So, how did the Catholic apostolate “Church Militant” celebrate the annual “NFP Awareness Week” last week? Unfortunately, by offering two web articles mis-stating Catholic teaching and casting aspersions upon the method that faithful Catholic couples may legitimately use to either postpone—or achieve—conception. Below in quotes are some of the more concerning claims, refuted, taken from two different posts by contributing author Dr. Jay Boyd at Church Militant: “Why Are We Pushing NFP?” and “Recovering from NFP.”
“While NFP is licit, it is not virtuous.”
But a “virtue” is (Catechism paragraph 1803) “an habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself.”
That describes NFP quite well. So does this:
“The scientific validity of the methods [of NFP] and their educational effectiveness makes them increasingly appreciated for the human values that they presuppose and strengthen….Their humanizing character is all the more obvious from the fact that using the natural methods requires and strengthens the harmony of the married couple, it helps and confirms the rediscovery of the marvellous gift of parenthood, it involves respect for nature and demands the responsibility of the individuals.”
Yep—Pope St. John Paul II makes NFP sound downright virtuous, doesn’t he?
“Unfortunately, ‘just reason’ has come to mean ‘just about any reason’ to space births.”
Not so. Couples using NFP understand that they should have “serious-just-grave” (pick one or all) reasons for saying “not now” to children, the supreme gift of marriage. It’s possible, of course, to misuse NFP, but it’s disingenuous to presume the worst of couples who are merely using NFP.
“Does the USCCB think that every couple who gets married will have serious reasons for using NFP?Every couple?!”
Probably not—but Popes like Blessed Paul VI and St. John Paul II are on record as promoting NFP far and wide and encouraging teaching NFP to all married couples. Just go to the Vatican web site and search on “natural family planning”—it’s right there.
“By failing to give examples of ‘just reasons,’ and by failing to emphasize the importance of those reasons in choosing to use NFP, the USCCB does the faithful a disservice.”
Frankly, this is a bit silly. The reason that only general examples of areas of concern are given is precisely because the Church has always recognized (See Gaudium et Spes #50) that it’s up to the couple and God—no one else—to make decisions regarding responsible parenthood. This is necessarily a couple-by-couple decision.
“We should be embarrassed, or at least humbled, at the need to figure out a way to have sex and avoid pregnancy.”
Really? I wonder why no one ever sent that particular memo to Popes Pius XI, Pius XII, Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI? None of them ever viewed periodic abstinence as something to be “embarrassed” about. Instead, they all expressed heart-felt pastoral concern for the well-being of couples as they sought to live their married lives in full accord with God’s will for them.
“But is NFP open to life if you are preventing pregnancy?No. Is using NFP truly God’s plan for your family if you are preventing pregnancy? No.”
This reads almost as though Casti Connubii (1930), Gaudium et Spes (1965), and Humanae Vitae (1968) never happened. In all three cases, the Magisterium makes clear that recourse to the “infertile” periods of a woman’s cycle is both permissible and open to life because nothing about the act itself is altered or diminished. NFP used in the context of “responsible parenthood” most definitely does count as “God’s plan for your family.”
“NFP is contraception.”
This was always the favored argument of those dissenting Catholics who love contraception and ridicule NFP; now it’s favored among those who hate contraception and ridicule NFP?? My comeback has always been that, if abstinence counts as “contraception,” then it’s clear that every person on the planet currently not-having-sexual-relations is also contracepting! Who knew?
“…[H]ow many souls have we prevented blessing this earth by encouraging other couples to use NFP? May God forgive us.”
The real problem with this reasoning is that it also should apply to the opposite consideration: namely, “How many souls have been added to this earth via fornication, adultery, etc.? May God forgive us.” But who would take seriously a claim that this is how God’s will actually works? Remember the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel? The various not-so-wholesome “wild cards” in Jesus’ own genealogy speaks to the fact that what God’s permissive will does is make good come from both out-of-wedlock conceptions and in-wedlock “non-conceptions.” We need to let God be God in this arena. It’s His job, not ours, to make sense of sins of commission and omission. But “encouraging NFP” is no culprit here.
Awareness or ‘Beware-ness’?
The “Church Militant” apostolate may take a dim view of the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church on Natural Family Planning, but faithful Catholic married couples don’t have to. Of course, no couple has to use NFP, and many generous couples tend toward being open to the blessings of large families. That’s a great choice, too. But if you’ve got important reasons to say “not now” to the supreme gift of marriage, the Church encourages you to be aware—not “beware”—of NFP.