NFP: The Myth of the “Contraceptive Mentality”

A recent Sunday was designated by the bishops of the United States as “Respect Life Sunday. As we pray and work for an end to abortion, it is well to remember that there is a profound connection between the prominent use of birth control in a nation and the legalization of abortion: As Pope Paul VI foresaw in his encyclical letter Humanae Vitae, contraception will always lead to abortion (if not for each individual, at least for the society as a whole).

However, there are many good and faithful Catholics in the Church who question the relation between contraception and natural family planning. Does NFP entail a “contraceptive mentality”? And, even if NFP can be used well, is it possible (or even likely) that many people in fact use NFP with a contraceptive mentality? What are the circumstances in which a couple may licitly use natural family planning?


There is Nothing Contraceptive About Natural Family Planning

We must first understand what the word “contraceptive” means. “Any action which either before, at the moment of, or after marital intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation, whether as an end or as a means” is contraceptive (Humanae Vitae, 14). Contraceptive means just that: against conception.

Now, to be very clear, there is nothing in any way contraceptive about natural family planning. Neither before, nor during, nor after sexual intercourse has a couple practicing NFP done nothing at all to prevent procreation or to render the act infertile. The sexual act may in fact be infertile (i.e. it may not be possible for the woman to conceive at that time), but the couple has not done anything to make the act infertile.

The Church has been very clear on this point, and I would recommend re-reading Humanae Vitae, 16, for further clarification. “Neither the Church nor her doctrine is inconsistent when she considers it lawful for married people to take advantage of the infertile period but condemns as always unlawful the use of means which directly prevent conception […]. In reality, these two cases are completely different.”

Natural family planning and contraception are utterly different.


What About the “Contraceptive Mentality?”

Some generally well-meaning persons in the Church have begun to question whether the use of NFP might often (or at least occasionally) entail or encourage a “contraceptive mentality” to it. While these individuals will grant that NFP is not per se contraceptive, they will claim that the intention of the couple may at times be no different (or not significantly different) from that of the contracepting couple.

We must insist on this point: There is nothing at all contraceptive about natural family planning; contraception and NFP are completely different.

Some will hold that NFP, though not contraceptive, has the danger of being used with the same intention as contraception. But this is philosophically unintelligible. The “end”, “goal”, or “intention” of contraception (speaking in terms of moral theory) is to render a particular sexual act infertile. The “mentality” of contraception is preventing procreation, i.e., making a procreative act no longer procreative.

Thinking about contraception and NFP in this way, it is quite clear that there is no possible way in which natural family planning could entail a contraceptive mentality. There is nothing contraceptive about NFP, therefore it cannot induce a contraceptive mentality. While it is theoretically possible that NFP could be used in a bad way (and even in a sinful way), it cannot possibly be used in a contraceptive way.

We may speak of the dangers of a “selfish” mentality, or even of a “sinful” mentality, but we simply cannot speak of a “contraceptive” mentality when it comes to natural family planning. Words are important; they communicate either truth or falsehood. Hence it is false and harmful to claim that NFP entails the danger of inducing a contraceptive mentality.


The Just Causes for Using NFP

It is not uncommon to hear some question what are the circumstances in which natural family planning can be used licitly. Some (even some priests) will say that natural family planning can be used to limit or space out child-birth only in the most extreme circumstances. We get the impression that, if the mother’s life is not in danger or if the family is not utterly destitute, NFP should not be employed as a means of limiting child-birth. This is not the teaching of the Church.

Very simply, the Church does not say that a couple must have “grave reasons” or be in “extreme circumstances” in order to make use of NFP. Rather, the Church speaks of “justae causae.” Even someone who knows no Latin should be able to understand what this means in English: “just causes.” Natural family planning cannot be used indiscriminately, but neither does the Church require families to have the absolute maximum number of children, nor has she ever indicated that this would be desirable.

For a couple to licitly make use of natural family planning, they must have a “just reason” — not a “grave reason”, not an “extreme circumstance”, not a “life-or-death situation,” but simply a “just reason.” The very nature of natural family planning keeps the couple open to the Lord’s gift of new life and, if they remain united in prayer, I am confident that they will be able to make a proper discernment of when to attempt to have another child.


The Catholic critics of NFP

Finally, I must note that there is something very suspicious about many of the conservative Catholic critics of natural family planning. They will often misuse language in a manner which obscures what the Church really teaches about NFP and contraception.

Whether we consider the philosophically unintelligible language of “NFP with a contraceptive mentality” or the mistranslation of “justae causae” as “the most extreme circumstances,” NFP’s critics are tying up heavy burdens hard to bear. They are binding people’s consciences in matters where there is room for freedom of opinion. This recalls Christ’s rebuke of the Pharisees, and suggests the sin of presumption.

The encyclical Humanae Vitae (10, 16) speaks of “serious reasons,” “just causes,” “worthy and weighty justifications,” “defensible reasons,” and “just reasons” for spacing children or avoiding pregnancy through the use of natural family planning. What exactly qualifies as a serious, just, worthy, and defensible reason for spacing children is certainly a point of debate — and there is no easy, one-size-fits-all answer!

It is clear that the Church has never taught that NFP should only be used in the most extreme circumstances, or in life-or-death situations. Further, it should now be clear that a couple who uses (or even misuses) natural family planning will never be in danger of a falling into a contraceptive mentality. For a more philosophical presentation of these ideas, see Janet Smith’s article on the subject.


This article originally appeared at The New Theological Movement.


Fr. Ryan Erlenbush of the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings graduated summa cum laude from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, with a double major in philosophy and classical languages. He received a bachelor

  • Virginia

    Thank you Fr. Erlenbush for your article! My husband and I teach NFP and we often encounter the couple using contraceptives. I find what is more difficult to deal with and hurtful personally though, are those who judge NFP unworthy of use or attention because of the reasons you mentioned. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  • Nathan

    I also thank you for this article, Father. As a married man who within the last 6 months switched from contraception to NFP, I can attest from personal experience that the “mentality” is entirely different. Thank you for presenting Mother Church’s teaching so clearly on this subject!

  • Thank you, Father. I’ve run into all of the above. And, all of the above has made the “marketing” of NFP so much more difficult. Yes, NFP would benefit from some sound marketing. I’d be happy to blog about that. There are so many teachable moments to couples that are frittered away because they are yet ready to accept the theology behind the method. So many physcians, people of science, who would be willing to implement NFP within their practices if they didn’t also have to buy off on the theological reasons or promise to exclusively prescribe it just to learn what they need to know to help couples. What you wrote is a very good start in the direction of getting NFP to be more “mainstream” for all the good reasons that have nothing to do with “what the pope said” or the fear of the contraceptive mentality.

  • G.

    A very refreshing read. I can understand the concerns of the “contraceptive mentality” crowd if what they mean is that conception shouldn’t be treated like a tragedy, as it so often is. How entrenched that attitude is hit home for me a some years ago when a relative called to tell me she was pregnant, and for a split second, I didn’t know whether to say “Congratulations,” or “Oh, I’m so sorry.”

    However, having said that, there is a distinct and unfortunate snobbery directed against users of NFP. Taken to an extreme, the arguments invoking the avoidance of a “contraceptive mentality” amount to: “Yes, we have this strategy known as NFP available to us, but no one can ever, ever, ever use it.”

    In addition, NFP cannot be dismissed as “birth control lite,” per se, because the only thing its practitioners are controlling is themselves. Working around and adapting to observable patterns in nature is not controlling or thwarting it.

  • John

    “Very simply, the Church does not say that a couple must have “grave reasons” or be in “extreme circumstances” in order to make use of NFP.”

    Uhh…oh yes, it does. Not to mention that, as per the teaching of the Church, the primary purpose of marriage if the begetting and educating of children, with secondary purposes being the relief of concupiscience and the mutual good of the spouses. This is Scholasticism and despite what it now seems, this has not completely left the Church. In fact according to one of the higher offices (I don’t remember the current name, as it was changed after Vatican II), it says any who deny this are simply wrong.

    No, we aren’t to be as rabbits yet we must trust in God. Children are gifts and the Father only gives us what is good.

    • John Zmirak

      When you assert that the Church teaches something, give a source. Msgr. here has cited the most recent authoritative statement on this subject from the Magisterium. If you can top it, go ahead. If not, then try to wrap your mind around the fact that whatever you read someplace in a smudgy pamphlet (or cranky blog) might be wrong.

  • Beth Cornelson

    Father, I am sad to say that I am friends with 3 young couples, all who are spending years (5, 6, and even 8 years) having purposefully planned sterile sex with NFP in order to “get ahead” financially, or to “go further” educationally. These are supposedly “faithful” Catholics.

    They have the resources that they need to have children, but they choose educational or financial goals instead. Another couple I knew got pregnant while trying NFP, and they were so upset about it that the young woman actually considered abortion! To me, this is a “contraceptive (against conception) mentality.” This has been my experience among young couples in the church today.

    I am curious that you did not go through the 4 reasons the Church gives that are serious enough to space children. Education or living in wealth are not included on their list, though.

    • John Zmirak

      Beth, where are these 4 reasons listed? Are they in either an encyclical or the Catechism? If not, then they are at a lower level of authority than Humanae Vitae, which is what binds. That list of reasons may be helpful, or wise, but you can’t say it’s Church “teaching.”

      Let’s look at the duty of almsgiving to the poor–something Our Lord talked about more than almost anything else during His earthly ministry. How much and when are we obligated to give? In The Bad Catholic’s Guide to Good Living, I addressed this as follows, starting with a quote from Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum:

      “True, no one is commanded to distribute to others that which is required for his own needs and those of his household; nor even to give away what is reasonably required to keep up becomingly his condition in life, ‘for no one ought to live other than becomingly.’ But, when what necessity demands has been supplied, and one’s standing fairly taken thought for, it becomes a duty to give to the indigent out of what remains over.”

      In other words, prosperous people, social classes, or countries are not obliged to abolish inequality. Wealthy Catholics need not give away so much that they become middle- or working-class, and prosperous nations need not transfer their “surplus” GNP to the developing world.

      If Leo XIII was right that one is not obligated to abandon educational goals, drop down a social class, or otherwise neglect his “condition in life” for the very grave duty of alms-giving, why should that obligation be imposed for something Our Lord never mentioned: more frequent child-bearing? Surely, once we have rejected the immoral means of contraception, decisions about how “generous” to be in child-bearing must fall under the same prudential rubrics we use in deciding how much to give to charity or the Church.

      NFP is hard to practice, I am told–as hard as training for a marathon. If it’s anything like that challenging, we need not worry that too many people will do it for frivolous reasons. We should worry about loading down the Church’s real teaching with enough false scruples that people find it absurd and reject it.

      The Spiritual Franciscans fell into heresy by insisting that the laity obey the evangelical counsel of poverty. Might the anti-NFP people be doing the same thing, by trying to impose (on pain of mortal sin) the burden of “providentialism”? A few religious orders, like the Theatines, adopted “providentialism” when it came to their finances–not even soliciting donations, or keeping financial reserves. They just waited for money to show up. Admirable. If they had taught that every religious order (or for that matter, the father of every family) was obligated under pain of mortal sin to do the same, this teaching would have been damnable.


      There lies within our church a “contraceptive” or “sinful” mentality towards procreation. One only needs to look out into the congregation of the majority of our parishes and see the typical 2.3 children per family staring back at you to realize that that the majority of these people are ‘contracepting’ in one form or another. Either that or there is something in the water… How can you explain the very low birth rate within our church?

      No we are not all suppose to be bunnies and have children willy nilly whenever – just because we can. Each life is precious and there are times when we need to limit our family size or have a break. Unemployment, serious lack of resources, mental illness or a serious illness in the family and so on. We would be irresponsible to purposely have a child we knew we could no afford to feed and cloth just because we can.
      This is the beauty of NFP – we work with our fertility and still leave our life in God’s hands. Sometimes WE think now is not the right time to have another child and we use NFP to follow our conscience but God still sees fit to bless us with a child. Because we have been trusting Him with our fertility we still see this child as the blessing s/he is and then trust the Lord to provide.
      We are called to form our conscience and we are to use the teachings of Mother church to do so. When we do this – we will make good choices.
      Whether we call the steadfast use of NFP to limit the number of our children for selfish reasons a “contraceptive mentality” or a “sinful mentality” is just semantics. Limiting our family size for selfish reasons (bigger car, fancy vacations career advancement etc) is still a selfish act that is sinful.
      The reverse is also true. Recklessly having child after child despite having serious (grave) reasons not to have so many children is also wrong. God provides, yes! But He also provided us with reason… and He expects us to use it.
      AGAIN THANK YOU BETH for your words of wisdom!

      • It is not simply a “semantic game” when we distinguish between selfishness and contraception.

        The sinful use of NFP can very often be only venially sinful, but the use of contraception would always be grave matter.
        Thus, the difference between a “selfish mentality” and a “contraceptive mentality” could easily be the difference between a mortal and a venial sin — does that sound like “just semantics” to you?

        Additionally, to say that NFP is “contraceptive” is to lie, and we shouldn’t be lying to people (least of all our fellow faithful Catholics).

        • Sarto

          I don’t think the use of contraception is always grave matter. In the second half of the encylical, in the part that gives advice to married people, the pope tells people struggling to figure it out to keep praying and to keep going to confession and communion. He could not say this if it was a mortal sin. And the same with his advice for confessors. He says tell the couple to keep praying and to keep going to communion. A priest confronting a repeated mortal sinner would have to tell the person to stop before he could go to confession or communion again.

          • Sarto,

            “The Catholic Church … raises her voice as a sign of her divine mission, and through Our mouth proclaims anew: any use of marriage exercised in such a way that through human effort the act is deprived of its natural power to procreate human life violates the law of God and of nature, and those who commit such an action are stained with the guilt of grave sin.” (Casti Connubii, 56; Pius XI)

            [the final two words are the most pertinent to our discussion]

            Next time you publicly ridicule a priest, please do a little research first.

            • Mary

              Wow. Fr. His point was not meant to ridicule at all. He was simply disagreeing with you. Maybe I’m missing something, but I didn’t catch any disrespect in his comment.

              • Mary

                Fr., I apologize! I had not read his later comments.

      • enness

        I think we’re all aware that too many Catholics disregard Church teaching, not just on contraception but on other things as well. But just how much time are you spending “look[ing] out into the congregation” making assumptions?

    • Sarto

      By his picture at least, and by his need to mention all his credentials, this is a young guy on the bishop track who has not had a lot of experience as a parish priest. When I was about the same age, I decided I was making up huge bundles for other people to carry. I respect what married people, who are the middle of it all, have to say about NFP, but I ignore yap from young priests with no real experience about that part of life.

      • Sarto, I thank you for this comment. Indeed, I am only a “young guy”, as you say — and I certainly have a quite limited pastoral experience.

        Still, lest you should think ill of a priest (I care nothing of what you think of me as a “young guy”, but I would not want any to be scandalized by a priest of Jesus Christ), I must say that I did not mention my credentials.
        Those were added by Crisis Magazine, and I did not know that they would be included. Still, they are not “credentials”, they are only a “bio” … if they had been “credentials”, they would have mentioned that I also graduated summa cum laude for the STB and STL! 🙂
        [but I care nothing, nothing at all for academic honors … judge my article on the reason behind it]

        Now, to ask you a question … Are you certain that your comment does not fall into the sin of detraction?
        Indeed, what a sad day when “faithful” Catholics do not hesitate to say “I ignore yap from young priests” and accuse simple parish priests of being “on the bishop track”.
        My child, you know nothing about me.

        • Sarto

          Naah. As an old guy, I have heard too much yap from young priests who have yet to be incarnated in the real life of ordinary Catholic people. And some of them don’t want to live within that reality. They imagine that somehow the HolySpirit speaks more loudly to them than the Spirit does to people who are trying heroically to live their sacrament.

