Diocese hosts Natural Family Planning seminar

First the bad news: Since 1972, the number of Catholics in the United States has increased by nearly 17 million; yet, in the same time period there has been a decrease in marriages in the Catholic Church by an astounding 60 percent.

That’s 8.6 marriages per 1,000 in 1972, versus 2.6 per 1,000 today.

According to guest speakers at a Natural Family Planning seminar held recently at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Dodge City, Kan., part of the reason for this – a large reason, in fact – is contraception.

The notion may seem difficult to accept. One of the reasons why so many fewer Catholics are marrying is the dramatic increase in the divorce rate. It’s understandable: the national divorce rate is at approximately 50 percent – that’s one out of two marriages ending in a divorce.

Here’s the good news: For those married couples using the Natural Family Planning (NFP) method for achieving or postponing pregnancy (instead of contraception), the divorce rate is a low 3.5 percent.

What is Natural Family Planning?

NFP is an umbrella term for several methods, all of which ask the couple to observe the naturally occurring signs of fertile and non-fertile phases of a woman’s cycle. It differs greatly from the formerly popular “rhythm method,” which assumes a woman’s cycle to be 29 days, when in truth, it can vary greatly from cycle to cycle.

It seems to be one of the best kept secrets of the Catholic Church – which will change, with continued catechesis of existing programs, and some new initiatives regarding NFP.

For example, Sarah Jameson is a registered nurse who works with the new NaPro (Natural Procreative) technology center at St. Catherine Hospital in Garden City, Kan. which, among its other functions, instructs couples about NFP. According to a publication released at a conference introducing NaPro, the technology is up to three times more successful than in vitro fertilization at helping infertile couples have children, and at a much lower cost. The study noted that NaPro is 79 percent effective at helping women have a successful pregnancy after they have suffered repetitive miscarriages.

Bishop John B. Brungardt of Dodge City, Kan., with the help of a grant from the Catholic Extension Office, hopes to hire a full-time director of a new “Marriage, Family Life and NFP” office for the diocese of Dodge City.

NFP is not a “Catholic” method, but is a method strongly approved by the Catholic Church. According to guest speaker Father Michael Habiger, O.S.B., Ph.D., “There is no such thing as Catholic ovaries or Protestant progesterone.”

Still, the notion that it is a “Catholic” program has turned some people away from NFP, including top physicians who haven’t taken the time to learn how it works.

Dr. Martha Garza, MD, an OB/Gyn specialist in reproductive endocrinology from San Antonio, Texas, told those gathered that her professors in medical school, including world-renowned specialists, confused NFP with the “rhythm method” because they didn’t know the facts.

She said that since NFP was associated with the Catholic Church, it was ignored or dismissed entirely. Meanwhile, as a medical student she was never informed of the possible harmful effects of contraceptives, some of which she said suppresses hormones important to the body.

Dr. Garza expressed remorse for the years that she prescribed such contraceptive devices, and told how she had a conversion experience while attending a training program at the Pope Paul VI Institute in Omaha, Neb.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “NFP gave me simpler and much more reliable information to help people get pregnant!”

Sadly, when she informed her clients of the change in her practice, she lost 60 percent of her patients, most of whom she said were Catholic.

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Why would divorce statistics be so starkly different when comparing couples using contraception to those using NFP? While the methodology of NFP is entirely scientific, the benefits are, according to Father Habiger, deeply spiritual. He said that drastically lower divorce rate statistics – along with his having spoken to hundreds of couples across the country – holds proof that “their respect for this plan brings them greater intimacy, better communications, a more satisfying sexual life, and much happiness.”

Posted with permission from the Southwest Kansas Register, official newspaper for the Diocese of Dodge City, Kan.

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