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NFP: Trojan Horse in the Catholic Bedroom?

April 25, AD2013


This is the “Conclusion” of my book, Natural Family Planning: Trojan Horse in the Catholic Bedroom? The book is available on Amazon and Kindle.

Marriage is intended to be fruitful; God said so Himself! God\’s plan for the sanctification of the married couple includes their cooperation with God in procreating new souls destined for Heaven. NFP doesn\’t explicitly fly in the face of such an understanding, but it is dramatically not submissive to God. NFP is all about a degree of control that is objectionable in any traditional Catholic understanding of marriage or Catholic spirituality in general.

NFP promoters attempt to elevate non-abstinence (that is, the circumvention of the need to abstain from the marital embrace) to the level of a virtue, achieved by gaining knowledge of God\’s designs so as to frustrate them. In other words, NFP promoters see the marital act as having “unitive” value that trumps its procreative value; therefore, engaging in marital intimacy when there is no risk of pregnancy is considered good in and of itself.

But sex is not an end in itself. To long for sexual pleasure but seek to avoid its consequences is, objectively, concupiscence seeking a remedy. Certainly we would say this of an unmarried couple (it’s called “fornication”). The traditional understanding of marriage is threefold: 1) the procreation and education of children; 2) mutual care and support for the married couple in their journey to Heaven; and 3) a remedy for concupiscence. And once upon a time, people actually got married first and then realized those ends. Nowadays, people seek the “remedy for concupiscence” (i.e., sex) first, and only afterwards might consider the other two ends. In the past, some couples probably got married primarily as a remedy for concupiscence, knowing that indulging their sexual appetites might lead to pregnancy; today we have a Pill to take care of the anxiety about the possibility of pregnancy, and many consider that license to satisfy their sexual appetites outside of marriage.

Taking the traditional view of marriage, if a man and a woman long to engage in the marital act, but are not prepared to have children, they should postpone marriage until they are truly “open to life”. They should not be thinking of ways to have sex that allow them to avoid that “consequence.”

The same goes for a married couple, really. When a married couple thinks the time is not right for pregnancy, the first option is abstinence; but, if desire is too strong, then charity demands that they engage in the remedy for their concupiscence. This remedy may be NFP. NFP as a “remedy for concupiscence” sounds, to me, a lot more honest in its presentation than touting it as a “way of life” or a “virtue.” From a marketing standpoint, though, NFP as a “remedy for concupiscence” doesn’t sound nearly as appealing as “NFP as a way of life”, or “God’s plan for the family”.

It seems silly to claim that one is “open to children” when one is organizing one\’s life around having sex not likely to be fruitful! The NFP “way of life,” when not practiced to achieve pregnancy, is all about sterile sex – sex that is meant only to make the couple feel good, with no consequences attached to that pleasure. The “background music” of the NFP way of life is always about sexual intimacy: “when we can, when we should, when we can\’t, and when we shouldn\’t”.

Our culture has a lot to do with our understanding of human sexuality. In a recent article addressing this issue, an insightful author notes that “Teen Pregnancy is Not the Problem”. Instead, she says, the problem is how the world presents the topic of “sex”:

The world says sex is primarily for pleasure. That sex doesn’t have to be for unity or procreation. That everybody’s doing it. That there is something wrong with you if you aren’t.

…The world tells us to act on all our urges as soon as possible. To get what we want, when we want it, always. To control our fertility instead of ourselves if we aren’t prepared to become parents.

…It’s time to use our lives to tell the world sex is primarily for procreation and unity…

Couples marry today with certain expectations about both marriage and sex shaped by public media. Sex is supposed to be “good” with a “good partner” and “personally satisfying”; in other words, sex is “all about the couple” – a variation on the theme of “it’s all about me”. People enter marriage today with a culturally-conditioned expectation that “sex is like what I\’ve seen in the movies” – which is to say it looks really great, and fun, and exciting! The NFP ideology (and that is what it is) does little to teach the true meaning of marriage, sex, or chastity, but is an unwitting participant in the unchaste sexuality that is rampant in our culture. To teach engaged couples about “family planning” of any kind is conceding that “family planning” (a.k.a., birth control) is a presumed need and value in today\’s Catholic marriages.

Certainly, today, the Church is failing badly in this area. Part of the reason for that stems from the 1960’s Church taking seriously the warnings from secular “experts” that the world was becoming overpopulated. Birth control was cautiously embraced because Church leaders didn’t recognize the errors in the overpopulation argument. The apparent needs of the temporal world loomed larger than the spiritual needs of parents that are met through generous parenthood providentially orchestrated by God. It seems as though, for a brief moment, Church leaders wondered if God maybe needed a little help in controlling population: hence, the concept of “responsible” parenthood, and the subtle movement from condoning periodic abstinence in certain serious situations to the idea that couples should rely on their own consciences to determine when to conceive a child.

I predict that, in the future, the Church will clarify what it teaches today, dramatically redefine the “serious reasons” necessary for use of NFP, and encourage it as a “remedy for concupiscence” rather than a positive, virtuous practice. My prediction stems in part from my belief that what is being taught today, and the verbiage being used to teach it, is, for the most part, wrong – at least on the very liberal end of the NFP spectrum.

There’s another, more pragmatic reason for my prediction: far from becoming overpopulated, the world is now beginning to suffer from the effects of decades of population control. We need more babies. People are now coming to an understanding of some principles of the economics of population growth which were previously unknown, unexplored, or ignored. I’m not an expert in this area, but even in the secular media we are beginning to see a growing awareness and concern about the need for more young people. And so if the Church wants to continue to meet the needs of the “modern world”, She will have to acknowledge that birth control should never be touted as a Catholic principle, and that now more than ever Catholic couples should be open to life, open to “generous parenthood” that puts the procreative end of marriage in its rightful place of primacy.

In the end, I think that might be called “virtuous parenthood”.

© 2013. Jay Boyd. All Rights Reserved.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Jay Boyd was received into the Catholic Church in 2002, contrary to all expectations of her cradle-Catholic husband, Jerry. Since her conversion, Jay has focused on understanding and proclaiming the true teaching of the Magisterium, especially as regards life issues and the liturgy. Several of her articles on these topics have been published in Homiletic and Pastoral Review. Jay earned a doctorate in Developmental Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1989, and taught a few years at the college level, but her life’s work has involved pouring her time and energy, heart and soul, into the rearing of two children who have grown up to be a couple of the most wonderful people you’d ever want to meet. She admits, however, that this has much more to do with God’s grace than her own abilities as a mother. Jay lives in northeastern Oregon and blogs at Philothea on Phire. She has recently published a book, "Natural Family Planning: Trojan Horse in the Catholic Bedroom?" which is available on

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  • Jackie

    I wholeheartedly agree with you, Jay.

  • Philip Sieve This was interesting. Still, sex should always have generation of children, which the married man and woman would raise with The Faith and as proper an education as one can afford, as its primary end. I don’t know where this so important renewing the marital act came from, but it is not going to be safe at some point in one’s life, if both live to such an old age, so how would it be necessary as a main function of marriage (apparently, Gaudium et spes, I believe, said it’s still about having kids as its primary purpose)? While you’re young enough, you have the sex to have kids. At some point or due to some misfortune, you can’t and God provides. I would think their loving God even more than the other brings such grace to continue in any period of a marriage.

  • jude

    This is an excellent piece. Is this “traditional catholic” teaching?

  • C. Storck

    I would add too, that an important component I haven’t seen addressed here, and I’m not sure about the book, having not read it, is that the primary end of marriage is the procreation AND education of children.

    Pope Pius said that the education is the more important of the two. So if the procreation of children comes at the expense of education, I would say that it could be an injustice to them.

    Dr. Boyd, did you address this particular aspect of our duty as parents in your book?

  • C. Storck

    Mr. Tierny, thank you so much for affirming this point. Using NFP and trusting in providence are not mutually exclusive!

    The popes have talked about the fact that it is up to the couple to make decisions regarding family size:

    “in DECIDING (emphasis mine) whether or not to have a child, they must not be motivated by selfishness OR (emphasis mine) carelessness, but by a PRUDENT, CONSCIOUS (emphasis mine) generosity that WEIGHS THE POSSIBILITIES AND CIRCUMSTANCES…” Pope John Paul in a homily in 1994.

    (He begins by noting that “CATHOLIC THOUGHT IS OFTEN MISUNDERSTOOD (emphasis in original) on this point, as if the Church supported an ideology of fertility at all costs. urging married couples to procreate indiscriminately and without thought for the future. One need only study the pronouncements of the Magisterium to see that THIS IS NOT SO.” (emphasis mine)

    Also in Populorum Progressio, Pope Paul VI says “It is for the parent to decide, with full knowledge of the matter, on the number of children, taking into account their responsibilities towards God, themselves, the children they have already brought into the world and the community in which they belong.”

    Dr. Boyd-how can you turn this into exercising “a degree of control?” I would say it’s using our God-given reason and intellect.

  • C. Storck

    St. Thomas and St. Augustine lived during a time in which the science of NFP (and the fact that there is an order to the female cycle, with fertile and non-fertile times) was discovered they didn’t speak about that one way or the other.

  • This thread just. won’t. die.

    There is no “traditional” position. There is no “post-Vatican II” position. There is only a Catholic position.

    What some people are calling a “traditionalist” position misses is just how much
    was “up in the air” before V2/HV and how much is still “up in the air”. It also leaves out the development of doctrine, a concept misunderstood by both traditionalists and modernists.

    To grossly oversimplify things, development of doctrine enriches prior teaching, but it cannot contradict it. More from a very conservative Bishop can be found here.

    In the case of NFP, Fr. John Hardon, S.J.’s commentary, while not infallible, reflects the teaching of the Church immediately before Vatican II.

    Fr. Hardon states contraception is wrong because couples want pleasure without the responsibilities of parenthood. He also states an alternative view is that it is false expression of love, that is, an act of unity without unity. (This latter view is more prevalent in modern sources, but was around before the council.)

    Fr. Hardon follows Pius XII on the issue. Rhythm is permitted for serious reason, but is generally inadvisable. He warns of difficulties of the abstinence with rhythm, but also notes complete abstinence may be a virtuous alternative.

    He does state that use of rhythm for long periods of time without serious reasons is sinful, but notes that there is no consensus on the gravity of the sin or the exact circumstances under which such use becomes sinful.

    A few things have happened since the article was written (c. 1961):

    1. The discovery of modern NFP in the mid-1960s, which allowed couples to accurately determine fertility instead of guessing with rhythm.

    2. An increased recognition of the importance of the unitive aspect. This in
    no way decreases the importance of the procreative aspect and is consistent with a proper understanding of the development of doctrine. The beginnings of this are seen in Humanae Vitae and it more fully develops in the work of John Paul II.

    So how does this play out?

    The proven health benefits from fertility charting would be sufficient
    to justify learning the method and charting, no matter how the couples
    used the days. Charting is virtuous in itself as it is prudent, healthy, and teaches men and women about how God designed the woman’s body.

    Accurate ways of determining fertility means that cases requiring complete abstinence would be very rare. The “traditional” recommendation of complete abstinence for some couples was not because abstinence in marriage is holier than sex, but because couples with very serious reasons did not have accurate ways of determining fertility and trying to use rhythm would have been risky and stressful.

    The increased recognition of the unitive aspect makes the duties of the partners toward each other more clear.

    John Paul II explicitly rejected the idea that marriage was a “legitimate outlet” for lust or concupiscence. For a husband to use his wife for sex (or vice-versa), even in marriage, would be treating her as an object and would be contrary to her human dignity. Some older “marriage debt” teaching is unclear on this issue, although the concept was not foreign to Catholic thought. Aquinas states that an “unlawful exaction” of the marriage debt—one that is not in the best interest of the spouse—is a sin.

    Instead, because it is a sacrament, marriage—including the marital act—cannot be an outlet for concupiscence, but must be a “cure” for it. The self-control required of periodic continence can be a part of this “cure” for concupiscence and is virtuous as such.

    Humanae Vitae recognizes the importance of the unitive aspect and of the duty to responsible parenthood in the decision to have children or to abstain. What is virtuous, then is prayerful discernment, not abandonment to divine Providence. With modern methods of NFP available, encouraging true abandonment to divine Providence would also mean encouraging deliberate ignorance of bodily functions—hardly a virtue. Instead, what is most virtuous in 1968 is to learn about the body and prayerfully make decisions based on this information—information that was not available in 1961. (Paul VI had access to the most recent studies on the method.)

    I also suspect much of the change is catechetical as older sources could (and often were) misread as pushing “quantity” of children over “quality”. (See Sirach 16:1-3, “Desire not a brood of worthless children” who do not fear the Lord.) This is not a change in teaching: HV is careful to state that “couples are not free to do as they choose”, but must follow the will of God as stated in the consistent teaching of the Church.

    Another difference is getting away from the idea that the procreative aspect of sex and marriage is primary and the unitive aspect secondary. The older sources seem to see unity (the good of the spouses) as a “side effect” of an act designed for making children. John Paul II notes that procreation was intended to result from the unity of the spouses. The unitive and the procreative are intertwined and inseparable. Furthermore, with modern methods of NFP, couples can deliberately come together knowing pregnancy is possible for the purpose of making new life. With this decision, they can become co-creators with God. The traditional ideas of “Primary” and “secondary” simply don’t make much sense in this context.

    Basically, the problem with the views of Dr. Boyd and of others is that they take an incomplete and anachronistic view of “traditional” teaching, leading them to see a contradiction where none exists. They also see doctrine as a zero-sum game where a new area of emphasis in current teaching means a denigration of old teaching.

    Most importantly, we must all remember the words of Pope Francis about the problem of how much damage is caused “chattering in Church”. The decision of a married couple about when to and when not to have sex (that’s what we’re talking about here) is between them and God. It is not our place to speculate and discuss what other couples do in the bedroom.

  • Kevin Tierney

    If Mr. McCreary is going to quote Scripture, he might do well to actually interpret it correctly. The problem with Sarah was that she actively told her husband Abraham to consort with another woman to provide him offspring. Those who practice NFP aren’t doing that. and since they are doing nothing to deliberately deprive the marital act of its power, there is no distinction between “natural family planning” and “trusting in God”, per se. It all depends on the circumstances.
    Nobody is disparaging the doctors of the Church. If anything, several people have quoted Aquinas to show Dr. Boyd’s (and her defenders) views are incompatible with what the Angelic doctor taught, and stem from a fundamentally flawed understanding of Catholic theology.
    But even if we didn’t, doctors of the Church aren’t infallible. The Holy Roman Church is, and in her moral theology and in the direct pronouncements of 6 Roman Pontiffs have stated that Christian couples are permitted to use NFP for sufficient reasons. One can debate whether or not such statements have risen to the level of infallible teaching. (I would say Humanae Vitae is, but that’s debateable.) One cannot state that the teaching of the Church is not clear on this manner, or condemn catholics who do what the Church has permitted. Dr. Boyd does this, as do her defenders, and they have clearly placed themselves above the Magesterium in this case, even by their own admission.

    • Brian McCreary

      Well Mr Tierney, that’s your private interpretation. My reference for Gen xviii. 10, 12 comes from St Augustine (you know that Doctor of the Church that you disparaged as not qualified to speak on moral issues because he’s not a “moral theologian” — are you now also going to disparage him by accusing him of not interpreting Scripture correctly?). From City of God lib. xvi c.xxxi “… his [Isaac’s] mother, when he was again promised by those three men, had laughed, doubting for joy; yet she was blamed by the angel because that laughter, although it was for joy, yet was not full of faith.” Sara was blamed, not because she gave Agar, Sara’s handmaid, to Abraham, but because Sara doubted. And she doubted because she had not faith that God could overcome her barrenness. I’ve also support from the Haydock commentary on verse 12 which says, “ver. 12. Laughed, as if the promise were incredible.” So Sara laughed because she couldn’t believe that God could overcome her barrenness.

      Please, Mr Tierney, do go and find yourself a theologian before Vatican II who supports your private interpretation of Gen xviii. 10, that the problem with Sara’s laughter (in that verse and in verse 12) was “that she actively told her husband Abraham to consort with another woman to provide him offspring.” I’ve given you two that support the interpretation I gave that Sara was blamed for her lack of faith in God’s power to make fertile what man had presumed infertile. So I’ll issue a challenge for you to find three who support your private interpretation of Gen xviii 10, 12.

  • Your interpretation of Aquinas is consistent with the writings of John Paul II.

    What Aquinas is talking about is someone selfishly having sex with their spouse selfishly in order to keep them from sinning sexually outside the marriage. Aquinas calls this venial sin.

    John Paul II would call this lust in marriage or using your spouse. To a certain degree JPII has a stricter view of it than Aquinas.

  • Hear! Hear!

  • TexasCurmudgeon

    Suppose that my wife were infertile or that I were sterile. By your reasoning, we should always refrain from the marital embrace because all times would be times of infertility. This in turn implies that marital intercourse has no value beyond the procreative. Do you really want to argue that the Church’s teaching that the pleasure and unity a married couple receive during intercourse are not gifts from God Himself, but sins?

    • Brian McCreary

      Suppose that you, with you’re supposed sterility, and your wife, with her supposed infertility, put your faith in God rather than laughing like Abraham’s wife Sara (Gen xviii. 10), who thought her barrenness was beyond the power of God, just as you (supposedly) value the diagnosis of medical doctors above the power of God. Given the Biblical account of Isaac’s birth by Abraham and Sara, supposedly, no one can actually be certain that they are infertile/sterile.

