UCAN Interview - 'Church Hardly Promotes
Natural Family Planning'
CHENNAI, India (UCAN) -- The Catholic Church does little to promote
natural family planning in India, says Sister Catherine Bernard, a
The Cross of Chavanod nun is based in Chennai, capital of the southern
Indian state of Tamil Nadu, 2,100 kilometers south of New Delhi.
She started and directs Service and Research Foundation of Asia on
Family and Culture (SERFAC). For 34 years, she has been associated with
John Billings of Australia, who pioneered the natural-family-planning
method, popularly called Billings Ovulation Method. Billings died in
April, at the age of 89.
In the following interview, she shares her views on her association
with the late Australian and the impact of his work on marriage and
family, especially among Indian Catholics. She also speaks of how the
Church can popularize natural family planning in the country.
UCA NEWS: How did your
association with Doctor Billings begin?
SISTER CATHERINE BERNARD: When I graduated from St. John's Medical
College and Hospital (in southern Bangalore) 43 years ago, I began
working with its family-planning department as an intern. I knew the
Church does not approve contraceptive methods and I started teaching
The Billings couple came to know about my work. When they came to India
to present their findings, they met me and I began working with
In those days, I used to work in rural areas to teach women natural
planning. One day, a poor woman who was pregnant for a fifth time told
me about her struggles with her drunkard husband, who was forcing her
After giving birth to the child, she began using the
natural-family-planning method. She would tie a thermometer from the
roof of her hut and monitored her body temperature every day (to
identify her fertility cycle).
Slowly, her husband also changed and became understanding. Then I told
myself, "If poor people have this type of motivation and love for life,
then there must be something to it." That something is what I have been
discovering day after day for the past 34 years.
How did Billings influence you?
Doctor Billings and his wife influenced me tremendously and profoundly.
As a couple, they themselves were witnesses to the truth. They were an
example of genuine family love and love for humanity. Their life
motivated me. In them, I found concrete expressions of God's love for
people. I said, "There has to be some good about it," and I continue to
discover that good.
What was their contribution
to the Church?
The Billings' greatest contribution to the Church, especially in the
field of health, is the natural-family-planning method they introduced.
The Billings method went through research for 25-30 years. They faced
opposition, lack of funds and criticism from the medical fraternity,
but they withstood the test of time. As the research continued, they
met another researcher in the filed, Doctor Eric Odablade from Sweden.
They found their findings complemented each other. They tested findings
simultaneously in different parts of the world. That further
strengthened the scientific basis of the Billings method, which is 100
percent scientific, reliable and natural in planning families.
What are its benefits and
People don't 'use' the Billings method. They simply understand their
fertility patterns and apply rules. No technology is involved. But with
contraceptives, you allow technology and chemicals to dominate your
In the Billings method, women identify fertile days by monitoring
bodily changes such as temperature and by interpreting cervical mucus.
In contrast, the rhythm method is based on calculation of the calendar.
The Billings method is scientifically proven effective for family
When one wants to follow the Billings method, it must be followed in
its entirety. Some doctors, even in India, made modifications, but then
you can't call it the Billings method. So when your modified method
fails, do not call it a failure of the Billings method.
The most important advantage of this method is that it keeps a marriage
together. Husband and wife learn to respect each other and their
fertility. They begin to respect their combined fertility. Periodic
abstinence makes their marriage stronger. Children become gifts of
marriage. They begin to be life-givers in society.
As far as I am aware, it has no drawbacks, but there are two
difficulties. One is that people have to maintain a chart. Some people
find it cumbersome. The second is that its promotion is slow. We have
to move from person to person, couple to couple, and follow it up.
How has the Church responded?
The Vatican officially accepts it. But how many bishops' conferences
accept it as a viable, positive alternative to artificial
family-planning methods? As a group, they all would support promoting
it, but they have differences.
In India, my experience has been varied from excitement to extreme
sadness. I am excited when I hear stories of couples who have benefited
and enrich their marriage using the method.
