Text Size

Family and Responsible Parenthood

Family and Responsible Parenthood
27 April 1979

The immediate context of this letter, as it is explained in the introduction, was provided by the "International Year of the Child" declared by the General Assembly of the United Nations. The Bishops took advantage of this occasion to address a series of issues closely connected with the life of children in the context of family life and responsible parenthood.

The social situation of children in Kenya by 1979 was similar to the general situation of children in many big cities and towns of Africa. The accelerated growth of cities, the process of industrialisation, and the concentration of administration and business in big cities, has brought a considerable material development to 'family life but also some disastrous consequences. The most affected victims are inevitably the children. To the development of cities there is not a matching progress in small towns and in rural areas where it is not always easy to get good health services, educational facilities and well-remunerated employment. Hence, the rural exodus, mainly of young married men, who leave their wives and children at home while they look for the permanent job they are dreaming of. Obviously this separation of husband and wife, when prolonged, results in conjugal infidelity, unmarried mothers, and children brought up in material and psychological conditions. All this leads to the phenomenon popularly known in Kenya as "Street Children."

It is also in this same context that contraception is most often practised, not only to avoid children within the established family, but also to avoid unwanted pregnancies and children -begotten outside wedlock. The situation and consequences are analogous to the wife who remains alone with the children at home.


  1. The General Assembly of the United Nations has set aside the year 1979 as the "International Year of the Child." In doing this it wants to focus the attention of the world on the special needs of children. It wants to challenge all of us to do our utmost to protect their rights and ensure that the children of our time get the care and attention they require.

  2. We, your Bishops, are anxious to use this occasion to 'examine the situation in our country and to make some practical proposals in order to promote the welfare of the children in Kenya. Our aim is to encourage individuals and groups to have a deep and practical concern for the promotion of their good, and we are convinced that loyalty to the teaching of Christ and His Church is the surest and most effective means of fostering this great work. We feel it our duty to God and to our people, therefore, to try to promote Christian values that are sometimes ignored and to oppose ideas and trends that are contrary to the teaching of the Gospel and, hence, to the welfare of our people.

  3. In promoting the welfare of children there are many elements in our traditions that can be of great assistance to us. These are part of our cultural heritage that should not be lost. For our people, children are seen as a gift from God. They are a sign of God's blessing, a blessing that is received with gratitude and treasured with love. They are a joy to their parents and a welcome gift to the community in which they are born. Even from an early age they are integrated into the life of the community and assume roles in accordance with their sex, age and ability.

  4. This attitude of the past is in accordance with the teaching of the Gospel where Christ said: "Let the little children come to Me..." (Mt 19:14). We recommend that these traditional values be maintained and treasured and that they be passed on to future generations. We find these values contrast sharply with some recent trends and ideologies that have gained favour in many parts of the world and are becoming more and more prevalent among our own people.

  5. The character of a society can be judged by its attitude to its children. If we uphold and develop the traditions we have inherited, traditions vindicated by the teaching of Christ, then we lay a solid foundation for future generations and for the true development of our people.

  6. Family

  7. We cannot be serious about promoting the interests and the rights of children unless we are fully committed to promoting the interests of the family. It is impossible to promote the good of children without promoting the good of the family. Already, the Bishops of East Africa and the representatives from Episcopal Conferences of all Africa have stressed the importance of this subject, and it is not our intention here to cover the same ground again. What is aimed at is to review some of the areas of major importance in our society and to make some practical suggestions. It is for individuals, for families and for communities to adopt some practical and concrete means to help in the building up of strong united families. In this way the children will be provided with the atmosphere and the facilities they need for their growth and development.

  8. Socio-economic Factors: A family is not an isolated unit in society; it is part of a larger unit. The general health of the larger society affects the family. It is encouraging to find in Kenya that there has been such wonderful progress in the socio-economic development of the country, in an atmosphere of peace, brotherliness and political maturity. The peace and stability that we experience is a major asset to the well-being of families. Efforts must be intensified to maintain peace and prosperity and to ensure that the development of the country is in the interests of all.