      But you’re wrong to assess that what I presented was my reasoning, or that what I presented could reasonably lead to your idiotic conclusion that a supposed couple’s marital act would be infertile every time. What I presented were the reasonings of St Augustine (Doctor of the Church), St Thomas Aquinas (Doctor of the Church), and the Holy Office.

      Do you really want to argue against such holy men, whom the Church has declared that whole Church has derived great advantage from their doctrine … especially St Thomas Aquinas, of whom Pope Leo XIII said, “But the chief and special glory of Thomas, one which he has shared with none of the Catholic Doctors, is that the Fathers of Trent made it part of the order of conclave to lay upon the altar, together with sacred Scripture and the decrees of the supreme Pontiffs, the ‘Summa’ of Thomas Aquinas, whence to seek counsel, reason, and inspiration.” Really? You want to argue against such a holy man, praised by Popes as a source of counsel, reason, and inspiration?

      When you disparage the two greatest Doctors of the Church, by saying that their reasoning is against the Church’s teaching, you’ve already lost the argument.

    • TexasCurmudgeon

      Brian McCreary, why assume that in the hypothetical situation I set up, my wife and I would b

    • C. Storck

      My husband is a Thomist- professor of philosophy. He has studied the great angelic doctor, as well as St. Augustine, and the magisterium of the Church. He and I have been practicing NFP for the past 3 years following the birth of our fifth baby. I’m not going to discuss our reasons here. I only want to say that I consider him very UNselfish for considering my good and that of our family. Has anyone here actually practiced NFP? Learning the method, and particularly applying it was the hardest thing we’ve done. Learning about it theoretically is one thing; putting it into practice is another story!

      We take the moral life very seriously, and would not avail ourselves of NFP if we thought it would endanger our souls. In our experience the drive to reproduce/procreate is so strong that you can often gauge the seriousness of a couple’s reason by the will and motivation to abstain. I think that using NFP to limit a family to one or two, or none would be very rare. It would indeed, in the words of Pope John Paul-amount to using the natural method against nature. But no one’s arguing for that, but rather as a way to regulate conceptions, not avoid having a family

      The Church, in her wisdom, permits periodic continence! Since only 2 % of Catholics are periodically abstaining in order to avoid or postpone pregnancy, it’s rather an insult to them (us) to suggest that they (we) are in the same category as those 90% who entirely disregard Church teaching and contracept.

    • C. Storck

      I wanted to clarify that situations do exist which would warrant using NFP to severely restrict family size. Couples who have such limiting conditions are permitted to marry precisely because there are other goods of marriage beyond procreation. The Blessed Mother’s and St. Joseph’s marriage was no less a marriage for not having upheld the end of procreation.

  • TexasCurmudgeon

    Hear, hear.

  • TexasCurmudgeon

    Agreed. With due respect to Dr. Boyd and her supporters here, I perceive a faint trace of dualism running through their arguments.

  • Siegfried Paul

    I’m sorry to have to answer that “Mary” is called a slut – “Schlunze” – on (“28. April 2013”). I took measures against that: but these measures depend at the moment on a “FATHER” – “Fr.” – who is calling himself “BROTHER”, because Jesus says that we should call no man a father and because Mary calls Jesus “Rabbi” when she realizes that he is not the gardener, reminding us of the WORDS OF JESUS on the hebrew “Rabbi”, I opened the “Holy Bible” on tables . I have to answer, because the Phone 815-223-0315, , is publishing a “consecration” to “Mary”. [You cannot answer by email, but I do have a “SKYPE”-NAME; Dr. Siegfried Paul Posch, Carneri-Gasse 10/E/2, A-8010 Graz, Styria, Ortsteil Geidorf, Austria, Tel. 0043 664 913 5616.]

    • Exception

      I imagine you in a tight black leotard, leering at the landscaper through lavender sheers, while musing over the insight of humping turtles in your dark aquarium..

      The Saints teach that it is easy to know the damned on earth. If you know a soul who does not pray, or has no natural love for Our Lady, you’re speaking of a damned person should he die this way.

      Our Lady at Fatima has asked, on First Saturdays, we make reparation to her Immaculate Heart for all the blasphemies against Marian Doctrine.

      I always imagined this was asked to address the black masses/worship of covens, secret societies, and alike, but to think Austria, which is to say, Germany, has seen fit to award a a doctorate to an intellect so debased is.. perfectly in keeping with the rest of the post-post Christian theology that has been seeping out of Germanic seminaries like sewer water from Kant to Von Balthasar.

      Our Lady at Fatima also showed the three children Hell…FILLED with souls who go there daily, like snowflakes fall from the sky.

      Repent, reform, renounce all leotards, lavender, and licentiousness, and make reparation..


  • Excellent point, Fr. Gardner. Thank you! And Kevin, for heaven’s sake, read Fr. Gardner’s comment again. He didn’t say “exegesis of latin and interpreting texts in light of sound theology isn’t masculine”. He referred to “an approach to marriage and sexuality”. Go back and try again, and please try to keep your sarcasm toned down, at least with Fr. Gardner.

    • He was given the precise meaning of the term, and his only ansdwer was “that’s not a masculine approach.” He was clearly going for the ad hominem, and he got called on it. He is a priest, and hence worthy of respect. Yet he is also even more culpable than laymen for saying erroneous things because unlike you or me, he (should) have had real theological training, so he has even less an excuse when he strays from Church teaching, or tries to set himself up as binding when the Chgurch clearly has not bound. He cannot cite any moral theologian or Church document which states that the marital embrace outside of the few days a month is “sterile sex.” In the end, what I, you, the good reverend, James, or any other irrelevant blogger states about Church teaching is 100% irrelevant. That’s why we reference actual Church teaching.

  • @James

    “Sexual relations during the infertile times are procreative because they follow the procreative process.”

    With all due respect, this does not seem like a very masculine approach to marriage and sexuality. Our Lord wants an abundance of life. He demanded fruit from the fig tree and a return on investment. He does want results. He wants the children to come to Him!

    Every change involves a movement from potency to act. Therefore, movement from potency to act does not distinguish procreation. Rather, it is the fact that God directly intervenes in the conception of each human life that distinguishes procreation from all other human acts. But God will not intervene unless a man causes a woman to become pregnant. And the only thing that will prevent a healthy man from causing a woman to be pregnant upon having (integral) sexual relations is infertility on the part of the woman.

    Periodic continence effectively neuters the man by restricting his causal contribution to the infertile times. Some have called this a female form of coitus interuptus. This is somewhat exaggerated, but it is an objection that needs to be dealt with seriously. Periodic continence is not a virtuous practice of itself, which is why it is permitted only for serious reasons. On the contrary, pure love always includes at least an implicit desire for fruitfulness.

    One clear abuse of NFP is when otherwise logical people use the Church’s conditional permission for periodic continence in order to defy the principle of non-contradiction. Rather, let’s stop promoting sterile sex and start promoting having more babies. If we raise these supreme gifts of marriage (more children) to be God-fearing and family-loving Catholics, we might actually be able to restore a somewhat Christian culture. But, regardless of how the world trends, those souls will be eternally grateful… and the parents… and the Lord will be grateful too!

    • kevin

      So exegesis of latin and inteperting texts in light of sound theology isn’t masculine…. got it. If we needed any evidence of how rotten the seminaries have been since the council with ignorance of latin the good reverend has supplied it.

    • Exception

      Since The Lord revealed to me His Divine Mercy devotion, I feel I have been called to pray especially for the souls of all children and the souls of all priests, so responding to such a passionate priestly eloquence in defense of children, is an opportunity I could not so easily let slip by. Thank you for your Priesthood!

      With that said, I have a few questions..

      Is The Sacrament of Matrimony pregnancy?

      How might we have viewed St. Elizabeth and St. Zechariah with such thinking (Even tradition has that St. Anne and St Jochim did not have Our Lady till very late in life)? Was God not acting in their lives until they were pregnant?

      If periodic continence is never virtuous in itself, what are we to make of Saints, and their spouses, who made vows to live as brother and sister? When a woman’s fertility stops, either naturally, or due to some unforeseen medical emergency, should her husband no longer approach her? Should she be viewed as a cursed fig tree?

      We know the source and summit of Our Faith is The most Blessed Sacrament. Thank you again for your Priesthood. We know, no matter if Heaven was emptied of ever Saint, around your altar, at the moment of the Words of Consecration, with the prayers of all the greatest priests that have ever existed, joined with yours, at that moment, that NOTHING happens if instead of wheat and wine you’re using marshmallows and milk.

      The point is without proper matter there can be no expected form.

      Is the proper matter, in preparation for the most important work on earth, properly raising children, is that merely functional plumbing and desire?

      The instinct to be one flesh, or bring forth life, could seem to be merely animal, unless we use the powers of the intellect, which separate us from the animals, and reflect the image of God, to reflect and abstract about the spiritual, emotional, or psychological matter required to live out this most vital of vocations.

      I’ve worked with troubled youth a long time. I’ve seen my kids die, or be imprisoned, and it was as clear as day a decade before. Their parents thought being a parent was agreeing to the effects of their animal lusts.

      Making children is easy and rather fun. It seems to me being a parent is the love you show that child before or after he’s conceived.

      You went to seminary and were prepared for your vocation by scrutiny and ordeal, of a sort. Are we to entrust the inherited, ever- worsening, generational moral poverty, enveloping every facet of society, as the bona fides for parenting?

      If a young couple lived in a log-cabin in Montana, surrounded by cougars and grizzlies, is there not some love in souls not submitting a child to the inherent dangers of that environment?

      Today, comparing today’s spiritual beasts to natural beasts, is an insult to natural predators everywhere.

      Our Lord told The Apostles it would be better if Judas had never lived. We can imagine why. Is it unloving to wish a child not to be lost by first considering what serious or grave reasons there may be to use Church-approved technologies to officiate that decision?

      I find myself defending matrimony like I would The Eucharist in a land rocked by famine, devoid of even a trace of the wheat and wine, needed initially, to nourish souls.

      Any energy you might spend on these matters would be much appreciated.

      God Bless you and your Priesthood!


    • James

      Interesting theology, Father, but that’s NOT the teaching of the Catholic Church.

      Where does St. Joseph fit in your “masculine sexuality”? Where do you, a celibate priest, fit in?

      Furthermore, marital sexuality is not “masculine”, but the unity of the masculine and the feminine. You seem to imply that the decision is the husband’s alone, and that the wife is a passive receptacle, not a spouse with equal dignity in the marriage. But such an attitude is not one of a healthy marriage or the teaching of the Church.

      Yes, fruitfulness in marriage is good. This is the consistent, unchanging teaching of the Catholic Church.

      Yes, children are a part of marriage and couples should not avoid parenthood without serious reasons. This is the consistent unchanging teaching of the Catholic Church.

      But the idea that infertile sex is sterile is not. The Church would not marry infertile/older couples if it were. The marital act maintains its nature when the woman is fertile, infertile, pregnant, or post-menopausal. It maintains its goodness at all these times.

      As for periodic continence being virtuous, Pius XI contrasts “virtuous continence” with “frustrating the marital act” in Casti Connubii. There is no reason why periodic continence cannot be virtuous.

      So how could avoiding pregnancy be virtuous? Most of the time “serious reasons” involve the wife’s physical or mental health. It is quite masculine for a husband to not selfishly request the marriage debt for the sake of his wife’s health. Likewise, it may be virtuous for a wife not to request the debt due to concerns of her husband.

      Self-denial and self-control can be virtuous. I’m sure you were taught this in seminary.

      Pius XII, Paul VI, and John Paul II have all warned about abusing NFP. But as John Paul II mentioned, this is a separate issue. NFP remains morally licit and is never contraception. Instead, the problem is how the couple is living out their marriage vocation. A marriage that isn’t fruitful is going against the purpose of marriage.

      In order for a couple to abuse NFP, they would have to deprive each other without good reason. A couple who is depriving each other without good reason probably has serious marital and/or spiritual problems, of which the abuse of NFP is only a symptom. Put another way, the abuse of NFP is more like a “sexless/sex-starved marriage” than it is like contraception.

    • Brian Killian

      If you deny the reality of ‘virtuous continence’ you are a heretic.

      ‘Periodic continence’ is just virtuous continence applied to the new discovery that women also play a role in fertility and that fertility in the woman is cyclical.

      It follows that since fertility is cyclical, then what you call ‘sterile’ sex is actually part of the nature of sex. This means that a couple having sex during an infertile time are still within the bounds of the nature of sex, they have not trespassed the natural boundaries of sex.

      And if their continence is virtuous then their intercourse is also virtuous.

      You seem to be resentful that God the creator has included an infertile period into the nature of sexuality. How could God be so un-traditional? You want to continue living in a time when the biological understanding of sex was that the man was the ‘prime mover’ in fertility and the woman was nothing but a passive receptacle, and where each and every sex act was potentially pregnancy inducing.

      You may hate knowledge and facts and reality, but the Church doesn’t and never has. The discovery of cyclical fertility was not known to St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. So how logical is it to appeal to men who were ignorant of important material facts as your authorities in this matter?

      Do you think we’re all just going to play along in your ‘traditionalist’ fantasy that this is still 1213 and not 2013?

      The Church has evaluated and is evaluating the new facts. And it’s conclusion is and has been that provided one’s reasons for continence are good, then it is not bad to take advantage of the infertile times. Why is not bad? Because, says the Church, there are other ‘ends’ to sex for the spouses.

      I know it’s shocking, but what that means is that a Christian couple need not be motivated strictly by the intention to procreate when they come together. They may intend any end which is part of the sacrament.

      Yes, Catholic marriage is a sacrament, not a baby-making factory. Your obsession with the ‘primary end’ of sex cannot distinguish the sacrament of marriage from Islamic marriage or any other form of marriage which recognizes the fact that sex makes babies – and that ALONE.

      You just can’t bring yourselves to admit that sex has a role to play that goes beyond it’s purely natural function. That’s why you can’t imagine anyone virtuously having sex during pregnancy or menopause.

      Female coitus interuptus? No, you are accusing the Creator of coitus interuptus. You are accusing the Creator of being immoral, of making something base and evil.

      Loving procreative acts for legit reasons during infertile times are never fruitless. They are never sterile. Because there is a spiritual side to sex, not just a natural one.

      Just as God is eternally begetting within the mystery of his own being, even if there never was any creation ex nihilo, so can the loving procreative acts of a Christian couple during an infertile time be spiritually fruitful even if no physical, biological begetting occurs.

    • Siegfried Paul

      James, I was asked to comment on “Paul VI.” and I did, : but did you show me that you understand Italy?

  • James

    Furthermore, I don’t think the exact problems of “abusing NFP” are well understood by many.

    Reliable methods of Natural Family Planning were not discovered until the mid-1960s. Rhythm was infamously unreliable and required a significant amount of abstinence. This abstinence and unreliability put a tremendous amount of strain on couples who relied on it.

    The older writings on the subject can be read as a concern that couples should not put such a strain on their marriage unless they have serious reasons to do so. Even with modern NFP, there is still a risk.

    Most NFP couples like sex and like children and really do need serious reasons to avoid both. The world tells couples they need iron control over reproduction, the Church simply tells couples to enjoy each other as they naturally would, with both prudence and generosity.

    The idea that couples are living it up by avoiding pregnancy with NFP is simply not true. Those who seem to be may not be avoiding, but may be having trouble getting pregnant. Those who really are “abusing NFP” probably have a series of spiritual and/or marital problems that are the real issue and will manifest themselves in other ways. If an NFP couple is happily married and has a strong faith life, then they are almost certainly NOT abusing anything, no matter how many children they have.

    And finally, we are not in a position to judge “generosity” or “serious reasons” for anyone else. To do so would be the sin of Rash Judgment.

  • James

    “Despite all the clamoring and subtle distinctions; there is no denying that having sexual relations exclusively during the infertile times is sterile sex.”

    At one time I would have agreed with you, but you misunderstand Church teaching.

    The Church speaks Latin, not English. All we have is a translation. There are subtle differences between languages that can have major doctrinal implications.

    When the Church speaks of “procreation”, she speaks of the ACT, not the RESULT. In the Latin sense of the word (procreation), a procreative act is one that follows the procreative process, whether or not a baby results. Sexual relations during the infertile times ARE procreative because they follow the procreative process. Whether a baby results or not is irrelevant. The Church teaches that the procreative process is sacred in marriage and that couples must respect it and not alter it.

    In English, “procreation” focuses on the result, the baby. This is why English speakers can’t understand why infertile sex is procreative or why artificial reproduction is not. But this leads to ends-justifies-the-means thinking.

    This is also why the Church does not impose an obligation on infertile couples to reproduce, nor does she annul marriages on grounds of infertility. (Ask Henry VIII about that one.) This is why elderly couples can procreate, even though reproduction is biologically impossible (Abraham-and-Sarah miracles notwithstanding) The Church does not ask couples beyond reproductive age to “accept children in the marriage”, yet the marriages are still valid.

    In Casti Connubii, Pius XI tells couples that frustrating the marital act is evil. In Latin, the word translated as “frustrating” implies an alteration. NFP does not alter the marital act, therefore it is licit. There has been NO change on the licitness of NFP, ever since it was first theorized in the 1850s. The pre-Vatican II magisterium is the same as the post-Vatican II magisterium.

    What has changed is a deeper understanding of the importance of the unitive aspect of marriage, but this is consistent with the development of doctrine. This in no way lessens the value of the procreative aspect of marriage.

    The Church’s teaching can be summarized as follows:

    1. The marital act is sacred, don’t mess with it.
    2. The marital act is good, don’t avoid it without good reason.
    3. Children are an important part of marriage, don’t avoid children without good reason.

