I’ve been asked about these objections by a friend – that NFP is “sinful”. Please refute.
Pope Pius XI taught that married couples could use their marriage rights in the infertile periods of the wife (or when there is a defect of nature or age which prevents new life from being conceived). But he did not teach that they could designedly restrict the marriage act to the infertile periods to avoid a pregnancy, as in Natural Family Planning.
No reason, however grave it may be, can bring it about that something that is intrinsically evil can become good. NFP subordinates the primary purpose of the conjugal act (the procreation and education of children) to other things and is therefore forbidden.
NFP is condemned because it subordinates the primary PURPOSE of marriage and the conjugal act to other things. This makes the fact that NFP does nothing to obstruct the marriage act itself irrelevant, since the primary purpose is being frustrated. Natural Family Planning is sinful birth Control.
Here are some things for your friend to consider.
1) Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae completely endorses NFP as a morally good form of family planning, and condemns abortion, sterilization and contraception as intrinsically evil. The people who reject HV do so, not because they find NFP to be immoral, but because they do not accept the self- discipline that goes with periodic abstinence.
2) Pope John Paul II also endorsed NFP completely, when used for the right reasons.
3) So also does Benedict XVI. They all recognize that NFP, when used for good reasons, respects God’s plan for marriage and spousal love.
4) Your friend does not entirely understand Pius XI’s encyclical Casti Connubii. Paragraph #53 reads: 53. And now, Venerable Brethren, we shall explain in detail the evils opposed to each of the benefits of matrimony. First consideration is due to the offspring, which many have the boldness to call the disagreeable burden of matrimony and which they say is to be carefully avoided by married people not through VIRTUOUS CONTINENCE (which Christian law permits in matrimony when both parties consent) but by FRUSTRATING THE MARRIAGE ACT. Some justify this criminal abuse on the ground that they are weary of children and wish to gratify their desires without their consequent burden. Others say that they cannot on the one hand remain continent nor on the other can they have children because of the difficulties whether on the part of the mother or on the part of family circumstances. “Virtuous continence” = NFP; “frustrating the marriage act” = contraception.
Paragraph #54 explains further the evil of contraception: 54. But no reason, however grave, may be put forward by which anything intrinsically against nature may become conformable to nature and morally good. Since, therefore, the conjugal act is destined primarily by nature for the begetting of children, those who in exercising it deliberately frustrate its natural power and purpose sin against nature and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious.
Paragraph #59 reaffirms periodic abstinence and NFP: …. Nor are those considered as acting against nature who in the married state use their right in the proper manner although on account of NATURAL REASONS EITHER OF TIME OR OF CERTAIN DEFECTS, new life cannot be brought forth. For in matrimony as well as in the use of the matrimonial rights there are also secondary ends, such as mutual aid, the cultivating of mutual love, and the quieting of concupiscence which husband and wife are not forbidden to consider so long as they are subordinated to the primary end and so long as the intrinsic nature of the act is preserved. “Natural reasons of time” = infertile periods; “or of certain defects” = after menopause or natural infertility.
5) The language of “primary ends” (procreation and education of children) and “secondary ends” (mutual aid, cultivating of mutual love, and the quieting of concupiscence) has undergone a legitimate development of doctrine. Gaudium et Spes #50 gives greater importance to the unitive, or personal, values of marital love: “Marriage to be sure is not instituted solely for procreation; rather, its very nature as an unbreakable compact between persons, and the welfare of the children, both demand that the mutual love of the spouses be embodied in a rightly ordered manner, that it grow and ripen. Therefore, marriage persists as a whole manner and communion of life, and maintains its value and indissolubility, even when despite the often intense desire of the couple, offspring are lacking.”
Thus, the importance within marriage for the mutual love between the spouses endures even after the nest is empty, and the children have all left. This mutual love endures even if the couple is sterile, unable to have children. And this mutual love is meant to grow and deepen all throughout the marriage. Children do not replace this mutual love of spouses. Rather, they are the natural fruit of that love.
6) NFP is not an evil, or sinful. It is God’s gift to these times for parents who need a morally good means to help them plan their family responsibly. NFP can be misused, abused, if there are no compelling reasons for delaying the next pregnancy. But the fault there lies, not with NFP, but with the wrong intentions of the couple.
Fr. Matthew Habiger OSB
Printed with permission from Natural Family Planning Outreach.