The U.S. Bishops Pitch NFP
March 2007By John F. Kippley
John F. Kippley is author of Sex and the Marriage Covenant: A Basis for Morality (Ignatius, 2005), and co-author, with his wife, Sheila, of The Art of Natural Family Planning (CCL International, 1975). Together they founded the Couple to Couple League in 1971 and guided it for 32 years. In 2004 they founded NFP International. Visit their website, www.NFPandmore.org, to learn more about marital chastity, eco-breastfeeding, and systematic NFP.
On November 14, 2006, the bishops of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) overwhelmingly accepted for publication a document on Natural Family Planning (NFP) titled "Married Love and the Gift of Life." It is encouraging to see our bishops give attention to a subject that is practiced by only about three percent of Catholic married couples in their fertile years. The document appears to be aimed at engaged and newly married couples, and it tries to attract them to the practice of NFP in a very positive way. I hope it succeeds. I also hope that the bishops will keep track of how many copies of this document in booklet form are distributed to engaged couples and how many engaged couples take a full course of NFP instruction. If the latter number remains small, the bishops will need to take a more effective approach.
As with any document, "Married Love" has its pluses and minuses. On the plus side, the first thing to note is that "Married Love" is readable and short, a bit less than 2,740 words. More importantly, it adopts a positive tone, seeking to attract couples to the practice of NFP with the promise of heightened sexual intimacy and other marital benefits. It also teaches the abortifacient potential of hormonal forms of birth control. It draws a loose analogy between the dishonesty of telling lies and the dishonesty of contraception. This is important because it seems that some folks don't mind thinking of themselves as lustful, but almost no one likes to think of himself as a liar.
In promoting NFP, "Married Love and the Gift of Life" is careful to teach that couples should be open to new life and need a serious reason to use NFP to avoid or postpone pregnancy. This is significant because a well-known promoter of NFP, Fr. Richard Hogan, has recently argued that in standard NFP instruction there is no need to mention the qualifier about needing a sufficiently serious reason to use NFP. Specifically, on Fr. Mitch Pacwa's EWTN program (Sept. 13, 2006), Fr. Hogan said he was "on a campaign" to delete mention of "serious reason" from regular NFP instruction. In a December 2006 reply to criticism, Fr. Hogan wrote, "Grave or serious reasons for having recourse to the infertile times should not be imposed as a prerequisite on couples beginning their lives together."
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