    There is no need to overthink this or to become scrupulus. The self-awareness, self-denial, and self-control required to avoid pregnancy with NFP are all virtues. It’s a sacrifice and it’s very hard to abstain very well for very long without serious reasons.

    Or as one young Catholic woman put it, “If people are using NFP selfishly then they are pretty crappy at being selfish and we’ve got a lot of other things to worry about.”

  • There is such a danger in this approach, and as much as I do esteem Jay Boyd, I disagree with her here (as she knows from previous discussions).

    I wrote about my incredible frustration with the “NFP-to-postpone-pregnancy-is-practically-if-not-tecnically-immoral” position, here:

    Stop giving warnings, and rejoice!

  • Brianna Heldt

    YES. This. Agree 100%, and I think it is terribly sad that Catholic culture has adopted NFP as the norm. Thank you so much for this wise, wise article!

  • Siegfried Paul

    I still don’t see: “catholicstand” doesn’t make clear if our judgement concerning Freud should be a positive or a negative judgement, for Marsh Fightlin, , it seemed to be positive.

  • Anna

    Kevin, I completely agree & yes this does seem to be a terminology issue.

    I also agree with what you posted & yes, procreation is the primary end of marriage. And unitive the secondary end. However, the word she used was “trump” which implies a bit of defeating/conquering. The procreative and the unitive ends support and strengthen one another which is why I quoted the term “inseparable”.

  • Exception

    This is not my fight, but it seems ascribing motives of concupiscence to the Sacrament of Matrimony is a little like saying a man desires Holy Orders because he lusts for power or the Daily Communicant’s truest desire is a spiritual pride that feeds his ego.

    Those things MAY be so, but it’s a bit presumptuous to go there.

    The more a married couple share that Sacrament the more likely they are to be the loving family we want them to be.

    Good Catholics don’t discourage married couples from being together, but GREATLY encourage it (provided that are open to life and no Onan-ian sin creeps in). St. Paul and The Epistles are clear about submitting to and loving your spouse.

    I had 4 great Uncles and Aunts. All of them married for 50 years+. All of them, very romantically, died within a month of their spouse passing.

    My Aunt Anna, into her 70’s, and until she died, was always very spry and animated. My Uncle Julius, her husband, looked 20 years younger then he was, was always by his wife, very soft-spoken, but ALWAYS with a remarkable little wry smile like he was bursting with a secret he wouldn’t tell.

    I think there’s some wisdom there to discern.


    • Mary Ann

      Thank you for being the voice of reason…. very good analogies too!

  • John Galvin

    That boldface font is very bold. I didn’t mean to shout at anyone. I was just trying to highlight the crucial sentences.

    • Kevin

      🙂 I appreciate this note, text so often gets misread. It made me chuckle. This discussion has gotten so interesting because there are orthodox Catholics on both sides and there is pretty strong disagreement.

  • John Galvin

    Anna said, “I’m pretty sure neither the unitive nor the procreative trumps each other. My understanding is it’s a both/and situation.”

    Pope Pius XII stated in his “Address to Midwives” (This papal document was footnoted in “Gaudium et Spes” of Vatican II and in “Humanae Vitae” as the source of the Church’s approval of “periodic continence.”):

    “Now, the truth is that matrimony, as an institution of nature, in virtue of the Creator’s will, has not as a primary and intimate end the personal perfection of the married couple but the procreation and upbringing of a new life. The other ends, inasmuch as they are intended by nature, are not equally primary, much less superior to the primary end, but are essentially subordinated to it. This is true of every marriage, even if no offspring result, just as of every eye it can be said that it is destined and formed to see, even if, in abnormal cases arising from special internal or external conditions, it will never be possible to achieve visual perception.

    It was precisely to end the uncertainties and deviations which threatened to diffuse errors regarding the scale of values of the purposes of matrimony and of their reciprocal relations, that a few years ago (March 10, 1944), We Ourselves drew up a declaration on the order of those ends, pointing out what the very internal structure of the natural disposition reveals. We showed what has been handed down by Christian tradition, what the Supreme Pontiffs have repeatedly taught, and what was then in due measure promulgated by the Code of Canon Law. Not long afterwards, to correct opposing opinions, the Holy See, by a public decree, proclaimed that it could not admit the opinion of some recent authors who denied that the primary end of marriage is the procreation and education of the offspring, or teach that the secondary ends are not essentially subordinated to the primary end, but are on an equal footing and independent of it.

  • Anna

    Okay, 2nd paragraph: Um, I’m pretty sure neither the unitive nor the procreative trumps each other. My understanding is it’s a both/and situation. See Humanea Vitae ( which calls it an “inseparable connection”.
    Humanea Vitea also addresses why sexual union in the case of infertile couples or couples past child bearing age is a good. So I’m pretty sure her last sentence is wrong.
    Marital sex is good, holy and a sacrament with a small s, and my husband & I passionately plan to take full advantage of this grace filled gift during both fertile & infertile times. And I’m pretty sure engaging in the marital act during an infertile phase is not frustrating God because He design there to be infertile times. Whereas, engaging in the marital act during a fertile phase & preventing conception is frustrating the natural end. That is why it is called contraception.
    And the martial act is so holy that it can be used as an example to explain the Eucharist, as can breastfeeding btw 🙂
    At this point, I’m kinda getting a sense that she is still struggling with the world’s twisted view of sex & children & is trying to fix it by focusing only on the good of the children. I can understand this because I remember when my first child was born thinking “oh, so this is what sex is for”. But I only thought this because my husband and I were still so entrenched in sinful sexual habits that our unions were not reflecting what God intended. Thankfully He wasn’t done transforming our minds, hearts & marital unions. More later 🙂

    • Anna,

      The primary ends of marriage are indeed procreation. Marriage was instituted by God because it is the institution which is best suitable towards children.

      Yet these ends are strengthened by the unitive aspects of marriage, mutual help, the fostering of love, and the dying to self involved in the quieting of concupiscence. The marital embrace is probably the strongest sign (and driver) of this unitive love. Pius XI teaches that as long as one does not deliberately deprive the marital act of its natural power, Catholics can and should use the marital embrace to strengthen these unitive aspects, since these lead to stronger families.

      I think you’d agree with that. Think honestly it’s a bit of a terminology issue. Sadly, Dr. Boyd and others look at some of these traditional terms, and divorce them from any traditional meaning, to come up with their own warped ideas.

  • Anna

    First thing: NFP is not submissive to God?!! Whoa? Wait a minute? If every single month, before every single marital act, my husband & I take our fertility and our sexuality and place it before God and say okay what do You have planned for us right now? How is that not being submissive to God? In my experience, the power of my fertility and my desire for sexual expression with my husband has led to a much deeper, more frequent prayer life. Yes, NFP can be used in a way that is not submissive to God. But there is nothing in the nature of NFP that makes it so. More later 🙂

  • Thomas, If one understands what is meant by “rendering the marriage debt” then one sees that Stacy’s interpretation is the correct one. See Pius XI’s Casti Conubii, paragraph 59. Also look at John hardon’s “Moral Theology”, Chapter VII (On contraception) which is available online.

  • Exception

    I’m familiar with athletes. At high levels, women athletes often lose their menses for months at a time. Why? One can imagine the body flashes back to a time where a woman is running from some animal, and now cares little for the present goals of the marathon, gymnastics event, etc..We know stress experienced in war zones, natural disasters, grave illness, or traumatic injury can play havoc with a woman’s cycle. NFP research has shown nursing mothers are far less likely to conceive.

    The point is that God builds into a woman reactions to external stimuli that have nothing to do with sexual desire or personal sin. We can’t really turn a blind eye to that information if we are to help families be as happy as possible. The alternative seems to start attaching scarlet “A”‘s to people’s motives. Rash judgment helps no-one.

    Honest research is never Freud or Kinsey, but is the work of science working WITH the heart of The Church. We should be frank about couples being extremely happy with their love life. In fact, we should see it as right and honor to facilitate that Holy Sacrament like any other.

    I prefer the extraordinary form of The Mass because of the reverence (“smells and bells”) it gives The Most Blessed Sacrament and The Holy Sacrifice of The Mass. We should look to elevate the Holy Sacrament of Matrimony in the same way.

    Some Traditional folks want to consign the Sacrament of Matrimony to some lesser status because of the fear that people never can be taught a mature way of viewing the Marital Act. It’s as if the adolescent graffiti of bathroom stalls will forever be our guiding principles.

    Some see NFP as “Catholic” birth control (sic).

    Neither is true and holding either view is dangerous.

    We know not if the marital embrace is a truly loving or lustful one, that is a prerogative of The Most High, but I think we ought, in Charity, to assume the former.

    One can also make the argument that the unprecedented cultural sewer we find everywhere today, and even, regrettably, in some parts of The Church, is a far more dangerous jungle than the milieu primitive man ever faced.

    At least the predators then only wanted to devour your body, unlike the infernal beasts of today, who very much desire your soul.


  • The discussion about St. Aquinas needs some clarification, I think.

    It is true, St. Thomas says that engaging in the marital act for pleasure only “is one of the daily sins, for which we say the ‘Our Father’. Now these are not mortal sins.” That is, he counts it as a venial sin.” (As Jay pointed out.)

    Text here: (Art. 5 and 6)

    He was explaining that if a man (or woman) engages in sex for pleasure selfishly then it is a venial sin.

    In other words, using your spouse for your own pleasure is wrong.

    Nothing hard to understand about that.

    However, prior to that St. Thomas addressed both spouses engaging in sexual pleasure.

    Consequently there are only two ways in which married persons can come together without any sin at all, namely in order to have offspring, and in order to pay the debt. Otherwise it is always at least a venial sin.

    By “pay the debt” St. Thomas means giving to each other as married couples are obligated to do. (He discusses this in Q. 64, similar to the debt a slave owes his master. Married couples belong to each other and owe each other the giving of the self. He calls this a marital “good”.)

    If the spouses engage in the marital act for the sake of each other, it is not sinful.


    • thomas tucker

      Sounds like sex is a venial sin unless done for children or out of obligation in the original. But i hope your interpretation is correct.

  • I also think it’s time to challenge certain individuals:

    Given the reality of the effects of sin in our lives and that we seldom ever do this act completely detached from all sin and its consequences, how can we possibly receive Christ in the blessed sacrament, since your sinful inclinations will inevitably make communion less effective than it should be? Given your view on NFP, how can one ansdwer this question and not be a Jansenist? There’s a direct connection. Jansenists advised against receiving communion frequently because our attachment to sin would lead to the chance of abusing communion. This was condemned as heretical, and a thoroughly protestants understanding of original sin and concuspience.

    So how does Dr. Boyd thread the needle here?

    • thomas tucker

      And, with regard to concipiscence, I thought it was an effect of Original Sin such that we have a general weakening of our will with regard to temptation, particularly sexual temptation. However, I have never understood it as sin itself, and certainly not as enjoying sexual pleasure from licit sexual activity.

  • My turn to respond to various 🙂

    – Can anyone show me where in church teaching, church documents, theological books, pre or post vatican II, where there is a distinction between “trusting in God” and “all NFP?”

    – The church has never taught that enjoying sex is sinful. Nor do they teach the absurd idea that there’s nothing different between fornication and marital conjugal union except for procreation. Pius XII was crystal clear, provided the primary ends of the marital embrace are not deprived of their procreative power by an external action, couples are free to make use of the other ends of conjugal union, including how it strengthens the marital bond, and causes the power of concupisence over married couples to lessen. (Potentially) So the popes after Vatican II haven’t “developed” this doctrine, but simply applied it using a different philosophical approach which teaches the same thing.

    As far as Dr. Boyd, I’m not disagreeing with those saints. I’m saying that thanks to some woefully wrongheaded assumptions, you read your erroneous views into perfectly orthodox saints. (Your downright Jansenistic interpretation of Aquinas comes to mind.) It is why I demand you prove that other people interpret those sources the same way you do, those with the competence to teach on these things. You could still be right when they are wrong, but they see something completely different in these remarks, and unlike you or me, they have actual copmetence to decide these matters.

  • John Galvin

    (There are so many replies to replies up above that I am posting this at the end of the thread.)
    Enness said, “John Galvin wrote: “Isn’t the decision made on the day the man and woman marry, and from then on they leave to God the question of the blessings He decides to send them?”

    God didn’t make us omniscient, but he didn’t make us complete fools either. What good is prudence, then?”

    The question “What good is prudence?” is a good question that deserves an answer. St. Francis of Assisi and St. Louis de Montfort point out the fact that when the word “prudence” is used by worldly people, it is simply a euphemism for worldliness. In that sense it means finding ways to avoid the onerous burdens of religion while still maintaining a facade of holiness.

    But the true virtue of prudence means finding the best way to heaven. You can imagine yourself as a pilgrim walking a pilgrimage along a road that leads to heaven, but there are many dangers along the way, and many places where you can take a wrong turn. Prudence is the virtue that keeps you on the “straight and narrow” road to heaven by remembering past pitfalls that led to disaster and foreseeing false turns up ahead that will lead you off the road to heaven.

    In the context of the question being discussed here, the pilgrim is at a crossroads and the one fork is marked “Reliance on divine providence” and the other fork is marked “Natural family planning.” Prudence helps you to distinguish the one which leads to heaven from the one which leads to a dead end.

  • thomas tucker

    Nice comments, Tabitha.
    To clarify my last questions, I know that some people held the view that sexual pleasure pursued for it’s own sake, even between husband and wife, was sinful. But is it true that that opinion was dogmatic teaching? That is my question. And if it was not dogmatic, then shouldn’t the recent Popes’ teaching be seen as a legitimate devlopment of doctrine?

    • No, it is not dogma, it’s opinion. I don’t even think it’s valid opinion. The Bible speaks rather frankly of sexual pleasure in marriage as a gift from God. (Genesis 2:23-24, Proverbs 5:18-19, Songs 1:2-4)

      If the marriage is ordered toward its primary purpose (the generation and bringing up of offspring) then mutual sexual pleasure is not sinful.

      The debate here is about what “ordered toward” means. Is it okay to avoid conception for a time? When? Under what circumstances? Is it okay to enjoy sex if you are trying to avoid conception for a time, but still are open to life in general? Or should you abstain completely and not use NFP to only have sex during infertile periods? Or should you never avoid conception at all? The debate about “serious reasons” etc.

  • Tabitha

    Wow… where do you all live? We would be so thrilled if more people here were even open to the idea of NFP instead of all sorts of other things. Not many couples here even consider NFP.

    NFP teaches those, not open to life, to be open to life. NFP helps women to really understand their bodies in a healthy way. NFP helps couples to have children when they are having problems in that area. NFP guides couples how to avoid pregnancy when it is really needed. NFP teaches self control and self mastery. It promotes fidelity and healthy families. It helps women like me to be diagnosed with feminine diseases. It helps women like me be treated with natural hormones properly when the mainstream doctors don’t even try.

    Check out the Pope Paul IV Institute and Dr. Hilgers work. Even across the country, he was able to properly diagnose me and recommend treatment when all other doctors here failed. He does amazing work and so does the Institute. They train doctors to have live-giving practices and tools to really help women. They help so many women with postpartum depression. It’s endless…

    The Catholic Church is the one who is doing on the edge medicine for women in this area and have helped me to no end. Thank you Jesus!

    If you reply to my post, I’m sorry I do not have time to reply. Busy with my family!

  • thomas tucker

    Interesting questions that this has brought up. Has the Church really taughtt for 1963 years that if a married couple pursued sex with each other simply for sexual pleasure without contracepting that it is a venial sin? Is JPII’s TOB a development of doctrine?

  • FYI for those interested, Fr. Hardon’s work Moral Theology devotes an entire chapter to contraception, the marital embace, natural family planning, etc.


    I highly suggest “Periodic Continence” and “Specialized Problems” for this discussion.

  • Exception

    There are really two strains going on here. The battle is between Traditional Sexual Mores vs. the TOB (Theology of The Body)/NFP crowd. The former has 1,963 years of the Catholic Faith to draw from while the latter has the imposing specter of JP 2 to use as a hammer against all foes.

    I think everything beautiful in The Church comes from Tradition, but looking at sexuality as a terrible evil we have to endure, so new souls can be brought into the world, is misguided. Puritanism is really the seed of all pornography and debauchery.

    I love the idea of frank conversation between couples, before marriage, to manage most powerful flames, so wings are not singed, by a fire that both gives life but destroys many souls. Yet, the phenomenolgy that JP 2 drew from in his TOB discourse also allowed for him to believe kissing the Koran, having shamans dancing in the sanctuary at Assisi (and a Buddha placed on the Tabernacle), and to entertain topless liturgical dancers while on a papal trip to Africa was also a work of “the spirit.” (I’ll leave it to your imaginations as to what sort of spirit might have been in play, there..)

    What all this points to is a failure on the part of the Church to deal with this problem with all the resources it has. Abortion, sodomy, the annulment industry (90% of Annulments happen in the U.S. mainly due to the ability to pay the $300-$600 “clerical fee”), and every stripe of every sort of the colossal failure that is any part of the clerical crisis stems from misunderstandings as to the proper, ordered role of men, women, and children in society.

    If the pastoral council of V-2 was even true to it’s stated goal of “Ecumenism” that only begins and ends with the family. I share nothing in common with Muslims, Hindu’s, etc..but I do want the children they have to be loved, cherished, and nurtured in a society that recognizes the unique gift of every soul. I do not cherish pagan, heretical, or schismatic beliefs, but the soul that God made that, we pray, only temporarily hold these beliefs, yes, I love that soul, for it bears the fingerprints of God.

