Sunday, July 29, 2012

SheIsCatholic NFP Video: Missing an Important Piece

I’ve highlighted Leah Chen’s videos here on my blog; she is also known as “SheIsCatholic”, and she’s a great young spokesperson for the Church – for the traditional and orthodox Church. She’s the one with the videos on “the Latin Mass” and “how to wear a veil”, among others. And I'm delighted to read that she has discerned a vocation to religious life.

But then there’s her video on NFP…which has just won first place in two contests. Unfortunately, her video contains a serious error: she neglected to mention that a couple should only use NFP for serious reasons. There are some other problems as well. The temptation is to let it all slide, because she’s so darn entertaining and creative.

But really, cute should not trump truth.

First, let me say that Leah includes very good information about the dangers of using the Pill, including the myriad side effects that include an increased risk of cancer. And she tells her alter-ego in the video that, as a Catholic, she shouldn’t even be thinking about using contraception anyway, pointing out the potential abortifacient effects. 

Still, she makes a couple of disconcerting comments:

Alter-ego: “I guess I’m just supposed to be a baby-making machine…”

Pause right there. This kind of comment, though used to make a point, denigrates the couples who do have large families. I wonder if the women I know who have 8 or 9 children see themselves as “baby-making machines”.  The primary end of marriage is procreation. That’s been the teaching of the Church for 1,962 years. And before that, God’s command was to “be fruitful and multiply”.

Continuing with the dialog in the video:

Leah: “Dude, you can just use natural family planning.”

[Explaining further]:  “Natural family planning is a way of achieving or avoiding pregnancy according to God’s plan.”

Folks, really, ask yourselves, and let’s be honest: Just how is this God’s plan? Is it God’s plan because the woman has a fertility cycle, and it is possible to discern when she is fertile and when she is not? That is God’s plan – his “blueprint” – for our bodies, but it is not necessarily God’s plan that we use that information to avoid pregnancy! Just because we are able to use that information does not mean that we should. For instance, science has given us knowledge about cloning, too, and in vitro fertilization; but there are serious moral problems with those processes. Though I wouldn’t put NFP on this level of immorality, there are still moral issues at stake.

Leah continues with her explanation, stating that the couple can

“…measure a woman’s fertile and infertile times and you do or do not engage at those points when she’s fertile depending on whether or not you can take care of children.”

This brings us back to “responsible” parenthood (the new teaching) vs. “generous” parenthood (the centuries-old teaching).  A correspondent made this observation:

One might ask, “Can ‘Responsible Parenthood’ be so bad? We wouldn’t want ‘Irresponsible Parenthood’ would we?” Here’s what we do want: generous fruitfulness, abandonment to divine Providence, and the joyful holiness of large families living the traditional Catholic faith. Humanae Vitae and the rest of the marriage theology since Vatican II recommend a different, a non-Catholic vision,

And of course Leah mentions that final selling point for NFP:

“…and it’s 99% effective…”

It just seems to me that by focusing on how effective NFP is for avoiding pregnancy, we are taking a contraceptive approach and attitude toward the fruitfulness God intends for families.

Another problem: Leah explains that by using NFP, the couple will have a better, stronger relationship, and less chance of divorce. This is a common claim of NFP promoters; however, even if NFP-using couples do have a lower divorce rate, correlation does not imply causation. I suspect that the couples who decide to use NFP and who “stick with it” already have a strong relationship. It takes teamwork and commitment to use NFP, and if the couple doesn’t have a solid foundation in their relationship, one or the other is not likely to put forth the effort required to use NFP.  (I don’t doubt that there have been couples with marital problems who have found some benefit in the communication required by NFP, but I’m not talking case studies here; I’m talking statistics.)

Leah also maintains that NFP “can only make your marriage better”. Well, that may be true for the couple who agrees to use it and who has that committed relationship. Otherwise, I can imagine that the frustration a husband feels when he cannot engage in the marital embrace with his wife at the time when she is most attractive to him, and he to her, can lead to problems if the couple is not truly in agreement about using the process.

That brings up another important caveat: the Church teaches that use of periodic continence is only licit if both partners agree to it. If one or the other does not agree, then she or he is entitled to have the “marriage debt” paid by the other. This, of course, is not a popular notion in today’s culture, but it is Church teaching.

The article noting Leah’s award-winning video also notes that the video has been available on-line as a “tool” to be used during the NFP Awareness Week promoted by the USCCB.

