This is the fourth in a series of posts featuring some women’s experience with natural family planning. The first two 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.
To read about the history of the Papal Birth Control Commission and Crowley’s participation in it, click here.
Crowley’s speech was provided to be my Catherine Osborne, PhD candidate in the history of Christianity at Fordham University, co-editor of American Catholic History: A Documentary Reader. The text of Crowley’s speech is from Robert McClory, Turning Point: The Inside Story of the Papal Birth Control Commission, and How Humanae Vitae Changed the Life of Patty Crowley and the Future of the Church.
…We have been blessed with only 5 children of our own but have housed more than a dozen foster children during the past 20 years under the supervision of the Catholic Charities. In addition to an active professional life as a lawyer and the duties of a housewife, together during the past 20 years we have devoted much of our spare time to organizing and activating couples in the Christian Family Movement. This experience brought us into close contact with thousands of apostolic, intelligent young families who by their lives have demonstrated a great love for the Church….
CFM is known to be a sympathetic setting for large families. Since being told of our appointment and being authorized to consult our contemporaries, we have been shocked into a realization that even the most dedicated, committed Catholic couples are deeply troubled by this problem. We have gathered hundreds of statements from many parts of the United States and Canada and have been overwhelmed by the strong consensus in favor of some change. Most expressed a hope that the positive values in love and marriage need to be stressed and that an expanded theology of marriage needs to be developed.
Most say they think there must be a change in the teaching on birth control. Very few know what this change should be; they are puzzled but hopeful.
We understand that when the Church was considering the problem of what to do about reviewing the teaching on usury, the testimony of business people was heard and considered. If there is any parallel between the teaching of usury and the teaching on family limitation, then possibly there is a precedent for the testimony of those most affected by the doctrine. Our long identification with Christian families gives our report on how family people feel on this subject some evidentiary value.
In response to our inquiries we received a number of interesting letters, copies of which we make available to all who wish to read them. We have attempted to classify in some order those against change, those in favor of change. Most of the statements were made in response to questions about the subject outlined by Dr. John Marshall.
Almost all feel there must be a reconsideration of the Church’s stand. The solution is not clear to most but the need to be concerned is. Many of the couples have large families – 6 to 13 children – most are able to educate and support the children. Some have had intermittent financial, physical, and in a few cases, psychological problems. Many expressed the hope that the Church will change; a very few have given up and practiced some form of birth control. Most expressed dissatisfaction over the Rhythm method for a variety of reasons, running from the fact that it was ineffective, hard to follow; and some had psychological and physiological objections. We suspect that many are not too familiar with the science of practicing Rhythm.
People are puzzled by statements they have heard or seen in print that the old arguments based on natural law are being questioned. One report came from a couple; the wife was an obstetrical nurse; the husband, a successful management engineer; who have had wide experience in the Christian Family Movement in five states. They have no personal involvement because they could not have more than three children and have adopted one. They expressed the hope that there would be some change. They think pills are medical problems for medical research rather than theological speculation at this stage. They were horrified at the thought of the Church possibly approving of pills and later the medical profession rejecting them.
One very articulate group of six couples , all of whom are engaged in Catholic Social Action submitted a statement on the subject which we think deserves to be incorporated in this report:
“They believe the end of marriage, considered in its natural as well as sacramental aspects, is both personal and social — the fulfillment of the individual partners as Christians and human beings and the perfection of society.”
“The bearing and raising of children are normally the means by which this end is reached; the intention of fruitfulness is normally part of the marriage union.”
“The number of children by which a couple can best reach this end can be determined — should be determined — by the couple alone; if the decision is made to limit the number of children, this should be done on the basis of Christian charity; i.e., unselfishly, out of a love that sees some larger good to be accomplished by the limitation.”
Discussions of the morality of sex in marriage should be based on considerations such as these, not on analysis of the isolated act of intercourse.
For these reasons they urged among other things that the Church state that regulation of conception is a decision to be left to the informed conscience of the couple.”
Our impression is that this enormous problem deserves extensive investigation. The Church must convince its devoted followers that she is willing to re-open and re-examine this subject with all of the new insights of theological, as well as biological, physiological, psychological; sociological, demographic and historic background, etc., currently available to facilitate this important search for truth.
