National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
March 12, 2004

LettersKnoxville honor roll

Regarding the Feb. 6 article “School, chancery still honor bishop who admitted abuse”: As a veteran of similar efforts, I am in accord with Susan Vance’s efforts along those same lines in Knoxville. And I am dismayed and horrified that, in this post-Dallas charter era, cronies and friends of an abuser continue to concoct far-fetched arguments in favor of honoring the abuser over victims.

Chancellor J. Vann Johnston of Knoxville somehow thinks that a near-lifesize bronze bust doesn’t “make a statement.” I would put it to the chancellor in this fashion: “Does the crucifix at the front of your cathedral make a statement? Do the statues around the nave make statements?” Let’s be real, Chancellor Johnston: We Catholics say it with statues.

To Principal Aurelia Montgomery, at what price does your “historical display” come? Is the message that if you gain power, and use it to sexually exploit those whom you are supposed to be helping, you may still be held up in a place of honor if you get the right promotions and know the right people?

What does that say to the young men and women in your charge? How should they behave in their own lives?

Moreover, can they really trust you if they become victims, since you side with the abuser, your family friend?

Is your historical display so vital to the mission of Knoxville Catholic High that it justifies even giving the impression that you are memorializing a child rapist? Are you up to the task of explaining those shades of gray to young minds?

What, exactly, is the principle that causes you to cling so tenaciously to a display that is not necessary?

Annandale, N.J.

Natural Family Planning

I just wanted to send along a note of thanks for your article in the Feb. 13 issue, “Speaking up for Natural Family Planning.” My wife and I have used NFP for the 10 years of our marriage, and our experience has been much the same as the authors’. We have found it to be a wonderful, life-giving (not just child-giving!) component of our life together. It is a natural, healthy, simple alternative to contraception.

I think it is a shame that NFP is so often dismissed by the majority of Catholics as being a relic of the bad old days. In reality, it is pro-woman, pro-couple and pro-life in the largest sense of the word. I would encourage any couple to investigate NFP. Not even taking into account any theological or philosophical reasons for its use, NFP is a good choice.

Ionia, Mich.

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There is a word that defines people who use the rhythm method of birth control. They are known as “parents.”

San Francisco

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I applaud the article “Speaking Up for Natural Family Planning” by Jim Ternier and Marie-Louise Ternier-Gommers. My husband and I were required to attend a class on NFP during our marriage preparation in 1991. Once we understood the issues involved, we embraced NFP wholeheartedly. I had been active in the peace movement for a few years, and this natural approach to monitoring and respecting one’s fertility fit right in with our desire to live out Gospel simplicity. Through the NFP community, we also learned about natural parenting (including exclusive breastfeeding) and nonviolent disciplining of children. Like NFP, these forms of child rearing can be demanding at times, but we believe they contribute greatly to our efforts to raise healthy, secure children who will make positive contributions to our world. Along with Jim and Marie-Louise, we regret the gulf between many advocates of NFP and so-called liberal Catholics. For us, the church’s teachings on war, social justice and the environment go hand-in-hand with her teaching on family planning.

Fort Stockton, Texas

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I completely disagree with the recent article “Speaking up for Natural Family Planning.” The Catholic church should promote all forms of birth control, not just NFP. By forbidding all forms of contraception, the church is doing a huge disservice to its citizens. Recent studies have shown that the rates of teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases are at an all-time low, thanks to effective promotion of contraception. The Catholic church is living in the dark ages with regard to this issue. If nobody used contraception, the population of this Earth would be too great and human civilization would implode as a result. I am an intelligent, decent Catholic, and I will not be told how to protect myself by a bunch of men who molest children.

Decatur, Ga.

