Natural Family Planning: An Opportunity Missed by the Pope

Airplane interviews: An opportunity to tell the world about natural family planning.

In his trip back to Rome from Mexico on the night of February 17 and early morning of the 18th, Pope Francis was asked about the Zika situation. Here is the question from a Spanish reporter: “As regards avoiding pregnancy, on this issue, can the Church take into consideration the concept of “the lesser of two evils?”

For the record, I will quote the Pope’s reply toward the end of this blog, but first I want to write what I wish he had said.

“I’m glad you raised that question. It gives me the opportunity to share with you the great blessings of natural family planning.

First of all, you need to understand that there are only three 100% methods of avoiding pregnancy. Male castration. Female castration. And 100% abstinence from the marriage act.

Second, all forms of hormonal birth control have the potential to cause an early abortion by thinning out the lining of the uterus. That happens when “breakthrough” ovulation occurs, conception takes place, but the newly conceived baby is denied implantation in the uterus and is thus destroyed. Furthermore, the chemicals in the Pill have been classified by the World Health Organization as belonging to the worst class of carcinogens. The epidemic of breast cancer did not “just happen.”

Third, with barrier methods of contraception, it is just a matter of time and frequency before a surprise pregnancy occurs.

That’s why I am happy to tell you about natural family planning. In brief, cross-checking forms of natural family planning can be practiced at the 99% level of effectiveness. Furthermore, when spouses use natural family planning in a very conservative way and engage in the marriage act only during post-ovulation infertility, the surprise pregnancy rate will be even closer to zero.

To be sure, you will say or think, “But that requires self-control. You can’t really expect that of ordinary people.” Well, yes, abstinence is difficult and can even be considered a cross. But isn’t that what Christian discipleship is all about? Of course it is. Hasn’t Jesus told us that if we want to be his disciples we must pick up our cross daily and follow him? I want to call your attention to the second reading at Mass this coming weekend (Feb 20-21). “…many, as I have often told you and now tell you even in tears, conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction. Their God is their belly; their glory is in their shame.”   In other words, St. Paul is telling us, “Don’t be an enemy of the Cross.”

My friends, here’s something else I want you to remember. Animals “have sex.” That’s instinct. But human persons are more than just animals. Only human persons can enter the marriage covenant and pledge lifelong love and fidelity, for better and for worse. When married couples engage in sexual union, they engage in what Christians call the marriage act. As Saint John Paul II taught in his Letter to Families, “In the conjugal act, husband and wife are called to confirm in a responsible way the mutual gift of self which they have made to each other in the marriage covenant.” In other words, their marriage act ought to be a renewal of their marriage covenant, for better and for worse—even for the imagined worse of possible pregnancy. On the other hand, if they use contraception, the body language of their acts clearly says, “I take you for better but definitely NOT for the imagined worse of possible pregnancy. So the contradicts their marriage covenant. It is dishonest.”


For the record, here is the rest of the relevant transcript.

The Pope replied: “Abortion is not the lesser of two evils. It is a crime. It is to throw someone out in order to save another. That’s what the Mafia does. It is a crime, an absolute evil. On the ‘lesser evil,’ avoiding pregnancy, we are speaking in terms of the conflict between the fifth and sixth commandment. Paul VI, a great man, in a difficult situation in Africa, permitted nuns to use contraceptives in cases of rape.

“Don’t confuse the evil of avoiding pregnancy by itself, with abortion. Abortion is not a theological problem, it is a human problem, it is a medical problem. You kill one person to save another, in the best case scenario. Or to live comfortably, no?  It’s against the Hippocratic oaths doctors must take. It is an evil in and of itself, but it is not a religious evil in the beginning, no, it’s a human evil. Then obviously, as with every human evil, each killing is condemned.”

JFK: A necessary clarification. For example, a lesser evil can still be a very grave evil. A sanitized murder is a lesser evil than a murder preceded by hours of torture, but it is still a grave moral evil.

Pope Francis concluded his reply this way:

“On the other hand, avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil. In certain cases, as in this one, or in the one I mentioned of Blessed Paul VI, it was clear. I would also urge doctors to do their utmost to find vaccines against these two mosquitoes that carry this disease. This needs to be worked on.”

JFK: In my previous blog, I pointed out that there is no valid comparison between the Zika situation and giving nuns in danger of rape a contraceptive. That has a long tradition of such self- defense in Catholic moral theology.

The language of Pope Francis was unclear, but he did NOT say that it is permissible for married couples to use unnatural forms of birth control even though they have a serious reason to avoid pregnancy. Perhaps one reason he was ambiguous about this is that he doesn’t fully understand what God and His Church offer by way of natural family planning.

John F. Kippley, Feb 21, 2016

Natural Family Planning International,
Sheila and I are trying to do our part. We have made our NFP manual, Natural Family Planning: The Complete Approach, available to everyone who has access to the Internet. Free for those who call themselves poor. A $10 donation requested for those who can afford it. The complete approach means we teach all the fertility signs, ecological breastfeeding, and Catholic teaching.  For those interested in learning more about NFP, we have an online Home Study Course.

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