Make love and babies, but not war
A Bay Area deacon speaks out for the Church’s teaching on contraception
Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae “was the most devastating thing I had ever read,” recalled Deacon Paul Turrentine in a “personal reflection” published as part of the “Wedding Guide” in Catholic San Francisco, the newspaper of the San Francisco archdiocese.
Turrentine, who serves at St. Rita’s parish in Fairfax, recalled how as a 14-year old in 1967 he had been “in full sympathy with the hippie movement.” In 1968, when Pope Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae, the encyclical reiterating the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception, Turrentine said he and his friends were certain “that the Catholic Church was a dangerous anachronism which opposed progress to control people afraid to think for themselves.” Yet nineyears later, Turrentine became Catholic. During his preparation for baptism, however, and even in the marriage preparation he and his fiancee underwent later, the Church’s teachings against contraception were never mentioned. “We assumed this was an ancient, dreamy ideal but certainly not a practical requirement for modern Catholics,” said Turrentine. Two years later, after reading Humanae Vitae and other Church documents, Turrentine said he and his wife, “with trepidation and self-pity … agreed that, as faithful Catholics, we had to submit to these teachings…. This was the heaviest cross ever thrust upon us.
Growing up in a time of general rebellion against societal norms, the virtue of chastity was foreign to me.” Since the method of Natural Family Planning they learned “depended upon a single sign of fertility … which works well for the vast majority of couples,” but did not for them, the Turrentines had a “surprise pregnancy.” (They later discovered the Sympto-Thermal method, taught by the Couple-to-Couple League, that includes multiple signs of fertility.) Despite all this, the Turrentines never turned back to contraception. Having “dispensed with artificial methods, our relationship had improved profoundly … [t]he use of contraception had involved exploitation. We discovered … what Pope Paul VI had warned about: by disrupting the baby-making part of sex, we had also been damaging the love-deepening part of sex.”
“A couple, evaluating their circumstances with reason, faith, generosity and prayer, need not seek a baby every time they engage in the self-giving proper to marriage but they must never seek to kill new life once conceived,” wrote Turrentine. “They also must not alter themselves with a surgeon’s knife, or with spermicides, artificial hormones, the introduction of physical barriers or by the frustration of the act itself in order to damage the life-giving power God has woven into the physical self-giving of married couples