Smart Loving – reigniting the spark

My attention was drawn to the Smart Loving website in a letter by Edmund Adamus, director of Marriage and Family Life for Westminster Diocese, in this week’s Catholic Herald.

I’ve just spent some time scouting round the website which looks to be an excellent resource for single, engaged and married Catholics and Christians, whether in a relationship, looking for romance or simply wanting to reignite the spark.

Discover your unique love profile or take the quiz to discover whether your relationship needs some work to love smarter. There is also some useful information regarding spirituality and a
guide to getting started if you do not already pray as a couple and eight steps to deeper couple prayer. I cannot recommend strongly enough the benefits of praying as a couple as a way of increasing and deepening intimacy. I think many couples, especially when embarking on a relationship feel very self conscious at the idea of praying with one’s boyfriend or girlfriend, especially if the relationship doesn’t work out, or they are worried that the idea might put the other person off, but what can be more natural than wanting to help each other and walk together in one’s journey of faith and quest for holiness? To help each other deepen one’s eternal and everlasting relationship that extends beyond the mere earthly plain.

There is also a smart loving marriage seminar taking place in London, the weekend of 24 November, to enrich and empower married couples, commencing with Mass, opportunities for confession and including input from Theology of the Body.

Definitely worth attending, providing one can get babysitters!

Feminists are sissies?

Calah Alexander, a young American Catholic convert who writes the provocatively titled Barefoot and Pregnant blog seems to have caused something of a minor brouhaha with her most recent post. She is currently 4 months pregnant, found herself in need of a maternity bra, so went out shopping wearing a t-shirt bearing the ‘offensive’ slogan stating that Birth Control is for Sissies and then had the audacity to write about the reactions she rerceived.

Though not partial to slogan t-shirts on anyone over the age of 5, I have to admire her chutzpah and bravery, having some sympathy with the sentiment expressed. As Calah is well aware from her post, wearing any kind of ideological slogan on clothing does invite a response, particularly when it is as obviously counter-cultural as denouncing birth control; combined with the physical manifestation of her belief, i.e. her emerging bump, the image and statement was especially potent.

The post was quite lighthearted in tone,(though Calah pulls no punches in terms of choice of phrase, I wouldn’t like to get on the wrong side of her), she describes the relief and transformation in discovering the effects of a well-fitting bra, the trials and tribulations of shoe-shopping and buying ice-cream with the kids, but she also describes the reaction she received from others whilst out shopping wearing said shirt, which tended from the incredulous to the downright hostile,  and ending on a humorous note, when she bumped into another mother, who recognised her from Church.

All in all, a quirky and touching blogpost from a typical American Catholic mom, sharing some of her life with us. Nothing to get offended about surely?

WRONG. As @kathleengreenwood pointed out, it spawned an entire 7 page hate-fest on a forum full of self-professed snarky mothers. The blogpost spawned comments such as “what a f*cking b*tch”, “I want to slap her across the face”, “I hate people like her, I’ll take my pill…you f*cking b*tch”. Yeah, kudos to the sisterhood! They then congratulated themselves on how morally superior they were to this ignorant fundie, encouraged and incited others to leave comments pointing out the error of her ways, and then became downright obsessive, trawling through her blog to see what other thought crimes may have been committed to the blogosphere, venting their vitriolic spleen and bile.

It seems Calah has previous form. On one occasion her little boy got rushed to hospital with severe anaphylactic shock requiring them to pay $280 for an epi-pen. They didn’t have the money, so took it out of the children’s’ Christmas present fund, thinking that a life was more important than presents and that their kids would be well catered for by the extended family. She made the heinous statement that it seemed mightily unfair that under the vagaries of the US healthcare system she had to pay a substantial amount for something that was absolutely necessary in terms of saving her son’s life, the state would not assist, however they will provide contraception and birth control free of charge, something that she feels is unnecessary, as if you don’t wish to get pregnant there’s a simple answer. She has a point, one might not agree, but it does not necessitate the level of hatred. Every detail of her life was poured over in an attempt to prove what an awful person she really is and discredit her point of view. She is obviously a liar who puts herself before her children, as evidenced by the fact that she went to a relatively upmarket department store. Her finances and entire lifestyle were subject to scrutiny.