I am also sad because the Church in India has done so little to really
promote the Billings method. The Catholic Bishops' Conference of India,
as far as I am aware, theoretically promotes it, but not officially.
There is no visible, tangible effort in terms of investment of time,
money and people to promote it. But we all agree natural family
planning helps promote the wellbeing of the Church, couples and
society. This for me is the saddest part.
Individuals within the Church fail to see it as something that builds
up families and helps couples have pregnancy according to their
decisions. Many see it merely as a method of contraception.
A few of us who promote the method struggle without any moral and
financial support. We continue against odds and criticism from our
priests and nuns. But we've stood the test of time.
How does this method impact
pro-life Church activities?
People see pro-life as anti-abortion. The anti-abortion people don't
promote natural family planning. That's true the world over, including
India. They oppose abortion but won't promote natural family planning.
They have a myopic understanding of pro-life. Pro-life doesn't only
mean saving life or not killing. It means nurturing life.
What is India's experience in
using the Billings Method?
At least 73 percent of Indians do not use any contraceptives, according
to researched and proven data. Many do not use contraceptives simply
because they do not like it. Some use herbs or the rhythm method. Most
don't use the Billings method because no one has taught them about it.
A larger number of people would use it if they knew about it.
What must the Church do to
Everyone along the ladder, from highest official to seminarian, needs
to be educated about the truth of natural family planning, and the
Billings method. They should become convinced about it. You can't teach
something you're not convinced of. Then we need to invest money, time
and resources. Get as much manpower, including laypeople, train them
and send out like apostles. But you also have to see to their
What do you say to those who
find it strange to see a Catholic nun promoting family planning?
Initially, people thought I was crazy. I no longer think of how people
think about me. Honestly, I've grown beyond the stage where I need
approval and affirmation. Today, I don't really care for recognition.
The only thing I say is, "Don't stop me."
For me, this is a vocation within a vocation, a call within a call. I
have never, not even for a split second, regretted what I'm doing. I've
felt lonely but never regret. It's the fulfillment of my vocation.
Any message for married
Marriage is a beautiful vocation. Appreciate it, love it and live it.
This is the most sublime vocation. Marriage is definitely much more
beautiful than priesthood. Neither the priest nor the nun co-creates
with God, but here the man and the woman directly participate in God's
creative plan. They can stop, or block, or they can co-operate.
How can the Church strengthen
One has to recognize a worldwide trend in the weakening of marriage and
family life. The trend is to marry late. When people marry late,
there's less ability for adjustments and willingness to make
sacrifices. Many also opt not to have children. All these weaken
Research data indicate that most men aged 24-40 watch pornography. It
is more addictive than drugs and alcohol, and creates problem in
married life. The Internet and television are also major causes for
behavioral disturbances in marriage.
Family is the first line of defense for children, and the Church should
make all efforts to support marriage and family life. Open your eyes.
Look, see, hear and listen. The Church throughout the world has to
become a listening Church, not a talking Church.
Billings method pioneer dead at 89
Natural family pioneer and co-inventor of the method that bears
name, Dr John Billings, died in Melbourne yesterday following a short
The Herald-Sun reports that Dr Billings with his wife Dr Evelyn
Billings pioneered the Billings Ovulation Method in the 1950s, a system
that helps women to identify their fertile and non-fertile states based
on their menstrual cycle.
Dr Billings, a neurologist who served with the Australian Imperial
Force as a doctor in New Guinea during World War II, studied in London
following the war but returned to practice in Melbourne.
He later became the head of the neurology department of St
Hospital, the clinical dean of its clinical school at the University of
Melbourne and, from the late 1960s until recent years, the hospital's
But the work for which he was most famous began in 1953, when he
approached by the Catholic Church's Catholic Marriage Guidance Bureau
to devise a method for couples to regulate their fertility.
Dr Billings and his wife have since spent more than 50 years
researching fertility, and establishing WOOMB (The World Organisation
Ovulation Method Billings International) in Melbourne as the centre for
research and teaching the method around the world.