  9. Employment: Employment is necessary so that a family be self-sufficient and maintain its dignity and self-respect. It is especially important that the bread-winner of the family be able to get suitable employment near home. In particular, it is highly desirable that rural workers, and especially those in the agricultural sector, get just wages, so that the menfolk are not obliged to go to the towns and cities in search of employment. This often causes the family to break up. For rural families, it is highly desirable that they own some land. Thus, the just distribution of land is a major social concern. The consequences of carrying out a proper programme here could be of very considerable benefit to the families of today and ensure the stability and progress of the community of the future.

  10. Absentee Fathers: The growing tendency for the father of the family to be absent from the home most of the year should be looked on as a social evil that needs to be corrected. No economic planning that promotes such a system can be in the real interests of the people.

  11. Housing: Families living in towns are often under severe strain because of the lack of housing or the conditions of the housing. It is obviously not easy to provide sufficient and suitable housing for all who are now flocking to the towns. However, every effort should be made to try to accommodate families properly. They should not be at the mercy of unscrupulous landlords who charge exorbitant rents and evict at will. The high rents and the difficulties families find in acquiring their own houses are the cause of a lot of suffering and conflict in families.

  12. Working Mothers: It is often regarded as the norm in our present-day society, that both father and mother be employed outside the home. Such an attitude needs to be carefully reconsidered. It should be understood that the most important work a mother has to do is to provide for the proper rearing and upbringing of her children. A woman who is devoted to her home and her family is, in fact, working in a very real sense and making a very real contribution to the development of the country. Let it not be thought that the process of nation building takes place only outside the home. The woman who gives her time and talents to her home and family is not depriving her family by not earning a salary. On the contrary, she is making a very significant contribution to her children in a way that no money can supply.

  13. When both parents are working away from home, the children are often left in the care of other children. This is a twofold injustice: it is unfair to those in charge and to those who have to be tended. Even when competent persons are entrusted with the care of the children, they are not an adequate substitute for the parents. The structure of employment in our towns in particular needs to be reconsidered, so that the children get the care they need. The thinking here should be towards providing the fathers of families with wages sufficient to support the family, so that it is not necessary for the mother to be a wage-earner too. Perhaps, as an intermediate measure, the part-time employment of mothers of families ought to be considered and promoted.

  14. Alcoholism: The problems of excessive drinking and of alcoholism have reached almost epidemic proportions in some sections of our society. Their effects on the family are usually of a very serious nature, and the vast propaganda that encourages the sale of alcohol is really propaganda against the family. Moves to curtail the distribution and sale of alcohol are welcome, but a lot more needs to be done.

  15. Excessive use of alcohol is often a symptom of a deeper evil. It is an escape from the obligations of the family: it can be a protest against the conditions of work or against the conditions of the home. It can be an indication of the lack of social and leisure amenities in a community. More often it is a result of conflict within the family circle rather than a cause of conflict. Therefore, what is of vital importance here is for everyone to be aware of the evil, the very grave evil, of the abuse of alcohol in our society and for all to be concerned with correcting it. To promote good communications within the family is often the most effective means of reducing the problem. It is strongly recommended that Church communities throughout the country get involved in promoting more and more the good of the families, by organising workshops, seminars, retreats, and such like, to build up family relationships and bring happiness to the home. It is heartening to see that such work has already begun in some places. This should be encouraged and further developed.

  16. At the same time it is the concern of the whole community, and of public authorities in particular, to do everything possible to alleviate the evil brought about by the abuse of alcohol. The Church is willing to support efforts made in this regard.

  17. Single parent Families: The basic need of any child is a family where both parents cooperate harmoniously in its upbringing. Both parents have the right and the duty to devote themselves to the rearing and the education of the children they are responsible for bringing into the world. Where either parent neglects this duty, a serious wrong is done to the other parent and the child. The tendency for girls to have children outside marriage is, therefore, one that should be opposed by all. It is not in the interests of the unmarried mothers themselves, and the consequences for the children are very serious. It is true that motherhood has a value; but this is within the context of the family. It is not enough that the mother provides food, shelter and education for her child; the child needs also the care of a father, and, if this is missing, the child always suffers. In addition to this it must, of course, be clearly understood that the act of intercourse outside marriage is gravely sinful.