    Supporting the family, the first Church God created (Adam & Eve), should be the continual and sole work of the Pope and parishes worldwide. There would be no material poverty in the world today if the world’s elite did not conspire to starve bodies. Yet, there seems nowhere for the spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically starved to be fed in even the most “Catholic” places on earth.

    Let’s not feel good about ourselves because we put a wig on a cancer patient, but let’s fight and prevent the disease.


    • errr…. I’m a traditionalist, I uphold traditional sexual mores, and I fully support the teachings of Blessed John Paul’s Wednesday audiences in his Catechesis on Human Love, or “Man and Woman He Created Them.”

  • thomas tucker

    That is bordering on presumption if you think God doesn’t expect you to use your brain as well as your genitals!

    • I guess I wonder how Dr. Boyd reconciles her statements on “sex for pleasure” with what the servant of God John Hardon S.J. states when writing in matters of….. MORAL THEOLOGY:

      “Husband and wife are allowed everything that is necessary or useful or pleasing regarding intercourse, even for experiencing fully the pleasure attached to it, and then neither party can sin in looking at, touching or acting in any other way towards his own or his spouse’s body. Therefore no restriction is placed on them in showing to each other mutual love, so that they cannot sin either by look or touch or any other manifestation of love, no matter how long they continue, so long as they do not neglect other duties of greater moment. They may also speak and think about and desire those things between themselves, with only the common sense proviso of not involving a third party in this communication.

      In all their marital relations they should be led more by the desire of pleasing the other than by the fear of sinning. They will act in a way more pleasing to God if they anticipate the desires of their spouse, rather than await a request. At the same time, true love also avoids demanding what the other would find inconvenient.

      These rights and duties remain unchanged during their whole life, even when they cannot have children. No mention of normal conjugal relations should be made in confession, otherwise the confessor may suspect that something sinful has been committed, whereas coition and all its accompaniments are not only not sinful but virtuous and sanctifying to husband and wife.”

      I think that’s pretty ironclad. I think everyone is still waiting on someone qualified who interprets Aquinas as Dr. Boyd and her supporters do.

  • It’s not that hard, really. Just get married, love each other, and do what comes naturally. God has a plan, and it really is okay to just go with it. It’s called Abandonment to Divine Providence. Highly recommended by many saints(though it is quite likely that Kevin Tierney will say that those saints don’t know what they’re talking about because they are not moral theologians of his level of expertise).

    Just sayin’. 😉

  • enness

    So we’re screwed (pun not intended) if having sex when infertile, but can’t be permitted an educated guess as to when that occurs because we will inevitably abuse it? What the hell, man?

    I am glad to know that the Church does not expect every single act to produce a baby, or I’d be beside myself with confusion right now.

  • Mary Ann

    I can’t believe this discussion is still going on! I just have to say that if we read and analyzed all of the encyclicals, dogmas and writings of the early Church fathers and past popes, we would never have time to procreate at all. I think Dr. Boyd’s suggestion (based on all of these readings) that a married couple should only intimately express their love when they are willing to accept a baby and abstain all other times, is overly scrupulous and extremely misguided. I can’t imagine any emotional or spiritual benefit to approaching such a beautiful aspect of married life with reservations that the act may be sinful. NFP has the endorsement of Blessed John Paul II and that’s good enough for me. The expression of married love is meant to be joyfully celebrated not distorted to be viewed as some kind of obligation or burden. I can’t imagine that a loving God would design it to be so.

  • Exception

    The key to a life-long love are for two virgins to marry and explore their love till death do they part. Short of that, a wife will be happy if needed, and a husband happy if desired. Sometimes there are those who resent the above requirement of the wife. This is the basic summation of Our Lord’s instructions in Genesis. St. Paul and all The Epistles echo the same. The war on boys by feminism, the past 50 years, has turned the culture into a cesspool of transmogrified, androgynous shells afraid to be authentically feminine or masculine. People with doctorate degrees actually expect you to take whatever LGBTQIOUBLT is, or other such gibberish, seriously.

    If you’re married, do what your spouse loves, but be open to life at the end, with no hint of the many variations of the sin of Onan. God did not make a woman fertile every hour of the day. He has set her cycle, and it could change, but if it does.. then Blessed be God, Blessed be His Holy Name, and Blessed be His Holy Will.

    If you love someone you want them happy. The greatest happiness is to be with God forever. So unless it offends God, attending to the above caveat, love your spouse as hard and with as much spontaneity, passion, and variety as you can!

    If your thinking shifts, from how I will love my spouse to what I get out of it, have recourse to a re-doubled prayer life, spiritual reading, and making use of The Sacraments.

    Then when you’ve connected with Your (And Our) first love in the presence of The Most High..

    Get back in there and be the love warrior God made you to be! =+)
    (After all, in Heaven, we all become brothers and sisters, becoming like the Angels, and are not given in marriage. So what that means for all you married couples right now is..YOU’RE ON THE CLOCK!) =+)


  • Nate

    I feel that reading this article creates a rift in many that use NFP. It is kind of hard to understand and it might be misunderstood that the author says no to any form of fertitilty awareness. I personally do not feel this way, however I would clarify my own personal experience regrading thinking about the ways NFP will be in my life. My girlfriend and I are not married, and we are being good stewards of the Faith in waiting until after we would tie the knot. Marriage is about bringing together a man and a woman, to be the bearers of a little piece of Heaven on earth in the joining of Christ and His Church. To not take part of one end, the unities one is to deny what the sacrament means. We are not using NFP to beat around the bush, that’s not the primary reason. We are not going to use it because we want to say no to God. I understand the world needs kids. There is a shortage, due to population control. However being blind to how hostile the powers that run the country and others over the world to the build up of the family is to not see a train coming at you when your standing in the middle of the tracks. I would like it just as much as you to have 3+ kids in a family, and maybe that is what God has in store for my girlfriend and I as a couple. With that being said Marriage is a twofold deal an delaying one does not mean being being closed to it, but the cathedrals are bed chambers, the poles attest to the divine will, and that is what is true. God put cycles in a Woman, that is just how it is, and using them to postpone pregnancy is not being closed to God. He leaves that 2% there and that’s fine by me. We as a couple would never be closed to him and his plans for us, but the joining is well joining, and we use the means God has put to us in order to make that happen. We do not throw the other part out, but the first end of the marital ceremony is to combine first, then multiply.

    • Shawna

      Thank you for talking about NFP and its proper uses. This is one of the most thoughtful, logical, beautiful and faithful ways I’ve heard it described, and the way most respected doctors and other experts on NFP speak about it. I’m having a hard time following this discussion because, regardless of what the author says, NFP is pretty much being condemned as thwarting God’s will if sex is avoided during fertile periods, as well as strongly implying that are no actual “serious reasons” to delay pregnancy, and anyone saying that they have serious reason is engaging in contraceptive mentality. The author states that she’s not telling people to NOT use NFP, but if it’s wrong for a couple to use NFP to postpone pregnancy, then NFP becomes nothing more than a chart to show the doctor when you likely conceived. And, again, I’ve never heard views like these uttered in a Catholic setting, only in a Protestant setting with self-proclaimed members of the “full quiver” movement, who also find the idea of NFP a sin against God’s Will, believe being able to have a large family is a blessing from God, and imply that families who don’t have a lot of kids, for whatever reason, is a sign God is not happy with them.

    • Nate

      Thank you Shawna. It means a lot to me. Part of my job as a hopefully future husband is to keep my wife’s soul ready for Heaven. Not that I need to do a lot of work my girlfriend is a Saint already, but still it’s her happiness that I would need to keep. I see so often and I experience much backlash over coming out saying that my girlfriend and I are going to use NFP. It’s hard because being a 24 year old male, you stand out for wanting to do that. Other do not see what you are giving, they do not see the call you heed to love your spouse like no other.

      When my girlfriends Newman club talks about chastity and how a man should treat a Woman my girlfriend always smiles, because she knows she has one that does, and knows the sacrifice that I am making. Maybe not in a full way, but that way will come in time. I do not need another mans approval that I am doing a good job, I follow Christ Crucified, his grace is enough. Never before have I had the self control I do now, and I work on it daily in preparation for marriage. While it is a fight, more each day it gets a little better, so besides Chasity, NFP will be a triumph for us because of what all the nay-sayers said. We smiled in giving, the giving of ourselves and that is victory.

  • Thanks, Fr. Gardner!

    WPR…I’m going out of town for a few days, so any further response on this will be delayed. Sorry!

  • wpr

    Interesting article. I have a few questions:

    1) For Dr. Boyd: You stated that: “When a married couple thinks the time is not right for pregnancy, the first option is abstinence; but, if desire is too strong, then charity demands that they engage in the remedy for their concupiscence.” First, I want to make sure I am understanding this correctly. Are you saying that if a married couple who desires to avoid pregnancy for serious reasons is capable of complete continence, they are obliged to practice it? In other words, would it be a sin to engage in the conjugal act with another “secondary end” of marriage in mind, such as “the cultivating of mutual love?” Casti Connubii 59.

    2) For Dr. Boyd or her supporters: With reference to the statement from Dr. Boyd that I quoted above, has this ever been explicitly taught by the Church? If so, where?

    3) For Dr. Boyd or her supporters: In your view, are there different considerations for married couples between: 1) marital sex during an infertile period when trying to avoid pregnancy; and 2) marital sex during pregnancy? Put another way, is a married couple ever morally obliged to refrain from the conjugal act during pregnancy, given that the end of procreation cannot be (further) satisfied?

    4) For anyone: How should the following statement from Casti Connubii be understood?: “24. This mutual molding of husband and wife, this determined effort to perfect each other, can in a very real sense, as the Roman Catechism teaches, be said to be the chief reason and purpose of matrimony, provided matrimony be looked at not in the restricted sense as instituted for the proper conception and education of the child, but more widely as the blending of life as a whole and the mutual interchange and sharing thereof.” I am a little confused about how the “chief reason” of marriage can be different depending upon how marriage is “looked at.” I am sure this is mainly due to my own ignorance though, so I was hoping someone had some insight into where in the tradition Pope Pius IX drew this from. Since this is a comment box, I should clarify that I only want answers to this question that include citations to some sort of authority, not speculative personal opinions.

    Thanks a lot.

  • Exception

    There can be lust in matrimony if you view your spouse as an object. A spouse should be viewed as a love only second to God and Heaven. You should serve that love with all your energy as much as any priest or bishop. Still, the procreative part of the marital act is NOT the Sacrament of Matrimony, but the UNITIVE act is. The Sacrament of Matrimony does not happen during the wedding, but in the wedding chamber. Look at the swirly, marble bed-posts that surround every altar in every Cathedral or Basilica in the world. That’s not a reception hall, that’s a HONEYMOON SUITE! Our Lord could have used any imagery in the world to describe his relationship with The Church. HE chose Bride and Bridegroom.

    What does Our Lord say at the end of his Passion? “It is consummated..”
    That’s a mystical, Spiritual marital act going on. Like any good husband, Our Lord has “suffered” by delaying the moment so everything, every joy, and every gift may be given to His Bride. At that time, at 3 p.m., He and His Bride become one flesh, One Body, and we are all the subsequent off-spring of that union.

    Neither the Annunciation, nor the Nativity, are the central part of Our Faith. Easter is the celebration of the communion of God and man that’s possible in the reception of The Blessed Sacrament, but all of the salvation, mercies, graces, and privileges, for any of God’s children, were paid for by the sweet romance of The Saviour on The Cross and the Sanctification of His Bride.

    Aristotle, St. Augustine, and St. Thomas Aquinas all say there is something of The Divine in a man’s seed which is why offenses against the casual dissemination of same in ways, that are not open to life, even among the married, is the origin of every offense against The Sixth Commandment.

    Finally, do not our mystics, our holiest Saints, are they not said, to experience “Ecstasy”? Married folks know those fleeting, fading seconds, but imagine that, ever increasing in intensity, for eternity?


  • Thomas, I’m not prepared to give an answer to that question; I haven’t thought it through to the extent I would like to. I will say, though, that it is certainly meritorious to choose NOT to eat something that is for pleasure, and to offer that sacrifice, as the Fatima children did, for the love of God, the conversion of poor sinners, in reparation for sins against the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and for the Holy Father.

    If we could all (myself included, of course) focus on sacrificing our earthly pleasures for these ends, there would be great benefits to the souls in purgatory, to those who remain unconverted in this life, and to our own souls as well.

    • Hello Jay,
      Does this refine the analogy?: Overindulging in dessert could be likened to married couples having sexual relations during a time when they know they will not conceive; such as, during the time of pregnancy. St. Thomas would excuse this in view of granting the marriage debt. But periodic continence is more akin to overindulging in dessert in such a way as to nullify any nutritional value whatsoever of that extra dessert.

  • thomas tucker

    Jay, in your analogy, you used the term “overindulging” in having a dessert for pleasure. But are you saying that ifsomeone eats anything for pleasure, that it is venially sinful?

    • Mr. Tuckerr,

      Rest assured, Aquinas is not stating that experiencing pleasure during sex, or even liking that pleasure, is sinful. This comes not from Aquinas, but from reading ones own ideas into Aquinas. I actually just wrote a little bit on this (click the link on the name) and I might more in the future.

      Feel free to contact me if you would like any more insight into what Aquinas says, but based on your comment, I think you’ve already understood the gist of it. I will be busy this weekend with wedding stuff, but I should be able to reach you on Monday should you do so.


  • thomas tucker

    Perhaps Aquinas is simply wrong on this matter, as in others.

    • John Flaherty

      Thomas, I don’t pretend to know what all Aquinas said with regard to human sexuality. ..Which is precisely the problem. As I mentioned elsewhere, I’ve read too many opinions that literally quote ..someone..only to find that this someone..says something even a little different.

      I think if we want to know what Aquinas thinks on this subject, we need to examine several portions of the Summa Theologia and his other works. We’d need to consider each portion in context within itself, then also in context amongst all portions. Aquinas wrote one heck of a lot; I think it unlikely that he contradicted himself, but he might be misunderstood fairly easily.

  • Thomas, St. Thomas Aquinas says that engaging in the marital act for pleasure only “is one of the daily sins, for which we say the ‘Our Father’. Now these are not mortal sins.” That is, he counts it as a venial sin. This seems so foreign to us, I think, because we are not at all used to thinking of pleasure as possibly being sinful. After all, doesn’t God want us to feel good?! But think, for instance, about overindulging (“pigging out”) on a fine dinner or dessert; this really involves the sin of gluttony. In the same way, engaging in the marital act purely for pleasure can be thought of in the same way – like eating a second bowl of ice cream when already stuffed. St. Thomas says, “There are only two ways in which married persons can come together without any sin at all, namely: in order to have offspring and in order to pay the marriage debt; otherwise it is always at least a venial sin.” (Supplement, Q. 49, art. 5). If that seems harsh, I think it’s because we’re just not used to considering most of our venial sins to truly be sins! And before anyone rushes in to call me a Puritan, don’t. I’m not. I’m quoting Aquinas here. And I’m suggesting that we’ve become habituated to some forms of sin that used to be more recognizable. I think a couple of recent popes have said similar things.

    • The second quote shows why it’s not a sin if the couple is “paying the marriage debt” and coming together for the sake of each other. Using your spouse for your own selfish pleasure is wrong, but not all sexual pleasure — only the selfish kind.

      It seems people on both sides of the debate are missing this distinction (or I haven’t read the comments well enough).

  • thomas tucker

    Okay, let me ask this question. I am not a moral theologian. Are you saying that my desire for sexual pleasure with my wife, in and of itself, is sinful, if that pleausure and, not procreation , is our reason for having relations?

  • Exception

    We’re all adults here, so some observations from an NFP adherent before the mother of my children had our marriage annulled.

    -NFP does not mean you have to wrap yourself in super-glue and styrofoam packing-peanuts during fertile periods. The Couple-to-Couple League does a nice job of explaining how communication is engendered concerning what would qualify as tipping-points so couples can be affectionate, mindful of each other’s unique sexual appetites, but always be conscious of Church teaching. The Marital Act need not be an end in itself. With such periodic continence and discipline, husbands might find themselves being a bit more caring and skilled when the Main Event is actually mutually desired or possible.

    -Women are most interested in coitus during their fertile period and least interested when they are not. That can be a huge difficulty for the fairer sex.

    -NFP totally relies on a woman being competent, or honest (A woman’s body, especially for those yet to have a child, screams PROCREATION. We all know young, childless women in their 20’s, who suffer from the terminal “Mommy’s”. That is a holy an instinct as the male’s UNITIVE one. Both these passions, however, must be tempered by reason and prayer.), about the deeply personal goings-on of their body. In my case, I’m almost sure my wife lied about our, and her, first child when juxtaposed at the total disappointment at finding out we were having our second. My response was joy for both. Her behavior in another marriage confirmed my hunch.

    The problem is not really NFP. Parenting is the most important job in the world. To be a wife or husband is more than plumbing and desire. To be a wife you must be a woman who knows what authentic femininity is. To be a husband you must be a man who knows what authentic masculinity is. For 50 years Society has had the demonic idea that the sexes were interchangeable.

    NFP is a band-aid on a gaping wound. If you don’t come from a home that remotely resembles the House at Nazareth, St. Anne and St. Joachim’s domicile, or the warm environs of the lovely couple who were St. John The Baptist’s parents, you can’t learn from anywhere how to properly do the job. NFP is an awkward effort to deal with those fears.

    Broken homes lead to an awful lot of broken hearts. Typically, you become your same-sex parent or model, so unless you’re exceptional, the same sad legacy can redound to generations.

