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Is Natural Family Planning Really Natural?

You have seen the statistics: NFP couples have dramatically lower divorce rates than other couples. Some NFP sites claim 5%, others 2%, still others the dramatic .o6% or even .02%.

Now I have not done a scientific study on the matter, but I do have anecdotal evidence. Nothing that would hold water regarding method, mind you, but hard for me to ignore.

I know four NFP teaching couples. What’s more, one or both spouses in each of these couples has confided in me, sometimes more than I ever wanted to know.

Of the four, two are divorced, one by the man’s initiative, one by the woman’s. One of them is a marriage in name only, staying together for the sake of the children. The other to all appearances is a happy marriage, though Lord knows one can only know a marriage from the outside; my bride and I have known couples that we have envied for their apparently smooth sailing- in contrast to our sometimes stormy passage, especially in our first years- only to see those marriages unravel.

I realize that this may be a fluke, that I may happen to know a little corner of the universe where everything is skewed. Call it Opposite World, where 75% of NFP marriages fail.

On the other hand this may be representative.

And perhaps there is a connection?

Natural Family Planning, after all, mandates abstinence when a woman is ovulating, which everyone knows is the time when her desire for her man is most intense. Does frustrating this bring about stresses in the union? For that matter, does the method itself harm the natural and romantic nature of love? I mean bringing out the charts and thermometers and periscopes and who knows what would dampen the ardor, wouldn’t it? Sort of spoil the moment?

While respecting a woman’s cycle may qualify as “natural” is it really natural to frustrate the desires that flow from that cycle?

As you may discern, my bride and I have never really attempted NFP; it always seemed beyond us, temperamentally speaking. In fact, our one “attempt” was not very scientific, and indeed resulted in a quicker pregnancy than usual.

We mostly practiced SFP:  Supernatural Family Planning.  Just act natural and let God decide.

We know lots of people who have done this and done well. However, they tend to be folks with a lot of money, which we do not have. Further, besides a lack of money, we each have health concerns which dampen our enthusiasm for adding to our seven (on the other hand our seventh baby is the Sweetest Baby Ever, a total delight).

And as other methods seem even more unnatural- I mean the Pill suppresses ovulation and totally alters a woman’s natural cycle- or are capable of killing the newly vivified zygote, or are condemned by longstanding Church tradition, we are at a sort of impasse.

But it is hard not to think that the NFP propaganda is wishful thinking at best.

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770 Responses

  1. NFP (our choice) doesn’t come with any guarantees. For it to be enriching, spouses have to be able to show their love for each other in other ways…. not just cling to opposite sides of the bed when the woman is ovulating. I don’t think NFP is going to save anybody’s marriage. There are so many different pressures on marriage…..

    NFP IS counter-cultural. The present sexual zeitgeist emphasizes freedom… license, actually. It’s assumed that people are like cats and dogs, needing to be chemically or surgically neutered, because they can’t control themselves. People aren’t usually celibate before marriage anymore, and you need to be able to abstain to stay married, during times of sickness or separation. You can’t watch a movie, look at a magazine, or drive by a billboard without seeing something titillating. Our society is pretty good at making you feel discontented about everything, including your love life. That’s how they sell all those “vital” personal grooming products… and beer… and cigarettes.

    I know 3 couples (including ourselves) that have used NFP. Myself.. I was a late bloomer, married late in life. We used it as we got used to each other for about 3 years (yeah, the passage is stormy, but we still love each other here in our 27th year). After stopping NFP, I still didn’t get pregnant. My sister and her husband had 2 boys early, and then started NFP. They didn’t conceive after that, and are still happily married (30 some years). A beautiful young couple we know started out as teachers of NFP, continue to practice it, and are about to have their fourth little girl. We thought it was by deliberate choice until they confided that it really wasn’t. I don’t know if they are using the strictest method…. that is, abstaining before as well as during ovulation.

    Yes, that holding back, and then the thermometer deal sound unnatural too (periscopes! tee hee!), but in recent years digital thermometers are pretty accurate and have taken a lot of the trouble and squinting and figuring out of it. It’s no big deal… part of the responsibility of being a rational, responsible, married adult. We have been given the gift of intelligence, mixed in there with our passion and our free will.
    Any woman will tell you, there are worse things she has to deal with in the course of her child bearing years.

    I think your SUPERNATURAL family planning is beautiful, and it sounds like you’ve had beautiful “results.” You have to do what’s right for you, and NFP might NOT be right for you. Working to a schedule might take the spontaneity out of it. For those who can bear it, it’s one other way of obedience to the Father who loves us. It’s challenging, but making a living is challenging, too.

    They do say, “When God sends you another child, it comes with a loaf of bread under its arm,” but that’s not Holy Scripture!


  2. on July 17, 2011 at 9:01 pm Daniel Nichols

    They do say that, huh?
    Part of my skepticism comes from knowing couples who are sincerely trying to do what is right and are in far worst shape than we are. After all, I have a union job. But today’s economy really requires two union jobs to have a decent living. I know folks who are slaving in non-union jobs, one income, and having babies yearly or so (lactation, which has spaced our babies every 2 1/2- 3 years or so doesn’t work for everyone) and are in dire poverty. One young couple, who have had 5 children in 6 years of marriage, recently nearly lost their home to foreclosure. They were saved from this by the generosity of affluent Catholic friends, but how many times will that happen?


  3. Daniel,

    You can add my family as another case study on NFP and rough family situations. NFP simply has not worked for us to help us avoid conception. I ended up getting pregnant twice after misreading my fertility signs due to illness.

    With the first baby, we were barely scraping by. My husband was a teacher, but with budget cuts, he was canned when I was pregnant with baby #2. We were frugal and had 3 months worth of money in savings, but we eventually had to move the entire family across the country so my husbands parents could support us. Now DH is working on his second degree in engineering, hopefully he can support us again when he graduates. (Graduating summa cum laude from a tier 1 school is simply not enough these days when one has a degree in Philosophy.)

    To be quite blunt, we have lost all faith in NFP. We now practice the sleep-in-separate-rooms-so-can-follow-Church-teaching-but-not-have-kids method of family planning.

    I’m glad you have the resources to practice SFP. Maybe we’ll be there one day. But sometimes I wonder if the Church’s teaching on sexuality places a greater burden on the poor than it does on those with means. The refrain I hear with NFP is to “try another method” or “take another class.” But I seriously have anxiety issues over having to face another pregnancy with no money. How will I know another method will work better, when the only way of testing this is to wait and see that I do not get pregnant. The stakes are siply too risky when caring for two children under 3, both still breastfeeding. Our marriage is less stressful now that we are practicing complete abstinence. But I hate that it has come to this.


    • on July 18, 2011 at 4:54 am Daniel Nichols

      My wife and I have joked that the only NFP that would work for us is “No Fucking, Period”, but that has always seemed totally unrealistic. It is hard to believe that this is God’s will, though as I said I am not ready to say any of the other options are right either. I certainly admire your integrity, and I will pray for you….


    • If real contraception and abortion bothered Jesus, he would have whipped the midwife/abortionists instead of the money changers and he never would have served abortifacient miracle wine to the Cana bride. God gave unhealthy and impoverished women nearly 500 plant-based abortifacients like coffee, tea, ginger, wine, and wild carrot seeds popular in ancient Jerusalem. Abstinence and NFP were invented by pedophile priests to break up marriages and to keep themselves supplied with unlimited unwanted kids.


      • on August 14, 2013 at 12:28 pm Theodore Seeber

        I keep saying, contraception and abortion are the symptoms. The disease is a lack of generosity, not just from the parents, but from all of society.


  4. We sure didn’t get tested like you folks. I guess it’s easy to spout the NFP philosophy if you are as sterile as a mule!


  5. Yeah, and we’re as fertile as jack-rabbits. lol It really has tested my faith. I’ve struggled with being angry at God and at the Church for unplanned pregnancies and financial problems. It’s one thing to experience financial difficulties without kids, but it’s a completely different thing when you are responsible for the lives of those you love. Each baby has brought a new crisis into our lives, things that would not have happened had we been in a stable position before having kids.

    I love my children, I really do. It’s just I wish we had them when we were able to provide for them, instead of mooching off DH’s parents and the gummint. This has really set us back financially, and I worry about the future we will be able to provide for them.

    Thank you Daniel and Michelle for being compassionate towards those of us who really find NFP difficult but want to be faithful Catholics. Sugar-coating NFP is not helpful, and I’ve seen Catholics attacked and hounded on Catholic forums for admitting that NFP has been a rough spot in marriage. People will say that NFP was not the problem “poor communication” was the problem or “lustful behavior” or “selfishness” or anything but NFP.

    But if NFP is bringing out the worst in spouses, then it probably should be abandoned. For us the pressure of feeling like we had to perform on certain days combined with the frustration of “off-limits” days, the unplanned pregnancies–it was all very stressful and very hard on our marriage..

    Complete abstinence does have its downsides, but it seems to make more sense than NFP. The Church used to mandate abstinence periods (Lent, Advent, some feast days), which would have naturally left fewer opportunities for pregnancy. Proponents of NFP say it keeps women from being sexually available all the time, but it seems to make women sexually available more often. I think it might be helpful for engaged couples to hear about the benifits of extended periods of abstinence and “SFP,” especially if they find NFP stressful.

    Pray for me. Sometimes I still get bitter, feeling like I was sold a faulty lie in our NFP class. :-(.


    • Abstinence for married couples is as insulting and masochistic as anorexia flaunted at restaurants for pity. If sugar substitutes for diabetics aren’t sinful, then neither are REAL contraceptives. Abstinence for the married was invented by Jansenist heretics who hated their spouses. Couples practice enough default abstinence imposed by their killer double and triple shift work hours. The fallible Vatican used to teach that all birth defects were caused by “disrespectful” sex on Sundays. NFP actually dramatically increases couples’ risks for birth defects, including Vatican-bullied-into-suicide intersex gay kids.


  6. Kacy—
    Since you and your husband are dealing with complete abstinence, I pray that Mary and Joseph help you two to stay loving and close, and that your little holy family is blessed. Because it really is a holy family, seeing as how you have put your fertility in God’s hands, trusting him, even with fear and trembling and the difficulties that come with every life. These are difficult times financially, even on top of the individual pains that everybody has to face as part of life. I haven’t been immune to anguish in other areas of life, and the temptation to bitterness is something that arises fairly often.
    NFP shouldn’t be embarked on as a way to keep from getting pregnant. It is one way to put your lives and the lives of your children in God’s hands. Like I said, I didn’t get married until my late 30’s. I was used to the single life…I was a hermit in the mountains. When my sweetie started to get serious, I had a night of cold sweats thinking about how my life was going to change… that I was going to be someone’s wife (because I really loved him), and possibly someone’s mother! Somehow the only solution that came to me was to put this looming life in God’s hands. Maybe no one can experience the peace that comes with that, unless they go through the sheer terror as well. And I’m not saying that, even after a radical act of trust and faith, life is going to be rosy as all get out. Au contraire! I’m stumbling around here like a clueless wretch a lot of the time…. living proof that I’m not all that consistent, that I don’t deal with problems all that well, and feeling like I could knock forever on that gospel door, and it seems that God is treating me like a troublesome Jehovah’s Witness.
    BUT, my husband and I both believe that there is a higher calling then what this world’s goals are. The only thing that gives a life meaning is faith, trust, and a willingness to be an instrument of God’s love.
    From the man of the house: When Christ returns, will he find faith on the earth?
    Will there be anyone carrying the flame of faith, and faithfulness?
    Hope this isn’t too sanctimonious sounding. The man-centered world has shown itself to be greedy and destructive, and somebody has to stand in contradiction to that.
    Even as a former hermit, I’m awed that you are taking a road-SO-less-traveled to do just that.
    A Question: If your cycle is somewhat regular, could you at least be together for a week or so towards the end? It would be better that nothing!


  7. I was listening to Catholic radio the other day and they were discussing this topic… I was struck by one comment that about the necessity of quality, thorough training on the proper (scientific?) ways NFP ought to be practiced to be effective. I don’t know anything about how most married couples going about NFP are learning it (not married yet, myself), but I wonder how many just read a book on it, or take a class or two, and assume that is sufficient… when perhaps it is not enough and that is why it appears to be ineffective.

    Also, a cousin of mine (successfully!) practices another form of NFP called ecological breastfeeding, which is a method of child spacing that I believe not very many people know about.

    Making a living IS hard. Our culture especially is not set up in a way that assists families to thrive, let alone survive – in urban areas in particular (I live in a major one) – and I think there’s a real lack of community connections and practical sharing with much of anything. I would so love to see cooking co-ops and pea-patches and shared babysitting on a wide scale. These are certainly not solutions but this whole business of raising children (and life) is complicated and messy and we need all the wisdom and collaborative effort we can get.

    Blessings on all these families! Lord, grant them Your abundant provision.

    P.S. I LOVE the Supernatural Family Planning concept. :)


  8. We mostly practiced SFP: Supernatural Family Planning. Just act natural and let God decide.

    An older friend of mine describes that as “Catholic & Careless.”

    (Yes, I do have friends who are older than I am. Amazing but true.)


  9. Michelle,

    Thank you for your prayers.

    My cycles are very regular when I have them. I’m not having anything now because I’m breastfeeding. I’m just not ready to go back to using NFP. Although the perfect use rate for NFP is 99%, the actual user success rate with it is 84%. Even using the conservative method, I couldn’t tell I had misread my chart until AFTER we acted with misinformation. I’m simply not confident to try any NFP right now. I’ve only been married for 4 years, but NFP and having unplanned children has really worn on me psychologically, physically, and emotionally. I’m simply not ready to treat my body like a science experiment again or take-on the burden of another unplanned pregnancy or the psychological mind-games of “oh-my-goodness-my-period-is-late-what-if-I-misread-the-chart-AGAIN!” This is how NFP has harmed our marriage. Abstinence has been healing.


    • Have you considered using online charts or programmes? I have been using TCOYF for years and it is definitely easier than paper charing.


    • Abstinence sent my dad to hookers, as it does for most NFP users.


  10. on July 18, 2011 at 9:17 am Daniel Nichols

    And I would take the numbers for “the success rate” with as much skepticism as I have expressed for the self-proclaimed divorce rates…


  11. Daniel, I adhere completely to your definition of NFP. We have tried regular NFP with very little “success”. For one, being the rule followers that we are, we hated the guilty feeling we would get for wanting each other at “forbidden times”. It was worse than when we were dating. We hated that a pregnancy was a “failure”. For God’s sake, we’re a married couple. A baby is a success! We hated the clinical aspect to such a mystical embrace. So, we have 9 children, and all that goes with it. The good, the bad, the ugly. But we love each other, and all the children, and work out our salvation in fear and trembling just like everyone else. And after this baby is born, we’ll be struggling through YOUR definition of NFP, for a while, because I am 45 and it seems prudent to pause a bit, attend to other matters in our family, and love each other from a distance. We have done that before, and it works, at least for us. I think NFP works for certain temperaments, and others just do better with large families. Some deal much better with abstinence. We are all individual, unique married couples, and the only constant I can see is that The Church is correct about the damaging effects of artificial contraception, and in her wisdom has not mandated how we are to handle our fertility, except to respect it.


    • “Artificial” (based on high estrogen plants) contraception saves fed-up husbands from being outsourced to hookers and saves women from deadly annulment-causing obstetric fistula bladder and bowel incontinence. Since the Vatican has a 2,000 year history of supporting genocide of “heretics”, including Cardinal Montini’s (Paul VI) funding of Nazi Ustasha Ante Pavelic’s death camps in Croatia, NO ONE with morals would obey the abstinence-only nonsense of mother-killing pedophile priests! Get over yourselves, people!


      • on August 14, 2013 at 12:32 pm Theodore Seeber

        “high estrogen plants”= carcinogenic plants.

        Great solution there- destroy your fertility, destroy your life.


  12. on July 18, 2011 at 9:53 am Daniel Nichols

    But it does not seem remotely just that observing the Church’s teaching is easier for the affluent, more difficult for the working and middle classes and disastrous for the poor.


  13. In my opinion, that isn’t the fault of the church’s teaching, but the fault of a broken community that doesn’t help each other out when needed. We have had to depend on assistance from friends, family and the government at times. And we have offered assistance. Right now we know a family in a crisis, that was just made more stressful because of a pregnancy. Our church community is trying to help them any way we can, because the problem isn’t the baby, it is the economy, the culture, and the friggin fallen world. We are trying to celebrate life, and ease the physical burden for them. I know that is just one family among so many struggling, but it is what we can do, and we will celebrate the new baby, the eternal beautiful soul brought forth amongst so many trials.

    The cynical side of me says, “What? Maybe the poor should be allowed to get “fixed” so this isn’t so disastrous for them. Right. Just like stray cats and dogs, if you fall below a certain income level, the church grants you the right to cease procreating, but go at it like jack rabbits if you want to.” Very dehumanizing, in my view.


  14. Also, interesting to note that the more affluent a society is, the fewer children they have, so something is amiss regarding the ease with which the affluent follow church teaching.


  15. Contrary to at least one comment here, NFP is not necessarily meant to prevent pregnancy, but to enable it, as the method determines when a woman is ovulating or not. Used effectively, it is (in at least one case with which I am intimately familiar) virtually foolproof. It is not an effective barometer of a lasting marriage, and I don’t know for the life of me who came up with the data which suggests that it is. There are any number of reasons why marriages fail, not all of them occurring when the lights go out.


  16. hmmmmm……I am one of your case studies and I really don’t think the NFP methodology was part of the equation for “what happened”. There were many other factors and a bit of a bizzare interpretation of TOB that sent this attempt at marriage to the netherworld.


    • on July 18, 2011 at 11:27 am Daniel Nichols

      Like I said you can only see the outside of a marriage; I just got suspicious of the official NFP numbers, which I am inclined to think are bogus. But as a former teacher, perhaps your anecdotal experience may be helpful here?


      • Being involved in the NFP movement at an early stage brought with it a lot of experimental peripherals beyond methodology. And with that came a plethora of different ways to interpret said peripherals. Method alone can bring either selfless or selfish behavior, that is up to the couple…..my experience didn’t indicate they would necessarily become selfish. The method did make it difficult at times and I agree with a lot of what you said in your intital posting. It is amazing the passion this topic generates :)

        Some of the marriage building advice that came as a sideline to NFP was not given thorough exposition and some interpretations of things like the TOB caused more undue stress on an already stressed relationship. I heard comments from many people involved in the NFP movement about the stress increase with one spouse embracing a perhaps erooneous interpretation of an out of context passage of the TOB. Sounds a bit like the journey of the Church and Bible through a couple millenia doesn’t it.. But this is another thorny problem that came with NFP and may open another can of worms, but as one who has been through this……………I agree that the statistics are a bit off and there is a lot more involved then what we see on the surface. It is almost a decade now since my leaving NFP (no need to practice that as a single man) and I can look objectively back at what happened. Would I do it again…….well my children are a blessing and I am thankful for each one and I still have a few at home so the nest does not empty. The term Supernatural Family Planning has been around for quite some time and I am more inclined towards that position………but then who am I? Just a single guy who is looking back at a method and a movement that has developed over 40 plus years.


  17. “Making a living IS hard. Our culture especially is not set up in a way that assists families to thrive, let alone survive – in urban areas in particular (I live in a major one) – and I think there’s a real lack of community connections and practical sharing with much of anything. I would so love to see cooking co-ops and pea-patches and shared babysitting on a wide scale. These are certainly not solutions but this whole business of raising children (and life) is complicated and messy and we need all the wisdom and collaborative effort we can get. ”

    Janelle, this is to me, the answer to much of the angst. If a couple is struggling financially, and has an unexpected pregnancy, if they could rely upon their community for moral, financial and physical support, this would be so much less of a crisis. It seems we have accepted the lie that we are to do this all alone, or we fail. Accepting help is seen as an admission of making a mistake, rather than living an integrated life full of community and giving and taking to assist each other on our journey. NFP is just a small, small sliver of the discussion, in my view.


  18. But it does not seem remotely just that observing the Church’s teaching is easier for the affluent, more difficult for the working and middle classes and disastrous for the poor.

    Yet, per my observation at least, affluent Catholic families are more likely to have just one or two kids. In general, they are less likely to follow Church Teaching re contraception. (Just noticed that Renee mentioned this, too.)

    WRT the poor: Well, my grandparents on both sides were poor. My Italian Nana had six kids, and my Irish Nana had seven. This was during the Depression, and it was pretty common to have large families then. How did the poor manage it then? Did they have that social support network Renee mentions?

    As for marriage failures among NFP-practicing couples: I completely agree that NFP has little or nothing to do with this, one way or the other. In one divorce case I know of, the husband was severely bipolar — and that put a strain on the marriage much greater than the strain of NFP or the “burden” of children.


    • on July 18, 2011 at 11:31 am Daniel Nichols

      Yes, Diane, during the Depression, or even in our childhoods (I think we are around the same age) there was a whole network of support: extended family, close neighbors, the works.
      I compare this to the way we, and lots of others live now: no close family, neighbors who are pretty much strangers or living very different values, parishoners whom we see only on Sundays, etc. We are trying to live a natural life in very unnatural circumstances.


  19. May I say something that may get me into trouble here? I know young faithful Catholic couples who are always complaining about how straitened their circumstances are, how they can’t afford this or that. Yet they have the latest fanciest smart phones, smart TVs, Macbooks, etc., and they dress themselves and their kids to the nines.

    Not implying that anyone here is in that boat. But, in general, in our culture — whatever happened to frugality?


    • Well, you knew this comment could “get you into trouble,” but I’ll take the bait. I think you are talking about my generation of cohorts. (I’m 26.) To outsiders, my husband and I may look nuts when we talk about our financial circumstances. I have a smart phone, a Kindle, and my kids often wear designer clothes.

      Did I buy any of this? NO! Did I ask for this stuff? NO! These were gifts from my Baby Boomer parents, and I imagine that this is the case for many in my age group. I do not pay for my cell phone plan. My parents do because otherwise, they know I would be unable to afford a phone and simply would not call.

      Even when my husband was employed we used cloth diapers, did without television, never bought new clothes, rarely ran our AC or heater, etc.

      We really are strapped for cash. It has nothing to do with lacking frugality. Like I said, I think this is the case for many people of my generation. Hell, most of the people I know who are my age still live at home with their parents, or have had to move back home due to financial pressures–college graduates! We were told to take out a bunch of loans to go to college and that this would guarantee us a decent job. We went to college, got the loans, graduated, and found out that starting salaries are barely enough to pay the loan sharks, certainly not enough to start a family.

      I think faithful Catholics my age should be applauded for simply getting married. This says a lot when it is so much easier, financially speaking, to live with one’s parents or simply “shack up.”


      • Kacy, you make really good points, and, as I said, I certainly didn’t mean to impugn anyone here. I absolutely think y’all are to be commended for marrying as faithful Catholics and being open to life — that is extremely counter-cultural, as Daniel observes.

        I’m glad you have that safety net with family and relatives. In fact, I’m a little envious. :) I come from a very blue-collar background (my dad, like Daniel, was a letter carrier), and there’s no way my family could have provided any frills for me when I was a young adult. This was neither good nor bad, from a moral POV; it just was what it was. I think our generation was raised to be a little spunkier than the current generation — but again, that’s neither good nor bad morally. I know I coddle my (teenage) kids too much, and the result is that they’re less self-reliant than I was at their age. On the other hand, I’m not sure I’d want them to have to go through some of the stuff I went through.

        Anyway, just rambling here…and please don’t take any of it personally!


      • on July 20, 2011 at 10:29 pm Just the Facts

        Diane,
        People like you make me sooo mad!!!! You make assumptions about people’s finances with no basis. Some of these kids NEED computers for their jobs – some work in industries (architecture, graphic design) where Mac is the only format accepted. Sometimes these computers are purchsaed by the company, sometimes they are leased. And as far as phones – people need cell phones, and since they’re forking over the money for one, what do you care which one they have? I REFUSE to accept the whole Catholic ghetto/frugality is the only way to be a good Catholic argument. It’s tiresome and judegemental.


  20. The cynical side of me says, “What? Maybe the poor should be allowed to get “fixed” so this isn’t so disastrous for them. Right. Just like stray cats and dogs, if you fall below a certain income level, the church grants you the right to cease procreating, but go at it like jack rabbits if you want to.” Very dehumanizing, in my view.

    Totally agree. Sounds like something out of Margaret Sanger’s eugenicist playbook — sterilize the undesirable poor, those “human weeds” who pollute the gene pool, yahda-yahda. “More children from the fit; fewer from the unfit” (Sanger’s motto).

    Beautiful, thought-provoking posts, Renee!


  21. For those struggling with finances and learning NFP and ecological breastfeeding, go to http://www.NFPandmore.org and download the NFP manual, Natural Family Planning: The Complete Approach. It is in a question-and-answer format and many say it is very easy to understand. Suggested donation is $10 but it is free for the truly poor. Charts are free for anyone at the home page.
    Those interested in ecological breastfeeding should read The Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding: The Frequency Factor. This book and the NFP manual, by the way, will be 40% off from July 24 to August 7 at lulu.com. Also discounted at 40% off will be Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing (the 1974 classic Harper & Row edition) and Battle-Scarred (John Kippley’s memoirs) which is a real page-turner.
    Sheila Kippley
    NFP International, volunteer


  22. As one of many children from one of the marriages that you have mentioned, I first have to say that my siblings and I are all passionate proponents of NFP and believe that a lot of thought and discernment should be put into growing a family. Secondly, I do not believe that NFP is to blame for the destruction of those marriages, but that perhaps it was something that was held onto either to hopefully help an already wrecked ship, or to have yet one more extra curricular thing to do (in the case of teaching) to distract from the real problems that they didn’t want to face. In those marriages, I think that more NFP would have been better, because if your marriage is rotten from within, than you ought not to be lying to your spouse and yourself with sex, and you probably shouldn’t be bringing more children into the mess until you’ve cleaned it up. I know for my husband and I, NFP has been amazing for a number of reasons. Firstly because we are a crazy fertile and would be having at least a baby a year without it! secondly because of economic hardship and third and perhaps most importantly to us, we want to take time to focus on each other and feed our relationship (which should happen in a lot more ways than sex) so that we can offer our babies the firm and loving home that best resembles the kingdom of God on earth.

    I also think that NFP can be incredibly beneficial for families in general and the world. I mean, what better platform to teach your children about chastity? And teach them that it is not just a temporary virtue for those who are called to marriage. If you are still practicing abstinence and self control (out of love for your spouse and children) as a married person, than I think that you are way more credible to your kids and those around you. Anyway, many more opinions on the subject from this lady, but I need to get back to my sweet babies! They need the park today apparently ;)


  23. Anna, I think everything you said is right on, and can be relevant without “formal” NFP. Looking at abstinence as “fasting” works wonders in marriages, whether it is periodic or extended. The different approaches work with different couples. The underlying principle is the same, and very beneficial.

    Your statement, “a lot of thought and discernment should be put into growing a family” is where I raise my eyebrow. I would say, “a lot of thought and discernment MAY be put into growing a family.” But should? I know both family types and it seems that they both have good and bad, trials and joys. Their particular family planning method (come what may or strict NFP) seem to fit their particular marriages rather than making a discernible difference in the ease or difficulty of raising a family. I guess my point is that is just isn’t that easy of an answer. NFP is a great tool in the box of all available tools to enrich and strengthen a marriage. It offers some control over child bearing for certain, but isn’t a magic pill for success in either parenting or marriage.

    This reminds me of the “attachment parenting” discussions. I have heard it is THE way to guarantee successful parenting. I believe it has value, but it just doesn’t work for everyone, and there are many viable parenting techniques that work and are beneficial.

    Our church is so wise as to not dictate these things to us. We are taught the general principles of responsible use of our fertility, and our duties as parents and spouses, but no handbook outlining the “correct” technique. I am grateful for the respect our church offers us by letting the individual couple discern these matters.


  24. on July 18, 2011 at 2:59 pm Maman A Droit

    No, tons of abstinence may not be natural. You know what is though? Dying in childbirth! No, it wouldn’t happen to everyone, but it’d sure happen to lots more of us if we didn’t practice some intentional child spacing. That has certainly been my personal experience-a lifesaving procedure after an unsuccessful natural labor failed to produce a baby and resulted in dangerous blood loss for me. While my body healed, we were have simply been grateful that both our wonderful son and I are both alive and totally healthy, other than that for a short time we knew getting pregnant again would have meant a very real chance of death for both myself and the child I’d be carrying. Abstinence from sex is very in line with other practices like fasting from food-again not a healthy idea for extended period of time but can be a good way to grow your faith when undertaken judiciously.

    Couples who use NFP like it’s the Pill without a good reason (so just because they only want 2 kids) are going to be frustrated. But I really don’t see how NFP could strain a marriage if there’s a legitimate reason to space kids. What kind of jerk would be angry they couldn’t have sex if they knew doing so could result on their wife’s death, for example? Maybe that’s the real problem-couples using NFP with a contraceptive mentality and getting frustrated by having the worst of both worlds. :(


  25. Renee, I think the thought and discernment part is so important in my mind because of the long haul. We can rarely be certain what the future holds for us, but I have seen many families who are doing “all the right things” and having large families but who cannot seem to keep up with everything that children need and deserve. It may not become apparent until there are quite a few children that mom is simply too frazzled to be loving and caring to all her kids or even loving and caring to her husband and vice versa. I have seen again and again how some of the kids get lost in the mix, how education gets put on the back burner, and children who grow up not sure whether or not their parents truly loved them of if they were just one of a number. Even if their parents did truly love them. It’s just that with a big family comes GREAT responsibility and that practicing responsible and discerning parenthood is something every family should do, in their own unique ways. And that doesn’t always mean NFP- although if the need is becomes apparent than it’s a great thing to have on hand. And I do not mean in any way to say that having a large family is irresponsible.

    You are absolutely right; thank goodness that every family is unique, just like how there are countless child rearing philosophies and even different ways to approach the lord in worship. And it’s pretty awesome that God is all things to all men.


  26. I think it was around 6 years ago that CCL tried to source the claim, and they couldn’t.

    I have a lot of conflicts. NFP has been burden at times, with over a year of abstinence. However hormonal birth control has also caused problems. One method involved constant bleeding for about a year. Both hormonal methods resulted in decreased sex drive. I’m not sure any guy willingly chooses condoms except for them being better than disease or child. So in the end, NFP has drawbacks, but so does every other method of birth control. I never found this perfect world of birth control that so many seemed to have found.

    All the blessing talk though is enough to drive a guy crazy. Yes, I wouldn’t trade my children, but they do cost real money, and very little of that cost is born socially. It is like listening to people talk about paying their way through school on a part time job 30 years ago: it was a tenth of the cost to a person back then. To send my 3 children to CCD for 1 night a week for about 16 weeks is going to cost me the equivalent of a new 42″ TV, 6 months of Internet and phone service, or a month of groceries. This is of course on top of having to maintain a vehicle and buy gas because one has to do that in today’s society.


  27. Another thought on the strain that NFP can potentially put on a marriage because of the need to abstain during the fertile time for a woman: how often do you get to take advantage of that glorious time without NFP? Maybe once every year and a half? The rest of the time is pregnancy or lactation amenorhea if you are breastfeeding. With NFP, there are more of those times for a woman, and maybe it would be beneficial to the romantic nature of the marriage just for her to have that intense desire more often even if it cannot be relieved. Just a thought.


  28. Of course it’s always been tough to raise a family, but I wonder whether a few generations ago a smaller percentage of people used to marry in the first place. I don’t mean that more people chose life as a priest or nun and took a vow of celibacy. What I mean is that a lot of people seemed to remain single, presumably because they couldn’t support a family.

    All I have is impressions and no statistics, but on the Irish side of my family there were quite a few bachelors and old maids, and this pattern even continued in America for a couple generations. Maybe we were just unusual, but I’ve met other families like that, including one (another Irish-American family) where only three out of nine surviving children actually married.


  29. Daniel,

    I agree with most of your points. But I have actually been taking it to a whole other degree in calling the entire “logic” or “common reasons given” and platitudes (many of those…) of NFP *and* BC into question. In fact, you provided the stimulus for me to write out a VERY lengthy response that ended up being far too off the strict topic of NFP and perhaps too personal (given that there are people here who know me).

