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Has the Church succumbed to an anti-family culture?

Couples must not persuade themselves of the need to limit the size of their families

By on Monday, 29 July 2013

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with Prince George (Photo: CNS)

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with Prince George (Photo: CNS)

Having blogged about large families on Friday (inspired, naturally, by the birth of Prince George of Cambridge) I have decided I am on a bit of a roll. A friend who has ten children – she says she was influenced by the example of Victoria Gillick who also has ten children – has sent me an article from Christian Order in the edition of May 2013. I am not generally a great fan of Christian Order which seems to me always too negative about the Church, but I did read this article with some interest. Written by Christopher Gawley, it is titled “Heroic Parenthood” and I think it does deserve some consideration.
Gawley’s thesis is that the Church, without intending to, has succumbed to the secular anti-family, contraceptive culture surrounding it.

This is because although the Church deplores the contraceptive, small family bias of modern society, it does not present the true message of Catholic teaching, especially as it is contained in the encyclical Humanae Vitae. The Church tells Catholics to follow the path of natural family planning (NFP) or natural family fertility awareness – but without stressing that it should only be followed for grave reasons. In other words, if NFP is viewed merely as the “natural” alternative to artificial contraception it is, as its critics often point out, simply contraception by other means. The fact that it is also ecologically friendly is beside the point.

This, Gawley contends, is why Church teaching has failed in this area. Few Catholics understand the Church’s proper teaching on marriage and openness to life; even fewer follow it; and the result is that Catholic families tend to look and behave just like their secular counterparts. With rare exceptions, they are not the sign of contradiction that they ought to be. I think there is a lot of truth in Gawley’s argument; even if I rather feebly challenge him with “We can’t all be heroes”, the answer comes back, “That is precisely what Catholic families are called to be.”

There are indeed grave reasons for limiting the size of one’s family; mental or physical illness or incapacity, severe poverty, the violence or alcoholism of a spouse and so on; but I think it is also likely that couples persuade themselves of problems that require them to limit their families when, with generosity and trust, they could be surmounted. Gawley believes that only heroic parenthood and the decision to embrace a large family will renew the Church from within and influence the surrounding culture for the better. Indeed, he says the world “will be converted” by such families – in the same way that the world is transformed by the witness of saintly lives.

In his postscript to his article, Gawley writes: “While it would be virtually unthinkable that a diocesan marriage preparation programme might say something as follows, we can still dream: For you young Catholic people who are marrying on your 20s, you can expect, God willing and absent a physical impairment or grave reason, to have a home filled with many children. You should mentally, physically and spiritually prepare for seven, eight, nine or more children, given your ages.

“You should be prepared to accept the hardships that come with having a large family for two important reasons: children please Our Lord and your co-operation with the Lord in bringing forth new souls will in turn please our God who will bring you many graces. Second: having a large family will help you be saved; it will re-focus your attention from the material attachments that are both rampant today and hazardous to your eternal destination.

“Your many children will help you to become better and holier people and will stand as a contradiction to a world that has forgot how to live the abundant life. You, and your large faithful families, will turn the tide against the scoffers and misanthropes who would revile God’s creation and man’s place in it. We cannot promise you it will be easy because it won’t, but if you persevere in prayer and virtue, you will overcome, with God’s grace…Have life and have it abundantly – have children.”

Having typed out this daunting statement – rather a far-off diocesan dream, as its author indicates – I find its message unassailable. It reminds me that we Catholics are not called to be ordinary, Mr and Mrs Average, heads-below-the-parapet types. We are called to be saints.

  • $20596475

    In my experience no 3 year old demands to be taught to read! Pull the other one.

    And if, by some chance, you were so strange at that age to actually do so, it says two things. Firstly that your father should have refused and sent you out to play with other kids, for your social development. Secondly, we can see that the result has not been entirely positive.

    At that age kids cannot properly think for themselves. They have not yet acquired the life skills needed to come to balanced judgements. They need the guidance of their parents, or of those responsible for them. It is only later, when these skills have been acquired, and they go to school can they be expected to start to think for themselves.

  • http://jabbapapa.wordpress.com/ Julian Lord

    Me : YOU would have ACTIVELY prevented MY decision to learn how to read

    the private : your father should have refused

    See ?

    Your pretension that you seek to encourage independent thought is in ruins.

  • $20596475

    Once again you are only seeing what you want to see and selecting out your own meanings.

    I have always argued that during the very early years a child needs direction. It is only as they become older that their independence will establish itself. Obviously that age will vary a little, but it usually arrives at around 5, which is why we start schooling then. It is the parent, or carer’s, job to decide when they are ready but not to either push them too early, or restrict them later.

    It isn’t rocket science. It is just a recognition that kids development has to include a variety of aspects. They are not all academic. Many are social skills, the ability to share, to be tolerant and to be kind to others. Miss these and you end up as a less well adjusted person.