  18. Responsible Parenthood

  19. What has been said so far indicates the concern of the Bishops and the whole Church in Kenya for the welfare of the families of this country. The Catholic Church is totally committed to promoting whatever will lead to the good of the people and communities here. Now an important issue has to be dealt with, the question of Responsible Parenthood.

  20. The teaching of the Catholic Church was outlined in 1968 by the late Pope Paul VI in the Encyclical Humanae Vitae. On this point there is no hesitation. The developments of the past ten years have helped to strengthen the conviction of many people regarding the position of the Pope. There is, therefore, no change in the doctrine as outlined by Pope Paul VI. It is unfortunate that this teaching has not been widely understood. And here there is a lot of work to be done, for unless the Church's teaching is understood and accepted, there is a lot of doubt and confusion. The teaching of the Church is very necessary for our people, so that they may be guided in what is the right path for them to follow.

  21. Obviously it is a good thing that couples and communities should have a responsible attitude towards bringing children into the world and rearing and educating these children once they are born. But not every method that assists in the control of fertility is acceptable; and in our own society today many solutions are being proposed that are unacceptable to the Church. It is not in the interest of couples, nor in the interest of our society, to promote these methods, though this is being widely done.

  22. Abortion


  23. The most radical method of birth prevention and one which deserves the most serious and forthright condemnation is the termination of pregnancy by abortion. Whatever the terms used and whatever the motivation proposed, abortion is the killing of unborn human beings. The Church, and society at large, must insist on the right of all humans to life. This is the most fundamental human right, and it applies to all humans equally, even those who are not yet born. Direct abortion is direct killing, and this may never be tolerated. The damage caused to the mother is of a very serious nature, and this should not be underestimated. It is important for our people not to be led astray by false theories about abortion. They should be brought to realise that, from the time of conception, one is dealing with human life, and this may not be destroyed. That the woman has control over the child .conceived in her womb in such a way that she can decide to have it destroyed is totally false.

  24. Sterilisation


  25. Direct sterilisation of the man or woman, whether temporary or permanent, is not a lawful method of birth control or prevention. By direct sterilisation we mean every sterilisation which of itself, that is, of its own nature and condition, has immediately the sole effect of rendering a person infertile, so that children cannot be conceived. This is an unwarranted interference with the integrity of the human person, is always immoral, and absolutely forbidden, notwithstanding any subjectively right intention or any other reason.

  26. Indirect sterilisation, on the other hand, may sometimes be lawful. In this case the sterilisation, although foreseen, is not caused with the direct intention of making conception impossible, but in order to cure a disease that may be present in a particular organ of the body. For instance a cancerous womb may be removed to protect the life of a woman, although it is foreseen that the operation will certainly make it impossible for her to bear children. Those responsible for the teaching of religion and morality should be conversant with the teaching of the Church in this regard and be prepared to give assistance to medical practitioners and to all who are interested

  27. Contraceptives


  28. The use of artificial contraceptives is immoral. The teaching of the Church in this regard is clear, and our people should be taught the meaning and the consequences of this teaching. This is not an unthinking restriction on the findings of modern science. It is a positive protection of the dignity of the person and of the couple joined in a bond of love in marriage.

  29. The use of contraceptives in no way enhances the freedom and the dignity of the woman; quite the contrary. Such use does not improve the quality of the marital relationship. There is evidence from societies where the use of contraceptives is widespread that the rate of marriage breakdown is reaching alarming proportions. What will be the effects of the widespread use of contraceptives on the generations now growing up? The indications are that they will be very serious indeed. However, as in the case of sterilisation, so here too, it is lawful to use medicine to cure some illness even though this medicine may have an indirect contraceptive effect.

  30. Some contraceptive devices being used in reality lead to abortion, that is, they produce an abortion. This is the effect of most of the Intra-uterine Devices (I.U.D's) and also of some of the pills and injections that are given. Also, some drugs used have very serious side-effects and so are banned in many countries.