WOOMB director Marian Corkill said the Billings Method was taught
more than 100 countries including China, where it was the only natural
fertility method accepted by the Government.
"His work was incredibly important, it has had a global effect.
"Australia has given people around the world a much greater
understanding of fertility and it has given couples the opportunity to
use that knowledge in a natural way to achieve or avoid pregnancy."
Dr Billings travelled the world to establish teaching centres and
train teachers to educate women and couples about the method.
He was made a member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 1991 and
also won a Papal knighthood for his work.
He is survived by his wife Evelyn, eight of his nine children and
a growing family of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Better NFP promotion needed: Filipino lay leader says
Meanwhile, in the Philippines, Juliet Rivera, a lay leader of the
Committee on Family Life Apostolate for Kalookan diocese, which
includes Malabon city, has said that the Church must be more pro-active
in promoting natural family planning methods.
Speaking at a public family planning event, Ms Rivera regretted a
"cafeteria approach" to family planning promoted by NGOs which
suggested "that artificial contraception is better because it's easier
and more practical."
Rivera told UCA News that "activities like (the family planning
must be a wake-up call for all members of the Church, to be proactive."
She submitted a proposal paper in late 2006 to Bishop Deogracias
Iniguez of Kalookan indicating the committee's plans for "family and
life centres in every parish," she said.
The diocese has 26 parishes. According to Ms Rivera, the bishop
welcomed the suggestion. She hopes that "through our commission's new
priest-coordinator, we can creatively propagate NFP."
Natural Family Planning: A
Defense and an Explanation
What are the conditions according to which one may use NFP without
offending Almighty God?
by Thomas Storck
When is it licit for a married couple to use natural family
planning (NFP)? What are the conditions according to which we may use
this method without offending Almighty God? This will be my subject in
this article both with reference to what the Church’s Magisterium has
said and with some theological reflections on its place in married
life. For without doubt in some circles NFP has acquired a dubious
reputation, a reputation which I consider largely undeserved and which
I hope this article can do something to improve. 
Very often it is said that natural family planning is restricted
hard cases, that for its legitimate use a serious reason is required.
But such a judgment is based upon no magisterial text that I am aware
of; in fact, the chief texts do not say this at all.  Let us look at
these texts, but before doing so it would be well to consider the place
of children with regard to sexuality and marriage.
Just as the human race would have no capacity or need for eating
we needed eating to nourish our bodies, so we would have no capacity
for sexual activity if that activity were not oriented toward the
procreation of children. Although both eating and sexuality have other
goods connected with them, such as legitimate pleasure, fellowship,
strengthening of the bonds between spouses, the allaying of
concupiscence, nevertheless neither would exist unless it had the
obvious function that it has, providing either for the good of the
individual or of the human race. In fact, the obvious connection of
sexuality with procreation is one of the best means of demonstrating to
modern pagans and secularists that a hedonistic ethic is contrary to
human nature itself. Sex is not simply there; it has a built-in purpose.
Now marriage is the context within which both nature and the
law of God command that sexual activity take place. Since sexual
activity left to itself usually results, sooner or later, in children,
these children clearly need parents to protect and raise them. Marriage
and the family exist chiefly to provide the proper context for child
raising. Thus the Church formulated the entirely commonsense teaching
that the principal end of marriage was children, both their procreation
and their education. “Finis principalis Matrimonii est generatio et
educatio prolis,”  or, “the principal end of marriage is the
procreation and education of children.” This is not to devalue the
other ends of either marriage or sex,  but simply to point out the
obvious fact that we have the capacity and desire for sex because it is
our means for passing on the gift of life. Otherwise we would not even
have such a capacity and desire.
Anyone then who deliberately engages in sexual activity while, at
same time, blocking in some way the natural consequences of such acts
obviously acts against nature, against the very nature of man. It is
not good to extol the naturalness and beauty of sex and at the same
time render the sex act unnatural by a use of perverse human technology.
In natural family planning, of course, one does not seek to render
sex act artificially sterile or block its natural consequences.