    On the subject: Obedience? Certainly, I will be obedient. But I am getting to the point to where it is “intellectually blind obedience” because the more I think about things the more unconvincing any of it is to me. Last I checked, I needed to obey: not agree with reasons given. Hell, perhaps I don’t even have to “agree” with certain things at all. If I was told to “jump”, and I did, yet found the entire reason for jumping to be faulty and, in fact, was unconvinced that jumping was a good idea to begin with I would still be OK, wouldn’t I? :-)

    It may just be another thing I add to the “I submit, but please stop giving me terribly irrational and poorly thought out reasons for” list. Unfortunately, the list is growing longer and not shorter as I get older–it seems the opposite is usually true for most people. I started out with a BANG, only to be disenchanted with certain things and “reality as I know it” as I get older.

    Interestingly, most people like the newer Justin. Go figure.

    To stick with your point about the unnatural-ness of NFP: it is. Period. The entire notion of charts, and thermometers, and checking out how “tacky” and “clear or clouded” one is is beyond … stupid, and certainly “unnatural”.

    I see nothing particularly natural or appealing, however, of the strong possibility of me having 5 children before my oldest is out of his 6th year. Great (list platitudes…): “the arrow in your quiver!” “God is so good” “you are a blessed man” “God is in control”, etc. Great. Did you hear me: STRONG POSSIBILITY OF HAVING MY 5TH CHILD BEFORE MY OLDEST IS OUT OF HIS 6TH YEAR. (@!#$q@#$@#$%@@!!!)

    Ahem.

    I can tell you for ME and for MY marriage: however much we love our children (and we do… they melt my heart), things are getting a little crazy here and I would say that it is unreasonable and unjustifiable. I love my wife, but I have a hard time sometimes seeing her and hearing her and loving her in the midst of so many needs of so many children, work, house, bills, etc. etc. etc.

    Your point about how NFP affects the affluent vs. the poor is a good one. You said, “But it does not seem remotely just that observing the Church’s teaching is easier for the affluent, more difficult for the working and middle classes and disastrous for the poor.” In fact, it bolsters my greater frustration with the ban on BC as whole, so I will stick that in my deck of cards and take it to a degree you had no intention to. I appreciate that.

    Your SNFP is nice! However, I still take things to a different degree. “Why not let got decide?”, you ask. Sure… why stop there though, Daniel, and let God decide about sickness treatment, where one’s food will come from, etc. etc. etc. etc.? The list could go on. “Let God decide!” God gave us the faculty of reason which we, especially Mr. Thomist above, parades around as THE thing which makes us “like God” as we attempt to sure our passions and appetites. Well, perhaps there is something to be said about participating WITH God in making rational choices and decisions for our family?

    “But it is hard not to think that the NFP propaganda is wishful thinking at best,” you say. It is true. But dare the Faithful Catholic also ask whether it is wishful thinking to use SNFP? If I used SNHFMC (Supernatural Healing For My Children) I could be thrown in jail in the State of Oregon for justifiably neglecting my children’s welfare…

    I really wish I had some people here (where I live) that could ride with me in a conversation on these subjects because I am a bit lonely on it all. My friends are wonderful people and good Catholics, but I can’t expect anything but poor reasons, platitudes and “just believe” responses from them.

    I have all of those. I need more than that.

    jn


    • on July 20, 2011 at 10:42 pm Just the Facts

      Justin,
      If I lived by you, we’d be best buds (except that I’m a girl.) The older I get, the more angry I get at the Church about NFP and TOB, etc. For many of the reasons you state here. Something about all of it still doesn’t ring true to the human experience of married sex. I follow the teachings of the Church, but in my heart and mind, I’m in total dissent. Like you, if I said this out loud, there’d be trouble. The Kippleys and JPII do NOT know what’s going on in my bedroom, and as such, NFP, etc. are unable to address my situation.


  30. My money’s on Justin’s sanity. How ’bout this tactic for working class Catholics who can’t afford all the sweet and sentimental “it’ll all work out as God sees fit” petit-bourgeois pieties – keep a box of condoms in the house and go to confession the next day as needed. Problem solved. All this getting worked up and thinking so fervently about NFP and getting stressed out about it is craziness.

    What I find especially deplorable is the current popular “theology of the body” rage. Catholics are now supposed to really get into marital sex for the sake of marital sex, which is now a good aside from (even if secondary to) its procreative aspects. On the surface of things, that is just a recognition of how sex has often been experienced in modernity. But the popular expressions of “theology of the body” commodify Catholic marital sex and turn it into some sort of crunchy-con wet dream that is commensurate with a fulfilled (read: perpetually entertained) life (read: theme oriented lifestyle). Catholics are now supposed to have great passionate (“toe-curling” as one popular Catholic writer/speaker puts it) sex and really get into to the jiggy, but still not use protection. That’s all fine and dandy if you have your petit-bourgeois income and insurance to cover your ass when NFP doesn’t work. Decadence, decadence, decadence – that is all their game is. The road to hell is paved with petit-bourgeois sex consumers who keep the letter of the sex laws, Justin. You go your poor way and wrap the willy once and a while, confess the next day, and stop worrying about being so damn pious, and the kingdom awaits you.


    • ” ….keep a box of condoms in the house and go to confession the next day as needed. Problem solved. ”

      Unfortunately, it doesn’t really work that way. That sort of cynical use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation just doesn’t wash with God, as it’s not a magic ritual that erases sin. Rather, it’s a way of expressing our true contrition for our sins. To be truly contrite is to really want to never commit that sin again.


      • Let me listen to “Shine Jesus Shine” on Christian radio for a bit and see if that helps me understand the secret gnosis of how it “really works.”


  31. on July 19, 2011 at 11:05 am Teena H. Blackburn

    Owen, I’m not going to discuss my views on BC here, nor am I going to get started on the theology of the body (I’ll just say I think we’re probably on the same page on that). However, your advice to Justin is a bit problematic don’t you think, if still understandable? He would only confess the condom if he really thinks it’s a sin to use one. If so, then the act of confessing would suggest a firm intention of amendment-in other words, you leave the confessional with the intention of trying to not use BC anymore. If he doesn’t think BC is a sin, and/or he has no intention of even trying to stop using it, why confess it? I don’t know what a priest would do with a really honest statement such as, ” I know the church teaches against BC, and I tend to agree with it, but I just don’t think my wife and I can live up to it-so, I’m sorry but I don’t intend to stop.” My suspicion is the priest might feel (depending on how by the book he is) that he can’t absolve the person in this case. Or, it could be that like many priests, he will understand, nod, and absolve him anyway. Confession suggests knowing what you did is wrong, being sorry for it, and at least trying on some level not to do it anymore. Your suggestion above smacks of the worst of Protestant assumptions about Catholics-you don’t really have to be sorry or change-just get the magic wave from the priest and go back to business as usual. :) I’m not trying to be snarky-I think Justin has some really serious points here, and I think your suggestion is very understandable. I just don’t understand how it could square with the traditional understanding of confession in the Catholic church.


  32. Teena,

    A Prot accusation. It’s the oldest and most used blog retort in Catholic and Orthodox circles and we might should fear that it has been thus rendered meaningless. Perhaps if we are going to talk about Prot influences, we might talk about neo-Jansenist moralism or a heavy on the didacticism approach to “the traditional understanding of confession in the Catholic church” – or we could talk about how pre-conciliar Irish and English approaches to moral theology tend to dominate in American trad Catholic circles, and those schools of moral theology tended to be influenced by Prot thought more than other schools of pre-conciliar Catholic moral theology or we could talk about the intellectual dependence of the Catholic manualist tradition on early Prot and the worst of counter-reformation thought.

    Look, I’m going to assume that most of us have read the moral theology you encountered at Steubenville. But lets be serious, 99.7% of American Catholic priests are not going to be nearly as picky as you are here. Even among “faithful to the magisterium” priests the vast majority are going to absolve if the kid comes in and says “I used condoms. Sorry.”

    “Trying on some level not to do it anymore” needn’t involve more than a penitent telling a priest, if the priest asks, that he is going to try to cease the sin. It doesn’t take much to be truthful in saying this. How many people intend, over and over and over again, to not do something, but keep doing it nonetheless? This is where not thinking much about bc comes in handy. If you don’t think about it much, and what happens just happens, there is a hell of a lot less premeditation involved. One can “on some level” intend to not use condoms while in the confessional but by the time you get home decide that throwing away the box of condoms is extreme. Besides, the Pope has recently stated that in certain instances the use of condoms represents an act of love even in the context of a morally depraved act – the use by prostitutes was mentioned as an example – just because one is committing a mortal sin does not mean that there has been an annihilation of loving activity. If, in the midst of a moral sin, I still act in a manner to protect the other from harm, I am loving even as I am sinning. So, let’s say Justin decides to keep his box of condoms in his house. He can justly keep them because he never knows when a rapist might break in and if that happens Justin could offer the rapist a condom, which grants the rapist an opportunity to at least add some charity to his otherwise heinous act of moral depravity. Because our Justin, he always has others in mind. Good lad. But, if once in a while during the wife’s fertile period they decide to use one, well, shucks, some people who drink too much still reach for the bottle, some smokers still go for the cigs (this is starting to get uncomfortable for me), some overeaters still get two McRib sandwiches and a chocolate milkshake each lunch time. Justin meant well, he just gave in, darn. Goes to confession, it’s all good. Justin needn’t be lying in this so long as he has a slight inclination to entertain the possibility of trying to not use condoms in the future. Kind of like how before each of my nephew’s soccer games I always tell my brother I will not cuss at the refs. I really mean it, it just never happens.

    God, I should have been a Jesuit…

    While we’re here, allow me to tell a story.

    My brother, the brother who is a Memphis cop, has a buddy on the police force who is a devout Catholic. His buddy decides to get a vasectomy. His buddy goes to one of the parishes in town that does a Latin Mass, and his priest is therefore solid, but without being a jackass, but this buddy of my brother’s is no theologian or intellectual – just a run of the mill cop sort who likes to hunt, fish, and chase drug dealers and domestic abusers in Memphis. But he knows that a vasectomy is artificial birth control, and therefore a sin. When he schedules his snip job, he asks how long it will be before he is able to be up and running around, and they tell him that he could run errands as early as that afternoon if he absolutely needed to. So he makes an appointment to say confession with his priest just hours after he gets out of his vasectomy. He then states that his priest left the confessional laughing, and you would think this was because my brother’s buddy planned his confession immediately after his scheduled mortal sin, but it turns out there is more to the story. When you go to get a vasectomy they have to shave everything in the naughty bits. At first my brother’s buddy is checked in and taken back to the pre-op room for his shave by a very large, very ugly older nurse, so he is thinking no problem, I can do this. But then she leaves and an extremely attractive mid 20s nurse comes in. She gets about the business at hand and he gets quite excited while she is holding his member with one hand in order to keep it away from his testicles which she was shaving. So, without any expression on her face or warning she slaps his manhood very hard, and it hurt so much that our devout Catholic yelped loudly – and the nurse went back to work, having diminished the problem. When she finished the shave she left the room for a couple minutes and then came back and matter-of-factly explained to Catholic cop that he had a physical reaction during the shaving that was perfectly natural and happens all the time. So our Catholic cop went into the vasectomy horrified that were he to die on the table he would be guilty of two mortal sins – procuring artificial birth control and having had some sort of “sexual experience” with a woman other than his wife. And that is why the priest was laughing after the confession.

    Anyway, as far as my brother’s buddy is concerned, he gave his confession after getting the vasectomy and was absolved, so that sin is now a done deal with nothing more to worry about it. In the grand scheme of things I really don’t have much of a problem with such a scenario – the guy in question isn’t going to ever ponder the subtleties of canon law or moral theology. He married his high school sweetheart, they have 4 kids which he raises on a cop’s salary, and he does a job which is dangerous (a Memphis cop who was a friend both to this guy and my brother was shot and killed on the job last week) and which often results in divorce. If his snip job plays some role in keeping peace in his family then so be it – sometimes good comes from the not so good. And I think that if heaven is going to demand some divine justice/revenge for the allowance of this cop’s “tactic,” heaven will go after the priest who absolved him and not our cop, which is, I suppose, the way it should be.


  33. on July 19, 2011 at 1:13 pm Teena H. Blackburn

    I didn’t make the argument that most RC priests should be that “by the book.” I have no dog in that fight. I do know what the teaching of the RC church is about the Sacrament of Confession however. If people want to do an end run around it, that’s nothing to me. :) I could be wrong, but it seems to me the scene you gave Justin was one of knowing you were going to do it, keeping the condoms with the intention of using them, using them, and then going to Confession with full knowledge that you were going to go home and use them again. Are you sorry? Isn’t that the real question? Is there any real intention to refrain? Look, I’ve been there. Some of my post date confessions in college should probably not have been absolved, unless the priest can see fit to absolve a second order desire-I don’t want to quit, but I want to want to. As to the vasectomy fellow, please. You can call it a Prot. accusation if you want, I don’t hear from the Orthodox much, but in this case the accusation holds some water. He committed what he thought to be a mortal sin with the intention of running to confession after. I can’t read minds or souls, so I’m not going to judge his confession or the decision of the priest-but it would not be unreasonable to wonder how much true contrition for his act he could possibly have. Perhaps he should have the procedure reversed if he’s convinced he did something wrong. I’m not arguing pro or con BC here-I’m just commenting on what appears to me to be an exercise of intellectual dishonesty, or at least it could be. If I run to commit adultery with the thought, “I’ll go to confession later,” that seems to be a presumption on the mercy of God and an exercise in mind games with myself. Just saying. You can think me a pious prat and figure I’m an unreformed Steubie person (you would be wrong there), but the RC church thinks dimly on confessions like the one you suggested above. Either believe what the church teaches and really try to obey it, confessing with true contrition when you fail, or (2) own that you don’t believe it and stop confessing it, or (3) admit you’re not sure, keep seeking and trying to do the right thing and keep bringing it to confession as a point of crisis in your conscience. That seems to me to be the three honest things a man can do if they are Roman Catholic and bound to Humanae Vitae.


  34. Owen,

    You seem to have some interesting ideas about NFP.

    Effectiveness: Yes, it is effective. There are more opportunities for failure, but those are in control of the couple.

    Amount of work: That depends on how reliable you wish to make the system and your own inclination. After doing charting, some couples just move to checking the calendar.


  35. After doing charting, some couples just move to checking the calendar.

    Yeah, that was us. Charting was just too complicated. And we never did that mucus stuff — I’d forgotten all about that until someone mentioned it in this thread, LOL.

    BTW, back when I was still a Bad Contracepting Catholic (diaphragm method), a friend sent me a copy of the Shipleys’ book on Natural Family Planning. I wanted to throw that dang thing against the nearest wall. I was eventually converted to following Church Teaching, thanks be to God, but to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure the Shipleys’ book helped with that. It just seemed way, way too judgmental. It even came across as judging couples who slipped up through lack of self-control and had sex during the fertile times (result: baby). I’m sure this was not the impression the Shipleys meant to convey, but I certainly received the impression that such a slip-up was a naughty no-no, even though the couple were NOT practicing artificial birth control.

    I think the book should have been more lenient toward such slip-ups — especially seeing as NFP is not supposed to be some sort of routinely used Catholic Birth Control. I mean, marriage is not supposed to be some sort of endurance test to gauge how long you can go without sex before you crawl up the walls. When there’s all this emphasis on going two weeks to a month without sex — it’s just a little freaky-deaky, IMHO.

    And I do not mean thereby to knock the Shipletys at all. But their approach was not my cup of tea. I understand that subsequent editions of the book are somewhat more, er, pastoral. That’s a Good Thing, IMHO.


  36. Interesting the path this discussion has taken. It all boils down to this; either you believe that your life is an act of sacrificial love poured out within your vocation, and with that comes many joys, many sorrows, many worries and hardships, all leading to eternity promised to us by our Good God, OR, that it is all one hell of a deceitful lie, and don’t be a damn fool; do what you want. Seriously, this is either part of a transcendent mystery of love and eternity, or it is a mortal coil upon which we are merely scraping out our existance until we cease to exist. There isn’t much middle ground. We either follow Christ with His cross out of love, expecting a glorious resurrection, or we don’t.

    Everyone looks for a little wiggle room in this area. And there really isn’t much. You either use b/c, and use each other for pleasure at the expense of your dignity, or you abstain, or you may have more children. You can do a little of all three, I suppose, in the course of a marriage. Nothing easy about any of it. And it all boils down to how we choose to use our will and our powers of fertility and sexual expression.

    On a personal note, I am currently expecting my 9th baby at age 45, and I’ll tell you this is very difficult. I have no earthly idea how I’ll manage to raise all 9 children successfully. They all seem to be doing well so far, and we have managed to keep the chaos to a minimum and have a pretty happy life so far. I can only hope and pray God will continue to see us through, and I place a great deal of responsibility in His hands to help us out. If he sees fit to call us through the path of suffering in the process (well, he already has a time or two, truth be told), so be it. If I am being made a fool of, so be it. So far I have lived my life surrounded by love, with all it’s joys and sorrows, and I guess that’ll have to do.


    • Renee, another beautiful post. I am glad you made this point. I’m really not qualified to say anything about suffering and the Cross in this context, because I have only two kids (i.e., here on earth; we also have one in Heaven). It’s easy for me to talk about welcoming baby after baby, because I’ve welcomed only two. (We do wish we could have had more, but, since we started so late, we ran out of fertility before we ran out of desire for babies. :))

      But anyway…you’ve walked the walk, so you definitely have cred when you talk the talk.

      Let’s face it: One way or the other, Suffering Happens; no one escapes it, not even the affluent double-income-no-kids folks. The form it takes differs for each of us, but none of us can avoid the Cross. It’s what you do with the Cross you’re given that makes all the difference.

      That’s a VERY hard lesson for me to learn. I want to avoid the Cross as much as the next person, if not more. I had kind of a rough adolescence, and sometimes I tell the Lord, “OK, Lord, that was my Cross; now I get to be happy, right?” But I know the future will contain more crosses. That scares me witless. I need to trust and take it one day at a time.

      Anyway, sorry to get off on that tangent.

      Up on the Blue Ridge Parkway in southern Virginia, there’s a teeny little cabin. According to the sign outside, it was once the home of a mountain woman who bore 25 babies. Every one of her babies died in infancy. Rather than despair or rage against God, the woman channeled her energies into midwifery. She delivered babies all over the region, often going out in storms and blizzards to attend expectant mothers. The mountain people loved her, and she became a local legend.

      She wasn’t Catholic, of course, but, for my money, she was a saint. I couldn’t do what she did, that’s for sure. I don’t know how she did it, except by God’s Grace (and a lot of grit).


  37. I should note that I have not and do not plan on using any contraception (however defined). My “problem” is with the fact that I can’t and feel that the reasons provided to me are (at a minimum) poorly articulated and full of logical fallacies and platitudes. I think that the same reasons given for “just cause without abuse” of NFP could HAVE been given for the use of certain forms of contraception: with the faculty of reason and the God given sacramental grace accompanying my marriage I could, for “just cause”, use certain forms of contraception. Typical responses to this are unsatisfying intellectually and usually full of large gaping holes and contradictions which are often not thought out by people “convinced” of the logic of no BC/yes NFP. It is a “struggle” that I have intellectually, but I have no intention of disobedience: it is what it is. As noted, I am chalking it up to a list of other things which make little to no sense to me in my Faith. Perhaps *I* am the problem; perhaps I am too dense to get it. Perhaps I lack a certain level of faith which is needed for me to appreciate the teaching’s beauty. Perhaps. But perhaps I am on to something. I can’t articulate all of my thoughts here, obviously, but I certainly seem to be stumping my larger circle of Catholic friends who have taken their Steubenville (where I went to school, by the way), Thomas Aquinas, Ave Maria and Christendom teachings for granted: they haven’t thought a lot of this stuff through. Before I had kids and was married everything was easy: I could point to married Catholics doing this and that against the teaching of the Church and scorn them. But now that I have coupled my “ideas” with “experience” I am humbled and realize that there are likely many good intending Catholics with less knowledge than I have who simply are doing the best they can and don’t know any better. I may have “missed it” on this boat, but at least I know enough that I don’t plan on letting the whole Boat sink for what I think is a major defect in its shell: I plan on obeying, but I am having serious trouble defending. I mean well, and love my Faith, but this is a bit difficult for me to comprehend now that I am actually having children and am married. I might also add that if tomorrow (which won’t happen) I was told that for grave reasons I could use certain forms of BC I feel that I would have the same relationship with God that I do now, I would be “including God in my marriage” just as much as I do now, I would love my children just as much as I do now, and I would love and respect my wife and the goodness of the sexual act just as much as I do now. Saying otherwise is simply regurgitating the “same old platitudes”. It is. It really is.


    • Renee: “You either use b/c, and use each other for pleasure at the expense of your dignity…” What you said there is one of the things that I have trouble with. I don’t necessarily think that it is true. Further, I think that it is possible to use Daniel’s “Supernatural Family Planing” and abuse sex, keep God out of the equation, and loose dignity. I understand what you are “saying”: I have said it and heard it many times. But I don’t really agree that using BC *necessitates* this. I have trouble seeing that.


      • I get what you are saying here. In the short term, it really does seem like it would solve everything. I am almost sure the effects can not be seen immediately. Like children who do not understand the rules we give them until they are grown, I think we can not see the effects of sex without procreative potential until the damage is done. And, I totally agree that being sexually available at all times can abuse sex and each other and the dignity of the vocation of marriage, whether that is from using b/c or being oblivious to the woman’s cycle, needs and concerns (SNFP). At the beginning of our marriage the unrestricted sexual availability wore thin for me quickly (I was ALWAYS pregnant), and it took a near crisis for us to figure out what to do. So for us it was a combination of some long abstinence, then strict NFP, then gradually as the panic subsided, less strict NFP, until before we noticed, we were using the old fashioned “rhythm method”, and then we would invariably conceive with in a few months. The babies still came, but were much more spaced apart, and quite welcome. This last one was a bit of a surprise, but we have been there before, and know all will be well, in some manner. In some ways, these next 5 years are going to be the most difficult. I’ll still be fertile in a way that will probably be hard to keep track of, and I truly think I shouldn’t have more babies at my age. We’ll be suffering, struggling, and working this out. But after all this, we have learned to trust the wisdom of the church, we offer up our frustrations for the chastity of our children, because they have a really big hill to climb in this culture. I admire your honesty Justin, because on so many levels we are acting on faith and as you say, obedience.


  38. Also, Owen – I appreciate many of your thoughts. But on the confession thing: that doesn’t work. I can’t intentionally commit a sin with the intention of going to Confession afterwards. If I did, I would have two sins to confess: first, the initial sin itself, and 2) the abuse of the sacrament–the intention to have no intention for a firm resolve not to commit the sin again. Confession isn’t magic: it requires humility and a firm resolve to “sin no more again…”. -jn


  39. I don’t mean to just spew out petit-bourgeois pieties. On some level it does come down to things so much bigger than our day to day frustrations and worries and the demands placed upon us. It just has to, or it really is just all too much. Justin, I don’t mean to belittle your anxieties. I have been there, and all I can say is under all of the daily angst there is a solid place of goodness, rightness, sort of the bottom of a swimming pool that you push off of so you can come up for some air. That is what I have come to know as joy. Not happiness, but joy. On a practical note, we started off rapidly with procreation like you, but nature and fatigue lead to a spreading out of the babies. Granted, I still have nine, but the pace has slowed down. Those first ones that are so close together are an amazing asset at this point. And they are good teens, and hard working, responsible. Happy. And they love their little siblings like mad. Anyway, I’ve said my piece, and will bow out now. God love you all.


  40. Teena,

    At a certain point moral analysis can become Aspergeresque.

    I assume that you have read enough Catholic moral theology to know that the question of vasectomy reversals is not a cut and dry one (pun intended). Many moral theologians argue that if a person was not fully informed of the Church’s teaching prior to the vasectomy, then there is no need for a reversal, only confession. So the question becomes whether my brother’s friend truly understood the Church’s teaching on getting snipped. I can assure you he knew it was a sin, but that he does not understand it to be any more serious than, say, masturbation, something every man does routinely and then confesses, routinely.

    The logic you present suggests that one cannot have “true” contrition following a premeditated act. If there were a “Protestant” manner of thinking here, it is that. When one finds it in Catholicism it is usually a remnant of Jansenism. Such a view does not take into account variable degrees of ignorance prior to the act, etc. It does not take into account the variations in conscience following even premeditated acts. If you go commit adultery with the idea that you will confess the sin later are you ever then able to confess the sin at some point in your life? Yes, of course. Does the Church establish a mandatory time frame for when actual contrition is possible? No, of course not. Is it not possible that you could have intended to confess the sin, thus presuming on God’s mercy, and yet still gotten up the next morning and felt actual sin and guilt and then made an actual good confession? Sure, you could have. I believe that the person I describe in the story above is lacking in guile enough to both have premeditated the act and felt genuine sorrow for having done it. Human beings are not drones (well, most of them anyway) and they are capable of such moral complexity. I myself, can muster genuine remorse in a heartbeat, as needed.


    • Well, I have trouble with some of what you are saying, but I do appreciate the manner in which you are saying it. :-) Wish we could have a beer and talk about some of this stuff. ;-)


  41. on July 19, 2011 at 3:20 pm Teena H. Blackburn

    No, you can have remorse later for a premeditated act. That was why I said I wasn’t going to judge his confession. How much he knew when he had the vasectomy, his level of culpability, is of course a mitigating issue. It was you who said he knew it was a mortal sin. I hope you’re right, and he really is able to premeditate and feel genuine sorrow at the same time-since he was scheduling the confession while he was scheduling the act. Perhaps he felt genuine sorrow when he finally did get to confession-whereupon it would behoove his priest to tell him that according to RC teaching, he had committed an objectively immoral act, and then ask what he was going to do about it-such as abstain perhaps when his wife is fertile? Unlike masturbation, a vasectomy is semi-permanent. Does he now get to indulge in guilt free, non-fertile sex anytime he and his wife want to ? I’m not judging this fellow-only God knows. I’m just saying that from the outside looking in, this sort of thing can lead to game playing, and I don’t think anyone thinks that is a good thing. See Justin’s response above-it can lead to an abuse of the sacrament. I remember being in the confessional, knowing something was wrong and caring that I did it, but also being too weak willed to really try to reform. The priest has to figure out what to do with that as well.


  42. Personally, I have not gone to confession before “when I should” because I felt that I wasn’t remorseful enough. I have also confessed before that I felt I had bad confessions: where I confessed something out of “obligation” and without the real desire to amend my actions.


  43. I am still trying… I am listening to Janet Smith’s appearance on Catholic Answers (yesterday, I think?). It is on Itunes right now. Likely on their website.


  44. on July 19, 2011 at 3:39 pm Teena H. Blackburn

    It’s hard to know sometimes when one is really remorseful. How much is enough? Sometimes it’s crystal clear as to whether one has any intention of reform. Sometimes one is weak willed. Sometimes we’re just really confused. Sometimes we play games with ourselves and God. A decent confessor will help sort all of that out.


    • And sometimes people become so obsessed with being remorseful enough they end up in mental institutions.

      Hyper analysis of intention of reform is only going to lead folks into trouble, and shouldn’t be encouraged.

      I don’t know that I can think of a greater petit-bourgeois moralistic decadence than a person spending a lot of time thinking about their moral life and the “authenticity” of their own intentions. I’d venture to say that 999 times out of 1000 either grand pomposity or mental illness is behind all that.


      • Amen. I have OCD, which is closely connected to (and leads to) scrupulosity. Every confessor I have been to, within memory at least, has actively discouraged such navel-gazing scrupulosity. I do it anyway, but the confessors keep right on telling me to stop it, LOL.


  45. Justin,

    I completely understand where you are coming from when you talk about practicing NFP but finding logical and personal problems with the teaching. As I said in my previous posts, abstinence is working well in my marriage right now, as we are completely impoverished (lost jobs, home, and all income) and living off my husband’s parents with two kids.

    I don’t want to specifically get into all the problems I have with the philosophy behind NFP. I have read HV, TOB, and listened to Christopher West talks. I want to see the “beauty” in this teaching, but I can’t help but question exactly how it relates to natural law and question it for placing an extra heavy burden on the poor.

    It seems so easy for some people–regurgitating Christopher West and having the means to care for multiple children. But I feel “damned if I do and damned if I don’t” so to speak. Here’s how I see it:

    1. I can try NFP again and psychologically beat myself up if I have another unplanned pregnancy after misreading the chart. In this scenario I feel like I would be even less able to provide for my current children. And as a very strong Myers-Briggs “J,” personality, I simply do not do very well with the chaos of children.

    2. I can opt for complete abstinence until hubby’s parents are no longer supporting us (4 years before he finishes school). However, if hubby asks for sex, and I say “No” because I don’t want another child at this point, then I am sinning for not “freely giving myself to my husband” and most likely leading him to sin (masturbation).

    3. Use some sort of birth control. It seems like this would make life easier, But here I take seriously the Catholic Church’s teachings on mortal sins and Hell.

    Right now I’m going with #2. I literally HATE NFP. I feel like following this teaching has led to many of my marital difficulties. Complete abstinence is helping, but if I’m to believe the Christopher West crowd, I’m ruining my marriage by doing this.


    • on July 20, 2013 at 8:18 pm anonymous too

      Kacy,

      I have read your comments here and your blog. I understand your journey with NFP. So sorry you had to go thru that. It is true you usually can not have these conversations on Catholic forums. If you ask difficult questions they just tell you to obey. Blind obedience even. It makes it very hard for me to stay in the church. And even harder to remain publicly silent on the issue. I hope you have found healing in this journey


  46. Kacy,

    I concur with what you are saying. It brings up many of my difficulties with NFP (which is really what Daniel’s original post was about), and easily transitions into my difficulties with BC as well. I think that the “options” you have are unfortunate as I could very easily envision the Faith being as it is without such limited and unfortunate options and unnecessary dilemmas.

    Would it not be much more simple if you had the option, for the SAME reasons given as an option for justified use of NFP, to use BC? You would be making an intellectual decision, with the guidance of the Church, inclusion of God, consulation with your spouse and the backing of your marriage’s sacramental grace to say, “now is not a time to have a child”. Your option? Abstain. That is pretty much it. Because “you wouldn’t be fully giving yourself to your spouse and you would be keeping God at bay if you were to have sex for just causes using BC”?

    At least that is what we are told.

    Good Catholics want to make their argument too easy by saying that people with any desire at all to use BC are self-absorbed and “using” their spouse.

    Folks, that is total bunk.

    It is.

    God himself willed that the vast majority of sexual acts are ones wherein somebody can’t get pregnant. He willed that. This means that the majority of sexual acts, as willed by God, are ones where in pregnancy is not possible. Further, the vast majority of all conceptions have not lead to child birth (meaning, interestingly, that there are a lot of people in heaven who never experienced reason or walking the earth, which is an interesting concept…). Sex CAN be and IS good and meaningful and CAN include GOD without the possibility of conception and child birth.

    Sigh.

    Kacy, your situation could (have been) so simple: “Kacy, love your husband and let him love you… your embrace is beautiful and a signification of your love for eachother and for your family, but now, for such and so a reason, it would not be a good idea to get pregnant, so with the aid of medical ingenuity you have the option of certain forms of contraception. I would like to remind you that children are a gift and that you shouldn’t take these decisions lightly, so with the aid of the sacramental grace bestowed upon you in your marriage, and with the dignity that you have as a rational human being made in the image and likeness of God, and with prayer and guidance from your heavenly Father, use BC for no longer than it is necessary, then welcome a child: a miracle of the greatest degree.”

    Yep. Seems pretty reasonable to me.

    Unreasonable: suggesting that your only options are to have no sex at all, or get pregnant, or us totally irrational and unreasonable NFP.

    It is really sad. More sad the more I think about it.


    • on July 20, 2011 at 11:04 pm Just the Facts

      Again, you are talking straight to me and my marriage. I think this line of reasoning all the time and wonder why no one else has. I wonder if the Catholic church really has the wisdom on this topic that it claims to have?


  47. Renee, thank you for saying what I wish I could say as well you have.

    I’m having a hard time believing this is a Christian, let alone Catholic, forum. Life is not always a bowl of cherries, but every challenge is an opportunity to grow in love and trust in God. If you think that is bourgeois, unrealistic, or some kind of pious hogwash, what is your relationship to God?…. forget the church and rules and technicalities…..
    I’m not speaking as one who lives an exemplary life, but as a fellow struggler. I know where God lives…. and it’s on the EDGE, the outskirts of what’s comfortable.

