Sunday, July 19, 2015

NFP Awareness Week Should Have a Different Tone

I'm posting this week because I'm annoyed.

Every year, the USCCB-promoted “NFP Awareness Week” sneaks up on me, and it always annoys me. When will they sponsor a week that promotes large families?

It wouldn’t annoy me if the “awareness” involved teaching couples that they don’t need to use NFP at all; that it is only permitted when the couple has a “grave reason” for doing so; and that if the reason is really serious, maybe complete abstinence for a while is the safer route.

That is not the picture painted by the USCCB and most NFP-promoters, however.

This year, the USCCB’s theme for the week is summed up in this banner and poster from their website:

National NFP Awareness Week - JULY 19 - JULY 25, 2015

2015 theme:
All Natural!
Natural Family Planning
Good for the body. Great for the soul!

"Celebrate and reverence God's vision of human sexuality."
Discover Natural Family Planning

 The theme for Natural Family Planning Week 2015 is

I object! What's natural about abstaining from the conjugal act precisely at the time of the woman's cycle when she is most open to that act, and when she is most attractive to her husband?! What's natural is to engage in the conjugal embrace at those times; and doing so results in...babies! THAT is God's plan!

The USCCB promotion makes NFP sound like God’s gift to couples! And that is absolutely NOT what it is. NFP is primarily a concession to our concupiscence. NFP is permitted because couples are not always able to practice abstinence for a long period of time - even if serious reasons make it necessary - because of the weakness we suffer in the face of our passions. “Periodic continence” is permitted so that couples won’t resort to artificial contraception.

But NFP is not a virtue, and it is not a gift. It is not “great for the soul”, and it is not a part of “God’s vision of human sexuality.”

For an explanation of my stance on this issue, feel free to read any of the articles listed under the “NFP” tab at the top of this page.

For a more complete and integrated version of my view of the problem of NFP, consider reading my book, Natural Family Planning: Trojan Horse in the Catholic Bedroom?

Here’s an excerpt from the book; this is additional material to that which is available on this blog. This is my introduction to the chapter (and blog post) called “NFP is Not Required”:

It seems to be generally presumed that NFP is used by only 2-3% of Catholic couples. I’m not sure where this figure comes from, but even the NFP promoters don’t quibble about it too much; I’ve seen some suggest that the figure is too low, but they don’t propose that it’s any higher than 5%.

For some time, there has been a movement afoot in the US to increase the use of NFP among married Catholic couples. The Couple-to-Couple League has promoted it for decades, and there are blogs and networks and various and sundry groups seeking to popularize NFP. Currently, the USCCB’s website sports a whole section on NFP that paints it in glowing terms, and doesn’t give more than lip service (if that) to the notion of “serious reasons”. The USCCB has suggested that every diocese should have an NFP office, and that NFP classes should be required for couples who want to get married in the Church. Many dioceses and parishes currently do so. 

Why is this? There is no Church doctrine or teaching to support the idea that every couple should be schooled in the intricacies of NFP! There is no Church teaching that requires the faithful to limit their family size! In fact, the only time such an idea has been even hinted at has been in the last 50 years – ever since Vatican II and Gaudium et Spes¸ with its notion of “responsible parenthood” and the idea that times have changed, and the Church has to change with them. Prior to that, we were more likely to see generous parenthood praised: large families were seen as a blessing, and as the source of vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

But currently, it’s easy to find voices that are clamoring for NFP to be required, and it seems to be the idea of “responsible” parenthood that lies beneath this requirement. Couples are encouraged to consider whether they can “afford” another child, whether their financial, emotional, and psychological resources will bear up under the strain of more children.

But the fact remains: the Church does not require the use of NFP in marriage, and in fact asks that such use be limited. NFP should be used only for “serious” reasons. It’s not required.


  1. Jay, I don't blame you for being annoyed, I think the idea behind NFP awareness is that most people use contraception and the USCCB thinks they need to make the Churches teaching palatable to those people. I don't think they care much that it is used against Catholics with large families. Sue A.

  2. Thanks, Sue. I think you are correct. And no one in the Church seriously promotes large families anymore; that is a hang over from the "overpopulation" scare that resulted in the term "responsible parenthood". Also, people sometimes argue that we shouldn't promote the large family because it will make couples with fertility problems feel bad. Ugh!


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