National Catholic Register


Husbands, Wives and Discerning Family Size

BY Jim Cosgrove

July 6-12, 2003 Issue | Posted 7/6/03 at 1:00 PM


Dermott and Sue Mullan are to be commended for taking a stand for life in “A Catholic Dad on Openness to Life ... And His Wife's ’ Response’” (Commentary, June 15-21). As a father of three who hopes for more, and as an international promoter of the Church's teaching on sexuality, I certainly stand with them. Unfortunately their articles lack some important distinctions found in the Church's teaching on this subject.

Many people fail to grasp the profound distinction between natural family planning and contraception because they're bent on justifying contraception. But the Mullans also seem to confuse the distinction because of their concept of openness to life. Dermott even speaks of natural family planning as another form of contraception when he writes, “Couples who choose to contracept typically discuss methods, some moral, others immoral.” This is a grave misconception! Natural family planning is not “moral contraception.” It's not contraception at all. Contraception is the choice to defraud a given sexual act of its procreative potential. Couples who use natural family planning in accord with the Church's vision never defraud their sexual acts in this way.

Natural family planning can be morally acceptable not as an exception to the rule of “openness to life” but because, when used properly, it accords entirely with openness to life. Never does the couple using natural family planning “close” their sexual acts to the Lord and Giver of life. God remains God. Far from being just another “technique” of avoiding children, natural family planning fosters precisely those virtues that bring spouses into proper relationship with God and one another. This is certainly to be promoted — to the ends of the earth!

The Mullans repeatedly stress that avoiding children should only be temporary. In most cases, this is true. But this needs to be tempered with the Church's teaching that “for serious reasons and with due respect to the moral law,” couples may “choose to have no more children for the time being or even for an indeterminate period” (Humanae Vitae, No. 10).

Sue relates that “human nature is quick to find excuses, so it's best to decide about family planning with the assistance of a competent spiritual adviser.” Couples who are selfishly avoiding children need a change of heart. If a spiritual adviser can help a couple experience this change of heart, great. But, as Vatican II wisely teaches, when it comes to deciding family size, the “parents themselves and no one else should ultimately make this judgment in the sight of God” (Gaudium et Spes, No. 50). And Pope John Paul II emphasizes in his theology of the body that this point is “of particular importance to determine ... the moral character of’ responsible parenthood’” (Aug. 1, 1984).

Confusion abounds regarding the Church's teaching on openness to life. Those who want to be faithful to the Church's teaching often suffer when it's not accurately explained and presented.



The writer is lecturer in sexual ethics at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary.

Great Issue

First, I submit a comment on “Who Teaches With the Church? Georgetown Won't Tell Parents” (June 15-21). I left a Catholic college in the 1980s with a cum laude degree and a lot of questions about the Church. Having matured and read more about my religion since then, I now treasure the answers I found about the all-male priesthood and the Pope's authority, despite my “Catholic” college experience.

Second, I thank the editor and staff of the Register for the wonderful balance throughout the June 15-21 edition. Our Pope was quoted on the “genius” of women ("Croatia Needs Women's ‘Genius’ to Survive, Pope Says") and, in balance, Barb Ernster wrote an uplifting piece that acknowledges the unique importance of men ("Moving Men Into Catholic Men's Movements,” Prolife Profile).

Finally, Dermott and Sue Mullan both dared to write the plain truth in an amazing and insightful commentary ("A Catholic Dad on Openness to Life ... And His Wife's’ Response’”). Wow. This subject material is simply not addressed anywhere else. How amazing it is to belong to a Church that values the different gifts of men and women. Thank you for the content and the balance.


Howard, Pennsylvania

A Baby, Not a Body Part

Regarding “Child as Body Part? Neither Side Likes Court Ruling” (May 25-31):

Our rosary group meets once a week before the Blessed Sacrament to pray. We were all upset by the thought that, even in the distinct circumstance of this one ruling, babies could be seen as less than full human beings.

We support each life from conception to natural death with our Pope John Paul II. We look forward to the coming actions of courts in our beloved country that will remove abortion from the United States of America. Eventually, we hope that all mothers will receive love and care from each one of us. No one of us stands alone. Support and love are needed by all.

Let our country, our churches, our medical communities and our relief organizations all give support to each expectant mother, regardless of age, religion or race. We must continue to help her after the birth with counseling, opportunities for adoption or facilities that allow her to keep her baby. Let us work together to make all these options, which are available now, well-known to those in need of their services.