  • Howard Kainz

    If a married couple planned to use NFP to completely avoid ever having children, this would not be precisely a “contraceptive mentality” but it would amount to a rejection of one of the purposes of marriage in the Catholic Church.

    • Sure. That’s why the article differentiates between a “sinful” or “selfish” mentality and a contraceptive one.

  • Rich

    This is an interesting article. It still is confusing as to what is a just cause? I mean, anyone can say that they don’t want to have kids for any number of reasons. So many people will say things like, “I want to travel with my spouse” or “I want to hold off on having kids so we can come together as a Married couple first” or general reasons such as, “we don’t know where we will be in a year from now.” I think the concern is not NFP as a method of spacing births but the concern is that really anyone who has been influenced in the slightest by the culture (we all have) can come up with any number of “just causes” not to have kids. i know there are gray areas with this stuff and we can’t judge people but in a society that hates the family, a government that imposes terrible taxation on its people as well as a capitalist economy run by banks that imposes horrible burdens on the family in terms of debt, education costs sky rocketing, not being able to put your kids in public schools because of the gay marriage agenda it would appear that no one should have kids? I mean, is there a litmus test for just cause? And if just cause is really arbitrary depending on the person, then how is that not fueling the mentality that kids are just a choice based on circumstance? I am not attacking here, I am honestly confused, I would just like some clarity on this issue.

    • John Zmirak

      Thanks, Rich. I think there are number of factors at work–enough to merit several long books by learned people. One key thing we must recognize: The blessed decline in infant mortality in the late 19th century ITSELF constitutes an impetus for NFP. We no longer need to have 11 kids (as my grandmother did) to have 5 of them live to adulthood. Also, most of us do not live on farms or in conditions where children can contribute anything economically to the family. So there is less of an impetus and more of a burden. Furthermore, children need more education than ever to become successful adults (that is, adults we can expect will not become wards of the state). Much of the economic pressure shrinking families comes from these factors, and it is surely not sinful for Catholics to take account of these realities.

      I know of at least two prominent Catholics (no, I won’t name names–the point isn’t to trash anyone’s character) who talk cheerfully about being “open to life”–and about how glad they are that Medicaid picks up the tab for their kids’ health care. What is the morality of that?

      • Rich

        Thank you John for your reply. I really appreciate you chiming in here. I guess this really sort of depresses me. I mean, I have two wonderful little children and my Wife and I love the gift of our children. We want more, but looking at my income, (which is middle class) my mortgage, the probability of what I could make probably not being much more than it is now, education costs..etc. Circumstance would tell me that I should not have more children, which is so sad to me as a Father. My first notion is to turn to prayer and ask God how many children he wants me to have? But even with prayer, Gods will may not be always clear as was the case of our first two children. I assume that because they are here that was his will. I mean, I could have children and be broke or poor and I could also have children and become a CEO making big bucks. I think the major reason people who want more kids have trouble with this type of reasoning (I am not saying its wrong) is that I love my children (I’m not implying others don’t) and I consider myself a responsible sacrificial Father and as a result I naturally want more kids to offer to God as beautiful souls in the end and this type of logic presented seems as if it implies having more children might in some way be sinful or irresponsible concerning the economic realities. Whereas I look at the economic realities in and of themselves irresponsible and unjust so if Gods will is not certain why should I allow those realities to play a larger part than maybe they should in dictating how many children I have? Where does Providence come into play? I mean, I would never just say, I want to raise my kids on government assistance because I don’t want to operate that way but that may have to happen someday if I can’t pay medical bills. Should I allow that to dictate my decisions? The last thing I want as a Father is to look back and say to myself, “I should have had more kids” To me as a Father, outiside of my family not getting to heaven, that regret would be the greatest Tragedy. Thank you again John for you insight, you are truly an inspiration to me.

        • John Zmirak

          Rich, I am moved by your earnestness, and sorry that you find yourself in such a pass. It is precisely to people like you that the Church is giving the liberty to make these decisions. Whatever you decide, given the gravity with which you are taking these decisions, and given that you are employing moral means, I can’t imagine it would be gravely sinful. I would point out one thing: Government assistance is OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY. We can steal a loaf of bread to feed our starving kids–true. Can we deliberately have a family so large that we foresee a life of bread-stealing? I’m not at all sure that we can…..

          • Rich

            Thanks John! Certainly a lot to ponder.

          • Rich

            and for the record, I would never deliberately go on government assistance:)

          • orthros

            Dr. Zmirak:

            I want to make sure I’m understanding you clearly here.

            To use NFP to limit family size indefinitely = a good thing

            To have children, realizing that you may need public assistance and thereby take food from the government (i.e. all taxpayers) = stealing, a seriously sinful thing

            Do these statements accurately represent your points of view or am I misstating in part or full?

        • Sam Schmity


          I too admire your willingness to do what God wants. I would only suggest that economics can never have the final say in such a decision. My own parents raised eight of us on my father’s teaching salary (my mom also worked outside the home when some of us got to high school) and my brother-in-law is doing the same with eleven children. There were some lean times but we’ve all graduated from college.

          I know it sounds like a cliche, but it’s true – God provides – and he will not allow himself to be outdone in generosity! God bless you.

          • John Zmirak

            Dear Rich, I must disagree. I think God demands that we act with Prudence, and allows us to suffer when we don’t. If the father of a family, in a fit of generosity, gave away all his savings to the poor, his children really MIGHT starve. And God would allow it. He allowed the Children’s Crusade to be sold into slavery in Muslim countries. He expects us to use our minds.

    • enness

      Well Rich, I think in a way you’ve answered your own question: a good clue would be if the statement begins with “I want…”, am I right there?

      About all those social worries — not to downplay them, but this is not the first time in the history of humanity that things haven’t looked good, and yet, here we are. To have no kids because of this would seem to be to succumb to fear and despair. We’re a people of hope, and where is there more daring hope for the future than in a child?

  • Marc

    I think it is true that, for better or worse, much of the decision will remain “prudential” and therefore be at least slightly different for each couple.

    With that being said I think Rich makes a good point when he mentions that this mentality could fuel the mentality that kids are just a choice based on circumstance. Among the choices Dr. Zmirak lists are: education vs. child, lowering one’s station in life vs. child, and I would presume based on the variety of social conditions a myriad of other choices.

    Also, Dr. Zmirak’s point about “not dropping down a social class” is suspect. My wife and I are both converts and come from parents who each had two children. We both have “dropped down a social class” from our parents in order to live what we see as a Catholic marriage. I don’t mean that we are poor, but that we don’t live quite at the same level as our parents.

    Also, Zmirak’s view almost seems to imply that the proles should have all the kids because having more would probably not cause them to drop down the social ladder, but people higher up should be careful to figure out just how many kids they should have so they can maintain their social status. That seems like a stretch of Rerum Novarum to me.

    I should stress that I don’t think we should have children if it puts us in financial jeopardy, and that maybe I am misunderstanding Dr. Zmirak’s point as to what it means to maintain social status or rank.

    • John Zmirak

      Thanks, Marc. I applaud your decision to make a sacrifice to have a larger family. I think it was laudable. I doubt that it would have been mortally sinful for you to have used NFP to choose otherwise. But I have heard dour Catholics eagerly ladle out such warnings by the bucketful. I have been told, personally, that if my deep, heartfelt desire to live in a city meant I couldn’t afford a large family, it would be sinful for me not to move into the country. I have heard people sternly warned by “solid” priests that the only “just reasons” for NFP were starvation or imminent maternal death.

      Let’s just take mortal sin, and any comparison with contraception off the table, and stick to the money metaphor. Contraception is like changing your parents’ will to cheat your siblings: Always wrong. Practicing NFP is like using the money you legitimately got from that will in ways that seem prudent to you. One COULD be greedy, selfish, luxurious, etc. But the criteria for how to use one’s wealth is not hard and fast, and there is no easy set of rules laid out for us (alas!) that can make all our decisions easy. Once we eschew immoral means, our use of our fertility is exactly, and perfectly, analogous. Since I’m no expert, I think that’s the last I’ll say on this.

  • Marc

    Dr. Zmirak,

    So if St. Therese’s parents had lived today, with a lower infant mortality rate it would have been better for them to have fewer children?

    The Church has never taught that we should have children in order to produce farm labor, or for any other pragmatic reason, but in order to give more souls to God.

    I find your use of pragmatic philosophy to defend the use of NFP highly suspect, and not in accord with any of the reasons NFP is allowed by the Church.

    By the way, I don’t disagree with the article itself in any way.

    • So if St. Therese’s parents had lived today, with a lower infant mortality rate it would have been better for them to have fewer children?

      The universe of “should have” doesn’t exist.

      not in accord with any of the reasons NFP is allowed by the Church.

      What reasons are they (other than “just causes”)? Citations, please.

  • Charles

    Fr. Elenbush concludes his article with the statement “it should now be clear that a couple who uses (or even misuses) natural family planning will never be in danger of a falling into a contraceptive mentality.” I will concede that using NFP can never be considered contraceptive. I contend, however, that using NFP for any cause that is unjust or non-serious can distort our understanding of the ends of marriage and that often leads a couple into a contraceptive mentality.

    This is true of any objective good that we use for evil purposes. It will inevitably disfigue us. This seems to be the point of the clauses in Humane Vitae – it is licit to abstain from the goods of marriage, but always watch your motives.

    The characteizations of providentialism and “contraceptors” only obscure the rational discussion that should be taking place about when to use NFP justly.

    • Rebecca Teti

      Charles, fair enough: Fr. Erlenbush has already said it’s possible to be selfish while using NFP. But Janet Smith points out that the practice of NFP is in itself healing of selfish motives. This is because in a normal relationship, couples **want** to be intimate. The more insipid reasons for abstaining tend to drop out of the picture over time.

      Let’s not forget, too, that marital intimacy perfects the marriage bond and the persons in it. Why can we not have a little faith –not only in people with the good will to abide by Church teaching, but also in the grace that flows from the marriage bond–rather than trying to dictate by formula from outside a marriage what can only properly be discerned from within it?

      • Charles

        Since procreating children is one of the primary ends of marriage, every reasonable effort should be made to remove the impediments that keep a couple from pursuing this end. NFP (used for spcing births) is a moral method of dealing with these unspecified impediments that fall into the categories of physical, mental, social, or economic conditions. I agree that there is no “formula” that explains how we can determine the internal conditions of a particular marriage. It would seem to me, however, that as part of our Christian duty we should all work to mitigate or eliminate the serious conditions that prevent a couple from pursuing the procreative end of marriage.

        Discussing NFP often leads to some type of judgement, but this debate must occur because two categories influencing a couples decission to use NFP are public in nature – social reasons and economic reasons.

        • Rebecca Teti

          “Discussing NFP often leads to some type of judgement, but this debate must occur…”

          The fact that people on both sides get touchy about this doesn’t mean the conversation about what “just reasons” means shouldn’t occur. On that we’re agreed.

          What concerns me is that NFP critics seem to pile up heavy burdens that make the practice of NFP seem impossible, without seriously taking into account the point I make above: that NFP is by its nature healing of selfishness, and healing of the attitude of entitlement to sex at all times.
          It’s not possible to know what’s happening inside another couple’s marriage. However, if, hypothetically, a couple is indeed unreasonably terrified of having children…how will that unreasonable fear be overcome and trust in the Lord strengthened? By external browbeating? Or by gradual growth in love, generosity, self-discipline and wisdom, in a system that places all the incentives on generosity? Bluntly put: to practice NFP selfishly, the couple has to deny themselves a lot of nookie for long periods of time. No healthy people do that lightly, so the selfishness you’re worried about tends to disappear over time — and isn’t that worth rejoicing over?
          Anecdotes aren’t everything, but my observation is that most NFP couples have one or two more children than they initially thought was “ideal.” This is not because the method failed, but because it worked. They became more open and generous as the marriage progressed.

  • orthros

    Ugh.. really? This is the Faith the Saints died for? So that affluent Catholics could have 2.1 children and feel morally justified in doing so?

    The preponderance of the evidence points to most NFP use as outside the norms of the Church. To paraphrase Malcolm Muggeridge, this is the only dogma that can be affirmed by merely attended a pre-Cana NFP class or two.

    You could also ask your well catechized Catholic (read: pre-Vatican II parent or grandparent, mostly) what the response would have been to purposely limiting family size 40 years ago if you want to get a straightforward perspective.

    I respectfully reply to Dr. Zmirak: Wanting to get your MBA or have a house on Long Island instead of in Queens is not only not just cause but especially egregious since it goes under the mask of righteousness. “Just causes” would relate to: danger of death, serious mental condition / debilitation, economic destitution or the like. Not having a child because I have a 4 bedroom house and already have 3 kids is insane.. but a remarkably common justification I’ve heard in Bible study circles.

    As such, a contraceptive mentality isn’t a piece of latex or a pill. It is a mindset which says that an additional child is primarily a burden to be avoided rather than a blessing to be embraced.

    Here’s the test: When you think about being pregnant (or your wife being pregnant) is your first thought more akin to disappointment or joy?

    If the former (with the normal caveats about the hard cases), whether you ever use artificial contraception or NFP, you have a contraceptive mentality, and no parsing of words will change that reality.

    • John Zmirak

      Congratulations on joining the Spiritual Franciscans, who put their own heroic pursuit of a particular virtue over the official teachings of the Church. You have merely replaced Lady Poverty with Lady Fertility.

      • orthros

        Is poverty the primary purpose of life? Am I saying that there are no exceptions for just causes? Or am I saying that this is the standard way of living for the marriage vocation, a position which has been held by orthodox Catholics for 2,000 years?

        No one held that all people are required to be impoverished… other than the Spiritual Franciscans.

        All Catholics, up until… oh, 40 years ago or so… would have affirmed that procreation is the primary end of marriage, and that any frustration of that end must have a just reason. And keeping your social standing, having a nice home, getting your Ph.D. or driving a BMW do not weigh vs. openness to life.

        I would be curious to know where you stand in the birth order. As for me, thank God my parents were traditional Catholics… otherwise, I and several of my siblings wouldn’t exist.

        But hey, they would have had some *smoking* vacations.

        • John Zmirak

          In fact, the suspicion that ALL Christians are called to apostolic poverty has been a perennial heresy, which fomented a wide variety of movements over the centuries. (Read “The Pursuit of the Millennium” for an account of them.) The issue came to head in the wake of the Black Plague, when so many people had died that there was abundant farmland, and (in a bitter irony) a wave of prosperity. The abuse of that prosperity, and a laxness toward the duty of alms-giving to the poor, inspired St. Francis to make a prophetic witness, to which a FEW were called. Some of his followers overreacted to the laxist heresy of early capitalism with the rigorist heresy that was Spiritual Franciscanism. But they were echoing the errors of the Waldensians, Albigensians, and radical Flagellants.

          Likewise, the radical change in the number of children who lived to adulthood that accompanied modern medicine created a new situation, and produced the laxist heresy of contraception. Faithful Catholics, with the encouragement of Pope Pius XII, pioneered NFP as an entirely licit means to deal with this new situation. Some Catholics have gone off the rails and created a new, rigorist heresy.

          Nothing new under the sun. The bark of Peter steers straight and true between Scylla and Charybdis.

          • Marc

            I mean this without any polemic, and probably just coming from ignorance, but it is news to me that NFP was designed as a way to deal with “the radical change in the number of children who lived to adulthood that accompanied modern medicine.”

            Do you have any evidence of this? I have read documents like Humanae Vitae and others but have not seen this rather pragmatic justification put forth.

            I had thought that this was more of a teaching that developed when new understanding of a woman’s fertile periods developed, not so much as a reaction to pragmatic externals.