A WOMAN’S VIEWPOINT
As a woman, I am grateful for the chance to address this Commission. Neither Pat nor I consider ourselves as “experts.” Rather we look upon ourselves as “communication channels.” As much as possible, we hope to pass on to you our interpretation of how married people that we know feel about this subject that is so overwhelmingly important to them.
During our adult lives we have worked with married people. We have talked with them, argued with them, perhaps preached to them more than we like to recognize, worked with them, and, most important, we have listened to them. Our work in the Christian Family Movement, which is now active in sixty-one countries, has taken us around the world several times. Just last month we visited CFM people in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania.
Since our appointment to this Commission we have asked people how they feel about these momentous questions. We have asked them informally, in casual conversation — where so much can be said in so few words — and we have asked them in three formal, scientific surveys. So we think that we can speak with some authority on how the married people we know and work with feel.…
For more than a year we have gathered data, written and oral. Our first questionnaire went to thousands of couples. They were tabulated in a report compiled by Professor Donald Barrett of the University of Notre Dame.
To confirm the findings in this study, we made still another survey, a course of action suggested by Dr. Andre Helligers. We asked CFM “contact couples” throughout the world to fill out a questionnaire dealing with rhythm. “Contact Couples” are leaders within their CFM geographical area. Ordinarily they have worked within CFM for a number of years. They are specially devoted to its aims. To do their CFM work and to succeed at it, they must be a husband and wife who communicate well with each other and are devoted to making their marriage a success. They strive to be, in short, a happy, successful family unit, and our observations would indicate they have succeeded. We stress this point, quite obviously, to indicate that these questionnaires were not filled out by disaffected Catholics, those who may be discouraged, disillusioned, or disenchanted, or whose personal problems within marriage may have caused them to drift apart from each other and from the Church.
Naturally, we do not presume to judge the success or happiness of a marriage or the quality of a person’s Christianity. Yet if one were to ask us to select on the basis of outward appearances men and women who are indeed happy, who are committed to pursuing Christ’s work on earth, who love the Church and look to her for guidance, these are precisely the couples we would select. For the details of the surveys themselves — the facts, figures, percentage of replies, and the like — I refer you to the reports themselves. Let me summarize a few of the conclusions.
Is there a bad psychological effect in the use of rhythm?
Almost without exception, the responses were that, yes, there is.
Does rhythm serve any useful purpose at all?
A few say it may be useful for developing discipline. Nobody says that it fosters married love .
Does it contribute to married unity?
No. That is the inescapable conclusion of the reports we have received.
In marriage a husband and wife pledge themselves to become one in mind, heart, and affection. They are no longer two, but one flesh — and they must find mutual help and serve each other through intimate union of their persons and their actions; through this union an experience of their oneness and attain to it with growing affection day by day.
Some wonder whether God would have us cultivate such unity by using what, seems to them an unnatural system.
I must add that the best place children learn the importance of love is from the example of their parents. Yet these reports seem to indicate that instead of unity and love, rhythm tends to substitute tension, dissatisfaction, frustration, and disunity.
I feel that I would be disloyal to women if I didn’t also emphasize one other point: We have heard some men, married and celibate, argue that rhythm is a way to develop love. But we have heard few women who agree with them.
Is rhythm unnatural?
Yes — that’s the conclusion of these reports. Over and over, directly and indirectly, men and women — and perhaps especially women — voice the conviction that the physical and psychological implications of rhythm are not adequately understood by the male Church.
Very shortly I will quote at length from some of the responses we have received. Many of them point out a very simple physical and psychological fact, best expressed in those simple but sad words, “It’s the wrong time.” Over and over, respondents pointed out that nature prepares a woman at the time of ovulation to have the greatest urge to mate with her husband. Similarly at that time, her husband wants to respond to his wife. She craves his love. Yet month after month she must say no to her husband because it is the wrong date on the calendar or the thermometer reading isn’t right.
No amount of theory by man will convince women that this way of making and expressing love is natural.