    I guess if I mentioned the lilies of the field here, there would be a collective sneer. How airy-fairy! What about something a little more gritty… “Even though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” (a bible quote that’s not for sissies)

    We should use our brains, by all means! But not in search of loopholes. We should set our sights a little higher, and be willing to (omigosh!) suffer for the sake of the Kingdom. All creation groans, waiting for us to come to our senses. Is that just a fairy tale?


    • Your comment leaves me wondering whether you read the post or most (not all) of the responses. Your parade is out of line, and knowing personally many of the people who post here I can assure you that the vast majority, if not all, are God fearing and Church loving Catholics who are in no way “trying to find loopholes”. Obedience is necessary; understanding what one is obeying or even agreeing with it isn’t. And there is never harm in openly conversing about the logic of any ideology, even if that ideology is your own. I love my Faith and have defended it with rigor for a long, long time. I am comfortable enough in my own skin to bring up difficulties that I, a humble human being, may have with certain concepts or “reasons” for certain things that I, nonetheless, adhere to. If you will excuse me, I am going to go and attend to my 5 year old, 4 year old, 2 year old, and new born, and my wife who, at any moment, could get pregnant again. :-)


  48. on July 19, 2011 at 5:50 pm Teena H. Blackburn

    I’ll second Owen on this one, Justin. Wish we could have a beer. :) God be with you in your struggles and desire to be faithful.


  49. I’m not going to get into the argument here, but I want to say two things: 1) my wife & I both practiced and taught NFP for many years. It was often difficult–we found the heightened-desire-at-ovulation-time syndrome particularly powerful–but we were and remain happily married after 34 years of marriage. We had happily contracepted for several years before becoming Catholic and trying NFP, and I’m not sure if that made it easier or harder to cope with NFP. 2) We are out of the game, so to speak, now, being past childbearing age, but I want to extend my sympathy to you young and not-so-young couples who are still coping with this, and will say a prayer for you. There just isn’t an easy answer.

    Well, ok: 3) I’ve often thought that the argument for any given sincere open-to-life Christian couple being able to use contraception was fairly strong, but I also think Paul VI was absolutely right about the broad cultural effect that would follow its general adoption. That doesn’t even seem very debatable. I always found that at least a little helpful in persevering.


  50. on July 19, 2011 at 7:29 pm AnonymousBadCatholic

    Just wanted to say I know where you are coming from.

    After 10 pregnancies in ten years while trying CCL (yes, we did the classes), Marquette (tried this one on our own for a while), and Creighton (worked on and off with NFP instructor for years), my health failed. The financial stressors probably played a part in it—we were actually homeless temporarily and then landed in low-income housing, where our kids were exposed to a whole lot of things I wish they never had been.

    My husband announced he was going to get a vasectomy. He, who came from a family of 11 and wanted a very large family himself, came to that decision without my asking him. I never would have asked him. But I know what a huge sacrifice this was for him, and it meant the world to me.

    I cried the day he had it done. No more babies. Ironically, we are more “open to life” now that we ever were when we were using NFP and living in fear of pregnancy month to month. If I were to show up pregnant tomorrow, we’d both be thrilled. But now that my body has had years to recover, we are in a much better financial situation (in no small part because my not getting pregnant once a year has allowed my health to improve to the point I was able to pursue a profitable career to help suppor the family), and we are older and just overall more stable, it is much easier to be excited at the thought of a pregnancy.

    We both went to confession afterwards. We were both honest with the priest. This was a very imperfect contrition; we simply didn’t want to burn in hell for all eternity. He absolved us. I don’t know if that was right or wrong—I was as honest with him as if I had been speaking to Jesus himself.

    All the Good Catholics we know (the vast majority of our friends and family are Good Catholics—we went to one of those very small, very “orthodox” Catholic colleges mentioned in previous posts) would be shocked if they knew. Many would ostracize us. For some, it would be sour grapes, as we know a LOT of couples using NFP who are very, very unhappy right now.

    We did not expect a vasectomy to fix any problems. I WAS afraid God would punish us. We have always had a very strong marriage and are truly soulmates, and I had so often heard that using contraceptives would make us “use” each other and such that I was very afraid our marriage would suffer.

    It hasn’t. We are getting ready to celebrate 20 years together, and there is nobody I would rather be with. This man has given everything for me and is the most unselfish person I know.

    Sometimes I feel like I must be one of the very few women who felt totally used by NFP. I could never make love to my husband when it felt truly great for me. I did not feel used by him, but by the system, and while I understood it was all biology, it didn’t make me feel any less used. I’d ALWAYS rally and make love to him during our infertile times, but it just didn’t feel nearly as good to me, and he always knew that. The Good Catholics would probably say this makes me a very selfish and perverted woman for wanting to make love when it feels great. I dunno. I do know my husband loves that I love making love to him. I’ve loved it even more since not having to worry about charting NFP every day of my life. We never used any ABC prior to the vasectomy. I don’t think I would have done well on the Pill (plus I have a moral problem with it), condoms are notoriously unreliable and I don’t think I could have kept a straight face if he ever put one on, and diaphragms and such seem like a real hassle. Maybe NFP feels wonderful if you have used all those things in the past?

    One day we will both face God with our sins. I hope and pray He will be more understanding than the Good Catholics, who seem to have decided that the contraceptive issue is the one big one that decides whether you are a decent Catholic or not. I get a big fat “F” on that one, and I know it. But now I am finally at peace after years of struggle (I thought about leaving the Church over it at one point, as I figured if I couldn’t be a Good Catholic,I shouldn’t be one at all) and am simply going to put this one in God’s hands. I’ve gotten a lot less judgmental over other people’s sins and issues now that I have been through this.

    I do pay a price in that I feel like the world’s biggest hypocrite. We don’t tell anybody what we have done because we know how marginalized we will be in our social circles for it, and with our large family everybody just assumes we are a Good Catholic Couple. I hate hypocrisy, so I suppose it is a good punishment for me to have to acknowledge that I am one when my girlfriends all talk about how much their marriages are suffering because of NFP, and I just keep my mouth shut or say something noncommittal when asked how we manage not to have gotten pregnant again in years. Most of them would be incredibly angry if they found out the truth—mostly because we are happier than they are, and it really sucks to follow the Church’s teaching and be miserable for it. I don’t know know what to say about that.


    • on July 20, 2013 at 8:15 pm anonymous too

      I know this comment is 2 years old but THANK YOU for sharing honestly. The couples in the Catholic Church who can echo this experience are many and often they are silent because of the arrogance and blacklisting of the NFP crowd. Like posters above the more I questioned the less I could believe the church’s stance on birth control. Unlike the posters above I will not live in blind obedience to something that was destruction to my marriage. I have been around NFP using couples for decades and the truth is their marriages are not any “greater” than couples who use ABC


  51. On a slightly different note, I have been thinking about how a few of you have mentioned that the thermometers, charts and mucus is all such a buzz kill and that NFP is just a royal pain in the ass. I can see where you are coming from, but in the end, we are women or are married to women who are unfathomable and complex even to ourselves. If the way our bodies work naturally is such a turn off and a buzz kill (partly beacue of all the contraptions and partly becasue of the self control and discipline tat the practice requires) than maybe there should be a little soul searching goin on as to why. It seems potentially very selfish to have that attitude and not at all Christ like. I think that one of the sexiest things that my man can do is take my temperature before leaving for work and write down the temp and the mucus signs for the day. That is self sacrificial love for the sake of our children and our marriage! He knows what is going on with my body and every month we re-asess our situation and talk about whether this is a good time or not to make a new baby.

    I will add that NFP is really not easy for us. After baby #2 we started practicing pretty seriously when she was 6 weeks old and my fertility came back when she was 5 months. WITH ecological breastfeeding. We have gone up to 60 days for a couple different time periods with nothing AT ALL in the way of intimacy. But it is a sacrifice that we are willing to make for the sake of our children both present and future and I think it will pay off in the long run. Now that we are finally back to normal cycles the most abstinence that we see is 10 days which is totally doable IMHO, and seems like the normal amount for most couples with regular cycles who have practiced NFP for a while. I think we have to all remember our children in this; it’s no just about the sex, and it’s not just about quantity of children. It is about being the best parents you can be to the children you have and expanding your family with care and concern. After all, marriage is for the procreation and “EDUCATION” of children.

    But Justin, D and I have gone through periods of time feeling really frustrated at the Church and feeling like NFP is a mean trap. “Hey, there is a great option to avoid having endless babies; it’s called NFP and it’s beautiful and will make your marriage better!” But oh, wait; it completely sucks! Makes purity difficult, makes it more difficult for the couple to feel close when they feel they most need it, breeds tension and resentment and is a lot of work on top of it all. But once we felt like we had really mastered the way it works with us, we suddenly felt all that frustration lift and we actually feel like we have some control in the situation.

    And BTW Justin, the liberal arts educations are not being squandered here. We think and talk about this stuff all the time. Come by for a beer and we will blow your mind with all the ideas and thoughts that we have!


    • Sorry Anna,

      I cannot relate at all to temperature-taking being a turn-on. You ask why we find it a buzz kill to chart, take temperatures, and fiddle with cervical mucus. I’ll tell you–It treat’s women like a science experiment. With NFP, men are not required to scrutinize there body, mess with discharges several times a day, and record all the results on paper.

      Wives are analyzed with scientific scrutiny–the more detailed and scientific, the easier it is to know the correct phase her cycle. Unfortunately the only way to know if you looked at this perfectly is at the END of the cycle. And if you guessed wrong, you get another blessing.

      With all the pro-NFP arguments about how a woman on the pill will be “used,” the same could be applied to the NFP methods. “Let’s treat wives like a science experiment, so we can know when we can have sex with them without making a baby.”

      This is yet another reason why I can’t get behind the NFP logic.


  52. I just read the comment before mine from anonymous bad catholic. Makes me wonder about everything all over again. Maybe we are just freaks who NFP actually works for and benefits our marriage? I dunno. Your crosses have been many and great, and i don’t think anyone here can judge you for what you have done.


  53. on July 19, 2011 at 7:57 pm AnonymousBadCatholic

    Anna,

    You are not a freak. You are what I wanted to be! I am hippy enough that NFP really appeals to me on a simply natural level, even beyond moral implications or Church teaching. I love the theory of it; it’s the practice that we failed miserably at.

    When it didn’t work out for us, it was on some levels an identity crisis.

    I’m always happy to hear NFP success stories. All the best to you :)


  54. on July 19, 2011 at 8:01 pm Teena H. Blackburn

    “Bad Catholic,” I think anyone who is going to sing the praises of NFP without exception should have to read your post and deal with it. What strikes me so strongly is the whole issue of honesty-not that the call to holiness isn’t often hard, it is-but I am fascinated by what you present here as a lot of people going along with the teaching while being unhappy and having their marriages suffer. Their marriages are suffering, they are suffering-and many cannot even admit it. It must make couples feel isolated, wondering what’s wrong with them when it isn’t marital bliss as marketed.


  55. I know I said I’d bow out, but I have to add that I in no way meant to express judgement on those struggling. Heck, we have struggled so much! We still do! I have poured my heart out here far more than I intended when I put my first comment down, but there is so much more I could tell about our struggles. I wish so much that this was an easier thing to manage in our lives.

    What I meant to express was not judgement, but the answer we came to, and how we try to align our life with the church’s teaching. I know many other couples that have chosen other ways, and the only common denominator is that it was a struggle for everyone. There are no easy answers. Our path was to accept children, more than we ever thought we could. I pray constantly we made the correct choice. Just like everyone else here, we are all praying that our response to our fertility is the right one, the one that will give us as a family the best outcome. I apologize profusely if I seemed judgemental, I really didn’t mean to be! We are all on the same side here, and we need to help each other out as much as we can.


  56. on July 19, 2011 at 10:51 pm Daniel Nichols

    Whew.

    I figured that when I posted this I would mostly get hammered by NFP adherents. I really had no idea that such a personal and anguished conversation would entail.
    I truly appreciate the honesty, as I appreciate that so many old friends have shown up here.
    This has helped a lot, if nothing else in eschewing the simplistic views I once espoused, back when I was single. You know, the days when I knew a lot about rearing children.
    Like before I had any actual children.
    As for us, in the end we will either do the other NFP (abstinence) or just keep up the SFP, whatever the consequences, which most recently has been Will, who is extraordinarily good natured and sunny. Really, if I could be assured that they would all be like Little Mr Wonderful I would have 7 more.
    Of course my bride, who does all the hard work- it really does not seem fair- might well veto that sentiment…
    If nothing else, fear of God will keep me obedient. I am not a scrupe, but have a relentless BS meter, and also take such things seriously. The thought that I might be excusing my sins would haunt me. And perhaps damn me.
    I admit I am puzzled by Owen’s outlook on this.
    I respect his impressive intelligence and erudition, as a fellow working class hick philosopher.
    And while I recognize that he as been working on his cynical and irreverent persona for some time, I think that a topic like this, which elicits such anguished and personal thoughts deserves more than his flippancy.
    I mean really, Owen, you should have gotten this in RCIA; it is Catholicism 101: You can’t confess a sin you have no intention of ceasing, and no sorrow for committing, and receive absolution. Duh.
    And while I appreciate your convoluted scenarios on an abstract level, you would not make a good Jesuit, as Good Jesuits are intent on intellectual honesty, however their meanderings may seem to others.


    • Daniel,

      Re-read my comments. There is no “no sorrow” in my scenario. Quite the contrary. Your response and others confirms my impression that the bulk of people commenting here take a hyper didactic aspergers like approach to moral questions. Further, the literalist anguish with which you approach confessional questions is out of step with even Rome in the last generation. It is only at places like Steubenville, Christendom, Thomas Aquinas, and trad enclaves that one gets such post-manualist rigidity.

      Note that the argument I made is exactly along the lines of what “BadCatholic” describes her experience to have been, but y’all ate up her rhetoric. Why? Because it was couched in sufficiently pious and contrite and anguished language. So be it. This is a forum of women and effeminate men.

      One of the masses at my parish is the Vietnamese Mass. It is like plenty of other Vietnamese Masses in this country, at least from what I am told. The Vietnamese Catholics seem extremely pious and extremely conservative in their Catholicism. But their families run significantly smaller than what one finds among the pious at our Latin Mass. I wonder why? Those who think all those Vietnamese couples are practicing long periods of abstinence are living in a pious fantasy world. One can accept the teachings of the church, and at the same time accept that the choices of folks like “BadCatholic” above are going to be routine in the Church, and routinely absolved, as they should be. Grow up people, your “obedience” fantasy world is not the world the Church actually operates in.


  57. on July 20, 2011 at 1:16 am AnonymousBadCatholic

    Daniel,

    There are many of us who, no matter what decision we have made, experience anguish on this topic. I am privy to a lot of it because I have always lived in this “orthodox” Catholic world and therefore women will say things to me and men will say thing to my husband that they would never say to anybody outside this world for fear of being a bad example.

    We are now 20 years into marriage, and I suspect we are probably older than many of the other posters here, but it still wouldn’t surprise me if I know some of you or at least know olders siblings/friends of some of you. This world of conservative Catholics is very small, as I have learned time and again. Especially the world of those who have gone to the conservative liberal arts Catholic colleges.

    I will pray for you and everyone else on this forum. I appreciate everyone’s honesty and the opportunity to speak honestly on this topic. Please pray for us, too. (and Renee, I don’t consider you or anybody else who has posted here to be the judgmental sort. I think we are all struggling, and some of us have just failed, and we will have to face God with that failure. I admire you for staying strong with NFP. God bless you and your 9th baby!)

    And to Mac, the NFP teacher, thank you also for your honesty and kindness on the topic.


  58. on July 20, 2011 at 9:17 am Teena H. Blackburn

    Owen, I would say “Bad Catholic'” argument differs from yours in one important respect. Her husband obviously felt driven to do this out of desperation-but they really did (it appears) think it wrong. There was no flippant “I’ll go to Confession later,” but rather a desperate act when they felt pushed to the wall. There’s probably a lot of those cases, and I can respect that. It’s not a Steubie thing to argue that for a confession to be considered a real confession in the Catholic church, there has to be a firm purpose of amendment. That’s just standard stuff. My guess is a lot of Catholics really don’t believe BC is always wrong, and they just ignore the teaching. Others may find they believe something closer to what you often find in Orthodoxy-ideally you wouldn’t use it, but in some cases it can be allowed (in some forms). Some Catholics think it’s wrong but don’t confess it-they resign themselves to being “bad Catholics,” don’t confess the BC and go to Communion anyway. Having worked in parishes for years, I would suggest it’s either 1 or 3 here in my list. If I was putting forth my view, as opposed to the view of the Catholic Church, I wouldn’t necessarily argue against this woman and her husband being absolved. My argument was based on the teaching and prescribed practice of the Catholic Church, and noting how people often do an end run around the teaching in a way that I do not consider intellectually honest. The Catholic Church has a very clear, no exceptions allowed teaching against BC. It is also a teaching that is disobeyed by the overwhelming majority of the faithful across the board. That’s a conundrum that has to be dealt with by both the church and her faithful. If no one follows the teaching, and if priests regularly absolve people who are not really remorseful, or if people don’t even confess it, or if the few who do strive to be faithful to the teaching have a high rate of suffering and marital dissatisfaction-well then, I was looking to Daniel’s original post about the “propaganda.” There’s a serious pastoral problem here. It won’t do to try to do an end run around it. You have a molded in concrete teaching that is not being followed by the vast number of faithful, and when it is followed, frequently causes problems. A lot of priests obviously do not deal with the teaching in confession along the lines the teaching would mandate. So, Houston, we have a problem. What’s to be done about that, would you say? You seem to suggest the Church keeps on teaching the same thing, most people go on disobeying it, with some feeling bad about it and confessing it with no intention of reform, and that’s an OK situation. I was just arguing that I don’t think Rome would consider that an OK situation. But, as I said, I no longer have a dog in that fight.


    • Teena,

      Please.

      Do you people read? I have said, repeatedly, that there could be in the situations I describe an “intent to reform” – it is simply that what constitutes sufficient intent does not come near the rigidity that you and others here suggest.

      I am not suggesting the the Vietnamese Catholics I witness with 3 and 4 kids in their families lack an intent to reform or sorrow or are secretly dissenting. I am suggesting that lots of people more or less intend to reform at confession and feel some sufficient degree of sorrow for using BC, and then keep going on and using it. One doesn’t have to be that imaginative to envision such a state of affairs. One simply need not be a moralist drone.

      You can keep appealing to your Catholic experience but I am good reason to have a fair amount of confidence that I have spoken with more Catholic bishops and more Catholic canon lawyers than the lot of you, thanks to my Loome years and contacts I have kept since then. If we want to compare experiences and go down the list of our qualifications to speak about actual confessional norms and actual moral theological polity in modern Catholicism then I am prepared to go that route.

      The vast majority of Catholic men who get vasectomies do not even bother to go to confession. The vast majority of those who do go to confession regarding a vasectomy do not have anything that approaches a sufficient understanding of what constitutes mortal sin or what mortal sin means, or the nuances of the Church’s teaching on sexual/reproductive matters, to be held gravely culpable for their actions. This is the situation at hand today, and even “conservative” Catholic moral theologians and Cardinals (at least those outside of neo-Cath circles in the U.S. – look at some of the tensions between Cardinal Burke and his colleagues in Rome) acknowledge this when speaking of matters penitential. Your average “faithful to the magisterium” priest is thankful that a man who got a vasectomy bothered to come to confession at all. And he absolves him. Moral theological nerdiness is not what is going on in confessionals, even confessionals with “conservative” and “faithful” priests in them.

      There is this fantasy ecclesial world that many American conservative Catholics cling to – they emphasize those points from Rome that suit their fancy – like Ratzinger going after liberation theologians, or JPII saying no women priests, etc. They look past the fact that JPII and BenXVI were once theological revolutionaries of sorts, and that their later theological postures are still informed by their former. What PapaBen has said regarding condoms recently is rhetoric which is unthinkable from the Janet Smith crowd. What PapaBen has said during his papacy about divorced and remarried Catholics (lacking annulments) and their place in the Church by nature of their baptism is unthinkable to someone operating from a neo-Jansenist or neo-manualist moral theological posture. That JPII granted permission to certain non-Catholics (such as Brother Roger of Taize) is something the folks at Christendom College just can’t understand. The overarching approach that Rome takes regarding canonical matters and the pastoral approach to moral questions is very different than the milieu in American neo-Cath circles. Rome will hold the line on many issues canonically, such as with regard to HV, but pastorally, the teaching is much more lax than what you suggest. Thus we have what I describe – the sin is as Rome states it is, but the pastoral demands on the penitent are much less rigid and severe than what you suggest. To use a condom is a sin. But one can be absolved simply by having some degree of sorrow for it (and the bar here is not set high) and some degree of an intent to change (which need be not much more than a wish that one had more moral resolve).

      You now try to weasel your way into coherency by arguing that BadCatholic’s husband acted out of some desperation which may have mitigated his culpability. Huh? You assert that there was thus no premeditation involved in his confession post surgery. What? Did the man then plan on leaving the RCC when he got his snip job? BadCatholic has not told us that. She told us that she considered leaving the RCC only after realizing how difficult it was for her to be not in a “good Catholic” position anymore. Presumably BadCatholic’s husband had no intent to leave the RCC and thus, as someone who went to a “goodCatholic” college and understands Catholic teaching, his act was premeditated – he had a snip job, and planned to confess it at some point in the future. As such, his situation is not fundamentally different than the situation of my brother’s cop friend. As should be sufficiently clear in my telling of that story, my brother’s cop friend’s life was not and is not all peaches and roses either. “Desperate” is a relative term.


      • Sorry – ” That JPII granted permission to certain non-Catholics (such as Brother Roger of Taize) is something the folks at Christendom College just can’t understand.” should read That JPII granted permission to receive Eucharist to certain non-Catholics (such as Brother Roger of Taize) is something the folks at Christendom College just can’t understand.


  59. on July 20, 2011 at 9:22 am AnonymousBadCatholic

    Owen,

    LOL @ the uber-pious rhetoric. I went back and read what I had posted last night: I stand guilty as charged.

    I do sometimes wonder why all sorts of other sins (even infidelity–yes, I’ve known a few orthodox Catholic cheaters in my time! and masturbation–we won’t even go there) seem to get more of a pass than contraceptive use in the sense that you can go to confession and still be considered a Catholic in good standing in these conservative crowds (even if you and everybody else knows you will probably end up doing it again), but if it is discovered you have had a sterilization, you are automatically assumed to be a Bad Catholic who believes he knows better than the Church.

    Maybe it is because it is human nature to convince ourselves that if we do something, it must have been the right thing to do, and therefore the Church must be wrong about it. But there are those of us who, while we might not understand or “agree” with the Church teaching (despite reading Aristotle, Aquinas, Augustine, HV, etc), accept it for what it is, try really hard to follow it, fail, confess (however imperfect the contrition) and move on, hoping for God’s mercy on final judgement day. I suspect the vast majority of Catholics over the centuries probably have fallen into this category on a whole host of sins and failures.


  60. on July 20, 2011 at 9:29 am Teena H. Blackburn

    Oh, and BTW, how you could equate thinking that one actually has to have an intention of reform when one goes to Confession with rigorism is beyond me. I understand how conflicted people can be, and how often the firm purpose of amendment isn’t very firm, and how much one can want to do something and not want to do it at the same time. This is not the same as having an attitude of confessing something with full knowledge and intention that you are going to keep on doing it (usually because at some level you don’t really think it’s wrong). I think it very possible that your brother’s friend had sincere compunction when he went to confession-but at the moment you described, it looks from the outside that he was intentionally doing something he knew to be wrong, while scheduling the confession to take care of it. That doesn’t look like true compunction, and if he really knew what he was doing at the time, it looks like playing games with the Sacrament. I go to confession because I honestly think I’ve sinned, and I have some intention to try and change. That’s the key part, I might actually walk out and fall again immediately, but did I really intend to try to change? Was I really sorry? That has little or nothing to do with putting your intentions under the microscope in some neurotic way and becoming a scrupulous person. It’s about honesty with yourself and God-that’s all.


  61. on July 20, 2011 at 10:06 am Teena H. Blackburn

    Sigh…do you read Owen? Please tell me what an intention to reform, whether firm or otherwise, would look like after a vasectomy? I would really like to know what that would be. Secondly, I don’t have to argue my way into coherency here-I wasn’t being incoherent in the first place. If anything, I was arguing that the teaching/practice/experience on the ground of the Catholic church on NFP starts to look fairly messy or incoherent or inconsistent when looked at overall. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing-I’m just saying it is. Your suggestion to Justin SOUNDED like (maybe it wasn’t) a suggestion to keep condoms, use them and then confess it with the full conscious intention of persisting. I’m not the only one who took it that way you’ll notice-he read it the same way. If I was wrong in the way I interpreted your suggestion, I apologize. It didn’t sound like you were thinking of any intention to reform at any level. I simply noted that isn’t consistent with church teaching. As to most Catholics consciously dissenting-I think HV is a dead letter to most Catholics. They don’t “dissent” in the sense of feeling conflicted-they have decided in their own minds that BC is acceptable, they use it and they don’t feel guilty about it.


    • Teena,

      This is a conversation about moral theology and the teaching of the RCC. That is the context.

      You stated:

      “Her husband obviously felt driven to do this out of desperation-but they really did (it appears) think it wrong. There was no flippant “I’ll go to Confession later,” but rather a desperate act when they felt pushed to the wall.”

      And it was your assertion that this created a circumstance substantially different than the one I describe concerning my brother’s friend.

      Such a position is incoherent. How do you measure “flippant?” Apparently BadCatholic’s rhetoric dripped with sufficient anguish to rise above the flippant, but you should well know that this does not mean all that much in terms of a canonical assessment. BadCatholic’s husband seems to have known Church teaching (indeed, he seems to have had a background which would leave him far better versed in Church teaching than my brother’s friend). You should well know that “desperation” has no bearing on whether or not a mortal sin is a mortal sin according to RC teaching. Thus the situation BadCatholic’s husband went through is, canonically, in the same category as the situation my brother’s friend went through. What it comes down to in the confessional is the degree to which one must express penitence and the degree to which one has a clear “intent to reform” and the disagreement between us is where one draws that line in terms of those degrees.

      My statements with regard to Justin are clear – one can have sufficient “intent to reform” and not throw away the box of condoms. Your rhetoric suggests an all or nothing approach to morality – either one cast away any and all materials associated with mortal sin or one is not sufficiently intending to cease sin. It is in response to this that I am asserting this is not the pastoral take even Rome advocates. Even PapaBen can find some good in condom use in certain circumstances. One only finds this all or nothing pastoral insistence in boutique conservative and trad Catholic circles, and among conservative Catholics, it is more common with the laity than with conservative Catholic clergy.


  62. on July 20, 2011 at 10:36 am AnonymousBadCatholic

    “You assert that there was thus no premeditation involved in his confession post surgery. What? Did the man then plan on leaving the RCC when he got his snip job? BadCatholic has not told us that. She told us that she considered leaving the RCC only after realizing how difficult it was for her to be not in a “good Catholic” position anymore. Presumably BadCatholic’s husband had no intent to leave the RCC and thus, as someone who went to a “goodCatholic” college and understands Catholic teaching, his act was premeditated – he had a snip job, and planned to confess it at some point in the future. As such, his situation is not fundamentally different than the situation of my brother’s cop friend.”

    My husband has always had a “looser” view of Church teaching and more loving view of God than I have (I’m the scrupulous one in our relationship, although it has gotten better over the years). By looser, I simply mean that he knows what the Church teaches, doesn’t want or expect Her to change the teaching so that he can be sin-free, knows and accepts he (and most other people of the world) sin and sin again, and truly believes that God will have mercy on him. I know that to many (and even to me, back in the day) this will come across as presumption. Maybe it is. He went to a pre-seminary high school, thought seriously of becoming a priest at one time, and therefore has discussed these nuances with many other priests. According to him, many of them concur with what Owen has typed. The Church says one thing, but in the confessional it expects another because when the rubber meets the road, most people can’t or won’t follow the hard teaching on contraception. I’m not arguing this is a good thing; I am just saying that what my husband has told me about his conversations about such matters leads me to believe Owen is on to something (not getting into the argument about contrition, as I don’t have a dog in that fight—I confessed because I know the Church teaches it is wrong and I don’t want either of us to burn in hell, and I told the priest that just as I have told Jesus that and know I will have to answer for it).

    I tend to concur with Teena that the real picture on the ground is a very messy one when it comes to this picture. I have no answers, don’t pretend to, and simply trust and hope one day I will understand. I also agree it is a huge pastoral problem that not many seem to want to acknowledge. Most people we know using NFP are not happily married. (then again, most people in general are not happily married, and I do think some people blame it on NFP when the issues run much deeper) NFP seems to add to their stressors and strife, or at least they perceive it that way. My personal experience is that I feel much less conflicted and although we were always happy together despite all the stressors, serious health problems, NFP, etc, I can honestly say our marriage has improved vastly now that we have overcome many of those stressors. I feel more bonded, stable, peaceful, and content now that so much of that angst is in our past.

    Many would say we never really had an understanding of marriage or that we are just lustful and selfish, etc, etc. Again, I don’t know what to say to that. It goes back to the pastoral problem of the cognitive dissonance between what the Church is saying people will experience if they use NFP or contraceptives and what people actually do experience when using either/or. The bottom line is that I believe NFP is going to continue to be a very hard sell for most people, given what so many posters here are saying. The real picture of NFP for many couples is much uglier than what is propagandized, and until that is acknowledged and some sort of pastoral resolution is reached, most Catholics are probably going to continue saying “No, thanks”.


    • AnonBadCath,

      It sounds to me like you and your husband are salt of the earth folk who have a charism for relating grace to others. I think you have expressed quite eloquently one shade of the messy but faithful, struggling while repenting manner of life that is given neither to licentiousness nor rigid legalism. For most of us, real life involves series of interplays between the realpolitik that situations demand and our own awareness of our propensity toward failure, brokenness, and the compromises nearly all of us will make with a back against a wall. Thank you for your words.


      • on July 20, 2011 at 7:32 pm AnonymousBadCatholic

        Owen,

        Thanks. I don’t know about salt of the earth, but I do know our experiences have made us a lot less judgmental and a lot less focused on the letter. I’ve just seen so many letter-without-spirit Catholics at this point in my life (I want to point out I am not referring to conversations here, as I don’t really know any of you; I’m talking real-life people I know) that it’s pretty apparent there has to be more to the story.

        I realized a few years ago I know good when I see it. And sometimes it comes in places no Good Catholic would expect it to. And conversely, bad happens in a lot of places that look really good.

        In the end, it’s humbling to acknowledge that we really don’t have all the answers, are still struggling along with the rest of the human population,and at the final judgment will simply have to beg God’s mercy and hope for the best.


