What is Natural Family Planning (or NFP)?
This refers to the practice of achieving or avoiding pregnancies according to an informed awareness of a woman's fertility.
Is NFP morally acceptable for Catholics?
NFP is only permitted under certain conditions. In addition, if it is used to avoid children, there must be a serious reason for not wanting to have a child. Without these conditions, it is gravely sinful, as Pope Pius XII said.
Can you explain this a little more?
Any act or thing which directly frustrates or stops conception is a serious sin in the eyes of God. This includes all artificial birth control. NFP is not directly sinful because it does not directly frustrate conception. It is not any action or thing. It is simply periodic abstinence; meaning that the married couple refrains from the marital act at certain times. Because of this, NFP must be judged in the same way as abstinence itself.
How does the Catholic Church judge abstinence?
When a man and woman marry, they give over to their spouse the rights over their own body to perform the marital act. In a sense, their body no longer belongs to them but to their spouse. Because of this, it is a grave sin for one spouse to deny the other the marital act when it is requested in a reasonable way. This is a grave responsibility for married couples. Abstinence from the marital act then, including periodic abstinence, can only be permitted in certain conditions for serious reasons.
What are these conditions and reasons which are necessary for a married couple to practice periodic abstinence (or NFP?)
The first condition is that there must be a mutual agreement to abstain from the marital act. If either spouse is unwilling, the abstinence would be forced. This means that one spouse would deny the other the right which properly belongs to him or her. It would be gravely sinful for the person who denies this right to his or her spouse.
The second condition is that there must be no danger of either spouse sinning against chastity, either on his or her own, or with someone else. Any serious danger in this regard is enough to prohibit abstinence, whether periodic or complete. God can never justify sin, even to bring about a good effect.
The simple fact that the two conditions related above do not pose a problem is not reason enough for a married couple to use NFP. There must also be a real and serious reason for doing so. After all, abstinence, whether periodic or complete, is not normal marital life.
The reasons serious enough to allow the practice of periodic abstinence (or NFP) were given by Pope Pius XII. These reasons do not change with time.
They are the following:
How does a Catholic married couple know if any reason they have is serious enough to justify using NFP?
It's not enough that the couple themselves believe their condition is serious. They must also have the advice of a good Catholic-minded doctor, if it is a medical question; and the permission of a good Catholic priest nefore they can start practicing periodic abstinence.
Why won't the advice of any doctor or priest suffice?
Because today most doctors have the contraception mentality. They openly promote artificial contraception (which is always morally wrong), and would have no problem with a married couple practicing NFP for any reason or no reason at all. Many would even consider you as foolish for not doing so.
Unfortunately, the same mentality is often prevalent among priests. Although many do advise against artificial contraception, they often promote NFP without any regard for the conditions and reasons given by the Catholic Church which are necessary to practice it. It is hailed as a great thing for married couples. It is treated as something normal to married life, when in fact it is not.
Why do many say that NFP is such a good thing?
Several reasons. Firstly, they take the stand that married couples today are going to practice some kind of family planning or birth regulation regardless of the fact that it is usually against the law of God. Therefore, to make them avoid artificial contraception which is condemned, they widely promote NFP as the answer.
Also, they claim that a couple's marital relationship is strengthened by the use of NFP. They even state that most couples claim it has a positive effect on their marriages. However, we often find benefits for the things we want to have.
Is it true that practicing NFP can actually help one's marriage?
No. Although the practice of periodic abstinence may help some couples learn to respect each other more, and communicate better, it is often gained at a severe price. How many in practicing NFP fall into sins against chastity? How many end up denying their spouse who would really like to make love, simply because it is not the right time of the month? How many times does the practice of NFP put a strain on marriages? Reports and figures are never given to such questions as these.
In addition, the good effects stated above could be gained by the same couples who practice NFP if they would live a normal marital life. This is because sacrifice is built into every marriage. There are always occasions when spouses must refrain from the marital act due to illness, the birth of a child, travel away from home, or any number of reasons. The same occasions for self-control, respect, and improved communications are present for all couples due to the normal circumstances of married life. Despite all its adherents, practicing NFP does not create an improved normal marital life. It is an abnormal practice, which can only be justified in certain serious conditions.
Is there anything else to say about NFP?
Just this; even when a couple has a serious reason to practice NFP, it is not meant to become a permanent way of living. As soon as the condition improves, the couple must return to normal marital life.
Also, it needs to be stressed that couples must not judge their own case by themselves. Especially when it comes to financial situations, couples often too easily justify the practice of NFP. The financial condition must be very serious, and it must be present now, not just foreseen in the future. Often the financial reason is simply used as an excuse to avoid the responsibility of having more children. If couples consult a good priest, they will not deceive themselves, nor offend God.
Many of the difficulties today among married couples which involve the acceptance of having a child, or more children, are linked to a lack of trust in God. We live in a world where we want to control and plan every aspect of our lives. However, there are certain things that we cannot or must not control. Conceiving children is an example. No married couple is in total control of having children, even if they want to. Many would like to and cannot. Others judge that they know better than their good Father in heaven how many children they should have and when. If married couples would only abandon themselves more into the hands of God by living normal marital lives, and trust Him completely, they would find a peace and happiness which only God can give. Our good Father in heaven knows just how many children each married couple should have and can handle. All He asks is our trust to bring about His plan.
- CATHOLIC APOLOGETICS -