This is the third in a series of posts featuring some women’s experience with natural family planning. The first two stories can be read here and here. For the post that originally inspired this project, click here. To read about the purpose of and ground rules for this project, click here.
The following was very generously provided to me by Catherine Osborne, a PhD candidate in the history of Christianity at Fordham University. Several years ago, Osborne co-edited a sourcebook on American Catholic history entitled, American Catholic History: A Documentary Reader. An edited version of Patty Crowley‘s 1965 speech to the Papal Birth Control Commission is included in that book. Osborne sent me Crowley’s speech so that I could post it here on the blog. Osborne also wrote a brief history of the Papal Birth Control Commission and the Patty Crowley’s participation in it, which appears below.
Patty Crowley and the Papal Birth Control Commission
The history of the Pontifical Commission for the Study of Population, Family and Births (which is usually referred to as the Papal Birth Control Commission (BCC)) isn’t secret at all, but it’s also probably not quite as well known as it should be.
The backstory to the BCC is the Catholic Church’s longstanding opposition to the use of contraception, which was reaffirmed by Pius XI in Casti Connubii (1930) in response to the Anglican Church’s decision to allow it within marriage. The innovation introduced in Casti Connubii was that the use of ‘rhythm’ was to be allowed–it had not been prior to this.
The debate over contraception was reopened due to the invented of the Pill, but the Second Vatican Council did not take up the question; it was reserved for the specially created BCC, which met five times from 1963 to 1966. It grew to 72 members over time.
In the last meeting, the four married women members addressed the entire meeting. Marie Rendu, a Frenchwoman who was a promoter of rhythm, argued that “periodic continence can and does work.”
J.F. Kulanday of New Delhi, India, a nurse as well as a mother, told the commission that based on her surveys of Indian women, “women desire intercourse in marriage. It binds the husband and wife together…intercourse…keeps their love aflame.”
Colette Potvin, from Canada, mother of five and veteran of three miscarriages and a hysterectomy, later recalled that when it was her turn to speak, “I felt like I was naked up there. But it seemed to me we hadn’t been asking the right questions at the Commission. When you die, God is going to say, ‘Did you love?’ He isn’t going to say, “Did you take your temperature?” [Potvin’s speech is excerpted in Robert McClory’s Turning Point: The Inside Story of the Papal Birth Control Commission, 105-106.] Per McClory: ‘A long silence followed [her speech]. It was broken by de Riedmatten: ‘This,’ he said, ‘is why we wanted to have couples on our Commission.'”
Potvin’s survey of 319 French Canadian couples, presented to the Commission, indicated that 7 percent were “fully satisfied with the Church’s current marriage doctrine” while half “found rhythm ‘an anguished and difficult task'” and the great majority said that they did not experience growth “because much of their time ‘is spent in the great struggle to avoid the failure of rhythm.'” (107).
The longest speech was Patty Crowley‘s. Crowley, along with her husband Pat, were the head of the worldwide Christian Family Movement, and she based her speech partly on the results of a survey of her membership. To read the post featuring Crowley’s speech, click here.
Ultimately, only four members of the commission dissented from the majority’s conclusion that artificial contraception within marriage should be allowed. (The majority’s final report to Paul VI, “On Responsible Parenthood,” is included in an appendix in McClory.) Acting against the commission’s rules, Jesuit John Ford and the other three dissenters submitted a so-called ‘minority report’ in favor of retaining the existing teaching. The result of Paul VI’s decision in favor of the minority position was, of course, Humanae Vitae.