  • http://jabbapapa.wordpress.com/ Julian Lord

    Once again you are … selecting out your own meanings

    That’s what people who think for themselves DO !!!

    Your homogenised “educational” theory is its exact antithesis.

  • $20596475

    You deliberately miss out the critical phrase, which sets the context:-

    “seeing what you want to see and………”

    If you are deliberately blind to what else is there then what you filter out will always be biased.

    I am not proposing any theories. I am describing what actually happens up and down our country, and elsewhere, every day. No theories involved just facts.

  • http://jabbapapa.wordpress.com/ Julian Lord

    The thread’s dead. Out of here.

  • $20596475

    The evidence Mr JP is there for all, who want to see it. Only those who don’t cannot. Being sleepy doesn’t seem to stop you replying to every post on this site which doesn’t comply with either your worldview or your approach to Catholicism.

    My “ideals”, if you wish to categorise them as such are shared by the majority of people and are current policy and practice. Who here is therefore out of step and trying to either use, or spread, propaganda?

    If I am being politically naive then most of our politicians are with me!

  • LittleVoice

    As glorious to be a father. A lack of understanding of the importance of mother and father to a child is a cause of much sin against the human person.

  • M.S.

    Jerry thanks for your honestly. I think Gawley set Catholics back 50 years with his article. This is the very bigotry I always find myself defending the Church against. “The Church expects you to breed a Catholic army! The Church doesn’t care about how many kids you want or can afford! Etc…” I find myself frustrated when I hear these things from non-Catholics, and now Gawley has said these things himself? Frustrating. My husband and I practice NFP and its been a blessing. Do we want ten children? No! Can we afford ten children? No! So I don’t see NFP as going hand-in-hand with 10+ kids. And furthermore, I don’t think NFP is probably for everyone, and I DEFINITELY don’t think big families are for everyone. Gawley is making a very gray issue way too black-and white here.

  • M.S.

    @terreniamorley:disqus what a great post. I am also a working mother and articles like Gawley’s just make me feel guilty and insufficient in my motherhood. My career is demanding, but it is also just as God-serving as being a stay-at-home mom. It is not at all possible for me to have 8+ kids while working… so does this also mean to be a good Catholic that a mother must stay-at-home? What a scary conclusion if this is true. This is certainly not what my Catholicism means to me.

  • M.S.

    @twitter-707651544:disqus I wonder if anyone would tell a working father his first vocation is to look after his own children and this ranks in importance higher than any profession? I highly doubt it. What makes you think its okay to tell a working mother this? You think ANY working mother doesn’t already know that??

  • Terrenia Morley

    Gawley has lost the plot here – so has Francis who re-echoed his thoughts in this article. The Church would never teach us to aim for a set number of children or to prepare for a set number – we are probably as Catholic as the Pope on this… I suspect our brother & sister (apparently Francis is female) who have sparked this debate have got over excited. Don’t feel guilty : you are probably a high class mum and a high class professional :-) like me! Thanks be to God! He can inspire us himself… All we have to do is listen to him and let him into our families and our relationships.

  • WSquared

    Exactly. A man’s career is to fit into his vocation to fatherhood; he isn’t a provider only because he “brings home the bacon.” A father is meant to provide for his family spiritually as well (how many men, by the way, don’t pray and leave this to their wives, because Everybody Knows that “religion” is just “emotional women’s stuff”?). You’ll notice that I did raise similar points and talk about careers, fatherhood and stewardship in my rather long reply to Rosemary below.

    Part of the problem is that we’re seeing motherhood– and fatherhood– as exclusively and primarily biological, when this is not what the Church teaches. She sees motherhood and fatherhood as having a spiritual dimension as well. Which is all the more visible in virginity and the discipline of celibacy (you may want to read Cardinal Ratzinger’s letter to the bishops on the cooperation between men and women if you haven’t already: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20040731_collaboration_en.html).

    When we leave celibacy out of the picture, we miss an important dimension and ignore an important witness that priests provide. The witness of the priest is important to married couples, also, for the reasons I’ve just given in shorthand above.

  • M.S.

    @Wsquared thanks for the link, I will look at it for certain. I’ll also read your reply below to Rosemary.

  • oregon nurse

    OR, it could be said that Gawley is trying to bring a little black and white clarity into a contraceptive, “I’ll make my own decisions about how many children I’ll have without God’s help, thank you” mindset that has been too muddied by the prevailing culture. How do any of us know what salvific graces are lost with every opportunity denied?

  • Jerry

    Oregon catholic: It is not possible to infer that all those who practise NFP are saying “I’ll make my own decisions about how many children I’ll have without God’s help, thank you.” The help of grace is needed for every decision and for an informed conscience, and with the help of that grace a couple may choose to limit the size of their family for legitimate and holy reasons. Further, If one were to say that any family planning whatever was motivated without God’s help then one would not be adhering to Catholic teaching.