“Her house seems nice are they really running so short they can’t buy gifts and meds? Shouldn’t they have been budgeted out or don’t they have emergency funds for sh*t happens”.

“That confused me too. I feel like it was her way of getting pity. ‘Our poor children didn’t get Christmas gifts BUT at least they have their brother’ !!! I also find it odd that they couldn’t scrounge up a little extra cash to get one or two gifts for each child  yet she now is buying decent bras and dress shoes for the kids at the mall”.

The thread reads like it’s been taken over by the below-the-line comments on the Daily Mail. How very tolerant. How very inclusive. How very pro-choice! The ernest feminists seem to have utterly missed the point. It. was. a joke. I thought that the t-shirt was rather good. It didn’t even need to be a Catholic or ideological statement, it could just have been highly ironic or self-deprecating. Ah, I forgot, I’m dealing with Americans here. One commenter noted that she would have refused to serve a woman who was wearing such a t-shirt and, she pouted, she would have been backed up by her boss. Gotta love those all-American land of the free and home of the brave values on display there. The most ludicrous comment was that the t-shirt was deliberately ‘homophobic’ with its mention of the word sissy.

Needless to say it all rather resonated. This forum made clear that they were not prepared to tolerate this woman, they hated her and all they believed that she stood for. I couldn’t help but wonder whether or not she would have elicited that reaction had she not been a Catholic?

But the statement on the t-shirt and its reaction does bear a little analysis. Why is it so hateful? Taken on face value it is a statement that proclaims that pregnancy and motherhood is difficult, not for sissies, not for the feint-hearted, but the truly heroic. Which is precisely why it upset the feminists with their “we are the strong tough fearless Amazonian pioneering women” self-vision quite so much. It implies that anyone who deliberately avoids motherhood is somehow a weaker specimen. And therein lies the paradox and antagonism at the heart of modern feminism. On the one hand it strives to be the Xena warrior princess, fearless, brave and bold goddess, stronger, bigger, bolder and better than men, yet on the other, in order to survive it also has to tap into the vying narrative of victimhood. Hence lots of outraged comments along the lines of how people would have to take hormonal birth control, otherwise their uterus would fall out, and obviously Calah, with her outrageous ideas that women can actually refuse to have sex if they don’t want to get pregnant, is slut-shaming and blaming, wishing to impose Victorian morality and blame on women. Either as women we are strong and in control, or we are not? Or is it that we want to be, but are still oppressed by the patriarchy and so have no choice other than to have sex, so must protect ourselves any way we can?

I can’t help but hearken back to that statement by Mary Wollstonecraft who saw abortion as being a consequence of women becoming weaker than they would otherwise be, if they had not been subject to sexual objectification.

“Women becoming, consequently, weaker, in mind and body, than they ought to be, were one of the grand ends of their being taken into account, that of bearing and nursing children, have not sufficient strength to discharge the first duty of a mother; and sacrificing to lasciviousness the parental affection, that ennobles instinct, either destroy the embryo in the womb, or cast it off when born. Nature in everything demands respect, and those who violate her laws seldom do so with impunity”.

Pregnancy and childbirth are at the very core of femininity which is why feminists fight so hard for what they believe is control over their own bodies. The paradox being that this physical control admits, encourages and coerces female subordination. Female fertility is a problem, something that must be repressed and overcome, the body must be stopped from carrying out its natural functions of monthly ovulation and potential to bear children. A society that continues to view women’s fertility as a problem to be solved, is a society that does not value women and places unfair expectations upon them. Whilst society continues to view female fertility and childbirth as a problem, then women will never achieve true equality. Empowerment is an illusion in that a woman is only ever empowered if she can be 100% sure that her contraception will work and is entirely happy with the notion of aborting an unwanted unborn child in case it doesn’t. Are any feminists truly happy that most women chose to abort because they feel that they have no other economic or social choice? After all we are always being told that women don’t stroll into the abortion clinic as if it were Starbucks?

