its most positive aspects: Pope Paul VI's encouragement to scientists and doctors to find better natural methods of birth regulation. NFP is a superb gift that God has implanted in our bodies and allowed us to discover through modern science, a golden mean between “barefoot and pregnant” and its mirror image, the radical feminist dogma that men are irreformably selfish brutes, against whom women's only defenses are contraception and abortion (or lesbianism and cloning).

In her 1979 Nobel Prize speech, Mother Teresa described NFP as “very beautiful, very simple ... self-control out of love for each other.” By fostering communication and cooperation between husband and wife, and allowing them to welcome children in accordance with both God's plan and their particular situation, NFP reflects Pope John Paul II's teaching that the sanctity and dignity of every human being requires men to treat their wives as persons, not as sexual toys or broodmares.

According to Ms. Watkins and Mr. Mullan, Catholic couples should renounce all planning and let “nature” take over. But our human nature is fallen; lacking the instinct-driven mating cycles other animals have, we must use our reason to regulate our reproductive capacity. Ms. Watkins seems unaware that achieving a “natural” interval of three years between births requires knowledge of human fertility and conscious efforts to control it. NFP combines two to three years of breast feeding with periodic abstinence, because — contrary to popular belief — a nursing mother can become pregnant.

Because no modern woman is going to tolerate the annual childbearing that that so overburdened our foremothers, the “natural state” advocated by Mr. Mullan is no longer an option. It's time we all realized that the only real choice is between natural family planning and Planned Parenthood.

Anne G. Burns Cos Cob, Connecticut

Platforms and Pro-Life Principles

I really appreciated your Nov. 14-20 report on pro-life Democrats (“Pro-Life Democrats Are Finding a Home”). At last some are demonstrating a consistent expression of caring for the weak and vulnerable.

I do deplore the emphasis on the failure of these men to be advanced by the Democratic leadership. Oh, the failure is, of course, completely contrary to the Democrats’ strong advocacy of free speech and the equality of all opinions in all other issues. Nevertheless, the practice is precisely what pro-lifers demand of Republicans.

Like many other pro-lifers, I will refuse to vote for a Republican presidential candidate who selects a pro-abortion vice president. I will expect him, if elected, to refuse leadership positions or wide platform opportunities to pro-abortion Republicans. How, then, can I fault the Democratic leadership for doing the same? Unless party platform and principle mean something, there is no value in party designation except to identify opposing “sides” in a political battle for power, not principle.

Dorothy T. Samuel St. Cloud, Minnesota

Capital Debate and the Catechism

In your account of the debate between Father George Rutler and Alejandro Bermudez on capital punishment (“Can Catholics Support Death Penalty? Debate Asks,” Nov. 7-13), you quote the full text of No. 2267 from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. However, the paragraph you quote is from the “unofficial” edition of the catechism presented by Pope John Paul II on Oct. 11, 1992, and published in English in 1994; it is not the modified version in the definitive and normative edition (editio typica) formally promulgated by him on Aug. 15, 1997.

Although I had hoped that he would, Father Rutler does not refer to this discrepancy in his response to your article (Letters, Nov. 21-27). Therefore would you please help your readers to understand this issue better by printing the full text of the modified No. 2267, as well as modified Nos. 2265 and 2266, also on the subject of legitimate defense? You might also want to advise your readers where they can readily obtain the text of all the modifications from the editio typica. I unsuccessfully tried twice in writing to obtain them directly from the United States Catholic Conference before giving up and obtaining them in a USCC publication elsewhere.

Joseph R. Silva

Arroyo Grande, California

Editor's Reply: The modified and definitive Catechism of the Catholic Church (the Editio Typica) is expected to be available by spring 2000, according to the Ad Hoc Committee to Oversee the Use of the Catechism. The modifications are available in a 28-page booklet from the U.S. Catholic Conference. Call (800) 235-8722 and ask for Publication 5-166, Catechism of the Catholic Church: Modifications from the Editio Typica. The booklet costs $1.50.