Sunday, September 15, 2013

CMTV's Reply to "A Catholic Answer to 'The Scandal of NFP'": Refuted

In A Catholic Response to "The Scandal of NFP" I pointed out where Church Militant TV overstepped in trying to tell lay Catholics who use NFP just how "serious" their reasons need to be, misrepresented what NFP is, and implicitly linked NFP use with contraception, among other things.  I sent that article to CMTV for a response.  What I got was an email reply from the CMTV Executive Producer that did everything EXCEPT address my concerns.  I responded to that with a rebuttal and I have received the go-ahead from CMTV to post this in its entirety.  
Because a few links (to sources that he wanted me to study) were not in my final response, nor was this article that I refer to as "anti-Catholic propaganda", I am providing a link HERE to a Catholic Answers Forum thread where these appear in their entirety on Page 2 of that thread.
The purpose of posting this is 2-fold:  1) to help people recognize logical fallacies in arguments, regardless of the topic, and  2) to provide NFP users, who are told that they may have a contraceptive mind-set, an example of reframing arguments so that the topic remains on what the Church ACTUALLY DOES teach, not on what private theologians and laymen think the Church SHOULD teach. 
CMTV's email reply is in black, my responses are in blue

Dear David,

Thank you for sharing your thoughtful response.

You are welcome, and I appreciate you responding and taking the time to visit with me. 

I can't tell from your response to "The Scandal of NFP" whether you listened to the program on which it was based, the Mic'd Up episode of August 28, the previous Wednesday, where Michael Voris interviewed both Christopher Gawley, author of a recent essay on NFP, and Dr. Mike Manhart from the Couple to Couple League. I don't know that it will change your understanding of what was said in the subsequent Vortex episode, but it would provide a more complete understanding of why Michael said what he said.

I am aware of Michael's position (CMTV's position), which I actually clarify in the first paragraph of my response, as well as later on in it. I start out by giving him the benefit of the doubt that his goal was to present the message that he has held since I began watching his program years ago. My argument is not against Mr. Voris' position on NFP-marketing or the contraceptive mentality in our culture. I made it clear that I agree with him on these points at least twice in my response. The issue I address in my argument is the message actually conveyed by this particular Vortex episode.

To understand "The Scandal of NFP," it would helpful to be familiar with the sources which formed and shaped it. Your reflection is well reasoned within the limits of what you understand Michael to have said and all the issues involved. But your perspective is incomplete.

With all due respect, my perspective is neither incomplete, nor does it have any effect on the message conveyed by this Vortex episode. You are arguing a logical fallacy in which Michael's message is dependent upon what his viewers have already viewed. For this to be legitimate, you'd have to assume that EVRY Vortex viewer has seen and read ALL those other sources you presented and NONE of his viewers would view this episode independently of those other sources. That's not logical.  

I'm not going to respond to each of your points because that would concede that the points you raise are all the important ones and the only ones that need to be considered.

When I respond to someone, I usually respond to any point I feel like I am able to or that jumps out at me, especially ones that potentially weaken my own position if not addressed. There are a few such points I made in my response that you chose not to address which directly contradict Voris' message in that Vortex episode. I believe these are some of the most important ones (such as Voris' complaint about the Bishops calling NFP a “good”, in light of what JPII and Paul VI had to say about periodic abstinence, and the Church teachings I provided that discuss who has the right to discern birth regulation in a Marriage, and Voris' “definition” of serious reasons vs. a Pope's), and I am asking you now to go back and address them.   

You are reasoning from within your own experience and your limited understanding of how the Church has addressed this issue over the centuries.

You are trying to say that MY understanding will determine whether Michael correctly represented the Church's teachings on NFP. Terry, you have resorted to logical fallacy twice already, and you have yet to support Michael's message in “The Scandal of NFP” with Church teaching or any other objective fact. I quoted 8 different sources of authentic Church teaching dating back to 1853, when the issue of natural birth regulation was first addressed by the Magesterium. This issue was not addressed much before this time, due to the lack of scientific knowledge regarding the fertility cycle. 

