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Responsible Parenthood Guide by Pope John paul II

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General audience of August 1, 1984.

1. For today we have chosen the theme of “responsible parenthood” in the light of the Constitution “Gaudium et spes” and of the Encyclical “Humanae vitae.”

The Council document, in treating of the subject, limits itself to recalling the basic premises; the papal document, however, goes further, giving to these premises a more concrete content.

The Council text reads as follows: “When it is a question of harmonizing married love with the responsible transmission of life, it is not enough to take only the good intention and the evaluation of motives into account; the objective criteria must be used, criteria drawn from the nature of the human person and human action, criteria which respect the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love; all this is possible only if the virtue of married chastity is seriously practiced” (GS 51).

The Council adds: “In questions of birth regulation the sons of the Church, faithful to these principles, are forbidden to use methods disapproved of by the teaching authority of the Church” (GS 51).

Ruled by Conscience

2. Before the passage quoted, the Council teaches that married couples “shall fulfill their role with a sense of human and Christian responsibility and the formation of correct judgments through docile respect for God” (GS 50). This involves “common reflection and effort; it also involves a consideration of their own good and the good of their children already born or yet to come, an ability to read the signs of the times and of their own situation on the material and spiritual level, and finally, an estimation of the good of the family, of society and of the Church” (GS 50).

At this point there follow words of particular importance to determine with greater precision the moral character of “responsible parenthood.” We read: “It is the married couple themselves who must in the last analysis arrive at these judgments before God” (GS 50).

And it continues: “Married people should realize that in their behavior they may not simply follow their own fancy but must be ruled by conscience—and conscience ought to be conformed to the law of God in the light of the teaching authority of the Church, which is the authentic interpreter of divine law. For the divine law throws light on the meaning of married love, protects it and leads it to truly human fulfillment” (GS 50).

3. The Council document, in limiting itself to recalling the necessary premises for responsible parenthood, has set them out in a completely unambiguous manner, clarifying the constitutive elements of such parenthood, that is, the mature judgment of the personal conscience in relationship to the divine law, authentically interpreted by the Magisterium of the Church.

True Conjugal Love

4. The Encyclical “Humanae vitae”, basing itself on the same premises, goes further and offers concrete indications. This is seen, first of all, in the way of defining “responsible parenthood” (HV 10).

Paul VI seeks to clarify this concept by considering its various aspects and excluding beforehand its reduction to one of the “partial aspects, as is done by those who speak exclusively of birth control.”

From the very beginning, indeed, Paul VI is guided in his reasoning by an integral concept of man (cf. HV 7) and of conjugal love (cf. HV 8, 9).

Under Different Aspects

5. One can speak of responsibility in the exercise of the function of parenthood under different aspects. Thus he writes: “In relation to the biological processes involved, responsible parenthood is to be understood as the knowledge and observance of their specific functions. Human intelligence discovers in the faculty of procreating life, the biological laws which involve human personality” (HV 10).

If, on the other hand, we examine “the innate drives and emotions of man, responsible parenthood expresses the domination which reason and will must exert over them” (HV 10).

Taking for granted the above-mentioned intra-personal aspects and adding to them the “economic and social conditions,” those are considered “to exercise responsible parenthood who prudently and generously decide to have a large family, or who, for serious reasons and with due respect to the moral law, choose to have no more children for the time being or even for an indeterminate period” (HV 10).

From this it follows that the concept of “responsible parenthood” contains the disposition not merely to avoid “a further birth” but also to increase the family in accordance with the criteria of prudence. In this light in which the question of “responsible parenthood” must be examined and decided, there is always of paramount importance “the objective moral order instituted by God, the order of which a right conscience is the true interpreter” (HV 10).

6. The commitment to responsible parenthood requires that husband and wife, “keeping a right order of priorities, recognize their own duties towards God, themselves, their families and human society” (HV 10). One cannot therefore speak of “acting arbitrarily.”

On the contrary the married couple “must act in conformity with God’s creative intention” (HV 10). Beginning with this principle the encyclical bases its reasoning on the “intimate structure of the conjugal act” and on “the inseparable connection of the two significances of the conjugal act” (cf. HV 12), as was already stated previously. The relative principle of conjugal morality is, therefore, fidelity to the divine plan manifested in the “intimate structure of the conjugal act” and in the “inseparable connection of the two significances of the conjugal act.”


1 comment

  1. Patrick Gannon Reply

    So Cardinal Turkson slips up and refers to “birth control” in a recent speech, when he supposedly means “responsible parenting” and thus we get this post to remind us of what responsible parenting is.

    What it seems to mean to the RCC is having children you don’t want and can’t afford to take care of, continuing the spiral of poverty, disease and death, because you fear eternal torment if you do the moral and intelligent thing and use contraception.

    I suspect that the Cardinal in Ghana understands the dangers of overpopulation and its effects on global warming and the economic system that pushes haves and have-nots apart. I suspect that he understands that the RCC policy is disastrous, but lacks the courage to say so. I suspect that he sees the advantages and improving conditions for people with the growing use of contraception in Ghana, and wants to see that continue, but can’t say so.

    “Ghana, one of the most populous countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, is home to nearly 18 million people. Fertility in Ghana, which was high and fairly constant in the past, has now begun to decline. Contraceptive prevalence rose by half, from 13 percent to 20 percent, in a period of 5 years, an indication that the Ghana family planning program is finally making progress. Despite a rise in contraceptive prevalence, nearly 4 out of 10, or almost 1 million, married women have unmet need for family planning.” (1996 International Brief, Population Trends: Ghana).

    Forcing those least able to support large families to have them because they are denied contraception under penalty of eternal hellfire, strikes me as immoral. How did we get saddled with a prudish god who is so perversely focused on what we do when our clothes are off?

    The RCC has dug itself into some deep holes. There are many smart men there who understand that the church’s policy on contraception is in direct conflict with the Pope’s call to fight global climate change. There are smart men who understand that by accepting evolution, there is no longer any support for original sin or a need to believe, say and do the right things about Jesus in order to be “saved.” There are smart men who recognize that the fear of Hell is fading away as people learn how they were misled when the words Sheol, Gahanna, Hades and Tartarus were translated to English. There are smart men who understand that the Exodus, the key foundation for the Abrahamic religions didn’t happen in any way, shape or form as depicted in the bible, and thus an already weak foundation continues to crumble. The RCC has dug itself some deep holes. Can it dig its way out?

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