Archive for the ‘CCL Student Guide’ Category

Natural Family Planning: NFP and the Need for the Magisterium

Sunday, March 2nd, 2008

Everyone recognizes that there was widespread rejection of Humanae Vitae when it was issued.  In recent years some have opined that if John Paul II had written it based on what he would later write in his Theology of the Body, it would have been a different story.  In my opinion, that’s wishful thinking.  The anonymous authors of the Student Guide edition of The Art of Natural Family Planning (Couple to Couple League, 2007) might agree.  “In a certain sense, Paul VI’s teaching, while prophetic and absolutely consistent with the Gospel, had almost no hope of a legitimate hearing” because of the culture into which it was introduced (p. 7).  
     On the other hand, these authors seem to believe that the papal Theology of the Body is such a wonderful tool for understanding human love and sexuality that it can be a stand-alone source of teaching.  They do not state that explicitly, but they make no reference to the teaching authority of the Church.  Further, in the promotion of the new teaching program, the traditional program was criticized for allegedly expecting couples to accept the teaching of the Church just because the Church says so.  “Instruction: relied on the authority of Church for moral underpinnings of NFP.”  That’s a caricature of the traditional program, but it does contain the truth that we did not think that our covenant explanation was so good it could stand alone without the teaching authority of the Church.  Ours was an effort to practice theology in accord with St. Anselm’s dictum that theology is faith seeking understanding.  It also needs to be said that Pope John Paul II has provided no basis for us to think that he thought his Theology of the Body was a stand-alone position.  On several occasions after the conclusion of the TOB he referred in very strong terms to the teaching authority of the Church that is behind the teaching reaffirmed by Humanae Vitae
     The CCL Student Guide (SG) is admittedly difficult to evaluate on theological grounds because it is so vague.  However, I think it is fair to say that the authors think that an appeal to human dignity suffices to persuade readers of the merits of Catholic teaching on sexuality.  At the conclusion of a paragraph about being made in God’s image and likeness, the SG says, “The body then has a dignity and value in its own right” (p. 7).  CCL’s Extreme Makeover comparison says, “Instruction starts with person created by God as inspired by Theology of the Body.” 
     No Christian can dispute the power and wonder of the biblical teaching that we are made in the image and likeness of God, but that’s not the end of the story.  The SG goes on to say that contraception, pornography, lust and masturbation violate the dignity of the person (143).  I agree and wish that everybody did. 
     The problem is that the leading “Catholic” proponents of sodomy call their organization “Dignity,” certainly a shorthand way of affirming their opinion that such behavior is in accord with human dignity.    Further, some of the leading Catholic proponents of accepting contraception as morally acceptable have argued that contraception is in accord with the dignity of the human person.  Specifically, the minority of the papal birth control commission pointed out that the acceptance of contraception entailed the acceptance of non-marital relations, oral and anal copulation, masturbation, and direct sterilization.  The majority pro-contraception position replied that it too rejected oral and anal copulation because “in these acts there is preserved neither the dignity of love nor the dignity of the spouses as human persons created according to the image of God.”   Notice the language about persons made in the image and likeness of God.  I agree with them about those actions that constitute marital sodomy, but what they did NOT say is more important than what they actually said.  They failed to reply to the objection regarding other forms of contraceptive behaviors, thus implicitly arguing that the forms other than anal and oral copulation DID respect the dignity of human persons. 
     My point is this: when Catholics on contradictory sides of an argument each claim that their position upholds the dignity of the human person, how can the question be settled with certainty?  The only way is by an authoritative decision by an authority recognized to be guided by the Holy Spirit.  That is, the question can be decided only by the teaching authority of the Catholic Church.  Pope John Paul II recognized this and did not refer to his own Theology of the Body as the vehicle to reaffirm Catholic teaching on birth control in a decisive way.  Instead, on at least five occasions after the completion of his Theology of the Body, John Paul II reaffirmed the teaching of Humanae Vitae by referring to the authoritative Tradition of the Church.  You can find these summarized on page 148 of Chapter 7 of the book in my signature below.   It is clear that John Paul II did not intend his Theology of the Body to be used to denigrate in any way the argument and explanation from authority.  The Extreme Makeover’s antagonistic comparison of the traditional course and the new course on this point has no foundation in the words and actions of John Paul II himself. 
     It is sometimes alleged or inferred that there is something almost degrading about accepting something by way of obedience to the teaching authority of the Church.  Sometimes the phrase “blind obedience”  is used to insinuate that such obedience is contrary to the dignity of the human person.  I agree that blind obedience to another person or organization can be highly contrary to human dignity, but not every obedience is blind.  Teachers say, “Students, open your books to page 51.”  Respectful students recognize the teacher’s legitimate authority and obey.  Athletic team players obey their coaches or they find themselves as spectators.  Governments tell us to obey traffic signals.  The military teaches something very close to blind obedience; orders are not to be questioned, at least not at the time.  In all of these cases, obedience is rationalized on various grounds of legitimate authority.  Blind obedience is given when someone obeys someone who has no legitimate authority to ask for obedience. 
     Of all the kinds of obedience that a person can give, the one which is most in accord with his dignity as a person is obedience to the teaching authority of the Catholic Church.  This authority has been established by God himself.  It is as far as it can be from blind obedience.  Obedience to such a divinely instituted authority is religious obedience, based on the reasons for being Catholic in the first place.  You can find much more on this in my book listed in my signature below.  Allow me to suggest that if you are at all interested in the covenant theology of human sexuality and the birth control debate as it unfolded in the Sixties and continued into the Seventies and to the present time, you will gain much from reading this book.  

