Thursday, September 5, 2013

A Catholic Response to “The Scandal of NFP”


On “The Vortex” episode released September 5, 2013, Mr. Michael Voris discusses what he feels is a scandal in the making centered around a Catholic couple’s welcoming, or not, of children per Catholic Doctrine. In all honesty, I believe Mr. Voris is sincere and is focused on what SOME Parishes SEEM to be doing…which is advertising NFP as a form of “Catholic Birth Control”. But, his Vortex episode does not make this distinction…that’s my own appraisal, giving him the benefit of the doubt. If we take his episode at face value, not only does he misrepresent what NFP is, but he crosses over a boundary in trying to discern for every Catholic couple whether they can use NFP or not.

Here’s just a quick overview on NFP: NFP is information that can tell a couple whether they are fertile or infertile, whether they can increase or decrease their chances of conception, on any given day (by engaging in an act, or abstaining from it). Sex is an act. Contraception is the acting-against-conception that takes place when an act is engaged in. Catholic married couples are not required to have sex at any particular interval. Catholic couples are required, by God’s natural moral law, to have sex in the natural manner WHEN THEY DO have sex.

Here are a couple of quick questions we can ask to determine whether or not NFP can be used as contraception (these will be important later):

1) How is it possible to remove the procreative nature from an act that is not taking place?
2) How is it possible to remove the procreative nature of an act that is infertile by God’s design (the “infertile period”) when that act is being completed in the natural manner?

Moving on…

At the end of his segment, Voris says, “…no one here is trashing the authentic need for spacing of children in authentically challenging circumstances”. Rather, he is going after the “attitude, which sounds and feels very much like the culture at large that couples need to be taught how to have sex and avoid children AS A MATTER OF ROUTINE” [emphasis in original script].

I think Mr. Voris is being disingenuous, however. While he says he's not after those who use it authentically, his starting point contradicts this…as does his seeming need to define for every couple what an “authentic” need might be. I find it disconcerting that Mr. Voris has deemed himself able to discern what every couple’s true authentic reasons for spacing children are, even though the Popes, or the Magisterial Church, never did. But I’ll get to that in a bit. I’ll start first with Michael’s opening, and move down from there.

If you go to the US Bishop’s website…it’s actually celebrated as a good in itself. Not a single word mentioned…that NFP is actually a dispensation from what has been taught for centuries by the Church.

What’s wrong with the Bishops saying that Natural Family Planning, aka Natural Birth Regulation, aka “periodic continence” which a couple plans, is a good? Is there something “bad” about it? Is there something sinister in a couple, for just reasons, wanting to NOT have sex? Is there something sinister in a couple, for just reasons, having sex at predetermined times as long as they complete the act in the natural manner? No, there’s nothing wrong with that, nothing bad.
 NFP is not a “dispensation” as Mr. Voris claims. NFP is information. If Mr. Voris means to say that abstaining during certain days is a dispensation, he would need to give a Catholic source which directs married couples in the minimum frequency with which it is acceptable to engage in the marital act. Can anyone provide, from an authentic Catholic source from a Bishop, the Pope, the Magesterium, or any other authority in the Church, where NFP is referred to as a “dispensation” and where such a “dispensation” exists? No, because it's nonsensical to say that the gathering of information (which is what NFP is) requires a dispensation. It's also nonsensical to suggest that NFP is not good. In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say about it:

Periodic continence, that is, the method of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality.” (CCC 2370). It further summarizes: “The regulation of births represents one of the aspects of responsible fatherhood and motherhood.” (CCC 2399).

And when discussing the regulations of births, the Compendium to the Catechism says, “The regulation of births, which is an aspect of responsible fatherhood and motherhood, is objectively morally acceptable when it is pursued by the spouses without external pressure; when it is practiced not out of selfishness but for serious reasons; and with methods that conform to the objective criteria of morality, that is, periodic continence and use of the infertile periods.” (Compendium to CCC, Question 497)

And Saint Pope JPII, quoting Pope Paul VI, writes, “Mastery over drives by one’s reason and free will undoubtedly requires ascesis so that the affective manifestations of conjugal love may be in accord with the right order, in particular with regard to observing periodic continence. Yet this discipline, which is proper to the purity of married couples, far from harming conjugal love, rather confers on it a higher human value. It demands continual effort yet, thanks to its beneficent influence, husband and wife develop their personalities integrally, enriching each other with spiritual values…It favors attention to one’s partner, helps both parties to drive out egoism, the enemy of true love, and deepens their sense of responsibility.” (Paul VI, HV 21 via Theology of the Body 59:6, emphasis mine)