Whatever consequences God and our created human nature have placed in
the act are retained. To be sure, the intention is to restrict such
activity to times when the wife is likely to be infertile. But is there
anything wrong with this, and, if not, what conditions, if any, must be
fulfilled for its licit use?
I should point out first of all, that our intention does not
the only criterion of morality. Act, motive, and circumstances: these
are the three traditional criteria for judging moral acts. If I need
fifty dollars for some legitimate purpose, it makes a big difference
whether I get a job and earn that money or whether I steal it from
someone. The motive may be the same in each case, but the means differ
and render the one act morally good and the other evil. The same is
true with regard to sexual morality.
Although since the middle of the nineteenth century several
of the Sacred Penitentiary had made it clear that NFP use was not
illicit, the first papal statement on it was in Pius XI’s magnificent
encyclical, Casti Connubii (1930). After a condemnation of anything
that may interfere with the conjugal act to prevent conception, the
Pontiff went on to say,
Nor are those considered as acting against
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
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. 
The medical knowledge for the use of NFP was just beginning to be
at the time Pius XI wrote this encyclical, but within a few years that
knowledge had become better understood and had begun to be distilled
into popular works and set out as systems for use by married couples,
known at the time, of course, as rhythm or calendar rhythm. As a result
of this increasing knowledge, Pius XI’s successor, Pius XII, specified
more clearly what was licit or illicit in the use of NFP. Let us look
at two of his addresses on the subject.
The first of these is his famous “Allocution to Midwives” of
29, 1951.  Curiously this document is sometimes cited by those who
seem to want to restrict unduly the licit use of NFP. But in fact, in
this address Pius XII hardly even deals with the ordinary use of
natural family planning. Rather he speaks primarily of those who would
“embrace the matrimonial state” and “use continually the faculty proper
to such a state” but at the same time avoid children entirely. And for
this he rightly requires a serious reason. Why is this?
The Pontiff points out the commonsense truth that the human race
depends on married couples for much of its temporal welfare. “The
individual and society, the people and the State, the Church itself,
depend for their existence, in the order established by God, on
fruitful marriages.” Thus to embrace a state established by God for the
procreation and formation of children, and without a sufficient reason
to forgo altogether having children, is obviously an injustice.
It is the kind of action that causes children to cry out, “It’s
fair!” Such couples enjoy all the benefits and pleasures of marriage
and deliberately reject the whole purpose for which such benefits and
pleasures were instituted. But even so, Pope Pius does not forbid
couples that have some important reason for entirely avoiding pregnancy
to marry. For he states: “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 [i.e., debt to society by having children] for a long
period or even for the entire period of matrimonial life.” 
The “Allocution to Midwives” sets forth the basic principles that
needed to address moral questions arising from the use of natural
family planning, but it does not work these out in detail. Based on
Pius’s teaching we can see that the essential moral question of the use
of NFP is a question of balance, the balance of its use, and the
frequency of its use, against the seriousness of the reason for that
use. To make use of NFP throughout an entire marriage indeed requires
serious justifying reason or to use it “for a long period” likewise.
But what of other circumstances?
About a month after his earlier address, on November 26, 1951,
spoke to the Association of Large Families. After praising the
generosity of husbands and wives “who, for the love of God and trusting
in Him, courageously raise a numerous family” the Pontiff says the
The Church, on the other hand, can understand,
sympathy and comprehension, the real difficulties of matrimonial life
in these our days. For this reason, in Our last address on conjugal
morality, We affirmed the legitimacy and at the same time the
limits—truly very wide—of that controlling of births which, unlike the
so-called “birth control,” is compatible with God’s law. It can be
hoped . . . that for such a lawful method a sufficiently certain
[scientific] basis can be found, and recent research seems to confirm
this hope. 