  63. I’ve been following all the posts about NFP and the struggles of many families. Please allow me to weigh in from the perspective of someone who is past child-bearing years and has a little perspective as I look back…
    My husband and I were not Catholic when we married and I almost lost my fertility to an IUD. We came to know and appreciate NFP before we became Catholic. As you contemplate the difficulties of NFP just know that the world of contraception has its own horror stories. There is a full scale war being waged against women’s fertility in the hopes that women can just be available without the consequences.
    The beauty of NFP for me was the ability to stop trying to destroy my fertility and to be able to embrace and protect it. When my husband told me that he would gladly make the sacrifice to abstain with NFP rather than allow me to put something dangerous in my body. At this point a whole new relationship opened between us. I quickly tired of taking temperature, and keeping charts. We ended up using the Billing mucus method only and it was very easy to use. Once I understood what I was looking for I just had to pay attention each time I went to the bathroom and I knew exactly where I was in my cycle. We used this method for 20 years and it was completely effective because I really did know when I was fertile and when I wasn’t. I know that every woman’s body is different , but I do think that too much is made of the temperature method because of all the reasons that temperature can vary.
    To all of you on this path, just know that we all fall and stumble and sometimes get a little off course. Frequent use of the sacraments is a great help to have the self-control to keep going. In giving us the sacraments, God knew just how frail and needy we are. He sees us just as we see our own children when they fall and need some help getting up.
    There has been much discussion about the “rules and regulations” of the Church and interpretation. The rules are there only because we hurt ourselves or others when we don’t keep them (might not always be clear at first) The Church is not here to make everyone feel guilty. She is here to lead us to Christ and to a full and fulfilling relationship with Him. Try to look past the rules that at this time might seem a heavy burden and look up at the face of Christ. Please forgive me if this sounds sanctimonious but pouring your heart out to Christ often helps clear the head (and heart) to actually know our sins (sometimes we are surprised at what they really are.) Cry out your fears, your doubts, and all your uncertainties. Tell Him what you think your sins are and then listen….
    Husbands, please pay special attention to your wife when she is fertile and when you need to abstain…hold her hand, go on a walk, take her out or make a meal for her…or just try to give her a little time to herself. Somehow this type of intimacy makes abstaining easier (I didn’t say easy,)
    We’re all on a journey and we’re a part of the Body of Christ. I would suggest to the older women who are past child bearing age (like me) to reach out to the families that are struggling with young children and give them a hand. My husband and I lived in Jerusalem for two years and often visited poor Muslim villages on the outskirts of the city. In these villages children were welcomed (joyfully) one after another. However, the whole village raised the children. There was never a young mom left on her own to bear all the responsibility and of course they were content with very few material possessions so their life style was very different from ours. The point that I am making is that our society makes it very hard on young couples who are away from family and feel that they are a failure if they aren’t completely self-sufficient.
    Sorry for the long epistle…my heart and prayers go out to all of you who are suffering for the sake of the Kingdom …..one day you will receive your reward.


  64. Oh, and with regard to “intent to reform” post vasectomy, there is disagreement with regard to what circumstances result in a requirement that the male get a reversal in order to have marital relations without sin. Most moral theologians seem to be of the opinion that even when a reversal would be required, it is not required if health or finances prevent it, which, of course, begs the question of where one draws the line with regard to health and financial limitations which justify not reversing the vasectomy. Most moral theologians do not argue that in such situations a couple must abstain from sex. In BadCatholic’s husband situation most moral theologians would say that so long as finances were an issue, there would be no need. Further, virtually all moral theologians take clinical factors into account. The longer you go post vasectomy the less likely a reversal of sterility is going to happen. Many docs argue against the performance of a reversal more than 10-15 years post vasectomy because the statistical likelihood of its success is so low and this does not merit the risks associated with any invasive medical procedure. So let’s say it took BadCatholic’s husband 10 years to be able to afford a reversal with no financial strain to his family, and let’s say that by that time his doc advised against it – that would be sufficient for most moral theologians, including those who are “faithful to the magisterium” to argue against a need for a reversal. The couple could continue to have relations so long as BadCatholic’s husband had sufficient “intent to reform” which, I would argue, need not be more than the belief that in a perfect world he would get a reversal. As we know, life only very rarely provides us with such perfect conditions.


  65. on July 20, 2011 at 11:36 am Teena H. Blackburn

    Owen, l et’s see if I can put this to rest. I was comparing the actions of Bad C’s husband to one that I thought (perhaps in error) you were presenting. I have already said that there are mitigating factors as to culpability in a lot of cases-we agree on that. I was comparing him, where desperation might mitigate due to him not thinking clearly, to someone who very consciously chose to do something and go to confession later with no intention of reform at all-just do the ceremony and think that would make him/her “good with God” or the church. Obviously, mental distress is a mitigating factor in how culpable someone is. That could be the case with your brother’s friend as well-I just said the way you presented it made it sound like he might be playing mind games. Also, to repeat, you didn’t sound like you were suggesting any sort of intention of reform, weak or otherwise, to Justin. It sounded like, “use them and confess it, no prob.” If that’s not what you are saying, then I misconstrued your argument. Frankly, I find your argument rather refreshing and honest, and I’ll remember it the next time some Catholic pounds on me for the “softness” of Orthodox teaching on contraception. The official presentation is all clear cut isn’t it, and traditional Catholics stand on it with great pride in relation to the rest of us. You have done an admirable job of showing how muddled it is (to the point of incoherence at times) on the ground. Don’t do this thing, but it doesn’t take a lot to get absolution and go on your merry way having non-fertile marital sex anytime you want to. Pity so many Catholics are so lacking in catechesis, Owen. I would think if they knew what is really going on, they would be lined up around the corner for sterilization-I have to have one because life is hard, I realize the church disapproves, I care (a little at least) so I’ll go to Confession and my remorse will consist of, “Well, in a perfect world I wouldn’t have done this.” Yeah, OK.


    • Teena,

      “Sounds like” and “playing mind games” are not the most useful of categories.

      You keep coming back to BadCath’s husband’s attested “desperation” – but whatever his state he knew Catholic teaching, and had a vasectomy (an act which takes multiple doc visits and isn’t done in the heat of the moment), and intended to remain Catholic. There is nothing stated above which suggests that BadCath’s husband’s act was less premeditated than my brother’s friend’s act. Obviously both of them intended to go to confession after. When that confession takes place need not matter with regard to the determination of premeditation and a presumption upon God’s grace, etc.

      Further, nothing I have said points to the Catholic position on contraception being muddled (though I suspect in coming years it will be more clarified than it currently is), it is certainly not particularly muddled in comparison to the plethora of idiocy one gets on the contraception matter coming from Orthodox.

      To repeat, I specifically stated what I felt would be sufficient in terms of Justin’s “intent to reform” – we disagree by matters of degree, and yet you keep accusing me of a denial. One can keep a box of condoms in the house and at each confession still have sufficient intent to reform for the confession to be valid. That is my argument.

      I do not understand what is so difficult to understand about this – one can simultaneously hold that a strict law is just and reflects a spiritual reality, and at the same time hold that what is sufficient in terms of degree of penitence and degree of “intent to reform” required is not at all rigid. It is not necessarily muddled or incoherent for the RCC to teach that the use of ABC is a mortal sin and at the same time grant a great deal of grace and lack of rigor in the confessional with regard to it. In keeping with our who is the most Prot game, I would say it is a very Prot thing to expect pastoral approaches to perfectly mimic legal categories. What do most conservative Catholic priests do with regard to teenagers who confess masturbation week after week after week? PapaBen has been clear that not all mortal sins are the same in terms of the potential effect on the soul, and that within the context of mortal sin there are variables in terms of the potential for charity. Condoms are bad, but in some instances can reflect an instance of love in the midst of the bad. Adultery is a mortal sin, so is masturbation, but the effect on the soul might not always be equivalent between the two, and pastors keep that in mind when discerning sufficiency in the confessional. I get the feeling that for you and some people here, the 17 year old male who confesses masturbation week after week after week is not saying a good confession unless he is wracked with baroque levels of anguish over his sin and prepared to wear sackcloth and ashes because of it. I, and I suspect most “faithful to the magisterium” pastors, would be much more worried about the kid addicted to moral anguish than the kid who routinely jerks off, knows its wrong, confesses it, wishes he weren’t so prone to it, and goes on with his life.


  66. on July 20, 2011 at 2:42 pm Teena H. Blackburn

    No, that is not at all what I’m saying in regards to a 17 year old who confesses masturbation. Let’s try it this way, and I hope I’m clear enough that we don’t need to go back and forth. We agree that things can be objectively mortally sinful while there being factors that mitigate culpability. No argument there. Bad C’s husband may not be totally culpable, and perhaps neither was your brother’s friend who had the vasectomy. So far, so good. Let’s assume, however, they ARE fully culpable. They know what they are doing is wrong according to the teaching of the church-they are not ignorant in any way, and there are no other mitigating factors. What then? I see no problem with Bad C’s husband having a vasectomy. She was ill, and they have 10 kids. No one would suggest they were not generous with life. I see no problem with Justin using a condom-it sounds as if he and his wife are also very generous with life. No problem from MY point of view, but the I think the point is, that’s not what your church says. I’m not going to speak for Justin, but I would guess that perhaps one of the reasons he doesn’t use contraception is that he knows good and well what the church teaches. He knows that as far as the church is concerned, it would not be licit for him to use ABC, and he doesn’t try to justify it to himself just because life is difficult. Let’s suppose he finally gives in and uses contraception. He knows it’s forbidden, but does it anyway. Then, for whatever reason, he goes to confession-but he’s honest with the priest. He say, “I know it’s wrong, I understand what the church teaches, but life is difficult right now, and frankly, I have no intention of stopping the use of ABC.” Should the priest absolve him? My first marriage fell apart while I was still RC. I remarried without the benefit of paperwork. My second husband and I moved into a parish where the priest would have absolved me if I had gone to confession-even if I made it clear that I would not do the paperwork nor stop sleeping with my husband. He would have allowed me to go to Communion even without confession, even without the paperwork. Should he have taken that view with me? It doesn’t matter because I did not present myself for Communion-I knew good and well the church’s stance and I didn’t look for an out. I’m a big fan of economy and mercy, believe me. I’m not saying you have to flog yourself over your sins. I’m asking, I guess, what does it mean when the church teaches against ABC full-stop, while most of the faithful ignore the teaching, many priests disagree with the teaching, and are willing to absolve people who in some cases at least may have absolutely no intention of amendment AT ALL. It would seem to me that in the case of the vasectomy, the parties would either have to reverse the procedure or periodically abstain. If I had remained RC, gone to Confession, and then repeatedly presented myself again and again, confessing that I’m having sex with my second husband without the benefit of an annulment, it would be sensible of the priest at some point to say, “What are you playing at”? Do you really want to be obedient to the church or don’t you? I don’t have any real problem with the use of non-abortifacient contraception under certain circumstances with the blessing of one’s spiritual father. My repeated point is, that’s not an opinion allowed by the teaching of your church, and therefore I am puzzled at the willingness of some priests at least to absolve and/or ignore with a frequency that is way beyond economy. It is to the point in some cases at least, that the teaching and the practice on the ground are so far removed from one another as to present a real problem, in my opinion. I’m glad the church is merciful, good. But it’s not really about that. It’s about the fact the Church teaches an absolute prohibition that is not believed by the vast majority of laity (and possibly clergy as well), and is not obeyed very well even by those who believe it. We can argue how much purpose of amendment there has to be-I bet we agree far more than you think. The question is what do you do with absolution given when there is NO purpose of amendment at all? Sorry this is so long.


    • Teena,

      There is such a criss-cross here between categories and what seem to be emotions I hardly know how to respond. It turns out we have even more in common than you think, so trust me, I can understand some of the frustration you note.

      I am not suggesting any economia, per se. I detest the idea of confessional gnosis. I am asserting that the standard of objective sufficiency of intent in the confessional is lower than you assert.

      I was not at all discussing the issue of priest’s giving blessings to persons to commit what the RCC teaches to be mortal sin. That, it seems to me, is an entirely different issue.

      A remarriage without an annulment is a very different issue than the use of a condom or the getting of a vasectomy. Indeed, there are many different canonical and confessional standards required when addressing different mortal sins. The moral theology of the RCC uses a great many different categories to describe moral acts and to speak to the degrees of complexity involved in culpability and the various and sundry ways reconciliation might be achieved. Some think of this as highly legalistic and didactic, others view it as a means of attempting to deal with the complexity of human moral life. Think of the question of “remarriage.” There are a number of different canonically accepted grounds via which to argue for an annulment, each with different acceptable burden of proof standards, etc. Indeed, you don’t always have to go the route of annulment, you can in some instances go for a Pauline Privilege, and so forth. A great deal of ink has been spent by canon lawyers and tribunal and curia leaders in Rome concerning what is and is not sufficient concerning postures of penitence and “purpose of amendment” in various and sundry moral situations. The norms accepted by most canonists have developed (er, changed) over the years. Annulments are a classic example of this – there has been a decided lowering of the bar with regard to the evidence deemed sufficient in order to show that a given person, say, misunderstand the nature of the sacrament prior to his/her marriage to such a degree that renders the marriage invalid.

      Again and again and again, you seem to have a very rigid and very static view of what constitutes a valid purpose of amendment. The category of “an absolute prohibition” does not mean everything that falls in that category requires the same level of intent with regard to making a valid confession. Gossip is absolutely prohibited, striking a priest is absolutely prohibited, theft is absolutely prohibited, masturbation is absolutely prohibited, abortion is absolutely prohibited, ABC is absolutely prohibited, homosexual acts are absolutely prohibited, telling lies (under normal circumstances) is absolutely prohibited. But the circumstances in which one commits such sins and the circumstances via which one manifests sufficient “intent” to not commit such sins are not uniform. The person who is a homosexual working in the design industry may have every intent to cease homosexual activity but still fall, week after week after week. Perhaps he is 55 years old and a career change is not possible. Should his confessions be deemed invalid? The resolve to cease gossiping is a tricky thing. Should the perpetual gossip be denied absolution?

      Life, including moral life, is that complex. So is canon law. A priest may not, canonically, absolve a remarried (with no annulment, etc.) person. A priest may, canonically, absolve a person with a habitual use of ABC or a person who has had a vasectomy and meets certain criteria. That may seem unduly complex, but life is complex. Some will not be able to see how choosing to enter a marriage the Church forbids is categorically different an act than choosing to live in a house with a box of condoms in it even while one is confessing the sin of using ABC and inferring some level of intent to not use it again. But I think it a reasonable argument to assert that the two things are different moral acts which result in different canonical and confessional responses. Here in Memphis, thankfully, annulments are free of charge and let’s face it, you have to have some really bad ass luck to not be able to get one.


  67. on July 20, 2011 at 3:07 pm Teena H. Blackburn

    And finally, yes, it is possible Justin could keep a box of condoms, use them, and yet still have enough intention of reform at each confession to make it a valid confession. But, at some point, the priest is going to say: “If you’re really serious about this repentance thing, maybe you should throw away that box.” That is, if the priest really believes the church’s teaching. At some point, Justin (or whomever-I’m just using him because he brought up the issue), would probably need to ask himself what he is really doing. Does he really think ABC is wrong? Not really? Wants to obey but cannot or will not for some reason-maybe a good one, maybe not?


    • Most priests, including most “conservative” or “faithful to the mag” priests would simply be happy that Justin showed up to confession. His showing up repeatedly and confessing the same things (unless he is acting like he is coerced into coming or something) would be a sign to the vast majority of priests that he has sufficient sorrow and a sufficient desire to change. If he had no desire for holiness why go to confession at all? The rates of Catholic going to confession are rather dismal in America these days. It’s not like Justin would be going for cultural reasons as in certain locales in the old days.

      I would ask you this – is it not possible that one can commit the same mortal sin each week of his adult life (confessing it each week as well) and still be a Christian who will make it to purgatory?


  68. Thanks Mary D; I wish I knew you and that you lived close by! Your wisdom is greatly appreciated.


  69. on July 20, 2011 at 4:51 pm Teena H. Blackburn

    No, Owen, and this is my last remark because we’re monopolizing things here, the gay fellow in the fashion industry has an honest intent, so his confession is valid. I was asking about when there really is no honest intent, however weak. I mean, if I was an alcoholic, and I tried and tried and tried-but was never willing to stop hanging around bars, for instance, then how serious are my efforts-really? Like I said, I’m fine with Bad C’s husband’s choices-but I think if the RC was going to act as if their teaching really meant something, his confessor would ask him to abstain when his wife is fertile. Otherwise, he just got off free, didn’t he? He did something he knew was wrong, he went to confession, he got absolved, and now he can happily enjoy the fruits of what his church said was a sinful procedure-unrestricted, non-fertile, worry free sex whenever he likes. I bet lots of people could come up with some prerequisite tiny bit of intent if that was what was waiting on the other side. I don’t know where you got the idea I was frustrated with the whole thing. If you’re speaking of the paperwork, I had it from pretty good sources that I could annul my first marriage. It wouldn’t have cost me anything. I didn’t do it because I think it’s a crock of shit. Are there truly invalid marriages? Of course. However, I think it is a bit of legalism to lower the bar to the extent that just about anyone could annul their marriage, just so they can remarry with a good conscience and the RC can continue to say with a straight fact that they don’t allow divorce and remarriage. Please. I admire the tenacity of American Catholics who seem to take the teaching seriously enough to keep filing, since Americans are the bulk of cases. Most people in the rest of the world just get remarried and go to Communion anyway, or stop going to church-or just live with their second partners. No, I’m not saying people have to have super-duper, super-human rigoristic intent-I’m saying neither the church nor the faithful should play games. There’s pastoral sensitivity, there’s mercy, there’s real struggle combined with weakness and doubt-and then there’s just, “oh, get real.”


    • Teena,

      ” I mean, if I was an alcoholic, and I tried and tried and tried-but was never willing to stop hanging around bars, for instance, then how serious are my efforts-really?”

      If ever there were an indication that you and I completely disagree on this matter – this is it. The alcoholic should be the prime example of what I am talking about. Yes, given the nature of the alcoholic’s compulsion and the psychological impairments alcoholism often brings with it, it is quite possible that he could go hang out in a bar for every week of 70 years of his adult life, getting drunk each time he goes to the bar, and confessing each week and each time make an honest confession with sufficient intent for the confession to be valid. The suggestion that he cannot be making valid confessions under said circumstances is Jansenism pure and simple and unmitigated.

      “Otherwise, he just got off free, didn’t he?” During your time as a Roman Catholic, did you ever get to the part where Catholics asserted their belief in grace? There is always an element to grace that involves a “got off free” aspect, even when a penance is involved, even if a purgatory is required. We can never repay the totality of what we owe, or anything close to it. All grace is free – even grace offered to those who premeditated and maintain bottom basement levels of intent to amend. The arguments for why the canons do not always insist upon a vasectomy reversal in order for the marriage act to be done justly are clear and coherent. What you seem to have a problem with is the idea that someone could know those norms, get the procedure done, and “get off” (pun intended) and at the same time feel a sufficient level of remorse and even a sufficient level of “I would rectify this situation if I reasonably could.” But to assert that these things cannot occur simultaneously is to hold a cartoonish view of human beings and human morality. Humans can premeditate, waver, feel sorrow, have an intent to rectify, and go right back in the direction of a given sin – all simultaneously and to varying degree with regard to each of the operative postures. We are that complicated, and the pastoral application of canons has to take this complexity into account. There is only so much that a given confessor can do to get a read of all this complexity, which is one reason why the bar is set low on establishing due penitence and due intent.

      With regard to annulments the beating of the dead “oh, get real” horse is as banal as those who defend the system in such a way as to make it sound perfect. It seems quite reasonable to me that as late capitalism advances the psychology of consumerism and lifestyle fetishization, that a large number of people would render marriage sacraments invalid by entering into marriage without a sufficient knowledge of the meaning of marriage and/or sufficient intent to actually conduct a marriage. We live in an age where the concept of a “starter marriage” is widely accepted. Thus ease to getting annulments should be the norm. That one need not now be a person of means in order to be granted an annulment is a veritable reform within the RCC.


  70. on July 20, 2011 at 5:59 pm Daniel Nichols

    Owen, I am not in disagreement with the idea that one can commit the same sin over and over and still be sorry and receive absolution, even if he knows that he probably will lapse again.
    That is not what you originally described; you said buy a box of condoms and confess after you use one, every time. This shows a sort of premeditation that other sins of weakness do not. It is like the difference between a lonely horny guy buying a porn magazine on impulse and subscribing to one.
    Oh, that’s right you have a BOX of condoms in case someone rapes your wife, or maybe with a box you are expecting an NFL team to gang rape her.
    I am still amused at the image here, of Owen the hero:
    Wife:”Owen, he is going to rape me!”
    Owen:”Hold on honey; I’ll save you! Uh, excuse me, could you slip this on first?”
    Wife:”My hero!”


  71. on July 20, 2011 at 6:29 pm Teena H. Blackburn

    Thank you, Daniel. Precisely. You said in two sentences what took me a book to try to say clearly. My hat is off to you.


    • Daniel simply restated what you have stated over and over again. This is all very emotive – this “sense” of what constitutes “a sort of premeditation” that renders a confession invalid, but it really is neither here nor there with regard to the discussion of the objective standards a priest is held to with regard to discerning a sufficient intent to amend and the discourse concerning that among moral theologians, canon lawyers, and members of the curia.


  72. Daniel,

    My point was simply that Rome opened the door when it asserted that in some instances a use of condoms can be an act of charity, even if a charitable act only possible in the context of a mortal sin. PapaBen believes that not every instance of the provision of a condom constitutes something which should be strived against. Rome gave the example of condom distribution to male prostitutes. Once Rome states that then the mere possession of said material does not necessarily constitute a mortal sin, that’s all. So far as I know Rome has not stated that there are some instances in which the possession or distribution of porn is justified.

    An alcoholic could very well go to confession and make a valid one even if he did not empty every drop of alcohol from his house prior, and even if he does not empty every drop of alcohol from his house after, even if he has paid ten years in advance on his local liquor store’s whiskey of the month club. He could still have a level of intent to amend sufficient to make the confession valid.


  73. on July 20, 2011 at 6:37 pm Daniel Nichols

    Not analogous. Rome finally said what I have been thinking all along: in homosexual relations there is not one iota of procreative meaning. Using a condom does not negate the meaning of the act, as it is already meaningless (I speak objectively) and disordered. The use of a condom in this instance would lessen the evil consequences, period.
    I would add that the drunk who is paid up for ten years of whiskey of the month is on the level of the guy who subscribes to Hustler. Or the guy with a box of condoms in his room, “just in case” someone wants to rape his wife and he is around, not to save her from the rapist, but to make the act safer. Totally facetious, Owen.


    • Rome has said on other occasions that within homosexual relationships genuine human love can be expressed. I suspect the language of Rome in recent years concerning homosexuality and homosexual relations, while not deviating from a prohibition of homosexuality, would make you very uncomfortable were it all laid in front of you at once.

      Ratzinger’s statement by the way, was a bit broader than male prostitutes. He mentions them specifically, but the broader statement refers to the use of condoms to prevent infectious diseases, particularly AIDS. He is smart enough to know this demands more clarification, and smart enough to know that the RCC must tread very carefully to not have every newspaper and news website in the world announce “Roman Catholic Church now OK with condoms.”

      Of course the “in case of rapist” is facetious. But, again, the point is that the mere possession of condoms is not a mortal sin. Once the door for occasional licit possession is opened, a priest cannot insist upon insufficient intent on the mere basis of possession of condoms. Is that a lawyerly manner of approaching it? Damn straight. Which is exactly how Rome approaches these things.

      We know that Rome teaches that even “natural” marital sex can be conducted in a manner which constitutes mortal sin – if one party violently coerces another or if the act is conducted to fulfill intense lust and only for self-gratification, etc. What if Justin’s wife is horrified with the idea of having sex during times she could become prego? What if she has been hospitalized for post-partum depression following each of her pregnancies, and each case was more severe than the one before. What if Justin has a history of coercing her to have sex during, among other times, that time she is presumably very fertile? In such instances, Justin could maintain possession of a box of condoms because of an impulse toward charity within the context of mortal sin. In other words, if he is already conducting a mortal sin, why not keep some condoms around to lesson his wife’s anxiety? He could have the intent to not to demand sex in such a manner that constitutes a mortal sin, but also know he has a proclivity toward that precise sin, and then for reasons of charity toward his wife keep a box of condoms around. That is but one reason among many I could provide for why a mere possession of condoms might not infer a lack of sufficient intent.

      Y’all can keep talking like you are fundamentalist Holiness Church members with regard to moral theology, but I invite you to read some of the published debates that have come out of moral theology conferences at the curia in the last 25 years. They read a hell of a lot more like the scenarios I provide than the kneejerk y’all are into.


      • On that note, I recall such a book of conference notes I read perhaps 13 years ago in which a committee of moral theologians, most of them clergy, debated whether all acts of fellatio constituted a mortal sin or only some of them, and if only some, under what conditions fellatio might not be a mortal sin. This debate took up maybe 60-80 pages. I know that some people might ask how members of religious orders might be qualified to discuss with exactitude the dangers of orgasm in relation to acts of fellatio, and the various intents behind fellatio and how they potentially relate toward a rightly ordered intent on male orgasm occurring during coitus, but I had met enough members of religious orders by that time to know that some of them were eminently qualified on the subject of fellatio.


      • on July 20, 2011 at 8:06 pm Daniel Nichols

        Well, now it is obvious: you have spent way too much time reading such things; the strainings of neo-scholastic academics, especially moral theologians, always seemed like rarefied pharisaic BS to me, even when I was Latin. Throw in the proclivities to which you refer and your flippant dismissal of Church teaching and I for one am amazed that you seek reunion with such a mess.
        Of course that is not all there is, but here you find a bunch of earnest lay folk, wrestling weighty issues- with mutual charity, no less- and you call us fundamentalists and yahoos.
        You are not to be envied for your easy dismissal of Catholic tradition, though I can see how it would make life easier in the short run. But most of us are more concerned with the long run….


      • I have nowhere on this thread dissented from RC teaching. But perhaps being an Eastern Rite there is some sort of “phrenoma” used to determine Church teaching. I have nowhere asserted that the teaching that all uses of ABC constitute a mortal sin is wrong. I have simply asserted that Justin could keep a box of condoms in his house and still have sufficient intent to amend to rightly be absolved. In response to this I have heard a lot of emotions and rote assertions to the contrary. This is the stuff that the Legion of Christ is made of…. Good luck with that. It can get you a ticket to hell just as easily as uncomplicated licentiousness.


  74. on July 20, 2011 at 7:15 pm Daniel Nichols

    You have the casuistry thing down, but you still can’t be a Jesuit; they are way too diplomatic. And they don’t presume to tell everyone else that they know so much more than them. Even if they do.


    • Please. You’ve obviously never been in the same room as that supreme jackass Fr. Fessio.


      • on July 20, 2011 at 8:08 pm Daniel Nichols

        You’re right; the Jesuits I knew- my theology teachers- were brilliant and gentlemanly.


    • on July 20, 2011 at 9:41 pm Daniel Nichols

      Indeed, Fr Benedict (Groeschel) used to joke that “The world is full of rich Franciscans, dumb Jesuits, Dominicans who can’t preach, and Salesians who hate small children”.
      And indeed, there are Good Jesuits- the humane kind, who nuance principle with what the Orthodox call economia- and there are Bad Jesuits, the kind who excuse sin with casuistry and rationalize all guilt away.


  75. on July 20, 2011 at 7:17 pm AnonymousBadCatholic

    I just want to clarify: we have six children. We lost 4 to miscarriage. The human body can only take so much, and mine started to give up the ghost (literally, in the loss of multiple pregnancies). It was brutal.

    And a vasectomy reversal is not in the cards. Not only because we really can’t afford it, but because of my health. When I said my health failed, I wasn’t talking about just not feeling well or being overweight or whatever; I was diagnosed with a very serious chronic disease for which I took extremely heavy-duty meds for years (the type trasplant patients take to prevent rejection). After 7 years without the havoc of pregnancy/miscarriage/postpartum/breastfeeding, I am in much better health and have been (almost–recently had to start taking a milder one again) med-free for several years. The disease will always be with me, caused many problems during my last two pregnancies, will likely shorten my lifespan, and scared the bejeezus out of my husband.

    If he asked me to have a reversal tomorrow because he really wanted another baby, I would do it. And he knows it. But he won’t ask me because he saw with his own eyes how my body was deteriorating and how much I was physically suffering. He was my rock throughout it all and gave of himself in ways nobody on the outside can really know. He is one of the unsung heroes in my book.

    I say this not to defend our decision, because I know it was wrong in the eyes of the Church, but just to clarify. Luckily our priest (right or wrong) absolved us and did not ask us to reverse it or to abstain during fertile times (I don’t even really know what that would look like, as three different methods of NFP left us pretty much completely unable to figure them out anyway, and even the NFP instructor was looking at us in puzzlement and telling me perhaps I should think about having my cervix cauterized or frozen or whatever so that my mucus signs would be what the books said they should be—talk about feeling like a freakin’ science experiment!!).

    I get where people are coming from. Whenever I hear the parable about the 11th hour workers read in church, I have to laugh out loud because it would piss me off so badly to be one of the ones who had busted my hump all day long only to get the same wage (fair though it was) as the lazy guys who came in at the end of the day and worked an hour.

    Again, we will have to answer for it some day, and we take full responsibility for that. The way we were living had become untenable for us, on many different levels. Life is much better for us now, and our marriage is truly thriving, thanks be to a merciful God. That’s not what a Good Catholic would say, but it is what this honest Bad Catholic has truly experienced..


  76. on July 20, 2011 at 7:26 pm Teena H. Blackburn

    I admire you, and I’m certainly not going to lie awake at night worrying about your salvation. :) I was interested in looking at the teaching and practice of the RC church in light of experiences like yours. I’m not saying you should have to abstain. I’m saying to be consistent, your confessor should have probably told you to abstain-but in your case, that might not even be possible without doing it all the time. I’m Orthodox-I’m comfortable with economia. I think the Roman Catholic church, and its very faithful people (like you appear to be), would benefit from some of that.


  77. I am so glad that I can be the “John Doe” of this conversation. “Say Justin was to…”, etc.

    All reading should assume that the use of “Justin” is out of convenience. :-)

    I have no intention on… anything… and I have no intention to ever abuse the Sacrament of Confession. To be honest, I don’t use it enough out of a feeling of unworthiness at times: I would in no way abuse the gift.

    Also, I can add that for something far removed from this conversation I did not receive absolution from the priest. He didn’t feel that I was contrite enough or that I had a firm resolution to commit the sin no more. He asked that I come back when I was ready. I did, and received absolution.

    People often forget that the Biblical basis for the sacrament says that sins can be forgiven or *not*. Just like people forget that along with daisies and kind words and sandals, Jesus the Hippie also spoke about Hell more than anyone else in the Bible. He spoke of hell more than heaven.

    I respected the priest for NOT giving me absolution: it showed that he was taking the sacrament and his role in it seriously. Likewise, it gave me a greater respect for it and aided in my firm resolve to “commit the sin no more”.


    • And here I was going to start telling my Catholic friends who use ABC that they should call it “pulling a Justin”….

      Thanks be to the God who despises petty cookie-cutter moralists that Jesus the Hippie, when talking about Hell, rarely talked about sexual sin in conjunction with it – He was usually talking about money.


      • Owen,

        If you wanted to tell people to pull a “Justin” (which is a sort of pun, I suppose…) then that is fine. But, I think you have always been misunderstanding of what I was saying. My questions and comments are real, but I have no intention of blatant disobedience. If I were, my decision would be very simple: I wouldn’t be Catholic anymore, nor Christian at all for that matter. Of course, since I am convicted as a Catholic Christian, I have no intention of undermining the base rationale for my being Catholic by blatantly disobeying the Church on this matter.

        I would be intellectually honest and just plain leave if I was willing to let my **** rule matters of much more depth. It really wouldn’t be a difficult decision at all.

        I think that it could have been very different–that is, what the Church teaches on these matters. It *could* have been. I think that the reasons often given by NFP-Catholics and enthusiastic supporters of the Church’s ban on BC are very poor, etc. Perhaps I am the problem? The older I get, the more willing I am to admit the possibility. But I personally think that I am on to something, as is Daniel, etc.

        As an aside, I wanted to encourage you to cool it a bit. You are a smart guy, but the smart ‘ass’ side, combined with consistent sarcasm and sometimes unreasonably argumentative comments which are obviously intended to bring out the less than lovely from your co-commentators detracts from what you are saying, and makes it difficult, I am sure, for some people to “hear you”.

        Having spent most of my life arguing with anyone willing to do so, combined with a long history of sarcasm, I have learned that listening to people and speaking clearly and calmly with them gets me a lot further than it used to.

        Consider it, or don’t.

        Either way, I do enjoy reading your slightly sensationalistic rants and reading between the lines to find the actual thoughtfulness and intellect–you have a gift in that regard.

        Cheers. -jn


  78. on July 20, 2011 at 7:33 pm Teena H. Blackburn

    I was just using you as an abstract example because it gives me a chance to torment another ex-Steubie person. :) Just kidding, of course.


  79. Hey! I was in steuby, but am not OF steuby. ;-)


  80. Owen: Oh, and it is sometimes hard to understand who you are talking to. If you are referencing “me” as a cookie cutter moralist, you are unfortunately wrong. I can only wish that my morality was in more order than it is. Perhaps it would be inappropriate for me to list here all of my grave failures, past and present, though.


  81. on July 20, 2011 at 9:45 pm Daniel Nichols

    Owen: You haven’t dissented? Well now, you are introducing a whole new meaning to fidelity. Can’t wait to see what else you have to offer…


  82. Hey All – Ive been sitting on the side lines but can we make some points of clarification about a few things.

    I cant quite get a read on what Owen White is saying about “PapaBens” position on condoms.

