Together For Life

Author: William. B. Smith



Question: Have you read the treatment of "Responsible Parenthood" in Together For Life? Would you give this to couples preparing for marriage?

Answer: Have I read it? Yes! Would I give it to couples? No! Msgr. J.M. Champlin's booklet, , was first published in 1970 (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press). It is now in its 39th printing (March 1993) with some 5 million copies in print.

is, perhaps, the most widely distributed pre-Cana publication in this country. It surely has some advantages that help account for its great distribution.

First, it is an easy read; the copy I am looking at has 96 pages. It is attractively laid out, with many "nice" pictures, but with only a light overlay of text and comment of a doctrinal nature.

Perhaps, the biggest plus is that the booklet contains all the optional prayers and readings that can be chosen for the marriage ceremony. This alone makes it truly convenient for pastors who can hand a couple this booklet and they, in turn, can peruse the possibilities without plodding through the giant Lectionary or Sacramentary. In fact, the last page is a convenient tear-out sheet which is a neat tally sheet of the readings, prayers and blessings chosen by the couple.

On the level of liturgical choreography and dialogue, is the handiest of handouts. On the level of Catholic doctrine and morals on marriage, this is Catholic "Lite"--a kind of ultra-slim-fast in theology. While the booklet does have an "imprimatur," this imprimatur says more about who granted it than it does about what an imprimatur should guarantee. is of the Dutch Catechism genre, i.e., it does not say all that much that's wrong, rather it does not say enough of what's right!

You ask specifically about the treatment of "Responsible Parenthood" ( , p. 67). On the precise question of harmonizing married love and the responsible transmission of life, Msgr. Champlin refers to Vatican II, , but not in an accurate nor consistent way.

The author cites what I take to be , n. 50, that married couples ultimately make this judgment before God; "but in their manner of acting spouses should be aware that they cannot proceed arbitrarily" (p. 67).

The Council is, of course, quite specific that this judgment does not rest on good intentions or the evaluation of motives alone (, n. 51) but is determined by "objective criteria"--"criteria drawn from the nature of the person and his acts, criteria that respect the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love;..." (, n. 51; also cited fully in the (1992) #2368. Indeed, the few summary paragraphs ##2366-2372 of the would be a far superior treatment than the one page [p. 67] gloss of ).

After correctly citing the Council in part, then proceeds to do what the Council said not to do-- asks only about motives and intentions through three questions: Are we being selfish? or, too trusting? or, not trusting enough? Nowhere is contraception, the term, or its wrongfulness ever mentioned in this single page summary of , nor for that matter is the word chastity or married chastity ever mentioned!

Rather and instead, then positions those who "feel caught in a dilemma"-with God "seeming to say one thing in their hearts and another (thing) through his Church" (p.67).

Here, of course, Vatican II is not appealed to since the same Council clearly taught there can be "no conflict" between divine laws governing the transmission of life and the fostering of authentic married love (, n.51). Just what this voice "in the heart" is remains unexplained. Personally, I know of no example of public or private revelation where God tells someone in private to do what the Church forbids in public and private. Again, as above, on this very matter the Council is explicit that couples are not to proceed arbitrarily, more specifically, this is not a question of good intentions or motives alone; yet, asks only and alone: selfish? trusting? too much? too little? - asks only about motives or intentions.


If this is not already ambiguous enough, now sets up a conflicted conscience ("There is no easy resolution . . . ") - "torn between conflicting commands," readers are now given very misleading advice: "At those times we purify our hearts, search for God's light in this special circumstance, then decide what is the best course to follow. And follow it without any fear or anxiety" (, p. 67; emphasis added)

One would think that in a Catholic publication the teaching of God's Church might be the "God's light" one searches for, but that is not stated clearly. Rather, NOVEMBER 1994 readers are told "then decide the best course to follow. " Presumably, if they decide for the contraception, that is the "best" course for them. If they decide against contraception, that is the "best" course for them. It's all winners and no losers in this setup.

Notice there is no mention of a correct conscience nor an erroneous conscience-whatever course you decide is best if, of course, the best course for you. In effect, the formal teaching of the Church on this subject has just been rendered inoperative. Just in case someone might miss the situational spin of this solution, readers are told that should they ever be "unable to cope with the conflict" seek out not just a priest but an "under- standing priest" who will not and should not make your decision but help to ensure "continued peace" with whatever decision you come to -right or wrong.

In other words, shop around till you find an affirmative cleric who will support the peaceful possession of your decision-regardless of the decision. Some people call this a "pastoral solution."

This final paragraph of conscience misformation pretty much undoes whatever vestiges of Catholic teaching that may have survived to this point.

Clearly, this mis-constructed half truth (decide what is best for yourself) is very much at odds with the treatment of conscience in (8/6/93) nn.54-64, and equally at odds with the excellent treatment of conscience in the (##1776- 1802). Again, as above, the presents a masterful summary-in almost the same space as - of conjugal love, fidelity and the fecundity of marriage (##2360-2372). A practical problem remains: is still the handiest of largely because of its copyright grip on the I.C.E.L. translation of the and the translation of the various readings from the Few pastors like to drop something unless and until they can put something else in its place.

J.F. Kippley has published (Cincinnati: Foundation for the Family, 1984, 113 pp). This booklet lists the readings (pp. 102-103) but does not include them. The Kippley booklet however, is so far superior, so much richer in the doctrine and morals of marriage, that there is no serious comparison with which is not so much a poor second, but just poor in doctrine and anemic in morals. (If pastors or others are aware of other reliable marriage preparation materials, please let me know and I will pass the word. There are real needs in this area.)

Taken from , Nov. 1994 issue, p. 70.