This second address by Pius XII, though not treating of the
of the moral use of NFP, certainly indicates—“limits—truly very
wide”—that that Pontiff had a favorable attitude toward the use of
natural family planning and did not desire to restrict it to the most
narrow of circumstances. Such an attitude continued throughout his
reign until the Church entered the turbulent period of the Council and
As everyone knows, after the Second Vatican Council it was widely
expected that, despite the authoritative teachings of Pius XI and Pius
XII, somehow the Church would and could change her teachings on
contraception.  But Pope Paul VI, in an action that was little short
of heroic, issued his encyclical Humanae Vitae on July 25, 1968.
Although, as we will see, Humanae Vitae continues the same approach to
natural family planning use as found in the teaching of Pius XII, we
are met with an initial difficulty, based however on an error. In the
pamphlet edition of Humanae Vitae published by the Daughters of St.
Paul, which features the “NC News Service Translation,” the section
that deals with the licit use of NFP, section 16 of the encyclical,
reads (in part) as follows:
If, then, there are serious motives to space
births, which derive from the physical or psychological conditions of
husband and wife, or from external conditions, the Church teaches that
it is then licit to take into account the natural rhythms immanent in
the generative functions....”
This text would seem to teach that any licit use of natural family
planning is confined to situations in which “serious motives” are
present, so that the same conditions apply to use of NFP simply to
space out births as to its use “for a long period or even for the
entire period of matrimonial life,” as Pius XII had earlier taught. But
this is not the case. For in this instance it is simply a case of a
faulty translation. The Latin of the beginning of the above quotation
runs, “Si igitur iustae adsint causae generationes subsequentes
intervallandi, quae a coniugum corporis vel animi condicionibus...” (my
emphasis). The word erroneously translated as serious is the Latin
world iustae. Paul VI thus speaks of just causes or just reasons, and
there is no mention of serious at all. Fortunately more accurate
translations followed, so that in the volume of post-Vatican II
documents edited by Austin Flannery, iustae is translated as
“reasonable.”  But for reasons unknown to me, “serious motives” has
acquired a life of its own and one sees it repeated again and again.
Paul VI did not specify exactly what he meant by “just reasons,” and we
will look at that more closely below. But here we should simply note
that any use of Humanae Vitae to try to show that serious reasons are
required for the licit use of NFP is simply based on an error.
Let us look at just two more documents of the Magisterium in our
of Church teaching, and first the apostolic exhortation Familiaris
Consortio of John Paul II (November 22, 1981). In this document John
Paul not only reaffirms the licitness of “recourse to periods of
infertility” but he praises this practice as likely to lead to
“dialogue, reciprocal respect, shared responsibility and self-control.”
He continues, “In this context the couple comes to experience how
conjugal communion is enriched with those values of tenderness and
affection which constitute the inner soul of human sexuality, in its
physical dimension also.”  As he frequently did, John Paul in this
passage attempts to discover the inner meaning and value of things and
not simply to teach about their proper use and morality, essential
though these are. And thus he discerned value in the use of NFP, value
more than simply for the spacing of pregnancies.
Finally, let us look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In
2368 we find again the word “just” used by Paul VI in Humanae Vitae,
and we read, “For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of
their children.”  This sums up what we have seen above in the
teaching of Pius XI, Pius XII, Paul VI and John Paul II and may be
taken as indicating the Church’s judgment on this matter.
From these documents of the Magisterium we can see that the Church
not look on natural family planning with a jaundiced eye. To be sure
excusing reasons are necessary for its use. But Pius XII mentions the
“very wide” limits for its licit use, John Paul II speaks of its value
in the development of marital love. We have also seen that except for
its use over the entire lifetime of a marriage or for “a long period”
the Magisterium has never required serious or grave reasons for its
use. Let us look at the issue more generally and examine the question
of what might be just reasons for its use. We should keep in mind what
seems to be the basic line of papal thought, namely, that the longer
the use, generally speaking, the more serious the reason that will be
required. Thus for example, it would seem that for a couple with only
one or two children to voluntarily cease having children would indeed
require some serious and extraordinary cause. Or to space children six
years apart would require a more serious reason than three years. And
I wish to approach the remainder of this discussion from two
view. The first involves the question of the primary end of marriage
which I mentioned above, namely, “the procreation and education of
children.” Now the important thing to note about this is that the
primary end of marriage is the procreation and education of children.