Listen, for example, to a couple that has been married 17 years. They have seven children and have had two miscarriages. They are both 38:
“This method of family planning is very harmful to our marriage and to many others. There has been many bad times and tears over this unreasonable law in this family. My husband is away on long business trips and unfortunately his company doesn’t take our calendar into consideration when he has to be gone all over this country and now all over the world. He has left on trips at the wrong time of the month and arrived, all in the same month, at the wrong time of the month. Sometimes he he’s been gone weeks and arrived home at the wrong time of the month, too. This problem is detrimental to family rapport, since Mother and Father are very upset and edgy with one another since they cannot reaffirm their love a t this time. One cannot make love by a calendar, since illness, fatigue and emotions are involved. More often than not, strangely, there is not a desire at this time, but you go through with it because it’s safe, maybe, and there may not be another time. One or the other probably doesn’t really prefer that particular time, but feels at least it is a release. This isn’t a true expression of love! It must be free! It must be spontaneous as much as is possible.”
A very dedicated couple who have worked for years in Marriage Preparation with women writes this:
“We have always been taught by the Church to strive for the ideal — the true Christian life, the best kind of marriage. However, it is psychologically sound that even a limited marriage, let alone really sound one is best achieved by two people with a good interpersonal relationship — one that is least hampered by fear, guilt and tension. No marriage will be without these tensions, just by virtue of two people living together, and then, the children entering into the relationship.
This is why it is so important for a couple to be able to maintain as loving a relationship between themselves as possible. Therefore, I feel that we must do all in our power to help the Christian couple to foster their love.
Certainly the best parents are “whole” people psychologically and it is most difficult to be whole when you are constantly “separated” from the loved one where sometimes you most need him or her in the vital emotional relationship which gets at feelings. Those who are torn by emotional upsets are not going to be able to fulfill the aim of marriage of “responsible parenthood”.
Certainly birth control is not going to solve all marriage problems, but it is another one that is constant and causes turmoil and agony in the lives of so many couples — couples who must be “whole” in order to raise “whole” people. Rhythm certainly can be the answer for some, but I would suggest that this is a very limited few. What is to be done for the millions of underprivileged who can’t even count — or for the millions who are irregular — or for those in change of life. Is their emotional life supposed to shrivel up and die — really the worst kind of psychology!
Actually rhythm fulfills a need because for many who absolutely cannot take the risk of more children without dire consequences to the marriage, rhythm could be combined with a contraceptive in order to give the greatest kind of assurance. With this kind of assurance many can be warm loving persons once again instead of fearful and tense.
In the realm of psychology, any simple psychology book tells us that people who are in a constant stricture in an area that should be open and free and loving are damaging themselves and consequently, others. Any emotions that are bottled up when one does not want them to be bottled up are dangerous. And how many millions of couples live in this situation daily — certainly far more than those who sublimate their desires or who are taught control. Finally, is our Church for a select few or are we trying to find solutions for the millions who need this kind of help.”
The second psychological phenomena that was seen in many of the responses is that of fear. Once again, several quotes:
From a couple married 3 years, 2 children, 2 miscarriages: “Abstinence puts a strain on marriage. Each full-term pregnancy has meant a major operation (Caesarean) —miscarriages — and pregnant again and health has taken a beating. As a result, I cannot care for husband, children, or house as I should. The fear of another unwanted pregnancy puts such a fear in sex as to make it almost prohibitive.”
A couple who has been very active in CFM since their marriage 11 years ago, both 35, 7 living children, tell us:
“Rhythm causes a lot of tension end preoccupation with the calendar. Some women can’t take that monthly anxiety period (commonly called “safe period”) of waiting to find out if they made it through another month. For me it is difficult to rely on a “safe period,” as I am always fearful that the cycle might have been thrown off by the frequent upsets of a 9-person household.