  31. Medical science is more and more alarmed at the side-effects of many of the contraceptives in use today. But other disciplines likewise are beginning to show concern at the effects on society, on individuals, and especially on the young, of the interference with the normal processes of the human body. In Kenya we have the United Nations Secretariat for the Environment the body that is interested in the preservation of the natural habitat. It would be ironic if more attention were given to the natural habitat of man than to his natural physiology and psychology, which need to be preserved and not tampered with.

  32. Positive Proposals- Our Pastoral Concern

  33. The Church in Kenya, as everywhere, is committed to fidelity to the teaching of Christ-to Tradition and to the Magisterium (teaching authority). It knows that such fidelity is in the interests of the people of our country. It does not consider the people of Kenya incapable of responding to the demands of the Christian-Catholic doctrine. We, your Bishops, would do a disservice to the people if we did not expect of them the goodness and the fidelity that they are capable of by the grace of God.

  34. We, the Shepherds of your souls, are aware of the problems of the people and are vitally interested in their solution. In the past, as is generally recognised, the Church has played a major part in the development of education and medicine in the country. Always with deep respect for the dignity of the human person, the Church will continue to develop medical services so that these do not become a kind of inhuman administration of drugs or mechanical application of remedies, but rather the expression of genuine care, for the true well-being of our people in their distress and suffering.

  35. Lawful methods of Responsible Parenthood: In the area of Responsible Parenthood, there is need for education and medical care. Pope Paul VI called for the development of methods that could be used by parents, so that they could plan their families in a mature and responsible way, without prejudice to their natures or to the nature of their families. There has been very considerable progress in this field during the last ten years. And now, with confidence, people are proposing methods that are reliable, safe, readily available, and morally and culturally acceptable to our people. It is hoped that these methods will become better known and more widely used in the future. In recent years the Church has encouraged the adoption of methods of Natural Family Planning, and already a number of initiatives have been taken. Now, with the experience gained, a more intensive and more effective programme can be undertaken for the benefit of our people.

  36. These methods require that husband and wife enter into a special relationship with each other, that they cooperate and communicate freely, and come to joint decisions. So, their mutual love and understanding is greatly strengthened, and their married life takes on a new and deeper meaning because it comes to be based on a relationship that is in harmony with their human personality and with the nature of marriage as God wishes it to be.

  37. These Natural Methods of Family Planning require careful and competent teaching, and it is important that those who wish to instruct others in their use should be well trained in them and clear in the way they present them. Here lies a fruitful apostolate for many of our married people. By learning these methods and teaching them to others they can provide a wonderful service to their fellow men. As Pope Paul VI wrote: "Among the fruits which ripen forth from a generous effort of fidelity to the Divine Law, one of the most precious is that married couples themselves frequently feel the desire to communicate their experience to others...." It is married couples themselves who become apostles and guides to other married couples. This is surely, among so many forms of apostolate, one which seems so opportune today.

  38. Programme of the Kenya Episcopal Conference: For some years the Church has been active in promoting the education of parents in the use of the Natural Methods of Family Planning. The Kenya Episcopal Conference now plans to implement, through the Kenya Catholic Secretariat, a nation-wide programme which will encourage and support Christian Family life.

  39. This programme will seek to promote a better understanding of the meaning of human life, the dignity of the person, and the sacredness of Christian marriage. One component of this will be training in child-spacing according to the Natural Methods of Family Planning.

  40. In this programme. the Kenya Catholic Secretariat will collaborate with the Family Life Counselling Association of Kenya (FLCAK), a voluntary organisation formed in 1977, devoted to promoting family life, and spreading information on Natural Family Planning. A training programme is being worked out for teachers of Natural Family Planning in Kenya. It is hoped that many couples will cooperate in this programme.

  41. Medical Ethics in Catholic Hospitals

  42. In line with what has been said, it is important that Catholic hospitals, clinics and dispensaries give practical as well as theoretical witness to the sanctity of human life, both at its beginning in conception and at every stage in its existence. As institutions dedicated to this ideal, they cannot, without being false to the principles for which they stand, be associated in any way with practices or programmes they believe to be wrong.