If we forget the words “and education” we are apt to see the value of
marriage only in how many children a couple can have, and even to
reduce a wife’s value to that of how many children she bears. But if we
consider the phrase as a whole, “procreation and education” we will
reach a different conclusion. For as Pius XII noted, “The work of
education exceeds by far, in its importance and its consequences, that
of generation.”  And surely here education means much more than
schooling. Perhaps it could be rendered best as formation, the entire
spiritual, moral, intellectual, social and physical shaping of a child,
so that he can serve God in this world and attain eternal life in the
next. Certainly in order to be educated a child must first be generated
and born. But, as we see all too evidently around us, not all children
who are procreated are educated. And if parents are indeed the first
and primary educators of their children,  then the state of the
parents’ health, both physical and psychological, has a great impact on
their ability to educate their children. Thus if parents are stressed
or constantly tired or overworked, they are not apt to be the best
educators of their children. I am not speaking of their ability to
ferry their children around for the latest in art or music lessons or
sports camps. Rather, I am thinking of the daily interaction of parents
and children and the strength needed by parents for the sometimes
arduous task of rearing their children. It does not conduce to forming
children psychologically if their parents are frequently irritable or
overly critical. Yet, as is obvious, fatigue and stress tend to bring
out such negative qualities in human beings.
While it is true that the lesson of generous sacrifice is one of
best that parents can give their children, not everyone is capable of
heroic virtue. Everyone knows mothers who bear eight, ten or twelve
children and who manage such large households with little difficulty.
But not everyone has the requisite emotional and physical resources to
do this, so that what for some might be done without difficulty, for
others might require a heroic virtue that the Church has generally not
insisted on. 
Some have questioned why, suddenly in this age, Catholic married
couples need to make use of NFP when for centuries such knowledge did
not even exist.  Fr. Ripperger, for example, in the article cited
in note 6, states, “For centuries people have been getting married and
leading perfectly Catholic married lives without knowledge of NFP” (p.
49). This of course is true. But the answer to that is found in the
words of Pius XII to the Association of Large Families quoted above:
“The Church, on the other hand, can understand, with sympathy and
comprehension, the real difficulties of matrimonial life in these our
days” (emphasis mine). With the absence of extended families, with
denatured food,  with often stressful commutes and even the evil
(sometimes necessary) of both parents working outside the home, married
life has difficulties that were largely unknown in earlier times. It
seems as if God provided for the knowledge of female fertility at
exactly the right time in the history of mankind, at the time when the
increasing complexities of modern life would make such knowledge
helpful and even in a sense necessary for modern families. Thus I would
argue that the just causes stipulated by Paul VI for the licit use of
NFP would include such reasons as stress, both physical and emotional,
and considerations of general bodily health, housing conditions and
income. For we must remember that the “limits—truly very wide” about
which Pius XII spoke were based on his earlier assessment that it is
“medical, eugenic, economic and social” causes which render NFP use
Another line of argument I want to pursue involves a discussion of
purpose of procreation in conjunction with God’s original command to
Adam and Eve, “Increase and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). One of the chief
insights of the Aristotelian/Thomistic philosophic tradition is that
every action has an end. Things exist for a purpose. God’s command to
Adam and Eve was to bring about the peopling of the earth. While
certainly the birth of every human being is a good, the duty of married
couples to have children is rationally related to the population needs
of the world and the Church. As Pius XII taught, “The individual and
society, the people and the State, the Church itself, depend for their
existence, in the order established by God, on fruitful marriages.”
A very interesting discussion of this question took place in the
and early 1960s by moral theologians entirely orthodox and loyal to the
Church’s Magisterium. In particular, let us look at a work written by
Jesuit Fathers John C. Ford and Gerald Kelly, volume 2, Marriage
Questions, of their Contemporary Moral Theology, published in 1964.
