BY CHRISTINA FARRELL ANEW VATICAN document has criticised couples who use natural family planning (NFP) to deliberately limit the size of families to one or two children.
Family and Human Procreation, released last week by the Pontifical Council for the Family, is designed to enforce the teaching of Pope John Paul H and his Theology of the Body developed throughout his pontificate.
The text, according to an explanatory note, is an "object of study both for its doctrine and in its pastoral application".
It states that the "unitive act of man and woman cannot be separated from its connatural dimension... Only on this personal basis can conjugal morality be understood."
The document identifies "radical currents" which threaten the family and accuses feminism of contributing to the problem by trying to free women from "masculine oppression and from the family". It also evokes John Paul IL who said the politics of birth control had led to the current demographic winter.
But it is the document's condemnation of Catholics who use natural family planning to allow "brief parentheses" in a "marriage willingly made sterile" that has drawn most attention. The Pontifical Council appears to be comparing NEP, in these circumstances, to conventional methods of contraception outside the teaching of the Church. Vatican observers suggest that the efficacy of modern NFP methods and plummeting national birth rates in traditional Catholic countries such as Italy and Spain have led to the Church's intervention.
But there is, nevertheless, anger that Catholic couples trying to live within the doctrines of the Church should have been singled out.
Edmund Adamus, director of pastoral affairs for the Archdiocese of Westminster, said the wording appeared harsh and in opposition to the clear endorsement of natural methods of fertility regulation given by the late Pontiff, "John Paul told NFP specialists that the scientific researches they carried out 'deserved to be better known, encouraged and effectively proposed for application'," he said. "That appears to have been contradicted by the Pontifical Council."
The document was launched on June 6 to mark the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Council for the Family and also precedes a major theological council on the family which will be held in Valencia, Spain in July. Pope Benedict has already indicated that he will attend.
Signing off the document, which to date has only been published in Italian, Council president Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo said that never before had the natural institute of matrimony and the family been the victim of such violent attacks, He accused same-sex partnerships and the use of in vitro fertilisation of breaking down the positive focus of the family as the building block for society.
"Couples formed by homosexuals claim the same rights reserved to a husband and wife; they even claim the right to adoption," the Cardinal explained. "Women who live in lesbian union claim analogous rights, vatting for laws that give them access to artificial insemination and fertilisation." While the document encourages the procreation of life it advises that when "for the good of the family" it is Nest to avoid another child then couples could abstain from intercourse. It is right, it explains, that a religious obligation to respect God's creation should extend into the relationships between men and women, bringing new life into the world and educating children in the faith.
MrAdamus told The Catholic Herald that without the full translation it was difficult to assess what the Council was trying to say.
"If anything our sin of omission over recent decades has been the lack of resources, expertise and adequete pastoral profile given to natural family planning," he said.
"Sex is sacred and must always be open to life according to the Church's teaching. But what exactly does `open to life' mean? And if a couple are using natural methods of fertility management to avoid conceiving for legitimate reasons does it reflect the Church's exhortation on couples to exercise responsi, hie parenthood?"