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Waiting on a family not un-Catholic

Emily Stetler | Monday, April 26, 2010

I wish to thank Joseph Nawrocki (“Misrepresentations,” April 22) and Peter Campbell (“Clarifications,” April 23) for providing me the opportunity to clarify my position as presented in my April 21 Letter to the Editor (“Not so friendly”). Nawrocki accuses me of misrepresenting the positions of the “Family-Friendly” petitioners. He says that I “infer” that Campbell believes that the University should encourage students to “live compassionate and moral lives only within the confines of marriage.” I infer no such thing. I infer, rather, that Campbell believes that the University’s encouragement for moral and compassionate living in the context of marriage should take financial form (increased health benefits), and that he has not considered fully the ramification of this request: that is, if the University should fund family life because it is endorsed by Catholic teaching, then the University will be called upon to fund many other lifestyles and activities endorsed by Catholic doctrine, as well. If I choose to personally provide long-term meals and shelter for a homeless family, can I charge that to the University?

Let Nawrocki and others note that I am not necessarily objecting to increased health care subsidies for graduate families (as the conclusion to my previous letter should make clear); I am objecting to justifying this increase by appealing to “Catholic teaching.”

Peter Campbell’s attempt to clarify his position in his Letter does little to allay my fears. Here, Campbell says, “I did not intend my comments to imply that those living a married life with children are the only group able to live out the values espoused by the Catholic Church.  This would clearly exclude both clergy and married couples who cannot have children, among others, which would be ridiculous.” Why are there only two groups (the clergy and those unable to have children) worthy of being named? Why will Campbell not specify two other groups who are certainly capable of living out Church teaching — the unmarried and those married people who chose not to have children while in graduate school? “Wherever the young students at Notre Dame encounter lives that are witnesses to these principles [of self-sacrifice and self-giving], whether in graduate student and faculty parents or the clergy serving them, their lives are enriched.” Again, cannot these principles be witnessed to by graduate students or faculty who are unmarried or not parents? I want this possibility to be explicitly acknowledged by the petitioners, who, even after my own objections and others, seem so hesitant to admit that graduate students who have chosen different lifestyles may be both equally following Church teaching and equally in need of support as are married graduate students who have children.

As to the “inadequate theological paradigms” that I mentioned in my last letter and for which Nawrocki requests clarification, Jamie O’Hare’s statement, which Nawrocki and I both quote, exemplifies: “many [married graduate students] will be bearing children, or they’re not following church teaching.” The Catholic Church teaches that married people ought to be open to procreation; it does not insist that married people have children in any certain timeframe. In fact, “Humanae Vitae” itself says that “In relation to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised, either by the deliberate and generous decision to raise a numerous family or by the decision, made for grave motives and with due respect for the moral law, to avoid for the time being, or even for an indeterminate period, a new birth.” Thus, graduate students could choose to postpone having children until a more feasible time without violating Church teaching.

I am not suggesting that graduate students who do have children while in school are irresponsible. I am simply saying that choosing to marry and have a family is a big commitment, and the decision to do so while in graduate school must take into account the financial and emotional costs. Some students will not chose to postpone having children until they finish their degrees, and I respect that choice. However, can we demand that the University subsidize the choice to support a family on a graduate student income alone, while other students choose to postpone childbearing or marriage and still others choose to raise children in a family where both parents work and have health benefits? These decisions are highly personal and must be made according to individual circumstances. I ask the petitioners to respect the complexity of these decisions, and to respect the sacrifices that all graduate students — married or single, with or without children — make. If you do feel you are within your right to ask the University to help with the cost of deciding to have children on a graduate stipend alone, please do not rely on misrepresented Catholic teaching to do so.


Emily Stetler

grad student

off campus

April 23