    First PapaBen has not found any “good” in condoms…………. Owen mentione this above when he said “Even PapaBen can find some good in condom use in certain circumstances”

    Whaatttt???

    What Pope Benedict said is:

    “There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants”

    Where in that is PapaBen attributing good to the use of a condom?

    This is just the kind of blatant misunderstanding that the Vatican addressed when following up on Benedict’s remarks.

    Secondly can we all agree with the Church that using birth control to prevent conception is always immoral?

    Thirdly – can we all agree that for some life is much more difficult than for others. That some have tremendous suffering and difficulties but these difficulties while they may impact a persons culpability do not change moral laws?

    I do feel for many of you who seem to be suffering over this issue and other life struggles and I hope to God that you somehow are relieved of your various sufferings that is for sure.


    • PapaBen also said of the Church on condom use that “She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.”

      Could someone please explain to me how the recognition of the condom as a potential aid in “a first step toward… a more human way” is not an instance of finding some good in condom use, at least under the conditions PapaBen spells out?

      And please, folks. The man is extremely intelligent. It has been generations since there has been a pope more careful and calculating with his words. He was not “caught off guard” here any more than when he makes a statement regarding Islam the sets the media off in a fury.

      It’s also worth noting that in response to the objection that the Catholic Church seeks to forbid condom use among at-risk persons the Pope stated “As a matter of fact, you know, people can get condoms when they want them anyway.” It is not hyperbole to note that this suggests that the Church is no longer in the business of actively seeking to forbid access to ABC (which would be a Quixotic political fight in this day and age anyway – a farcical waste of energy).

      The Pope has to walk a very fine line. He must continue to hold that the use of ABC is a mortal sin, but it is clear from the text that he believes that the use of condoms in certain circumstances represents an act of charity in the midst of a mortal sin. Perfect charity? Of course not, but the intention of reducing risk of infection and a first step in a movement toward a more human way involves charity nonetheless.

      As for the rest, the question of absolute moral laws is a separate question from the question of what constitutes sufficient intent to amend and a valid confession. One can “agree with the Church that using birth control to prevent conception is always immoral” and at the same time not insist on a rigidly high bar with regard to what is a sufficient intent to amend.


      • Owen – I can explain. Your misreading an “extremely intelligent” man and your mis-phrasing him as well.

        What he is lauding if anything is the intention to protect and not the use of the condom. So when you look at the male prostitute whom the Pope describes there are two things occurring. There is the disordered act of homosexual sex of course and there is simultaneously the intention to protect his partner from disease. Its the intention to protect that is good not the homosexual sex. The good intention manifest itself in a bad way namely the use of the condom during a disordered act .

        As you realize the good intention does not change the underlying nature of the action itself.

        As they say – the road to hell is paved with good intentions.


  83. on July 20, 2011 at 10:30 pm Daniel Nichols

    Hoo boy; that is just the sort of post that is going to provoke our friend Owen…


  84. Owen is going to go Owen’s-Gone-Wild on that. The spring break version.


  85. Relax, y’all. Eventually you hit menopause. You don’t keep having babies forever. :)

    I think old age is a mercy and a grace. Eventually you get too tired to sow many more wild oats. You can commit plenty of other sins — vicious gossip springs to mind — but, at some point, the sins of the flesh become, er, less logistically feasible.


  86. James, I appreciate your post very much. I look forward to seeing responses to it.


  87. BTW, can we also agree that there’s nothing wrong with hating all that charting and mucus-measuring stuff? We can follow Church Teaching and avoid contraception without going in for daily charting. Obedience to Church Teaching may be a moral imperative, but NFP per se isn’t. Let’s not elevate one particular method to the level of dogma, please. Catholics who hate charting are not necessarily betraying selfishness or moral cowardice or disinclination for the Cross. Good grief, until relatively recently, NFP didn’t even exist. Most faithful Catholics throughout history have followed Daniel’s SFP method — a/k/a “Catholic & Careless.”


  88. Now that I have read through this entire thread, I think there is little point in my coming back to the Church until my wife reaches menopause and we don’t have to worry about this issue any more…


  89. I hear you on that Diane. I like to call it “natural” family contraception. I think all this NFP training has been a hugh disaster for the Catholics – especially her in American, though I suspect its true of other countries.

    There is so much one could say about this subject and about Chidren. NFP as tought in America treats children as a problem more or less. Why would you avoid at any cost God and natures most benificent gift?

    Both JPII and BXVI and the Catholic Church in its marriage rite talk about accepting children with courage and “accepting children lovingly from God”.

    Its in the light of so many temptations and hardship shared here in this discussion that the words “accept” and “courage” begin to take on meaning. I remember when I was first married finding humor in such words – sure Ill accept children – lets get on with it.

    After you’ve broken the modern statistical barrier of 1.5 children per family and have refused to use ABC you begin to realize that the marital act does actually involve courage. For Catholics the marital act is an act of Faith and like many acts of faith is a courageious one. Its a conscious decision to accept children lovingly from God our provider. He will provide for us and for our Children.

    This is not to condem anyone who has commented. I think we’ve seen failure in courage testified to in some of the comments. We’ve seen how lifes circumstances can zap us and make us falter and it again makes us realize the truth of the Churches teaching that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. We’ve all fallen and so we all must pray (and sacrifice) for each other and help those amongst us who are most in need.

    David – you can run but you can’t hide. Why don’t you join the courageous struggle? What is life if there is no struggle?


  90. I’d like to address the original question, which seems to be simply: Is NFP bad for people and families, or is it good?

    The problem: Having many children in quick succession can often cause great financial, mental, physical, and in some cases even spiritual trials.

    The solution: Having an effective way of metering or preventing conception in order to help alleviate many of these grave difficulties, and in so doing, have the ability to live a calmer, happier, holier life.

    The Church’s offer: By observing the indicators of a naturally occurring phenomena, a couple has the opportunity to retain at least some measure of physical intimacy without losing their honest openness to life or being forced to practice complete abstinence.

    It may seem unnatural to have to pay such close attention to the functions of the body when considered hand in hand with (for a married couple) is such a sensitive, healing, and arguably necessary act—but there is certainly nothing unnatural about observing the minute workings the highest form of life on earth.

    We all stood on the alter on our wedding day and declared before God that we would welcome children into our lives and homes, just as we stood before God on the alter and declared our belief, obedience, and love for Him and His church in Confirmation. Isn’t it a wonderful thing that the church in it’s compassion offers an alternative to complete abstinence on the one hand or being actually closed to life (ABC) on the other?

    None of this is to downplay the difficulty, the sacrifice, yes, even the distaste that using the NPF method may at times cause—and I do understand that it is not always 100% effective, which can be a heavy stress indeed. But consider that nearly every aspect of our Catholic Christian lives is fraught with pain, discipline, sacrifice, humility, and terribly tough decisions, just in the simple attempt to follow Our Lord from day to day.

    The issue of whether or not NPF is a reasonable option comes down to our desire to create an environment where both we and our children can thrive both in life and in grace—whether that mean 2 children or 12—and how we can do that as painlessly as possible while staying in line with the Church and continuing to love and trust God.

    It will be different for everyone. Everyone will have a separate experience of ‘success’. But always consider (and this must be re-evaluated constantly) the basis of the choice to avoid conception; if the situation is grave enough, prayer and discipline (i.e., a greater degree of abstinence and a deep understanding of the method) will ensure that no children will come. If the reasons are not strong enough, or you aren’t strict enough, NPF has it’s way circumventing your efforts. But that’s being ultimately open to life. Always.


  91. NFP as tought in America treats children as a problem more or less.

    Bingo. That’s what bothered me about the Kipleys’ book (at oeast the edition I read; it’s been revised since).


  92. *at least*

    Sheesh. Typo Queen.


  93. I am also a child of one of the marriages listed above in Daniels post . . . and I just have a few comments and questions I would like to add to this discussion.

    First of all, one of the main beauties of NFP is that it is not a stagnant state, a one-time decision. So much of the fear surrounding NFP (the contraceptive mentality question) comes from the idea that if you choose to use NFP, you might just have a motive that is not the greatest good you are called to. The awesome thing, however, is that it is a month-by-month discernment and decision to continue using NFP. Let us say that one night our motives are not the highest, we don’t have sex while fertile because of… (insert various reasons here). The beauty of an education in the faith and the constant call to be holy is that next month, we have the opportunity to try again, to perfect our understanding, love, and motive for the betterment of each other and our family. Just because we fell short, doe not mean that our chances are blown, and our journey is over. We are called to continue the search for the highest good for our marriage and family. The fact is if I love God, with eyes open follow the teachings of the Church, love my spouse and strive to do what is best for their soul and that of my kids, than NFP is a month by month call to perfect my motives, to reassess my reasons for postponing a pregnancy, and to choose the good of my family.

    One statement put forth above was that NFP is the greatest buzz kill to the natural desire that surround ovulation of the woman. One of the beauties of NFP is that in a stable relationship, where the woman feels her sexuality and fertility is respected, where she has the chance to take a sanity break between the births, where her husband is not demanding sex-or-else-I-might-sin, than she has the opportunity to develop her sexuality and desire. Believe it or not guys, a woman is able to have that deep desire that we all associate with ovulation at other times, in the deep respect she feels from a partner who puts her above his sexual drive. Knowing that they can decide together that it would not be good to have a baby right now due to home life chaos, a little financial stress, and knowing that this will not push the man to BC, vasectomies, or masturbation, the woman is able to free up some of her heart and mind to the desire that can be cultivated in her heart. The unitive end of marriage can be always further explored and understood when there is a deep trust, time to be with out the pressure of sex, and fulfilled in times other than the heat of ovulation.

    Another factor that seems to be missing from this discussion is the question of the child. We have heard the frustration factor, the needing sex to stay happy and holy factor, the buzz kill of no sex during ovulation, but what we have failed to hear for the most part is the value of NFP, and postponing pregnancy for the sake of the children. Yes the man may have his needs, yes the woman may only want intimacy during ovulation, but what of the 5 kids in 6 years? We are called as married couple to procreate AND EDUCATE, and it is for their sake as well that we are called to look inward and see what sacrifices we can make for them. Maybe it is waiting for another year or so, so that we can find the calm and peace to be loving parents. I would venture to say we cannot sacrifice what I want (sex), or for what may be (yet another life) for what we have been given now.

    Our final point is the question we would like to open to discussion, to start a positive thread and inquiry. The Church in her infinite wisdom has given us NFP and the mandate that every act must be open to life. So the question must be asked, why does she say only this, no list of do’s or don’ts. Our job as rational individuals with an educated developed intellect is to ponder and come to the truth held in these words. What is the wisdom in that ‘every act is open to life.’

    Please respond with your insights and we look forward to the intelligent discussion.

    In the faith

    Life


    • “One of the beauties of NFP is that in a stable relationship, where the woman feels her sexuality and fertility is respected, where she has the chance to take a sanity break between the births, where her husband is not demanding sex-or-else-I-might-sin, than she has the opportunity to develop her sexuality and desire. Believe it or not guys, a woman is able to have that deep desire that we all associate with ovulation at other times, in the deep respect she feels from a partner who puts her above his sexual drive.”

      I have found this to be true, and very meaningful and strengthening to our relationship. However, it does put a lot of pressure on the husband to be this continent if NFP must go on for a long, long time. We had terrific success with this when the reasons to use NFP were relatively short. If we had to do NFP for the rest of our life, it would probably be a different experience. We haven’t experienced that, so I am only guessing.

      On another note, I would like someone to define EDUCATE, as that has shown up in this discussion a few times, all in caps, each time. It has been expressed by my secular friends that unless we can afford college funds for each child, we should not have more. We feel we need to get them solidly through high school, and having siblings is phenomenal education on a practical level. We could maybe afford 2 or 3 college funds, assuming no unexpected financial difficulties. We have 9 children. I truly can not weigh their existence against a college fund. Anyway, I am just curious what “EDUCATION” means in the previous comments.


  94. I think what they are getting at with education is the education of the whole person. I have seen many times in large families where mom is stretched thin and dad is overworked trying to keep the wife happy and the family fed, that the kids get almost forgotten, especially as they leave baby-hood, or get taken advantage of for their helping out abilities. The education spans from what they receive seeing mom and dad and happy and loving together to the attention put into their schooling and everything in between. I think this may be especially relevant with large homeschooling families. I know when I was a kid in a large homeschooling family I and my education always came second after the “good of the family”, in other words helping mom with the kids and the house. As a young teenager playing little mom was pretty cool, but as an adult I am still resentful of how I was prevented from developing myself as a person because I was filling in so much for a mom who was stretched too thin by having so many children and not being able to take care of each one in their different stages of development. Kids really need to know their worth as individuals, and that they are truly and unconditionally loveable ad loved. They also need to see a happy momma who loves her kids, loves her husband, loves her life and herself. As a mother to two small ones now I am already seeing how difficult this can be. Oh, and college funds are not really on m mind, although a little may be helpful to at least encourage the kids to continue their scholastic education.

    On another note, I feel that if extended abstinence is necessary to keep a healthy balance, than it is time to call in the self sacrificial love of Christ who laid down his life for his bride, the Church. Our men are real men if they can do this, and that is what they are called to and should be prepared for when they they enter into marriage. It’s not a big happy free for all of sex, and if any Catholic man thinks that it is, than he is not living up to his vocation. I can’t help but wonder if this is a generational problem: maybe if their fathers had taught them that chastity is a lifelong virtue and lived it out in their own lives with periodic abstinence than it would be easier to understand and put into practice for them now.


  95. After all, God is not calling us to simply populate the world with children, but children who know their dignity and worth, the meaning of love, and who able to sacrifice themselves for the love of others. This is what marriage and family are for.


  96. on July 21, 2011 at 12:24 pm AnonymousBadCatholic

    Life,

    I am not here to argue with anybody, just to share my experiences having gone into marriage fully believing in NFP, having tried very hard for over a decade to believe all I was supposed to believe about it and to experience all I was supposed to experience using it. Wanting it to work in the worst way and having it work in real life were two very different things, of course!

    You say, “One statement put forth above was that NFP is the greatest buzz kill to the natural desire that surround ovulation of the woman. One of the beauties of NFP is that in a stable relationship, where the woman feels her sexuality and fertility is respected, where she has the chance to take a sanity break between the births, where her husband is not demanding sex-or-else-I-might-sin, than she has the opportunity to develop her sexuality and desire. Believe it or not guys, a woman is able to have that deep desire that we all associate with ovulation at other times, in the deep respect she feels from a partner who puts her above his sexual drive.”

    Yes, I can experience that desire outside ovulation. But I can tell you with all honesty that the sexual experience of intercourse during infertile times vs. time around ovulation is completely different. And I’m not talking about orgasm. I’m talking about a kind of completely integrated mind, body, soul experience than I do not experience any other time of my cycle. I could do without orgasm for the rest of my life (not saying I’d like to, mind you—just that I quite honestly could), but giving up that kind of completely integrated, totally soul-melding experience for the rest of my life (since it appears to be hormonally related, I have reason to believe this experience might very well evaporate when menopause occurs) was excruciating. (Please no flaming here—I know this means to many readers that I am simply not courageous enough, and this I am quite sure in light of the letter of Church law).

    The bottom line is that I feel there are no answers for this and because there is nothing anybody can say to change it or make it better (can’t fight Mother Nature, after all), the attitude is either 1) You don’t really feel this way, or it’s all in your head (we were basically told that by the CCL teaching couple when we first talked about our experience wtih it way back in early marriage). I personally find that attitude extremely condescending toward women, or 2)Your husband must be doing something wrong, or you would feel that way all the time. If he was less selfish, you’d feel this way all the time. Which just makes me feel insulted for him—because he is extremely loving and generous in all aspects of our lives but even more so in our sexual expression, so the charge that what I experience is his fault somehow is really offensive.

    Recently I was in a conversation with a girlfriend of mine about some medical procedure she was thinking of having done that was basically for the sake of improving appearance. She wasn’t really strongly considering it, but when I asked why not, she told me it would make her feel like an object to her husband. I’ve known this couple for over 20 years, and her husband is a super nice guy. I was fairly horrified that she would actually think of him in these terms, and I pretty much told her so (I’m a blunt girlfriend, which not everybody appreciates, but this one friend of mine is equally blunt with me, so we work well together). It actually took me a while to process that she could honestly feel that way about him. I did question her at the time if he has ever given her good reason to feel like he objectifies her, and she could not come up with one (he’s not one of the many uber-Catholic guys I know who struggles with porn addiction, he has loved her through all sorts of overweight/health/less-than-drop-dead-gorgeous phases of her life, etc). This couple has serious, and I do mean serious, issues that are really just now coming to a head in their marriage, and perhaps this is just one sign of the problems, but it really made me wonder if a lot of us haven’t been somehow conditioned to believe all men view us as objects. Even the really great guys who love their wives, stick by them through thick and thin, care for their families, etc. It just made me incredibly sad.

    I’m not living in Pollyanna land here; I know men have sexual struggles, and I’m a big believer in remedy for concupiscence being one of the purposes of marriage (depending on what circles you run in, this can be a poliltically incorrect statement—ever since Chris West blew into town, remedy for concupiscence seems to have fallen out of public favor as a legitimate purpose), but to live in a constant fear of my husband objectifying me somehow is just not something that has any real connection to the universe I live in. The fact of the matter is that having had a vasectomy did not somehow turn him into some monster who expects me to be readily available for his sexual pleasure 24/7. With my illness, life with many children, busy work schedules, etc, there are plenty of times of “abstinence” just naturally built into real life. He would never want or “expect” me to make love to him, any more than I would want or “expect” him to make love to me if he was tired, sick, or just plain not in the mood.
    I felt much more pressured when we were using NFP—not by him, but by the system. Pressured to try really hard to get into the mood so I could make the experience as wonderful as possible for him, when actually I was fighting off the urge to make my to-do list for tomorrow in my head. I would rally, and I always end up enjoying the experience (how could I not? What’s not to love when the person you love most in the world wants to make love to you??) on some level, but it was never the same soul-melding experience I get around time of ovulation. So I always felt used on some level—-I had to be sexually available when it felt least good to me because the poor man was rather desperate by that point (we would often have to go for many weeks of abstinence). And I can’t hide anything from my husband (nor would I want to) during lovemaking, so he always knew the difference.
    To be honest, I think that the Church was on to something when She seemed more of the opinion that NFP was a “necessary evil” required at times for very serious reasons to avoid pregnancy. At least that jibed with the real life experience of not only myself but also many others I know. Now that She seems to be teaching NFP is the next best thing since sliced bread or the invention of the wheel—-and even seems to imply at times that anybody who chooses to use Daniel’s SFP method is selfish, incontinent, and missing out on all those wonderful bonding experiences that NFP promises to bring—She seems out of touch with many who have genuinely traveled this road and found NFP to be more of an evil necessity at times that can wreak havoc in a marriage.
    Again, not arguing with anybody here. I just throw out our experiences because I honestly believe that until the real experiences of real people are addressed, NFP proponents are going to continue to have a very hard sell ahead of them, especially as more of the “new wave” post-VatII Catholics trying honestly to adhere to HV start reaching the 15-20-25 yr mark of marriage and realizing just what difficulties and unhappiness are really arising out of living this life. Speaking from personal experience, all the couples we graduated from college with started out with high hopes and a very bright and honest belief that what we were told about NFP—that it wouldn’t be easy but would be so worth it—would actually be something we would experience. The vast majority of couples in this group now feel more like NFP is only worth it because it will keep you from burning for all eternity. I guess having 6,8,10,12 kids, little money, health issues (most of the women in this group have issues of some sort after having been pregnant so often, and some of the men are in pretty bad shape from stress, too), kids with special needs, and everything else that goes along with the day-to-day grind of raising a large family, tends to do that to you.


    • There are good parts to having a large family, lots of them. That seems to be getting lost here. I understand the struggles of which you speak, but really, this is very discouraging. This hasn’t been my experience, the families I know well with many children have difficulties, but by and large, there is a deep satisfaction with the abundance and community. Maybe the group I live by is more honest with each other, and don’t hold each other to impossible standards, thereby making the struggles just a part of life rather than any sort of failure.

      It is funny because now that most of my friends have been married for about 20 or 25 years, and are seeing the after effects of our lifestyle, we are more convinced than ever of the goodness of the churches teaching on marriage and family life. I don’t know why the difference, but while yes, we have had very hard things happen and so have our friends and family, the joy of our family life totally outweighs them.


      • on July 21, 2011 at 1:09 pm AnonymousBadCatholic

        Renee,

        Sorry, I don’t mean to be discouraging, just to share what we have experiences.

        Perhaps we just live in a very small bubble of Catholicism that doesn’t have any real meaning in relation to other people’s experiences.

        And I don’t mean to imply that our friends are bad parents or regret their large-family lifestyle (some of the kids in these families are growing up with some serious issues, but that can be said of many, many families in this world, 2 kids or 12). I don’t regret having a large family for a minute. How could I?

        But like anything else worth it in this world, it come at a price of a whole lot of blood, sweat, and tears. And at some point, some of us are brought to our knees with health issues, financial issues, mental issues, marriage issues, etc, and call it quits in more pregnancies in (what we believe to be, at least)the best interest of the children we already have. And those like me, who have chosen a sinful route to accomplish it, have to confess as well as we can (very imperfectly) and hope and pray God will look mercifully on our circumstances and have some pity on judgment day.


      • Thanks; very true.


      • Oops; “Thanks, very true” meant for Renee. I appreciate the positive and hopeful outlook.


      • Thanks again, Renee. I needed to hear this, because, as you say, this thread’s getting kind of depressing.

        I am aware that barrier methods have been around for centuries — I’m told the ancient Egyptians used a crude version of the diaphragm — but let’s face it: Most of our grandparents and great-grandparents just went with the flow. Now, it is true that there were better support networks back then, and many babies died in infancy (not that this was a good thing!)…but the bottom line, I guess, is that our forebears must have expected suffering and hardship more than we do, so they could deal with it better. Or something.

        Babies, suffering, and sacrifice were just expected as a matter of course. Surely people must have dealt with this somehow or other. I mean, it wasn’t exceptional. It was just…Life Before the Pill. People coped. I don’t know how, but they did. Have we (including myself) lost our ability to cope? Could I endure what my grandparents endured? I doubt it.

        There’s a little working farm from the early 20th-c. up the road apiece from us. The restored farmhouse once housed a family of 14 — with 12 kids: 11 boys and one girl. The 11 boys slept in two beds in one bedroom. The girl slept in a little half-bedroom about the size of a broom closet. There’s a little graveyard near the house, where the babies that didn’t make it are buried. And this was supposedly a pretty prosperous family for the time and place.

        I wouldn’t want to live the incredibly hard lives these people lived. But, as a result of my extreme softness, if I ever faced real hardship, I would crumple.

        Sorry for rambling — and hope I do not offend anyone.


      • on July 21, 2011 at 4:32 pm AnonymousBadCatholic

        Diane,

        People didn’t live nearly as long, either, and women often died in childbirth. It seems about half the children died in infancy. I was just in a cemetery the other day marveling at the suffering, the intense suffering these families went through. So many babies! So many 3 and 4 year olds! So many young women leaving behind grieving husbands and young children—as evidenced by the loving, sweet, and heartbreaking messages left on the tombstones. I was awed and humbled by it all.

        Some of my great-grandparents’ had very large famillies. Some didn’t. I know the diaphragm was pretty popular in the early 1900s, and by the mid-1900s it wasn’t uncommon for women to have unneccessary hysterectomies because their MDs had pity on them. I wanted to ask my grandmother how she managed to have only 4 (indeed, she did express guilt to me once that my grandfather actually wanted one more and she refused), but she was SSPX by the time she died, and I felt uncomfortable asking her such a personal question I felt the honest answer to might make her feel guilty and like a bad example.

        One thing does seem clear to me, though—if all those women and men had been happy living in those very-large-family situations, I highly doubt they would have been so relieved the Pill came along so that their children didn’t have to experience the same hardships (the ancestors of both my husband and myself lived in some very poor and very dysfunctional situations with their large families). Maybe I just missed it, but was there ever some sort of general expression of sadness from all those people who had large families that their children were making a very different decision once birth control was widely available? My impression is more that there was more of a collective sigh of relief that the next generations wouldn’t have to live the same way they had, however wrong-headed that thinking might have turned out to be.

        The promiscuous, self-centered, child-hating and/or free-love advocates of the 60s weren’t the only ones happy when more reliable forms of birth control showed up on the scene, after all. At least as far I can tell.

        Turns out it was a pandora’s box a lot of well-meaning people really had no idea about. It hasn’t exactly turned out to be the panacea so many were hoping for.


    • I’m really enjoying your comments “Bad Catholic” and finding them very insightful. As someone in the age group you describe (I’m 26, got married at 22, practiced NFP to avoid conception, and now have 2 kids.) and a Catholic convert, I’m starting to really question the “bag of goods” I was sold in NFP classes. On the one hand, you hear about the 99% accuracy of the method and nothing about the actual user/failure rate. On the other hand you hear that NFP is about openness to life and embracing any children that come into the marriage. But plan these children, or else you are not being a responsible parent.

      I feel like a failure.

      The possibility of 12 kids is very real to me, as we’re apparently very fertile and still quite young. More NFP scares the S*#%^ out of me.

      And I also felt used by the system, not my husband, when practicing NFP. I was always thinking about my small window of infertile days, and how I needed to make the most of those days because there would be nothing after that for the next 20 days.

      This idea that husbands and wives who aren’t practicing NFP, are USING each other simply doesn’t match up to what I’ve seen among my contracepting friends. They do not feel used.


      • “But like anything else worth it in this world, it come at a price of a whole lot of blood, sweat, and tears. And at some point, some of us are brought to our knees with health issues, financial issues, mental issues, marriage issues, etc, and call it quits in more pregnancies in (what we believe to be, at least)the best interest of the children we already have. And those like me, who have chosen a sinful route to accomplish it, have to confess as well as we can (very imperfectly) and hope and pray God will look mercifully on our circumstances and have some pity on judgment day.”

        I agree whole heartedly, and like someone else said earlier, I won’t stay awake worrying about your salvation; God is most good and merciful, and I trust Him. You are trusting him too, about a different issue (sort of), but just the same we are both depending upon him for our daily bread, and his mercy, and his love. We are in this together, totally.


      • The possibility of 12 kids is very real to me, as we’re apparently very fertile and still quite young.

        Fertility does decrease gradually as you age, though. Most fertile couples don’t end up with 12 kids, even if they go the Catholic & Careless route.

        As a rather fearful, anxious person, I think I can kinda-sorta understand your fears. But I think you can relax a little bit. The likelihood of having 12 kids is very small. It really is.

        How many people do you know with 12 kids, even among your NFP friends? It happens, but it’s rare. I think my grandparents (on both sides) must have been pretty fertile. And I doubt they contracepted. But one couple had six kids, and the other had seven. A full house in each case but far short of 12!

        I know talk is cheap and advice is easy…but y’all do have a roof over y’all’s heads, right? And it sounds as if your parents are willing and able to help out. Why not do a sort of loosey-goosey rhythm method, minus charts and all? I dunno; just a thought.


      • on July 21, 2011 at 4:03 pm AnonymousBadCatholic

        Maybe I just graduated and am related to a whole lot of hyper-fertile people? I know that I was pregnant 10 times in 10 years (6 survived) before my husband had his vasectomy when I was 33 or so. My husband’s brother has 10 surviving (also had several miscarriages in there). Of our good friends, there are couples who have 10 living (they are providentialists and expect they will likely have 12-14 before the fat lady sings—she is younger than I am and has several good years left), 9 (she got married late 20s and so had fewer years before hitting menopause–she also had quite a few miscarriages on top of the living 9; 8 (serious, very serious reasons to avoid from now on–if they weren’t they would likely have 3-4 more as there are quite a few years left there, too), 8 (also with serious reasons—they have gone the virtually no-sex-route and have quite a few years of this ahead of them). We have the smallest family of the vast majority of our friends and family. All of these couples (except the one providentialist couple) have really tried using NFP on and off over the decades to space/avoid/etc (obviously without a whole lot of “success”, for lack of a better term), and most of these women are at least gravida 10 if not more (like I said, quite a few miscarriages in there; the body can only take so much). We also know of other couples who graduated with or slightly before us who do indeed have 12-14. I don’t know them well enough to know if they ever attempted NFP.

        I know one couple who has five (she is an NFP teacher; their last was a “surprise” and they are going the no-sex-before-certain-ovulation-has-occurred route) living. Otherwise, everyone pretty much has a houseful at this point. And we still haven’t gotten to menopause. (A good friend of mine’s mother had her at 48!!! I honestly think that when your body has been pregnant every other year for most of your childbearing years, you tend to be more fertile in your old age than is the norm given what I have seen in my own personal life, but again, maybe I live in some strange little bubble).


      • on July 21, 2011 at 4:11 pm AnonymousBadCatholic

        Also meant to add—every single one of these women breastfed. A few of them tried the ecological breastfeeding/attachment parenting method of family planning, but it didn’t really work very well as a form of birth control.

        I breastfed all of mine, but the ecological thing just wasn’t for us: they all slept through the night by 8 weeks or so (the latest was 3 1/2 months), and I was way too exhausted to even think about waking them up at night to breastfeed in hopes my period wouldn’t come back.


      • BTW–(replying to myself here ;-))

        I should specify that I am the world’s worst woooosss; I freak when we lose our electrical power, and I avoid any sort of hardship like the proverbial plague. I admire all youse guys who are coping with growing families on a very tight budget. NO judgment is intended or implied in my comments, believe me.


      • Don’t worry Dianne, I’m feeling no judgement from you, or anyone else in these comments. That’s one reason I’ve been enjoying this discussion more than others I’ve seen on NFP.

        As for my friends who practice NFP, most of them are young like us. Depending on how long they’ve been married, they have anywhere between 1 and 4 children (all in their mid-twenties to early thirties). An older NFP couple I knew had 7 children by age 35, when they divorced.

        My husband and I are both converts, so I haven’t seen too many NFP families growing up. Most Catholic contracept. In a way we’ve been doing better than some of the friends we graduated with. Two couples were pregnant within the first three months of marriage, while trying to avoid and using NFP. We managed to make it 9 months before pregnancy.

        Needless to say, my real life case studies are also pretty bleak.


  97. Anna, you say this, “children who know their dignity and worth, the meaning of love, and who able to sacrifice themselves for the love of others.”

    And then this, “but as an adult I am still resentful of how I was prevented from developing myself as a person.”

    I am the mom of a large family, and I am having difficulty seeing the middle ground of what you want to happen here. They should develop their own personality (AGREED), but not be asked to sacrifice for the good of the family, at least not too much. I don’t understand. It worries me, that because there is no way I can do all the work here alone, I am overburdening my kids. But, I do not see that teaching them they are part of something bigger than themselves, and are inherently essential to the success of our family is a bad thing. I do depend on all the kids to pitch in here, because this is a team effort, and everyone is a valuable part of the success of our family.

    I have seen so many terrific things about my older children’s relationship with their younger siblings that seem so necessary for them to be fully alive, especially compared to their peers at their high school. Am I just kidding myself here?

    Also, ” It’s not a big happy free for all of sex, and if any Catholic man thinks that it is, than he is not living up to his vocation.” I totally agree with this. Unfortunately, it isn’t that easy, day to day. The spirit may be willing, but the flesh is weak. It is a constant struggle with our fallen selves, both on the sexual front, the caring for others front, the remaining cheerful through exhaustion front, and dealing with many people and personalities in the same family.

    I am not calling the validity of what you say into question, by the way. I just am a little confused. I did not grow up in a large family, as I am the oldest of only 4, but I can say my development as a person took off much more fully as an adult rather than when I was under my parent’s roof. I am still working on that development by the way, and much of who I am now has next to nothing to do with my parents and what they expected of me as a child.


  98. Great point, Renee. Since my kids are still so little and I only have two than I haven’t delved into the experience as a mother of the balance of letting children develop themselves while still teaching them self sacrifice in serving the family. Looking forward to it! Because of my jaded view I will have to be careful to not let my kids get selfish and lazy. I think it is a very difficult balance and that you constantly have to be re-assessing your intentions and your family goals. I am also one of nine; the second oldest. I speak from my own experience but also from the many other children of families similar to mine who have suffered because of not being able to develop themselves while at home. Often times there were other things going on too like emotional or physical abuse to add to the equation, but that is another thing altogether. I think it’s important to treat each child with love and to keep in mind that if momma and dada are stretched too thin than it will just be a lot more difficult to keep everything in good balance.