    The flip-side of the argument is that you wind up saying to poor Catholics that God and love are not enough. If you don’t feel you can provide for as many children as God gives you don’t get married, some would say. Even if a young couple both get Master’s degrees in 5 years, not 6, they could find themselves owing 300k before they get a job. Forget about owning a home. Without exceptionally strong, committed families of origin, you can almost see the devil whispering “cohabitation”, “contraception”, and worse.

    I have very much enjoyed the discussion.


  • Stacy, for heaven’s sake! I’m not advocating shaking a finger at couples and saying “No NFP!” I never have said such a thing. I want people to come to the conclusion on their own that God’s plan is best. As you say, and as I have said, it takes time, and often people will have to grow into it. Priests and confessors can help with that by teaching the value and desirability of large families. They can still be sensitive to the issues of couples with infertility and other problems and doubts. They can encourage other parishioners to support and offer practical help to those who have many children. I’ve suggested all of these things in my blog posts on NFP.

    But many of our shepherds are out of practice at doing these things, and they don’t correct the uncharitable comments that are made about large families. Let’s pray that they grow in their awareness of these issues and their ability to counsel families.

    • enness

      So you’re not finger-wagging…and yet you are? What is God’s plan?

  • Stacy, I still disagree that this needs to be a defining part of the discussion. Even if people accuse me of doing so, I am not telling people how much suffering they should be able to endure. I think God has a way of orchestrating that Himself, and giving people the grace to endure the suffering that He allows to come to them. (And I try to avoid saying that individuals “need to” do anything. I prefer to point out what the Church teaches; people certainly are supposed to form their own consciences, but they are to do so by conforming them to Church teaching.) Suffering can have salvific value, but we don’t get a lot of teaching on that subject these days.

    Would you use the same line of thinking (about avoiding suffering) to support couples using artificial contraception? I know Catholics who use precisely that argument. But generally, NFP supporters would say, no, just because you want to avoid suffering and you’ve had miscarriages or births that have caused injury, etc., that is not a reason to use artificial contraception. That’s because the Church has stated unequivocally that artificial contraception is immoral. NFP has been declared licit, but I think for those who are seeking to grow in holiness, it is not unreasonable to look at why the Church allows NFP, and to wonder if it is really virtuous, as Fr. Gardner has mentioned in his writings in other places. It is not unreasonable to think that because God desires souls, He might be asking us to sacrifice and suffer more than we want to. It’s a tough question, and that is why we need a solid foundation for understanding the morality of NFP, and the ways in which it might be immoral. You are correct that the Church has not provided that, but it is something that could be provided, and perhaps will in the future.

    For now, the Church allows NFP for serious reasons – but doesn’t give much guidance on what is “serious”; we need to ask if that is simply because our shepherds are trying to tempt couples away from using artificial contraception. What are we really saying when we endorse or use NFP? Is what we are saying really compatible with Catholic thought?

    • No, not a defining part, but a part. Testing at the extremes helps bring clarity to what’s in the middle.

      You are right, the Church has always declared contraception illicit, but the Church has not declared NFP illicit.

      And I think you understand my concern here. What is at the root of the issue is the ability to define serious reasons, and thus the caution to realize that “serious” has a subjectivity to it.

      The couple panicking about their own ability to handle 1 more child to the group of 4 may have a serious reason to avoid for a time, prayerfully, whereas the couple with 9 who are all potty-trained may feel that needing to buy another car to welcome a 10th child is not a serious reason to avoid.

      Morality is objective, but there are subjective aspects to human behavior as well. I don’t think that’s anything new to the Church because conversion itself is a journey.

  • Catholicman

    My ex-wife and I used NFP. She felt frustrated with NFP and wanted to have sex more often and ended up having an affair. She divorced me and is now married to that man for the last 17 years.

  • Stacy, I’m not sure I agree that the topic of chronic miscarriage “should be part of the discussion” about the underlying philosophy of NFP, and I’m not really sure what you mean by saying it gets to “an even deeper heart of the question”. But I don’t object to responding to your questions! And I am not unsympathetic to the situation you describe, as you know.

    I have said before that I think that a history of miscarriage is certainly a “serious reason” to avoid pregnancy. And if a couple wants to be absolutely sure to avoid pregnancy, abstinence will do the trick. I haven’t read much on infertility and miscarriage problems, but I do recall that NFP techniques might be helpful in identifying problems and solutions. So be it. NFP is licit for serious reasons, and a couple who uses it both to conceive and to conceive at a point in the period of fertility that optimize the health of the baby is doing so morally. I think there are others on this thread who can also speak to that issue, and perhaps they will if they have the time and inclination.

    • You’ve highlighted why miscarriage needs to be part of the discussion:

      It gets to a deeper question about serious reasons.

      Avoiding conception to avoid miscarriage is an effort to avoid suffering.

      Avoiding conception to avoid financial failure is also an effort to avoid suffering.

      All the arguments presented above could apply to a couple avoiding conception for fear of miscarriage:

      You need to trust God’s Providence.

      You need to be open to life even if it’s hard.

      You need to be open to accepting as many children as possible.

      Since conversion is an ongoing process, we should use caution when telling people how much suffering they should be able to endure. I think that is why the Church has wisely omitted listing X, Y, and Z as serious reasons, but has instead urged couples to grow in virtue and holiness.

    • In other words, there’s a subjectivity to “serious reasons”.

      I’m older and have many kids, I’m at peace about miscarriage, finally. But I would never tell a young couple who just lost a first child to miscarriage that avoiding conception for a time was sinful because they just didn’t trust in Providence enough. I think we all can understand that would be manipulative and prideful, it would not help the couple to advance in holiness.

      It is the same for other, less clear, issues too. Young newly wed couples can indeed be terrified of having baby after baby if they do not have a steady income. They can be terrified of it period, it is very difficult work, frightening even. When you are raising 3-4 very young children at once, some days there’s a very real fear that you won’t even be able to keep them all safe. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve slammed on the brakes and turned around to count heads in my truck.

      My point is, what may not seem serious to one couple may indeed be most serious to another. Assuming the worst about them is not going to help them, and if a parish were to say, “No NFP! You are sinful if you don’t have lots of babies!” well, that could do more harm than good, and I think most pastors understand that.

    • I think the reasons you outline are a terrific reason why this should be the issue primarily between spouses and competent confessors/spiritual directors, not lay psychologists writing in catholic webzines.

  • Many of you speak in terms of “birth control.” What you really mean is “conception control.” It is not a given that all conceptions lead to births, in fact some medical experts estimate that more than half do not.

    What do you say to that? Anyone?

    For discussion: Should a couple with a history of chronic miscarriage keep trying to have as many children as possible? That is, keep conceiving and miscarrying?

    A. Yes, children are a gift, let God plan your family.
    B. No, try find out why they die and abstain until you do.

    A lot of couples struggle with this (myself included), and I think it should be part of the discussion. It gets down to an even deeper heart of the question.

    • John Flaherty

      I think your question quite relevant.
      It seems to me that you essentially ask whether it’d be wise to avoid conceiving a child when you have reason to believe that you may not be physically capable of bringing the child to full term, thus live birth.
      While I’m not likely to encounter too many couples–young or old–who’re dealing with this in my current line of work, I have heard suggestions before that many (most?) couples deal with at least one miscarriage before they’re older and less fertile.

      Seems to me the overall idea of NFP would suggest that a couple take steps to better discern if particular medical difficulties might be contributing to higher incidence of miscarriage; there may be corrective measures–possibly even involving comparatively small expense–that might be taken to better foster a child’s birth.

      Again, in this sense, NFP isn’t so much a “Catholic contraceptive” technique, so much as a frame of mind that addresses a large part of a couple’s marital state.

  • I think we need to be very careful in making our distinctions here. We can claim that the others are going to answer to God because their actions led to a bunch of babies not being born yada yada yada, or we can have a serious discussion without the hyperbole and melodrama. Everyone is free to come check back on me in 5 years, and see if my marriage is the kind that isn’t open to human life.

    Now as far as the rest of the quotes, I see again that the challenge really hasn’t been met with any pre-vatican II moral theologians who teach that NFP is sinful. The citation by Canon Ripley, while interesting, is also irrelevant to the discussion at hand. As Fr. Slater points out in the preface to his work “A Manual of Moral Theology” (another staple of Pre-Vatican II seminary training)

    “Here, however, we must ask the reader to bear in mind that manuals of moral theology are technical works intended to help the confessor and the parish priest in the discharge of their duties. They are as technical as the textbooks of the lawyer and the doctor. They are not intended for edification, nor do they hold up a high ideal of Christian perfection for the imitation of the faithful. They deal with what is of obligation under pain of sin; they are books of moral pathology. They are necessary for the Catholic priest to enable him to administer the sacrament of Penance and to fulfil his other duties… Moral theology proposes to itself the humbler but still necessary task of defining what is right and what wrong in all the practical relations of the Christian life.”

    Canon Ripley’s work is precisely meant for that kind of edification and instruction, but it is not a work of moral theology, which questions whether or not the practice of NFP is sinful, or “opposed to traditional catholic spirituality”

    None of this is to say that mindset isn’t abused, and even abused in the way that Cardinal Ottaviani states. If a family were to say “We will only have 3 kids, and we will use NFP to accopmlish that” or “I’m done having kids for good, lets use NFP to see to it” then yes, all things being equal, they are having a contraceptive mindset. Yet if one says “due to just losing my job, it would probably be wise to practice periodic continence during times of fertility, so that another child is not brought into the world, but once I have my job, then we shall have a child” that’s something entirely different.

    I’d also wager that this is why these discussions about NFP normally use to occur between spouses, doctors, and confessors. By it’s very nature, this is something which cannot have a universal application, and is of the utmost sensitivity. It doesn’t help to have psychologists turned amateur theologians dissenting from established moral teaching (and papal teaching!) in a public venue. It is why during the glory days Dr. Boyd cites before the council, she would be forbidden from speaking on these matters, and rightly so.

    The rest of the ideas about catholic couples putting themselves in the occasion of sin, again, not even the “rigorist” manuals before the Council take the approach that “Fr. Campion” and others are taking. In the end, I will stick with the Church, which has the authority to bind and loose, rather than the counsels of men, even good ones.

    • John Galvin

      Kevin Tierney said,”In the end, I will stick with the Church, which has the authority to bind and loose, rather than the counsels of men, even good ones.”

      Yes, please do. That is excellent advice. But be sure to know the real thinking and teaching of the Church.

      Since you say that you are engaged to be married, I urge you to read the “Address to Large Families” given by Pope Pius XII. If you embrace the spirit of love and joy and generosity and fruitfulness that he proclaims in this message to Catholic couples, then you will be sure that any motives for the use of NFP will truly qualify as “grave reasons.” If your heart is in the right place, then you will be able to deal with the circumstances that arise.

      There is no better way to prepare for your coming marriage than to determine to be thoroughly imbued with the spirit of joyful, generous fruitfulness which will flourish into happiness both temporal and eternal:

      “Large families are the most splendid flower-beds in the garden of the Church; happiness flowers in them and sanctity ripens in favorable soil. Every family group, even the smallest, was meant by God to be an oasis of spiritual peace. But there is a tremendous difference: where the number of children is not much more than one, that serene intimacy that gives value to life has a touch of melancholy or of pallor about it; it does not last as long, it may be more uncertain, it is often clouded by secret fears and remorse.

      It is very different from the serenity of spirit to be found in parents who are surrounded by a rich abundance of young lives. The joy that comes from the plentiful blessings of God breaks out in a thousand different ways and there is no fear that it will end. The brows of these fathers and mothers may be burdened with cares, but there is never a trace of that inner shadow that betrays anxiety of conscience or fear of an irreparable return to loneliness, Their youth never seems to fade away, as long as the sweet fragrance of a crib remains in the home, as long as the walls of the house echo to the silvery voices of children and grandchildren.”

    • Mr. Galvin,

      I would say that what is essentially unanimous teaching on moral theology, several Curial departments during this time, 4 popes, a Catechism, all of these things establish pretty well a “mind of the church.”

      My issue isn’t with the contention NFP is abused, or that the current approach in many quarters to NFP isn’t flaw. It is abused, and it most certainly is flawed.

      I also think that many Catholic families really should hear more about the blessings of large families, including from such things as Pope Pius XII stated. Lord willing, I will have such a family.

      Yet as with so many things Pius XII did, he presented the whole truth. He also said the following in his allocution to midwives:

      “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. From this it follows that the observance of the natural sterile periods may be lawful, from the moral viewpoint: and it is lawful in the conditions mentioned. If, however, according to a reasonable and equitable judgment, there are no such grave reasons either personal or deriving from exterior circumstances, the will to avoid the fecundity of their union, while continuing to satisfy to the full their sensuality, can only be the result of a false appreciation of life and of motives foreign to sound ethical principles. ”

      Also important is that Pius XII goes on to say that this should not be presumed, and that when in doubt, one should default to the heroism of abstienence in these situations. This is why at my church, where NFP is mentioned, it is also mentioned one should be reluctant to adopt it, and adopt it only after speaking with a doctor and your confessor/spiritual director.

      Pius XII provides the proper way forward, and I would submit it is a bit different than the idea that those who practice NFP for proper reasons are doing so with something alien to catholic teaching and spirituality. In the end, that’s the only thing that really draws people’s ire. Dr. Boyd set herself up as the Magesterium and attempted to bind and loose on questions that are way above her on the qualifications totempole.

    • I also think in the end Pius XI essentially settles this matter when he states:

      “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.” (Casti Conubii, 59)

      I’d suggest people give the entire encylical a read. Especially in the immediate context, as he cautions against abusing this interpretation to essentially adopt a contraceptive mindset, or treat children as a burden in marriage, rather than a great blessing. He also points out immediately before that if you frustrate the natural power of the marital act, you are engaging in a grave sin.

      There are questions on how this teaching should be applied. But they are seperate from the idea Dr. Boyd advanced that “NFP is all about a degree of control that is objectionable in any traditional Catholic understanding of marriage or Catholic spirituality in general.” If we’ve established anything in this lengthy and interesting discussion, it is that this claim must be rejected, since she is dangerously and scandalously wrong on both counts.

  • Siegfried Paul

    I asked at moment, when the angel convinces JOSEPH to respect the virginity of his wife for the rest of his life: what convinces him? It has been said that the angels quoting ISAIAH would imply a political task JOSEPH would have to fulfill, a task that we can only understand if we understand a great danger Israel had to overcome in history – . I thought, however, at the moment: the precise explanation is in the angels calling JOSEPH a “SON OF DAVID” – “MATTHEW 1:20”. I thought, that BATHSHEBA, the wife of the hittite warrior, can give us the explanation and that Rembrandt’s painting a decision on her face that nobody ever knew of interprets what she explains – (I contributed to the “Wikipedia”). – I couldn’t repeat the WORDS OF JESUS, who tells the disciples to baptize in the name of the HOLY SPIRIT before they know the HOLY SPIRIT, “MATTHEW 28:19”, without her either.

  • Fr. Edmund Campion

    Dear Fr. Gardner,

    I am a priest, but I’m not a Jesuit, and my real name is not Edmund Campion. This is just a pseudonym.

    God bless!

  • @Fr. Edmund Campion…
    I am glad we have a Jesuit commenting on this blog!
    I think the Church is in a rough spot. Many traditionally Catholic countries (such as Spain, Italy, Poland…) have less than replacement level birth rates. Accordingly, most developed nations are producing fewer and fewer young people who can address the problem of an aging population. This is a serious apologetics issue for the Church, for we preach Christ, Who is the Lord of life and the Author of grace. But our Church is in decline; and society in general is suffering because of it.
    Perhaps we should not so easily dismiss the teachings of St. Augustine on marriage as being archaic, irrelevant, or symptomatic of a negative view of human sexuality. If St. Augustine viewed sterile sexual relations among married spouses as being at least venially sinful, perhaps it was precisely because he saw the disastrous consequences of diminishing the procreative end (purpose) of marriage. Clarity of purpose regarding one’s state in life tends to focus one’s efforts and decisions towards perfection, fulfillment, and ultimate happiness. Since children are the supreme gift of marriage, it follows that procreation is correctly identified as the primary end of marriage. And married couples who live by this principle tend to produce faithful, stable, child-rich families. These families are the true wealth of the Church, which are sadly and steadily disappearing from our parishes.
    Perhaps a reclamation of St. Augustine and about 1500 years of subsequent Catholic teaching on marriage is worth considering, for the current approach is clearly not working.

  • John Flaherty

    Something else I think I should mention:
    I’ve seen a few comments that mention what Sts. Augustine and Aquinas said regarding sexuality. Essentially, they seem to condemn much of any understanding of sex beyond procreation. Trouble is, I’m not so certain that these men precisely declared this, or that such a view would be consistent with the Church’s teaching.
    Aquinas lived a monastic life, intentionally neglecting sexuality, and writing many works, including the Summa Theologia. Augustine, before reverting to Christian faith, lived scandalously and fathered a child out of wedlock. Both would have reason to be more than a little suspicious about sexual desire.
    Yet taken in context, their writings aren’t necessarily condemning sexual wants per se, so much as they caution rigorously against abusing the act.

    I can’t say that I’ve read the other references here, but I’d offer a cautionary note: I have read other postings on various matters in the Church, some who quote a pope, a theologian, or other noteworthy authority. Unfortunately, upon more rigorous review of such a reference, I discern that the pope or theologian..said something a little different from what an advocate declares. I don’t know if anyone has misinterpreted anything here, but I think there’s a risk.