Bibi Lynch tragically and bitterly captured the essence of  how it can feel to be a childless woman in the Guardian last week.

“You won’t heal – because this is deep in you. What you’re supposed to do. What’s inside us to do. What we’re born to do. And you didn’t do it.”

Motherhood is without a doubt the most joyful and rewarding experiences there is. That does not mean that it is easy. Pregnancy is often a struggle, multiple young children at times demanding and stressful, even if one does stay at home. It may not be the same type of stress as the demands of a career, but it is nonetheless challenging at times. Responding to the catty comments of Hilary Rosen that she was somehow a lesser or inferior species due to not having worked, but instead been a stay-at-home mum or to use the now un-PC term, housewife, Romney said that just because they had not financially struggled, her life as mother of five children, has not been without its fair share of struggle, including fights against cancer.

Being prepared to endure pregnancy and childbirth, being prepared to die to self for the needs of others, is a sign of great strength, not weakness or oppression. Child-rearing entails a great deal of sacrifice, physically and emotionally.

Not using birth control is a sign of strength, it is a sign of responsibility and being prepared to accept and endure the consequences of having sex. It is not a fatalistic mentality, but a working with the feminine rhythms of your body, not attempting to counteract them. It is an exercise in self-control and potentially standing up to a partner keen to get amorous.

Why did Calah Alexander attract so much hate? Because she dared to go against and question a feminist mantra and by doing so demonstrated that she is stronger than others who (for perfectly legitimate reasons) have decided not to have more children. Anyone who cannot cope with a humorous slogan on a t-shirt that has a grain of truth and challenges a deeply cherished orthodoxy and is so moved to incite and spew tirades of loathing and spite, is not as tolerant and pro freedom of choice as they would claim. Anyone who feels so defensive as to chuck indiscriminate hatred and wish violence upon a total stranger because they disagree with a point of view is a bigot. Why have they reacted so strongly? Because they feel ‘judged’.

All of which proves that Calah was right all along. They really are sissies.

Good Counsel

I received the following comment from Clare McCollough at Good Counsel Network, showing that they are indeed aptly named. I thought it was worth publishing in a separate post.

Here’s a link to LIME 5 for those wondering.

Hi Caroline
I understand where you’re coming from (I can’t say I understand totally, because what every woman goes through is different of course).
I could take offence that you seem to suggest that no pro-lifer understands what you have described here. Or that you suggest that the only thing the pro-life movement can offer you is baby clothes. That’s not fair! We spend our lives working out ways for women to implement real solutions to exactly the type of problems you list here. However, I understand that you’re not in the easiest state of mind at present.

So just to be clear, I think there are ways you can be helped through this difficult time and would be glad to help. Good Counsel is on 02077231740 or email us at info@goodcounselnetwork.freeserve.co.uk

I agree with some of what you said about Counselling. It addresses part of the reasons why I didn’t support Nadine Dorries.
It’s possible too that a better method of NFP or one more suited to you is available – saying that doesn’t blame you for anything. Maybe there isn’t, but in any case, as a Catholic it seems a bizarre idea that anyone would walk around “blaming” a Catholic woman for getting pregnant. It’s what happens in Marriage. NFP is great in it’s place, but God didn’t say “Thou shalt use NFP and if it fails it shall be thine own fault thou art pregnant”…Many, many Catholic women who are open to life have faced the tremendous upheaval of a pregnancy at a time which seemed impossible. Catholic women are in this together, the really bizarre world view is the one that says “get married, enter into a life giving union with this man and use any gadget, gizmo, pill, gel, injection, patch or whatever to prevent the consequence…