    Yes, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, but that’s why we just have to stay close to the sacraments, keep family goals in mind and be willing to sacrifice whatever it takes for the good of the marriage/kids/family (not necessarily in that order).


  99. One conclusion I’m drawing from this discussion is that it’s still July 24, 1968. And always will be.


  100. on July 21, 2011 at 2:16 pm AnonymousBadCatholic

    Amen, Mac. The struggles that result from following this teaching will always be with us.

    I don’t want the Church to change its teaching, which may seem strange, but I do think it’s a pandora’s box that there was good reason to keep shut. A few years ago B16 said something about condoms (not the recent brou-haha, this was several years ago) that could be interpreted to mean the Church was going to somehow change its stance (Owen probably knows what I am talking about!, but I honestly can’t remember the details), and it actually depressed me.

    In my opinion, the Church will likely keep holding the line hard in public but taking a much more pastoral approach in the privacy of the confessional, and there will always be some amount of tension because of it.


  101. OK, very personal question…just throwing this out: What about sex right before, during, or after one’s period? The odds against conceiving during this time are pretty high….non? (And, for some reason, at the tail end of menstruation, I was always in the mood.)

    Surely one can avoid pregnancy without going the total-abstinence route? Even if one is Fertile Myrtle?


    • I can tell you with 100% certainty that I have conceived on CD3. And I’d never in my life had a cycle of less than 27 days to that point.


      • Our latest baby was conceived either the day after menstruation ceased or the day after that, when the odds are supposed to 99 to 1…


      • on November 19, 2013 at 6:58 pm AnonymousBadCatholic

        I have a good friend who conceived on CD5 without any signs of fertility (at least that she could detect) and knows that with complete certainty. She had not had a short cycle prior to that incident, either.

        I also have an NFP-instructor friend who had an unplanned pregnancy due to early-cycle lovemaking (can’t remember just how early) with not one single sign of fertility prior. A few hours later, she observed what she believed was fertile mucus, and sure enough, bam!

        But even she acknowledges that if you are being really careful, you shouldn’t have intercourse until end of day prior to being sure ovulation has occurred. So technically it wasn’t an NFP “failure.” They were essentially engaging in “achievement-related” behavior.


  102. Wow!! I was told about this passionate debate by a friend of mine, and while I don’t know most of you who have commented, I hope it’s ok if I jump in with a few thoughts that I’m itching to share.

    A little background about my perspective that might help me relate to a few of you. I’m a Catholic convert and have been married for 4 years, I’m 27 years old and have 3 children. I originally converted from a protestant into the post-Vatican II, SSPX church, which for those of you who aren’t familiar is a very traditional and conservative sect for all practical purposes that very adamantly subscribes to the “SFP.” I left the SSPX side of things when I met my husband and learned about NFP during our marriage prep.

    I had a few concerns about trying to take over God’s job by planning our family and wanted to just be open to having as many kids as God wanted for us and according to His divine timing…. Until we were the quintessential new Catholic parents who are also still very newly weds! We were overwhelmed and joked that we wouldn’t be able to look at each other without getting pregnant.

    Needless to say like someone commented before (not sure the analogy they used) but to me it’s kind of like saying sit and wait for God to drop manna from Heaven when you’re hungry instead of walking over to the fridge and making yourself a sandwich. God gave us free will, the ability to reason and plan for these types of purposes. What I mean is, it’s ok to plan your family and you can successfully do so without abortificant BC, condoms or other intervention that is against the churches teachings.

    So we realized this and signed up for Creighton and had a horrible experience. I had no idea when I was fertile. Our instructor charged us every time we wanted her to look at our charts. And even then I felt like she was withholding info from us each time just so we’d have to sign up for the next session. It was awful.

    So we felt like we were basically doing “SFP” once again with a LOT of abstinence until we decided we wanted to have another baby. He was planned, but I would have to admit we weren’t relying on the rules of NFP as much as we were just abstaining an extra lot just in case until we were ready.
    Well, that didn’t take long again either, as we joke before my husband seriously basically looked at me and we were pregnant again! So after baby #2 we decided we needed to do something or we would have 20 kids. So we decided to try another NFP method and tried teaching ourselves… well that was frustrating too and talk about thinking you know what’s going on and then not. Finally, I decided if I was going to do this it was go big or go home!

    So I decided to become a sympto-thermal instructor.

    While learning the method I hated the thermometer. I thought it was ridiculous and hard to remember. But after a while I just became part of the routine. As natural as brushing your teeth every day is I suppose. I’m sure when the “cave men” were first given tooth brushes they thought it was a “science experiment” but now would you go a few days without brushing your teeth?? It’s just part of the price for good hygiene and less problems down the road.

    I did also learn a lot regarding the benefits of NFP to a marriage. I won’t go into that, because Anna and Life and a few others have already commented great thoughts on this. But I will say that I didn’t feel like we started fully appreciating THAT side of it until I felt like we were confident in practicing the method.

    So for those of you who feel “deceived” or “fooled” or “tricked” by NFP I encourage you to consider if you have given it a fair chance. It’s taken me almost 4 years to “master” it myself and I have to admit that I still call my mentor with questions from time to time. Now, as an instructor myself I literally have new clients who email me every night leading up to the fertile time and until they are completely infertile to double check their signs. And I love it! I don’t mind at all and I know a few of my friends who are also instructors who do the same thing for their clients. Ironically, the clients are usually right, it’s just nice to double, triple, quadruple check until you gain confidence to take off the training wheels. Obviously I don’t charge every time for looking at a chart and I promise from the beginning that I or at least a ST instructor will be available anytime through our organization for as long as there is the ST method.

    The longer you practice and the better you get at understanding your signs the less days of abstinence you have. That doesn’t mean those days are any easier for some couples to avoid. Personally, my husband and I are like starving animals on the first day of CIT and it’s usually our best sex of the month! I know that wasn’t the case when we feel like it’s available any time, all the time. We plan for that night, look forward to it and make it special. Kind of like a honeymoon night.

    This goes back to Life’s argument that I love:
    “Where she has the chance to take a sanity break between the births, where her husband is not demanding sex-or-else-I-might-sin, than she has the opportunity to develop her sexuality and desire. Believe it or not guys, a woman is able to have that deep desire that we all associate with ovulation at other times, in the deep respect she feels from a partner who puts her above his sexual drive.”

    Hope this helps for some of you who are doubting the method. It CAN work. I’ve heard of more success stories than failures.

    I’ll close with this, like one of the last few comments said, I think the church will stay black on white publically on this, but there will always be special circumstances, exceptions and alternatives for couples given in the confessional or one on one with a priest. I’ve heard many priests actually surprise couples with their responses. No one is a Good or Bad Catholic if their heart is in the right place. It is no one’s place to judge and we’re not out here in the dark either!! There is no reason to silently suffer and let your marriage deteriorate because you feel like you don’t have options. God wants us to come to Him, He wants us to seek answers. But they won’t always fall into your lap from thin air. ASK!!!! Every family has their own unique needs.


  103. on July 21, 2011 at 4:47 pm AnonymousBadCatholic

    I have a good friend who conceived on day 5 of her cycle, never having (to her knowledge) ovulated before day 11-12 previously in her life. Not a single sign of it, either (of course, if there had been, it might have been obscured by end of period discharge). Her husband’s sperm must have been quite the swimmers and survivors. She was in shock. She knows it absolutely had to occur on that day because they were hardly having any sexual relations whatsoever in their strong need for avoidance of a pregnancy at the time.

    This is also how my NFP teacher friend became pregnant unexpectedly. Sex right after period with not a single sign of fertility prior. A few hours after the fact she saw some fertile-type mucus and called me in a bit of a panic. I tried to calm her down, but it turns out her instincts were dead on, and she had indeed gotten pregnant.

    As for me……..well, let’s just say that for the heavy bleeders of the world, it’s a bit unappealing (although my husband really doesn’t seem to mind—it’s me that feels rather gross about the whole thing).

    The reason we feel desire at the end of our periods is likely because ovulation in approaching.

    After years of practicing (and obviously “failing”) NFP, we go to the point where we joked that the very first question to ask (even prior to checking the chart, which was always a mess anyway, even with yellow stamps) was “Do I (the woman) feel any more interested in sex than say, cleaning the bathroom?” If the answer was yes, the answer to whether we could make love without real risk of pregnancy was a resounding NO!

    Humor really is one of the best medicines to get you through life; at least that is what we have found as a couple.


  104. on July 21, 2011 at 5:21 pm AnonymousBadCatholic

    Believe, you even have me believing! :) Thank you for sharing your story—I didn’t want to be the only posting here and depressing everybody with my story, because after all, my experience is simply that: mine!

    But I do honestly want to ask you if you ever come across other women whose temp charts look like the teeth in a Halloween jack-o-lantern? Because that is what mine looked like, and to this day I really have no idea why. We tried sympto-thermal methods twice. The first time we were newly married, and we honestly didn’t care if we became pregnant—I had started trying to chart a couple months before the wedding just to start learning my cycle in case we needed to use NFP later on. My first problem is that I am a bad sleeper and therefore waking up at the same time each morning wasn’t practical. So I figured that was the problem. But after we were married, my husband was kind enough to set an alarm to wake up at the same time each morning to take my temp. And we still had the monster-teeth phenomenon! Plus I was quite resentful (not proud of this aspect of my character, but no point in pretending it isn’t what it is) that he would go right back to sleep, and then I was stuck lying awake, crabby and tired the rest of the day.

    Because we had no real reason to avoid (and indeed, were not even avoiding fertile times, just charting to try to figure things out), we tossed it after a couple months. I had not taken formal training and figured that was part of the problem, too. The amazing part is that I didn’t get pregnant until we had been married nearly a year—nothing short of a gift from God and a miracle given how fertile I later turned out to be.

    Fast forward a few years, and I have had two children in 15 months and am exhausted, suffering from rather significant post-partum depression, breastfeeding, and broke. So we sign up for CCL. And start taking those temps again, feeling tired and resentful having to set the alarm every morning. And start seeing the jagged teeth again. Plus I have mucus ALL the time. After a few months of it, the instructor simply looks at the chart, looks at us, and tells us that sometimes he and his wife have to go for 6-12 months with no lovemaking. WHAAAAA??!! We were in our mid-20s, madly in love on many different levels (well, we still are, actually LOL), and felt like it would have to be a deathbed issue (it wasn’t) to warrant a year of abstinence. We left that meeting, tossed the charts out the window (figuratively!), and I was pregnant within three weeks. Miscarried that one–it was really difficult emotionally because we actually saw the baby on ultrasound wiggling and looking as healthy as could be, even though I had started bleeding at 8 1/2 weeks. A week and a half later the baby was dead, we were devastated, and it was back to trying to figure out some way of not getting pregnant for 6 months because part of the tissue looked partially molar and the MD said I really had to wait to make sure it wasn’t. We somehow winged it with lots of abstinence, a bit of chart use, and a lot of prayers. Made it the 6 months, went to the MD who gave the okay for another pregnancy, went home and tossed what charts we had, and I literally became pregnant that night. Lost that baby, too, which was hard in a whole different kind of way.

    It was after that that we went with Creighton, figuring my body just wasn’t suited to the symptothermal method. But truth be told, I think I could have liked that method (sympto-thermal) if I had figured out my sleep issues and the jagged teeth syndrome wasn’t there. I love order, and those sample charts we were shown looked so explainable and understandable. Mine just never looked like what it was supposed to. If it had worked for us, it still wouldn’t have resolved some of our NFP issues (feeling used by having to be available when it felt least good to me), but it might have resolved enough of them that we could have found some way of living that was doable for us over the long term.

    I admire you for helping others, sharing your story, and exhibiting great charity and empathy throughout.


  105. In following this thread as it develops I note the “competing” narratives of NFP experience – some folks here with large families espouse that it (NFP and/or large family life) has worked for them and worked for most of the folks they know who have gone that route. Others here state that it has not worked for them, or has come with a number of devastating consequences, and these folks describe the majority of their friends who have gone the NFP and/or large family route as being in similar dismal positions.

    This radically contrasted set of narratives is interesting. I wonder what factors might be at play behind the “Me & my friends have done it and been exceedingly blessed” vs. “Me & my friends have done it and been cursed (or had a really shitty not what we had hoped for go at it)” experiences shared on this thread. In particular, I wonder if socio-economic factors are at play in the different “camps” of NFP with large family experience we read about here… I wonder if it would shed any light on my reading the opinions of each person on this thread if after each name there was a detailed description of their yearly household income during their married years, the locations they have lived (one can “survive” with 7 kids on 40k a year here in Memphis, but maybe not in CA), and what health insurance if any each person has had over the years. In other words, to what degree does poverty and socio-economic status relate to the experience of large family life? Some here seem to suggest that in their experience, the large family and rapid fire pregnancies brought about the poverty, so I realize the relationship between large family life and socio-economic status is hard to analyze. But I suspect some of the folks commenting here went into their marriages with a great deal of financial security, and I wonder to what degree this colors their experience of NFP & large family life.

    For the record, I only have 3 kids, my wife has had 4 pregnancies in our 12 years of marriage – one 2nd trimester miscarriage and then 3 healthy daughters, now ages 6, 4, and 2. My wife very much does not want to have another child anytime soon if ever because of some serious health issues she is currently facing (and we have no health insurance and thus can’t really address her health problems); perhaps death might just be our means of birth control in our(my) remaining middle age years. Our best friends have had 6 live births and a few miscarriages (both of them came from families having 10 or more kids, and both their families growing up were severely dysfunctional, leading them initially to use ABC but then they changed their minds for a decade, and now use ABC again following a death of an infant to SIDS and an accident leaving another infant severely disabled and in need of constant attention and care – if some man were to ever give them the “courage” talk about being “open to life” I would beat the shit out of him), my old sponsor in the RCC has 11 children (his family has struggled intensely with a host of health issues but thanks be to God they live in a state with a safety net not yet taken apart by Republicans), another of my closest friends has 9 kids (family seemingly solid as a rock). Over the years we have gone to church (at a number of parishes, mostly Orthodox, now Catholic) with a few couples who have 10+ children and also perhaps a score of couples who are running 5+. Most of these large families are doing well, some are not. Most of these larger families we know we came to know through parish life over the years. We would not have gotten to know most of these couples otherwise because most of them come from upper middle class backgrounds and my wife and I are working class people who live in a working class neighborhood and outside of church life have working class social circles. Anyway, the vast majority of people we know with a husband and a wife who have, together, 5 or more children (I know plenty of folks at work who have more than 5 kids, but those were had through a plethora of paramours) come from upper middle class or outright wealthy backgrounds. Among working class and poor large families (with husband and wife having all the children together) on our radar, the one family we have been close to, along with the couple/few others we have watched from a distance, have had a largely negative, indeed, catastrophic, experience of large family life.

    To what degree do folks here think that finances and access to health care determine or tend to determine the experience of large family life as either positive and fulfilling or negative and heart-wrenching?


    • Well here’s my background, though I know I’m setting myself up for “spoiled gen-y” comments:

      In my four years of marriage, we have lived in 4 different locations. The first was a college town in TX. I was working in middle management at a retail store while my husband finished college. We applied to grad schools together, and both were accepted into one in New York City. I found out I was pregnant the week after we accepted our grad school offers. I had no health insurance and couldn’t get on public assistance in TX. I paid for my prenatal visits out of my pocket.

      When we moved to New York, I could get on Medicaid and thankfully had no problems when delivering our baby because at this point we were far away from family and with very few friends. After the baby was born we tried to continue graduate school, but we could not afford childcare in NYC and we both needed to work our student jobs to pay rent.

      We dropped out of graduate school, so my husband could take a job teaching in Nashville through a program designed to recruit teachers. That ended up working well for just over a year, but then the school district decided to get rid of a bunch of new teachers. Due to inane policies in the district, he couldn’t be rehired in Nashville. We needed money and health insurance because at this point I was 5 months pregnant with baby #2.

      He got a job as an over-the-road trucker, which left me alone, pregnant, and taking care of our 18 month old by myself. The policy was that for every week on the road, he could have one day off. He got paid per mile when carrying cargo, but being the new guy, he got an old and neglected truck. He was always having to get the truck repaired, and getting paid nothing while waiting around for his truck to be fixed. So basically, he was gone all the time and getting paid nothing. He quickly learned that most truckers do not have families. We got behind on our bills, but I was able to get on public assistance, which helped with the birth.

      Finally, after getting evicted from our apartment, my husband’s parents offered to let us come live with them. They are paying for him to go back to school to get a degree in engineering, since they didn’t have to pay for his education the first time around (He was a National Merit Scholar). Hopefully he will be able to get a job in four years. We found out the hard way that Philosophy degrees “don’t pay S*&%.”

      So my problems with NFP have to do with feeling like a failure. Each time we had a baby, our plans were completely derailed. We now don’t even have a bank account and are complete moochers off my husband’s parents. We were given opportunities to succeed and become financially secure but unplanned pregnancies threw this off course. Money cannot buy happiness, but it can buy stability, and children NEED stability. Thankfully my husband’s parents can pay for our stability. But really, I need to stop having babies, so we can become financially independent again.


  106. This is a really wrenching issue to me, because I would like to be a faithful Catholic and practice NFP, but my wife will have nothing to do with it. We tried it, but had a surprise pregnancy within a couple of months, probably because her chart looks like the teeth described above, has a cycle length that can vary from 28 days to 40, and mucus all the time. She has no faith in the method whatsoever, so it is either use condoms or no sex.

    I can’t think of any good solution to this, so perhaps I can simply ask for your prayers.


  107. on July 21, 2011 at 6:39 pm AnonymousBadCatholic

    Well, I have always been a firm believer that money does not bring happiness. But having lived without it through some tough circumstances and now being in a more stable place (not wealthy, by any stretch of the imagination, but at least stable), I can attest to the fact that having it can make going through other stressors in life a heck of a lot more doable.

    I think the reason we know of so many large-family, tough-luck stories is two-fold: 1) none of our friends are wealthy, most work in some sort of Church or other low-income capacity—at least low-income in relation to family size, most of the wives stay home to raise the family, and 2) most of our friends/acquaintances know they can talk to us and we are not going to get up on our high horse and condemn them for being failures. Many of them would never be this honest with anybody outside the “circle”; they feel the need to be a good example to the rest of the contracepting world, and if the contraceptors found out how hard life really was for these families, they might be turned away from ever thinking about the NFP/large-family lifestyle. (Keep in mind that we have kept completely quiet about my husband’s procedure—we have followed a strict don’t ask/don’t tell policy with our conservative Catholic family and friends. And luckily nobody has asked.)

    We all look very,very good in Church. We personally get complimented on our large family all the time (I am always quick to point out to anybody who gets too gushy and breathless that we are just as likely to be dysfunctional as the next family, and it is just by the grace of God that nobody has turned out to be a delinquent—yet, anyway Check back next week, and it might be a different story). Many of these large families are the ones that Catholics desperately searching for some tradition to hang onto get tremendously excited to see. It’s a heavy burden to be a shining beacon of light, especially when life at home is actually very, very difficult. I suppose it is a relief for some of these couples to be able to be honest about what life is really like with us.

    Right now I make close to 100K/yr. (I never, EVER thought I would be able to say that—God is good!) I don’t want to give out details that might reveal who we are, but let’s just say we live in a place where 100K, especially with our size family, really doesn’t go THAT far. My husband isn’t bringing in much at all right now (again don’t want to give too many details, sorry to be vague, it’s a small world), so I don’t know what our yearly income will actually turn out to be. He’s working very, very hard on a project that we hope will be financially rewarding (it really should be), and I am extremely proud of him.

    When we were going through the worst of our financial problems (homeless, low-income housing, etc), he was making in the low 20s. We had 4 kids at the time. This was between 10-15 years ago now. I can honestly say that without some sort of miraculous intervention of God (like winning lottery?!), we are only here now because I quit getting pregnant once a year. I could never have moved this far (getting some further education really helped), both getting and moving up in my career in about 9 years if I were still getting pregnant yearly. And suffering with my chronic illness exacerbated by all those pregnancies/breastfeeding/miscarriages. Since no winning lottery tickets came our way (not that we ever bought them!), it was years of school, hard work in the trenches, and a tough second job for my husband that got us to where we are today.


  108. on July 21, 2011 at 6:44 pm Daniel Nichols

    Yes, Owen, I wonder about the same thing; while money doesn’t buy happiness, it sure cushions against a lot of life’s miseries.
    I also note that a couple of the enthusiasts are quite young- 20s- and their families are not huge at this poiint…


    • I just don’t know about this. Look at the Kennedy’s. As far as I can tell they have had a good deal of misery. Death, murder, mahem, illnesses just like everyone else.

      Look at all of these “rich” people. Many of them have totally miserable lives as far as I can see.

      How about it rains on the just and unjust alike


  109. AnonBC – lines like this just make me want to cry

    “In my opinion, the Church will likely keep holding the line hard in public but taking a much more pastoral approach in the privacy of the confessional, and there will always be some amount of tension because of it.”

    Not cry for grief but because it is such a wrong headed understanding. “The Church will likely keep holding the line hard in public but take a much more pastroal approch in private”???????

    I take it you mean by pastoral something contrary to “hard” meaning not so hard meaning will let you use ABC?

    What your saying is no different than saying ” I think the church will always take a hard line against murder in public but will take a more pastoral approach in private”.

    First of all the Church is not holding the line or taking a line it is recognizing a line. Kind of like recognizing that big bright light in the night skies called the moon.

    How about this. I think that the Official policy of the Church will always be that the moon is one big rock orbiting the earth – at least in public this will be its official position but in private some churchman will recognize that it could really be a big ball of cheese?

    I am not trying to ridicule but I do think your statement is ridiculous.

    Believe said something similar

    “I think the church will stay black on white publically on this, but there will always be special circumstances, exceptions and alternatives for couples given in the confessional or one on one with a priest. I’ve heard many priests actually surprise couples with their responses.”

    If people understood that the Church is not “taking a position” but recognizing a reality then you’d understand that this type of statement is just wrongheaded.
    The Church does not create the natural moral law. It recognizes it and teaches it.

    Here is the thing. You’ve obviously struggled with the issue. You have your reasons and you and your husband felt pushed over the edge perhaps. I’m not going to condemn you but I do think the decisions that you and your husband made was the wrong one unfortunately. I dont agree with what Believe said when she said “It is no one’s place to judge….”

    Actually its our place to judge some things and to have opinions. We cannot judge the state of another persons soul but we can make some judgements about certain actions. Murder is always wrong, The use of artificial birth control is always wrong as well. That is just the natural law plain and simple. Its not something the Church made up.


    • If it is such an obvious, natural law, why is the Catholic Church pretty much alone on this issue? Even the Orthodox (well, most jurisdictions, anyway) do not absolutely forbid the use of birth control.


      • David – I did not say it as an obvious natural law. I said that it is “just the natural law plain and simple”. Its an expression. Simple does not mean obvious. The law itself is simple – not complex. This does not mean its easy to grasp.

        Ill give you an argument.

        When you frustrate the end of a natural act you act against nature.
        Contraception frustrates the end of a natural act
        Therefor contraception is against nature.

        Now, the conclusion of that argument is a simple. It predicates one thing – not many. Whether you agree with its premises is another matter but this is all I mean by plain and simple.

        Coming to understand what it means to frustrate the end of a natural act may be a complex and difficult task. There are many questions one could ask.
        What is nature? Is there such a thing?

        I would say part of our problem today is most people do not believe in nature or the natural law.

        The Catholic Church is pretty much alone because it alone is guided by the Author of all life.


    • FWIW, the Church does not teach, and has never taught, that murder is always wrong. The Church has always argued that there are times when murder is not sinful. Not only not sinful, but just, ie war, defense of self or others, or execution of dangerous criminals.


      • Don’t you mean that “the Church does not teach, and has never taught” that killing is always wrong? Murder is always wrong, killing is not always wrong.


  110. on July 21, 2011 at 7:16 pm AnonymousBadCatholic

    Well, no need to kill the messenger, James!

    If you don’t like it, take it to all those priests in the confessional who are a lot more merciful and empathetic to us sinners of the world than apparently you would like them to be. It is what it is. Other people are sharing the same experiences.

    It did occur to me after I typed the word “pastoral” that the term might cause a problem. It’s probably not the right one. In any event, what is happening inside the confessional is not what is happening in these Catholic bubbles where the contraception issue is the one defining issue that decides if you are a true Catholic or a CINO (Catholic in name only, in case any of you haven’t run into the abbreviation anywhere before) who should just leave the Church already, damn it. There doesn’t seem to be any room for any of us who knew and accepted the Church teaches it is wrong—and indeed believe there are very good reasons for this teaching–, did it anyway, and confessed with a very imperfect contrition in the hopes we won’t burn for all eternity for it.

    I’m not the enemy here, and I don’t want the Church to change its teaching. I freely admit we failed on this one, big time. I hope and pray God will be more merciful than so many of the Good Catholics I know (this is why we keep it quiet—we really would be marginalized by a lot of them in the sense that nobody would take anything we had to say seriously if they knew what sinners we actually were).

    My main point is simply that there seems to be some sort of serious dichotomy in how the Church approaches NFP—somewhere along the line it went from “evil necessity” (actually, as far as I understand it, at least some of the the early Church fathers actually condemned it) to “best thing since sliced bread”. My personal opinion is that the “evil necessity” view jibes more with what a lot of us have experienced and that the “best thing since sliced bread” view is causing a lot of disillusionment for honest Catholics who really do want to do the right thing and live by HV.

    I’m sorry if this makes you angry. I don’t think natural law is something the Church made up, and I believe in my heart that there are consequences every time you break it. When my husband decided on the vasectomy, I thought long and hard about the increased risk of prostate cancer. You can’t cheat Mother Nature and not expect to pay a price for it. But with us, letting Mother Nature take its course very likely would have ended up with a much earlier death for me, and many other negative consequences for our family. So we made a decision and will have to accept the consequences for it, both here and in eternity.


    • Anon – Im not killing the messenger Im trying to focus on the message. I do not claim any moral superiority. Thats not my point. To whom much has been given much will be expected. I have been given much and because I have squandered much Ill really am in no position to even pass judgement on the souls of anyone else. I am merely talking about your opinion.

      I don’t think you should “leave the church already damn it” and you do not make me angry. Everyone has their own trials. I would not for a minute condemn you as a person in any way shape or form. God bless you.

      I think you and I both agree that the use of artificial birth control is wrong.

      My attempt was to focus not on you but on what the Church teaces and why.
      Necause the natural moral law does not change then the Church’s position on the matter will never change.

      Also though about NFP. I think many here are misunderstanding the Church’s’ position on that as well. While many Catholics, DRE’s, Parish counselors and others may think that NFP is the best thing since sliced break I would tend more more or less to agree with your opinion about it being an “evil necessity”. That is closer I think to the truth. The church does not call it evil though. The Church says it is allowable for grave circumstances. That is a far cry from best thing since sliced bread.

      I would go so far as to say that while many Catholics encourage it the Church actually discourages it – you can only resort to it for grave reasons.

      Anon – keep the faith and I beg a quick prayer from you that I keep mine.


  111. on July 21, 2011 at 8:24 pm Daniel Nichols

    I have heard of other aftereffects of vasectomy, which in my opinion is mutilation, damaging something that is healthy.
    Which does not mean at all I am not sympathetic. I truly do not know what I would do if I were in your husband’s position.
    In the Orthodox churches there is the notion of “economia”, where a priest may excuse someone, for particular reasons, from observing what is otherwise commanded. Now, sometimes this is something like observing the fasts, ie, Church law. Catholics do not have a problem with this.
    But other times this entails what Catholics view as demands of the moral law, like using some form of ABC. Catholics do not see how the Church could do this (though what was permitted in the Old Testament seems to indicate that God can relax the objective moral order in light of human weakness).
    So,,,Catholics basically hold to the immutability of the moral order, but in practice? In practice you have the vast majority of Catholics contracepting without a second thought, and marching up to communion every Sunday, and how many homilies have your heard about this, which in light of official teaching is a major crisis? And the vast majority of annulments granted, at least in the USA, for the most trivial of reasons. As I have noted here before, Newt Gingrich is notable only for his fame; I have a former close friend who committed adultery, divorced his wife, got an annulment, and married the adulterous honey in the Church,
    The bride wore white.
    And you have the vast majority of Catholics, even Good Bad Catholics like our friend here, confessing something they know the Church teaches is wrong, but are not really sorry for, and getting absolution, and not just from Those Liberals either.
    Life, and Church life, are messy in the extreme.


  112. We have had it all, big income, no income, pregnancies at fine times, and at disastrous times. We have always been self pay for medical expenses due to self employment and only having a catastrophic plan. Once we had medicare because we had no income for nearly 2 years, and no choice. Our families have been able to help in bits (a month of groceries, invite to dinner, watch the kids) but not on a large scale. We are shocked to still have our house, due to two times of no income, but somehow we managed to keep up our payments. We have the vehicles we need now, but have had to sell them in the past to buy groceries. My husband has been a janitor at times so we could buy groceries, on top of his other jobs that barely covered housing. Now he is working well, and we are grateful.

    The rubber may hit the road in the future, because we are taking one year at a time, and eventually we may lose this house and we may have scramble to educate the younger set. I don’t know, we are trying to let the day’s trouble be sufficient for the day, and if we ever get ahead, we’ll sock some away for the future. We are probably the best off of our friends and family. No one has much beyond what they need now, everyone is in some, if not extreme, debt, and there are a fair share of disabilities amongst us (none in my family, currently). But, we live in a nice house, in a nice neighborhood, and have what we need. We have learned that financial security is a facade, and can disappear in one day. If my husband were to become disabled, we would be finished financially, and I don’t know what we would do. We have learned to live one day at a time and be as grateful as possible, and pray the prayer of Esther, “Lord, save me from my fear.”


    • “My husband has been a janitor at times so we could buy groceries, on top of his other jobs that barely covered housing. Now he is working well, and we are grateful”

      Tell your husband that I think he is a hero Renee!


      • on July 22, 2011 at 11:18 am AnonymousBadCatholic

        I do often think about the fact that my husband and I both have educations and even with that huge advantage in this world, we still struggled like crazy to get where we are today.

        The question of what Catholics without such advantages have to go through as far as struggling with following Church teaching while living in real poverty is one most of us here probably haven’t had to really wrestle with.

        I do know that living in low income housing was a real eye-opener to me. When you are poor, you really lose control over a lot of your life–especially in the situations your children are going to be exposed to and the kinds of friends they are going to have and consequently be formed by. When most of the kids in the neighborhood are growing up disadvantaged, exposed to Mom’s multiple boyfriends, Dad’s frequent drunkennes and the resulting beatings, roaming gangs of kids selling drugs, and various abuses of all sorts, those are going to realistically be your children’s friends and companions during the formative years. It’s not like you can keep them locked up in a cage, after all. And it’s not like you have the means to move or to put them in better schools.

        Living in poverty is no blessing when it comes to trying to raise your children, that’s for sure. And when having child after child prevents you from ever having the opportunity of breaking the cycle, there are no simple answers. It’s easy for us to sit behind our white picket fences and intellectualize it all, but in the down and dirty real life where most of the rest of the world lives, decisions aren’t so easy. Again, it’s very messy.


    • That a temporary state of working a second job as a janitor is given as an example of substantial financial hardship reveals a great deal, and inclines me to think that my hunch was correct.


      • Owen, did you notice the plural, “Jobs”. Not job. Please, I don’t think we deserve your derision simply because you think we have it easy. I am grateful for the blessings we have received, but it has not been easy.
        And I think my husband is a hero, too, because he is willing to take on the heavy weight of providing for us. He is my hero, at any rate.


      • Renee,

        0-30k
        30-50k
        50-75k
        75-100k
        100k+

        Over the course of the last 10 years, which income category has your family usually been in? Before the recession my wife and I were in the 50-75k category. Since then we have been in the 30-50k category, closer to 30 than 50k, but having lost health insurance after my layoff, we have had nearly 30k in med bills the last two years as well.