            Again, I don’t disagree with the article, but am genuinely curious about this explanation for how the use of NFP came about.

            Thanks Dr. Zmirak!

    • Grandmultipara

      Wow, Orthros. Thanks for filling in all the gray areas (seemingly left so deliberately by the Church) with those nice bold black-and-white lines.

      The only physical “excuse” you acknowledge is danger of death? I’m gobsmacked. All these 18 months I’ve been “postponing” since the birth of my ninth child (not counting the three in heaven) trying to put my damaged pelvis back together (side effect of all the pregnancies) in physical therapy were sinful then, I guess, because strictly speaking it wouldn’t have *killed* me to get pregnant again. I would have been so incapacitated as to have been able to care properly for the whole rest of my family, of course, but… Good grief.

      Orthros, are you married with children?

      • orthros


        Since you’re looking for a reason to be indignant, you’ve found it.

        Let’s look at what I actually wrote:

        “Just causes” would relate to: danger of death, serious mental condition / debilitation, economic destitution or the like.

        You’ll notice that I gave examples of just cause, none of which spoke directly to intense physical agony, but which could have (under a charitable interpretation) included debilitating physical pain, since I specifically called out emotional pain.

        Now let’s get to the real issue. If you want to believe that all these Catholics with 2 children are doing so because of severe conditions such as yours, then you are free to do so. You are also free to believe that most abortions are due to rape and incest, although in like matter the general consensus and data show overwhelmingly to the contrary.

        And to answer your questions (one asked, one unasked): Married with *many* children. My social standing, which is not poor by any standard, would be “top 1%” would I just have used NFP and held myself to 2, 3 or even 4 children.

        To the question you didn’t ask: I’m also the youngest of a very large family. I guess my Mom should have just “legally” contracepted since she lived in the inner city in a small, postage stamp sized lot with no garage, no basement and one bathroom. I’m afraid I’m going to have to violently disagree with those, like Dr. Zmirak, who would insist that my existence is not as important as my parents having a dishwasher, a color TV and a new Buick.

        • Grandmultipara

          Orthros– sorry for the crankiness before. Today is definitely a bit higher on the pain scale than typical…

          A few random points: 1) Nobody here is saying (I think) that your mother SHOULD have used NFP and hence that you should not exist. That is not to say, however, that she perhaps did not go “above and beyond” what the Church would have required. You don’t provide a lot of detail, and it isn’t my place to say anyway. Similarly it wouldn’t be your place to say that a different woman, under *seemingly* identical external circumstances, was therefore sinning by not having as many children as your mother through use of NFP.

          2) Pain is generally considered a physical, not a psychological condition, I think. The only psychological aspect to it is that it makes me crankier. And if maternal crankiness alone constituted a valid reason to limit pregnancies, I suspect the world’s population would drop to zero in a very short time period… 🙂

          3) I’ve realized more specifically what angered me in your rattling off of Orthros-approved reasons for using NFP. You’ve narrowed the specifications far more tightly than Humanae Vitae did, which states: “With regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time (HV 10).” I’m not seeing “danger of death” or “destitution” in there, and to my ears, those terms sound much, much stronger than those laid out in the encyclical. It generally gets my hackles up when people begin asserting their interpretations of church teaching as authoritative.

          • orthros


            My apologies as well. I should be more careful in my typed words so that I do not unintentionally cause offense.

            I have no quarrel with people who have legit reasons for NFP. My concern is that this has truly become Catholic Birth Control(TM) for those who are coming out of the error of artificial contraception and those (unfortunately many) Catholics whose catechesis is so poor that they had no idea that contraception was wrong and now they’re trying to change their lives.

            NFP, if taught within the context of Church teaching, is a godsend to those, like you, who are experiencing serious medical, social, emotional or psychological (did I miss any?) conditions.

            However, most Americans and other First Worlders are perfectly capable of having a large family but have been indoctrinated into believing that they shouldn’t for one reason or another, usually a materialistic one.

            I was somewhat frustrated (ok, very frustrated) by this post because it seems to imply that, why, of course, Catholics will have serious reasons to limit childbirth, when every past teaching up to and including Humanae Vitae sees periodic continence as an exception, not the norm.

            I have no idea how many people don’t exist because of a desire for greater material wealth, but among Catholics alone (80 million in the United States, at least in name) there must be millions if not tens of millions. This is a horrific tragedy, both for those unconceived and their (non) parents.

            I thank God that, whatever their faults, my parents were open to life. As a result, I have wonderful siblings who otherwise would simply not exist… nor would I.

        • Marion (Mael Muire)

          “If you want to believe that all these Catholics with 2 children are doing so because of severe conditions such as yours, then you are free to do so.”
          “If you want to believe that all these Catholics with 2 children are doing so because of severe conditions such as yours, then you are free to do so.”

          I am not free to do any such thing. I don’t believe that the good God calls the generality of faithful Catholics to formulate beliefs (i.e., moral analyses) concerning the number of children that their fellow Catholics have or don’t have.

          To attempt to formulate any such moral analyses absent my appointment to a God-given office that imparts to me the *grace* to do so in accordance with His will ( i.e., the offices of pastor, of confessor, of counselor, of senior family member, close professional advisor) and even then, only after having received and prayerfully considered the *full and complete* facts concerning any particular couples’ medical history and present health, as well as the medical history and present health of any present children they may already have, as well as their financial situation and outlook, would almost certainly an represent an instance of the occasion of the serious sins of DETRACTION as well as of IDLE MISCHIEF – misuse of God’s precious gift of time and energy to do that which is useless and destructive.

          Even if these are only just thoughts in my head and I never communicate them to anyone.

          My fellow faithful Catholics, ask your guardian angels to assist you to be watchful against ocassions of the sins of detraction and idle mischief, and pray for the grace to avoid these wicked temptations.

          I don’t believe that the good God calls me to formulate beliefs (i.e., moral analyses) concerning the number of children my fellow Catholics have or don’t have.

          To attempt to formulate any such moral analyses absent my appointment to a God-given office that imparts to me the *grace* to do so in accordance with His will – office of pastor, confessor, senior family member, close professional advisor – and even then, only with *full and complete* facts concerning the couples’ medical history and present health,

          To do so would almost certainly be a sign of my having too much time on my hands, and my being at risk of using God’s gift of time in the serious sin of IDLE MISCHIEF.

          • Marion (Mael Muire)

            P.S. Text I didn’t intend to appear, appeared in my above post. Second attempt, hopefully right this time:

            “If you want to believe that all these Catholics with 2 children are doing so because of severe conditions such as yours, then you are free to do so.”

            I am not free to do any such thing. I don’t believe that the good God calls the generality of faithful Catholics to formulate beliefs (i.e., moral analyses) concerning the number of children that their fellow Catholics have or don’t have.

            To attempt to formulate any such moral analyses absent my appointment to a God-given office that imparts to me the *grace* to do so in accordance with His will ( i.e., the offices of pastor, of confessor, of counselor, of senior family member, close professional advisor) and even then, only after having received and prayerfully considered the *full and complete* facts concerning any particular couples’ medical history and present health, as well as the medical history and present health of any present children they may already have, as well as their financial situation and outlook, would almost certainly an represent an instance of the occasion of the serious sins of DETRACTION as well as of IDLE MISCHIEF – misuse of God’s precious gift of time and energy to do that which is useless and destructive.

            Even if these are only just thoughts in my head and I never communicate them to anyone.

            My fellow faithful Catholics, ask your guardian angels to assist you to be watchful against ocassions of the sins of detraction and idle mischief, and pray for the grace to avoid these wicked temptations.

          • orthros


            I think you’re confusing generalities and specifics.

            I can never, ever look at any one couple and say “Hey, look at those contraceptors” or the like. I have no idea if that’s true and no right before God.

            Now, I also have a brain. And access to data showing that the average number of children born to Catholics has dropped from somewhere around 4.7 to 2.2 today.

            So, in general, something cause that to happen. Since randomness is a poor theory to explain such a radical result, I’m going to go with someone taking steps to have fewer children.

            Moreover, since this is a population average, I’m also going to use my brain again and note that the affluent suburbs aren’t teeming with children while those indigent folks are childless.

            Therefore, I can state:

            * We have a social & moral problem: Fewer children being born, which means
            * Active steps being taken to not have children, which in turn means
            * Children are being devalued vs. other priorities, and therefore
            * People are taking sinful steps to avoid children.

            Which people? No idea. That’s between them and God. But get a group of 100,000 Catholic couples together with 2 children and I can guarantee, statistically, that there are a large number of couples who need to be challenged about their anti-child sinful behavior. Those who have just cause are excused, much as those who are sick on Sunday haven’t committed mortal sin by skipping Mass.

          • enness

            @ orthros
            “I think you’re confusing generalities and specifics.”

            I think we need to be very careful about both; the former can too easily lead in the direction of the latter.

        • Sam Schmitt

          “”Just causes” would relate to: danger of death, serious mental condition / debilitation, economic destitution or the like.”

          Where exactly does the Church spell this out? Or is this simply your interpretation?

      • orthros


        I think Dr. Zmirak’s assertion is rather weak. Biblically, our Jewish ancestors lived very long lives (remember Methusaleh?) Why, during one of the greatest and most affluent ages in the world, would God then decide to “allow” a new style of birth control to limit births?!

        I live a life of greater comfort and affluence with my (large) clan than Louis XIV could ever dream. And certainly more than the ancient forefathers of the Faith.

        • Marc

          I’ll let Dr. Zmirak speak for himself, but I think there is no evidence that the Church came up with NFP as a response to lower infant mortality or the move to cities.

          That might make pragmatic sense, but not philosophical sense. It would also introduce a pretty ugly utilitarianism into Church teachings.

          I have no problem with NFP properly understood (the author of this article is a perfect example) but I don’t think Dr. Zmirak’s assertions can be backed up by any documents.

          Again, my main concern is with Dr. Zmirak’s repeated assertions as to the genesis of NFP.

          • John Zmirak

            Dear Marc,
            There is a very big difference between prudence and utilitarianism. When a new pastoral situation arises in the world, and generates a new heresy, the Church must take the former into account to deal with the latter. The happy collapse of infant mortality in the West, and the growing economic burden of child-rearing among non-agricultural workers (once child-labor was rightly outlawed) created a new pastoral situation. The contraceptive heresy offered a sinful answer. Pius XII urged faithful Catholics to explore human fertility to offer a morally licit alternative. NFP was not some side-effect of secular biological research, but the fruit of heroic efforts by Catholic doctors and midwives, to offer people a moral answer to real problems. So I see NFP as a happy orthodox outcome–like the Creed of Nicaea–to an outburst of heresy (like Arianism) that erupted for real reasons (confusion over the Trinity). There is nothing utilitarian about the Nicene Creed, but it did solve a practical problem.

            Utilitarianism is a philosophical position which states that maximizing pleasant experiences is the only guide for moral behavior. Prudence is the governing natural virtue, according to St. Thomas (echoing Aristotle).

  • Virginia

    I knew it wouldn’t take long for this thread to degenerate into a “holier than the Pope” discussion. “The faith the saints died for”? Yes, the same faith and the same Holy Spirit at work since the beginning. The thing that amazes me is that so few of the holier than thous seem to remember the Holy Spirit and its power to change hearts. That is really the crux of the matter here. Peoples hearts are hard and therefore they are not open to hearing the Holy Spirit speak to them. When couples learn NFP, whatever their intentions are, if they choose to practice it, as opposed to contracepting, they will be allowing the Holy Spirit to work in their lives and their hearts. They will find through their self-sacrifice, a deeper love for their spouse, a deeper appreciation for their fertility, and a deeper love of God. These things cannot happen if the couple has closed the door to life. I personally was terrified to have a houseful of kids when I was first married. Not too long after though, I found myself hoping for a baby. I know a bunch of affluent Catholics and I do not presume to know their hearts or their circumstances. I know several who would have loved to have more kids but to no avail. Is it possible that God closed the door here? I have also known supporters of NFP who in their early years of marriage did not use NFP and closed that door through sterilization and now have profound regret. NFP helps to give couples information about church teaching and their fertility and in most cases will help them avoid such regrets.

    • orthros


      All well and good. And where NFP is used licitly, it is a great boon to those who use it.

      “Holier than the Pope”? Good grief, my good lady. I’m merely trying to get people who are supposed faithful Catholics that NFP should be “safe, legal & rare”.

      Or does everyone here believe NFP is natural and normal, much like brushing one’s teeth?

      I think I need to pull out all the encyclicals showing that it is in fact that Popes I’m supposedly trying to outdo that explicitly discussed family life in terms of large numbers of children. And this not as some Spiritual Franciscan act of heroic charity, but as the *standard*.

      Those who are infertile or have medical conditions have terrible crosses to bear, but they are the exceptions that prove the rule. If most Catholics were practising their Faith properly, there be half a dozen or more children in the average Catholic family. Instead, 90% of Catholics use artificial contraception, and of the other 10%, most are woefully ignorant of the serious conditions required to practice NFP on an ongoing basis.

      If you “don’t judge affluent Catholics’ hearts”, good for you. Neither do I; that’s God job. However, if you are in Church and see 50 conservative couples and 49 of them have 2 or 3 children, do you need a statistics degree to realize that most of them (we can’t tell which ones specifically; again, not our job to judge that) are violating God’s will in this regard?

      That said, your quote “whatever their intentions are… they will be allowing the Holy Spirit to work in their lives” is patently false. It is mortally sinful to misuse NFP. Any Catholic who denies this is merely rejecting the primary purpose of marriage. We can argue when, objectively, such a state occurs, but that it exists is not in dispute. And those who practice NFP as “Catholic birth control” are in a state of spiritual adultery with God.

    • Debbi

      NFP dramatically increases the rates of gay intersex “accident” offspring because stress causes women to drop extra aging defective eggs during their “infertile” cycle. NFP “accidents” also maimed and murdered many unhealthy women I know. NFP outsources husbands to brothels. NFP is for suicidal sex-hating Jansenist heretics. If God opposed contraception, He would have banned women in the Old Testament from consuming hundreds of RU-486-like plants, including coffee and Holy Wine. The Vatican doesn’t speak for God, and ditto for Nazi death camp-FUNDING Cardinal Montini (Paul VI).

      • John Zmirak

        Well, here’s a comment that could stand some “fisking,” but I doubt it’s worth the bother. Montini FUNDED Nazi death camps, eh? Old Testament women used coffee as an abortifacient? Gosh, I learn sumpin’ new jus’ bout ever day!

  • mamabear

    In the interest of full disclosure, I am proud to admit that I am orthros’ wife.

    Look, anecdotal evidence may be worth the paper it’s printed on, but I have met many, many conservative Catholic couples/families who use NFP with a contraceptive mindset. They do not have grave physical problems, and from talking to them, I know their stated reasons for avoiding pregnancy. Most cite financial reasons. Some are fearful that they cannot emotionally cope with caring for more children.

    So, first, let’s look at financials. These are not poor people. They are solidly middle class. Part of the problem is that secular society has hammered out the message that kids are extremely expensive. There is some expense to be sure, but it is *no where near* the $200,000 pricetag that is commonly slapped on there. It is a matter of making due with less and making it seem like more. May seem paradoxical, but it is eminently practical. With more kids, just find a way to make it work. You shop at Aldi’s, Costco, and Salvation Army. Perhaps you choose to homeschool, which can be done very successfully at a fraction of the price of private or parochial school. It’s probably even cheaper than public school, when you factor in the price of school lunches, driving back and forth, or all the materialism that the kids would ingest from their peers. (Not to mention, it’s a better spiritual and academic education….that’s for a whole ‘nother thread.) My point is, you *find* a way. You live in a smaller house, your kids share rooms, 2, 3, or perhaps (*gasp*) even 4 to a room. You dress them all in hand-me-downs. You do what it takes. And far from being a drab, joyless existence, as society would see it, you have each other and there is boundless riches in sacrificing for one another.

