The Pencil Today:


“No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.” — Margaret Sanger


So, the feds want to require most employers to provide full health insurance coverage to their employees.

Sounds good, no? Not only that, the current administration wants to make sure all women are guaranteed equal coverage including, among many, many other services, access to contraception.

What could be wrong with that?

The maxi-skirt-wearing officials of the Roman Catholic church went all aflutter over the new rules. They, of course, live in the year 541 Anno Domini and, as such, must hew to a higher law commanding women to be fertile and populate our pre-Dark Ages world.

The priests and bishops — all men, despite their habiliment — shrieked when they realized even hospitals and universities affiliated with their Rome-based corporation must pay premiums for women to use birth control.

Why, these sinful females want to have sex — ugh! — for the fun of it.

How can we leave matters of birth control to women when, after all, as Stephen Colbert has informed us, that is a private matter between a husband and his parish priest.

Anyway, this whole deal reminds me of a story. It’s true but don’t ask me how I know it because I won’t tell you.

There was this woman who got married young back in the late 1930s. She was just 16 years old when she ran away with a boy who was two years older than she was. They’d grown up in Chicago, in different ethnic neighborhoods, and their brief romance was Romeo and Juliet-ish.

This woman — let’s call her Anna — found herself pregnant within weeks of her elopement. By the time she was 19, she and her husband had two kids.

Since both Anna and her husband were high school dropouts, their family income was far below what we would refer to today as the poverty line. Anna’s husband’s paycheck would have been stretched to feed and house just the two of them. With a growing brood, there was hardly a penny leftover after the bills were paid.

So Anna and her husband decided to use contraceptives. Anna’s husband took some of those spare pennies and went to a drugstore outside their neighborhood, where he wouldn’t be recognized, and purchased a supply of condoms.

Now, the use of condoms, both Anna and her husband understood, was a sin. Their parish priest rarely delivered a sermon without reminding his flock that the only acceptable method of family planning was the rhythm method.

Any other form of birth control was tantamount to murder, he’d say.

Anna knew what she had to do. The Friday afternoon after she and her husband had first used a condom, she walked to the church and waited for a confessional box to open up. She saw a neighbor lady exit the box. The two women directed their gaze at the floor, not acknowledging each other, as they were sinners. Anna slipped inside the confessional box, kneeled down, crossed herself and said, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.”

And then she told him what she and her husband had done.

The priest gasped as if he’d never heard such an admission in his life. He ordered her and her husband to stop using condoms. He reminded her that if almighty god wished to grace her with a dozen little children, she should be eternally grateful. He directed her to do penance, which she faithfully carried out.

But Anna knew she and her husband could not reasonable support even half a dozen gifts from god. So, the next week she kneeled down in the confessional box again and told the priest she had sinned.

This time the priest seemed exasperated. He delivered his lecture again, this time with more firmness in his voice. He assigned her twice the penance as the last week. Again, Anna performed her penance.

And again, Anna and her husband used condoms when they had sex.

And for a third Friday afternoon in a row, Anna kneeled in the confessional box and confessed what she and her husband had done.

This time, the priest became enraged. He shouted at her.

“What kind of woman are you?” he demanded. “Do you expect to come here every week and be absolved of your sin? Will you never make an effort to to stop committing this sin?”

He paused for breath. Anna felt tears streaming down her cheeks. But the priest wasn’t finished.

“Don’t you realize what the use of condoms makes you?” he cried.

He didn’t wait for her to answer, for he provided it himself. “A bad woman! A puttana*!”

(*Puttana: Italian for whore.)

“I’ll remind you again, children are a gift from god,” he roared. “You must stop using condoms!”

Anna knew several neighbors were in the church pews, waiting for their turn to confess. She knew they could hear every word the priest shouted. She knew they’d carry the news of her sin throughout the neighborhood. She snapped.

“Stop saying that, please,” she said. “Stop it! If you think it’s so easy to raise a dozen children, you do it!”

The priest was speechless. Anna continued.

“You’re a hypocrite.” she said. “You and the Pope, both. Maybe you oughta sell some of the Pope’s shoes and raise these kids. We can’t. We’re only doing what we can!”

With that, Anna stood up and stormed out of the confessional box and, for a short time, out of the Catholic church.

She came back to the church after she’d read in the Reader’s Digest that many Roman Catholic women were using contraception. And they weren’t quitting the church.

So Anna started going back to Mass, although she never again kneeled down in that particular priest’s confessional.

Anna had two more kids, a few years after the first two, when she and her husband were more financially capable of raising them.

Despite leaving the Church for a brief period when she was 20 years old, she remains devout to this day. She prays throughout her day. She says she is certain she’ll see god when he decides to take her. She looks forward to seeing him.

And she knows he has forgiven her for talking back to a priest.

2 thoughts on “The Pencil Today:

  1. Mari says:

    The Catholic church is so out of touch. It is so sad that what is happening just today in Wisconsin with the child predator priests that they can judge a woman for using contraception. Say hi to your significant other. Email me for a personal family experience.

  2. I’d like to take suggestions for who should play Margaret Sanger in her biopic. Emma Watson? Carey Mulligan? Other?

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