If we are to seek a "hermeneutic of continuity" with the past, it is necessary to understand what the Church teaches today in light of what it has taught before, not merely in terms of what the Church has taught for the past 150 years or so.

So, are you saying that what the Church teaches today is different than what it taught before? Not only did I quote from Church teaching from 160 years ago, but I also quoted from modern sources such as the Cathechism (released during Pope JPII's Papacy) and the Compendium released by Pope Benedict XVI. I have also read the opinions of several theologians (both sides of the aisle) and I am not seeing where there is any lack of "hermeneutic of continuity".  I DO, however, see where the message conveyed by Mr. Voris in this particular episode is opposed to the continuous teaching of the Church. Within my initial letter, I see 160 years of continuity...whereas in Voris' message, I see a newly developed opinion by a few theologians which is not supported by the Catholic Church, and in fact contradicts it.

You did ask in your reflection where, in Church teaching, is periodic continence described as a "dispensation." I believe you provided your own answer in the quote you include from Pope Pius XII:

“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.”

Intentional limitation of marital relations to the infertile times is allowed as an exemption from "the obligatory, positive debt" of the marriage covenant. I consider "exemption" and "dispensation" to be synonymous here. Husbands and wives have an obligation before God to be open, always, to the blessings of children as potential new citizens of Heaven. For "serious motives," husbands and wives may be exempt from this obligation, for short periods of time or even the entirety of their marriage.

I'm not interested in what YOU consider. I am interested in what the CHURCH considers. "Exemptions" are not "dispensations", and the "positive marital debt" is not equal to "NFP" or "periodic continence".
Mass, as an example, gets a dispensation under certain circumstances because Mass is required on specific days. This dispensation is one that must be granted by the Bishop or other authority. The positive martial debt has no such schedule Michael claimed that “NFP is a dispensation”. It's now CMTV's burden to show where the Church has explicitly granted this dispensation for couples to chart their cycles. You also bear the burden to show the specific days upon which the Church requires a couple to have sex, since every dispensation is related to an act (attending Mass, fasting, etc...) which has a specific requirement. CMTV does not get to make up Church teaching on a new supposed dispensation that does not exist. 
 Further, Pius XII was speaking about sexual intercourse - exempting husband and wife from the positive debt for whatever period. NFP is not a withholding of the marital's charting cycles and gathering information. Couples who practice NFP often DO have sex. Some simply choose to abstain from sex on fertile days. Or they may choose to have sex on fertile days. Unless you can show where married couples are required to have sex on fertile days in any given cycle, the claim of “dispensation” is NOT supported by any Church teaching. 
 And unless you can show that NFP is ONLY for couples who wish to avoid conception, your whole premise here falls flat. 
In fact, NFP is used very often by couples TRYING to conceive. This makes Mr. Voris' claim even more illogical because now he has just claimed that attempting to procreate with the help of charting requires a dispensation.

I don't think it is accurate to describe NFP as nothing more than "gathering information." There is a purpose to the gathering of that information so that it may inform behavior. That information can be used well or poorly. It can be used virtuously or not.

Well, I respect your opinion, but I am going now to ask you to give me an example of how the gathering of information in NFP can be used poorly or non-virtuously. Please explain to me how it is not virtuous, or a poor decision, for a couple to decide to exercise self-control on a particular day/night and abstain from the Marital Act. You aren't going to be able to do it, because it will necessarily require you to cross a line that [Saint] Pope John Paul II has said is a “grave offence” to cross. You have to commit a “grave offence” to support your position here, or you have to concede the point.

I don't see it as all that different from the "gathering of information" used in insider trading. There is no sin in the "gathering of information" unless that information is used immorally or illegally.Within NFP, one can use that information to inform the decision to act or not to act in a specific way, just as one can use "insider trading" information to act or not to act in a specific way.

Terry, seriously?! Logical fallacy number 4. And please explain what is immoral in a couple exercising self-control and abstaining from the Marital Act at any given moment. (Authentic Catholic source please.)

The sin, if there is any, lies in the decision regarding how one will act. NFP allows couples with "serious motives" to refrain from sexual relations during the fertile times, and to engage in sexual relations during the infertile times. There's a lot more to the evaluation of the morality or immorality of NFP in a given instance than observing that it is a morally neutral "gathering of information."