Sigh. Frankly, I think the USCCB has no business promoting NFP the way it does. The teaching is all about avoiding pregnancy and having great sex, because the bishops are quite aware that many, if not most, Catholic couples are using illicit contraception. A commenter on this blog made the very astute observation that

…the entire NFP industry is one big Potemkin Village. It is simply a salve to the conscience of those Catholic bishops, priests and lay leader who look out over their congregations and fail to see any large families. It is the misdirection of the stage magician who directs your attention over towards the non-existent NFP while the reality is that everyone is using artificial birth control. It is the "gateway drug" that allows one to say, "The Catholic Church says it's all right to use birth control," and then after a few "failures" with NFP, one decides, "Well as long as birth control is okay, I might as well use a method that actually works as well as NFP claims to work." 

Finally, I did email Leah last June when I first saw her NFP video, and I addressed the fact that the need “serious reasons” was not included in the discussion. Leah noted that she had a time constraint, and that she had toyed with the idea of including the “serious reasons” part, but she told me:

It was also my assumption that anyone who was truly interested in NFP would attend a class and realize that part from their instructor.

I suppose that would be a reasonable assumption…but I doubt it’s happening. Instead, I see a focus on “responsible” parenthood – a focus that makes large families seem irresponsible, and gives couples a ready excuse to enter into the contraceptive mentality.
For more NFP posts on this blog, click on the "NFP Posts" tab at the top of the page.


  1. She's so darned cute, I almost hate to find fault with her NFP Videos....but she's young and obviously hasn't been well-formed on this topic.

    She strikes a popular chord with a lot of the younger folks (and us not-young-anymore) and that can only be beneficial in regards to her videos on the Tridentine Mass, wearing veils, how to behave in a Church, various traditional Catholic teachings, etc., but the NFP topic gets a D.

    Too bad she's getting accolades for it. She needs to do more homework.

  2. I agree, Elizabeth...she is delightful! It's no wonder she presents NFP the way she does, though; the USCCB is basically presenting it that way, and it is presented that way in dioceses and parishes all across the US. She hasn't really said anything in the video that many of ours shepherds would fault...and that's the problem.

  3. Thank you for this post, Jay. I would like to commend Leah for her video and am glad to see that young people are speaking out with a strong voice about the beauty of sexuality. I am a bit concerned about your sources or, at least, your limited view of Church teaching on sexuality. Please take some time to read through Humanae Vitae, a beautiful document highlighting a very positive, life-giving view of marriage and sexuality. While procreation is one of the ends of the gift of sexuality and a primary function of marriage, the unitive aspect is equally important. I would also point out that the phrase "serious reason" should be replaced by "grave reason" which, I think, emphasizes the importance of very carefully and prayerfully discerning whether or not pregnancy should be postponed. I have friends who, unfortunately, do not understand this and use NFP as simply Catholic contraception. I also have friends who do not understand the teachings of the Church and use each other as, in Leah's words, "baby-making machines". JPII pointed it out best in Love and Responsibility that as humans we need to be so careful not to objectify the other which is so easy to do with our sexuality. You may find his book quite interesting.
    Please also take some time to review the Catechism of the Catholic Church - there are many points discussing both marriage and sexuality. In a quick scan I found points 2332, 2360, 2353, and 2362 to describe the Church's understanding of marriage and sexuality.

    1. Andrew,

      You (not the Church) say "While procreation is one of the ends of the gift of sexuality and a primary function of marriage, the unitive aspect is equally important."

      You cannot have two equally important primary ends. Primary means "first" and you cannot have two "firsts." If the unitive aspect is "equally important," then marriage for the unitive purpose alone would be "equally valid." Neither Church nor secular history would agree with that.

      For only 19 centuries or so the Church, and even society at large, recognized the procreative purpose of marriage as the very reason for marriage. If procreation is left out of the very definition of marriage, one is left with "purposely sterile" marriages as of equal value both to individuals and society. The "Demographic Winter" all around us is the consequence of believing and practicing "the unitive is just as important as the procreative" understanding of marriage.

      The unitive aspect flows from service of the procreative end. One MUST BE open to procreation in each and every act of marital love, even when procreation is not possible (as with the elderly). To frustrate the purpose of marriage, whether artificially or naturally, is to act contrary to the purpose of marriage.