  • Fr. Edmund Campion

    Dr. Boyd,

    Thank you so much for your book and all your work! Some parishioners of mine have borrowed it and it is truly working wonders among them and their friends. As you know, I’m the pastor of a Novus Ordo community and also of a Traditional Latin Mass community. Both communities need to be admonished against the perils of misunderstanding NFP.

    Kevin Tierney says that he is against these statements by Dr. Boyd:

    “NFP doesn’t explicitly fly in the face of such an understanding, but it is dramatically not submissive to God. NFP is all about a degree of control that is objectionable in any traditional Catholic understanding of marriage or Catholic spirituality in general.”
    “It seems silly to claim that one is “open to children” when one is organizing one’s life around having sex not likely to be fruitful! The NFP “way of life,” when not practiced to achieve pregnancy, is all about sterile sex – sex that is meant only to make the couple feel good, with no consequences attached to that pleasure.”

    Kevin Tierney says also: ‘the Church since the 1850′s clearly backed NFP.’ Well, we’re not so sure about that. Actually, Canon Francis Ripley, in his more than famous work: This is the Faith (a pre-Vatican II work, by the way), has some very interesting words about NFP:

    ‘A word also needs to be mentioned about Natural Family Planning and periodic continence. Each method of limiting the birth of children relies on the use of the reproductive faculty only during the woman’s infertile periods, thus avoiding pregnancy. The use of the term “Natural Family Planning” has come under sharp attack from traditional Catholic writers in recent years because it implies the right of the couple to “plan” their family; whereas the Catholic norm is to let God plan one’s family and to accept the children when (and if) God gives them – as a blessing from Him on the marital union and on society. Except for the use of NFP for fertility reasons (i.e., to aid in a legitimate way in conceiving a child), the planning aspect of NFP would appear to reflect acceptance of the neo-pagan practice of “family planning” – albeit using “natural” as opposed to artificial means. Proponents of NFP, it would seem, are confusing a legitimate means during an emergency situation or for a ‘serious reason’ with an illegitimate end in the case of no family emergency or ‘no serious reason,’ and presume then to conclude that NFP is morally acceptable as a way of life. The end purpose of NFP – that is, “planning” one’s family – is not acceptable in principle, being against Natural Law and the teachings of the Church. A couple does not have the right to “plan their family” even though the means used are those of NFP and do not violate the Church’s proscriptions against artificial birth control. As Cardinal Ottaviani [since Kevin is a traditionalist, I’m sure he likes Cardinal Ottaviani], former head of the Holy Office… declared before the assembled bishops at Vatican Council II, ‘I’m not pleased with the statement in the [draft] text that married couples may determine the number of children they are to have. Never has this been heard of in the Church.’ …The control of births, therefore, should always be the exceptional situation in marriage, never the normal. Further, “The modern Catholic couple must be reminded that parenthood is the business of marriage. This is their vocation… …You should want children; and parenthood, God willing, should be more than an incidental experience in your married lives. If you have a truly Catholic conscience and a love of children, you will find that alleged obstacles can be overcome. Far from losing happiness, you will gain great long-range satisfaction” (this last bit from The Catholic Marriage Manual, 1958, by George A. Kelly).

    By the way, most of these words from Canon Ripley are included in Dr. Boyd’s work.

    It seems to me that Canon Ripley, and Cardinal Ottaviani, would condemn the acceptance of ‘a degree of control that is objectionable in any traditional Catholic understanding of marriage or Catholic spirituality in general,’ just like Dr. Boyd does. I’m sure that Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, who wrote so much on relying on God’s Providence, would think the same way.

    It seems to me that a statement like this: ‘It seems silly to claim that one is “open to children” when one is organizing one’s life around having sex not likely to be fruitful! The NFP “way of life,” when not practiced to achieve pregnancy, is all about sterile sex – sex that is meant only to make the couple feel good, with no consequences attached to that pleasure…,’ it seems to me that such a statement is just pure common sense (therefore, I’m sure Dr. Boyd has also Saint Thomas Aquinas’ allegiance in these matters… he’s always been the champion of common sense… Chesterton even called Thomism ‘the philosophy of common sense’).

    When Kevin Tierney writes this: ‘When one seeks “pleasure only”, yes, that is sinful. Yet does the couple who practices NFP do that? Absolutely not. The marital embrace, in addition to its procreative aspect, does have a unitive aspect. Dr. Boyd scoffs at this, but it is pretty established medical and psychological science, to say nothing of its theological truth. This unitive aspect can never override the procreative. Yet if one uses an act which is meant to be the gift of self meant to strengthen a bond, and instead uses it for only (or even primarily) seeking the pleasure and gratification of your own senses, yes, that’s a problem. But to anyone who is actually familiar with what NFP teaches, no, that is not what they do…’ When Kevin Tierney writes this, he shows a little bit of ignorance in regards to original sin and its dire effects on fallen human nature. He forgets that there is that selfishness ever so present in most of our actions… He forgets that there are myriads of passions trying to make us succumb, all the time… The best way to counteract them is virtue, which can be accomplished with the assistance of divine grace. If the spouses eliminate the responsibility of bringing children into the world and fail to practice the virtue of generosity and total surrender to the Will of God, they are putting themselves in the occasion of sin. To refuse to avoid the near occasion of sin can be a sin itself. A possible way for spouses to make sure that their giving themselves in the marital embrace is free from selfishness and not done only for seeking pleasure, is by not eliminating the responsibility of new children, by not eliminating the possibility of new children, as they can actually do with NFP.

    In another pre-Vatican II book (A Brief Catechism for Adults, 1951), Fr. William J. Cogan says: If lack of money or poor health make it difficult for you to have children, consider that this is the cross Jesus wants you to carry and that He will give you the strength to carry it.

    As I said to you once in the past, Dr. Boyd, there will be a great number of people in Heaven who will thank you for all eternity. They will do so because the fact that they will be enjoying the Beatific Vision and God’s everlasting happiness will be made possible because they came into existence and were born thanks to your work, to your efforts, to the holy influence you are having on so many people, and to your willingness to endure persecution and insults for the sake of the Truth. On the other hand, all the NFP ninjas, including those who call your work ‘garbage’ (like Kevin does in his blog), will have to stand in judgment for all those babies that will never come into existence due to the proliferation of the NFP ‘way of life.’

  • John Flaherty

    Mr. Galvin,
    I’d say your comments offer a risk of desperately misinterpreting the Church’s actual teachings. If love of money poses serious spiritual risks, we also must say that adamant rejection of money or incompetence in handling finances ALSO poses grave moral risks. If you attempt to avoid the vice of greed by means of trying to live poor, you take a serious risk of the sin of willful neglect.
    Again, this article seems to pinpoint NFP as the source of many a vice. Yet the evidence given doesn’t seem to me to point to NFP, itself, so much as it points to rampant ABUSES of NFP, and a willing distortion of what NFP actually requires of a couple.

    For what I’ve understood of it, NFP essentially collaborates with the catechism’s view: A couple may legitimately refrain from bearing more children in cases where family economics or medical reasons dictate that another child right now might pose a serious problem. In other words, one needs to have a reasonably decent comprehension of economics, among other things, that one might know when life poses particular unacceptable risks. Regrettably, for what I’ve seen of the Church’s behavior in the last century or two, leadership seems all too interested in a collectivized frame of mind. Too often, we’ll see over-emphasis on a community as a means of solving problems, while individual skill in particular fields of endeavor suffer neglect. This has not only led to many occasions in which Catholics wind up demonstrating a fair degree of incompetence in various efforts, but we also see over-justification of unions and government intervention in life. Such efforts wind up being proffered because the populace have literally been “dumbed down” too much and can’t solve problems on their own.

    Chastising NFP isn’t going to solve that. Facing the genuine problems of economics and provoking the medical community to care about morals will be a start.

    • John Galvin

      John Flaherty said, “In other words, one needs to have a reasonably decent comprehension of economics, among other things, that one might know when life poses particular unacceptable risks.”

      I believe it is the kind of thinking enunciated by this sentence which motivated Dr. Boyd to write her book. Is it really true that Catholic couples need to have “a reasonably decent comprehension of economics” before they decide whether or not to have more children?

      Or is it rather the case that on their wedding day Catholic couples take a vow to accept children willingly from God, and from then on they don’t have to worry about it all the time? Isn’t the decision made on the day the man and woman marry, and from then on they leave to God the question of the blessings He decides to send them? Was Catholic marriage ever designed by God to require a university degree in economics?

      Like the apple in the Garden of Eden, NFP introduces questions and doubts into the heart of the marriage which don’t belong there and never need be there. Married Catholics who rely on divine providence don’t have to perform economic calculations before they decide whether or not to avoid conception. No matter which way you answer the question, innocence and purity of intention are lost once you bring economic calculations into the marital bedroom.

      Does a nun need to have a “comprehension of economics” before she takes her vows of poverty? No, she willingly gives all to God and places her entire confidence in Him to support and sustain her. Pope Pius XII told Catholic families that they should have that same spirit.

      Mr. Flaherty, I hope that you will please read his “Address to Large Families” to which I will once again provide a link. All married Catholics will benefit from the spirit of faith and hope and joy that Pope Pius XII imparts in his Address to Large Families, which stands in stark contrast to the nit-picking, cheese-paring, legalistic, casuistic spirit that too often accompanies the contraceptive mindset whether the method used is artificial or natural.

    • Though I think Mr. Galvin is overstepping his bounds, the concerns he addresses are legitimate. NFP should not be the norm for Catholic couples. And if you are deciding if you can have a child over a spreadsheet or economic formulae, yes, you really are doing it wrong, and I suggest you speak with a confessor immediately. Yet I think one needs to reject the distinction between “trusting in God’s providence” and “using NFP.” Since couples are free to engage in periodic continence, even during fertile times, and engage in the marital embrace, even during infertile times, there’s a little more nuance than Mr. Galvin implies here, even if he is (mostly) correct on that which he responds to. Not only is the distinction false logically, but the Church has stated there need be no distinction, both before and after the Second Vatican Council.

      One cannot state that those who are following Church teaching repsonsibly are not trusting in divine providence.

    • John Flaherty

      OK, Mr. Galvin,
      So I followed the link you provided and read the Pope’s comments. Unfortunately, I completely disagree with you regarding the conclusions we should draw from his views.
      I agree that the content arguably helps make the case for why Dr. Boyd chose to write a book; I think it sad that it appears to me that her view likely makes a demon of NFP where none need lie.

      You offer the following:

      “Is it really true that Catholic couples need to have “a reasonably decent comprehension of economics” before they decide whether or not to have more children?”

      Um, yes. People who don’t exercise even a basic understanding of economic principles frequently become routinely dependent upon the State or Church to sustain their own lives and those of their families. In brief, they tend to inflict the alleged need for a welfare State. But such a society cannot sustain itself for very long. Witness the hideous degree of debt that our United States government now faces. ..Which has been building for a long time. (Yes, other concerns by than welfare certainly contributed, but welfare itself has inflicted a grave drain on society’s resources.)

      I don’t think a person needs a degree in Economics to be married. I DO think it’d be best if the couple has taken a college course in Economics though.

      “Or is it rather the case that on their wedding day Catholic couples take a vow to accept children willingly from God, and from then on they don’t have to worry about it all the time?”

      Well, I might comment that not having to worry about it would seem to be a pretty reckless attitude. In my experience, whether wealthy or impoverished, couples (Catholic and not) DO worry about finances. All the time!
      It stands to reason that they might.
      A couple cannot expect to make certain that they’ll have a roof over their heads, clothes on their backs, and food on the table if they don’t.
      Keep in mind, the pope referred to Matthew 6:25; taken in context with the rest of the Bible, this passage does not suggest that we should not worry at all about anything. Rather, it makes clear that we should not be anxious about those things we cannot control. I’d say it’s pretty noteworthy that other portions of the Bible either imply or state quite plainly that one must be prudent in all things, including family finance.

      Speaking of family finance, I noticed His Holiness made particular reference to the pride a young man might feel in bringing home his first wage, or how a young woman might begin to help her mother with a child. Let’s be bothered to admit that such things require that jobs for young man and father both need to be available to be had in the first place, while a young woman might not have the option of aiding her mother with a child, especially if the young lady might have legitimate other tasks to address, homework not being the least.
      His Holiness also makes other references which, while certainly laudable, also tend to assume a relatively close-knit and geographically small community. Such a situation doesn’t necessarily happen as much now.

      Finally, I think you fail to realize just how nitpicky, legalistic, and caustic of a debate likely came before the pope’s letter. I would suggest that his letter likely came about precisely because there may well have been straight out verbal battles (hopefully not physical fist-fights) amongst both laity AND clergy about how life ought to be lived.
      Hopeful yes, but not necessarily without strife having come before.

      ..And I think NFP could certainly be used as a means of bringing about a pretty large family over time. It’s not to be an alternative means of contraception, but a method of viewing life in a way that allows the conception and birth of a new child to be a less tumultuous, thus more fulfilling and thrilling event.

    • John Flaherty

      “And if you are deciding if you can have a child over a spreadsheet or economic formulae, yes, you really are doing it wrong, ”

      I disagree. I think if you review your finances and realize that you won’t necessarily have money available for doctor bills, hospital stays, and what-not, it’s pretty foolish to intentionally say “the heck with it” and go about having a child anyway.
      Please don’t give the usual bit about “God will provide”, I know that. I’m emphasizing the idea that one needs to be reasonably self-sufficient and capable of meeting reasonable financial expectations. This column and some comments seem to me to imply that it’s perfectly OK to allow oneself to become dependent on others to pay the bills and survive.

      Perhaps that’s not the intent, but that’s the notion that I usually get from views of this type.
      I think it horrific that we don’t, as Catholics, insist on learning how money and the business world–which typically pays all our paychecks–actually work.
      All too often we insist that we abandon sensible precautions because we wish to make believe that someone will pay for it somehow.

    • John Galvin

      Mr Flaherty said, “OK, Mr. Galvin, So I followed the link you provided and read the Pope’s comments.”

      Thank you very much. I really appreciate the time and effort you invested in following my suggestion. Your charity is commendable.

      Mr Flaherty said, “Unfortunately, I completely disagree with you regarding the conclusions we should draw from his views.”

      That’s okay, we don’t have to agree on everything. You have your view of economics, and I have mine. But having read these words of Pope Pius XII, your views of divine providence will hopefully be enlarged. “Just like the rain comes down from heaven and does not return without making fruitful the earth, so the word of God shall not return void.”

    • enness

      John Galvin wrote:

      “Isn’t the decision made on the day the man and woman marry, and from then on they leave to God the question of the blessings He decides to send them?”

      God didn’t make us omniscient, but he didn’t make us complete fools either. What good is prudence, then?

  • Shawna

    I’ve never heard anyone talk about NFP like this. Actually, I’ll take that back- I’ve have heard these arguments before. They weren’t from Catholics, though – they were from proponents of the Protestant “full quiver” movement. They, too, reject NFP because they think not having sex when you’re fertile is circumventing God’s will. They also think that there is no such thing as serious reasons to delay pregnancy, and even thinking there are is, again, thwarting God’s will. This is the first time I’ve ever seen a Catholic use the same arguments. Interestingly, these arguments against NFP versus how NFP is explained by most of the respected doctors, canonists, and theologians in the field show differing views of how people understand how God works and how His Will works.

  • John Flaherty

    Seems to me this column carries a distinctive prejudice against NFP. The essential argument seems to be that, well, NFP is being rampantly abused. Certainly we can agree that many couples who could be fruitful have chosen NFP as a means of artificial contraception. Trouble is, this column appears to assume that MOST, if not ALL, couples who’re married and using NFP must surely be using the method for sinful reasons.
    I should think that borders on smashing that commandment about bearing false witness against one’s neighbors.

    This column seems to imply that any form of sexual contact that even hints of any sense of pleasure ought to be considered sinful, motivated by concupiscent lust, not love. Yet I have yet to hear any such statement from the Church.

    God didn’t give us a sexual nature merely to see if we could overcome our desires and make love merely as a duty. Married couples aren’t to seek sex merely to populate the earth, and oh yes, it feels good so they’ll actually be bothered to do it.

    I believe the catechism teaches something about how natural means can be legitimately used in cases where married couples might have genuine concerns regarding how much they can afford to spend on a family or for genuine health reasons or whatnot. If you feel that too many people have been too loose with these criteria, you might want to address that concern with the bishops, who could be making much more vigorous of a stand with their priests on these matters. Arguably, this would be a good bit of material to address with marriage counseling.

    On the whole, I find this article rather patronizing; it seems to me to imply that we’re all morally obligated either to be married, but celibate and wealthy–because we’re not having families much–or else dirt poor with giant families–because we think we’re not allowed to control our fertility in any way, shape, or form.
    In other words, I think this article takes a relatively sinful tack toward being responsible.

    I have yet to see appropriate evidence to demonstrate that we’re obligated to populate large Catholic ghettoes, which might well come about from having families that we can barely afford.

    • John Galvin

      John Flaherty said: “this article … seems to imply that we’re all morally obligated either to be married, but celibate and wealthy–because we’re not having families much–or else dirt poor with giant families–because we think we’re not allowed to control our fertility in any way, shape, or form.”

      It is true that God wants us to rely on divine providence. And it is also true that God wants us to practice the virtue of poverty. And it is also true that for married people who have chosen not to take religious vows of poverty, then accepting children gratefully from God in whatever number He chooses to send them is one of the primary ways in which they can practice the virtue of poverty despite living in the world.

      Having a large Catholic family which one “can barely afford” is an excellent method of “being in the world, but not of it.” It sets us apart instantly, in the grocery store, for example. People immediately ask, “You must be Catholic or Mormon,” with the unstated assumption, “since you don’t look like Orthodox Jews.”