It is not necessarily true to say Marie Stopes and BPAS wouldn’t make a judgement on you. One of the most frequent complaints I hear from women is “I think the lady I saw at that (Marie Stopes or BPAS) “clinic” is pro-life” When questioned further they think this because she was rude or agressive, shocked at their reason to abort, annoyed that they had aborted before, impatient when they were tearful or unsure. (A sad reflection of the media image of the average pro-lifer – but not a true image of the vast majority in my experience). We must steer clear of demonising anyone who works for MS or BPAS as not all understand the reality of what they are doing, but it is a mistake to believe that all who call themselves “pro-choice” are non judgemental and woman friendly. Many of them hate their jobs and blame the women who come to them for needing their services. This is well documented (see LIME 5 and many post abortion groups writings for evidence) and something

I have personally met with in “clinic staff” many times.

You face a difficult time at present, and you know life isn’t going to be easy even after the birth. My son didn’t sleep day or night for 2 decades after he was born (hang on he’s only 4 so that can’t be right, but it feels like it!) so I realise the way small children impact your life. But we would be glad to assist with the things you think would help and maybe even to put out a few other ideas that might help for you to consider.
Prayers are with you anyway.
God bless
Clare McCullough, Good Counsel

Walking the walk

One of the things that I sometimes forget when blogging is the number of people who actually read this blog, which is something of a hybrid, being a bizarre mixture of the personal, polemical and political all heavily influenced by Catholic social teaching.

One lesson this week has taught me is not to write or blog in haste and I think that my previous entry may have been a little irresponsible and irrational in tone, no doubt influenced by the conflicting hormones and emotions.

This weekend was very cathartic for me for a number of reasons, not least in terms of affording plenty of precious time for spiritual reflection. Juggling motherhood, family life and undergraduate studies can sometimes mean that my prayer life is neglected. Eucharistic Adoration is nigh on impossible with a baby and toddler and so the hour I spent in the chapel at the retreat centre yesterday afternoon was a source of much needed spiritual refreshment.

This morning’s Gospel had particular resonance, “let it be done unto me according to thy will”, a reminder that all of us have to realise that the Lord’s plans for us, do not always tally with our own. Although still terrified about the prospect of giving birth and dreading the prospect of another protracted difficult pregnancy (here we go again), I am grateful for this pregnancy in a way that perhaps was lacking in my previous pregnancies. Those who are Christian will understand that I feel that it is a sign of God’s compassion and mercy not to mention an exercise in trust. Despite my best efforts, things have not gone the way that I wanted or planned them – I think the Lord is definitely trying to tell me something. I also realised that perhaps, with the most honourable of intentions, I had something of a contraceptive attitude, in that we were definitely attempting to avoid pregnancy. With that in mind however, it can’t be said that we were closed to life, in that both of us are prepared and happy to welcome a new life. I am walking the walk and thus attempting to live a life of witness.  Although I need to be careful to avoid superstition or fatalism, I am more than a little struck to discover that the day that this baby is due is the Feast of the Assumption, which is incidentally, also the day that I discovered that I was expecting Felicity, our other unplanned baby. Furthermore the day that I discovered the positive pregnancy test was the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Patron of the Unborn and the pro-life movement.

Though the next months will undoubtedly prove testing, I am keeping my eye on the prize – another beautiful baby and a house full of children, who are a source of joy, happiness and the embodiment of God’s love. A baby is always a blessing. As I have always accepted the philosophical and moral argument that life begins at conception, I have never previously really taken that much notice of  how the baby is developing on either a daily, weekly or monthly basis. As I have previously admitted, I do suffer ante-natal depression, not helped by the fact that pregnancy thus far has proved such a physical strain. With 3 young children including a toddler and a baby, it is vital for me to stay both physically, psychologically and spiritually healthy, so I am resolved to make a real effort to stay strong and take comfort in any suffering.