 Frs. Ford and Kelly opine that, even with absolutely no excusing
cause based on health, economics, etc., no married couple is bound by
the law of God to have more children than is necessary for the general
conservation and gradual increase of the human race. They state, “There
may be difficulty in determining the exact limit for various countries;
but certainly today in the United States a family of four children
would be sufficient to satisfy the duty.”  Such an approach to the
question of use of natural family planning was not limited to these two
authors. As they state, “Verbal acceptance of the theory was expressed
by a great majority of some thirty moral theologians who discussed it
at Notre Dame in June, 1952, on the occasion of the annual meeting of
the Catholic Theological Society of America.”  I am not insisting
on four children as necessarily the correct number. In Europe at least,
with its falling population and huge influx of Moslems, a higher number
would seem to be called for. I only wish to argue that the general
approach of these authors and of the pre-conciliar moralists was
correct. Agreement on the exact number of children which fulfills one’s
duty is less important than acceptance of the principle involved.
In no way do I intend to disparage large families or those heroic
spouses who do not wish to use periodic abstinence to space their
children. My only purpose in writing is to show that the Church, always
a loving Mother, speaking through her Sovereign Pontiffs, has indicated
a generous attitude toward NFP use, an attitude, as Pius XII stated it,
of “sympathy and comprehension” for the struggles of married couples.
These couples should not have burdens put upon them greater than God
requires, and to know what the requirements of God’s law are we simply
turn to his Church, the Catholic Church, the ark of salvation for all
of mankind. 
1. One section of this article incorporates some material from my
earlier article “Marriage and the Use of Natural Family Planning,” The
University Concourse, vol. 8, no. 1, September 2002.
2. Humanae Vitae, no. 10, does indeed speak of “seriis causis”
reference to married couples spacing or limiting their children.
However, serius in Latin means serious in the sense of “opp. to
sportive, jocular” (Lewis & Short, p. 1679). It does not mean the
same as gravis. As we will see, elsewhere Humanae Vitae uses iustae
with reference to justifying reasons for limiting or spacing offspring.
3. A. Tanquerey, Brevior Synopsis Theologiae Dogmaticae, 6th ed.
: Societas Sti. Joannis, c. 1923) p. 730. It would probably be possible
to find literally hundreds of places - encyclicals and papal addresses,
the 1917 Code of Canon Law, statements of Roman congregations, theology
textbooks, catechisms, rotal decisions - where this teaching was
repeated. See the compilation Papal Teachings: Matrimony, selected and
arranged by the Benedictine Monks of Solesmes, (Boston : St. Paul, c.
1963). The index gives numerous references on p. 583.
4. This is doubtless the meaning of the famous passage in Gaudium
Spes, no. 50, which some have argued changed the Church’s teaching on
the hierarchy of the ends of marriage. The Council’s teaching surely
meant only that the secondary ends of marriage are not disvalued by
pointing out the obvious priority of the primary end. We do not
depreciate the role that a shared meal plays in creating good
fellowship by noting that the primary purpose of eating is nourishment
of the body.
5. Section 59 in Paulist translation. The Latin original is as
“Neque contra naturae ordinem agere ii dicendi sunt coniuges, qui iure
suo recta et naturali ratione utuntur, etsi ob naturales sive temporis
sive quorundam defectuum causas nova inde vita oriri non possit.
Habentur enim tam in ipso matrimonio, quam in coniugalis iuris usu
etiam secundarii fines, ut sunt mutuum adiutorium mutuusque fovendus
amor et concupiscentiae sedatio, quos intendere coniuges minime
vetantur, dummodo salva semper sit intrinseca illius actus natura
ideoque eius ad primarium finem debita ordinatio.” Emphasis in
original. (Acta Apostolicae Sedis 22 (1930) 539.
A better translation of the last clause of the last sentence would
“so long as the intrinsic nature of that act always be saved and
therefore its due ordination to the primary end.” One could perhaps
argue from this that Pius XI thought that so long as the nature of the
conjugal act was preserved its correct orientation to the primary end
of marriage was ipso facto preserved.