I'm not seeing where there is something that is NOT good about any of that. In fact, Popes Paul VI and JPII both spoke of it in a GOOD way, PRAISING periodic continence. What it seems to boil down to is “serious reasons” (also called “just causes” and “grave reasons” interchangeably in various Church documents and various translations of those documents). And who discerns “serious reasons”? Well, according to the Church, ONLY THE COUPLE. You never find any Church document that prescribes the timeliness of childbearing for couples or sets some number of children that constitutes an openness to life. What you WILL find however, is this:

After mature examination, we have decided that such spouses should not be disturbed [or disquieted], provided they do nothing that impedes generation" (TheologIia Moral by J Montanchez, quoting the Magisterial response to Bishop of Amiens, France at the Sacred Penitentiary in 1853)

You might also see this: “ ...all pressures brought to bear in limiting "the freedom of couples in deciding about children constitute a grave offence against human dignity and justice" (Pope JPII, Homily In Perth (Australia) Apostolic Pilgrimage to Bangladesh, et. al., November 30, 1996.).

You will also find, in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, the following: “ The judgment concerning the interval of time between births, and that regarding the number of children, belongs to the spouses alone. This is one of their inalienable rights, to be exercised before God with due consideration of their obligations towards themselves, their children already born, the family and society...” (CSDC, 234).

Now, admittedly, the above 2 quotes (excluding the 1853 response) were more in regards to the state trying to compel its citizens in regards to child bearing and rearing. But the statements can't be clearer; when it comes to birth and spacing, it is the couple and the couple alone who have authority, under guidance of the Holy Spirit, to discern this. Any outside pressure it “a grave offence”.

Michael says that there is no mention on the Bishop's page of the blessing of large families and that such should be the default. Well, I agree that this is problematic, that the gift of children is not stressed enough in SOME cases. But, what’s that got to do with NFP? Is there some correlation between NFP use and small families, or childless couples? I have been studying and practicing NFP for years and interacting with couples who used it for years (hundreds of couples) and I don’t know of ANY NFP users that have what I’d consider a “small family”. It seems, rather, that NFP users are the ONLY couples that have large families, except for those who hold a “providentialist” or “quiver-full” mindset. So, unless there is some link between NFP and couples who don’t want/have large families, this whole point regarding the Bishop’s page is pointless when discussing NFP.

Mr. Voris goes on to talk about serious reasons: “No one is saying there are not serious reasons for having to limit the number of children a couple will have…but the reasons must be SERIOUS, GRAVE” [sic]. “The default is to engage in the marital act and accept whatever, if any children God blesses the couple with.”

Yes, so what makes Mr. Voris think that NFP users DON’T, by default, engage and accept what may come? Again, is there some correlation between NFP users and couples with few/no children? No. No such correlation exists. So why make this point? It carries the implicit message that people who use NFP are using it to regulate childbirth for frivolous reasons and as a non-chemical contraception. Later, Michael says that despite the legitimate uses of NFP that it is “sold” as contraception, namely as “contraception-lite”. “It has much more of a feeling of “hey, look, we Catholics can have sex and avoid pregnancy just like the contraceptive culture, but we don’t use ARTIFICIAL [sic] methods, so we are square with God.”

Really, Michael? If that’s the feeling you have gotten from NFP users, then I wager you have not met very many. Because, of the HUNDREDS of couples I know who use it, this is simply not the case. Couples who use NFP don’t get any enjoyment, that I have ever noticed, out of having to abstain from the marital embrace during the fertile period, when sex drive is at its peak. NFP couples don’t celebrate having to postpone sexual intercourse; they don’t think that they get to have sex whenever they want…because they DON’T get to have sex whenever they want. They are ABSTAING from sex during the times when they MOST WANT each other. I don’t know of ANY couple that does this for a frivolous reason, and then smiles about it on top of that. [A show of hands here please: How many reading this get a thrill, to the tune of that had by contraception users - as Michael compares us to - from getting to abstain from sex during the fertile period? Anyone? No? Well…we’ll give it more time and see if a few more people read this and can vote in the affirmative….]

For anyone reading this who still wants to compare NFP to contraception, I invite you now to answer the questions I posed above in the third paragraph. You can add to it this one: Is it okay for a Catholic to NOT have sex, and is it okay for a Catholic couple to have sex purposefully during the infertile period? (Make sure you cite authentic Catholic Doctrine here. )

But now let’s look at Michael’s definition of “serious” reasons. “Issues like serious psychological or physical health reasons or HEAVY overwhelming financial burdens (for however short a time they may last) MAY be considerations for postponing conception.” (emphasis in original)

Here’s the problem I have with this…that’s Michael Voris pontificating, if you will, with his own personal emphasis on his own personal opinions, on a Church matter. Let’s compare what Michael said with what an actual Pope said:

Serious motives, such as those which not rarely arise from medical, eugenic, economic and social so-called "indications," may exempt husband and wife from the obligatory, positive debt for a long period or even for the entire period of matrimonial life.” (Pius XII, Allocution to Midwives, emphasis mine)