Now you need to show where it is immoral for a couple “to refrain from sexual relations during the fertile times, and to engage in sexual relations during the infertile times”. That is your claim, and your burden to prove...and it's NOT a Catholic position.

If I "gather information" to help me kill someone, that "information gathering" is hardly morally neutral.

Logical fallacy number 5. 

NFP is, in our judgment, something permitted by the Church in response to exceptional situations...

Your judgment is completely irrelevant. YOU don't get to decide what Church teaching is or put words into the Magesterium's mouth. NFP for the purpose of avoiding pregnancy is “periodic continence”, and the Church has already expressed her view on it. And the Church's view is much different than yours. Why do I, as a Catholic, need to conform my view to your opinion?

...that is, unfortunately, marketed and often practiced as a routine part of Catholic marriage and as a natural rather than artificial method of birth control.

Why do you have a problem with couples routinely practicing NFP? And how do you know NFP is often practiced as a routine part of Marriage? 
 And wouldn't it be wise to have the knowledge that NFP gives, since a couple never knows when they may need to use it? Do you think it's wise to wait until a life/death situation before a couple starts to learn how to chart, when the risk of failure [of the method] is high? Why not learn the method and become comfortable with how it works before sexual activity is part of the picture? 
 It's helpful to have this knowledge beforehand. No one is going to force married couples to avoid pregnancy. However, the Church calls the regulation of births an aspect of responsible fatherhood and motherhood (CCC 2399). Are you wiser than the Church that you're going to tell me it's not?

I know, NFP is routinely defended as "not birth control" but that's a bit disingenuous, don't you think?

No, I don't think it is when you understand what they mean by “birth control”. In theology, sure it would...but the people the Church is reaching while teaching NFP are not theologians. Their definition of “birth control” is often contraception. So the people speaking in these terms are not being disingenuous, they are meeting people where they are. But then in the theological realm your position is even weaker, because theologically, “birth control” = “birth regulation” and the Church does not teach against fact calls it “an aspect of responsible [parenthood]” (CCC 2399).

NFP isn't really doing nothing but gathering information! It is information gathered to control something, either conception or its avoidance. True, there is no "contraceptive act" in NFP since abstinence is judged as "doing nothing." But if it's really "doing nothing," then why is it so hard to do? When I fast from food, am I really "doing nothing?"

Logical fallacy #6. Can you please explain how abstaining from sex is a sin? (Authentic Church Document please.) Human beings like to eat, which is why fasting (the lack of eating) is hard. Human beings also like to have sex, which is why fasting from sex (abstinence) is hard. However, food is required to stay alive. Sex is not. There is no established minimum interval at which married couples must engage in the marital act. 

One last point I would like you to consider. We all know and accept that periodic continence is permitted by the Church in response to serious circumstances.

Yes. Where we disagree, and the point of my initial response to “The Scandal of NFP” is where someone tries to decide for another couple what their serious reasons are. JPII called this a “grave offence”.

But since we know that NO method of avoiding pregnancy is perfect and 100% effective, why is the diminished risk through NFP worth it at all? It seems to me that if one's reasons for avoiding pregnancy are truly serious -- economic hardship, psychological issues, risk of death etc. -- why is ANY degree of risk worth it?

Irrelevant, logical fallacy #7. And what are you proposing as an alternative in these dire straits? Total abstinence? The Church has taught that the marital debt is to not to be withheld except by spousal consent. It's the couple's one else's. 

Is it not a bit like playing Russian Roulette with one's serious reasons?

No, it's not a bit like that because, when a couple knows there is a high likelihood of conception, they are exercising self-control and abstaining. At the same time, they realize that their Marriage is properly ordered toward procreation, so when they DO have sex, they will properly order it so and accept a child if God grants it to them. Why do you have a problem with this?

Why risk severe economic hardship, psychological damage, or life itself, for sex?

