Archive for the ‘Morality’ Category

Chaste Natural Family Planning

Sunday, October 4th, 2020

Your Right to Know: Chaste Natural Family Planning

The organized natural family planning movement started in the mid-1960s in reaction to the rejection of traditional moral teaching about birth control. Catholic teaching against contraception can be traced back to the New Testament and even has its roots in the Book of Genesis. The teaching against marital contraception was universal among all Christian churches until 1930. In August of that year, the Church of England was the first organized Christian body to break from that teaching and to allow marital contraception in some cases. Pope Pius XI quickly reaffirmed, on December 31 of that year, that contraception is the grave matter of mortal sin (Casti Connubii, n.56). The big majority of Catholics formed their consciences accordingly during the Thirties through the Fifties.

The advent of the birth control pill in 1960 raised new questions, and many Catholics erroneously assumed that the Church would change its teaching. In 1968, Pope Paul VI issued the encyclical Humanae Vitae which reaffirmed the traditional teaching to a Church and a world that had become increasingly contraceptive. A priest at Catholic University of America led a movement for dissent, and many priests were telling their parishioners that they no longer had to form their consciences according to the actual teaching of the Church. Most bishops in the West treated the issue as a “hot potato” to use the words of New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan. Many or most Catholics, to say nothing of non-Catholics who respected the Church for its moral teaching, were confused.

The dissent movement provided a great stimulus to the NFP movement, largely led by the laity. Sheila and I became involved in 1968. That summer she researched and wrote her first book, Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing, and I wrote Covenant, Christ and Contraception which was the predecessor of the current Sex and the Marriage Covenant.Publications by dissenters soon made it clear that the acceptance of marital contraception also involved the acceptance of the entire sexual revolution with its situation ethics that cannot say “no” to any imaginable sexual activity between consenting persons of legal age, and even includes the acceptance of bestiality.

People have a need and a right to know specific moral teaching and to see that teaching in the context of Christian discipleship. Why bother to state something that seems so obvious? Within the NFP movement, some have said that modern NFP systems are so good as a method of birth control that we don’t need to say anything about morality. They seem to think that to teach Catholic morality is to bring in a crutch, as if the method couldn’t stand on its own. I think that approach is seriously flawed.

Moral teaching has at least two obvious functions. One is to tell us what to do and what not to do. The second function is to explain why something is good or evil, why we ought to do some things and not do other things. The context for moral teaching is a holy combination of Bible and Tradition.

The Ten Commandments are the prime example of telling us what to do and what not do. They are also a prime example that God’s commandments are much more of a blessing than a burden. It is true, of course, that at times it is very difficult to say “No” to temptations against the Commandments, and that’s a burden, but a little reflection reveals that each Commandment is much more of a blessing.

Just consider what a culture would be like if its members were not constrained by the Commandments. You don’t have to exercise your imagination; just pay attention to the daily news. In the United States we are living with two or three generations of men and women who have received no moral and religious education in the public schools. As Sheila and I watch the evening local news, we commonly hear a litany of robberies, beatings, shootings, murders, and sexual crimes including rape. I feel almost as sorry for the criminals as for the victims. When would most of these criminals have been taught that these crimes are seriously sinful and are putting them on the path to hell?

Excluding God from public education wasn’t part of the game plan of the Founding Fathers. The first tax-supported legislation for education in Massachusetts was called the Old Deluder Act. Its purpose was to prevent the work of the devil. The Ten Commandments are so necessary for the well-being of society that some skeptics have claimed that they were not revealed by God but are simply the accumulation of human wisdom. Even the commandment dealing with keeping holy the day of worship could be rationalized because experience shows that people do not function well without at least one day of rest per week.

Three of the Ten Commandments prescribe our relationship with God. Seven of them describe our relationship with each other. One of these is concerned with our parents, six deal with everyone else, and they are all stated in the negative—Thou shalt not… Of these, two deal with sexuality. That is, one-third of the Commandments dealing with ordinary relationships are concerned with sex. So it should not be a surprise that the Catholic Church has to keep addressing sexual issues.

Moral teaching is, of course, not confined to the texts of the Ten Commandments. For example, they say nothing directly about fornication, incest, sodomy, contraception, prostitution, usury, and all sorts of social injustices including slavery. These are subsets of the Commandments, so to speak, and are addressed in other places in the Bible and in the Sacred Tradition of the Church. It is important to realize that Jesus did not give us an expanded book but instead gave his Church the Holy Spirit to guide the teaching of the Church. This is called the Magisterium or teaching authority of the Church.

The Onan account. In Chapter 38 of Genesis, we read the story of Onan who is slain by God for his contraceptive sin of withdrawal. The anti-contraception interpretation was provided in the footnotes of Catholic bibles for many years, and probably Protestant bibles as well. After all, Luther called the sin of Onan a form of sodomy, and Calvin called it a form of homicide. The writers of the footnotes in the New American Bible of 1970, writing at a time when they were undoubtedly influenced by the spirit of dissent raging in the Sixties, changed that interpretation and wrote that it was only for his violation of the Law of the Levirate, a sin of selfishness, that Onan was slain. (The Levirate required the brother of a childless widow to give her children who would be considered as children of the dead brother.) However, the text of Deuteronomy 25:5:10 spells out the punishment for the selfish refusal to fulfill the Levirate, and it is only an embarrassment, not a death penalty. Further, in the Onan account there are three people who violated the Levirate—Onan, Judah his father, and Shelah his younger brother—but the only one to receive the death penalty is the one who went through the motions of the covenant act but made it an act of contraception.

I have inserted this short note on the Onan account because dissenters keep bringing up the Levirate-only interpretation or claim that they have no idea for what sin Onan was slain. For a more complete treatment, please see .