      NFP is a method of birth control, plain and simple. NFP is "permitted" for serious/just/grave reasons. You'd never guess that from the "NFP is a way of life" crowd. Birth control is not now and never has been a Catholic value. We marry to procreate with God and lead our families to Heaven. "Contraceptive thinking" is present in all methods which seek to frustrate the purpose of marriage, including NFP.

      Church teaching on marriage and sexuality has not changed. Pastoral practice, today, certainly has, but it is very questionable whether the new pastoral practice is faithful to Church teaching, which didn't just emerge in the last 50 years. Jay covers all this and more in her postings. Do yourself a favor and learn from them.

  4. Andrew, if you think I haven't looked at those sources, rest assured you are mistaken. And I continue to look at them, especially in light of the 1962 years of Church teaching that went before! You might want to check out some of my other posts on the topic, and review the sources I have cited that pre-date HV, Love and Responsibility, and TOB.Click on the NFP tab at the top of the page for a list of posts. And, if you wish, I can point you in the direction of plenty of documentation of where current thinking on sexuality has taken a turn away from the Catholic view. I'll be addressing those more and more as time goes on.

  5. Improvident and CheerfulJuly 30, 2012 at 8:45 AM

    It is really hurtful to hear women referred to as "baby-making machines". How unkind. Where are these women?
    It's not surprising that the secular world says unkind things. But I expect more from people who consider themselves orthodox Catholics.
    "Baby-making Machines" is a Planned Parenthood buzzword. Why would a Catholic have this as part of their vocabulary?

    1. You should have watched the video, she was playing the part, and purposefully using that "Planned Parenthood buzzword" because that is so often what people think of those of us who have large families.

  6. Improvident, in her defense, I don't think Leah meant to imply that she herself thinks of women with large families as "baby-making machines"; the alter-ego character was voicing that concern. However, because Leah probably lacks training in the truly Catholic teaching about the blessings of a large family, she merely assures the alter-ego that she can space and limit births by use of NFP.

    1. Improvident and CheerfulJuly 30, 2012 at 11:52 AM

      My mistake. I was really responding to Andrew.

  7. Thank you deeply for posting this article. I had seen the award-winning NFP video and was very distressed at her huge oversight, even though I've thought many of her videos were accessible to young Catholics and useful. I am truly bothered and irritated by the promotion of the NFP lifestyle these days without reminding Catholics of the perennial teachings that procreation is the primary purpose of marriage and that it is a blessing to be generous with our parenthood. THANK YOU.

  8. Andrew's polite and "helpful" suggestions to you, Jay, made me smile. I resisted the urge to come to your defense, knowing full well you didn't need me to defend you!

    He must be new to your site and hopefully spends some time reading all your previous posts on this topic and getting better informed himself.


  9. Jay, you often lament the Church's doctrinal development in terms of sexual ethics as a break from the "1962 years of Church teaching that went before." (Unlike the vast majority of faithful Catholics who clearly see how HV and TOB are clear and consistent developments of Church teaching - and who, unlike you and seemingly many people here, love Blessed JPII!) Would you be so kind as to point out some references to Church teaching that evidence your point from the first 300 years of Church history? Thanks!

    1. Jay is on retreat, so to keep you out of trouble and hopefully quiet for a while, there are quite a few quotes from the first 400 years of Church teaching on sexuality at

      I won't claim any of these to be authoritative so much as evidence that what you claim as "development" is actually quite a rupture with the past. What you claim to be "new teaching" is not all that "new," and has been vigorously condemned in the past. Authentic development of doctrine never contradicts past teaching. Intentionally non-procreative sex has never been judged favorably. It cannot be judged so now and be a true "development" of doctrine.

  10. No doubt Leah Chen means well but the problem with her portrayal of "Providentialist vs User of Contraception" is that she has created a false proposition -contraceptive use vs. openness to children, as if one is the opposite vice to the other, with the practice of NFP as the virtue in the middle. The use of contraception is a mortal sin - letting God plan your family is certainly not a sin at all, its a generous submission to God's will. The practice of NFP may or may not be virtuous depending on the circumstances but it it not the ideal of Christian Marriage.