        My “point,” which has not yet been asserted but here were go, is that people with substantial “blessings” in the finances front are simply being cute when they become cheerleaders for NFP and/or the big Catholic family.

        Most males under the age of retirement living in my neighborhood (among those whose situations I know, perhaps 15 or so) have worked multiple jobs since the rescission hit. Grant it, some of them sell dope as a second income, but they provide for their families in doing so. I cannot think of one non-management person in my shop who works only one job currently. Working two or three jobs is not heroic, it is not some special state of affairs, it is simply a rather normative state of being non-union working class in an America that is anti-union and anti-worker and increasingly given over to shock doctrine capitalism. And taking a second or third job as a night janitor is usually a hell of a lot better than much of what is out there in terms of low pay low skill or no skill work.


      • Our income has been all over the map, as my husband is self employed (except when he had to get the janitor job to buy us groceries). I use the the term “blessings” truthfully, because some of the advantages we have had have nothing to do with what we have or haven’t done. We grew up in families that made it a priority to raise us in a stable, loving, consistent environment, get us a good educations, help us get ourselves our college degrees (by living at home and letting me use a car). My husband and I both have college degrees (that we paid for ourselves), and my husband worked and went to grad school (and paid for it as he went) after we were married. While he was in grad school, he worked days, went to school at nights, and meanwhile we had 5 children. I had a professional career that I quit when we had children so I could be home with them. We worked for all this, but the opportunity to attain it was possible for us, and that is the blessing I am referring to.

        We have managed to stay in our home throughout, and we have welcomed children throughout because that is what happened to us. We have tried to space and had it work, we have tried to space and had it “fail”. The life we have now is part work, part fate, part circumstance.

        What I don’t understand is why the hostility towards us from you because we have welcomed more children into our home than some other people? I haven’t said a word about “others” being bad, wrong, evil, lazy, slackers. Nothing (because I don’t believe that in any way). Why does our life and the way we have lived it, incorporating Church teaching in every aspect we can, cause resentment? Would it have been better for me to say, “Well, we have had times of good income, but because there are those that are poor, we decided against having any more children so they won’t feel bad”. I get that by circumstance I wasn’t born into the kind of grinding poverty that would make our family size a disaster. But no where have I stated that everyone should have the same number of children we have had. I just said we found NFP frustrating and irritating and not very effective, so we went with the alternative of having more children. That’s it. Oh, and that there are joys that come along with that, as well as the obvious hardships and worries.

        We get it from both sides I guess. The folks in our income level (when we have one) think we are idiots for having so many kids, stupid brainless religious people who can not think for themselves. Then there are people like you, Owen, who castigate us for having life to too easy and therefore having a large family is really not such a big deal, isn’t hard enough and has no credibility in this sort of discussion. What I think is that we are both on the same side, trying our best to fight on the front lines of the battle against the culture of death, using our state in life to do the best we can. This includes more than just having lots of kids. This included seeing the inherent dignity and value of all people, regardless of their income and material success and country of birth, it included fighting for justice and it includes caring for those around us and building a community that sustains each others dignity and humanity. Our goal is to be “fully alive”, and I do not think income level or number of children define that for us. It is how we live as humans, how we treat each other, how we truly love our neighbor. And in this regard, are we really so different, Owen?


      • “Then there are people like you, Owen, who castigate us for having life to too easy and therefore having a large family is really not such a big deal, isn’t hard enough and has no credibility in this sort of discussion.”

        Well, yeah, that’s pretty much it. Generally speaking, anybody with a household income of over 6 figures or so is really just being cute when talking about the struggles of big family life and being faithful to the demands of Christ and all that song and dance. They have their reward in this life anyway and will likely be no more than hell fodder in the next because of their decadences. I once went to a parish that had a family with then 10, now 11 kids. They have not one, but two Humvees (one of them a stretch sort of thingie). Maids cleaned the house, all those kids in extracurricular activities like soccer and ballet and what not. And a big nice house in a wealthy suburb to round it all out. Big family piety in such a context is something of a farce. But that family still got all the “I just don’t know how you do it” comments. Hell, I could run a household with 20 kids if I had a maid, a cook, a hired lawn crew to take care of the lawn, and didn’t have to spend time fixing my cars myself, etc., etc. Life with servants and a plethora of niceties is not real life.

        I’m much more interested in hearing how people (over the age of 40 who have been doing the big family thing for awhile – it seems some of the happy clappy NFP folks one finds on Catholic blogs are young and not yet so familiar with the exhaustion life brings) have managed to make it with big families and working class incomes/circumstances.


      • Okay Owen. I guess we are somewhere in the middle. Nice enough house, functional cars, shop at Aldi and thrift stores, and no hired staff (except piano teacher). But I think you need to know you can’t buy the ability to raise children well. Serious business it is, and that is how my husband and I approach it. God love you and keep you.


      • BTW, I’m 45, for what it is worth. Been doing this for a while and will be for some time to come.


  113. “And you have the vast majority of Catholics, even Good Bad Catholics like our friend here, confessing something they know the Church teaches is wrong, but are not really sorry for, and getting absolution…”

    It seems to me that the narrative AnonBadCath presents on this thread gives every indication of of her penitence post her husbands vasectomy, and nothing she has said indicates that she or her husband would not, by Rome’s own canonical standards, be able to make a valid confession.. I’m not sure what you mean by “not really sorry for.” Could you clarify?


  114. on July 21, 2011 at 8:42 pm AnonymousBadCatholic

    “I have heard of other aftereffects of vasectomy, which in my opinion is mutilation, damaging something that is healthy.”

    Agree with you completely. So far none of the other after effects have occurred, but we are only about 7-8 years post-procedure and have many years yet ahead of us. I can’t emphasize enough my belief that you can’t cheat Mother Nature without paying a price somewhere along the line. It was a risk vs. benefit analysis for us, and while so far the benefits have been huge, eventually the scales may tip in the other direction, and don’t think we don’t know it.

    Good grief, don’t get me started on Newt! I was once on a flight that had to make an emergency landing, and Newt happened to be onboard (now this really might reveal who we are—if i know any of you, please have the kindess to stick to the don’t ask-don’t tell rule), and when my husband tried to reassure me that the pilots weren’t going to let the plane go down because Newt was on it, my reply was that God just might have decided it was time to strike him down, and we happened to have had the bad luck to be along for the ride.

    I tell my husband all the time that if this marriage thing doesn’t work out (we are truly best friends and can honestly joke like this), no worries. We can always get an annulment, just grease the right palms, get the paperwork done, and we are on our merry way. After all, do any of us really know what we are getting into, what marriage is really about, before we do it? Probably the vast majority of couples over the millenia have qualified for annulments under today’s loose standards.

    It used to really aggravate me that so many get annulments but then I went through the NFP failure and learned through the school of hard knocks that there is a lot more to this messy moral life than I ever thought possible. It was a real relief to decide it was okay to let God worry about the messiness of it and focus on my own issues instead. (okay, with the exception of Newt—I just saw a photo of the churchly-married Newt and Calista the other day in Vanity Fair and got really irritated—seriously?! Then I realized God will probably humble me some more for my aggravation at others’ sins and foibles—I’ll probably be struck down long before good ole Newt!). You can see why I really do relate to the story of the 11th hour workers. Life’s not fair, and we should all be immensely grateful for that fact, because if it were, we’d all burn for eternity. I do believe and hope in a merciful God.


  115. on July 21, 2011 at 9:00 pm AnonymousBadCatholic

    We are “sorry” in the same sense, I suppose, as Catholics who used artificial insemination–with the husband’s sperm–to have a family because they were infertile. (Not IVF–that opens up a whole other set of moral worms). Yes, they know it is wrong. Yes, they understand why the Church teaches it is so—and believe if the Church ever did “change” the teaching, a pandora’s box would be unleashed. Yes, they confessed because they don’t want to burn in hell. Yes, they wish they could have biological children without breaking natural law. Yes, they know their conservative infertile Catholic friends who have stayed on the straight and narrow would probably hate them for it on some level. But in all honesty, do they really and truly regret it? Would they NOT do it all again, knowing the beautiful children and family that have resulted out of it?

    Good things (health, financial stability, peaceful family life, happy kids not exposed to all sorts of things in low income housing, even closer soul-mate-kind-of-bonding with my husband) have resulted from our admittedly bad decision. In my heart, I have a really hard time feeling that what we did hurt Christ. But I trust that the Church has a reason for her teaching (and indeed, back to the pandora’s box, I can even see some of the reason for it myself) and also trust that one day I will understand how this could have hurt Christ and I trust and hope He will forgive me for it. I believe in the “what you hold loosed is loosed and what you hold bound is bound” and I was totally honest with the priest in confession.

    In the end, I am going to end up sounding like a Denise Richards reality show: It’s Complicated.

    I hope the Baltimore Catechism was right about imperfect contrition, and that you can be forgiven when confessing sins not because you have a true sense of sorrow—because you really can’t understand how this hurt Jesus—but because you trust the Church must know better than you do and are a wuss when it comes to the idea of burning in hell for all eternity.


    • AnonBadCath,

      It is telling that you can relate your situation to actual Church teaching regarding what is required of the penitent in order for a valid confession to occur, and for all the protestations of your detractors, they have yet to have done so. Some might protest that your reference to the Baltimore Catechism is dated, but that would be most ironic, given that, to my knowledge, no sane person who has read canon law holds that the canonical standards now are more strict than they were then (not to suggest they have substantially changed at all with regard to the requirements of the penitent in order to make a valid confession – they haven’t).


  116. on July 21, 2011 at 9:11 pm Daniel Nichols

    Well I mean that given the circumstances they would do it again. Not that I am unsympathetic. Life is messy, as I said, and little is simple, outside pure intellectualization…
    Owen,I know you get carried away with the battle, Welsh Celt that you are, but I really am not a rigorist. Except when it comes to the logic of things. I might be very Eastern in some things, but when I get to reasoning about things I often revert to Thomism, even though I was more of a Scotist when I was Latin…
    By the way, I am impressed with your endurance. Most Celts, like myself, are more suited to the skirmish than the siege…


  117. James, thanks for prompting an important clarification regarding:

    “I am not trying to ridicule but I do think your statement is ridiculous.

    Believe said something similar

    “I think the church will stay black on white publically on this, but there will always be special circumstances, exceptions and alternatives for couples given in the confessional or one on one with a priest. I’ve heard many priests actually surprise couples with their responses.””

    As I understood it, your concern with my and AnnoBC’s statements was that they could insinuate that the Church or Catholic priests would make “exceptions” to the Church’s teachings. I would like to clarify that this was NOT my expectation or what I would like to have suggested at all. Rather, as an NFP instructor and a Catechism teacher I was taught in both instances about the law of gradualism, and I imagine (although, admittedly I have not been in a position to learn first hand), but I imagine that a priest could take the appoarch of gradualism in helping lead individuals on the right path to be fully inline with the Church’s teachings one day. You can’t possibly expect for everyone who hears “be fruitful and multiply” to drop everything and simply obey. We’d have no Catholics left! We don’t even do that for far easier things like “do not lie!” How many of us have told easy white lies in this last week alone!

    I happen to know of a “special circumstance” that I was referring to given by a priests to someone whose spouse was undergoing chemo for his terminal cancer. He had been diagnosed weeks before their wedding. They wanted to get married and continue on as normal for the time he had left. But because of his cancer treatments their doctors strongly encouraged them to use BC and to avoid pregnancy because of risks that could accompany a pregnancy from his sperm during that time. They didn’t want to use BC because of the abortificant aspects, but they wanted to be the young newly weds they had always dreamed of being! So they consulted a priest who said in their case to use condoms during his chemo. They only had a limited of time left!!! Was a priest really going to say you’ll never have sex with your new wife and you’re going to die?! It wasn’t their intention to avoid pregnancy. In fact, once he finished his last chemo treatments they decided that before he died they wanted to get pregnant so his wife will be able to raise a baby they created together. The woman gave birth a week before he died. True story.

    Maybe the priest was wrong. Maybe not. But I couldn’t stop crying when I read this man’s obituary from his wife. I don’t know many better Catholics out there.


    • Gash, now you’ve done gone and made me cry.


      • Hmmmmm

        well all I can say to this:

        “So they consulted a priest who said in their case to use condoms during his chemo.”

        is what a disaster – the priest needs to have his head examined IMHO. What a horrible story. I feel sorry for the couple.

        Is there any question here that the priest gave immoral advice?


  118. Regarding the jack-o-lantern temps…

    Yes! We do see them all the time. There are tons of nursing mothers, medical nurses and grave shift working mommies out there. Most of these people don’t have very good temperature readings.

    I happen to personally have my own jack-o-latern temperature and constant mucus too (I’m really glad most of you don’t know me now!), which is possibly why we were so frustrated trying to learn Creighton and then teach oursevles another method. Creighton is actually VERY helpful for couples with constant mucus, but it’s a little difficult to learn, especialy if you’re trying to learn it after you’re married and the stakes of unplanned pregnancies are high. With a little more determination we did discover that it was totally possible to “get NFP” with these crazy patterns. There are other signs that you can cross check to help read the overall fertility.

    Not that this is what it’s all about here, but a quick NFP lesson is that the cervix never lies. It’s tricky to learn how to check your cervix, but if your cervix is Soft High and Open you are fertile. End of story. If your cervix is Firm Low and Closed then you are infertile regardless of your temperature or mucus.

    So then why check those other signs?? Well… sometimes your cerivix is a little soft and still somewhat closed but maybe moving higher :) That’s just the relatity of it, but that doesn’t mean you don’t know what’s going on, because it might be that your mucus is not as fertile etc. It’s about learning your body’s unique pattern. I also like having nice, neat, predictable charts that look like the examples, but it seems like my cycle changes after each pregnancy… lovely…. so I have to be patient and find my new pattern each time. But it seems easier and easier to figure it out each time and at least I have cervix checking to fall back on if I am not sure.


  119. on July 22, 2011 at 7:34 am AnonymousBadCatholic

    Believe,

    Thank you for sharing—the cervix was always a mystery to me, mostly because in general mine is nearly impossible to find (sorry, this is WAY too much TMI, glad you guys don’t know me). It’s tilted backwards, and even the Gyn has a hard time finding it when it comes time for a Pap (ouch). Perhaps I just didn’t give it enough time and exploration (back to the science experiment) to figure that part all out. It was just darn uncomfortable poking around in there trying to find it and then once having found it (which seldom happened), to figure out what indicated fertility and what didn’t.

    We ended up going with Creighton after two tries at symptothermal because of the jagged teeth on the symptothermal charts, but the yellow stamp never really helped us, either. The simple fact of the matter is that—despite what all the books said to the contrary—after many years of trying to figure it all out, I still couldn’t tell what was fertile and what wasn’t fertile-type mucus with any certainty.

    And the story about the newlyweds was heartbreaking. Life IS complicated.


  120. One gentle reminder: this discussion is about the children as much as it is about the parents, right? Most of what has been talked about here is personal and spousal trials, which is entirely valid and relevant—but the other half of the picture is the children.

    I was laid off when we were 3 months along with our 2nd child, 5 months after moving to a new city and buying a house. It was 10 months before I found work again—and even then, at a lower wage than I was used to. But on that beautiful summer evening when our daughter was born I couldn’t have been happier, despite our seemingly desperate situation. We took on 2 roommates, accepted the blow to our pride with food stamps, I sold my beloved car, and rode my bicycle to school every day to make sure we could pay our mortgage and keep food on the table. In a way I loved those times, because we had no choice but be close to each other and trust that God would care for us. Part of that trust involved making informed choices with the tools we had been given: being serious about NFP, juggling what little was left of our resources, and learning to look at work in a totally new way. I have a job again, but we are still on food stamps. I don’t mind. When our 3 year old boy calls to me over the fence: ‘Dada, are you workin’ on the car? Can I help you fix it?” I don’t care that this is the third night in a row I have had to work on my $200 car so I can get to work in the morning. It’s about their life as much as mine. And despite all the beans and rice, no theater outings or concerts, etc, my children and their beautiful, courageous mother have everything they really need.

    NFP for us is about rational spacing—like going 15 days deep into the late ‘grace period’ on our mortgage because I have to wait for the middle of the month paycheck—not about prevention until I am making enough to be comfortable. God will not test us beyond our strength, even if it feels like it sometimes; and while it doesn’t seem like 12 children would necessarily be good for us (smile), my life wouldn’t have as much meaning without the ones I have, and we will certainly have more.


  121. on July 22, 2011 at 12:16 pm AnonymousBadCatholic

    Darren,

    Beautiful post and definitely a beautiful reminder that yes, all these kids are definitely blessings.

    We had a $400 rustbucket car once with a trunk that was tied on with a bungee cord. I remember it quite fondly, actually. My husband’s brother (Catholic father of 10 himself) chewed us out for embarrassing the family name by driving such a disgrace around town, but given he was a key factor in putting us in the financial dire straits we were in at the time (word to the wise: family will screw you over faster than anybody else when it comes to business!), we let it roll off our backs. Despite how hard it was back then, there was definitely a bonding aspect of getting through it together—and now we can look back on it and actually laugh.

    On that note, I am out of here—going unplugged on a road trip this afternoon for family vacation next week. Daniel, thank you for opening up this subject and allowing me to share my story. It’s all been bottled up for a very long time, and it was actually somewhat cathartic to be able to honestly tell it.


  122. Wow..truly nothing generates as much wildfire among catholics that care about NFP to start with as this topic.And,rightfully so I think!
    However-before I even have a long enjoyable time reading all of the combox, I will say now before I lose my persepctive that
    1.This is a never ending argument,with way more than any computer memory could hold.
    2.Of course,artificial birth control is an objective evil.This is truth.Period.
    3.Of course, for some,ABC would be judged by God as having a subjective component,rendering a varying degree of culpability for those involved.Just like a murderer indeed.You have first degree ABC,second degree ABC,and yes,even a plea of insanity could hold up here too-just as with any sin.
    4.Simply knowing that something is wrong and truly beliveing that,or knowing the church says something is wrong, does not mean someone can not also be morally,subjectively not guilty of a sin that is-objectively guilt worthy.

    Having said that,it seems crazy to go on trying to navigate each and every sad story here-and every one’s unique circumstances.I don’t believe often that even I know my culpability for things I do,and that God really is the only one who does for certain.so-I pray for mercy,obey my conscience and uphold it as much as possible to the point my moral muscle allows me to.
    The church will never give an inch of wiggle room on ABC because that leads to mile taking by the general public.My story,like many here is so nuianced that I dont even know if I could type it all-or if anyone would even believe me if I did.

    But I do know that I have not sought the counsel of a priest,because I am almost certain that even good priests I know may in fact give me bad advice believing,either rightfully or wrongfully,that we have a “excuse”,and I do not want it on my conscience that I dragged another soul (i.e.the priest) into what could be,hypothetically speaking,sinful,if ever acted upon.so I wont even ask him his pastoral opinion.

    But in the beginning and in the end-the reality of objective vs.subjective sinfulness remains.No one says that because the guilt of as in is removed for a particular individual/situation that it all the sudden is universally OK.And keep in mind,God will not speak til the end of a person’s life,and we will not know what He says anyway til the last day.


  123. Anonymous Bad catholic,
    Don’t ever think of leaving the church over a sin.IMHO-the whole world is not owed an appraisal of your weaknesses before God.you do what youre supposed to do-remain elusive when some rude one (or just a desperate one wanting help) asks how you remain childless. do not scandalize them by telling them about a vasectomy,and do not lie by pretending you still use NFP.Perhaps these situations can be avoided if people in general would refrain from pushing too far in conversation about their sex lives.Catholics do this too.Be perceptive- if one wants to exit a conversation about this topic,let it pass.
    Assume virtue or weakness on the part of another couple,or individual.Remember- being just requires us to be judges,being merciful only requires we be human. (if stopping a serial killer isn’t the case here,we don’t need to play judges.)


  124. Anonymous bad catholic, IUI (intra unterine insemination) with husbands sperm,provided the sperm was obtained through the perforated condom during intercourse is not officially approved or disapproved by the church.If that’s what your’e referring to,this is not sinful,at least at this point.
    i know a couple intending to do this soon if natural attempts don’t work,because her cervix is too tight.I am supportive,as long as masturbation isn’t the method of obtainment.
    Just a thought,as I continue to read the litany of posts here.
    Daniel-thanks for opening this up.People need a way of expressing issues they experience without being ostracized like on other forums where everyone is just so blissed out with NFP they are beside themselves.And yes,even the most orthodox of Catholics,as some may say my husband and I are,struggle not with the intellectual side of things,but with the human side of them.I would never want the church to do anything different regarding how they teach on ABC,because they are 100% right.and if they were to come out and start defending one’s right to weakness/dissent in a public setting-people would walk away with dissent licenses in hand feeling no part of their healthy conscience.This is just the way it is,and looking for loopholes in the church’s argument isn’t the way to go.Some things really rest in your heart between you and God in the end,we take from what we are taught and pray that we make the best decision.


  125. Here’e my sob story to add to the list (no offense,we are all sob stories LOL! )
    My husband and I met at age 20/21,being both very spoiled and nieve about life.We were friends through my college time escapade into the new age movement,as he was becoming Catholic through his own initiative (Holy Spirit,of course) and after two years of friendship,we began dating,and after my husband was so scandalized by what he saw in this church crises,and as a convert was very confused.Coupled with my present infidelity to church teaching (i was baptized in RCIC as a 4th grader,my family soo not catholic at all), we became pregnant (both of us at the time knowing what we were doing was wrong underneath it all.) No job between us,we both dropped out of college ( I was pursuing a Theology degree to add to the irony I scandalized all my teachers,friends,aquaintances.I had been previously, voted most religious in our high school : add,more shame.) Scott was equally shamed bc after all- he was now the “religious” one in his ever skeptical,religion making fun of family,and he just was having a kid out of wedlock.-hear the rolling laughter,just to set the scene.
    I was always vehemently opposed to abortion,as was he,so I spent the next few months with dire morning sickness either in the hospital or in bed (as i would with every baby since,save this pregnancy) waiting for him to get over Mono and get a job before the kid was born so we could move out of our parent’s houses and do right by our new little family.
    He eventually got a job at Walmart where he broke out in hives weekly working with plants/allergy and we got a little dump apartment in the wrong side of town.I was scared to be home alone during the day,and I had a crazy ex who was still stalking us,despite law enforcement telling him to stay away.He visited my husband at work too,and we were scared to death.Somewhere in this,Scott began searching out a parish where he did not see the Blessed Sacrament swept up with a dustbuster after Mass and where there was a shred of reverence or someone taking their faith seriously.We had long months of talks where I open fired all my issues on him, the very “conservative catholic ” i called him(which were, ignorant misconceptions of my own faith.I had went through 14 years of Catholic schooling at this time) about Catholicism,and,being a completely Aspergian type cerebral-all it took was some logic,truth and explanation and suddenly catholicism sounded like the most logical and true thing in the world to me.Within months I was going to a traditionalist chapel with Scott and having our little girl baptized,going to marriage prep class,devouring all I could about the faith.I knew now where i was going with my study of Theology,not to mention with my whole life.
    With more zeal than brains,i was pregnant again at 5 months postpartum,as I would learn later I would begin cycling with ecological breastfeeding at 3 months postpartum-just a short while after my childbirth bleeding has stopped! I wasnt sure if it was this bleeding starting up again or my period! But 3 months to the day Mennah was born,I began my period.Nursing on demand,no binkies,etc.This would happen five more times in the next 6 years-that leads us to now,6th child expecting in Nov.Natural child spacing was not the wonder I heard about from all my trad mom circles.
    Child #2,we just had much zeal (and likely a bi polar moment of grandiose ideas) that I thought we could conquer the world and take on 20 kids, with a minimum wage job,welfare,relying on my parents,as college drop outs.The next child,same thing.Then the fourth blessing, NFP miscalculation.by this point, our older boy was having many health issues we were just finding out about,working through,surgeries,etc.At the time,he was diagnosed autistic.Our third would emerge with a similar scenario.Meanwhile,my body underwent gestational diabetes,a heart valve issue putting me on meds and an emerging degenerative spine and rheumatic condition landing me also on pain meds,meds for neuropathy/nerve damage,anti inflammatories,etc.Needless to say, NFP temp taking was out (meds) and I was never sleeping thorugh the night or waking at the same time; mucus reading was out (dried up=meds;) and to become pregnant meant a.weaning off tons of meds=misery and 9months of agony without meds or 2.staying on meds (ones okayed by doc,some were,some werent) and worry incessantly about effects on baby.

    After third baby, I went to Nurses aid training on a long leave of absence for my husband thinking we could make more $ with me working as this,as I was also starting to get resentful of being stuck inside with babies,no adult conversation,scared of the prospect of having to have 10 more kids (wearing skirts the whole time=trad world) with pressure to be blissed out about it,etc. Believing very strongly that most women are by nature,mothers and others have a more difficult time feeling like a square peg in a round hole their whole life,I have always been very extroverted,cerebral,need intellectual stimulation like i need air and activist type.While I admire child rearing more than any other occupation on the planet-I am not by nature inclined at ll towards it, my should -have- been- monk -husband isnt either.
    Having said that we have both known long that through disobedience to the church in our early days (schismatic chapel,inadequate one- meeting marriage prep,etc) that we both missed our true callings that we had been pursuing prior to our dating.Me-single life,working activist for church or teaching nun and he,a contemplative,cloistered monk.We love our second calling,and IMHO we rise to this challenge as best we can given multiple health issues,mental and otherwise,and are secure enough to be very open,even joking to each other about this.Best friends we have always been and extremely close,we could have had a Clare/Francis relationship had we been religious,but, God brought a good out of our sin and we accept and nurture that.(We would love to be vocation counselors someday for young catholics to help them discern callings.)

    ANYWAY-NFP related,my husband started staying home with our three autististic sons (jury is still out on a formal,specific diagnosis bc of their young age) bc my bones and muscles just couldnt chase,lift anymore.My brain couldnt handle the stress of the pain and my husband,with a debilitating nerve problem (not your “average” anxiety issues) we felt it was better for all if he stayed home and I worked.This decision before my arthritis,etc was as apparent or diagnosed.No longer able to do physical labor,the nurses aide thing did not transpire,and I got an ok full time desk job through my 5th baby,after 2 years was laid off.

    It was then we felt a do -or die- situation: I return to school to finish my degree (teaching licensure,philosophy/English/Theology) or work at the BP station the rest of our lives,on welfare,in public housing even longer,food stamps the whole nine yards,help from my parents,etc.
    I thought,better to be on help for two years and get a real job than forever.Can’t work a stand up/physical job again anyway-and I always wanted to be a teacher more than anything in the world and look very forward to a life of ministry to catholic schools/church/community an dplan to live on just enough.
    So here we are.Six kids under age 8,three autistic (not classically so,mind you-but devastatingly enough disabled) and unsure about our 2 yr old boy as of now..I am laid off,we are living on one 700$ mo unemployment check.and all the help the state offers.I am a full time student,going to deliver my baby one week before my fall semester is out-(pray I can take my exams!!) and finish the BA in a year.Husband plans on working for the church in some way,volunteering,etc-one where he doesnt have to deal with alot of people(anxiety/phobias) and I hope to attain an MA in educational administration after my BA is finished.
    Needless to say,some have a more difficult time with complete indefinite abstinence than others.It will be likely 6-7 years before our lives are on track,God willing,if ever.
    ****One more point about total abstinence: its NOT just about the sexual part of things.Remember how much emphasis the church places on the act for unitive and psychological reasons.There is something that happens to a couple when they are intimate that cannot happen otherwise.If it could,we wouldnt have the act in nature to begin with! There are spiritual and other ramifications of total prolonged abstinence in what is supposed to operate like a marriage.Marriage is not just “sacrifice with benefits”-rather the act itself brings natural elements of security and emotional dependence,fidelity,etc. just by virtue of what it is.
    People often end up treating sex as lust when they act like it can just so flippantly be left out of a marriage and that there’s no excuse why one cant be abstinent, i.e. the “people just aren’t willing to ‘suck it up’ attitude.” I know that when considering total prolonged indefinite abstinence that I am not only deciding whether or not my husband and I have any “fun” to put it so crudely-I am making a decision that affects the whole family,as it is one that significantly affects the stability of a marital relationship,overall happiness,etc.To put it as Daniel would: “It aint that simple.”
    I use my reason because I dont think the “leave it all to virtue” way is prudent either.Why not wear my mini skirt down to the construction site and lean over to ask for directions and see where that gets me.Yes,men should be virtuous to turn away their eyes.But I would certainly have some culpability should I get harassed,or worse.We have always been faithful to church teaching,I cannot even in my own understanding be true to myself if I am not.TOB just makes so much sense.This does not mean however,that we are not extremely weak,and scared to DEATH in our situation.We have been blessed on miraculous levels to say the least.And for reasons i cant go into here-are worried sick about one more slip up,with 20 year consequences.does any other “mistake” add up to quite these consquences? I wonder sometimes.
    This is just one of endless unique circumstances,that are, ‘special-just like everyone else’s.” Maybe we should just encourage each other and stop litigation about one another’s personal relationship with God.Having said that,I will defend with blood to the death about the objectivity with which the church teaches her message on ABC,TOB etc.but also defend the individual from endless navel gazing into other’s culpability.


  126. Tonya…thanks so much for sharing this. WOW!!

    Diane


  127. on July 27, 2011 at 8:09 pm Currently_In_Seminary

    As someone who is currently studying for the priesthood, this conversation has been quite illuminating. Thank you all for your honesty and dedication to the Church, as difficult as it can be. I wish I could share all the things a seminarian is presented in these matters, but I wish not to bore you.

    Let me share that I am a very realistic, practical guy. I am a convert to Catholicism and do not identify with the ‘ultra-trad’ crowd by any means. Vatican II was a providential moment that kept the Church relevant, not something that destroyed the faith, that many of my fellow seminarians tend to believe. The future presbyterate is incredibly traditional. I consider myself quite orthodox and moderate, but in comparison to their conservatism, I am sometimes viewed as a ‘Progressive’

    Most of the material about NFP that has been presented to me is incredibly idealistic, and I even wonder if some of the claims are even factual. Before reading the thoughts shared here, I often wondered about the women, and empathized with them. So basically, if a couple is not in a position to have another child and have to abstain, many women forfeit sex during the most amazing time for them…as a man I can’t imagine what that must be like. It must be painful and frustrating. I am not against NFP, I think there are many benefits and is a more natural ‘green’ way to be, but I have noticed the same logic issues that others have noted above.

    The anguish and frustation that everyone has expressed here has truly touched my heart. When I am a priest, how will I respond to these issues? Not only as a faithful Catholic, but with compassion and pastoral love? I couldn’t imagine denying someone absolution in such honest situations expressed above. The final judgment is for our Lord. However, the pre-meditation example is quite complicated and the individual conscience plays a role as well. It is a complicated situation. I am going to consult some of my moral theologians for their thoughts, especially in real-world pastoral situations and not just the abstract ideal. I fear what some of my future brothers would do in these situations…

    Please note that you are all now in my prayers and your bold courage and honesty is appreciated. Keep up the fight as the Church Militant, your lives and the love you share with your spouse and children are beautiful and transformative in a world that mocks sacrifice.

    In Christ,
    A seminarian


  128. “Generally speaking, anybody with a household income of over 6 figures or so is really just being cute when talking about the struggles of big family life and being faithful to the demands of Christ and all that song and dance….

    “I’m much more interested in hearing how people (over the age of 40 who have been doing the big family thing for awhile – it seems some of the happy clappy NFP folks one finds on Catholic blogs are young and not yet so familiar with the exhaustion life brings) have managed to make it with big families and working class incomes/circumstances.”

    I’m 45 with seven kids in metropolitan Washington DC, and our income just broke the $60,000 mark. We’ve “made it” through a combination of unmerited good fortune and frugality. We have never been without medical insurance, for instance, but also we buy clothes and shoes used, don’t have TV, sleep five kids in one bedroom. These do not seem like heroic measures to me, they are not even sacrifices, because their value is so small compared to the fun generated by nine people living together, but to some people it seems like a deprived life.

    But you know what? My friends with incomes in the six figures do these things too. I trade used clothes with the wife of a lawyer, whose family has probably spent many times my husband’s salary on therapies of various sorts for their special needs kids. She has more right than I to talk about struggles. I don’t think it’s fair to exclude people from the conversation based on their income, any more than it would be fair for me to say that generally speaking, anybody with fewer than five kids is really just being cute when talking about the struggles of childrearing.