      Since Scripture tells us that “Love of money is the root of all evil,” then it is equally true that evangelical poverty is the foundation of all virtue. A man cannot love both God and Mammon. As long as we still love money, then we cannot begin to make our hearts temples of the Holy Ghost.

      Religious who take vows of poverty have simplified this question by cutting the Gordian knot once and for all. We who have taken the path of the married life face more challenges. But still we must practice the virtue of poverty within our own state of life. What better way to do this than by embracing wholeheartedly the words of Pope Pius XII in his “Address to Large Families”:

      “But God also visits large families with His Providence, and parents, especially those who are poor, give clear testimony to this by resting all their trust in Him when human efforts are not enough. A trust that has a solid foundation and is not in vain! Providence — to put it in human words and ideas — is not a sum total of exceptional acts of divine pity; it is the ordinary result of harmonious activity on the part of the infinite wisdom, goodness and omnipotence of the Creator. God will never refuse a means of living to those He calls into being.”

    • Jim

      I find it interesting that Vedic teachings put a heavy emphasis on
      married life. Holding that sex is for procreating and not pleasure.
      It teaches that sex in married life should end after the children are raised to adult status. Jesus too hinted at this when he said that a man should leave mother, father, wife and children to follow Him throughout the remainder of life. In the 15th century Catholic Spain it was a requirement that a man and wife put a heavy cloth with a slit in it across their upper and lower torse to restrict skin contact aka: (pleasure) during sex.
      However, all this begs the question as to why a book of this nature was composed. Was it to remind us of universal beliefs and mores or to actually try and influence 21st century Catholic thinking on the matter. I, for one believe that the number of people who practice Dr Boyd’s methodology could be counted on toes and fingers.

    • enness

      John Galvin wrote:

      “Having a large Catholic family which one “can barely afford” is an excellent method of “being in the world, but not of it.””

      It’s an excellent method of failing to use one’s gifts to provide adequately (yes, I said adequately, not extravagantly) for one’s children, which has a whole lot less to do with the ‘love of money’ than you seem to think.

  • Thank you, Fr. Gardner, for your wise contribution to the discussion!

  • Dr. Boyd,
    Thank you for your post and book… and especially for your research and writing on this topic. It is said that when you’re over the target, you get the most flak!

    Despite all the clamoring and subtle distinctions; there is no denying that having sexual relations exclusively during the infertile times is sterile sex. St. Augustine taught that is this is always, at least, venially sinful. St. Augustine is a Doctor of the Church. As far as I know, St. Thomas Aquinas did not reject this teaching. Pope Innocent XI came close to affirming it. The question is: Is it true?

    Ven. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen taught that purity is love awaiting fecundity. In other words, pure love desires fruitfulness. Thus single people are to remain celibate until marriage when they are ordained to be fruitful. And married people are to remain docile to the gift of children, for God depends on their cooperation in the procreation of human life.

    It seems to me that among married couples periodic continence can be licit for serious reasons, but not virtuous of itself. Therefore, I agree with Kevin’s frustration with the widespread promotion of NFP (planificacion familiar natural as they say in Spanish…). The last thing we Catholics need now is birth regulation!

    There is this quote from Fr. J. Visser, C.SS.R. (1955, moral theologian-adversary of Bernard Haring): “Such a system, precisely, implies a positive right of use of conjugal rights together with the sensual pleasures inherent therein, as well as the fulfillment of the secondary ends of coitus (including especially the experience and expression of mutual married love), with, at the same time, the negative will of avoiding procreation. And it is precisely this union of two contradictory ends with gives rise to those problems as to its value…”

    • Fr. Gardner,

      Thanks for your insights. In regards to your quotation from J. Visser, are you referring to Fr. Jan Visser, in his work Problems in Conjugal Life? Since there isn’t a citation, I’m stuck relying on Google here, but this seems to be legit as the sentences which appear before what you quote. Can you please provide a more accurate citation?

      “The chief characteristic of the systematic use of periodical continence lies in its twofold finality – one positive and one negative. In truth, it is not, as its name would lead us to believe, a purely negative affair, simply abstaining from conjugal acts during specific times. Such a system, precisely, implies a positive right of use of conjugal rights together with the sensual pleasures inherent therein, as well as the fulfillment of the secondary ends of coitus (including especially the experience and expression of mutual marital love), with, at the same time, the negative will of avoiding procreation. And it is precisely this union of two contradictory ends which gives rise to those problems as to its value.”

      I think the positive aspect is what is important to us here, in that no, periodic continence during times of fertility is not sinful, and since couples can use the marital right when they choose or not by mutual consent (Fr. Halligan), and that the “safe” method (of abstaining from sex during the fertile period) has been declared as “lawful” by the Church (according to Pummer), I still don’t see how this helps out Dr. Boyd’s assertions.

      As far as Mr. McCreary, there’s a reason I asked for actual moral theologians before Vatican II. Even when Church fathers say things, they are not necessarily right. Moral theologians were the only ones qualified to speak on these issues before the Second Vatican Council (and the ones today we should honestly be focusing on.) These were the ones who were actually trained in how to diagnose what was and wasn’t sinful. They make the necessary distinctions that, with all due respect, neither you no Dr. Boyd make.

      First, there’s simply no way to go against what was included in the teachings everyone has cited that the Church since the 1850’s clearly backed NFP. Yet when they did this, nobody objected to it. Not even the Old Catholics, who were pretty active around that time. So trying to place the teachings of the 1850’s against the teachings of earlier sounds, I dunno, rather Protestant?

      Then there is the statement that “No pope has infallibly declined that NFP is without sin”, and acting as if since that has not yet taken place, you are free to argue as you do. That just isn’t the case, as Humani Generis makes perfectly clear, in addition to the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium on the infallibility of the Roman Pontiff and the bishops when they speak in communion with him. Since the Church in the 1850’s specifically said that an issue was not sinful (NFP), and hence not to be confessed in the confessional, that also comes right down to binding or loosing, which, as we know, the Holy Spirit protects the Church from error.

      But what about your statement from the Holy Office, condemning the following proposition? “The act of marriage exercised for pleasure only is entirely free of all fault and venial defect.” Again, when the Church speaks about something, she does so in very precise terms.

      When one seeks “pleasure only”, yes, that is sinful. Yet does the couple who practices NFP do that? Absolutely not. The marital embrace, in addition to its procreative aspect, does have a unitive aspect. Dr. Boyd scoffs at this, but it is pretty established medical and psychological science, to say nothing of its theological truth. This unitive aspect can never override the procreative. Yet if one uses an act which is meant to be the gift of self meant to strengthen a bond, and instead uses it for only (or even primarily) seeking the pleasure and gratification of your own senses, yes, that’s a problem. But to anyone who is actually familiar with what NFP teaches, no, that is not what they do.

      So no, three moral theologians have not been cited. And we also know that a Pope has not been cited either. Then you added a bunch of faulty understanding of Church authority to go along with it, as well as a few insults and derision.

    • Brian McCreary

      When one grasps at straws to draw a line between theologians and “moral theologians” and in the process disparages the Saints and Doctors of the Church, Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, as not “qualified to speak on these issues before the Second Vatican Council”, and not “trained in how to diagnose what was and wasn’t sinful”, you’ve already lost the argument.

    • Brian Killian

      It seems to me that any ‘problems as to its value’, or whether the conjugal act during the infertile time is virtuous or not depends on the reason for avoiding fertility.

      If there is nothing to sex but procreation, then it does seem that one can only shake one’s head at the weakness of human beings for having to resort to sex when they do not desire a pregnancy.

      However, since the Church teaches that there is also a unitive side to sex it seems that the conjugal act could be a positive virtuous thing in itself even during the infertile times, depending on the reasons they are avoiding.

      The only circumstances under which ‘having recourse to the infertile times’ is virtuous is when the reason for doing so is consistent with the unitive meaning of the act. That is to say that the act can be ‘making love’ when the reasons for avoiding are themselves motivated by love.

      If the ‘serious reasons’ are just and motivated by charity for one’s spouse and the good of one’s family, then love unites both the abstaining and the coming together into one seamless whole.

      It seems to me that the arguments appearing in this article and comments are implicitly denying the unitive side of the conjugal act, perhaps because the unitive is mistaken with mere pleasure. This is aided by using the misleading language of ‘primary and secondary ends’. But I prefer the new language of the Church, because it’s in harmony with the old language, that of the ‘proles’, ‘fides’, ‘sacramentum’, because the unitive side is implicit within them.

  • Brian Killian

    Some questions:

    1. Is sex during pregnancy or menopause or natural infertility also just a concession to weakness? If not, why not?

    2. What morally distinguishes NFP users from contraception users? Anything?

    3. Must serious reasons always be rare? Is it never possible for serious reasons to be common?

  • Terry Carroll

    Hey Kevin! You have offered a challenge: “Cite me three moral theologians before Vatican II who advocate what you do.” Why don’t we start with you providing a concise statement of what you think Dr. Boyd advocates, so we don’t waste our time trying to guess what you think she is saying?

    Boil it down to something simple like maybe, “Dr. Boyd says that NFP is only permitted for serious reasons” or “Dr. Boyd is advocating the strange idea that the marital act has a primary purpose and it’s not as an expression of love” or “Dr. Boyd thinks sex within marriage can actually be subject to lust and concupiscence” or “Dr. Boyd, contrary to all sane moral teaching, is encouraging married couples to trust in God’s Providence in their married lives” etc.

    I have no idea what you think Dr. Boyd claims to teach beyond your powerfully verbose and distracting rants that I can’t begin to summarize coherently. Speak to little minds like ours. Make your allegations simple enough that we can actually do some research on something specific instead of a broad “I strongly disagree with whatever you seem to be saying. Show me three moral theologians who agree with you.” If we don’t get what you want Dr. Boyd to prove, it’s not likely that three moral theologians can be found to prove it.

    Oh! And consider buying the book instead of fulminating from raw ideology uninformed by the contents of Dr. Boyd’s book. You only THINK you know what Dr. Boyd says and why. Until you actually read the book, you’re little more than noise.

    • I am going on what the article says here. Dr. Boyd states:

      “NFP doesn’t explicitly fly in the face of such an understanding, but it is dramatically not submissive to God. NFP is all about a degree of control that is objectionable in any traditional Catholic understanding of marriage or Catholic spirituality in general.”


      “It seems silly to claim that one is “open to children” when one is organizing one’s life around having sex not likely to be fruitful! The NFP “way of life,” when not practiced to achieve pregnancy, is all about sterile sex – sex that is meant only to make the couple feel good, with no consequences attached to that pleasure”

      I think those statements speak for themselves. Those who practice NFP are doing something that is somehow of less dignity than “traditional” understandings, and that those who engage in it are engaging in “sterile sex” if they intentionally engage in the marital embrace during infertile times but not during fertile ones.

      Find me moral theologians who actually teach that. I can cite you several competent church authorities as well as standard pre-vatican II moral theology textbooks which argue the precise opposite of Dr. Boyd, and I have in my counteressay.

      What her book says for the moment is irrelevant. I’m going by what this article states. And this article states something that is completely alien to traditional catholic understanding of marriage and procreation.

    • Brian McCreary

      To Kevin Tierney: In answer to your challenge that “nowhere do the Popes teach that choosing to engage in the marital embrace specifically during times of infertility and abstaining during fertility for sufficient reasoning is sinful. Nor do moral theologians before Vatican II teach that.” … I hope you … as a self-proclaimed so-called traditionalist will accept: 1) a decree from the Holy Office from A.D. 1679 (far earlier than your A.D. 1853 reference), 2) St Augustine — Saint and Doctor of the Church, surely he qualifies as a moral theologian before Vatican II, and 3) St Thomas Aquinas — another Saint and Doctor of the Church, who also surely qualifies as a moral theologian before Vatican II. I’m certain that you, as a self-proclaimed, so-called traditionalist will clearly see the constant and undeniably consistent Tradition that spans from A.D. 419 to A.D. 1679 (that’s 1260 years), which far outweighs the weak and pathetic span of A.D. 1853 to A.D. 2013 (a mere 160 years), that contradict the previous Traditional teachings of over 1260 years.

      You can claim that the Holy Office in A.D. 1679, St Augustine, and St Thomas are not infallible, but I can respond with NO POPE has INFALLIBLY declared that NFP is WITHOUT SIN. So you … as a self-proclaimed, so-called traditionalist … are left with what argument has the GREATER amount of Tradition backing it. Refuse to accept the weight of Tradition, and you are no traditionalist.

      First, from a decree of the Holy Office, March 4 1679, listing various errors on moral subjects, to include: “The act of marriage exercised for pleasure only is entirely free of all fault and venial defect.” … which the Holy Office condemned and prohibited, as here expressed, at least as scandalous and in practice pernicious. [D. 1159]

      Then, “It is, however, one thing for married persons to have intercourse only for the wish to beget children, which is not sinful: it is another thing for them to desire carnal pleasure in cohabitation, but with the spouse only, which involves venial sin. For although propagation of offspring is not the motive of the intercourse, there is still no attempt to prevent such propagation, either by wrong desire or evil appliance. They who resort to these, although called by the name of spouses, are really not such; they retain no vestige of true matrimony, but pretend the honourable designation as a cloak for criminal conduct.” [Augustine, On Marriage and Concupiscence, Book I, Ch 16]

      And more, “[…] they make a perverse use of it,—not alone all kinds of lawless corruptions […] even in the marriage state itself, whenever husband and wife toil at procreation, not from the desire of natural propagation of their species” [Augustine, Treatise on the Grace of Christ & Original Sin, Book II, Ch 43]

      Finally, “The aforesaid act does not differ from the act of fornication except in the aforesaid goods. But the act of fornication is always evil. Therefore the marriage act also will always be evil unless it be excused by the aforesaid goods.” and the “aforesaid goods” are “One of these is required on the part of the agent and is the INTENTION OF THE DUE END, and thus the OFFSPRING is accounted a good of matrimony; the other is required on the part of the act, which is good generically through being about a due matter; and thus we have faith, whereby a man has intercourse with his wife and with no other woman.” [Thomas Aquinas, ST Sup. Q. XLIX A. II & V]

      So, you’re challenge is answered. The Holy Office, with the permission of the Pope, St Augustine, and St Thomas Aquinas … all before Vatican II do “teach that choosing to engage in the marital embrace specifically during times of infertility and abstaining during fertility for sufficient reasoning is sinful.”

      And that’s three. Three that you would have been given if you actually read Dr Boyd’s book, and one of which she provided for you here in the comments (St Thomas Aquinas’), which you just ignored.

  • If anyone is actually interested in what moral theology and the Catholic church taught about NFP before Vatican II, they will find it tends to be worlds different than what Dr. Boyd is positing.

  • Naomi

    My goodness. I’m more than a little confused about this conclusion. I don’t know where you got your education on NFP, but it certainly doesn’t sound like any Church-approved NFP teaching I’ve heard!

    The *entire* premise behind the Church’s teaching on NFP is that Catholic couples should be “open to life” and “generous parenthood.” That using NFP to avoid pregnancy should be *only” for “serious reasons”. Every teaching session I’ve ever seen has included a discussion on what “serious” reasons generally mean, though it’s disclaimer-ed as not an all-inclusive list. And there is plenty of teaching that a contraceptive mentality about sex is inherently sinful.
    I mean, if you’re being properly taught the tenets of NFP, then all of these issues are made first and foremost, clear. Half of teaching NFP is teaching on why a contraceptive mentality is inherently wrong, because too many people either 1) don’t even know they have a contraceptive mentality or 2) don’t know there’s anything wrong with a contraceptive mentality.
    I propose that if you think any differently about these topics, your education on NFP, its aims, and it proper use is deficient. Whether or not that is a widespread problem, I cannot say. I honestly don’t know… but everyone I know who uses NFP merely uses it to space their children so they don’t end up with babies that are so close together that one is deprived of his natural right to his mother’s milk or because of serious health concerns.
    Additionally, like many others who decry NFP, you are seeming to forget that avoidance of pregnancy is only HALF of the use of it. The other half is how to ACHIEVE pregnancy! For example, how to overcome fertility problems so that people aren’t herded en masse to the IVF clinic because their doctors cannot figure out what is wrong and don’t want to be bothered with details like whether or not a woman’s hormones are balanced!
    That, if nothing else, is worth its weight in gold to a newly married couple– the idea that if you have fertility problems, there are Church-sanctioned ways to overcome them, without all kinds of artificial hormones or insemination or or or!

  • Terry Carroll

    The posting above is the “conclusion” to Dr. Boyd’s book which, with appendices, is 265 pages long. No one in the comments posted so far gives any evidence of having read her book and, quite disrespectfully, presumes that she is completely unaware of the various quotations from the Magisterium that appear to contradict what she has posted in this “concluding summary.”

    Personally, I don’t think that Humanae Vitae is in any way contradictory to Dr. Boyd’s thesis. Humanae Vitae clearly says that NFP is permissible for serious reasons. So does Dr. Boyd. How is it possible to miss Humanae Vitae’s recognition of “remedy for concupiscence” in its description of the marital act during infertile periods as a means to “safeguard their fidelity toward one another.” Nowhere in Humanae Vitae is the marital act described as “an end in itself.”

    When pompously encouraging fidelity to the Magisterium both before and after Vatican II, is it really conceivable that what is routinely taught today about married sexuality is remotely consistent with CENTURIES of teaching about marriage prior to Humanae Vitae? Did Humanae Vitae just cancel out all prior teaching on marriage? I think it would be fair to say that much pastoral teaching and practice on marriage and married sexuality today is a RADICAL departure from CENTURIES of prior teaching. Sex is talked about today in ways that would make most canonized Saints, including married ones, blush in shame. Can you even imagine “NFP language” in the mouth of Our Blessed Mother? Doesn’t it say something important that you can’t?