6. Reprinted in Papal Teachings: Matrimony, pp. 405-434. The
quoted are on pages 418-19. The document is also available several
places on the Internet. Original source: Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 43
7. Here Pope Pius differs from a recent writer, Fr. Chad
opines that couples “should not marry if they cannot assume the
essential obligations of marriage, part of which is the preparedness to
have children.” “Immodesty Unrecognized: the Problems with Teaching
NFP,” Homiletic & Pastoral Review, vol. 106, no. 1 October 2005, p.
46. But where a sufficiently grave cause obtains, Pius recognizes that
the secondary ends of marriage are nonetheless still present and may
justify such a union.
8. Papal Teachings: Matrimony, pp. 434-442. The sections quoted
pages 440-41. Original source: Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 43 (1951) 855.
9. Because of erroneous interpretations of the conciliar decree on
religious liberty, Dignitatis Humanae, many had come to believe that
Catholic doctrine could be modified to suit the changing ideas of
society. See my “Catholics and Religious Liberty: What Can We Believe?”
Homiletic & Pastoral Review, vol. 97, no. 4, January 1997.
10. Vatican Council II : More Postconciliar Documents (Boston :
Daughters of St. Paul, c. 1982), p. 405.
11. Familiaris Consortio, 32. In Daughters of St. Paul edition, p.
12. “Coniuges, iustis de causis, possunt suorum filiorum
intervallis separare velle.” See also numbers 2369 and 2370.
13. Allocution to the Members of the Second World Congress of
and Sterility, May 19, 1956. In Papal Teachings: Matrimony, p. 483.
14. Cf. Gravissimum Educationis, no. 3; John Paul II, Familiaris
Consortio, nos. 36-38.
15. Moreover, natural family planning is perhaps not so easy to
as some seem to think. Unlike contraceptive use, where, especially with
the pill, couples can go on unthinkingly contracepting for years on
end, with NFP each month a couple must rethink their decision to
postpone or avoid the possibility of a pregnancy. And, thanks to the
God-given attraction of the sexes for each other, they have a strong
incentive to throw caution to the winds.
16. Of course, a form of NFP did exist in prior ages, that of
births by nursing, a method still recommended and taught today.
17. See, for example, Fr. Denis Fahey, The Church and Farming
(Hawthorne, Ca. : Omni, 1988) pp. 115-135. He begins his chapter on
modern processed food with a quotation from Dr. Alexis Carrel, “Modern
Man is delicate.”
18. (Westminster, Md. : Newman, 1964) Lest anyone think that Frs.
and Kelly were part of the phalanax of dissenting moralists which at
that period was just beginning to operate in the open, the authors
explicitly state that the Church can never approve of contraception.
“The Church is so completely committed to the doctrine that
contraception is intrinsically and gravely immoral that no substantial
change in this teaching is possible. It is irrevocable.” p. 277
(Emphasis in original) In this period, between approximately 1963 and
the appearance of Humanae Vitae in 1968, few would have been so bold as
to make such a statement. Fr. Ford went on to publish an important
article (co-authored with Germain Grisez) in the June 1978 issue of
Theological Studies, “Contraception and the Infallibility of the
Ordinary Magisterium,” arguing for the infallibility of the teaching
contained in Humanae Vitae.
19. Ibid., p. 423.
20. Ibid., p. 422.
21. I have said nothing in this article about the teaching of
family planning and about certain abuses which, it is sometimes said,
may arise in this connection. These may well be true and where they
exist obviously should be corrected. But they should be corrected in
the light of the fundamental theological and moral principles which we
have seen in the teaching of the Church, and with the aim of making
knowledge of NFP available to all who can use it legitimately.
Mr. Thomas Storck is the author of The Catholic Milieu (1987),
Foundations of a Catholic Political Order (1998), Christendom and the
West (2000), and of numerous articles and reviews on Catholic culture
and social teaching. He is a member of the editorial board of The
Chesterton Review and a contributing editor of New Oxford Review and
TCRNews.com. He has an M.A. from St. John’s College, Santa Fe. His last
article in HPR appeared in July 2005.