Archive for the ‘NFP Week 2010’ Category

Can Bishops Require Natural Family Planning Instruction?

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

Can bishops require natural family planning instruction?

At the recent Fertility Conference in Milwaukee (July 15-17), the miniscule numbers of Catholics using natural family planning was duly reported.  The question of requiring a complete NFP course as a normal part of preparation for marriage was raised, and that in turn raised another question.  Can bishops and priests make this requirement with any teeth in it? 
         Can they actually refuse to allow a refuse-to-attend couple to marry in the Church?  A moral theologian at the conference noted that Catholics, like everyone else, have a natural right to marry.  Thus, the Church cannot enact rules for marriage preparation that would deny this right.  I agree a hundred percent. 
         But there is something called leverage.  By canon law, the priest cannot refuse to witness the marriage of a man and woman who are qualified to marry, but that doesn’t mean that he has to agree with their choice of place.  If a couple refuses to accept an NFP-course requirement, the priest can calmly tell them that he is obliged by the law of the Church to witness their marriage.  Further, he can witness their exchange of vows either in the Church building or he can witness it in the rectory.  The choice is theirs. 
         The precedent for this is long established.  When I was young, it was common policy that if a Catholic married a Protestant or other non-Catholic, the wedding would take place in the rectory, not the church.  I witnessed such a wedding between my Aunt Harriette and her Lutheran husband. 
         Thus the answer to our question is obvious.  The bishop or even an individual priest can require attendance at an NFP course as a normal part of preparation for marriage.  But will it do any good?  Does the course need to be much more than “Catholic birth control”?  Should the NFP course be an exercise in evangelization?

Tomorrow:  The NFP course as evangelization.

John F. Kippley
Sex and the Marriage Covenant
Natural Family Planning: The Complete Approach

Creating the natural family planning market: Whose Responsible?

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

Creating the NFP market: whose responsibility?

I believe the answer to that question is found in Romans 10.  After proclaiming the importance of faith in the Lord Jesus for salvation in verses 1-13, St. Paul continues:  “But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed?  And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without a preacher?  And how can men preach unless they are sent?”

Let’s paraphrase that in reference to natural family planning as a means of marital chastity.  How are couples to know and believe that it is the grave matter of mortal sin to use unnatural forms of birth control unless they are told?  And how are couples to know that natural forms of conception regulation provide a moral and effective way to postpone or avoid pregnancy unless they learn?  And how will most couples learn without attending a course?  And how can they attend a course unless they are sent?  It is obvious that the vast majority are certainly not coming on their own.

In 1989 a committee of American bishops issued a small book on preparation for marriage.  Of special note to us, they urged that every engaged couple should be required to attend a complete course on natural family planning, not just a session squeezed into a busy pre-Cana day.  As of this writing, only six dioceses have such a requirement.  Furthermore, in succeeding USCCB documents on natural family planning (2006) and marriage (2009), the requirement was not mentioned. 

It appears to me that many bishops have hoped that the NFP movement could do the job without much help from bishops and priests.  The stark reality is that the government numbers are telling the bishops that very few Catholics are living chaste and holy marriages.  Granted, the National Survey of Family Growth figures have problems.  They do not include women who are breastfeeding, or letting the babies come as they may, or are infertile or pregnant.  A skeptic might think that many of those surveyed may have been Catholic in name only.  Undoubtedly.  But a look at those who attend church every Sunday is hardly encouraging.  Yes, the NFP use is much higher; it jumps all the way up to a whopping four-tenths of one percent among every-Sunday churchgoers. 

The bottom line is that bishops and priests need to require the right kind of NFP course as a normal part of preparation for marriage. 

Tomorrow:  Can bishops require natural family planning instruction?

John F. Kippley
Sex and the Marriage Covenant
Natural Family Planning: The Complete Approach

The Natural Family Planning Movement: 1971-2010

Monday, July 26th, 2010

The NFP movement 1971-2010:  Forty years of near futility

Starting from ground zero in 1971, we saw great growth in numbers up through 1980 when we taught 9,084 new couples.  I suspect that other programs experienced somewhat similar results.  There was a market.  Millions of American Catholics still believed Catholic teaching on birth control despite all the dissent.
        In 1981, our numbers started to drop, and they continued to drop about 15% each year well into the 1990s.   We had more teachers and better materials.  Why did we see fewer couples each year?
        The contraceptive culture of the Western world plus a generally contraceptive culture within Catholic education and parishes combined to produce the current reality.
        The year 1981 was Humanae Vitae plus 13.  A couple getting married in 1981 could have gone through 12 years of Catholic education starting in fifth grade and all the way through college and never heard a good word about Catholic teaching on birth control.  Worse yet, if the spouses attended Catholic schools all the way through, they were probably exposed to anti-Humanae Vitae teaching both in high school and in college.   From the general culture they would have absorbed the idea that contraception is normative in marriage, and once into the Eighties they could have fallen victim to the notion of sex as sport.  From their Catholic culture, they would have absorbed the idea that the Pope was isolated and that contraception was acceptable.
        By and large the Natural Family Planning movement focused on the signs of fertility.  Some thought that NFP was so good as a means of birth control that NFP instructors no longer had to convey Catholic teaching on sexual morality within marriage.  Some of the NFP brochures relied so much on Hollywood-type images that they appeared to be using sex to sell their product.
        The NFP movement remained fragmented all during these 40 years.  I tried to form a national NFP association, but the idea never gained traction.   Thus there was never a unified effort to lobby within the Church for more emphasis on the teaching of marital chastity.

Tomorrow:  Creating the market: whose responsibility?

John F. Kippley
Sex and the Marriage Covenant
Natural Family Planning: The Complete Approach