Luvern, Minnesota

When Is a Soul?

The discussion of embryonic ensoulment in your June1-7 Letters section strikes to the heart of the pro-life/pro-abortion argument. I would argue that even the most superficial analysis will show that the human embryo is a person, total and complete and, yes, even ensouled.

Science is the study of the creative mind of the Lord. God is so interwoven with the nature of science that to try to separate the two ends in false conclusions and politically guided untruths like the pro-abortion lie that the embryo isn't human or the misguided idea that personhood takes place at some time other than conception.

Most of the arguments that we have seen against immediate ensoulment predate our understanding of genetics. This branch of science has shown us that our individuality on a structural level clearly takes place at conception. With the exception of a few mutational changes, you are the same person genetically as when you were conceived. The fact that we come from two human parents is what makes us human. We come into existence as an individual at the time the two gametes fuse. There is no other individual exactly like you from that point on. I'm sure that, had Aquinas had this knowledge, there would be little doubt that he would agree with immediate ensoulment.

Human development begins at the moment of conception and ends with natural death. It seems clear to me that ensoulment follows suit. To be human is to have a soul, and to have a soul is to be human. To say that human life begins without a soul is contradictory and is contrary to the example of the conception of Christ.



Bloomfield Hills, Michigan

School's Out

While we enjoyed your editorial “Why Home School?” (June 8-14), we fear that you failed to tell the whole truth about why so many Catholic parents are choosing to home school their children.

A few years ago, when we were living in Oakland, Calif., our family and other Catholics learned the hard way why we could not trust the local parochial schools. Not only was the Catholic faith being watered down, but the so-called “Family Life” education was almost pornographic in its content. Along with other concerned parents, we voiced our concerns to the principal, a nun. She told us that, if we do not like the way she runs the school, then we should go elsewhere.

When we met with our weak pastor, he told us that he would not interfere. We attempted to meet with the local bishop. He branded these concerned Catholic parents “troublemakers” and would not meet with us.

A few years later, we had the opportunity to speak to high-school students at Bishop O'Dowd in Oakland. At this “Catholic” high school we were booed when we told their students that abortion, adultery and homosexuality are wrong and contrary to official Church teaching. The students informed us that their teachers taught them that no one has the right to say what is wrong or right, that each person decides for himself. So much for costly Catholic education. It's past time that lukewarm Catholics wake up and check what's being taught to their children [in the name of the Church].

While your editorial presents a rosy picture of parochial schools, that is not the case. If it were so, Catholics would not for the most part home school their children, or build new independent Catholic schools, which unlike many parochial schools do not water down our faith and the teachings of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church that Jesus established.


Atarcadero, California

Second Opinion on St. Mary's

The article “Ave Maria Pulls out of St. Mary's in Michigan” (June 22-28), may have confused your readers about the continuation of the Catholic Integrated Core Curriculum. Early in the piece, Sister Rose Marie Kujawa, President of Madonna University, indicates accurately that the Catholic Integrated Core Curriculum will continue. Later, as a student is quoted (inaccurately) to indicate that “the teachers who have a heart for it won't be there.”The discrepancy between these statements is confusing.

Let me state the facts clearly:

First, the CICC will continue in the same way that it was planned to, with minor alterations that would have been made anyway. The CICC is designed to achieve the aims set forward by Pope John Paul II in Fides et Ratio. The curriculum is integrated in itself: All of the courses are ordered to help the students achieve a unified, Catholic vision of human life, private and professional, guided by faith and reason. It is further integrated with programs in student life and campus ministry designed to deepen the students’ faith and charity.

Second, though some professors are leaving, five remain — all deeply committed Catholics, all devoted to the Pope's vision, all determined to build this program, which they see as a contribution toward righting the confusion in Catholic higher education. We do have the heart for it.

Third, Sister Rose Marie and the other administrators at Madonna University have acted throughout this process with great patience and charity. Madonna will provide a stable and well-managed context within which the St. Mary's Core can grow.

The distorted picture presented in the article would have been righted if your reporter had presented the information given to him by Dr. John Hittinger (the dean who designed the program) and by me. The reporter interviewed both of us — but quoted neither.


Ann Arbor, Michigan

The writer is a coordinator of St. Mary's Core Curriculum.

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