It would be hard to find a subject that would be rank much higher than natural family planning on the religion-news beat's "high degree of difficulty" list. As if that were not enough, I would assume that editors at The Denver Post assigned the following story because of the current tsunami of coverage about You. Know. What. The surprise is that the story turned out pretty well, so much so that practicing Catholics have been sending around online recommendations.
Yes, I know that it contains the popular statistic that Catholic doctrine on this subject has been, all together now, "ignored at times by 98 percent of Catholic women." But even there, that "at times" reference adds a touch of precision that many Catholics would salute. Yes, I also noted that the newspaper put a reference to religious liberty inside the now-familiar MSM scare quotes.
But let's move on and look at the actual story itself, shall we?
For one thing, the Post turned to one of America's best, one of the most experienced, voices on this topic and, surprise, the expert is a woman. Thus, readers are given a chance to read:
Catholic theologian Janet Smith, a professor at the Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, says the church long has been pressured to change its teaching on contraception. Every other mainstream Christian denomination has accepted it. Even forces within the Vatican have argued for it.
Yet, Smith said, the Catholic Church doesn't want to be part of the mainstream. There is is no shortage of statistics, she said, showing that contemporary views and modern contraceptives have created a messy society in which sex has been cheapened and family devalued.
"We are drenched in contraceptives in this country, yet 42 percent of babies are born out of wedlock," Smith said. "More than half of American women will experience an unintended pregnancy by age 45, and three in 10 women, at current rates, will have an abortion by age 45."
I can hear the thoughts in some readers' minds, saying, "Wait a minute, where did she get statistics that alarming?" However the story actually provides a highly specific (and rare, in the mainstream press) attribution for these kinds of numbers.
Those statistics come from the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit policy-research center with strong historical ties to Planned Parenthood that is generally recognized as providing the most comprehensive data on birth- control use and abortion.
Rare? It's rare to see the Planned Parenthood-Guttmacher link mentioned. Want more statistics?
More than half of sexually active Americans will contract a sexually transmitted disease during their lifetimes, according to Planned Parenthood.
In 1960, the year that the first birth-control pill came to market, it was projected that one in four marriages would end in divorce. Since 1970, that projection has been that nearly half of all marriages will end in divorce.
So the birth-control revolution is working just fine -- not. One would expect Smith to say that. However, one of the major themes of this report is that she also blames the Catholic Church for those numbers -- because its leaders have done so little to articulate and defend the faith's teachings. The Post also allows Smith to note that in 1968, in the famous "Humanae Vitae," the pope predicted that:
... four things would happen with widespread use of chemical birth control: Morality would be generally lower; women would be less respected (pornography being prevalent); human bodies would be viewed mechanistically, with more unnatural methods of conceiving and giving birth the result; and governments would impose population control on their people.
The church also has argued counterintuitively, yet accurately, Smith said, that access to contraception would not make abortion rare.
Yes, as one would expect, the story covers the other side of the debate -- using solid sources.
So what is missing? I would imagine that some readers are thinking what I thought when I first read this report. This story discusses Catholic teachings on this topic from the view of academia and research, while the true experts on this topic are the wives and husbands who advocate this way of life because they have lived it. Where are their voices, on a topic as intimate and personal as this? Where's the sidebar that considers that point of view?
As it turns out, a search engine revealed that the Post did publish that story and it included some, repeat SOME, material of that kind. I think it could have used more voices from the believers, as well as the doubters.
Nevertheless, the sidebar gives readers have a chance to learn:
"Hey, it's green. It's eco-friendly. It's free. It's easy," said Kristen Hamill, a mom who teaches NFP for the Denver Archdiocese, which requires couples wishing to marry in the church to take NFP classes.
"Young people want to eat only free-range chickens. They want hormone-free beef at the restaurant. But they go home, and (the women) pop hormones into their mouths for birth control. It's not natural," said Hamill, whose eight-year marriage has produced two sons, ages 1 and 2½.
All in all, a solid effort. This is way above the norm. Bravo.