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The Abusive Use of NFP

Lyle J. Arnold, Jr.

The picture on page 6 of The Catholic Voice, the Oakland Diocese newspaper, is so quintessentially warm and fuzzy that it could qualify as a recruiting poster for marital bliss. The picture shows a handsome couple in their twenties holding their 10- month- old daughter. The article presents the couple as serious, practicing Catholics. They practice and promote natural birth control, called natural family planning (NFP) by the Church.

A young couple with sunglasses holding their baby

The couple referred to in the diocesan newspaper
I wonder whether they ever heard about the pre-conciliar teaching of the Church on the narrow use of this natural method of birth planning based on the rhythm of ovulation in the wife.

The article's title reads ‘Not your grandmother's rhythm method.’ That is to say, the previous rhythm method sometimes did not work, and unwanted births were the result. (1)

In an adjoining article titled “The Science Behind NFP” Dr. Thomas Lenz gives a detailed explanation of how and why the new method is more efficient.

Dr. Lenz describes the process: “A woman makes daily observations of the changes in the cervical mucus and temperature signs that occur in a female’s reproductive cycle. By interpreting these signs and symptoms, a married couple can reliably determine the fertile and infertile times in order to either plan or to postpone a pregnancy for various reasons.” (2)

Then he takes off on a clinical roll explaining the calendar-based method determined by a woman’s ovulation cycle. The explicit instruction goes on for many paragraphs more, so I will stop here.

Who is really in charge?

The couple mentioned in the diocesan paper did some research online before their marriage to find the natural birth control method that would work better for them. “We wanted to enter into our marriage right with each other and right with God, with all His blessings,” she said. They found the sympto-thermal method, and now they are teaching it to engaged couples. The new scientific method is presented as virtually foolproof, truly a state-of-the-art procedure.

Further, the paper states: “It is green. No chemicals in a woman's body is an attractive notion to a generation that values healthy living.” Non-Catholics are also adhering to natural birth control since the pill often has disastrous side effects, reduces full fertility when a pregnancy is desired and is expensive.

This method is presented as fail-safe. When a couple wants to conceive, it calls the shots. This is, then, the new panacea for unwanted children and having sexual relations as much as possible inside a marriage – all with the blessings of the Conciliar Church.

The lady interviewed above pretends that she is always open to God’s will, that everything is in His hands… But if the conception were truly in His hands, the spouses would not be in charge, planning their family in a slide-rule precise way using a natural birth control method.

A change in mentality

The Church’s teaching on natural birth control or natural family planning is summarized in Canon 1013 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law. It states that “the primary end of marriage is the procreation and education of children.” The intention of having children, provided that this is possible, is consequently essential to the very substance of the matrimonial contract, which is for “acts which are in themselves capable of engendering children” (Cf. Canon 1081, 7577 Code of Canon Law).

Catholic couples at NFP training

Catholics couples at pre-marriage classes learn NFP from various organizations promoting it

An advertisement for birth control and natural family planning
Interpreting the law, the Church allowed periodic use of natural family planning for sufficiently grave reasons, such as serious medical or psychological reasons. A couple had to consult with a priest to receive permission for using the method.

Om 1968 Paul VI opened the door much wider to the use of NFP in Humanae Vitae, by encouraging medical science “to study natural rhythms … to determine a sufficiently secure basis for the chaste limitation of offspring.” This is interpreted as favoring the then-new and more reliable symptom-thermal methods of NFP. During the following decade, Catholic organizations such as the Couple to Couple League, Family of the Americas and the Pope Paul VI Institute were founded to teach natural family planning based on the mucus method.

Gradually, as the article above points out, this method became more and more “scientific” and secure, virtually assuring no pregnancies, if practiced correctly.

As the method found citizenship in the Catholic Church, a change in mentality occurred in Catholics. The couple could “plan” their family, limiting its size to the supposedly ideal 2-4 children, or even one, if they so desired. No more thought was given to the “grave reasons” once necessary to practice natural birth control.

A statement from a pre-conciliar Catholic teaching demonstrates this change in mentality. In a book published in 1954, a Discalced Carmelite monk, while reflecting on the events that led him to the monastery at a young age, listed this among the causes:

“I came from one of the world's greatest homes, with parents who found out that in having eight sons life was more interesting, however hectic, than it might have been in having one; and who have discovered in their advancing years that they have no regrets to haunt them, no fears for ever having attempted to usurp the right of God, who alone has the power to say who should be born and who should not – and when. “ (3)

Today many couples do not even know that before Vatican II, the spouses were always cautioned that since the primary end of marriage is to have children, for a couple to use the rhythm method there must be “sufficient reason for its use ... and it cannot be continued without sin (once the grave reason for its use is gone.)” (4)

Contrast this teaching with the opinion of the young spouse and NFP instructor featured in The Catholic Voice. She states: “I figured out my cycle pretty easily. We are both committed, take our temperature at the same time each morning, pay attention to our mucus. At the end of the day, we chart it. It feels healthy, physically and emotionally. It totally works, if you're paying attention.”

Everything is controlled, not by God as she claims, but by “the science behind the method” and the decision of the couple who practices it.

‘Increase and multiply’…

An angel holding the sword of chastisement

Onan was put to death by God
So, the concrete situation we face today is that the door is open for Catholic married couples to have sexual relations as often as possible without conceiving. This is allowed/encouraged by the Conciliar Church, with the contribution of a medical science that is becoming more precise every day.

Now, I ask: Morally speaking, what is essentially the difference between this situation and that of an unmarried couple who are living together just to enjoy sexual relations? Insofar as people virtually set aside the end of having offspring, is this marriage not participating in the sin of Onanism? As the reader may recall, Onan was killed by God because he deliberately avoided offspring in his marriage.

God, speaking to Noah and his sons, said, “Increase and multiply, and fill the earth.” (Gen. 9: 1) I pray that the Church may once again confine herself to limiting the NFP method to its rightful place: to be used only in grave matters after evaluation by a proper religious authority. St. Joseph, patron of families, pray for us.
1. Michele Jurich, “It’s Not Your Grandmothers Rhythm Method,” The Catholic Voice, 9-4-12.
2. Thomas Lenz, MD, “The Science Behind NFP,” Ibid.
3. Richard Madden, OCD, Men in Sandals, Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing Co/, 1954, p. 6.
4. A Practical Dictionary of Biblical and General Information, entry "Birth control", p. 31.
Posted October 8, 2012

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