Dear Holy Father: A Catholic’s Query on Contraception

Your Holiness,

I pray for your humble patience with me as I try to understand recent comments.

It has been reported that in speaking to an Argentine nun, Sister Marta Pelloni, you expressed that you see no harm in using certain methods to avoid pregnancy, in an attempt to help women ultimately avoid abortion. OnePeterFive reports that Sister had this to say:

“Pope Francis, speaking on this subject, said three words to me: condom, transitory, irreversible.” Said Sister Pelloni, apparently in reference to three types of contraception he would consider permissible under certain circumstances. The first is a condom. The second, which she said he described as “transitory”, would be “a diaphragm.” “And as a last resort,” she said, “which is what we advise rural women that we serve because I have a foundation for the peasantry, tubal ligation” – the latter being (more or less) “irreversible.”

In March of 2015, my two oldest daughters and I were guests of C-Fam (the Center for Family and Human Rights) at the United Nations, where we were able to observe several panels during the Commission on the Status of Women. The most memorable of these panels was called “Rights Make Might! Reproductive Rights as Economic Empowerment for Women & Girls.” It was hosted by the United Nations Population Fund, the International Center for Research on Women, and the Population and Poverty Research Network.

We sat in horror as several women representing these organizations spoke of the importance of abortion and sterilization, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Their justification for these horrible practices was that young female students were conceiving children in rape, and because of a lack of access to abortion, they were forced to abandon their studies to care for their unwanted children.

I was momentarily paralyzed when, during the Q&A session at the end of the talk, my then-14-year-old daughter stood to ask a question. Without so much as a quiver in her voice, she asked, “Don’t you think you should emphasize the importance of chastity in place of contraception? And why not punish the rapists?” I trembled as I wrote down her words. I was so impressed with her courage!

The panelist – Miss Anne Khasakhala of the Population Studies and Research Institute – was dumbfounded and had no answer. Unbeknownst to us until this point, the room was half-filled with young Catholic students who applauded my dear Zoe.

Another round of applause erupted when a guest pointed out that contraception treats fertility as a disease rather than a sign of good health, therefore oppressing women. And when my friend Evelyn stood and asked with a smile, “Is it a challenge convincing these young mothers that their children aren’t a cause of joy?,” Kate Gilmore of the United Nations Population Fund had to steady herself by grabbing the corner of the table in front of her before nearly jumping from her seat and screaming that Evelyn needed to “check her privilege.”

I ask you humbly if you have an explanation for my dear daughter, and for all of those in attendance that day, and those around the world who spend their lives feverishly defending Holy Mother Church and her teaching, while the vicar of Christ would imply that he agrees that rather than punish rapists and teach chastity, women should be sterilized.

Saint Augustine once wrote, “I am supposing, then, although you are not lying [with your wife] for the sake of procreating offspring, you are not for the sake of lust obstructing their procreation by an evil prayer or an evil deed. Those who do this, although they are called husband and wife, are not; nor do they retain any reality of marriage, but with a respectable name cover a shame. Sometimes this lustful cruelty, or cruel lust, comes to this, that they even procure poisons of sterility [oral contraceptives]” (Marriage and Concupiscence 1:15:17).

Pope Paul VI, in Humanae Vitae, wrote, “[W]e must once again declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun, and, above all, directly willed and procured abortion, even if for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as licit means of regulating birth. Equally to be excluded, as the teaching authority of the Church has frequently declared, is direct sterilization, whether perpetual or temporary, whether of the man or of the woman. Similarly excluded is every action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” (HV 14).

And consulting the Catechism, one finds that “every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible is intrinsically evil” (CCC 2370). “Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means … for example, direct sterilization or contraception” (CCC 2399).

I try to teach my children by example. In 2008, I voluntarily had a tubal ligation. The decision was an easy one for me; we already had four healthy children, and we thought there was really no need to have more. The surgery was described as simple and would be covered 100% by medical insurance. My doctor did mention briefly that the number-one side effect of tubal ligation is regret. However, I was confident–as I suspect most women are when discussing this option – that this was best for our family. And on January 25, 2008, I had a laparoscopic bilateral tubal ligation with Falope rings. In other words, I made the choice to have myself permanently sterilized.

Years later, I found the courage to confess this mortal sin. My husband and I went to counseling with our priest. He offered an explanation and some guidance. He told me then that the ultimate show of my remorse and my love for Christ would be a reversal. However, this is not an obligation by the Church, due to the high risk, cost, and uncertainty of the outcome. He offered us a suggestion for reparation, and we decided that would be best: every Friday, indefinitely, we would abstain from the marital act as a personal sacrifice and a show of our repentance.

After several years, though, as our family continued to grow in faith, we no longer felt as though our Friday night abstinence was adequate. After weeks of falling asleep thinking about how to address it with my husband, I finally worked up the courage to say, “I was thinking about looking into a reversal for my tubal ligation.” I had barely completed the sentence before he excitedly said, “I’d be interested to know what our options are.” I was thrilled. Already I felt lighter at the thought of offering reparation after these years of contracepting.

You might be surprised to learn that insurance will not cover a reversal. So we diligently set aside money until we had saved just over $6,500 to cover the cost of the procedure.

I’m currently sitting in mild discomfort as I write this, thanks to the miracle that is the child tumbling in my womb. I am nearly 33 weeks pregnant, and I couldn’t be happier. In less than a week, I will turn 43 years old, making this pregnancy even more miraculous to me! Through the intercession of Our Lady, Jesus has given an answer to my family’s daily prayer that we be blessed with more children.

Through an ultrasound on Monday, I was able to see my baby resting with foot on forehead. I laughed out loud. Already this child brings me unimaginable joy, and the four older siblings are beside themselves with love and excitement.

There are three other siblings rejoicing for our family. David James was aborted in 1998; Patricia was miscarried at 16 weeks in 2005; and Brigid Lucia was miscarried on February 1, 2017. I am so thankful for all eight of my children, and I hope to reunite with them in the presence of Our Lord.

So surely, Holy Father, you understand my confusion. When one aims to live life in pursuit of holiness, defending the truth and beauty of the Catholic Church, one might be stunned to hear that the Holy See would suggest that impoverished women should be served with tubal ligation in lieu of compassion. Why would the bishop of Rome suggest that these women are incapable of loving their offspring?

As I attempt to convince my Protestant brothers and sisters that the Catholic Church is the only defender of the sanctity of innocent life from fertilization until natural death, I ask you for clarification of your comments.

Be assured of my family’s prayers for you.

I am sincerely yours,

Brice Griffin

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