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2/11/2014 10:32:00 AM
Family planning need be 'natural' for Catholics
Catholic News Service photoPoster from the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities promotes natural family planning as a way for married couples to deepen their love and achieve responsible parenthood.

Catholic News Service photo
Poster from the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities promotes natural family planning as a way for married couples to deepen their love and achieve responsible parenthood.

Church teaching

• "The Church is coherent with herself when she considers recourse to the infecund periods to be licit, while at the same time condemning, as being always illicit, the use of means directly contrary to fecundation, even if such use is inspired by reasons which may appear honest and serious. In reality, there are essential differences between the two cases; in the former, the married couple make legitimate use of a natural disposition; in the latter, they impede the development of natural processes." (Pope Paul VI, Humanae vitae, 1968)

• "To accept the cycle and to enter into dialogue means to recognize both spiritual and corporal character of conjugal communion, and to live personal love with its requirement of fidelity. In this context the couple comes to experience how conjugal communion is enriched with those values of tenderness and affection which constitute the inner soul of human sexuality in its physical dimension also. (Pope John Paul II, Familiaris consortio, 1981.)

• The innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2370)

For Catholic couples, family planning means using the natural way to avoid pregnancy — no devices, drugs or surgical procedures.  

Couples are to use natural family planning, or NFP. That's an umbrella term for pregnancy prevention methods based on observation of the naturally occurring signs and symptoms of the fertile and infertile phases of a woman's menstrual cycle. Couples using NFP to avoid pregnancy abstain from intercourse and genital contact during the fertile phase of the woman's cycle. 

"NFP reflects the dignity of the human person within the context of marriage and family life, promotes openness to life, and recognizes the value of the child," says the marriage and family office of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "By respecting the love-giving and life-giving natures of marriage, NFP can enrich the bond between husband and wife."

Father Tad Pacholczyk, director of education at The National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, concedes that married Catholics struggle to understand the moral difference between using contraceptives to avoid a pregnancy and using NFP. To many, both are using human knowledge to avoid pregnancy. 

But the difference, Father Pacholczyk says, is that by using artificial contraception, the couple cuts the link between the conjugal act and a possible baby. The natural purpose, or telos, of sexuality is to draw man and woman together to procreate and raise children in the family unit, he explains.  

"Any time a married couple engages in sexual activity that has been intentionally rendered infertile by contraception, they are powerfully acting against the telos of the sexual act they share," Father Pacholczyk wrote in a 2011 column. "Contraception strikes at the heart of the marital act."

The priest says using contraception is contradictory behavior, seeking to perform a procreative act while simultaneously blocking it. 

But by using NFP, the couple are not acting in a contradictory way, but are respecting the natural order, says Father Pacholczyk. The contraceptive couple make themselves infertile while the NFP couples work with a natural infertility.  

In Oregon, Northwest Family Services is the foremost instructor of NFP. The organization has been offering classes for 25 years. 

NFP is no longer guess work and is not calendar-based, the organization says. The condition of cervical mucus and changes in body temperature are clear signs that come in response to the hormones of the menstrual cycle. 

Northwest Family Services says NFP is low cost, has no harmful side effects, is effective, is easy to learn and enriches marriage. For one thing, both the man and the woman can be involved in checking symptoms and charting.  

"The discipline involved in periodic abstinence can foster trust between the couple," Northwest Family Services says.

Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, February 13, 2014
Article comment by: Sandy Driesslein

You really do NFP and Catholics an injustice by presenting NFP as merely a means of avoiding pregnancy. While NFP can be used improperly with a contraceptive mentality, many Catholics use it to achieve or avoid depending, depending upon their current situation. However, a couple should always be generous and open to the gift of life and listening to God's will for their family. By implying that NFP is only used to avoid pregnancy you perpetuate the secular view that Catholics live their sexual lives no differently than the secular world, they just use a natural and less effective means of avoiding pregnancy. The secular world looks at large Catholic families as the proof that NFP doesn't work. What they fail to understand is that through NFP, marriages grow stronger and couples learn the gift of self sacrificing love and they actually use NFP to conceive!

Posted: Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Article comment by: Mrs Craig

Blessed JPII said that NFP must be taught within a moral context. Contracepting behaviors such as withdrawal or masturbation or use of say, condoms in the fertile days are not acceptable either. It would be best to refer couples to an organization such as Natural Family Planning International who offers a more complete treatment of NFP to Catholics and non-Catholics for evangelizing all.

Posted: Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Article comment by: Sheila Kippley

The discussion on natural family planning is not complete unless it includes ecological breastfeeding, a pattern of breastfeeding that provides a natural spacing of births. It's God plan that involves no abstinence and provides an extended period of time without menstruation after childbirth. Those interested should read "The Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding" (also an e-book) or go to www.NFPandmore.org.

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