NEXT WEEK:  The purpose of NFP instruction

John F. Kippley
Sex and the Marriage Covenant: A Basis for Morality (Ignatius)
Natural Family Planning: The Question-Answer Book, online at

Natural Family Planning: The Muting of Morality

Sunday, February 24th, 2008

In a press release kit called the “EXTREME MAKEOVER” issued December 12, 2007, the Couple to Couple League (CCL) announced its “extreme” changes in its NFP teaching program.  Normally I would not use the term “extreme” in or out of quotes to describe CCL’s changes, but that’s the term that CCL management has chosen.  As co-founders of the program that is being changed, my wife, Sheila, and I have a number of concerns.  We certainly do not approve of its extremely different approach to morality.  Here’s what we wrote about some specific behaviors in the Fourth Edition of The Art of Natural Family Planning:
     “Some couples may be tempted to try to beat the system by using condoms or other barrier methods of contraception during the fertile time.  As you will discover more fully in Chapters 18 and 19, such activities are immoral.  Other couples may be tempted to engage in masturbation, whether mutual or solitary, or in marital sodomy.  (Anatomically, marital sodomy is the same form of anal and oral activity engaged in by those who do homosexual sodomy.)  Such activities are really forms of contraceptive behavior and are likewise condemned by the Christian Tradition as seriously immoral.  When you are using NFP to avoid pregnancy, you are called to chaste abstinence during the fertile time.  A combination of fertility awareness and sexual immorality during the fertile time is not natural family planning “ (pp. 247-248).
      Here’s the makeover’s version in CCL’s new book, The Art of Natural Family Planning: Student Guide:
“Who would want to violate his own body?  Sometimes we do this without realizing it.  For example, contraception—the use of mechanical, chemical or medical procedures to prevent conception from taking place as a result of sexual intercourse—involves the alteration of a healthy, major functioning part of the body.  Therefore, it is a use of oneself and is unworthy of our dignity and value.  Similarly, since pornography, lust and masturbation involve the use of oneself (and sometimes another), they also violate the dignity of the entire person” (p. 143, emphasis in original).
     Notice that there is no mention of withdrawal, one of the most widely practiced contraceptive behaviors.  In the 4th edition, we discussed it in Chapters 1 and 18.  Will CCL’s Student Guide talk get through to people who are tempted to that sort of sin?  Will the makeover’s muted talk about morality get through to people who have been engaged in various sinful behaviors for years?  It’s not impossible, but it’s very iffy. 
     On the other hand, I know for certain that our brief but direct mention of these sins has gotten through to people.  A woman trained by another NFP program told me by phone that for eight years she and her husband practiced “NFP”—with mutual masturbation during the fertile time.  They stopped the immoral practice when she read a few crucial lines in our book.  Two current CCL teaching couples have told me that they were practicing their own form of “NFP” with immoral behaviors during the fertile time.  Then they read our few sentences above.  They were people of general good will who had rationalized their way into such behaviors.  After all, how many of us have done the same thing in one way or another.  You know how it goes.  “Well, none of the authorities have told us it’s wrong so it must be okay.”  The couples above changed their behavior.  The latter two not only repented but became CCL teachers so that they could help others avoid falling into the same trap. 
     Some of CCL’s teachers defend this and call it a softer approach.  I call it the muting of morality.  Whatever it is, the change in moral teaching is another extreme departure from the traditional program that served the Church well for some 36 years in CCL, and the traditional direct approach still serves well in NFP International. 