    Now, as to emotional fear: I speak from experience. Every time I am expecting another baby, a small voice in the back of my head says, “Your house is a mess, can you even care for the kids you have now? How will you care for another?” And yet, I do. You just do it. And God turns it into joy.
    2 Tim 1:7 “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.”

    God calls us to sacrificial love, in whatever state of life we find ourselves. Grave physical injury & illness aside, we should be open to His gifts and will for our lives.

    (Maybe we wouldn’t have such a vocation shortage, either.)

    • Mrs. F

      I’m so glad you chimed in! You touched on the two thoughts going through my head: education and vocations. Someone up in the thread mentioned that marriage is for the education of children (I looked back, but couldn’t find who), but very little thought seems to be given to this. I gave it little thought until I became close friends with a homeschooling family at my previous parish. The openness to life that we are called to have is, I think, linked to the willingness to really catechize our children (which often requires learning about our faith ourselves first ). Homeschooling or Catholic schooling isn’t the only way to do this, but it sure helps. It is a small step that more Catholic children, receiving thorough Catholic teaching would produce more vocations, and more vocations answered.

      I do think that those people the who close themselves to further children–through sterilization, contraception or NFP–must know, somewhere in their hearts, when they are doing wrong. Humans have an amazing capacity for fooling themselves or finding excuses for what they want. We can inform them of teachings, help them come closer to God, and pray, pray, pray for them but in the end, they make their own decisions.

      I also know families with only two or three children who dearly wanted more but never had them. Accepting that God gives us fewer children than we desired must be as hard, if not harder, than accepting that God wishes to give more than we want.

  • Single Pro-Life Catholic

    As a forty-something single never married no kids pro-life Catholic I am glad to see that I am not alone in encountering widely varying and sometimes contradictory understandings of NFP in pro-life circles, even amongst NFP practicing people.

    For example, in a single conversation some years ago I was told by one NFP female Catholic that singles like me shouldn’t learn NFP because we would use it to be promiscuous. Another NFP female standing right there told me she felt it would be okay for me to learn it so that I might better monitor my own feminine health.

    Both these Catholic mothers had multlple children and both were homeschoolers.

    My reaction — All I could think was that if I wanted to “cheat” I would probably find easier ways than NFP !
    As a practicing single Catholic I was insulted, humiliated and mortified to think that married Catholics had such a low opinion of singles that it was assumed that all we could think of was immoral behavior. I though, well, maybe I should start assuming that all marrieds abuse their children and cheat on their spouse ! And we all know that a surprising percentage of marrieds actually are gay. Of course that is often assumed (wrongly) of singles.

    • orthros

      Single Pro-Life Catholic,

      I think the rude statement of the mother to you says more about her own doubts and fears than your moral purity.

      We all have weaknesses and neuroses to battle, God knows, so it may be wise to charitably assume that she saw it as adding temptation in a world already sexually fraught with peril vs. thinking that singles are looking for any chance to have sex without pregnancy (after all, if you’re willing to have premarital sex, why not contracept while you’re at it?)

      Ironically, I would be more inclined to have NFP taught to single women because of the ancillary health benefits alluded to by your somewhat misguided friend. NFP is also very helpful for couples open to more children but having difficulty in conceiving, although I’ve only rarely heard this stated more than casually.

      • orthros

        Errata: Just realized that I said your friend was misguided who wanted you to learn NFP. Her reasoning was sound; I was thinking of the original (truly misguided) lady who offended you.

    • enness

      SPLC, I feel ya.

    • enness

      SPLC, I feel ya. Assumptions do real damage — they wear a person down.

  • Ken

    So, if there is “nothing contraceptive about natural family planning,” why quote HV’s criteria of “’serious reasons,’ ‘just causes,’ ‘worthy and’weighty justifications,’ ‘defensible reasons,” and ‘just reasons'”?

    The reason why people laugh at natural family planning is because defenses like this show it is somehow “family planning” without being “contraceptive.” I am probably not alone in thinking how silly it is to have a method of Catholic birth control — especially one that involves such passionate things in the bedroom such as thermometers, charts, calendars and the oh-so-sexy examination of mucus.

    What ever happened to just getting married and doing it often to be fruitful and multiply? Sorry, but NFP is a marital BUZZKILL that is harmful to the future of the Church.

    • So, if there is “nothing contraceptive about natural family planning,” why quote HV’s criteria of “’serious reasons,’ ‘just causes,’ ‘worthy and’weighty justifications,’ ‘defensible reasons,” and ‘just reasons’”?

      Because HV doesn’t mention the criteria of “serious reasons,” etc., to have a contraceptive mentality. It mentions those reasons for spacing children. Spacing children =/= contraception.

  • Howard Kainz

    One thing missing in this discussion. A major use of NFP by many couples is to HAVE children, by tracking fertile periods. It is very effective. This certainly seems to be one reason why Catholic doctors and scientists developed the various NFP methods.

  • mrd

    A couple of comments, I am a physician, (not Ob Gyn however) First it is not necessarily true that “NFP is hard to practice….”

    At times NFP is not convenient, but it is not terribly difficult anymore. I have 3 children, been married 18 years. I can attest that NFP can work and not be an impediment to a marriage that is healthy and happy in every way. There are now readily available inexpensive home urine tests on the market that can predict ovulation, they were originally designed to help couple have a child, but now these are incorporated into some forms of NFP ( like the Marquette method). NFP methods using these tests have been associated with high reliability and high user satisfaction. They are markedly simpler to learn and use. They do not require long periods of training, in fact they do not demand inordinate periods of abstinence. Short periods of abstinence may actually be of value, as I would wager complaints of lack of desire or boredom are relatively rare among users of NFP.

    I think the traditional Catholic teaching on when NFP can be used, Human Vitae says “With regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time.” ” Serious reasons has not been rigorously defined, but most people would say non selfish, or non trivial, so if one judges considering multiple factors that one can handle X number of kids, and is trying to live a Christian life ( as I suspect most people practicing NFP are doing) it seems like we should not get scrupulous or judgmental in this regard and X kids is right for that couple.

    I do think there is a different in mindset however between contraception and NFP, that helps better define for the average layperson why one is a sin and one is not, and I think the piece by Fr. Erlenbush may miss this difference. After all a common accusation re NFP is that both are trying to avoid a child, and the common distinctions as described by Fr. E are not held by most people as convincing, otherwise we would not have a situation where large number of Catholics simply ignore the teaching. In NFP one is choosing to have martial relations at a time when Pregnancy is unlikely ( perhaps very unlikely) but it is not 100% impossible, usually they attitude is one of we would not choose to have a child now, but if we ended up with one, it would not be a “disaster” or even something terribly bad, but we would “make room” . With this attitude the Child so conceived is still loved unconditionally. In the setting of contraception where near 100% reliability is usually very important to the user, It is obvious that a child is seen as a “mistake” a disaster, or a really big problem. Can one imagine 2 people having an affair using NFP? People in the habit of having multiple sex partners? Even couple not married but living together? In all of these cases a child is seen as a much bigger “problem”. It is not difficult to see in that scenario how a child so conceived is much less likely to get “unconditional love” and how in essence contraception is a fundamentally “unloving choice” It is probably true that NFP is never really practiced with a “contraceptive mentality, however some of the marketing of NFP in which effectiveness is compared to standard kinds of contraception may blur the distinctions.

    • John Zmirak

      This is in reply to another comment. Sorry, MRD, but a tech glitch makes this the only place I can post this necessary reply to Orthros:

      To use NFP to limit family size indefinitely = a good thing


      To have children, realizing that you may need public assistance and thereby take food from the government (i.e. all taxpayers) = stealing, a seriously sinful thing


      • mamabear

        Just so we are clear, Dr. Zmirak, orthros never brought up the issue of public assistance. We have many children and receive no government assistance. But do you not think, in today’s economy, that there are many families who *are* working as hard as they can and still need some public assistance? They are being irresponsible by bringing a child into this world and loving it unconditionally? I am not sure if you are married and have children, Dr. Zmirak, but perhaps if you were you might have a different perspective on this issue.

        • Mathilde

          @mamabear. It is the responsibility of the parents, not the State, to support their families. To INTENTIONALLY have a child or subsequent children with no means to support them is unethical. No responsible person would think otherwise, irrespective of one’s marital status.

          • orthros

            If we were secularists, I would agree.

            As Christians, our primary responsibility is to God. It is not stealing to take food to feed one’s family from someone with a surplus.

            If one truly has zero means to support children, then one ought not marry at all. Once the marriage vocation has been entered into, the calculus changes.

            To reiterate: I don’t use government programs, I pay a lot more in taxes than I will ever see back, and most of my friends consider me to be to the right of the John Birch society. But I cannot and will not ever cast a jaundiced eye at Catholics trusting in Providence and having children. It really is our moral responsibility to charitably provide for these families *if* (and this is critical) they do not have the ability to provide for themselves.

    • Mary

      MRD: Please don’t speak so casually about the ease of use of NFP. Easy for you, perhaps. Not for all. We are currently using Marquette and still have had MONTHS of abstinence. Many have this experience as well and I can tell you there is nothing so disheartening as hearing others speak blithely about the ‘short’ periods of abstinence required. (Btw, I am a normal healthy female…our long abstinence is not required due to any medical issues.)

  • Mathilde

    According to the Catholic Church, parents should ALWAYS be the primary providers for their children. This includes education, certainly, but also the more obvious *essentials* like food, clothing, shelter, and health care. If a family is already on public assistance, by definiton the parents are not providing for their children and should not purposely increase the size of their family for other people to support. I agree that this would constitute stealing if done intentionally. As long as a couple allows the State to support their family via welfare, that couple should practice NFP. Believe it or not, there are Catholic couples who have decided that it is ethical and appropriate (even before the economic downturn) for the mother to stay at home and the father to remain intentionally underemployed at a job he LIKES and have the taxpayers subsidize their large families. Ironically, these same parents refuse to send their children to public schools but have no problem relying on the public to put food on their table and braces on those same children’s teeth. It’s a way of life for them and it’s sinful.
    If a family finds itself on welfare through no fault of its own, the parents should still practice NFP until they are able to support themselves again; this is common sense.

    • mamabear

      Ok, Mathilde. So, let’s say that a family finds out they are expecting a child. A couple of months later, the father loses his job. They need to receive unemployment assistance. If they are still receiving assistance when that child is born, they should, what, give it up for adoption? You, and Dr. Zmirak have both said it is sinful to bring another child into the world if you *know* you are going to need government assistance. Do you not think that for the vast majority of families, government assistance is *temporary*? Receiving government assistance (which is NOT the moral equivalent of stealing, despite what Dr. Zmirak asserts) is usually for a small period of time. A child has an eternal soul. You do the math.

      • Mathilde

        @mamabear. I wrote: “If a family finds itself on welfare through no fault of its own, the parents should still practice NFP until they are able to support themselves again; this is common sense.” This is not the same as finding oneself unemployed midway through a pregnancy. Did you even read my comment? I said there are couples of large families who are INTENTIONALLY on welfare and continue to have subsequent children. This is not a temporary situation. This IS stealing from others and it is wrong. In the future please read comments first before responding. If this is truly the best you can do, I apologize.

        • mamabear

          Yes, I read your comment. Please try to refrain from being condescending. Thank you.

        • orthros


          Since we’re down a rabbit hole here, let me ask you a question: For parents who have the means to provide for children, do they have a moral responsibility to be open to life vs. using any means to limit life (NFP et al.)?

          The argument about those who intentionally have more children echoes in a strangely similar fashion to the rape/incest arguments about abortion. We’re not talking about that 1%, we’re talking about the 99% who want 2 or maybe 3 children and feel that a loss of social standing, educational opportunity, ability to live in a desired location, etc. are “just causes”.

          Do you agree that these are just, or are just causes more along the lines of Grandmultipara’s thread above?

  • Mathilde, it may seem “common semse” to you, but NFP, because it is a concession to Catholic couples and not a right as such, it cannot be deemed a duty, regardless of circumstance. The duty of Catholics is procreation, from which couples with sufficiently serious reason *may*, not *must*, be exempted. You do not, nor does anybody, have the right to tell a married couple they have a responsibility to abstain from their true marital “rights.” As Catholics we do have a duty to practice charity towards the poor, and to support Catholic families.Indeed, the support of families is the proper role of public assistance. This is not something I’ve come up with on my own but is specifically addressed in a social justice encyclical I am currently unable to quote and cite by name as I am writing from my Blackberry device.

    • John Zmirak

      This is philosophically incoherent. “Humanae Vitae” is a document about the Natural Law. God Himself does not (and by His nature cannot) make “concessions” that violate Natural Law. An act either violates Natural Law or it does not. If it does not, it enters the realm of discretion and prudence. That means that sometimes it will be the best thing to do, at others, not the best, and sometimes even a bad thing. That is what Pope Paul wrote, and that is what binds us.

      Do you grant that there are ANY circumstances under which it would be better to practice NFP than not? Are there any circumstances where exercising the marital right without using NFP would be wrong? (Say, the likelihood of maternal death–just to pick the strongest example.)

      If you say yes, then a couple, making these serious decisions, should look at the criteria for just reasons the Holy Father gives –and the responsibilities of parenthood St. Thomas adduces, including the support and education of children–and make prudent choices.

      If they make mistakes, or are subject to misfortune, the community should help them–and where absolutely necessary (remembering subsidiarity) the state.

      However, I think you will say “no,” that using NFP is always a lesser good, and usually sinful. This is not, as Fr. Erlenbush documented, the teaching of the Church.

      And with that, I retire from the fray. If Fr. Erlenbush, who was busy with pastoral duties all day yesterday, wishes to intervene, I leave it to him.

    • Mathilde

      Suzanne, if families are poor through no fault of their own and need temporary (or long term) assistance from the taxpayers, that is fine. But to continue, while on welfare, to INTENTIONALLY increase their family size is wrong. It’s irresponsible and it’s stealing. Duty goes both ways – as Catholics we have a duty to practice charity towards the poor, and in turn the poor receiving the charity has a duty not to INTENTIONALLY become a heavier and heavier burden. The marital “right” does not trump all other duties and responsibilities and certainly does not magically give a new perverse “right ” to abdicate all responsibility for providing for one’s children. Again, I am establishing intent here; it is the intent that makes this behavior reprehensible.
      If you believe, Suzanne, that it is the “right” of every married couple to have as many children as they WANT while KNOWING they cannot afford to support them, and fully and happily intend to have other people assume this most basic parental duty, then this discussion is pointless.

      • mamabear

        Mathilde, you keep using this word, “stealing,” in regards to accepting government assistance. I do not think it means what you think it means. The church does not teach that it is stealing to accept unemployment benefits. or food assistance to help one’s family. You are steadfastly clinging to this notion that the majority of people who accept government assistance intend to be on it for life. Do you accept that if that is not their intent that it is not illicit for them to have a child??

        • orthros

          Mathilde is also confusing WANT with DUTY.

          It is the DUTY of every Catholic couple to accept children as the primary end of their marriage.

          Dire circumstances can change this reality, but they are exceptions, not the rule.

          Whether parents WANT children or not, it is their DUTY to have children if they want to have sex. Otherwise, they can abstain… although I’m not even sure of this, since the marital debt implies the willingness to give to one’s partner unless there is a serious reason to decline.

          Regardless, if they have sex and then are angry when they conceive, they are sinning. Sts. Augustine & Thomas Aquinas will back me up on this one.

          As for the concept of SUPPORT, most of us wouldn’t be here if our great-great-great-great-grandparents of yore had made a similar calculus. Even the ‘poor’ of this country have so much more than the affluent had even two generations ago.

