“Older Brother On the Porch Syndrome”

There’s a lot of buzz about a New York Times article addressing the discomfort many Catholics of a conservative/traditional bent have had about Pope Francis: whether his actual deeds and teachings or the way they’re expressed by the media. I’ve addressed this before, but what strikes me about this conversation is that those who are upset are being compared to the “Older Brother of the Prodigal Son,” with a tone of “that’s how *bad* those judgemental conservatives are.” While I sympathize yet disagree with my fellow prolife conservatives’ views of the Pope (or at least how he’s portrayed), I wish the discussion of what my wife has called “Older Brother on the Porch Syndrome” (someone used a similar but more longwinded term) had been posed more constructively, so here goes.

It is, pun intended, the “Elephant in the Room,” and for my experience of the problem, the “conservatives” are just as bad as the “liberals.”
Some of us have felt “thrown under the bus,” so to speak, long before Pope Francis (and, indeed, those frustrations are why we held so dearly to the vocal support we received from the past two Popes, because we’ve so often had to butt heads with our own parishes, pastors and bishops).

1. Contraception is evil. Check.
2. Chastity is good. Check.
3. Chastity is challenging: acknowledged by most people except by those for whom it comes easily.
4. Paul’s advice in 1 Cor 7. Check
5. Abortion is evil. Check and double check.
6. Marriage should be open to children. “Absolutely!”
7. _Casti Connubii_ teaches that even in extreme circumstances, it’s better to put your bodily health, or life, or finances at risk by having a baby than putting your soul at risk by sinning against chastity.
Yet, here come the tricky parts:
8. _Gaudium et spes_, published before _Humanae Vitae_, introduces this notion of “responsible parenthood,” which in the abstract is a great idea, but in the context, particularly in Karol Woytyla’s _Love and Responsibility_ from which it is derived, seems to imply, as certain “NFP advocates” promote, that some people have a “moral obligation” *not* to have children. Let’s assume that’s true: how do we square it with points 1-7? It’s one thing to speak of “tortured dissent” and how some circumstances diminish individual culpability, but the Church clearly teaches (including in _Gaudium et Spes_, if the passage is read in its entirety) that society and the Church have an obligation to help families in those extreme situations.
9. In practice, as advocates of “Providentialism” on the one end of the spectrum and artificial birth control on the other, will point out, those who most “need” NFP, who have the most grave reasons for using it and practicing “responsible parenthood” are those who find it most difficult. For “rhythm” to work, a woman must have perfect health and a perfect cycle. For “sympto-thermal” to work, she must keep a perfect sleep schedule, perfect nutrition, theoretically not move from her bed till she takes the morning temperature, sleep in a perfectly dark room, etc. (Marquette model removes some of these burdens). So for women who have health problems, a lot of stress, and/or have to work, these conditions can be hard.
10. Because of 8, NFP promoters will often look down on couples who face the struggles in point 9, saying “You’re obviously not chaste.” A politically conservative mentality looks down upon anyone who seeks out or relies upon government aid. While people will say, “You should be able to rely on your families and the Church for help without going to the government,” they don’t exactly line up to help and instead fall back on “responsible parenthood” and “you’re obviously a *sinner*.” So in that sense, “older brother on the porch” works against the not-so-hypothetical family situation we’re discussing.

I had written a rather long rant that’s just a variant of what I’ve written before, but, realizing how many times I’ve written it before, which just goes to show the problem (people love an “inspiring story” but not one which shows the struggles and disappointments and sorrows that go along with it), I’m not sure how to phrase it.

I’m all for “seeking out the lost sheep.” I more than sympathize with the pastoral problems posed by those who are divorced and remarried, or in other situations and wanting to come back to the Church. I applaud anyone who converts or “reverts” and tells the story of their “journey home,” acknowledging that they strayed. I love a good story of moral and spiritual conversion.

I *do*, however, have a serious problem when people stand up and give “stewardship talks,” and admit that they used to be bad Catholics but talk as if the end and be all of that was not going to Mass and not donating enough money, and now that they’re well off and have their 2.5 kids and sown their wild oats, they stand up and tell everyone how important it is to give of their “time, treasure and talent” without saying one word about spiritual or moral conversion.

It’s frustrating to be told, “Be a good Catholic and do, X, Y, and Z.” You say, “I’d love to do X,Y and Z,’ but I struggle.” Then the response is either, “Well, then you don’t have an obligation/culpability, so don’t worry about it” or “Then you’re obviously a bad Catholic and a hypocrite,” not “Here’s how we can help you.”

Obviously, this is the very thing Pope Francis is talking about, but it just always seems to be applied in one direction, not the other. “We’ve already got you in the fold, and we know you’re not going anywhere, so we’re not worried about you.”


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