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I have no reason not to respect those couples who chose to use NFP as a method of contraception in their marriage. However, I take exception to the authors’ statement that “NFP has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” Indeed it was the only form of birth control used by the majority of Catholics in the last century. We, too, were idealistic and grew in mutual respect, good communication and in supporting our partners’ fullest human potential. Many 50-year anniversaries have been celebrated with numbers of children, grandchildren and peers. The Catholic culture allowed no choice in family planning, and perhaps that and the results are why the next generation saw the unreliability of “rhythm,” as it was called. Like most of our Catholic friends, our stories were similar. We had rhythm. Ours are named Christie, Tom, Pat, Tim, Mary, Michael and Callie. Molly, our fourth child, died of SIDS and my ninth pregnancy in 12 years was a miscarriage. The medical advice was that if I wanted to be able to raise our family, contraceptives were advisable. No, I don’t think it can be said that NFP has not been tried. Consciousness of the sacredness of life continues and Catholics with more complex reasons and choices still have the responsibility of making informed choices according to their conscience.


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Their love glows from between the lines of the article on Natural Family Planning written by Jim Ternier and Marie-Louise Ternier-Gommers. There can be no doubt that NFP enriched and nourished their marriage. On the other hand, many of their contemporaries experienced an increase in enrichment and nourishment of their marriage when they switched to contraceptive birth control. There is something to be learned from the contrast between these lived experiences. Perhaps contraception does not turn sex into a hedonistic, self-centered pleasure. Perhaps the God-given connection that should not be broken is the connection between sex and mutually committed loving rather than the connection between sex and reproduction. Perhaps it is not contraception but the lack of or failure of ongoing committed loving that falsifies conjugal love.

We can only speculate what effect there might have been on the Catholic church and our culture if Humanae Vitae had recognized this lesson. But I do know that many fellow parents of the ’60s and ’70s would have joyously welcomed a strong countercultural statement from the church that affirmed the essential nature of the connection between sex and mutually committed loving. Even today such a statement would be an invaluable guide for young people struggling to achieve a mature, responsible self-giving sexuality in a culture that bombards them unrelentingly with titillating images of the immature sexuality of mutual self-pleasuring.

Wausau, Wis.

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I was a member of the Notre Dame Commission on Population and Responsible Parenthood, which worked closely with the papal commission between 1962 and 1965. Indeed, many members of the papal commission were members of both groups. Our personal lives and the extensive data we gathered on Catholic couples do not support their paraphrase of G.K. Chesterton’s famous quote, to wit, that in this case “NFP has been found difficult and not tried.” On the contrary, until the emergence of the pill in the early 1960s all the evidence points to the fact that NFP was widely used, or attempted to be used, by Catholic couples. Like so many of our colleagues on the Notre Dame campus, and millions of Catholics nationally and worldwide, we found NFP to hamper and disrupt rather than fit well with the lives we were trying to live then. If only 4 or 5 percent of Catholics find NFP to fit their needs, it behooves us to be pleased for them. But the fact that the great majority of Catholic couples going back to the 1960s has found a variety of other means to achieve the kind of family planning that fits their needs should not imply that they are ignoring teachings that demand too much for them.

The Terniers’ experience may have affirmed for them “that the church’s intuition about family planning is right on the money.” The church, however, is more than the hierarchy. I prefer to believe that the sensus fidelium that emerged first with the overwhelming majority of the Papal Birth Control Commission has been affirmed over the past 34 years by growing millions of Catholics. The latter may not have had the benefit of the knowledge brought to that commission by the great body of church scholars who combined reason and faith to reach their conclusion, but they have had the benefit of their own lived experiences.

I would that hope that if the bishops of the United States go forward with a new pastoral letter regarding birth control, they will begin by a careful reexamination of the documents of the Papal Birth Control Commission, and include in their deliberations the broad array of church scholars including married couples. Church leaders may want to include the Terniers in such a deliberative body, but if they stop there, they will not hear the voice of the millions of Catholics whose own lived experience needs to be heard.


Man O’War

On your Feb. 6 story on Cheney’s presentation of a crystal dove to the pope: Man O’War gifts Man O’Peace.

Rensselaer, N.Y.

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National Catholic Reporter, March 12, 2004