    Sexual intercourse during infertile periods is PERMITTED for SERIOUS REASONS because the primary purpose of marriage and the marriage act is and can only be procreation. If couples MUST engage in the marital act without risking pregnancy “to safeguard their fidelity toward one another” then they MAY make use of the infertile periods. This is clearly a concession to human weakness, not a definition of a new and virtuous way to live the vocation of marriage.

    Whatever JPII is thought to have said or intended in his Theology of the Body talks, it cannot be understood in contradiction to what the Church has always taught. Sex is not an end in itself, but within marriage AND properly understood as a cooperative act with God Himself, it is worthy of mystical contemplation. But the marital act is NEVER an end in itself, any more than the secondary ends of eating — like fellowship and community building — can ever be judged as acceptable ends for the purpose of eating itself, which is nutrition.

    Minor “enlightenments” that may or may not have proceeded from relatively minor Church responses to narrowly defined questions cannot be seeds for a complete overhaul of the centuries of Church teaching that went before it. Current Church teaching hasn’t achieved any degree of consistency to consider it as having reversed everything (or anything) that came before. St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine still have something to say to us today. The avalanche of embarrassing silliness that has proceeded from the response to a simple dubium of 1853 ought to sober us to the possibility that we just may be radically wrong in how we are proceeding today.

    • enness

      ‘If couples MUST engage in the marital act without risking pregnancy “to safeguard their fidelity toward one another”’

      You make it sound like a chore. If that’s the case, forget marriage.

      I am catching a faint Gnostic whiff from much of the content of this post and combox. Impossible, right?

  • Dr. Boyd,

    As was cited above in the previous article, and by Pius XI in Casti Conubii (as well as his magesterium explicitly allowing NFP in their directives to the worlds bishops) this very easily reconciles.

    While indeed everything that comes after Vatican II must reconcile with that which comes before it, it is also just as true that what comes after can clarify that which existed before, provided it does not contradict. That’s what Paul VI did in Humanae Vitae, and JPII did in Familiaris Consortio.

    Thomas and Augustine have not been declared “null and void” by the Magesterium. but nor is everything they say infallible. So even though their statements can be reconciled with what later popes said, if they can’t, so what? I don’t have to reconcile the teachings of later Popes on heretical baptism with St. Cyprian, or Augustine’s (by his own admission) Neo-Platonist views on sex in his early writings with later ones. Besides, I’m not the one claiming that an accepted practice of the Church since the 1850’s (when medical science started to understand fertility cycles to the level NFP was possible) is destroying a Catholic view of sexuality, marriage, etc. You are, so the burden of proof is on you to back it up.

    So my challenge remains. Cite me three moral theologians before Vatican II who advocate what you do. If you can’t do three, give me two. If you can’t do two, give me one. Don’t have to give the full quotes, you can leave that to your book if you cite them. yet let’s just see the citations, so we can all do the research on our own.

    This isn’t a matter of anyone being “close-minded.” As someone about to be married, I get the whole “responsbile parenting” crap all the time when I indicate there will be kids, and there will be several of them. I also don’t like that dioceses make it mandatory for perfectly orthodox catholics who clearly have no intent to contracept being forced to take classes by some lay teachers who clearly are unqualified. I also think it would be a good idea for the Magesterium to offer better guidance on what constitutes grave and serious reasons.

    Yet that’s different than challenging the teaching itself, or trying to do so by denying it with the death of a thousand qualifications.

  • Kevin, I’m not saying I disregard everything that comes after Vatican II! I’m saying there needs to be continuity between the two time frames. Anything that comes out of Vatican II has to square with solid Church teaching; if it doesn’t, there’s a problem.

    I also don’t pretend to be a “qualified moral theologian”; but I do cite Church teaching extensively in my book. You’re setting up a straw man here. I am a thinking adult who can read the documents, as well as what “qualified moral theologians” and other “qualified” experts have to say on the issue. I’ve come to a conclusion that is supported by traditional Church teaching and NOT UNsupported by Vatican II or Humanae Vitae.

    You say you’re a “traditionalist”, yet your comments indicate a lack of willingness to consider what has been traditionally taught. You have yet to show that Thomas Aquinas and Augustine have been declared null and void by “the Magisterium”.

    Frankly, I’m not interested in engaging in a debate with those with closed minds. I’m interested in reaching out to those who have a vague feeling that there’s something a little off-base with NFP, but who are pressured and criticized by family and friends who want them to practice “responsible parenthood”. Anyone who has waded through these comments and feels that way, feel free to contact me privately by email ( you don’t want to brave the com box.

  • I think Dr. Boyd should also look at someone who is a traditionalist, and unlike her, actually is a qualified moral theologian has to say about NFP and its roots before the Second Vatican Council:

    The money quote, from a formal dubium….. in 1853.

    “The first time Rome spoke on the matter was 1853, when the Sacred Penitentiary answered a dubium (a formal request for an official clarification) submitted by the bishop of Amiens, France. He asked, “Should those spouses be reprehended who make use of marriage only on those days when (in the opinion of some doctors) conception is impossible?” The reply was: “After mature examination, we have decided that such spouses should not be disturbed [or disquieted], provided they do nothing that impedes generation” (quoted in J. Montanchez, Teologia Moral 654, my translation). By the expression “impedes generation,” it is obvious the Vatican meant the use of onanism (or coitus interruptus, now popularly called “withdrawal”), condoms, etc. Otherwise the reply would be self-contradictory.”

    I hope anyone who reads this article also manages to read the comments here below, where actual Church teaching is cited, rather than just mere opinions trying to skirt the obvious.

  • Dr. Boyd,

    There’s a problem with what you are saying here:

    1.) You cannot say you “stand with the Magesterium before Vatican II” without also standing with the Magesterium After Vatican II. We are not the SSPX. Humanae Vitae is just as much a part of the Magesterium as was Castii Conubii, and they give the same teaching about the validity of NFP, and nowhere do the Popes teach that choosing to engage in the marital embrace specifically during times of infertility and abstaining during fertility for sufficient reasoning is sinful. Nor do moral theologians before Vatican II teach that. I’ll issue an opening challenge for you to find 3. Then two. Then finally one. You won’t. One doesn’t need to consider Dr. Smith here, though at least on this aspect, she is right. (Though wrong on a great many things.) So let’s stick entirely within Pre-Vatican II. Show me the moral theologians who teach as you do.

    You are correct that couples, when choosing NFP, should do so for “serious” reasons by utilizing the mind of the Church. And you are also correct that many do not. I think I presumptiously speak for Bruce when I say that what you outline here and on your other blog posts is most certainly not the mind of the Church, since the mind of the Church includes what was written in Humanae Vitae.

    I’m a traditionalist. I think its absurd that couples should be forced to undergo NFP training, and then told that they must practice it in order to be married in many dioceses. Yet that doesn’t change the fact that not only is NFP not sinful, Humanae Vitae is part of the Magesterium to which you owe your allegiance.

    Before Vatican II Moral theologians (who were only priests) were severly limited on what they could speak about in regards to this stuff for popular publications. It seems that when you talk about the “glory days” before Vatican II, you mean the glory days except the part where your bishop would forbid you from publishing this work in public for mass consumption. With all due respect, the traditionalist in me wouldn’t mind a return to those days.

  • Kevin and Bruce, I have not set myself up as “the Magisterium” (and I might remind you that Janet Smith is not “the Magisterium” either!). I have aligned myself with the Magisterium of the Church that includes the doctors and fathers of the Church who preceded Vatican II by a good many years…centuries in some cases, but even the popes who reigned just prior to Vatican II would have been appalled at where the personalistic ideas underlying much current thinking on NFP have led us! The Church did not come into existence at the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council! All I’ve done is approach the concept of NFP with the words and thoughts of learned and holy minds that predate Vatican II and that reflect the longstanding traditional teaching of the Church on marriage.

    Bruce, the Church currently teaches that it is licit to use NFP, but only for serious reasons. Whenever I state that, NFP promoters jump in to say that “serious reasons” are up to the couple to decide. This is not entirely true. We must always form our conscience in accord with the mind of the Church. It is true that there is no “list” of what constitutes a “serious reason”, but that does not mean that every reason a couple thinks of to avoid pregnancy is a serious one.

    Our current culture is not in much danger of becoming overly scrupulous, I would say. The emphasis on sex is detrimental to the spiritual growth a couple might experience when they think of eternity, and souls to populate heaven. God loves to give us children; He doesn’t promise that having children will not involve sacrifice. In fact, it does involve sacrifice – sometimes a lot. And that is our path to holiness.

  • Bruce

    I think Germaine Grisez and Janet Smith have covered this comprehensively already.

  • I think NFP is abused in a lot of cases. but the ideas you promote here quite simply aren’t what the Magesterium teaches. They do not teach “sex for pleasure is always venially sinful”, as if husband and wife are not meant to enjoy their coming together to renew their vows.

    And the simple fact is Humanae Vitae takes a far more permissive line doctrinally and pastorally than you do. You can say it should be strengthened (which you do) but to say others are wrong for following its guidelines, well, that’s just something you can’t say.

    Respectfully, I don’t see how your blogpost skirts around these facts of Humanae Vitae. Yes, the document in many instances was not as thorough as it should have been, or started from incomplete premises. John Paul II said as much when formulating his Wednesday audiences for “Man and Woman He Created Them” because HV, while speaking the truth, its anthropology (the underpinnings of the human person that the ban on contraception speaks from) was incomplete at best. Yet it still spoke the solid truth.

    • Bruce

      I’m with you Kevin. Dr. Boyd is not the Magesterium and the Church has spoken on this issue. I may or may not agree with her, but her opinion is not binding while the Church’s is.

  • Thomas Tucker: I address HV in the book in a couple of places, but in particular in a chapter entitled “Everything I Didn’t Want to Know About Humanae Vitae”, which appeared as a post on my blog: That will give a better answer to your question than a few words here.

    Erik, thanks for your feedback.

    Mary Ann, there’s much I could say. It’s in my book. But your statement “when the Church asks us to joyfully accept children in our marriage, there should be no strings attached.” I’m not sure what you’re getting at. The Church doesn’t attach strings, but those seeking to limit the number of children they have sure do! “Yes, God…but not till we have a bigger income” etc…

  • Mary Ann

    Concupiscence is defined in Webster’s dictionary as “ardent sexual desire, lust”. By choosing this word, it seems to me that you are implying that sex between a husband and wife is somehow lustful and selfish if it is not always seeking to create new life… or, at the very least, less meaningful. Your suggestion that a married couple should completely abstain from sex rather than take the “easier route” of using NFP when they want to space their children, is both unnecessary and unnatural. It effectively creates a ‘burden of proof of love’ that needs to be met before every marital act can be performed. Do you actually mean this?

    Far from being an easy way out, NFP takes discipline and restraint to practice correctly. It respects the dignity and fertility of the woman, but also acknowledges the unitive value of expressing intimate love in a healthy, married relationship. To imply that NFP is somehow unvirtuous or unbecoming to Catholic married life is quite a stretch.

    While every child is a blessing, not every couple has the economic means or the physical/mental fortitude to have a large number. This doesn’t make them selfish or materialistic. As with everything, God gives us free will. Likewise, when the Church asks us to joyfully accept children in our marriage, there should be no strings attached.

  • Erik

    You probably have a point buried behind the sweeping generalizations you make in the opening paragraphs, e.g., “NFP promoters see the marital act …”.

    How do you know how these people see something? Perhaps you meant “The consequences of a philosophy that promotes NFP point to …” or something similar.

    I’m sure you meant well, but you may take as one data point that I didn’t read beyond what I viewed as uncharitable phrasing.

  • Steve

    Outwardly keeping the law while breaking the heart of it, it’s really not that complicated.

  • thomas tucker

    Interesting comments and article. So, Dr. Boyd, what is your take on Humanae vitae in light of your other research?

  • LJP (and indirectly, Kevin),St. Thomas Aquinas discussed marriage in the Summa Theologica Supplement, question 49. Though he doesn’t use the term “remedy for concupiscence”, he certainly addresses whether or not there is sin in the marital act itself. He says that there can be something sinful about the marital act, but of course there is no sin in the sacrament of marriage. This means that the Church “indulges” us by allowing and sanctifying marriage, but: “…wherever there is indulgence, there must needs be some reason for excuse. Now marriage is allowed in the state of infirmity ‘by indulgence’ (1 Corinthians 7:6). Therefore it needs to be excused by certain goods. “ I don’t think it is unreasonable to see this section of the Summa as addressing marriage as a “remedy for concupiscence”.

    St. Augustine composed a treatise on “Marriage and Concupiscence” (see, which addresses the issue of marriage as a remedy for concupiscence; it describes how the sacrament of marriage doesn’t eliminate the potential of venial sin in the motivation behind the marital act, but does render that sin venial as opposed to mortal.

    In Casti Connubii (written in 1930), Pius XI says: “…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.” (59)

    The 1917 Code of Canon Law discussed “mutual assistance and the remedy of concupiscence” as the secondary end of marriage, although the 1983 CIC does not use that language. However, the fact that “remedy of concupiscence” doesn’t appear in current canon law, and the fact that post-Vatican II popes have not addressed it does not mean that the traditional view of marriage which holds that “remedy” to be part of the second end of marriage has ceased to be a Catholic truth.

    The issue is addressed in several places in my book, especially in the chapter entitled “Sex for Pleasure: Always a Venial Sin”. (You can read it at In fact, you can read all of the chapters at my blog – look for the NFP tab at the top of the page. The book does include additional material.

    Catholic Stand readers can receive a $5 discount off the retail price of the book by ordering at and using discount code 2Y3Q6U8S.

    • Kevin

      Thank you for the reply and the $5 discount link!

      Your comments address well your point in using the term “remedy for concupiscence”, but the article remains easily misinterpreted and gives natural family planning a much different look than HUMANAE VITAE does, and to that effect I think it does a disservice to those truly seeking help and clarity on this issue.

    • Bruce

      No time, but can you answer this: Does the Church teach that natural family planning – performed correctly – is okay or not?

      I assumed that she did and does.

      What lies beneath that – the details – are the domain of the individual couple and their priest and/or spiritual director.

      Simple as that.

  • Kevin

    Promoters of NFP can certainly get it wrong, but I believe this is not the common occurrence as you state. A contraceptive mentality is always wrong and harmful to marriage and family, no matter what method is being used.

    Your traditional ends of marriage do not coincide with the Church’s ends of Marriage. The Catechism only states the first 2. If someone is lustful before marriage, their getting married is not going to remedy that. They will just transfer that to their spouse.

    The Church is in clear support of natural methods of family planning. I quote HUMANAE VITAE here: “If therefore there are well-grounded reasons for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances, the Church teaches that married people may then take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile, thus controlling birth in a way which does not in the least offend the moral principles which We have just explained.”
    Another quote from HUMANAE VITAE clearly shows that using NFP is much more than a “remedy for concupiscence”. quote: “And when the infertile period recurs, they use their married intimacy to express their mutual love and safeguard their fidelity toward one another. In doing this they certainly give proof of a true and authentic love.”

    The only way I can see your point being valid is if I use your statement, “the very liberal end of the NFP spectrum”, to mean your whole article is to point out just those people’s flawed thinking, and not NFP itself being the problem.

    Your article is misleading and could be cause for scrupulosity among people who don’t understand this topic more fully. I hope to read your book and see if it clarifies your views to be well-ordered and morally secure.

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  • LJP

    Dr. Boyd,

    Thank you for giving me a perspective on NFP that I hadn’t fully considered. I knew that it could be abused; retaining a contraceptive mentality while technically following Church teaching. I had never heard of your third aspect of the traditional understanding of marriage as a ‘remedy for concupiscence’. Could you lead me to some background on this? Is this more thoroughly expounded upon in your book? It does make sense though.

    • When one says marriage (and specifically the marital embrace) is a remedy for concupisence, all sacraments in a certain sense lessen the impact of concupisence in our lives. Since marriage is meant to be modeled upon the union of Christ and the Church, this happens in a special way. Everytime you positively affirm your marriage (in doing things for your spouse, living up to your obligation of fidelity) you are “dying to self” a little bit, and living for the other, as we should die to ourselves and live for Christ. This is a remedy.

      When spouses come together in the marital embrace, this is a remedy for concupisence in the sense that every time this occurs (with the right intention) they are renewing their marital covenant and their vows to each other

    • Sean

      One place to look for more about marriage as a remedy for concupiscence in Augustine’s On the Good of Marriage.

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  • I think this topic hits at the root of many, if not most, of the moral ills of our society! Acceptance of and practice of contraception in our society has changed sex from being primarily about creation of immortal souls (persons) destined for heaven to “my pleasure.”

    Here’s the analogy I use. Tonight, at a hospital near you, a little baby is going to be born. The life of that little baby began about nine months ago. One day, that hospital won’t be there. Neither will the city, the state, or the country. But that little baby will still be around! He or she will be around forever, according to God’s plan! And what the contracepting couple are telling God is this: “We know, that by this act, it may be Your Divine will that we participate in the creation of a person who will live forever. We know that may be Your will. But WE won’t let YOU do it!” An in-your-face “NO!” to God! We call that sin. And sin always has dire consequences.

    • Micha Elyi

      Nice try but periodic abstinence, even when guided by NFP science, is not contraception. Not ever.

      Now go and sin no more, Steve.