One of the things that I think is going to help me in this, is to keep a pregnancy diary, which I think may be of interest and help to others, but I shall set up a separate page, so that those who have no interest in being put off their Weetabix with my hormonal and gynecological musings are not subjected to an irrational stream of consciousness. I think I will find it helpful to log my journey and the stages of development of the baby – others will find it interminably tedious.

Given that my last post was rather rash – it’s probably worth clarifying a few points.

  • Terrified was probably too strong a word to use for Robin’s reaction. He was infinitely more joyful and serene than I was, although he did go rather pale initially.
  • NFP or Creighton. It does work. It is 99% effective. I really don’t know what happened in my case – perhaps the baby who has occupied my womb really is the 1%, but I suspect that what has happened is some sort of user error. The whole family succumbed to a dreadful bout of gastroenteritis, so it is more than feasible that I missed just one crucial observation, or that being so ill, completely threw my system out. So many people have testified to the fact that it really has worked for them – if you look at this secular website and the advice of the NHS, you’ll see that most people who adhere to extended breastfeeding principles, do naturally manage to space their children by at least two years. It would seem that I am blessed with hyper-fertility, other women have been incredulous to discover that my fertility returns so quickly after giving birth and have questioned whether or not I really have exercised ecological or extended breast-feeding principles. The answer is yes.  I wish the baby would take a bottle, it would make my life infinitely easier. Unlike my other children, she does not go through the night yet either. I have no idea quite how I have managed to conceive, but I am going to talk through my charts with an expert who is confident that she can spot what happened, which is what we need for closure, and in order to start putting something into place to ensure that I can have a break from endless pregnancy. Most women who follow the principles I used do not have a return to fertility until 14 months postpartum. Mine returned after 3, after which point we were scrupulous.
  • As stated above, I think I am rather unusual and certainly lucky to be so fertile, many women of my age are struggling to conceive their first child, to be able to conceive so easily particularly when measures were being taken to avoid pregnancy, is unusual. I was being unfair and rather rash.
  • Nothing is 100%. No matter how careful or “safe” one thinks one is being, there is always a margin of error, no matter how tiny. I am walking the walk and dealing with the physical, emotional, practical and logistical challenges of this pregnancy which are not easy. I have no close family or friends nearby, it’s going to be tough, I mentioned my mother who, out of well-intentioned concern will have a different preferred course of action, but I am fortunate to have the support of my husband, who, on the day I discovered the pregnancy, returned home with flowers and champagne as I tweeted at the time. It will be tough, but the tumult and uncertainty of the last few years has been the absolute making of us – along with the grace of the Sacrament of marriage. This time three years ago we were excitedly making the final preparations for our wedding on December 29. Little did we think that in 3 years time, child number 4 would be on its way and that he would no longer be in ministry.

Finally, I just like to ask for the continued prayers of the Catholic and Christian blogosphere. Part of the training course I attended this weekend included a session upon how living a public life of Christian witness, can leave one open to spiritual attacks. I think one such attack has been happening recently and has been as a result of some of the online abuse, under which I would like to draw a line.

Over the past few weeks, some of the unpleasant activity has escalated. Someone set up a blog, the purpose of which seemed to be to state what a dreadful person I am, ugly on the inside and out. Someone else set up an anonymous twitter account devoted to stalking, trolling and attacking my tweets. My thanks to the Vernacular Vicar for his gallant defence and excellent post. Those who have been long-term readers might remember a post from last September,That man in a frock in Romein which I outlined why I was leaving a particular forum. Well over a year later, my blog stats have informed me that these same people still find me the source of abject fascination, as they are linking various posts to their private, password-only forum for discussion. Coincidentally, the unpleasant comments intensify on those days that my blog is linked.

