Many years ago, working in a parish just before returning to nursing, the parish priest (PP) was a man with a profound distrust of young priests and our ‘modern’ ways of thinking! … or maybe it was just young priests! An assistant priest (curate) before my time was really astute and wouldn’t take any shit off this particular PP. The young priest knew of the old man’s proclivities for snooping through the younger man’s private rooms, personal letters and possessions; so, one time, when the younger was going on holiday, he locked his bedroom and study / sitting room doors, and the writing bureau within the study. Sensible move, you might think, but he also wired the bureau up to the house burglar alarm system. When the PP went a-snooping, and broke into the locked bureau, the alarms went off for ages and ages, until the PP managed to call someone out to come and dismantle the bypassed system!
Sadly, I must say, not all curates had the specific technical know-how or skills to carry out such cunning stunts when we went away, but we would always share this story, with affection, between us ‘young clergy’ of the day, whilst disparaging the antics of various evil and renowned curate-breakers! Another assistant priest with this old man, before my time there, let a kettle boil in his room to cause so much steam that the windows all misted up. He then wrote through the steam, for the unseeing world outside:
H E L P !
Sad, isn’t it?
So what’s this current story?
“If you don’t want babies …”
My particular story, here, is to do with contraceptive and reproductive health.
‘Oooh, now why should that be the concern of priests?’ …
… I hear you ask: quite so! Both the PP and I would have different engaged couples coming to us for marriage preparation classes. I used to base mine on the official marriage preparation programme of the day; the PP used to base his on the catechism! He did this as the majority of couples were ‘mixed marriages’, i.e. a Catholic with a non-Catholic. He would see it as his mission to convert the non-Catholic, and he would say things like “you clearly love each other dearly, and you’re young now, so you don’t want to be thinking of death, but it comes to us all at some point! Obviously, when it does come, you’ll want to be ‘in the same room’ as each other for eternity, so you might as well be in the same department here in life, now!” That’s how he would try to demonstrate how rational his thought it would be, for both to be Catholics in this life, so they could be ‘in the same room’ in the next!
When I was doing marriage preparation sessions, he just didn’t trust me, so he would listen, with his ear against the door, outside! When I got towards the weekly session in the marriage preparation course dealing with ‘family planning’, I would say to them “I’ll teach you what the Church officially says on families, contraception and ‘natural family planning'” (now called fertility awareness). “But …” I would add, “as I don’t know the methods or techniques for NFP, next week, in stead of coming to see me for a lesson, go to see So-and-So in the parish; she’s a nurse with qualifications and expertise in the methods of ‘natural family planning’. I would hate to give you the wrong advice, then in 9 months time see you knocking the presbytery door, blaming me!”
So I would tell them about the Church’s theological thinking on family planning, natural and artificial contraception, the role of the conscience, but then they would get the practicalities of methods of NFP from the nurse in the parish. I would add, “Vatican II raises the importance of a fully informed conscience. What you two, then, decide is between you and God, and nothing to do with the priest!”
He would be apoplectic outside the door!
When I had finished the session and said good bye to the couple, he would catch up with me, as if he just so happened to be passing my way, and admonish me “Father! You are giving them the wrong advice! If they end up using artificial contraception, then it’s always a sin and they must confess and repent of it!”
Then he would say – and I mustn’t speak ill of the dead, but when brains were given out ….. – “Not every one is quite as intelligent as us, so I try to make it simple for them! I tell them that when I was a boy [60+ years previous] back on the farm, in Ireland, when it was time for the bull to service the cow, we would bring it in to the cow’s field! When the bull had finished servicing the cow, we would lead it back to its own filed. So I tell them …..
“If you don’t want babies … don’t be doing it!”