  11. Elizabeth and Katherine, thanks!

    Francis...sigh. I wish you could refrain from acting as if you know what goes on in people's minds and hearts and stick to the facts! But as far as early Church history...well, I'm short on time as I am going out of town tomorrow. But I'll just say this: St. Augustine wrote on marriage around 400, and he was defending Catholic tradition dating from the time of the Apostles. So we can also look to Scripture; you know, "Be fruitful and multiply". And there a number of New Testament passages that suggest that marriage is for the procreation of children (I don't have time to look up all the references). In addition, there are OT scriptures that show that barrenness was seen as a curse, and fruitfulness was a gift. Jewish culture, if I'm not mistaken (and I'm sure you'll tell me if I am!) valued children, and the more, the better. Etc. Sorry, I'm just out of time. But perhaps I'll work on a blog post on this topic! Thanks.

  12. Hope Springs EternalJuly 30, 2012 at 7:53 PM

    Actually, the Church merely "tolerates" NFP. Parish priests should never be promoters of it.

    Good, well-intended Catholics truly believe that this method is OK for "spacing" children.

    Why is NFP always part of the marriage instruction in parishes?? We continue to shoot ourselves (The Church) in the foot by promoting it. Who needs to trust in God any more when raising a Catholic family? We've got it all figured out!

    Thanks for exposing the Catholic myth (lie) of NFP.

    1. Does the Church merely tolerate the use of NFP for the purposes of achieving pregnancy? Of course NFP can be (mis)used with a contraceptive mentality, but with so many Catholic couples choosing to use contraception despite the teachings of the Church, perhaps NFP can be a stepping stone for them to placing their trust in God and not in a pill.

  13. Hope - Amen! Yes, absolutely - the Church merely tolerates NFP. It's not a requirement, nor even a preference. It's just licit...for "serious" reasons.

  14. I disagree with you on the "responsbible parenthood" part. I think you're reading into it that she's making large families look bad. That's not true. You can be responsbile and have a large family. But not all people can have large families and be responsbile. That's like me saying you're implying that have more kids is more important that being responsbile. Suring that's not what you mean, but it sure sounds like it. In Sirach it says that it's better to have NO children than Godless children. If you can't take care of your kids properly and they end up Godless because of it, that's wrong. I think you're down playing the responsbile part. It's not okay for people to have children and then neglect or abuse them.

  15. Sorry about the typos...

  16. Hope Springs EternalJuly 31, 2012 at 4:20 PM

    I am not a fan of the term Responsible Parenthood. Actually, raising our first child was our little experiment! We did the best we could and learned along the way with each child that came along. Yes, parents make mistakes, sometimes even at the expense of children. However, when children see you run to the sacraments to ask regularly for God's help, you have taught them a big lesson by example: Even when you fall, you can get back up with God's grace. It is humbling for sure, yet necessary!

  17. Thank you, Jay, for your wonderful post on this topic. I found it most refreshing.
    I wonder if you have much information on Ecological Breastfeeding? I would love to see you strengthen your argument even further by including that. At the same time, it will set you up as a target for many women that feel a painful sting and the mere mention of breastfeeding babies. But it is a valuable piece of the puzzle... I'd say it's the piece that has Our Lady's face printed on it. It may seem rather small, but it's lacking without that one little piece. Sometimes the truth hurts. That does not mean it should never be said.

  18. I'm going to have to say something here. It does seem that the Church calls us to have kids. This isn't up for debate. Granted, one must be responsible both in parenthood, but also in our sexuality. In fact, early church fathers pointed out that that sort of activity wasn't recommended if you were going to receive communion. Therefore continence is a way of handling the problem, for a while at least.
    This isn't to say that this isn't hard. But if you feel strongly enough about the fact that you really can't have any more kids, continence is the way to go. NFP doesn't work all the time (and try co-sleeping that way), and even when following the seven standards (again, not simple), eco-bf doesn't work for some people.

  19. It bothers me so much that you blatantly disregard JPII. You view TOB as a contradiction to Church teaching rather than an extension.

    Do you not believe that the Holy Spirit is guiding our faith today?

    Leah is right, and she presents it well. I do wish she had mentioned "just reasons" as a part of Catholic teaching, but it is crucial to say that it is 99% effective because many couples may never give it a a chance if they don't believe it will work.

    NFP awareness is important. No one wants to feel like a baby making machine- not even mamas of big families. Fact is that most couples will at some point need to avoid a pregnancy and if NFP isn't on the radar- then it'll be contraception.

  20. You are being to harsh on Leah. This is an excellent video. There are too many Catholics who use contraception and don't know that NFP exists or works. The "goal" of the video was NFP awareness, not a moral discussion of when NFP should or shouldn't be used. We do need to reach out to the large percentage of Catholics who are contracepting, and making them aware of NFP is a great first step.


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