Catholic Teaching

Natural Family Planning

During a recent survey of candidates for office, the question of Natural Family Planning (NFP) was brought up in order to determine their stance. The response in every case, even among the Catholics was “What is that?” It was not so surprising, as NFP is not mentioned in the churches any more than contraceptives are mentioned. Thirty years ago Father Paul Marx said, "Future generations will wonder why so many Catholic bishops and priests in the West didn't see contraception as a seminal evil and the chief cause of the Church's swift decline." They still don’t get it. Priestly silence about contraception is deadly both to the Church and to our society. Many Catholics today use contraceptives and see absolutely no contradiction in receiving the Eucharist every Sunday and believe themselves in perfect communion with the Church. They've never been admonished that it is a mortal sin to use contraception. They've never been told of the physical and spiritual danger of these practices and they've never been made aware of the magnificent, life-giving alternatives the Church offers to the Ideology of Infertility. Naturally, if priests lack the courage or, in some cases the belief, to instruct Catholics on contraception, they are not going to provide instruction in NFP.

When discussing NFP, several questions arise. These are: What is it? Why use it when it is more difficult than taking a pill? And is it not the same as contracepting? There are many, many articles on these issues. The Family of the Americas Foundation (FAF) is a good place to start. They teach the Billings method of NFP on a global scale. There are many other sources including but not limited to the Couple to Couple League, the Billings Ovulation Method and the Natural Family Planning Center. Considerable information is availale on all of their websites.
What is it?    The human reproductive system has a built-in system of avoiding pregnancy. God built into the woman’s body cycles of fertility and infertility so that a pregnancy would not result from every sexual act. By learning the natural cycles of fertility a couple may morally avoid conceiving a baby when they have a reasonable reason to do so. Conversely a couple may also use the knowledge to achieve a pregnancy.
Why use it? NFP has the same success rate as artificial birth control yet does not have the serious side effects. The pill contains hormones that disrupt a woman's natural reproductive cycle, as do other methods of artificial birth control.  Hormonal contraceptives do not always prevent conception, but sometimes allow conception and then kill the conceived child. This is done by preventing the fetus from attaching to the womb. NFP offers an alternative approach to procreation, one that does not denigrate the creation of new human life, has no side effects, and costs nothing. 

One huge advantage of NFP is the divorce rate is extremely low even among non-Catholic couples using NFP.  NFP requires the husband and wife to cooperate in making the life decision. If a man loves his wife, he wants to protect her. He doesn't want her to take steroids or use other kinds of birth control with serious side effects. A study reported in the November 2002 Catholic Social Science Review finds that NFP women have much lower rates of abortion and divorce than women in the national samples. The study is posted in the download section of FAF's website,

Is it not the same as contracepting?     Some have criticized the use of NFP to delay pregnancy as encouraging the contraceptive mentality. It is sometimes called "Catholic birth control." Father Thomas Euteneuer, of Human Life International, answers this by stating, “There is an intrinsic difference between these two acts. One is preventing conception by a deliberate act, and the other is avoiding conception by cooperation with nature. Both have the same result of not producing a baby, but they achieve this result by very different means. The end does not justify the means; rather the right means lead to the right ends. Thus, when it is necessary to avoid a pregnancy for grave reasons, the Church teaches that there is only one moral way to get there, the natural way.”

And he goes on to give a very secular example which I like, “The difference between natural and artificial birth prevention can be likened to the difference between tax evasion and tax avoidance. Both acts lead to a reduction in the taxes paid, but one is illegal and the other is legal. For example, in tax evasion I am committing a fraud by a deliberate attempt to cheat the system of its due. (I am morally obliged to contribute to the common good.) In tax avoidance I am using the various possibilities for tax reduction that the system itself provides in order to avoid some of its costs. There is a world of difference between the two methods even though in both cases I am paying fewer taxes or none at all.”

When is it licit for a married couple to use NFP?  Most articles state that If a couple were to use NFP without grave or serious reason for avoiding pregnancy, their intention would then be contraceptive by definition and therefore also gravely immoral.

An interesting article in Homiletic & Pastoral Review (July 2006) by Thomas Storck disputes these words, citing the words ‘grave or serious’ were never used in any magisterial texts. In fact, if we look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church we will find in No. 2368, “For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children.”   As Storck points out, the teachings of Pope Paul VI clearly state in Latin the word ‘iustse’ which is translated ‘reasonable’ in English.  The teachings of Pius XI, Pius XII, Paul VI and John Paul II all affirm and reaffirm the use of the licitness of “recourse to periods of infertility.” In fact, John Paul II went on to praise the practice as likely to lead to dialogue, reciprocal respect, shared responsibility and self control.

Reasons for Use:   As Storck points, out the primary end of marriage is ‘the procreation and education of children’ and not just the procreation in which the wife’s value is reduced to how many children she is able to bear. Pius XII noted “The work of education exceeds by far, in its importance and consequences, that of generation.” And surely education exceeds by far the public schooling one’s children will receive. It includes 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. As surely as some fathers are capable of being CEOs of large corporations, some mothers are capable of raising 12 children. It is not logical to assume all fathers are equal, nor is it logical to assume all mothers are equal. 

Family size is dependent upon many circumstances, yet God’s command to Adam and Eve to Increase and multiply has not been changed.  Children are a gift from God and a treasure for their parents, siblings and grandparents.  I know. I fit into all three categories.

Jim Fritz



Return to Top

Close this window to return to current Teachings page