Let’s be clear here: Pope Pius XII is saying something that seems to conflict with Voris’ view. Voris seems to be of the opinion that serious motives are to be “HEAVY”, and “overwhelming”, and “for however SHORT a time” (emphasis mine). But that’s NOT what the Church teaches. Further, Voris is focusing ONLY on childbirth, whereas the Church is focusing on the sex act itself. In other words, the problem with avoiding sex is NOT only in regulating births, per se, but in withholding the right of the spouse to have sex with his/her spouse. That’s why the couple, and only the couple, must discern this together…as a couple. Revisit for a moment what Pope JPII said along with the Compendium for Social Doctrine (paragraphs 11 and 12 above). The Church does not teach that couples need to churn out babies. It teaches that the marital debt should not be refused, except by agreement, and then only for as long a time as the couple deems necessary...and when the act IS engaged in, it must be ordered, per se, toward procreation. All the while, the Marriage is understood to be geared toward procreation and the welcoming of as many children as God will send.

Continuing with Pope Pius XII, “From this it follows that the observance of the natural sterile periods may be lawful, from the moral viewpoint: and it is lawful in the conditions mentioned. If, however, according to a reasonable and equitable judgment, there are no such grave reasons either personal or deriving from exterior circumstances, the will to avoid the fecundity of their union, while continuing to satisfy to tile full their sensuality, can only be the result of a false appreciation of life and of motives foreign to sound ethical principles.” (Pius XII, Allocution to Midwives)

In other words, if there is no just reason, then there is a sin involved…but the sin is in a desire to “satisfy…sensuality” resulting from “a false appreciation of life”. In other words, it can be lust mixed with selfishness. And here is where Michael has a valid point [that some married Catholic couples can be lustful and selfish in Marriage]…except he tries to fit NFP into this mentality and then further deems himself worthy of discerning what “serious motives” are for couples, instead of letting couples decide for themselves, like the Church teaches. Mr. Voris’ arguments falls into the same category of those who claim that NFP can be used with a “contraceptive mentality”. I beg to differ. I say that no NFP couple uses NFP with such a “contraceptive mentality”, and I challenge anyone to prove otherwise. My position is that those couples who DO have a “contraceptive mentality” will use contraception…because the “contraceptive mentality” has a direct conflict with the core aspect of NFP…abstinence as a matter of discipline during the time when abstinence is most difficult.

Can NFP be abused? Sure, in theory. But in practice? No.

Can NFP be misrepresented as a form of “Catholic Birth Control” or “contraception-lite”? Sure it can, by people who have either never practiced it or have no concept of how it actually works. (Remember, NFP is INFORMATION...not an ACT.)

Can NFP (to avoid conception) be used as “contraception-lite”? No, because it requires the one thing that contraception necessarily rejects: abstinence via self mastery.

[Link to the Vortex episode discussed:  http://www.churchmilitant.tv/daily/?today=2013-09-05 ]

[Just to note: CMTV eventually responded to me with a disappointing onslaught of logical fallacy from the producer, Terry Carroll. After giving him an opportunity to address the fallacious reasonings (so as to avoid embarrassing CMTV) I refuted his response HERE:

http://daves-ahumbleservant.blogspot.com/2013/09/cmtvs-reply-to-catholic-answer-to.html ]

3 comments:

  1. I followed you here from CAF and came to give you a standing ovation. Great post. I too have yet to meet someone who uses NFP and is selfish. NFP isn't always easy, I have NEVER heard it described as "fun," and all the people I know who use it have big families or are struggling with infertility and using NFP as a means to try to conceive. Still others use it solely as a diagnostic tool. I know one devout Catholic woman who is married to an atheist and uses NFP as conservatively as possible because it's the only way he will agree not to seek out permanent birth control. It's frustrating and a little disheartening when I - a mother of seven - am told that my family planning method is selfish. When someone says this to me they act as though they are not addressing me, personally, because obviously *I* don't use NFP...but I do. And it is a sacrifice, not a selfish way to be able to do whatever I want with my husband.

    Thank you for this thoughtfully written blog post.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words and wonderfuil insight! My wife and I also practice NFP for "serious motives, such as those which not rarely arise from medical, eugenic, economic and social so-called "indications,"" and we dont' think it's any fun at all.

      But, we do recognize that, in our Marriage, "this discipline, which is proper to the purity of married couples, far from harming conjugal love, rather confers on [our Marriage and our conjugal relationship] a higher human value. It demands continual effort yet [on both our parts], thanks to its beneficent influence, [and as]husband and wife [we are able to] develop [our] personalities integrally, enriching each other with spiritual values…[For us,]It favors attention to one’s partner, helps both [of us] to drive out egoism, the enemy of true love, and deepens [our] sense of responsibility.”

      (See what I did there? ;-)

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