NEXT WEEK:  NFP and the Magisterium

John F. Kippley
Sex and the Marriage Covenant: A Basis for Morality (Ignatius)
Natural Family Planning: The Question-Answer Book, available at

Natural Family Planning: An Unprovable “Best” or Most Complete?

Sunday, February 17th, 2008

In CCL’S EXTREME MAKEOVER promotion of its new NFP teaching program, there is a studied effort to make the new program look better than the old.  The December promotion was so derogatory to the traditional program that CCL issued a message in January to its in-house cadre advising them to be prudent in comparing the two programs.  “Since the old program served us faithfully and well for more than 30 years,” CCL teachers should be “thoughtful” when they discuss “the relative merits of the old course versus the new.” 
     Comparisons are frequently odious, and whenever someone calls his product the “best” or even “better” than other programs, a thoughtful person wants to know the basis for comparison.  That’s why I tried to avoid ever calling CCL the better or the best program when I was its president or executive director.  I believed that such verbiage would be recognized as propaganda by any thinking person, and that any investigation of such claims would quickly lead to highly subjective claims or interpretations about what is good, better and best in the field of NFP instruction and practice.
     On the other hand, toward the end of my time with CCL, I began to hear talk about making CCL the best in every way—the best program, the best-trained teachers, the best materials, etc.  Someone once said that “best” is the enemy of the good.  You can spend so much time trying to be perfect that you lose sight of the goal and don’t get the job done.  That perspective influenced me when I was with CCL.  To be sure, we tried to get better all the time, but our goal was not mythical perfection or some arbitrary claim of being “the best.”  Our goal was a high level of adequacy, doing well the job that needed to be done, and I think we succeeded at that goal.  
     My contention during those years was that CCL had the most complete program.  Such a claim is readily verifiable.  Such a statement of itself makes no claim that the program is better or best, and it is obvious that those who teach in other programs might agree with the completeness claim but still not think it was any more appropriate for those they seek to serve.  It is on that basis that Sheila and I have been criticizing the new CCL program.  There should be no debate on the facts of the matter.  The value of excluding certain key elements remains a subject of debate on which we have very definite convictions. 
     Here I want only to quickly state three basic factual points and then move on to a new point next week.
1.  Ecological breastfeeding has been dropped from the extreme makeover program. 
2.  The simple-to-grasp covenant theology of human sexuality has been dropped.
3.  The concept of having different rules for different situations has been dropped.  The makeover program says it has only one rule, but that rule recognizes three different situations, so it actually becomes three rules. 

Therefore it is clear that the EXTREME MAKEOVER has yielded a program that is less complete than the traditional program that served well for 36 years.  The League still uses the term “The Triple Strand approach,” but the content has been reduced and “extremely” changed as CCL has been pleased to tell the worldWhether such changes have made the CCL program good or better or worse or best is a legitimate matter for discussion and debate.  

 A TRADITIONAL LENTEN REMINDER.  The reading from Joel on Ash Wednesday has a line in it about the bridegroom departing from the bridal chamber.  That has traditionally been seen as a call to abstinence from the marriage act during Lent.  If you accept that challenge, please be sure to offer this sacrifice as a living prayer for a rebirth of chastity as well as penance for past sins of whatever nature.   

 NEXT WEEK:  The Muting of Morality

John F. Kippley
Sex and the Marriage Covenant: A Basis for Morality (Ignatius)
Natural Family Planning: The Question-Answer Book, online at