The answer is of course to ignore it but it is nonetheless disconcerting to know that a group of women who dislike me intensely, because of my perceived sanctimonious nature or alleged insanity are unable to engage directly in a civilised fashion and continue to snipe behind my back. They are now well aware that when they link to this blog I can clearly see it and yet when I express my disquiet the response is that I am obviously attention-seeking, insane and thus deserving of their pity, but continue to repeatedly link to here, regardless. There can be no doubt that it is a form of bullying, from a group of women, who count schoolteachers among their number and therefore should know better. For a blogger, I am a sensitive soul and I’m still finding this very difficult to respond to and finding my feet in terms of the correct response.

It is a tiny proportion of my overall readership and is far outweighed by the overwhelmingly positive response I receive from blogging which has led to being published in print and online elsewhere and most recently to an invitation to speak at the Oxford University Catholic Society, on the subject of Catholicism and Feminism, all of which are great fruits of the Spirit.

Writing seems to be my charism. I am aware that not only do I need to use it wisely, but also that it does leave me vulnerable. I was introduced to the concept of scapegoating earlier today, which seems to be the only way I can make sense of this. The inevitable result is that little nagging voice of doubt starts telling me that I must stop writing, I must get out of the public square and leave it to other Catholics who are so much more talented than me, as evidenced by that little group who seem to have taken such exception and my reaction to them.

Satan’s clever like that. He uses our weaknesses against us. I wouldn’t be surprised if this intensifies over the next few months, so I am going  to regularly receive the sacrament of reconciliation and the power of prayer. I hold everyone who reads in prayer and give thanks for staying in theirs.

See – I knew I’d get there eventually. I just needed a little time.

Theology and evolution

Cristina Odone had an interesting conversation with Richard Dawkins in last week’s Guardian.

There’s quite a lot to pick out, Cristina seems to be on a mission to please Richard Dawkins, no mean feat and whilst I would agree that an aggressive approach is counter-productive when engaging in dialogue with non-Christians, I think we all need to learn that affability should not supersede doctrine. In Cristina’s attempt to appear reasonable and open-minded she overlooked a few key points.

Whilst alluding to the creation myths, Odone states that our children are now being taught about religion in a metaphorical way. Actually this way of thinking is not particularly new, in the forth century, St Augustine of Hippo, one of the great doctors of the Church, held that Genesis must be read allegorically or figuratively and was not a literal account. He even wrote a book, The Literal Interpretation of Genesis, in which he expounded the theory that the six days laid out in Genesis was a logical framework, not a specific passage of time. According Augustine we should remain open-minded about the creation story and prepared to change our interpretation as new information became available. One can surmise that Augustine probably would not have had much time for the literal creationists who seem to be prominent in American politics.

“It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are. In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation.”

Writing to the Pontifical Academy in 1981, the Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote the following:

“Cosmogony and cosmology have always aroused great interest among peoples and religions. The Bible itself speaks to us of the origin of the universe and its make-up, not in order to provide us with a scientific treatise, but in order to state the correct relationships of man with God and with the universe. Sacred Scripture wishes simply to declare that the world was created by God, and in order to teach this truth it expresses itself in the terms of the cosmology in use at the time of the writer. The Sacred Book likewise wishes to tell men that the world was not created as the seat of the gods, as was taught by other cosmogonies and cosmologies, but was rather created for the service of man and the glory of God. Any other teaching about the origin and make-up of the universe is alien to the intentions of the Bible, which does not wish to teach how heaven was made but how one goes to heaven.

So whilst Odone is correct in terms of creation being taught metaphorically, this certainly isn’t a new or modern development, and one might hope that in a Catholic or Church of England school, religion is not taught metaphorically per se. Jesus is a verified historical figure and not a literary metaphor.

Dawkins remains unconvinced, stating that one has to decide which bits of the bible are metaphorical and that he would like to consult further with a catholic theologian. He has been invited to debate with Dr William Lane Craig on several occasions, most recently at the “Is God a Delusion” lecture at the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford on 25 October, but has so far refused the invitation. I am sure that there are plenty of Catholic theologians with both a small and a capital C who would be only too pleased to answer his questions nonetheless, so do feel free to invite them to contact Professor Dawkins.