The all-important context of the New Testament is the teaching of the Lord Jesus about the daily cross. “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it” (Luke 9:23-24). Of course that does not mean that just because something is difficult, it is demanded by the Lord. But when a teaching of the Church is denied primarily because it involves carrying the daily cross, the argument is simply meaningless in terms of Christian discipleship. Yet, that is the theological nonsense that is behind the dissent movement.

I do not mean to imply that many Catholics have been deceived by the dissenters’ “can’t say no to anything” arguments. I suspect that few have read them. No, they have accepted contraception because they have been seduced by the culture and have heard almost nothing from the pulpit or other avenues of adult Catholic education to contradict the culture and to affirm the teaching of Humanae Vitae. And perhaps many of them, seeing public criticism of Catholic teaching on birth control but never hearing it supported from their local priest or bishop, rationalize that such silence means consent to dissent.

Ordinary people have both a need and a right to know what the Catholic Church teaches about love, marriage and sexuality—and why.

John F. Kippley

Natural Family Planning and Catholic Moral Teaching

Sunday, September 27th, 2020

Your Right to Know: Catholic Moral Teaching Moral teaching in the NFP course.

It is well known to the general public that the Catholic Church teaches against the use of contraception. It is also common knowledge that most Catholics, at least in the Western world, ignore this teaching. Many may wonder why the Church continues to teach in this way, and I intend to address that more fully in a future blog. For the present I will say only that the Church cannot and will not change its teaching on love, marriage, and sexuality including birth control because (1) the Lord has created his Church as the “pillar and bulwark of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15) and (2) because marital contraception is intrinsically dishonest. That is, sexual intercourse is intended by God to be at least implicitly a renewal of the marriage covenant. It is supposed to be a bodily way of reaffirming the faith, the love, the commitment, the total self-gift and the better-and-for-worse of the marriage covenant. But the body language of marital contraception says “I take you for better but positively not for the imagined worse of possible pregnancy.” That contradicts the marriage covenant and makes it dishonest.

What needs to be taught in an NFP course? The NFP course cannot be a course in moral theology for at least two reasons—time constraints and also because many or most NFP teachers would feel quite inadequate in trying to teach moral theology. However, anyone teaching NFP can be expected to convey standard Catholic teaching relevant to NFP and sexuality.

God calls married couples to generosity in having children and raising them in the ways of the Lord. Marriage is for family. “Natural family planning” is not “Catholic birth control.”

•When couples have a sufficiently serious reason to avoid or postpone pregnancy, they may resort to the periodic abstinence of systematic natural family planning. To put it another way, couples do need a sufficiently serious reason to use systematic NFP for postponing or avoiding pregnancy. They certainly do not need a life or death situation as their reason, but they are called to be generous, not selfish.

•No such reason is needed for ecological breastfeeding. No mother can force her baby to nurse. A mother simply needs to want what is best for her child, follow the Seven Standards, and let nature take its course.

The “method” of systematic NFP is chaste abstinence from the marriage act during the fertile time. That excludes using contraceptive behaviors during the fertile time as well as at any other time. That excludes not only barrier methods but also masturbation (whether solitary or mutual) and sodomy whether oral or anal. Chaste abstinence does not mean that spouses have to live as brother and sister, but they are to avoid stimulating themselves into orgasm.

Whether Catholic or Protestant or an unbeliever, you have a right to know these teachings. When they are taught in the context of Christian discipleship, they make sense. I am not suggesting that it is easy to convey these teachings, especially those in the last paragraph above, but couples have a right to know them. Given the low level of purity even at the high school level in many areas, it is quite possible that any given person in the NFP class has already engaged in some of these immoral behaviors. When they hear “abstinence,” they may well think of one or more of these behaviors as a way to do “NFP” and avoid the difficulty of sexual self-control. They know that the NFP teacher knows about these behaviors, and if they hear nothing, they may well rationalize that silence means consent. I have had first-hand reports from people who did.

In my opinion, Catholic moral teaching in an NFP course needs to be placed in the context of Christian discipleship. When a person appreciates the love that the Lord Jesus has for us, and the price He paid, and that He truly did promise to keep the truth about love alive in His Church, then when His teaching about the daily cross is applied to marital love and sexuality, it all makes sense. This is what we have tried to do in Chapter 1 of our manual, Natural Family Planning: The Complete Approach at

John F. Kippley

Natural Family Planning and the Teaching of Morality

Sunday, December 15th, 2019

The history of the Church’s teaching on this issue of chaste abstinence during the female cycle goes back to 1853.  About 1850 French veterinarians realized that mammals have a fertility cycle, and they speculated about humans.  (They speculated that the time of menses was the fertile time.  They could have been spared that error if they had paid any attention to the biblical rules against the marriage act during menses and then another five days.)  Despite the factual error, the issue reached the Vatican, and in 1853 the Sacred Paenitentiary stated that it was morally permissible for spouses to abstain during the fertile time for purposes of avoiding pregnancy provided they had serious reasons and did not engage in immoral activities during the time of abstinence.  The issue as raised again in Spain, and in 1880 the Sacred Paenitentiary reaffirmed its 1853 statement.  In Casti Connubii Pope Pius XI not only condemned contraceptive behavior but also mentioned “virtuous continence which Christian law permits in matrimony when both parties consent…” (n. 53. Dec 31, 1930).

With regard to intent, I cannot think of any action, physical or spiritual, that cannot be made bad by a bad intention.  That’s why it is important for dioceses and parishes to require that NFP instruction provided under their auspices should include Catholic moral teaching including the call to generosity.  NFP instruction that is essentially just an amoral organ recital is seriously deficient.

John Kippley