Our discussion on Pope Francis’ New Year’s resolutions was excellent. I was somewhat surprised at some of the views. But then I am one of his fans. So, I thought that, being the holidays, it might be useful to look at a real life moral problem in between the brandy butter and the Angel on the tree.
I take you back to the ‘60s when I was a marriage counsellor in the local parishes. The story is true – although I have made a few minor changes for the sake of security.
A couple was sent to me. They had a problem. They had three children, but the wife had developed a condition often called “white leg of pregnancy.” She had been told that another pregnancy was likely to be mortal.
In those days, you will remember, artificial contraception was not so reliable as it is today. But even if the Church had allowed it, it was far too dangerous. As for the ‘safe period’, the doctor fell about laughing. So it would appear that the couple were obliged to give up the sexual element in the marriage.
The last possibility was sterilisation. It was clearly strongly forbidden by the Church on the ground that since the organs involved were themselves in good order, it could not be justified. (Catechism. 2297). The couple decided that it should be the wife (fallopian tubes) – because she could never have children in practice while the husband might do so (vas deferens) in a second marriage. The couple argued that the sexual expression of the marriage was fundamental to the relationship.
As a ‘good’ marriage counsellor, I did not instruct them either way. But I helped them through asking questions, and providing relevant information, including the Church’s views of such matters. Some years later I would have reminded them that the teaching of Humanae Vitae led several bishops to remind their flock that conscience must be followed, even if it leads to a decision which is counter to the Church’s teaching.
Now I ask you what decision you would take if you were in such a quandary as my couple?
I tell you this story because our discussion on Pope Francis seems to focus between a concern for weakening the Church’s long held moral laws, and a view that these are not necessarily the final answer but need to be seen in context. The first view is convenient to maintain: we all know where we are. Our sterilised couple will go to Hell if they do not repent. We are not allowed to do something forbidden whatever benefit may result. The second view is often known as Proportionalism: here, you examine all the plusses and minuses of an issue and follow the best and most loving path you can discern. JPII was strongly against Proportionalism (See his encyclical, Veritatis Splendor.) But Francis appears to favour it – without, as far as I know, using the name.