          Thankfully, there wasn’t such a calculation back in the good old days.

  • Brian Killian

    The reason why so many ‘traditionalists’ criticize NFP as a contraceptive mentality is because for them, the most offensive thing about contraception is having or taking control of one’s fertility.

    Since both NFP and contraception involve planning and controlling one’s fertility, they are both said to have the same contraceptive mentality. But this providentialism is wrong and not compatible with a Catholic view of providence, I believe.

    That being said, I think the author of this article is using a false dichotomy when he states that language is either true or false. He is discounting metaphor, which literally is false but true analogously.

    Hence, it is possible to use the phrase ‘contraceptive mentality’ as a metaphor. In this case, it is used because of a commonality between contraception use and other sexual acts that don’t involve the specific object of the will that is essential to contraception.

    On related note, the author also simply equates ‘mentality’ with the specific intention of the person using contraception. But this is not very helpful. It may even be a tautology (A contraception mentality is the intention to use contraception, therefore without the intention to use contraception there is no contraceptive mentality).

    But surely a ‘mentality’ is a larger space than the object of the will when it uses contraception. Of course there is a larger context to someone using contraception. He doesn’t just happen, out of the blue, to decide to use contraception. It’s more helpful to zoom out a bit and look at whats lying around the object of the will. Then it becomes possible to see how there might be continuities between those spaces around the contraception intention and other sexual acts that don’t involve that intention.

    NFP is too indeterminate to say with any certainty that it is or isn’t being done with a contraceptive mentality. NFP is nothing more than a method of knowledge. It doesn’t imply virtue or a religious understanding of sex, or of the sacredness of marriage or anything else.

    I think it’s a legitimate criticism of NFP that it isn’t more contextualized as a part of the virtue of chastity and the necessary ascetical life of the Catholic spouses.

    So I don’t agree with the traditionalist use of the ‘contraceptive mentality’ argument, while at the same time I want to allow for the possibility and legitimacy of that concept.

  • Shawna M.

    This is an article that should have been written a long time ago. And reading some of the comments in here definitely proves the author’s point.

    BTW, to the person who said this charming quote: “If you want to believe that all these Catholics with 2 children are doing so because of severe conditions such as yours, then you are free to do so. “, along with the implication that said person they’re talking to is living in dream world by doing so…

    There are an awful lot of Catholic families out there that have two kids or less for a number of reasons that have nothing to do with contraception or possible misuse of NFP. My definitely not-contracepting and not-NFP-using grandparents only had two kids (my father and aunt), and ten years apart at that – for no known reason, and got looked down on at their parish for that. I know several couples, actually, that have small families without benefit of contraception (or “misuse” of NFP).

    My husband and I are expecting what many believe is our “first” child after nearly four years of marriage, and I know people have thought we must have been contracepting…not knowing we’ve been battling multiple miscarriages and using NFP FOR pregnancy achievement. It’s just easier to assume we, and anyone else without 10 kids, must be doing the wrong thing – it’s easier than being charitable. It’s definitely easier than, say, if you’re so righteously indignant about what you’re sure we’re doing, you never say it to our face.

    • orthros


      As I’ve stated above, you are confusing specifics with generalities.

      Anyone who looks down on you, specifically, is wrong and sinning.

      But anyone who looks at the sheer number of 2 children family and says, gee, I guess they’re just having trouble conceiving is just not using their brain.

      We have to take the personal out of this and deal with the reality: many, many Catholics are contracepting, whether artificially or through NFP, who should not be doing so.

      I am sorry that people are misjudging you. It’s horribly wrong, period. That said, abuse doesn’t negate the right use. Individuals can only be judged by God, but just as I can judge that a 30% belief in the Real Presence means that most Catholics are heretics (without saying that any individual is a heretic), we can likewise state that a large group of Catholics with 2 children will have many couples sinning in their conjugal lives.

  • Beth C

    Having trouble with miscarriages and conception myself, I do not take offense when practicing Catholics question me. I am deeply concerned with the anti-life mentality that is so pervasive in our culture, even among those who use NFP–this contra-ceptive (or against conception) mentality can be found among practicing and non-practicing Catholics, those who are practicing NFP and those who are taking the pill. To sin by rejecting God’s gift of life within love leaves love sterile. This is WHY the church teaches that the reasons for practicing NFP must be GRAVE REASONS. Serious reasons. It is not the natural order to have sterile sex for years, sacrificing giving life to the world for mere physical comforts–or to “get ahead”. Life is not about us. Life is about following God. I am grateful to be a part of a Faith that embraces this selflessness. I only pray that the faithful actually practice NFP as it is presented by the Church, rather than the way society presents it- it SHOULD NOT be used as just “another form of contraception.”

  • Marion (Mael Muire)

    I reiterate, Catholic lay persons on whom God has not laid the duty to inquire into the reproductive decisions of their neighbors, however much they may flatter themselves that they are assisting the Church in particular or mankind in general by taking it upon themselves to form such evaluations about their neighbors, and whether they form them about their neighbors either as a whole, or one-at-a-time, in any case risk committing the sins of detraction and/or idle mischief by pursuing these lines of thought.

    It would appear that at least one commenter on this thread is determined to continue to make these evaluations. To those reading, for your own spiritual well-being, it is inadvisable to imitate that commenter. And may God have mercy on that commenter’s soul. Amen.

    • mamabear

      Pot, meet kettle.

      • Marion (Mael Muire)

        “Pot, meet kettle”

        “Hypocrite”, “madman”, “blasphemer,” “possessed”.

        All these and worse they called the Master.

        I rejoice.

        • mamabear

          Happy for you.

          • Marion (Mael Muire)

            I was once asked whether neo-Jansenists *really* believe the anomalies that they embrace, or whether they adopt the neo-Jansenist mindset under pressure of their own qualities of temperment and character.

            I am indebted to you, therefore, for just now providing some excellent data touching upon that very question.

  • Marion (Mael Muire)

    “Jesus then addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else: ‘Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.” But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

    By this parable we are understand not that the Master commands us to despise righteousness, nor that the Master commands us to ignore wrongdoing in our neighbor. Instead, we are to direct our soul’s attention to our own salvation that we ourselves may be found worthy and not cast away. And if God sees fit to set before our eyes an instance of our neighbor’s fault, then we please God if we approach our neighbor with downcast eyes and lowered head, and say to our neighbor, “come, weep with me, my brother, for I have offended the Lord in my time, and I will have much to answer for on the Judgement Day. But God has been merciful to me, for which I praise Him. And I see that the Evil One has laid a snare for you, too, my brother, and I hope to see you avoid falling into his trap as I myself have so often done, to my everlasting shame and sorrow.” And then to share with your neighbor what God has set before your eyes, imploring your neighbor as a friend and brother to turn from any evil and to do only what is good. And all this, that you may assist and comfort your neighbor in avoiding evil and doing what is good.

    Any thought, word or deed of judgement beyond that, is from the Evil One.

  • We used NFP all of our married life and are still teaching NFP. We thought of a good bumper sticker—Do Nothing to Avoid Pregnancy! (scientific birth control/highly effective in preventing pregnancy/approved by the Catholic Church)

  • Beth Cornelson

    Those who judge something to be wrong do not necessarily judge the souls of those who are practicing NFP with a mentality AGAINST CONCEPTION (or contraceptive). There is no way that one knows what is going on in any soul, even those using the pill. But to encourage someone who may not know the right path –one of selflessness and openness to children, rather than years of sterile sex using NFP in order to accomplish educational or financial goals– is important.

    To remain silent about the fact that NFP is used with a contraceptive mentality leaves us culpable for not sharing the truth. I have seen a couple close to me convert from using NFP with a contraceptive mindset, and it has completely changed their marriage–brought it alive, when it was stagnant. Sure the money was there, and so were a few kids…but there was a fullness missing. And watching them transform was beautiful.

    I only wish that for every couple practicing NFP with a the contraceptive mentality.

  • Mrs. F

    Perhaps this has been mentioned and I missed it, but doesn’t prayer and discernment come into this process? For a couple that is not using NFP, who would be happy to conceive again, perhaps not much time is spent particularly praying on this. Instead, the results of conceiving or not show God’s will in the matter. What about the couple who is agonizing over whether or not to have another? Instead of trying to define the exact line of just cause or unjust cause, shouldn’t there be encouragement to discover God’s will for that particular family? I am sure that for some families, the idea of a third child, or a fourth, or more, feels overwhelming, and they need the encouragement to bring that to Christ in prayer–and maybe He does not intend another for them, or not at that time, and maybe through prayer a couple opens themselves to His will for more children. In either case, they have placed their family and lives in his hands and submitted themselves to his will. In the reverse, couples who are contemplating IVF and other fertility procedures that violate the sanctity of life need to turn to God for the grace to accept His plan as well.

    I would not recommend “God-dragging-you-kicking-and-screaming-into-His-plan” method that I’ve employed sometimes.

    • Marion (Mael Muire)

      “doesn’t prayer and discernment come into this process?”

      Catholic answer: Yes, and a candid conversation with a wise and holy priest, (hopefully, one’s pastor or spiritual director) about what constitutes “just reasons,” according to the Magesterium of the Catholic Church.

      Neo-Jansenist answer: No. Ignore the so-called Magesterium of the Catholic Church, and know this and know it well: The Rule is that any thought to produce fewer infants than the number one is biologically capable of producing, starting at this very moment, while desiring to continue rendering the marriage debt even a few times a month, for any reaon other than imminent danger of death or utter destitution, is Anathema, and anyone who thinks in this manner is a reprobate, and will be rightly consigned to the lowest circle of Hell, where he or she will burn for all eternity.

      Why? Because I said so!

      Me: I’m glad I’m in the authentic Magesterium of the Catholic Church camp, and not with those other dudes! Man, they got a WHOLE ‘nother thing goin’ on, and they ROUGH!

  • RK

    Let’s be honest here. The problem with NFP is that many Catholics use it as a a form of contraception. I’m a father, have been to NFP classes , and have tried to live an NFP life. While there may some exceptions, most NFP proponents pitch it as nothing more thana morally acceptable alternative to contraception. I find birth control advocates to be less hypocritical, albeit perhaps no less dissipated.

    Admittedly, in a time of possible global financial collapse coupled with a widespread cultural breakdown Catholics (and others) are under enormous pressures. It can seem to be a frightening time to have children. Perhaps NFP is part of the solution for the Faithful. But if moral rationalization comes as part of the package the whole thing ends up stinking.

  • There are numerous comments which continue to speak of NFP as “Catholic Birth Control” or “Catholic Contraception” … I will address these first.

    To employ such language is to directly reject the teaching of the Catholic Church which has been specified by numerous Popes, and especially by Pope Paul VI in the Encyclical Humanae Vitae.
    If you are a Catholic, and you continue to say that NFP is “Catholic Contraception”, I must say that you have morbid taste for controversies, breeding dissension (I say it to your shame).

    NFP is not, in any sense, “contraceptive” — Need I explain why? Just a brief word: Contraception is always wrong, but NFP is not always wrong … therefore, NFP is not contraception, nor is it contraceptive. (NFP and contraception are “completely different” [Humanae Vitae, 16])

    Thus, to name a few from those above, RK and (especially) othros, have (to my mind) entirely sacrificed any legitimacy which their comments could have had. They have very explicitly referred to NFP as “contraception”.

    If any Catholic calls NFP “contraception” or “Catholic Birth Control”, then either that Catholic does not know what the Church teaches, or that Catholic is purposely abusing language (i.e. lying).

    Contraception is, in itself, a grave sin (and, thus could very well be mortal much of the time) … to say that NFP is “Catholic contraception” (or a “form of contraction”, as does RK) will very quickly lead many to think that the every use of NFP (in itself, according to the object of the act) is a sin of grave matter (and likely mortal).

    If we end up making a couple think that their (legitimate or only venially sinful) use of NFP is a mortal sin (by comparing NFP to Contraception), then we would wrongly convince a couple of mortal sin.
    But St. Alphonsus tells us that, if we make a person to believe (falsely) that they have have committed a mortal sin, we ourselves are guilty of a grave sin (which is to say, we could very well have committed a mortal sin).

    Thus, the importance of being careful with our use of language! Many, I am convinced, many of the traditionalists that keep comparing NFP to contraception are in serious danger of committing mortal sin by misleading persons in this way.

    Now, Brian Killian mentioned the idea of “metaphor” (as though it is legitimate analogy to say that NFP is contraceptive in its mentality) … but that is not at all clear in the way that these traditionalists are speaking. In any case, if it is a metaphor, it is a very dangerous metaphor — and could very easily cost them eternal life.

  • To reveal my own intentions a little bit:
    I myself do believe that it is extremely important to encourage couples to have large families (and I am one of those that considers 5 kids to be an “average” size, rather than “large”).

    I do believe that the way NFP is taught often does not emphasize enough the importance of avoiding a selfish mentality — though, I am personally convinced (also from some limited pastoral experience as a parish priests) that IN PRACTICE the use of NFP will almost always help a couple to avoid selfishness, so long as they are praying together and as a family (n.b. special mention to the Family Rosary).

    Thus, I would like to see some improvements in the way that NFP is discussed in academic circles, and I would like to see more people talking about the importance of accepting large families from God through the use of NFP.

    That being said, I am convinced that warning of some elusive “contraceptive mentality” will utterly undermine this project.
    The simple fact is that there is nothing at all in NFP — however you want to define “mentality” — which is “contraceptive”. Nothing in the act, nothing in the circumstances, nothing in the intention. Nothing, nothing, nothing is “contraceptive” in any sense of the word.
    So … we have to stop lying, and we have to start using words properly.
    [furthermore, the use of “contraceptive” here is not analogical, it is totally equivocal … there is no sense in which NFP is contraceptive]

    So long as certain traditionalists (and I count myself as a traditionalist) continue to call NFP “Catholic Birth Control” (even if they do this as a ‘joke’), the whole cause will be undermined.

    This is a serious issue, and we have to be serious in our approach. We must use words meaningfully.

  • John Zmirak

    Thank you for intervening, Father, and thank you for an important contribution in this article.

  • RK

    Father Erlenbush, you are one of the few priests I have ever heard speak or write of contraception as a grave sin. In many parishes it would be impossible for a priest to say as much because his parishioners would find another parish quickly. Your priestly courage is worthy of great respect and you have mine for being unambiguous about it.

    That said, you have mischaracterized what I wrote about NFP. Whether your comments are a result of my poor writing or your poor reading I don’t know. Regardless, it seems to me that you fail to make clear distinctions about how and when it is licit to use NFP. And that, to my mind is the heart of the problem. Without clearly established conditions for it’s use, NFP can, and in my experience often does, become merely an acceptable Catholic way to delay the demands of child rearing. In your article you speak of a “just reason” as being the determinant of licitness. With all due respect, that’s just too vague. The broader the parameters the easier it is to justify convenience.

    Moreover, when John Zmirak or you discredit any opposition to NFP as some kind of wild traditionalist polemic about “Catholic Birth Control” you, quite frankly, weaken your own position with what amounts to little more than an ad hominem attack. There ought to be room for discussion without the fallacy of logic.

    I agree with you when you say this is a serious issue, and we have to be serious in our approach. We must, as you say, use words meaningfully.

    • RK, Thank you for your kind words … they are encouraging to me, as a young priest who regularly preaches on issues related to the family and does not hesitate to condemn contraception (both in homilies and in the confessional).

      If I misrepresented your comment, I do apologize.
      I should be more clear — It is not that I think all those who disagree with my article label NFP as “contraception” … only a few did (specifically, I mentioned you and orthros).

