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Answering Crocker and Crisis

March 8, 2005

H. W. Crocker III, ostensibly telling us how good children are for marriage, meanly ridiculed Natural Family Planning and, inexplicably, Crisis magazine published it (December 2004). Both apparently believe that an appropriate way to praise one good is to denigrate another. Between them, they have wronged a wholesome and important apostolate. Crocker and Crisis expect supporters of NFP to shrug it all off because, they claim, it was all intended to be funny. Well, Crocker’s essay wasn’t funny; it was smug. But judge for yourself: click here. Who writes so mockingly without intending to mock, or publishes something so contemptuous of a program without intending to show some contempt?

Whatever their motives, the Crocker-Crisis brand of humor hurt a lot of good people; moreover, they have ill-served the wider community with several specious anti-NFP assertions. Prominent persons among Crisis’ already-shaken circle of friends have expressed objections to the piece. For their letters and Crocker’s reply, click here. But running a few letters to the editor is not sufficient, especially not when Crocker, given the last word by Crisis, shows more condescension toward his critics.

Crocker’s sarcasm–to say nothing of his caricature of marriage in general and NFP in particular–have no place in Catholic discourse, and should be repudiated. Crisis should frankly acknowledge a serious failure in editorial judgment. Stonewalling obvious blunders only makes them worse.

Tell Crisis what you think: mail@crisismagazine.com.

For my own brief reply (mostly canonical) to just some of Crocker’s flawed claims, read on.

Crocker committed several substantive errors in attacking NFP and the people who use it. May I suggest just three examples?

1. In his opening paragraph, Crocker completely confuses Catholic teaching on openness to children with a method for complying with that teaching. NFP needs a new slogan, says Crocker, because Catholics reject Church teaching on human procreation. That is an obvious and fundamental error in categories. NFP’s “slogans” are just fine; it’s dissident Catholics who need to change their stance.

2. Crocker says there is no apparent evidence to support claims that couples using NFP enjoy very low divorce rates. Maybe not apparent to Crocker, but there are few signs he looked. A nice place to start would have been with my article “Contraception and Divorce: Insights from American Annulment Cases” published in the Couple to Couple League’s Family Foundations, November-December 1998, on-line version (posted for a good three years now) here.

3. In the mouth of his own ethnically stereotyped creation, Crocker places words that presumably he agrees with: “The primary and fundamental purpose of marriage is not companionship, not romantic love, not moonlit strolls on the beach, or any other balderdash but the begetting and raising of childre–lots of ’em, and starting soon.” Maybe Crocker should have a look at the 1983 Code of Canon Law, indeed, at its opening canon on marriage.

“The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and to the procreation and education of offspring….” 1983 CIC 1055 § 1.

Phrases describing marriage as “a partnership of the whole of life” and as being ordered to both “the good of the spouses and … to children” simply do not support the utterly unbalanced depiction of marriage (as being little more than licensed baby-making) that Crocker wishes to impose. But if Crocker can be excused for not knowing that these ideas on marriage now animate the Code of Canon Law (how many Catholics have the Code on their reading list?) he has no excuse for not knowing that these same ideas are prominent in such fundamental conciliar documents as Gaudium et spes no. 48 and Lumen gentium no. 11, to say nothing of Humanae vitae no. 8. Certainly the drafters of Canon 1055 had these texts before them, and Pope John Paul II approved this language during his line-by-line review of the Code before promulgation.

There is, to be sure, a lively debate going on about the conciliar and post-conciliar descriptions of marriage, debates animated by the fact that A) “baby-first” language was prevalent in pre-conciliar descriptions of marriage, and B) such language is completely gone from official post-conciliar articulations. But Crocker not only makes no contribution to that debate, he writes as one completely unaware of the fact that it is even going on.

Humor, like beauty, might be in the eye of the beholder, but truth is not. Crocker’s quest for glibness at NFP’s expense does not excuse his sacrificing accuracy about its (or any other morally licit approach’s) tested methods, and even less does it pardon his distorted descriptions of Christian marriage. It was a mistake for Crocker to write his essay, and, may I add, as one who normally cuts editors a lot of slack in choosing what to publish and what to reject, it was a mistake of Crisis to publish it. But perhaps I am saying something Crisis already knows: their on-line version of Crocker’s essay includes the request to “send angry mail directly to [Crocker]”. I can imagine. +++

Update, March 9: for more intelligent commentary on another disturbing aspect of Crocker’s essay, see Carl Olson at Ignatius Insight Scoop.

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