As you might already know, the December issue of Crisis magazine included a controversial article by H. W. Crocker III titled "Making Babies: A Very Different Look at Natural Family Planning." It was, to put it mildly, a strange article. If the goal was to cause controversy and garner attention—any kind of attention—it probably succeeded. But it shed no light on Natural Family Planning, although it did highlight Crocker's blustery and often perplexing thoughts about NFP.
Canon lawyer Ed Peters is not just annoyed by Crocker's article; he's angered by it. His excellent response can be read over his blog, "In Light of the Law." One section in particular of Peters' critique caught my attention:
In the mouth of his own ethnically stereotyped creation, Crocker places words that presumably he agrees with: “The primary and fundamental purpose of marriage is not companionship, not romantic love, not moonlit strolls on the beach, or any other balderdash but the begetting and raising of children—lots of ’em, and starting soon.” Maybe Crocker should have a look at the 1983 Code of Canon Law, indeed, at its opening canon on marriage.
The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and to the procreation and education of offspring....” 1983 CIC 1055 § 1.
Phrases describing marriage as “a partnership of the whole of life” and as being ordered to both “the good of the spouses and ... to children” simply do not support the utterly unbalanced depiction of marriage (as being little more than licensed baby-making) that Crocker wishes to impose. But if Crocker can be excused for not knowing that these ideas on marriage now animate the Code of Canon Law (how many Catholics have the Code on their reading list?) he has no excuse for not knowing that these same ideas are prominent in such fundamental conciliar documents as Gaudium et spes no. 48 and Lumen gentium no. 11, to say nothing of Humanae vitae no. 8. Certainly the drafters of Canon 1055 had these texts before them, and Pope John Paul II approved this language during his line-by-line review of the Code before promulgation.
Crocker's remark is indeed incredible. It's especially bothersome to someone such as myself who has been married for over ten years but who has just one child. So what's wrong with my wife and I? Are we not open to life? Do we fear having a large family? On the contrary, we have spent an incredible amount of money and time, tears and anguish trying to have children.
But, like many other young couples (and there are many of them), we have apparently lost our battle with infertility. What is so amazing is how those Catholics who practice NFP are consistently the most sensitive to our situation. They don't make comments such as, "Are you planning to have kids of your own?", an actual comment made to us by a Catholic woman—as we held our adopted daughter! I'm convinced that those who practice NFP don't take getting pregnant for granted the way that some people do. Being able to have five, eight, or twelve kids is a tremendous blessing; it's also not possible for everyone.
I've become fond of saying that it does not take talent to get pregnant. My point is that the issue is that of being open to life. My wife and I are just as open to life as couples with fifteen kids. And while we don't have the nine months of pregnancy to deal with, we have to sacrifice financially much more in order to have children (adopting a newborn costs $10,000-$30,000) and we often have to wait for much longer periods of time to bring them home. We sometimes have to deal with silly, stupid, or even, on occasion, cruel comments (my favorite, made by the wife of a deacon after she had admired our daughter's beautiful black hair: "She obviously did not get that from you!" Apparently we were too dumb to know this until she revealed it to us).
If Crocker is right, my marriage is a failure. And it's a failure because of a physiological defect causing infertility. That is, of course, ridiculous. And I bet that Crocker would deny that is what he meant. But I think it just goes to show that his glib article was not written with care or sensitivity—or even with a desire to convey an edifying, positive message—but with an eye to congratulating he and his wife for having several children (he writes, "As it is, in a mere matter of ten years, my wife and I assembled a complete basketball team. And if menopause doesn’t strike my wife soon, who knows what sort of team we might assemble.") I respect their openness to life. But I'm not impressed by how many children people have. I save my respect for those who love life, who are open to life, and who don't confuse something that doesn't require skill (sex) with something that demands true character and commitment.