      You went further than most (short only of orthros) … you didn’t simply state that NFP could have a “contraceptive mentality”, but you said that it is used by some Catholics as “a form of contraception”.
      This is why I singled you out.

      No one has ever (or could possibly ever) use NFP as a form of contraception. It is simply impossible. NFP is not contraceptive.
      You hurt our cause when you say such things. (n.b. it is “our” cause, because we are on the same team here)

      Also, I agree that “just reasons” is a vague term … but it is the term which the Church uses. In any case, my goal was not to lay out what the “just reasons” are, but to specify that any use of NFP (even though it may be sinful) is most certainly not contraceptive.

      Oremus pro invicem, and also (in these days especially) for the poor souls! +

  • Marion (Mael Muire)

    “Without clearly established conditions for it’s use, NFP can, and in my experience often does, become merely an acceptable Catholic way to delay the demands of child rearing.”

    Would that be “in your experience” in the Confessional or in pastoral counseling?

    Or would that be “in your experience”

  • Without clearly established conditions for it’s use, NFP can, and in my experience often does, become merely an acceptable Catholic way to delay the demands of child rearing.

    I understand what you’re saying, but to me that’s largely imagination. I hardly know anyone at all that even uses NFP, nevermind uses it as an excuse to avoid children altogether.

    Ask yourself this question: how many couples do you know, using NFP, have been married for 10 years and have no children at all? I guarantee you that there are very few, if any.

    If other couples are delaying having children, or spacing children, using NFP, they very well could have “just reasons.” And frankly, it’s none of your darn business.

  • Beth C

    I know many couples using NFP. I have also spoken to priests who struggle with even deciding to marry couples who decide to practice NFP for 4-6 years of purposeful sterile sex, to get law degrees and doctorates. (Some are successful. I know of one couple who had 8, then 7 years of sterile sex using NFP before their hearts converted.) It is heartbreaking that people are using it simply as an act against conception (contraception), instead as it should be used… as a means to space children for GRAVE reasons, as our Faith calls us to. We are called to heroic charity! What a beautiful gift!

    • Beth, I know you think you are really clever with this little “they act against conception (contraception)” bit [which you have repeated a couple times now], but you simply have to stop saying that.
      You are contradicting the ordinary exercise of the magisterium (especially in Humanae Vitae).

      Show me anything at all — in the act itself, the circumstances or the intention — which is “against conception”. At what point does the couple do something to render an act infertile? (mind you, the Popes have declared that NFP does not in any sense whatsoever act against conception or render the act infertile)

      Your continued insistence on calling NFP contraception (even if only in the most extreme cases of misuse) tells me that you are either very confused about the ethical theory behind NFP [which is most likely] or that you are of bad will.

      Your further insistence on “grave reasons” — when the Church herself has never said “grave” but rather “serious” and “just” — totally discredits your comment.
      Please cite an encyclical (with the Latin), or stop commenting any further.

      • Deacon Ed Peitler

        The couple Beth described, if not acting contraceptively, are acting selfishly and contrary to the marital act which is synonymous with an act of self-sacrificial love. Selfishness introduced into the marital act is potentially sinful. It uses another person for ends other than the good of the other.

  • RK

    Fr. Ryan, Thank you for your interesting comments (and, by the way, thank you for your compelling article even though I disagree with some significant parts of it).

    Whereas your clear opposition to contraception is laudable, I can well imagine that you suggest to couples that NFP is an acceptable default option to birth control. If my presumption about how you counsel is correct, here’s where you blur lines that should be clearer.

    You insist on a distinction between contraception and NFP on philosophical grounds. You state, “Now, to be very clear, there is nothing in any way contraceptive about natural family planning. Neither before, nor during, nor after sexual intercourse has a couple practicing NFP done nothing at all to prevent procreation or to render the act infertile. The sexual act may in fact be infertile (i.e. it may not be possible for the woman to conceive at that time), but the couple has not done anything to make the act infertile.”

    Father, I don’t think you’ve made your case. In the order of intention a couple may, in fact, be acting contraceptively. The NFP using couple is keenly aware that the likeliehood of conception is very low. The intention is clearly to avoid conception. Yours becomes a distinction without a difference.

    I know of at least two instances where an unmarried couple used NFP to avoid pregnancy AND to fulfill the Church’s teaching against birth control. You may argue these instances are outliers, but they, nevertheless, make the point: NFP can and is used as a form of birth control (despite their questionable distinction from one another).

    • RK, You keep saying that “NFP can and is used as a form of birth control” — this conversation is going to be fruitless so long as you keep this nonsense up.

      NFP is not a form of birth control, thus it cannot be used as such … “act follows upon being” remember?

      Further, you say that the intention of the NFP couple may be “contraceptive” … where exactly do they “intend” to render an act infertile?
      Call the intention selfish if you must, but you contradict the ordinary magisterium of the Church if you call it “contraceptive”.

      The intention to avoid conception is not the same as a “contraceptive” intention … you are equivocating.

      Regarding whether I encourage the use of NFP: I would say that nearly every couple would use NFP at some point in their marriage — especially, I would think, in the period immediately after childbirth and also as the woman is in the final period of her childbearing when the danger to health (and of birth defects) is extremely high.

  • Brian Killian

    NFP = “Purposeful[ly] sterile sex” – Beth C

    This gets to the heart of the traditionalists problem with NFP. It all comes down to the lack of a pregnancy intention in the marriage act.

    It’s what NFP has in common with contraception that bothers them. They think there’s something illegitimate about the intention to perform a marriage act while simultaneously seeking to avoid pregnancy. They know the difference between NFP and contraception at the object-level of the will, but they don’t accept the ends that both contraception and NFP have — sex without pregnancy. That’s why they equate them.

    And that’s why it doesn’t help in refuting them to point out that in NFP the road to “purposefully sterile sex” doesn’t include a contraceptive act.

    Most people look at the same ends between NFP and contraception and argue that if NFP is good, then so is contraception. The traditionalist argues the opposite– that if contraception is bad, then so is NFP.

    The former accepts the goodness of those similarities, the latter thinks them evil.

    So the response will be different to both. To the former we have to point out what’s wrong with the contraceptive object of the will. To the latter we have to point out why it’s okay to seek the marriage act while avoiding pregnancy.

    Different ballgame right?

    I’m convinced that traditionalists are misinterpreting the older Church formulations about the primary purpose of marriage. They are suspicious of the development of doctrine, so they avoid the light of the most current teachings and remain in the dark about how to interpret older Church teachings about marriage (which are already very easy to misunderstand).

    I think they see nothing at all *but* the procreative aspect of sex.

    • Brian, I think you are very correct in pointing out the fundamental flaw of the rigorists.

      Still, I do think it is important to insist upon the fact that the intention of the NFP couple (even if they are abusing NFP) is not “contraceptive” — on every level (act, circumstance, and intention) NFP is completely different from contraception.

      So, with my article, I’m trying to hit at a more fundamental point of ethical theory.
      You, however, are making the more practical (and extremely important) point about how to convert the rigorists.
      Thank you for that! +

    • Marion (Mael Muire)

      “Most people look at the same ends between NFP and contraception and argue that if NFP is good, then so is contraception. The traditionalist argues the opposite– that if contraception is bad, then so is NFP.”

      Very true.

      Whereas the Church teaches that for just reasons, the deliberate spacing of births, by means of the woman’s natural cycle of fertility is justifiable.

      But “just reasons” is just too vague. And not only that, Truly True Catholics (TM) may not be privy to the reasons any given couple may have for availing themselves of the method that Holy Mother Church approves for regulating births. Or worse, couples may avail themselves of this method under conditions not approved of by Truly True Catholics (TM).

      To remedy these disorders, I am preparing a questionnaire to be distributed in the pews to all couples of child-bearing age. This document will set forth the specific circumstances in which Truly True Catholics (TM) have decided that the Magesterium of the Catholic Church, in her naivete, culpable negligence, and failure in due regard for the joy families attain when they produce as many youngsters as said Truly True Catholics (TM), in their greater wisdom and beneficence, ought to have specified.

      The questionnaires are to be filled out completely, and signed and dated by the couple and returned to the Head Truly True Catholic (TM) appointed at each parish. If any medical issues are present, a physician’s letter detailing date of onset and prognosis, together with any relevant laboratory results are to be attached.

      Upon review of the questionnaire materials by a board of Truly True Catholics (TM), each couple will be informed whether they currently have the correct number of children, and how many additional children they are expected to produce, and at what intervals, over the next two-year-period, at which time a a subsequent questionnaire and review by Truly True Catholics (TM) will be completed.

      Couples are required to keep copies of Board-approved questionnaires on their persons at all times, and to produce said documents on request by any Truly True Catholic (TM) (“Your papers, please?” will be the customary form of the request.)

      Failure to produce the papers on request or to comply with any other provision of the Truly True Catholic (TM)Questionnaire for Married Couples Statute of 2011 will result in penalities to be determined by said Board of Truly True Catholics (TM).

      So let it be written. So let it be done.

      • Bravo. Truly.

  • Bender

    Never underestimate the ability and capacity for people to make the simple so complex as to confound, to bring confusion where clarity is obvious. This post has actually detracted from the mission to be a light to the world.

    What a complete mess of confusion and obfuscation this entire post and discussion is, from beginning to end. The Church’s teachings on human sexuality are not so legalistic and cumbersome as to require people to jump through a myriad of hoops to figure out what it right.

    Lesson to be learned? Just rely on original sources, not the confused arguments of “experts.”

    Blessed Pope John Paul II explains it all so much more clearly and quite extensively. Strange, though, that I don’t believe that even a single person here has mentioned him.

    • If you think that it detracts from the light of Christ to attempt to understand the act, the circumstance, and the intention of NFP; then you are quite a fideist … and in that sense, you do no service by mentioning Bl. John Paul II.

  • Beth C

    “If, then, there are SERIOUS motives to space out births, which derive from the physical or psychological conditions of husband and wife, or from external conditions, the Church teaches that it is then licit to take into account the natural rhythms immanent in the generative functions…” [Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae 16]

    The natural way to participate in marriage is to be OPEN TO fertility, not closed to children! I am NOT suggesting, if one has a SERIOUS reason, such as the 4 that the church has given–SERIOUS physical reasons, serious economic reasons, serious psychological reasons and serious social conditions. (H.V. 10)

    I know that many try to trivialize the word “serious,” but I find this to be sad and self defeating. These directives are NOT given to us to hurt us, they are given to us to help us.

    “It is their DUTY to MAKE CERTAIN that their desire is not motivated by selfishness…” [Catechism of the Catholic Church 2368]

    • Beth C, To use contraception is always a grave sin. However, to abuse NFP would very often be only a venial sin. This is an important distinction. (wouldn’t you agree that, though sin is sin, the difference between mortal and venial is significant?)
      You see, even the misuse of NFP can help people to learn to be open to children … because NFP does not contribute to the “contraceptive mentality”.

      That said, we most certainly must strive to use NFP in a holy and just way … and we will not be helping people if we say “grave” rather than “serious” or if we compare NFP to contraception.

  • Beth C

    I am not suggesting, when one has SERIOUS reasons for practicing it, that NFP is wrong. I am suggesting that when one is practicing NFP in a way that is un-open to life–or against conception, rather than open to life, one is truly missing the big picture.

    And the words “against conception” would include a couple that considers abortion when NFP fails, or plans to have sterile sex for many years just to fulfill a material or educational desire that might make them more “comfortable”/ I have seen NFP used for both these reasons.

    It was used truly “against conception.” I am not judging the souls of those who made it clear to me that they were NOT open to life, but I can judge the actions.

    They are actions that I and my husband choose not to be a part of. It is an attitude that our Catechism warns against. And I take that warning to heart.

    • I am suggesting that when one is practicing NFP in a way that is un-open to life–or against conception, rather than open to life, one is truly missing the big picture.

      And I suggest that this statement makes no sense. Using NFP is, by its very nature, still open to life, even when sexual congress occurs in infertile periods. That’s the whole point of NFP. It cannot be used against conception, or contraceptively, as Fr. Erlenbush suggests.

    • And the words “against conception” would include a couple that considers abortion when NFP fails

      Such a couple is so rare as to be practically nonexistent. How many couples are so faithful to the Church’s teaching that they avoid contraception, but not so faithful as to take a life through abortion? This argument makes as much sense as the “poverty stricken people are faithful to the Church’s teaching on condoms, but not on fornication, so the Church’s teaching helps spread AIDS” nonsense.

      It was used truly “against conception.” I am not judging the souls of those who made it clear to me that they were NOT open to life, but I can judge the actions.

      No, you really can’t even judge the actions. You have no idea of what goes on between a couple and what they discern to be serious reasons. Once again, mind you own business.

  • RK

    Beth C. consistently makes the most important point in this discussion. Namely, that the reasons or motives for using NFP need to be SERIOUS. To dismiss this point as “rigorist” or “traditionalist” is a cheap shot. If the motives aren’t serious then the use of NFP is nothing more than avoiding pregnancy. Whether we call that “selfish” or call it “contraceptive” is semantics.

    The fact is that many Catholics use NFP for reasons that aren’t serious. And that’s because the Church glosses over the motives for its use. Nobody said being Catholic was easy, but the truth, whether it’s convenient or inconvenient, still makes us free.

    • RK, I’m glad that you think the point about SERIOUS motives is an important one … I made it several times in the article itself.
      However, some people here have not said “serious” but have said “grave” or “extreme” … those people are either ill-informed, or they are liars.

      Others have said that NFP can be “contraceptive” (whether in act, circumstance, or intention, I do not know, they refuse to be specific) — and this is a very serious error.

    • RK, I do find it funny that you think this point about the “serious” motives is the “most important” one … you say that the “Church glosses over” this – indeed, Paul VI certainly does in Humanae Vitae (i.e. he does not detail the reasons).
      Pope Paul VI seems to think that the most serious point is that NFP is not the same as contraception.

      Hence, if I read you correct, you are saying that you think I am with Paul VI and the Catholic Church in “glossing over” the most important point … in any case, you and Beth (and others) are certainly not with the Church when you say NFP has a danger of a “contraceptive mentality”, since the Church has never used “contraceptive mentality” in that way, but uses the phrase to refer to a society which pushes contraceptives (especially on young persons).

  • Marion (Mael Muire)

    “The fact is that many Catholics use NFP for reasons that aren’t serious.”

    What ? Why, then, RK, are you still here, instead of out at your home parish and nearby parishes, organizing the Parish Boards of Inquiry into Couples’ approved Motives for Spacing Births?

    “Your papers, please?” is a phrase that should impress every illegitmately-NFP-using couple with an understanding that there are correct and incorrect motives, and that the Truly True Catholics(TM) are here to pound that truth home. . . at home, next door, and around the world!

    Do you mean business here? Or are you just bellyaching, the way in another setting, you might do over how the price of a gallon of gas has gone through the roof? Because if this matter is as serious as you say it is, then it is clearly your moral imperative to get cracking on this project! And I mean, as of yesterday, crack of dawn, mister!

    Or, if you’re just here to while away the time crabbing, then why not say so? We won’t mind.

    • RK

      The biggest waste of time for me is when I read several things like the snide parahgraphs where you start talking about passing out questionnaires and other oddities.

      You and others have said we should judge neither souls nor actions. The Church has always distinguished between sin and sinners. We souldn’t judge a person. That’s left to God. But we can judge the objective merit of action or behavior. When we see a child step into a busy street we make a judgement about that behavior. When we discuss the merits or use of NFP we make judgements about the act. Such a judgement is different that making a judgement about a particular person’s motivation.

      Marion, as someone once said, ideas have consequences. I operate under the assumption that this forum is intended for the exchange of ideas. Doing so, presumably, creates a more vibrant forum. If you’d rather this be an echo chamber for your own opinions, well, I think I’d rather “wile away the time” somewhere more interesting.