The marriage act becomes less an expression of love and more a reminder of possible pregnancy and a duty grudgingly fulfilled. Many times I have gone through this turmoil, feeling reluctant, even resentful, and at the same time feeling guilty because my mind and heart are worrying about such things rather than thinking of my love for my husband. Add to this the anxiety of some of my friends whose husbands travel. If his weekend at home comes at the wrong time, then what? The wife always says, “I trust my husband , but … ” The lunch hour hotel room affair is common enough in our society that even a woman whose husband does not travel wonders how much temptation she puts in his way by denying him at home. My point here is not that the husbands are not able to withstand the temptation, but the wives, being women who want, to be generous, feel guilty and sometimes worried by this aspect of rhythm.
Another burden put on the wife is the fact that she, or rather her menstrual cycle, controls the exercise of the marriage act. “You may not” or “You may” or “I don’t know” says the calendar, thermometer, or fertility tape. It must be checked every day. It is a constant reminder that love may be expressed, or must be channeled elsewhere, depending upon the impersonal schedule of the cycle.
What do I mean by “channelled elsewhere?” Aren’t there other expressions of love besides the marriage act? Yes, but for me this creates another problem. I “bend over backwards” to avoid raising false hopes on my husband’s part. This sounds ridiculous, but I stiffen at a kiss on the cheek, instantly reminded that I must be discreet.
I withdraw in other ways, too, afraid to be an interesting companion, gay or witty, or charming; hesitant about being sympathetic or understanding, almost wishing I could be invisible. At the same time I ask myself if my husband resents being dominated by a calendar, or if he misunderstands my cool behavior. And I wonder why I can’t shake off the fear and uncertainty during the rest of the month.
Even though we have discussed these problems together they still bother me. I have limited this opinion strictly to rhythm and its effect upon me in regard to the marriage act. Much more could be said about the effects of this tension upon the children, about my husband’s feelings in regard to rhythm, and about the early years of our marriage when we were taught that we had no reason or even right to limit or space our children.”….
Thus we see the anguish expressed by some faithful Catholics. They are not alone. Some of them have suffered terribly and are only now asking themselves if their travail was really necessary. Others, expressing their love for each other and their families, nevertheless insist that they should have done it otherwise had they been free to choose their course of action. We can only admire the courage and honesty of a woman who looks at her family of seven (or more), loving her children, and yet admitting that she wishes she had the time to do something more than “act as a referee.”
Notice how these reactions contradict what in the past has been the stereotyped, conventional way of looking at the Catholic husband and wife and their large family. These fathers and mothers, surveying their children, do not sit back with pride and satisfaction. Instead, they reflect a hardly muted bitterness as a condition in their lives that has forced them to stay apart from each other when their natures cried out for each other.
What shall we do?
Thirty years ago the Church introduced rhythm with the understanding that it was to be used only with permission of the confessor. Today the Church permits its use and even extends its blessings to those who use rhythm for good reason and in good conscience.
Our observation and experience confirms the fact that couples the world over are consciously or unconsciously asking a question:
“Why, then, cannot the Church permit Catholics with good reason and in good conscience to select their own methods in limiting births?”
Is not the sex drive instilled by God a normal one?
Should not husbands and wives be encouraged to express their love without adding a series of do’s and don’ts?
Is it a sign of man’s dignity that he must study the calendar to express the love he feels, for his wife by an action that will deepen and intensify that love?
We think it is time for a change. We think it is time that this Commission recommend that the sacredness of conjugal love not be violated by thermometers and calendars. Marital union does lead to fruitfulness, psychologically as well as physically. Couples want children and will have them generously and love them and cherish them — we do not need the impetus of legislation to procreate — it is the very instinct of life, love and sexuality.
It is in fact largely our very love for children as persons and our desire for their full development as committed Christians that leads us to realize that numbers alone and the large size of a family is by no means a Christian ideal unless parents can truly be concerned about and capable of nurturing a high quality of Christian life.
We express these thoughts, as nearly as we can reflect them, of thousands of couples.
We sincerely hope and do respectfully recommend that this Commission redefine the moral imperatives of fertility regulation with a view toward bringing them in conformity with our new and improved understanding of men and women in today’s world.
We realize that some may be scandalized? [sic] Those who have no awareness of the meaning of renewal—those who disagree with the Conciliar emphasis on personhood and those who do not understand that the Church is the living People of God guided by the Holy Spirit.