Logical fallacy #8. But, you have just refuted yourself. The Vortex episode in question makes it seem like NFP is so accurate that it's just like “contraception lite” according to Voris...that pregnancy can't occur.  [You are now arguing that it is so inaccurate that pregnancy may very well occur.]
 One of you has refuted the other. If you accept the point you JUST made...that pregnancy CAN occur in the infertile times, you have just proven that couples practicing NFP are open to life and your entire premise in that Vortex episode just fell flat on its face.  

We all know that total abstinence is 100% effective in preventing births.

Agreed, and if a couple chooses that, good for them. But the Church teaches that a couple must agree to this because the marital debt cannot be withheld, except with “consent for a time” for the purpose of prayer (1Cor 7:5). This point was driven home by St. Gregory the Great (Regula Pastoralis, Part III, Caput xxvii) in the 6th century. How's that for a hermeneutic of continuity?

Is the routine practice of NFP within Catholic marriages, as if it were an integral part of daily married life and not merely a response to unexpected challenges, truly virtuous?

According to the Catholic Church, yes it is. I have provided ample quotes and citations from the Church saying so. On the other hand, CMTV, who seems to think it NOT virtuous, has provided NO Catholic Church teachings to defend their position. 

Are we really better off having the choices that NFP makes possible to us? Are we really able to be as confident as our Catholic ancestors could be that they were trusting in Divine Providence?

What choice does NFP offer us other than whether or not to have sex on a particular day? Have Christians only just now been able to decide when and when not to have sex? Logical fallacy #9 gets you no where.

I'll leave you with a very interesting essay forwarded to us by someone who wishes to remain anonymous after listening to the Mic'd Up episode on NFP:

How about instead of insulting my intelligence by sending me an anonymous article comparing NFP to infanticide, you support your position with actual Church teaching and some objective facts? The “article” goes on and on about the evils of choice, and then concludes by telling us, “one chooses either God and renunciation of self-will or else the world and its choices.” It speaks of “choice” as being a bad thing, whereas the Church teaches that choice is our “inalienable right” (Pope JP II) and as an exercise of “disicpline ,which is proper to the purity of the married couples” (Pope Paul VI). What about the choice to get Married? Is the freedom to choose a vocation bad? If you don't see the irony and utter lack of similarity to Catholic doctrine in this article, I don't know what else to say. It's no wonder the author chose to remain anonymous after writing this embarrassment to Christianity. Terry, you owe me an apology on behalf of CMTV for sending me that degrading anti-Catholic propaganda to read.

Also, to show fairness, and because I DO support the work that CMTV does, I will hold off on posting this response for a couple days (say, until Wednesday morning) to give you a chance to address the 9 instances of fallacious reasoning.  

May God bless you and CMTV in your mission to bring light into darkness.

-Dave Manthei

[slightly edited for brevity and clarity, April 2016]


  1. This cannot be emphasized enough.

    Terry, representing any number of anti-NFP activists like him: "Why risk severe economic hardship, psychological damage, or life itself, for sex? "

    The response: ... you have just refuted yourself. The [whatever source for their argument that NFP is not open to life] makes it seem like NFP is so accurate that it's just like “contraception lite” [or this "contraception mentality" they brand NFP users with]...that pregnancy can't occur. One of you has just refuted the other. If you concede the flip side, which is the point you JUST made...that pregnancy CAN occur in the infertile times, you have just proven that couples practicing NFP ARE open to life and your entire premise in [whatever source] just fell flat on its face. You have just refuted your own position on NFP, no matter which direction you want to run with your own statement.

    Folks who want to argue against NFP, from only my experisnce, ALWAYS have ended up here. First, NFP is too closed to life, in their opinion. But when it gets to making the fallacious reasoning errors, all of the sudden NFP carries too much risk of's TOO open to life.

    It cannot be stressed enough...NFP is infomration which can be used to either 1) decide to ABSTAIN from an act, or 2) ENGAGE in an act. That is all NFP is. It isn't NFP these folks have a problem with. It's the fact that people practicing "periodic continenece" aren't instead practicing "complete abstinence". And why they have a beef with that is beyond me...because it certainly is NOT a Catholic point of view.

  2. Very good argument, your responses are well written. Thank you for defending NFP. God Bless you and the work you do.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, and for asking God to bless this work! :)