  • Marion (Mael Muire)

    I know of a couple who use NFP to space births, and they the wife is studying to attain a Master’s Degree in a rather lucrative career field.

    End of story. Wrong use of NFP.

    What the averge Truly True Catholic (TM) viewing this couple’s situation from outside may not realize is that, husband in this case (an only child) has mentally impaired youngish, widowed mother (her mild illness is a family secret). Also a family secret is the fact that some years back, mother was swindled out of her and her late husband’s entire life savings by charming con artist, while son had to stand by helplessly as he was legally precluded from interfering as long as Mom was deemed legally competent. (Her Alzheimer’s was evident to her family, but too mild to be diagnosed at the time. ) Con artist had a sharp attorney who parried son’s efforts to protect his mother at every turn.

    Now, at 71 years of age, Mom has a social security check to live on for the rest of her life. Period.

    After two falls with a broken collar bone and a concussion, the couple have realized that the time is rapidly approaching in which Mom will need skilled assistance thoughout the day and night. Medicare won’t pay for that, unless she goes into a nursing home, and the son and the daughter-in-law don’t want that for her.

    Having discussed the matter in detail with their pastor, as well as having prayed most earnestly seeking God’s will in this matter, they have with their pastor’s affirmation, decided to postpone more children, live off the husband’s salary and to use everything the wife makes to support Grandma and as her health deteriorates to provide the skilled care she will need in her own home – a rented apartment in a nearby retirement community in which she is comfortable, particpates in an exercise class, a writing class, and supervised shopping excursions, maintains a garden, and has many friends, activities which keep her active and healthy but also allow for plenty of peace and quiet in which to rest and recover, and according to her doctors, an ideal balance of conditions much less attainable if she lived with the couple and their two children. Or more children.

    A balance her doctors say may help to slow the progress of the Alzheimers, and keep her out of a nursing home longer.

    But outside oberservers are not privy to all this. They see only a couple with two children practicing NFP, and the wife in graduate school: how dare that impudent hussy of a young wife neglect further procreating to pursue an education and more money?

    But not privy to all the details of the situation, they would not have judged aright. And they would be answerable to the Almighty for their sin of detraction.

    • This brings up a question for me.

      Where is it written that a few years of graduate study is not a just or serious cause to delay further children? Such a degree could, in many situations, make it more possible to support a larger family down the road. Money and education are morally neutral things, and allow people who have them to do a lot of good if used well. I see that as a completely valid application of prudence, for couples who pray and discern it to be so.

  • John Zmirak

    We are circling and circling around the essential point, which is that enormous changes in human circumstances caused the Church to cautiously engage in a development of doctrine. To wit: As man for the first time gained some real control over infant mortality, he also began to need (perhaps for the first time in human history) some control over human fertility. As the vast majority of human beings (first in the West, but now worldwide) moved off the land and into cities, child-rearing became much more difficult and challenging. We didn’t need to have as many births to fulfill the primary purpose of marriage (carrying on the human species, replacing ourselves), and the burden of educating children adequately for adulthood became much greater. These changes were real, and were not proof of selfishness or sin. (Some Catholics, like Fr. Vincent McNabb, said that Catholics were obliged to reject these changes and “flee to the fields,” living exclusively on the land so that they could afford large families. For some that may be an answer, but the Church never adopted it as obligatory, or even preferable.)

    The first means developed to address these changes, artificial contraception of various kinds, were sinful. So the Church under Pius XI and Pius XII encouraged Catholic doctors and midwives to develop morally NEUTRAL means of answering this modern situation. The central problem, as they saw it, with contraception, was the MEANS–which in classical Catholic terminology were traditionally described as “sodomy” or “onanism” (depending on the method used). The END, of limiting family size to suit the real circumstances of modern man, was never seriously considered controversial. Vatican II in its official documents discusses “responsible parenthood” in this regard.

    I applaud families who choose to be especially open to life as a prophetic witness against a self-centered and hedonistic culture. People who have the financial, physical, and psychological means to support large families are doing something laudable and superogatory–akin to families that adopt special-needs kids, or that eschew all luxuries in order to support orphans in Sudan. It is from such large families that we will no doubt receive many religious and priestly vocations. Thank God for them.

    Let us be grateful to God for them, and laud those who make these sacrifices, without FALSELY imposing on ALL OTHER COUPLES the burden of MORTAL SIN where the Church itself DOES NOT.

  • Marion (Mael Muire)

    “Let us be grateful to God for them (large families), and laud those who make these sacrifices, without FALSELY imposing on ALL OTHER COUPLES the burden of MORTAL SIN where the Church itself DOES NOT.”

    John, live forever!

  • Marion (Mael Muire)

    P.S. in response to John’s latest comment:

    Domine, nunc dimmitis . . .

    You all have a blessed day!

  • John Zmirak

    One last thing: I don’t think the appropriate historical comparison point for understanding separatist, rigorist Catholics in our day is the Jansenists. They had too many specific doctrinal heresies for this to be fair (they were crypto-Calvinists, who in the end rejected the efficacy of the sacraments).

    Much more to the point are the Donatists, who considered that the only true Catholics were those who had risked martyrdom under the Romans; any who had made (and repented of) compromises, or who even accepted such penitents, were apostates. Also of importance are the Spiritual Franciscans, who tried to impose something laudable but superogatory (apostolic poverty) on the whole Christian people on pain of mortal sin.

    • Kate

      I think Jansenist is in a way applicable, because there seems to be a latent problem with the pleasure of sex, apart from procreation (left over from St. Augustine’s rigorism perhaps) in the NFP bashers. Fr. Erlenbush touched on this in a comment. For them, there is only one purpose of sex – procreation (and perhaps “a cure for concupiscience”). The Church’s development of the other ends of marriage do not seem considered in their discussion.

  • Marion (Mael Muire)

    “I don’t think the appropriate historical comparison point for understanding separatist, rigorist Catholics in our day is the Jansenists. . . (but) more to the point are the Donatists.”

    Roger that.

    Much obliged.

    “. . . something laudable but superogatory (apostolic poverty) on the whole Christian people on pain of mortal sin.”

    Which poverty would in many cases obtain among a sizable number of families if they had imposed upon them what it is that our friends here are attempting to impose . . .

    Whereas that wise and merciful Mother, our Church graciously refrains from demanding any such thing.

    Thank the Lord of mercies!

  • margaret h

    Here Here!

  • In reading this article and many of the comments these are my thoughts:

    1) People should stop making “the perfect the enemy of the good.” NFP is a blessing available to us and it is the couple’s decision how to use it for whatever reasons they have. The reason they use it may not be perfect to some people, but it is reasonable to the couple and that is allowed by the Church. They are not contracepting. Just using NFP itself is counter-cultural and a HUGE step in the right direction.

    2) Related to #1 is the comment someone made about “heavy burdens” being laid and I think this is true. It is easy to slip into a “modern pharisee” mode where someone is not being as pious/faithful as you desire them to be. But in reality we are all in different levels in our walk with God. Some are more holy then others but we are all hopefully striving for holiness.

    3) Having grown up in a modern society, I am unfamiliar with how life was 50 -100 years ago and what was considered usual life and a usual amount of children. We try to make the best decisions we can in the life we live and the experiences we have. Just being a faithful Catholic in this culture is a contradiction. We have been raised in a toxic culture, as a book I recently read EWTN Host Teresa Tomeo’s Extreme Makeover talked about and we need to do the best we can in trying to turn our life over to Christ so he can heal us.

    My non-Catholic husband and I have two children. One 16 and one 8. We wanted more kids but 8 years of secondary fertility put a kink in our plan. My husband will be 60 this year and I’m 46. It think of NFP as a blessing in that my husband does not want any more children at his age and especially in our financial situation, and I think that is reasonable for us. If we did not have NFP he would have considered a vasectomy which is unacceptable for me as a Catholic. NFP is not hard but it has it’s challenges, and sticking with it is a sacrifice in our selfish society.

    I think the main thought should be “mind your own business.” This is between the couple and God with the Church giving guidance and help when she can. We should not get all bent out of shape because others don’t behave like we think they should. Reminiscent of taking the beam out of your eye first and not the splinter out of your friend’s eye. I think we need foremost to work on our own walk with God and pray for others to find healing and help from Him.

  • This thread is insanity. The article itself I find quite useful and informative, but excessive bickering over what is and is not “serious” or “just” enough reason to space out children, how many children is the minimum acceptable number for a highly fertile couple, etc. is harmful to the unity of the Church and is extremely alienating for young, faithful Catholics.

    I write as a twenty-four year old Catholic woman in a serious relationship. Within the next few years, we will have to make decisions for ourselves about family size (God willing we marry) and this nonsense you are all spouting makes that more difficult. I never in my life imagined that when I am a wife, people would be peering down the pew at me to approve or disapprove of my married sex life based on the number of children my husband and I have co-created with God. This is deeply troubling to me, but at least I know many Catholics, friends and family, who would never engage in this nonsense in practice or in theory. I can only imagine the confusion and disgust of a young Catholic convert, without much informal knowledge of the Catholic community, stumbling upon such a conversation.

    Today’s readings centered on wisdom and prudence. We can all agree that a large family is a blessing. But remember, a child is a blessing, not one-fifth of a blessing. It’s unwise and unjust to set forth a standard that the Church has not. Therefore, it is wise and prudent for married couples to judge their resources and abilities and decide whether or not to engage in sex during fertile times. Christian marriage is a sacrament that includes the graces required to live together and raise children together. Let a couple, under the influence of that grace, use prayer and prudence to determine their family size. The Church does not instruct us in how much money we should set aside for retirement before donating the rest to charity. Yet, we all know that prudence requires us to store up something to avoid being a burden unnecessarily, and that charity requires us to not hoard every dollar that comes our way. Different people of good will may come to very, very different conclusions about how much they should save without either being immoral or even misguided. The same is true of family size. Of course, any unexpected child is to be accepted lovingly and gratefully as a gift from God. But to go forward without any expectation of a rough number of children to have and therefore no plan as to how to allocate sufficient resources for them would violate the conscience of some faithful Catholics who are sensitive to the demands of prudence. Let them follow their consciences in peace, ladies and gentlemen. Doing otherwise is simply rude.

    • Upon re-reading my comment, I think I came on a bit too strong. I don’t mean to condemn the idea of figuring out exactly how the Church’s teachings should be applied – that’s part of being a discerning Catholic. It’s more the tone of the conversation that upset me. My calling this “nonsense” might have been better expressed as follows:
      As a few here have mentioned, most of us as lay Catholics are not in a role of setting boundaries for others, so it may do more harm than good to attempt to do so beyond stating the Church’s own guidelines.

      • John Zmirak

        Thanks, Cherie. Actually, your reaction is a common one: The Church’s teaching on NFP is sometimes presented in a way that I can only call “bait and switch.” People present the GENUINE teaching, which Fr. Erlenbush laid out, and good people like you accept it. Then you come across rigorists such as appeared on this thread, and get the idea that the teaching is in fact something much narrower and harsher–that NFP is not a tool to be employed in the prudential living out of a Christian marriage (like, say, financial planning, or fasting) but a tiny little loophole, reluctantly tolerated in grave emergencies for those who aren’t REALLY committed to the Faith. It’s a “concession.”

        No, it isn’t. People who say so are in fact DISSENTERS FROM HUMANAE VITAE. They are better intentioned, perhaps, than laxist dissenters, but probably more dangerous in some situations–just as the Pharisees were more dangerous than the tax collectors.

        • John, my sensitivity to the impact of these things has really increased since I’m helping my boyfriend get better acquainted with the Church. Over the past year and a half, getting to know my family has finally convinced him that people trying to follow God’s will in their lives and help you do the same, not standing on a soapbox telling you exactly why you’ll burn, is what Catholicism is all about. A few of your articles that I’ve sent him have really helped, too! Thanks for standing for good humor and sanity in the Catholic world.

  • Marion (Mael Muire)

    A recent poster mentioned not remembering what life was like 50 years ago; another mentioned being young and never married.

    I am old and married.

    There is an old saying, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” meaning that when otherwise good men and women (or children) fall into idle practices, they are apt to fall into wickedness.

    Idleness doesn’t mean doing nothing; it means doing something other than making a creditably and reasonably responsible use use of your time and energy, given the duties of your state in life. Now, taking it upon yourself to mind *other* peoples’ business is in and of itself *never* a creditably and reasonably responsible use use of *anyone’s* time and energy, unless it be their duty to do so: police officers, the public; lifeguards, the patrons of the beach or the pool; mothers, their own children; pastors, their flock, and so on.

    Attempting to usurp the responsibilites of others to seek and follow God’s will for their lives, even inside one’s own thoughts, is an idle act . . .and may rightly be deemed an act of idolatry, as well: I, not God, not yourself, and not the Church, will be your taskmaster, your overseer, and your superintendent.

    Wickedness, indeed. The old saying is true: Idle hands lead to wickdeness.

    In that sense, yes, there are idolators sitting in the pews next to you. Best to ignore them. And to pray for them.

  • Beth C

    I have no problem with NFP, if it is used as the Church teaches, for SERIOUS physical, social, psychological, or economic reasons…but the Church’s specifies these SERIOUS reasons for a reason!

    It is right to judge that the ACTION of murder is wrong. The words “mind your own business” have become synonymous with the pill, and I am surprised to read them in the comments here. If we truly are trying to spur one another on to good works, to holiness, we should not remain silent when we witness the widespread misunderstandings that are occurring with NFP.

    The couple that I know of that considered abortion when NFP failed is real. And I am certain that they are NOT the only ones, as much as we desperately wish otherwise.

    This topic must be broached and discussed, and it should not be ignored. The selfish drives in our society are real, and definitely effecting the way that NFP is practiced.

    • Marion (Mael Muire)

      “It is right to judge that the ACTION of murder is wrong. The words ‘mind your own business’ have become synonymous with the pill, and I am surprised to read them in the comments here.”

      How dare you suggest or imply that the just provisions of Holy Mother Church to couples to space births is comparable to the sins of murder or the use of contraceptives?

      Blasphemer! Idolator!

    • Kate

      Again, the Church says “just causes” not serious or grave. And She leaves those just reasons vague for a reason – because they will differ from couple to couple. If the Church had thought in neccesary for our salvation, She would have been more specific, detailed. This reminds me of the hotbutton modesty controversies. The Church magisterium doesn’t give any specific rules on what is modest, but excepts us to use our common sense and well-formed consciences. Yet, you have rigorist who claim that a woman is not modestly dressed unless she wears jean jumpers down to the ankle (no pants, of course) and a headcovering. The Church is vague in some matters for a reason, people, (and it’s not because of timidity)! And this is not an invitation to start a modesty thread.

      • John Zmirak

        There will be no modesty threads at Crisis. Ever.

  • margaret h

    But Beth, those are very .general.categories of reasons, it isn’t a list. What is serious are going to vary greatly from person. Thus the problem of you judging whether or not someone’s reasons are serious or just. (And they may not tell you all of their reasons either. And they certainly aren’t obliged to do so).

    By all means, enc ourage love of children and large families. You can do that with personal witness. But please don’t presume to make those judgements regarding child spacing for others.

  • John Zmirak

    We should no more sit around wondering whether people with small families had too few children from “selfishness” than whether people with large families had too many because they lacked the self-control to practice NFP successfully.

    The people who wish that Paul VI had forbidden NFP, too (so they’ll essentially pretend that he did) are as beyond persuasion as those who wish he’d allowed the Pill (so they pretend that he did). The point is not to convince the hardcore dissenters, left or right, but to de-fang their arguments for the sake of honest people. I don’t think that the rigorists have made a single logically compelling argument in this entire thread, confirming my previous conviction that they are simply operating out of prejudice. They don’t like the doctrine that developed, so they will claim that it didn’t, and also claim that the historical reasons why it developed either didn’t happen or didn’t matter.

