spacing children

What is considered a serious cause for spacing children?

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Following the article posted regarding how many children to have in marriage, I am interested to know if you could guide me to investigate what is a serious cause for not having children. I thank you for your service and God bless you.


Among the circumstances that justify recourse to natural methods to regulate births, I would point to the various marital or family situations that sometimes make it necessary, sometimes convenient, and in other cases at least justifiable to have recourse to periodic abstinence. Pope Paul VI wrote in Humanae Vitae: “If there are serious reasons for spacing births, whether arising from the physical or psychological conditions of the spouses or from external circumstances, the Church teaches that it is then licit to take into account the natural rhythms immanent in the generative functions in order to use conjugal intercourse only in infertile periods and thus regulate the birth rate without offending moral principles…”[1].

 Pope John Paul II said: “Sometimes, even when they are clearly open to life, couples are obliged to space births, not for selfish reasons, but precisely out of a sense of objective responsibility. Situations of poverty, or serious health problems, can make the couple unprepared to receive the gift of new life. The fact that in some cases women are forced to work outside the home changes the conception of the role of women in society, and the time and attention they devote to family life. In particular, some family policies established by legislators do not facilitate the procreative and educational duties of parents. The Church, therefore, recognizes that there may be objective reasons for limiting or distancing births, but recalls, in harmony with Humanae Vitae, that couples must have ‘serious reasons’ why it is licit to renounce the use of sex during fertile periods and to make use of it during infertile periods to express their love and safeguard their reciprocal fidelity.”

We therefore speak of “objective” and “serious” motives. What are they? Pope Pius XII spoke of “medical, eugenic, economic and social indications”[3]. There are, then, four fundamental reasons:

Medical: for example, poor health, chronic illnesses, difficult childbirths, pregnancies with serious difficulties. Some psychological indications could be added here, such as serious misunderstandings between the spouses, manifest psychological disturbances, etc.

Eugenic: the possibility or certainty of engendering children affected by defects (schizophrenia, hereditary blindness or deafness, etc.).

Economic: a very uncertain future, severe poverty.

Social: problems of work, housing, educational incapacity of the parents, vices affecting the responsibility for the children (alcoholism, drug addiction, etc.). One could also indicate here the desire to distance births prudently in order to better meet the educational needs of the children already born.

What is the basis on which such circumstances of family or social life can justify the regulation of births? The reason is that the task of engendering new lives is a positive duty. In this regard, A. Peinador explains: “Positive duties, whether of divine or human origin, are not urgent when a notable difficulty makes them exceptionally hard; because God, who is Legislator and Father, and men who have received from Him the power to command, take into account, when promulgating their precepts, the inherent weakness of fallen nature, which in most men translates into the impossibility of facing extraordinary hardships for the attainment of a noble and honest ideal, as is the end of all just ordination. Just and most noble is the end of procreation, contained in the precept given to married people to grow and multiply. However, from the duty to put into practice the only good means to achieve it, serious reasons can be excused.” “In this case,” says Pope Pius XII, “the general principle can be applied that a positive performance can be omitted if grave reasons, independent of the good will of those who are obliged to it, show that such performance is inopportune or prove that it cannot be equitably claimed by the creditor of such performance (in this case the human race).”

This does not mean that the aforementioned circumstances “require” the spouses to regulate the birth rate. The “extraordinary” character of the aforementioned situations justifies the decision in conscience not to carry out the good of fertility as long as these situations persist; but this does not mean that they “oblige” the spouses to renounce it. The spouses remain free to act with generosity, trusting in Divine Providence, in the vocation of new children to life even at the cost of hardship and suffering. God does not allow Himself to be outdone in generosity.

Fr. Miguel A. Fuentes, IVE

Bibliography for further reading:

Paul VI, Enc. Humanae Vitae;

John Paul II, Exhortation, Familiaris Consortio;

John Paul II, La paternidad y la maternidad responsables a la luz de la Gaudium et Spes y de la Humanae Vitae (Catequesis del 1/08/84; en: L’Osservatore Romano, 5/08/84, p. 3);

John Paul II, The teachings of the Church about the responsable transmission of human life, Discourse of the participants in the International Congress (L’Osservatore Romano, 17/04/88, p. 11);

John Paul II, Man and Woman. Theology of the Body, Palabra, Madrid 1996; Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 2331-2400;

Caffarra, Carlo, Etica generale della sessualità, Ares, Milano 1992.


[1] Humanae Vitae, 16. En nota el Papa se remitía a la doctrina ya expuesta por Pío XII.

[2] Cf. Juan Pablo II, Audiencia a los participantes del encuentro internacional sobre el tema: “La regulación natural de la fertilidad; la auténtica alternativa”, 11/12/92, nº 2.

[3] Pío XII, Discurso a la Unión Católica Italiana de Obstétricas, en ocasión del Congreso de la Unión de Obstétricas Católicas, Roma 29 de octubre de 1951; en: Pío XII y las Ciencias Médicas, Ed. Guadalupe, Bs.As. 1961, p. 110.

[4] Antonio Peinador, Moral profesional, B.A.C., Madrid 1962, nº 638; el discurso citado de Pío XII es el Discurso a la Unión Católica Italiana de Obstétricas, citado en nota anterior.

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Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II both recognized that there may be objective and serious reasons for couples to limit or space out births. These reasons can include medical conditions, eugenic concerns, economic challenges, and social difficulties. Couples should only make this decision with “serious reasons” and are still free to act with generosity. The Catholic Church recognizes the positive duty of procreation, but acknowledges that couples may be excused from this duty in the face of exceptional difficulties. In these cases, the decision to regulate birth rate should be made in conscience and with trust in Divine Providence.”

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