  43. For this reason they should do everything they can to have on their staff, doctors, nurses, and health-care workers who are committed to these principles and are opposed to abortion, sterilisation, and the various contraceptive procedures that are condemned by the Church. They should also make their policies known to all patients and to those who attend these patients in the hospitals. In this way they uphold God's plan and exercise a very important pastoral mission in the world today.

  44. Catholic medical personnel in non-Catholic institutions may sometimes be faced with problems of conscience in these matters, e.g., if they are asked to cooperate in providing services or treatments that they believe to be wrong. It is important, therefore, that they be as well-informed as possible so that they will be able to make a responsible judgement. While the circumstances in individual cases may vary considerably, the following general principles should be kept in mind.

  45. Any co-operation with others in an immoral action that is accompanied by personal approval of the decision to perform such an action is always sinful, since it involves a deliberate identification of oneself with the sinful intention.

  46. The same is true even when one does not approve of the decision, but agrees to cooperate immediately and directly in the evil action itself. For instance, one may disagree with another's decision to procure an abortion. But if, in spite of this, one helps directly in the action that causes the abortion, one commits the same sin as if one approved. Provided one does not agree with the evil intention, and does not help directly in an action that is intrinsically evil, there are times when remote material co-operation is lawful. These occur when the following three conditions are simultaneously verified.

    • When the act by which one co-operates is good in itself, or at least morally indifferent.
    • When there is a sufficiently grave reason for co-operating in a particular case. For medical personnel this means that the more immoral an operation or a particular form of treatment is, and the more essential one's help is in undertaking it, the more serious one's reason must be for co-operating in it.
    • When every effort is made to avoid the danger of giving scandal or bad example to others, e.g. - by explaining the circumstances which make one's co-operation lawful.

  47. In coming to a decision as to whether co-operation is lawful or not in their circumstances, Catholic medical personnel should give careful consideration to these general principles and be guided by them. Where they find it difficult to apply them to a particular case, they should consult the local Pastor or Chaplain for his advice and try to reach a balanced judgement in the light of all the factors involved.

  48. Sometimes this judgement may indicate that co-operation would not be lawful. In these cases, while Catholic medical workers should refrain from judging the motives of their colleagues or patients who do not agree with them, they should make their conscientious objections clearly known and refuse to participate. This may be very difficult at times, as they may be condemned or unfairly treated for their stand. But the Gospels leave no doubt that a courageous witness to their convictions is the right course to follow: "Blessed are those who suffer persecution for justice sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven" (Mt 5:10). Where undue pressures are brought to bear on them-like threats of dismissal or loss of privileges, etc.-they should have recourse to the Church authorities in their area, who will do all in their power to protect and support them.

  49. Conclusion

  50. The late founder of our Nation, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, told the Bishops of Eastern Africa (AMECEA) in July, 1976: "The Church is the conscience of society, and today a society needs a conscience. Do not be afraid to speak. If we go wrong and you keep quiet, one day you may have to answer for our mistakes." It is the duty of Catholics to witness to their convictions, otherwise they will not be loyal to the Church as the conscience of society.

We, the Shepherds of your souls, wish to remind you that the Christian Religion is supernatural. To be faithful to it we need Divine Help. "Without Me," Christ said, "you can do nothing" (John 15:5). It is by our own personal effort and by prayer through Christ our Saviour that God gives us the grace we need to have faith in Him and to be obedient to His commands. Therefore, let us pray with humility, that all families, following the example of the Holy Family of Nazareth, where Jesus grew in grace and wis¬dom before God and man, may be guided by the same Spirit and help to make our Kenya pleasing to God and to all men. We bless you and remain, Yours devotedly in Christ.

Questions for Reflection and Sharing

  1. Can you recall the values of childhood that are present both in the Gospel and in African traditional societies?

  2. What is the present situation of children in your own area? Try to identify the causes of their problems.

  3. Why does the Church have the right and duty of teaching on medical matters like contraception?

  4. Is birth control the real solution for a better future of children in Kenya? If not, what else is required?