    They will embrace absurdities, such as the dictum that couples must have as many children as physically possible, even if they cannot feed or educate them, or else (maybe, just maybe) abstain from intercourse altogether. They will invent new rights, such as the “right” of every couple to foist as many of their kids on the taxpayers (including non-Catholic taxpayers) as their loins will produce. Thus they ignore St. Thomas on the duty to provide for one’s children, but never mind–we’re in a whole new religion now, and it’s a fertility cult.

    There is a narrow segment, a minority to be sure among the 5% who do reject birth control, for whom that has become the ONLY real doctrine in the Church. It is the litmus test, the shibboleth, the real test of orthodoxy. I once heard a priest introduce Justice Antonin Scalia to a communion breakfast, and of all the judge’s accomplishments, the one he emphasized the most was the number of kids Scalia has. I remember thinking, “Good for Justice Scalia, but what’s with this priest–is he introducing a jurist or a stud bull? Is this a communion breakfast or an agricultural fair?” I will spare you the next four or five things that ran through my head….

    • G.

      Is there a category of heresy known as “anticipators?” Here’s what I mean: people who believe/act according to what they *think* the Vatican will eventually do when it sees the purported “error” of its ways on this or that issue.

      Especially early on, I suspect a good number of Catholic couples may have been weighing the odds on whether Humanae Vitae would really “stick,” or if some future pope would roll it back somehow.

      On the other side of the issue, perhaps some of the anti-NFP crowd hope/expect to be vindicated by some future ruling in this regard. And so they condemn people accordingly in the present.

    • Rebecca

      I know what you mean John. Reading the comments on this thread, I thought to myself, “Wow. The only difference between being married to a Traditional Catholic man and a Muslim man is the Muslim makes his wife cover her head. No wait, women have to cover their heads at the Latin Mass, so scratch that.”

      There do seem to be a minority (but a vocal minority) who see married women as brood mares and men as champion stallions. I wonder, if a member of that minority breaks his leg, do they set the bone or shoot him in the head?

      They also seem to think that God took the time to give human beings intellect and will in order that we not use them at all.

      • Marion (Mael Muire)

        Rebecca, it is so important to distinguish between *authentically Catholic* faithful, traditional Catholic men vs. Cafeteria Catholic Traditionalists, who aren’t authentically Catholic any more than the Cafe Catholic (pick and choose) dissidents on the other side are.

        I know well plenty of authentically Catholic, faithful, traditional men who are eminent in their fidelity to the Magesterium of the Church, and in their chivalrous respect toward all women, especially toward their wives, who are themselves examples of vibrant, independent, and joy-filled Catholic womanhood.

        Rebecca, some of us wear a veil or a hat in the Church out of respect, and not because anyone forces us to do so.

        My husband is too much of a Christian gentlman to attempt to “force”* me to do anything. I am pleased, however, to be submissive toward him, as is right in the Lord, and my husband’s quiet, gentle dignity and unfailing, considerate tenderness toward me make it heavenly to live in submission to him.

        * re: force – I know that if there were a fire in our home, my husband would exercise whatever force was necessary to get me out the bedroom window and down the ladder. I’d be scared and wouldn’t want to go down a ladder. And he wouldn’t escape to safety himself until he saw me safely on the ground. In a scenario like that, he would resort to force, and rightly so, I suppose.

        *That’s* the difference between a *man* and a bully.

    • Charles


      Humane Vitae was clearly written at a historical moment when the use of artificial contraception was of the highest concern. In an effort to mitigate the death blow that was being administered to everyone using / promoting contraception, the document points to the licit use of natural birth regulation. The document, unfortunately, does not give much clear guidance on just reasons, and it clearly leaves the door open for wide interpretations of “serious reasons”.

      There seems to be a minority of the population, a very reasonable one I might add, that take the following quotes from Humane Vitae very seriously:

      “Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the procreation and education of children. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute in the highest degree to their parents’ welfare.” (HV 9)

      We do not count it as selfish when we desire that which God wants to give us, so my wife and I will “cooperate with God in the generation and rearing of new lives” (HV 8) as long as we are able to educate and provide for them.

      I agree with Fr. Erlenbush that the use of NFP can not constitute a contraceptive mentality. This thread, however, has expanded the question to include the proper interpretation of “just” and “serious” reasons. It would benefit all of the faithful to have some clarity on this subject since, “responsible parenthood, as we use the term here, has one further essential aspect of paramount importance. It concerns the objective moral order which was established by God, and of which a right conscience is the true interpreter. In a word, the exercise of responsible parenthood requires that husband and wife, keeping a right order of priorities, recognize their own duties toward God, themselves, their families and human society.

      From this it follows that THEY ARE NOT FREE TO ACT AS THEY CHOOSE IN THE SERVICE OF TRANSMITTING LIFE, as if it were wholly up to them to decide what is the right course to follow. On the contrary, they are bound to ensure that what they do corresponds to the will of God the Creator.”(HV 10)

      Finally, the church views the marriage of baptized persons a sign of grace and thus elevates its status to that of a sacrament. So when the priest in your example commented on size of Justice Scalia’s family, he was pointing to the external sign of fecundity that is present in a sacramental marriage. Unfortunately, for myself and many other fathers, this does not always translate into personal holiness. Be that as it may, children are still and effective sign . . . in the same way that being at a Pontifical High Mass with cappa magna, buskins, and liturgical gloves are a sign of the importance of the office that the prelate holds, but not necessarily the holiness of the man. Oops I have just shown my traditionalist cards.

      Keep up the good work at Crisis. This article actually forced me to read Humane Vitae in its entirety for the first time.

      • Charles

        That little happy face in my previous post should read (HV 8)

        • Marion (Mael Muire)

          Use a space after the 8, and it won’t do a happy face.

          (HV8 )

  • Marion (Mael Muire)

    “It (marital sex)does not, moreover, cease to be legitimate even when, for reasons independent of their will, it is foreseen to be infertile. For its natural adaptation to the expression and strengthening of the union of husband and wife is not thereby suppressed. The fact is, as experience shows, that new life is not the result of each and every act of sexual intercourse. God has wisely ordered laws of nature and the incidence of fertility in such a way that successive births are already naturally spaced through the inherent operation of these laws. The Church, nevertheless, in urging men to the observance of the precepts of the natural law, which it interprets by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life.”

    “Open to life” and “for just causes” are the keys.

    Wishing to postpone conception – but not sex – for some weeks and taking advantage of God’s own beautifully designed system of rhythm, while remaining open to God’s override if He should wish conception to occur, a married couple acts suitably, if for a just cause, they regulate conception by continuing to have sex only during infertile periods for a time.

  • Kristof

    I enjoy reading these types of intelligent discussions, and thank all contributors, wherever you might be on the pro/anti-NFP spectrum. I am at a point (they happen a few times a year) where I simply resent the hell out of NFP. As a husband with a healthy drive, I resent the notion that NFP privileges self-control and self-mastery. It is quite the opposite in my marriage. It seems to me that NFP is predicated on Church-Control, Church-Mastery, and, as one who is in a marriage with wildly imbalanced attitudes toward NFP…Wife-Control. “You’re not wholly on board with NFP? You’d like to have non-intercourse sexual relations during fertile times? Well, then you’re a godless pagan, bent on sullying the institution of marriage and my very soul, and probably sent by Lucifer himself.” Goodness. The cold, pinched faces/attitudes of some of the NFP cheerleading crowd lead me to believe that many are more in love with their own piety (Look at me! Praying so hard! Multiple Rosaries in my purse! Adhering to all the tenets of Church doctrine, even quoting doctrinal minutiae!) than they are at keeping the basic notions of Christianity at the fore: Love one another. Be joyous, charitable and gracious.

    I will certainly be attacked on this issue, but I have a hard time reconciling a) all of the talk about the support the Church has for a healthy marital sex life, with b) the notion that the “Ever Virgin” Mary is a model of piety. Mary’s example illustrates that (to the Church) to live a the highest, most noble moral life, one must never be defiled by sexual intercourse, even with one’s own husband, himself a Catholic saint. At the core of Catholic teaching, the notion of the ‘Ever Virgin’ Mary sends a clear signal that the Church deems sex and sexuality to be…(there’s just no way to finish this thought without opening myself up to a deluge of invective)…evil, vulgar, sinful or whatever. I’ve just never gotten a satisfactory response to this idea. I appreciate that Mary’s (non)sexuality was itself not at issue, but rather simply and directly admits of her devotion to the Lord. But if her ‘Ever Virginity’ does not bespeak an commitment to the idea that sex is inherently sinful, but rather offers a reflection of her piety, why would she condemn her husband to a life of punishing abstinence? (I’m open to having my attitude on this turned around, but just not by ad hominem attacks)

    To the point of the article, the ‘philosophically unintelligible’ notion of NFP and a contraceptive mindset, I simply have a hard time distinguishing the difference between willfully waiting to engage in intercourse during non-fertile times (when one’s mind and heart are NOT open to a(nother) child) and engaging in non-intercourse sexual acts during fertile times. Oh, yes, I know that oral sex does not admit of an openness to the Lord’s gifting another child, but the NFP loophole of trying an end-run around fertility (to me) is much the same thing: wanting sex without children. This ‘guilt-free’ splitting of hairs may make some feel sanctified, but to others like myself, it amounts to my very own spite and resentment laced barrier method, only instead of a condom, my barrier is NFP’s apotheosis of the chart, the thermometer and the oh-so-erotic sticky mucus. Oh, I appreciate that the penetrating insights of Theology of the Body might turn me around on this. Only I heartily suspect that those who refer to it have never read it. It is a tough slog, even for those who have been reading the opaque sludge of academics for years.

    Some of you might be chomping at the bit to launch a searing attack on me or my points. Well, have at it. Go for that pound of flesh. Or you can accept that I write as a fellow Christian/Catholic, a reasonably intelligent and charitable person, but one who has seen too many evenings end with frustration and discord. (“How can he say he is CATHOLIC when he disagrees with some Church doctrine?” Well, I can and do, just like I call myself a patriot yet fundamentally disagree with many of America’s legislative and judicial abominations.)

  • Deb

    Fr. Erlenbush is correct. NFP is not a contraceptive and therefore cannot be used with a “contraceptive mentality”. It can be used selfishly, but outsiders cannot know if the NFP users are being selfish or not – that is for God alone. This is why the Church has not created a list of acceptable reasons for using NFP.

    Many here repeatedly say that they are not jabbing at large families, but terms like “brood mares”, “champion stallions”, “lack of self-control” speak otherwise. Just as looking down the pew at a family with 2 kids and calling them “selfish” and assuming contraceptive use speaks to a lack of goodwill.

    All we know is that 85% of professed Catholics admit to using birth control or being sterilized. So while we sit here and bicker about the “proper uses” of NFP, souls are being lost.

    • Bill Bannon

      Ask your pastor about the concept of “sincere erroneous conscience”. It is not in the catechism but is implied in moral theology tomes. There were wacky theologians in the 20th century but there were also great ones…two of whom urged Caholics to follow a prayerful conscience on birth control and neither of these two, Rahner and Haring, were rebuked by John Paul II. Historically Popes had sincere erroneous consciences: Popes Nicholas V, Pope Callixtus III, Pope Sixtus IV, Pope Leo X all believed and wrote that Portugal could perpetually enslave discovered natives who resisted the gospel. They were reproved without names shortly after their deaths within Pope Paul III’s
      bull against such slavery…which slavery also now Vatican II and “Splendor of the Truth” rejects. But are those four Popes in hell? Not if they sincerely thought this was a case permitted by the implications of Leviticus 25. That is…it is possible for even Popes to do wrong actions while having material but not formal guilt before God. Another example is the tortures of the Inquisition which are now considered intrinsic evils by the ordinary magisterium but had papal mandates…with even light torture being used in ecclesiastical courts.
      Ask your pastor though.

  • Mary

    Fr: forgive me if you’ve already addressed these points. I have not read ALL of the comments but have seen the same general ideas come up over and again. I’d like to address a few things.
    So that you understand my background (I see that has come up in several comments), I am a not a “Traditional” Catholic – I was born and raised in a Novus Ordo parish and continue to happily attend the “new” Mass. I am currently using NFP and many of my friends have used it and/or are using it for various reasons. I agree with your later points in the article about just causes. For the most part, it seems, we are agreed on the subject of NFP.

    I cannot, however, agree with your point about the contraceptive mentality. I absolutely agree with you that there is nothing about NFP that is contraceptive…and I think that needs to be explained more frequently so that it is understood. In the article, though, you declare that since NFP is not contraceptive it cannot have a contraceptive mentality. Your argument seems to miss the distinction between “contraceptive” and “contraceptive mentality”.

    First of all, I have never heard anyone say (but I don’t move in “Traditional” Catholic circles) that NFP has a contraceptive mentality. The mentality refers to the attitude a person or couple has – not NFP itself. I don’t think it is possible for a method of acting to possess a mentality since it is not capable of thought or attitude. The argument is generally that NFP can be USED with a contraceptive mentality.
    Secondly, one can easily have the mentality or attitude of a popular movement or action WITHOUT committing the action or being a part of the movement itself. Some examples, one can have a servile or slave mentality without actually being a slave; one can have the abortion mentality without ever having actually had an abortion; one can have a liberal mentality without voting or community organizing and such; one can have a fatherly mentality without ever having been a father. There is a difference between the attitude that belongs with a specific action or state of being and the act itself or state of being itself.
    Yes, the mentality has NOTHING TO DO with NFP!!! It is rather something that can coincide with the use of NFP. I disagree with those who argue that it is somehow inherently a part of the practice.
    So what exactly is this “contraceptive mentality” then? There are various answers, of course, as the term has been around for decades. Generally, the “contraceptive mentality” includes taking for granted the separation of intercourse from procreation and easily applies to those who think there is a moral obligation or responsibility to not have children or to limit the number of children for whatever reason – especially those who think one has a duty to limit one’s family to zero- three children no matter what.
    So just as one can have the attitude of a slave without actually being one, one can also have the attitude of the contracepting culture and contracepting couples without actually being a contracepting couple – the attitude that there is a duty to have as few kids as possible. Let’s get our token one, or our boy and girl and then stop. This is the attitude I have heard associated with the phrase “contraceptive mentality”. (Obviously, the term has been misunderstood as I see from this board.)
    The mentality applies not just to married couples, but to single, celibate and/or aged people as well. When Grandpa expects that son and daughter-in-law are going to stop after having their second child, that is an example of the “contraceptive mentality”. And so on. Even though it is perhaps impossible and definitely unnecessary for Grandpa to use contraception, he still subscribes to the contraceptive mentality prevalent in our culture.

    As a side note, reading through the comments, I realize that many people have a much more rigorous view of NFP and a misunderstanding of what the “contraceptive mentality” means…which is, I think, the reason for your post. However, rather than deny the connection it might be better to explain what exactly is meant and what is not meant by the term.

    Also, just a minor point…but I disagree with you also when you say: ”The “end”, “goal”, or “intention” of contraception (speaking in terms of moral theory) is to render a particular sexual act infertile.” With barrier methods this is true. However, with hormonal contraception (which still is classified as contraception) it is not. The “end” of hormonal contraception is not related to a particular sexual act…since it must be taken periodically (daily, monthly, quarterly, etc.) without reference to the sexual act at all. The “end” of hormonal contraception seems to be a temporary overall sterility rather than the infertility of a particular act.

    I will say again that I generally agree with you about NFP and I think it’s wonderful that you are teaching about it. Specifically, it is so very important for Catholics to understand WHY NFP is most definitely not contraceptive! Thank you for your ministry and vocation!

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