The aspect of the conversation that concerned me the most was Odone’s pronouncement on birth control.

Look at birth control. The pope has said there are no ifs or buts, this is doctrine – we must never use birth control. But how many Catholics do you think go to confession and say, “I’m sorry, I’ve used birth control”? Well here we are, and this is part of the evolution of theology.

Though I sometimes find myself agreeing with Cristina, I found this remark incredibly disappointing. On a technical note, whilst attempting to engage with Dawkins and use his terminology, she applies the concept of evolution to theology. Actually evolution is an erroneous term when discussing theology, as evolution implies that a doctrine becomes obsolete or defunct and is replaced by something superior. A more accurate way of conceptualising how theology may change, would be to think about organic growth, not replacement. One of the things that attracted me back to the Catholic Church is the fact that doctrine is always intellectually coherent and logical – never contradictory. Doctrine is not policy and subject to changes on the whim of public opinion. Doctrine is never replaced with something completely contrary, rather it grows organically as our scientific understanding increases. Changes are always consistent with what has gone before.

Odone implies that Catholics are using birth control and not confessing it, therefore the theology has changed or evolved. I’m not quite sure that I understand her thinking. Disobedience is not the same as organic growth is it? Either fewer instances of that sin are occurring, or as Odone suggests, more people are considering that it is no longer a sin to use birth control. Sorry Cristina, but it is. Doctrine doesn’t change along with public opinion. One cannot assume Cristina is correct, and I would doubt that she is, after all how does she know, has she conducted a study of penitents or is she judging by social chatter? She has absolutely no way of gauging what people are saying in the confessional unless she has somehow managed to persuade confessors to break the seal for her back of an envelope calculations, so this is pure speculation. Supposing her assumptions are correct then this does not mean that the doctrine is misguided, simply that people need a reminder. Fewer people may be confessing all sorts of different things, I might not think that coveting my friend’s gorgeous new Mulberry handbag constitutes a sin, after all it is beautifully soft leather, highly on trend and just well, gorgeous, it’s perfectly natural that I would want one too, but it’s still every bit as unhelpful spiritually, no matter how normal or understandable.

Comments like this are incredibly unhelpful to normal Catholic women like myself. Although the physical practicalities of Catholic family planning take a little getting to grips with, the teaching itself is wonderful. We need to hear more women advocating NFP, shouting out the benefits, of which there are many, talking about how chastity (behaving in a sexually appropriate manner towards another, not to be confused with celibacy) within a marriage is a great thing. We need women to be honest about NFP, to extol its virtues, not buy into the whole contraceptive mentality which is fundamentally misogynist in nature. When Cristina Odone and her ilk makes comments such as this, it sells out ordinary catholic women trying to live lives of faith and witness. When I was having difficulty with getting to grips with it last year, so many people attempted to claim that catholics don’t really use it, are not expected to use it and its only extreme fundamentalists who attempt to observe church teaching. The reality is different; all the catholic women I know could not be described as fundamentalists or even traditional catholics and they find far from detracting, NFP enhances and improves communication and intimacy within a marriage.

As a high profile and influential Catholic, Cristina Odone risks reinforcing existing error as well as leading people into sin. Sometimes I wish we could have more authentic female catholic voices in the media and not just the privileged catholic aristocracy. As a mother juggling three young children with a full-time degree and recovering from 2 cesarians in as many years, we are not able to consider adding to our family at this time and yet I am able to manage perfectly well with NFP. Furthermore I am not ruling out adding to my family in a few years time, despite the fact that our household income is under half what Cristina spends on school fees. It’s called being open to life.

This could have been a great opportunity for apologetics, but in an attempt to placate the implacable, she ended up reinforcing the same old negative perceptions. I’m sorry she finds the teaching on birth control unacceptable. Perhaps, like Dawkins she needs to consult with a catholic theologian, as well as a passionate advocate of NFP. Can someone give her my number?