  129. I hate the argument that NFP requires abstinence when a women is more inclined to want sex. Yes it does, but it is a sacrifice and should only be used for serious reasons. What I really want to point out is that the pill seriously lowers a women’s desire permanently. So they never want to have sex. Healthy???


  130. on July 31, 2011 at 8:03 pm AnonymousBadCatholic

    I read through all the posts here, and I do not believe a single commenter was arguing for the goodness or healthiness of the Pill.

    Your point?


  131. I want to chime into the discussion and say that NFP is the only thing stopping me from likely continuing my pattern of having children every two years like clockwork. While I realize that having children is the primary purpose of marriage, and something we vowed to do, and that desire for one’s spouse is directed to that end, it is reassuring to be able to have some awareness of my fertility pattern, so that childbearing is not completely out of our control.

    NFP definitely requires sacrifice. But so does raising a family in general, and in fact any sort of worthwhile human life, especially a Christian one. In my experience there was a big learning curve involved, and it required a shift in behavior and attitude. This is because, by and large, for us relations were more unitive than procreative for the greater part of the last 11 years, as I had always either already conceived or was in breastfeeding infertility, and as soon as my cycles returned I would find myself pregnant in short order. (Breastfeeding, depending on how it’s done, suppresses ovulation for a while, at least for many women.) It took years to accept that nature is the way it is, and that having children IS the natural consequence of the act. Pregnancy always seemed completely inevitable, sooner or later (especially sooner.) Now we have had to readjust and realize that, if we are avoiding pregnancy, there is necessarily a “blackout period” of the month, for relations. But I am grateful that this does not have to be an “all or nothing” situation. Of course, now I am finally having regular cycles. (I Never thought we’d get to this point–we almost didn’t.)

    NFP is not a magic bullet or something that happens automatically with a minimum of effort, especially not at first. The virtues that are required to practice it (patience, fortitude), as well as discipline and motivation are not acquired overnight. I too thought that NFP was beyond us, temperamentally, and plenty of times wanted to throw in the towel. We joke about the “Doering Rule”, which we pronounce “Daring.” But seriously, perseverance is the key, and my temperament inclines me to give up easily, so there is a certain amount of struggle involved. Ultimately God wills each one of our children into being, and we cooperate, whether wittingly or unwittingly. (I know full well that this is one thing in theory, another in practice). (We’ve had 5 children in 11 years.) I’ve never been in dire straits, with the stakes impossibly high. We’re thankful to have health, family support, stable marriage and job (teaching philosophy; not lucrative, but satisfying) and life’s necessities. (Though back in the day we did have 5 of us in a tiny home.)

    I just want to encourage those who feel called to give NFP a try. (I’ve tried to be realistic, because I’ve been forced to make the difficult choices, like everyone else, using my conscience, formed by the teachings of the Church, as guide. Decisions regarding family planning are momentous!) Eventually there comes a point where it all becomes almost second nature, and one gains mastery and confidence in the method. I can definitely appreciate the desperation that some people feel. I can honestly say that I have been there, and can understand on one level or another. I appreciate the excellent analysis some here have given on NFP, and the gentle tone that the endorsements have taken. I hope I have not offended anyone, or sounded too much like I’m on a soapbox. I’ve never walked a mile in anyone else’s shoes! I guess that we open ourselves to comment whenever we share our stories. We all want support and encouragement with whatever we decide is best for our marriage and family, and I hope that everyone will find peace in the decisions they make/ have made.


  132. Maybe the question is, given human nature, is it possible to consistently follow 100% of the NFP rules 100% of the time, when trying to avoid conception, as the method is very user dependent. I’ll be the first to admit, it takes a leap of faith. We still have to trust in God, that He knows best, even as we try to be aware of what’s going on. There will always be that element of mystery. I’m convinced though that the method is reliable. (I’ve spent the last week wondering if I was pregnant, and the funny thing is no sooner had I posted the comment, when I got confirmation that I’m not, showing me again that the rules are scientific and accurate, when followed.) Obviously, each month is another story.

    Still, having the knowledge of how our bodies are designed really does allow for great peace of mind, even though we are not completely in control.


  133. at least with my experience all that NFP has done is ruin marriages, (me and my wife are both catholics btw, actually I just call myself a christian as Jesus never created denominations), my all of the sudden decided to start NFP again, after it has failed us twice (don’t take me wrong I love my kids and wouldn’t trade it for anything), we were using the condom for a while and decided to try NFP one more time recently, and of course it didn’t work and we got pregnant with our fourth child, (unfortunatly we had a miscariage). All that NFP does is keeps a couple from each other, one of the most important aspects on a marriage is the ability for a couple to connect to each other intimatily, it is VERY important, and NFP takes that away, my wife is against comdom due to the Church’s teach blah blah blah, (how can a pope or priest invent teachings about sex whem them themselves no nothing about it? they can’t even have sex period). I respect my wifes beliefs and i’m going along with it so she doesnt have to compromise on her beliefs but all that i’m doing is compromising on my beliefs and going against them so she doesnt have to compromise on hers, I don’t believe that’s right either. For all of those that say that NFP is natural and condom is not, I agree with the OP, how can it be natural when you have people with litle charts, ovulation strips, and some even with high tech devices to see if you’re ovulating? And for those who will say i’m not open for life, actually i’m way more open for life by having sex while my wife is fertily with a condom than those who practice NFP and only have sex when they know for certain that their wife won’t get pregnant, NFP can be around 99% efficiency (not in our case) and condom is at best 95%. All that NFP does is put unecessary stress on a marriage, we already have 3 kids all under the age of 4, I do work full time but we are by no means wealthy, we do want a 4th children but we have decided to space them out this time, but because of all of this BS with NFP i’m SERIOUSLY considering having a vasectomy just to stop all of this. They say God didn’t create us to use condoms etc, neither did he made us be born with cloths on, or to have heart transplants, but he did make us smart and gave us the inteligency to create condoms, a way to prevent a prenancy (yes that’s all that NFP does too, prevents pregnancy) without harming the fetus in case you get pregnant, when a condom fail the worst that can happen is that you become pregnant unlike the pill or other contraception methods that can have different effects on the baby. To me this is one of worst teachings of the modern church, well I guess the one that they hide the priests who molest childrens are just as bad, but that’s a whole new subject too. I don’t really want to go to church anymore, all this NFP has done is put a stress on my life and it is driving me away from my wife, at best we can have sex once or twice a month, and that is of course if everything is perfect, since she’ll be on a period when hormones already make her not want sex, so any litle extra stress will change everything.
    And abstining from your spouse to me is the most unatural thing you can do, the church needs to change it’s stance on this and allow couples who are confortable with it to use a condom, actually they just need to stay away from people’s personal lifes, they have enough on their personal affairs to deal with it right now.


  134. And to those who use SFP and say to trust God and that if he wants us to have children we will etc.. go jump off the Grand Canyon, and trust God and you’ll only die if God wants you to die. God gave us inteligency and disernment, and to ability to create and inovate, to be intemately with our spouces (as he wants us to be) and be able to choose when it is best for us and for our future childs for us to become pregnant, and not just pop out as many as you possibly can and not be able to properly provide for your children in the future just creating a bigger problem.


  135. I appreciate the responses and candor. I would just add one thing that I have not seen, and that is that not all NFP is equal. Some methods focus heavily on theology and family issues, but are not necessarily as technically or medically developed. Do some research. NFP does work for most people if followed faithfully, but there are some folks that it will be a challenge, and these especially need to be using the method that has the most scientific backing.


  136. I know this thread is old and I am at the bottom, but I don’t think anyone has mentioned the book “Taking Charge of your Fertility” by Toni Weschler. While not a Catholic book (essentially because it will tell you to use a condom during fertile times) it is the only thing that has kept me sane and want to continue using NFP. It is so clear and easy to understand. I felt empowered by it. It is funny and modern (I loved how Weschler calls it cervical fluid instead of cervical mucus, for example), yet treats the reader with dignity.

    I hated that stupid Kippley book!!!! It talks down to you, and though I have 2 college degrees I can barely understand it and just plain old don’t have the patience for it. I’d rather have another kid than pick that thing up again! If that’s all some of you had to go on, I’d get the Weschler book.

    By the way, I had 1 planned and 3 unplanned pregnancies under the Kippley book. I love them all, but 4 was going to be the limit, so I hunkered down to see what else was out there. (Obviously I didn’t mind having 4, or I would have hunkered down earlier!) Once I got the Weschler book, I was able to wait 2 and 3/4 years years before having our planned 5th child (meaning child #4 and #5 are 2 and 3/4 years apart).

    I like the 2.5 year spacing, and maybe even a little more, because in my home, with my abilities, psychology, finances, energy, and all the rest of it, that’s what I need to be able to provide the children I have (and might have later?) with a secure loving home.


  137. I know this thread has been silent for a long time; I don’t know if anyone will even see this. But I wanted to talk about what we have been wrestling with in the year or so since this post appeared, and the conclusions we have come to.

    This post was timely indeed. My wife and I had just concluded that our lackadaisical attitude toward family planning was irresponsible. We both have had serious health issues; hers is of a nature that every pregnancy makes it worse. And we are always broke. Indeed, we face growing debt as we have to use a credit card a lot times to put food on the table before payday.

    We have a lot of children.( I am being vague because this is going to include a lot of very personal stuff, and my wife in particular would be humiliated if she thought any of our friends- some of whom frequent this blog- were to identify us.) And we don’t have a lot of money.

    We have always hung around the TAC/Christendom/Steubenville circles. We didn’t exactly fit in, as “Caelum et Terra Catholics”, dating back to when it was a magazine, but we shared their smug orthodoxy on faith and morals, even if we veered left on politics and culture., We knew, before marrying, a lot of big apparently happy families.

    But it didn’t work out so well for us. My wife stayed home with the kids, we homeschooled until recently, etc. It gradually dawned on us that all of those big happy families had more resources than we did, and this made life difficult. It is one thing if you can afford to live in a Catholic enclave, or out in the country, where you can limit your children’s contact with the wider world. It is quite another if you live in working class neighborhoods, where they encounter a rougher world daily.

    Our older children are teens now, and all profess agnosticism. All resent their homeschooling days, and blame us for all of their problems.

    We reasoned that we would sacrifice material things so we could give them brothers and sisters, but it didn’t help that the smaller ones are often bratty and get into the older ones things (our house is way too small and there is little privacy. It is also run down; we have not been able to afford needed repairs). As a result, the older kids are often mean to the little ones. And they resent the fact that their friends from two income, two kid families get more “stuff” and take vacations to the beach or to Disney World; our vacations are to the grandparents’….I know, materialistic, but they are kids; what can you do?

    So we think our reasons for wanting to avoid pregnancy serious. But we had begun to doubt NFP for many of the reasons that were cited here. Reading the sometimes heartbreaking comments only made our doubt grow. One commenter, who had lived in celibacy for some time after her repeated pregnancies led to her family living with parents (! how wrong is that?) said that while studies show 99% accuracy for perfectly observed NFP the actual numbers are more like 84%, when human error and tricky symptoms are factored in. That would make it the least effective method of family planning.

    So what is a couple with serious reasons for limiting their family to do? One guy joked that the only NFP that would work for his wife and him was No F***ing Period. Ha. That hardly seems right or reasonable. And we agree that the Church is right regarding chemical/hormonal or surgical methods. That just intuitively seems unnatural; the one a total disruption of the natural cycle, the other a direct mutilation of a healthy body.

    So what to do?

    Well…there are other things one may do (or not do that would render pregnancy either impossible or unlikely, that are loving acts and do not deny intimacy. I speak of withdrawal, of condoms, and of oral lovemaking.

    Of course the problem is that the Church teaches that these things are inherently immoral.

    (As an aside, because of my long years of being a Catholic of the Strict Observance I did not share any of this with my wife for a very long time. If felt guilty even thinking such thoughts).

    But why does the Church teach that these things are immoral?


  138. Sorry to break this up; for some reason the thread jammed…

    So why are these things immoral? Because, the Church teaches, every sexual act must be “open” to life. Thus every sexual act must end up with the semen inside the vagina.

    But there are inconsitencies here, it seems to me. The Church does not teach that it is immoral to have relations when it is impossible to conceive; one may make love when the wife is 8 months pregnant, or menstruating (gross, I wouldn’t do it, but I have heard of NFP teachers recommending this as a “safe” time). You can have sex if your wife is postmenopausal, or if you both know you are infertile. But you cannot do an act that never ever could result in conception, or that would make it unlikely. Does this really make sense? Whence this spermolatry? Especially in light of nature’s overkill on the matter; only one seed of billions produced is ever going to fertilize anything. Most wiggle there way to their demise never doing “what they were created to do”. And if God is so jealous of the little things why did he make adolescent males so prone to nocturnal emissions? Lot of sperm lost in the sheets there.

    And why, if this is the central principle to sexual morality, did Christ not ever once make even some oblique reference to it? Or St Paul? There is nothing in the New Testament about this, and one suspects that it in truth lies in the ancient Church’s suspicion of the body and of sexual pleasure (none of the desert fathers, God bless ‘em, would be accepted in a modern monastic order with their attitudes!)

    There is not even anything in the Old Testament to that effect. Not that I trust the OT for establishing moral truth; one can prove that God ordains genocide (the Amelekites) or that suicide attacks are moral (Samson) from the OT The only relevant passages in the OT might be the Song of Solomon, which reads to me like an ode to oral…

    And it is not like the Church is not steadily moving in a more comprehensive direction. On another post it was mentioned how the Theology of the Body might have been received if it had appeared after Vatican I instead of Vatican II. The Church is clearly moving in the direction of affirming, first the unitive dimension of marriage, and, increasingly, the role of sexual pleasure in uniting the spouses. It was always there in her mystical poetry, but it takes the hierarchical Church a while to catch up with Her mystics. Isn’t the trajectory toward realizing that the procreative dimension ought be seen in the couple’s life as a whole, not in individual acts?

    Or, to cite another example, it is common among the most conservative moral commentators to hold that oral sex is fine in marriage, as long as it doesn’t violate the sperm taboo. I would like to have seen the reaction if they had run that one in the 1950s. Or the 1850s. Or the 1250s. It is evident that such a claim would have been shot down anytime before the sexual revolution. Like other revolutions, the Church does not remain unaffected (She once condemned democracy, remember?)

    We did not arrive at this conclusion lightly, and we are trying to be principled. Indeed, we love babies. If we had more money and better health we would want to continue what has been called here SFP. But that would not be at all responsible.

    We are new to this. And while at first it was awkward and we were nervous (what if we are wrong?) it has so far been good for our marriage. We have not been this ardent- or frequent- in loving since, well since we had about half the kids we do now, when our finances and health began failing. Of course, who knows, maybe there is some dark Consequence heading our way, but so far so good.

    Like I said, I don’t know if anyone will even see this. I would be interested in hearing what some of the commentators of over a year ago have concluded. If I recall, the enthusiasts for NFP were either young, in their 20s, or had contracepted their way through their fertile years and had two kids before seeing the light, or were affluent. For those who face destitution with a growing family the pious declarations of such ring hollow.


    • Thank you for these comments. I find the humanity, decency, and lack of obligatory and forced jargon in your words refreshing and graceful.

      I have thought of this blog thread probably more than anything else I have read online in the last year. I had my wife read it, and I continue (in these recent comments of yours and others) to be struck at the remarkable contrast between words like yours and the words of others of similar struggle (“Bad Catholic”, Justin, etc.) and the words of their cheerleading for NFP and HV interlocutors. People here have shared their desperation and the words they get in response sound, to me, a hell of a lot like the “health and wealth” rhetoric that inflicts so much of American Christianity. Just pray more. Just rely more on the sacraments (for clearly, you haven’t done that enough). Just give it more time. This all comes off as hollow and drone-like.


    • You have made a lot of claims implicating a change in Church teaching in this subject matter already. This comes off as “The Church was wrong before and corrected herself, now I’m going to jump forward beyond her.” That’s not something I can do, and I’ve gone through a very unique challenging ordeal (which can be found here: http://embersofincense.wordpress.com/2012/07/04/vaginismus1/). It has nothing to do with family planning, but has a lot to do with what I had been told about Church teaching on human sexuality.

      Overall, I think the issue is that Catholic moral ethics is correct, but I think the application of those ethics is imperfectly applied in every era. While the basis for the teaching is natural law, even those who are sexually active find sexuality a mystery. How we speak about it taints our perceptions of what it is. I think advancement in sexology helps (which JP II thankfully was somewhat studied in), but even sexology is flawed and tends to interpret it through the eyes of “the drive to erotic behavior.”

      The act overall must be what it is. We must avoid hedonism and must not seek to treat fertility as an evil to avoid while still embracing responsible parenthood. I think discerning what this entails involves discerning prayer especially for those entering into the deeper mysteries of human sexuality through marriage. Much of it is a mystery and perceiving it as intercourse and the acts leading up to it, taints morality. Sexuality is not the drive to erotic behavior and even erotic acts do not always lead to intercourse. Truthfully there is no convenient line of when a couple starts “making love.” It flows out of their relationship and is within every hand hold, every loving glance, etc.

      Chastity involves self mastery and self knowledge and no external source can just give you a rule book and say “Ok follow these rules and you’ll be chaste.” It has to be prayerfully discerned. I’ve learned that if I keep my heart on Christ and obedience and continue to seek after Truth, even if I am wrong, my choice to keep seeking is an act of pursuing God. I can’t fear being wrong. I have to develop my own conscience.

      I would say pulling out and oral CAN be immoral and if the Church rubberstamped it, it would involve leading people into sin. There is a point in talking about this where saying anything can easily be interpreted the wrong way. Thus I think people are wrong in acting as other people’s consciences by telling them how to apply moral principals to their sexual life. They do us a disservice. And in this way I think the Catechism of the Catholic Church is a great guide. I think official Church documents wisely speak broadly on moral principles. So throw out Christopher West, pray, listen and don’t be afraid of being wrong. Just keep pursuing the Truth and be willing to adjust your behavior as clarity is brought to your conscience.


  139. Wow, has it really been a year? We have just marked our second year of successfully using NFP to postpone indefinitely further children. We had 5 kids in succession, and are now in our mid 30s. We are a one-income family and I can relate to the struggles of making money stretch. It has been a challenging road we’ve traveled. There was a big learning curve, and the biggest factor was in modifying our behavior from “on demand” to a limited time frame. I understand the fear of the unforgivingness of nature: that there isn’t much room for “error”; the frustration of not being able to indulge in the union we crave (to put it mildly); and the ambiguity of not knowing WHEN we may. I agree that open-ended stretches of abstinence are discouraging!(I can’t take for granted that my cycles eventually evened out and are now dependable. Granted, I’m not going through pre-menopause–yet. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.)
    However, NFP is really the only answer that allows us to rest easier knowing we could honestly stand before God and not have to explain why we didn’t keep his commands (at least in this area.) Acquiring the discipline of self-control was no easy matter. It’s not something I tend towards! I appreciate that my husband is on the same page and willing to subordinate his desires for this purpose. Otherwise this would be all but impossible.
    It is worth it to try to build the habit together of working towards virtue; God will bless our efforts with the grace of the sacrament. This all probably sounds trite. Believe me, if there had been a licit, stress on licit, “loophole” we would have tried to make it work for us. I realize that people interpret Church law in a range of ways. But I just want to encourage spouses to work together through the challenging times, and trust that following God’s law is for the good, especially when difficult! The stakes really are high. (P.S. I am not affiliated with any NFP groups, though I do have a membership to one, and have benefited greatly from their counseling.) Often when one spouse is “weaker” the other has to compensate by being “stronger”, and vice versa.


    • Best form of NFP ever- a special needs child who will not leave the bed.

      Having said that, my wife and I have been using NFP in reverse for 10 years now. Result, ONE child despite wanting more.

      I see no reason for sex beyond conception anymore.

      But oddly, I see our marriage as MORE loving than ever.


  140. I just wanted to add/reiterate from last year that it is common to go through stages of acceptance. These include denial and resentment. It has taken 10 years to reach the point where I can now speak as one who has made my peace. Prior to this we just accepted whatever children God sent. While children are a blessing, and one of the great goods of marriage, it is comforting to have some “control” over fertility. The fact that the cycle can be so predictable is a reassurance, and helps in gaining confidence. But it isn’t automatic, and shouldn’t be expected to be.


  141. There are many things one could say in response to L’s interesting post above, but I’ll say just one thing. He says “the Church teaches, every sexual act must be “open” to life. Thus every sexual act must end up with the semen inside the vagina. But there are inconsitencies here, it seems to me. The Church does not teach that it is immoral to have relations when it is impossible to conceive.”

    It’s true that nature frequently creates a disconnect between sex and the possibility of procreation. The moral principle is that we ourselves don’t have the right to do that. We can take advantage of what nature (and God) offers us in that respect, but it’s not within our rights to divide the unitive and procreative aspects of sex.


    • Well it seems to me that what we are doing is also “natural”. I realize that it does not meet the arcane Thomistic criteria for such, but it certainly comes naturally. Indeed, it seems more natural (and intimate) than our old habit of “sorry I must interupt this act to make sure everything is in the proper oriface”.
      In fact I am going to start calling our solution “the Other NFP”.


    • What I have issue is that every sexual act must be open to life being interpreted as semen inside the vagina. This interpretation can be interpreted as “sexual pleasure can only be morally rationalize through intercourse in the defined way otherwise it is evil.” The way I see it, every sexual act must involve an openness to its procreative nature and it must avoid hedonism. Since marrying, I’ve had many surprises with how sex works, and I feel its actually difficult to communicate about it a precise manner. I suppose the best i can say is that a couple can panic with their desire for intercourse, take measures that reject it. This can involve a refusal to have intercourse, a refusal to finish inside, or a refusal to climax at all. It can also involve a refusal to engage in sexually loving activities. It can demonize sexual love and pleasure and seek to restrict the perception of sexuality to a box because we can’t completely divorce our sexualities from us. In fact, sexuality is so imbeded in love (whether its kissing our child on the forehead, or giving someone a pat on the back) that without it we could die. Children who have only their physical needs met but are never held or physically loved (and I’m not talking eroticism) do die. Its that damaging. But we restrict our perception to eroticism because linking responsible parenthood, NFP and “every act must be open to life” can get morally confusing and I think speaking too specifically about it is misleading and even damaging.

      I don’t know how to explain openness to life except that it is natural without sounding like I’m saying something I’m not trying to say. Every act of making love must be open to life. I think that involves the totality of yourself body and soul. And there are tricky situations where the same choice can involve being closed to life and being open so its difficult to say “here is the example” because I can’t say how they’re different. I don’t know how.


  142. I’ve been married only three years and happily using NFP so far. We have one child from when my wife was using chemical contraceptives imperfectly as a late teenager and one from our marriage that came a little early because we were using NFP imperfectly. Since then we have unsuccessfully tried to use NFP to conceive more. We’re poor and we’ve moved more than once a year since marriage, and though we work at home and live in the country we work way too many hours so having a big family and especially a lot of babies would have been very, very difficult. We live by the Amish though and seeing how they fare with large families on small budgets makes me want a large family for us even if we stay poor, as we surely will. I don’t think I would feel the same way if I had to live in a city though, and I desperately hope to find or perhaps invite other Catholic families near us so that our children don’t feel isolated or deprived. So considering our family conducive (I hope!) environment and our seeming low fertility level at present I look forward to sticking with NFP for the long term even if it is not 100% effective. But I think a lot of Christian morality, and especially the sexual morality for us otherwise unflappable first worlders, makes super-human demands on us which require both divine grace and total self-sacrifice. They are unreasonable demands, and I can’t fault anyone for failing to meet them or even for giving up trying to. I count it as literally miraculous that I maintained virginity until marriage at age 30, and I think it is crazy to expect people to do it out of sheer will power. Like-wise with masturbation and total unswerving commitment to ‘right’ sex in marriage, and, outside of sexuality, with voluntary poverty and non-violence and economic justice. I think you literally have to be a saint to commit to and stick to all these moral principles, and you (and your spouse if you’re married) must have given yourselves completely to God and neighbor and be living purely in grace. But for those of us who are trying to become saints but are not yet there, I think you just do the best you can and when you stumble pick yourself up and get yourself professionally dusted off at confession and don’t dwell on it, just dwell on loving God and neighbor more and let the grace move you into these extremes of unreasonable saintly morality when it does. What I’m saying is, NFP is good for me now, but I can’t say what I’d do in anyone else’s situation, whether I’d change my practice or try to change my situation what, so I wouldn’t judge anyone else’s choice on that.


  143. on August 17, 2012 at 2:51 pm Kippleys Can Kiss My Ass

    I have read and re-read this thread since it was first posted last year. I read it with a longing to make unilateral decisions in our marriage, even though I can’t, since my husband takes more of a hard-core view on Catholic teaching.

    I want my husband to get a vasectomy and that’s all I want. Given that we are older parents (and I do mean older) I see nothing wrong with that – the “more children” ship has sailed, so how would a vasectomy make any difference? Well, if I followed what the Good Catholics say, I should be willing and fully able to accept another child at age 45, 47, or even 50 years old! Or accept that my husband should have a toddler bouncing on his knee, while his contemporaries are sending kids off to college or are grandparents themselves. All good with the Catholic purists!

    NFP has nearly destroyed the unitive/sexual aspect of our marriage, which is a late-in-life, newer marriage between middle-aged parents. NFP is unnatural in every way I can think of, most of all because it sexually separates us, who have issues in the bedroom as it is. All NFP does is frustrate problems that already exist. But the NFP cheerleaders don’t know or care about extra bedroom issues – if that damn Kippley book doesn’t discuss it, then it must not be worth discussing!

    The Catholic Church has absolutely NO CLUE what goes on in the bedrooms of its serious adherents. I loved the NFP and TOB teachings in the beginning. Then I got married. Ha! Things and problems and complications come up that the Church is unable to address, and precisely because it doesn’t know and doesn’t want to know. What it boils down to for the purist/”calvinistic” hardcore NFP crowd is that no sex for years on end seems an altogether reasonable outcome for a marriage, as long as you are staying true to Church teaching. (And believe me, I have abstained for so long that I don’t sometimes even feel married anymore. But hey! That’s great! Keep dragging that cross around with you! Suffering and misery rock!)

    What has happened in my marriage is a very real and serious threat to my Catholicity. It might lead me to leave the Church. And I’ll sock anyone who thinks that my anger exists because I’m some selfish sex-minded cafeteria Catholic. Hardly.

    I relate to many of the stories here more than people could ever know. Unfortunately, I’m not in a marriage where we both see eye to eye. Thankfully, we relate enough that we can have long, open conversations about all of this and we have come up with creative (read: FORBIDDEN, ala the observation above about oral, etc.) solutions. But still, all that is imbued with natural guilt, too. It’s like we’re (no pun intended) screwed no matter what we do. No matter what, if we follow Church teaching to the letter (taking into account additional issues), we come up with not having sex ever. And that’s supposed to be good for a marriage (especially a young marriage between old people who waited) how?

    The Catholic Church has ruined sex for me. What I waited for, believing in something that would bring great joy, well, it’s just crap. NFP is a joke.


    • on July 20, 2013 at 8:45 pm anonymous too

      I hear your pain!!! I completely agree with you. Wouldn’t it be great is there could actually be a public discussion about this in the church?


  144. “I would be interested in hearing what some of the commentators of over a year ago have concluded.”

    When Daniel first posted this, I was practicing complete abstinence, fearful of sex, and angry at the Church. At the time I was still struggling with how to be Catholic, have a happy marriage (that *gasp* included sex, sometimes), raise 2 blessings from my ignorant and reckless NFP behavior, and get back on my feet financially after moving in with the in-laws.

    I suppose with all this going on, something had to give way, so to speak. I stepped away from the Catholic Church for a while because the anger associated with NFP and the fear associated with sex had really taken a toll on my marriage and personal sanity. During this break I studied moral and religious questions anew, and walked away from the whole thing as an Agnostic-Atheist.

    I know a lot of readers here will see this as unfortunate and sad, and I can understand that position, having lived 5 years as a loyal and committed Catholic. But honestly, I’m much happier with the direction my family is moving now. I feel more confident in my abilities as a parent, and I recognize this change as a way of fixing my own stupid mistakes. I was young and naive.

    It was a hard and emotional process to not only recognize that I ultimately believed the Church was wrong, but that I had been duped to believe what the Church taught. After realizing that the teachings on NFP didn’t make sense, from a modern philosophical and scientific standpoint, I began looking at other ways the Church didn’t make sense.

    I won’t go into all of my academic thought processes here, as that would be an inappropriate thread-highjack. But I did want to respond with where I am now after trying to stay true to the Church’s teachings on sex and using NFP as our family planning method. I know certain Catholics will think I became an Agnostic-Atheist due to youthful immaturities (I’m 27) or wanting to simply have crazy-sex all the time. After waiting until marriage to have sex, accepting 2 children from NFP failure, and living in complete abstinence for a year while married, I can say that leaving Catholicism was a very informed, rational, and mature decision, made in the best interest of my family and for my own intellectual integrity.


  145. on August 18, 2012 at 7:40 am Daniel Nichols

    Kacy, I am so sad at this news. You have been in my thoughts and prayers since you first posted your comments; your situation was heartbreaking. And your new solution of agnosticism/atheism is even more so…


  146. Thank you for posting this first article. I haven’t had time to read all the comments, wish I could, but we have 7 kids and are completely run down and overwhelmed. (Nonetheless of course, we adore them, and baby is also Cutest in the World.) I am starting to understand when people say “Why would I follow the rules made up by a bunch of white, celibate, old men?” I’ll never leave the Church, and I’ll never use birth control, because somehow I understand that that action would be me shutting down my relationship with God. But sometimes I am tempted to believe that the Church hierarchy wants to keep women down. We have 3 choices – either be pregnant and powerless all the time, or abstain all the time so your husband hates you, or be a pure and spotless virgin. (Why are there no male virgin saints…ie “St. So and So, virgin and martyr…”)

    But NFP (even though we’re ridiculously bad at it) has wreaked havoc on our marriage. Especially the part about abstinence during the time a wife most desires her husband – something important for the wife, but I think even more important for the husband. Husbands have a need to feel very desired and to feel like “The Man” in bed. NFP shuts that down, if you’re avoiding pregnancy.

    But back to the Church – the American Church has abandoned its faithful. The pews of our parish are filled with people with 1-3 kids. And I know most of them are not suffering from infertility, or just really, really good at NFP. Our parish registration gives you three, yes three, lines, to fill in the names of your children. And best of all, our parish school charges $4000 per kid for K-8th grade. So the school is filled with the 2 income families with 2 kids, ages 8, and 10…(we got our boy and girl, so we were all done!) And all the families with many children are excluded from the Catholic school, and the moms are homeschooling and having nervous breakdowns.

    I wonder if someday I am going to be sick of “dragging that cross around with me” as a lady in a previous post said. I get what she means. Life has enough crosses without making more for ourselves. I just had to pause my typing to take our six month old from our 5 yr. old’s arms and smother him with about 100 kisses. So maybe I need to pay attention to those moments too. God bless all of you – what a struggle!


    • Saint Joseph is an explicitly male virgin saint. Any other male saint you see bearing a lily in iconography (e.g., as Anthony of Padua often is) is being marked for his sexual purity.


      • I think St. Joseph is referred to as “Most Chaste Spouse” because he and Our Lady did not engage in marital relations, understandably because she is the Ark of the Covenant. But I think historically there is much evidence that he was formerly married, and had children with his first wife (and was a widower). I’m happy to know about the lily for other pure male saints. But doesn’t it seem that virginity is held in utmost esteem for women, and for women saints, and not a focus at all in male saints? I think this is something the Church needs to “get right”.

        Has anyone else though, had a hard time relating to the Holy Family? How do we model our lives upon them, when we experience so much chaos day in and day out, from the many many children we are trying to raise – teens rebelling while the new baby wakes up 3 times a night to nurse. How do we do this? How do we wives model ourselves after Our Lady, who gave herself only to God, while we have to live in a sort of dual world…live chastely, but still somehow be fun and desirable for your husband, so he doesn’t grow unhappy in his marriage.

        So much more to say, have to cut short to fold laundry. Do the old men in the Vatican have any idea what it’s like to follow their instructions, in the real world, day in and day out? Jesus’ words come to mind “you place burdens upon their backs, and you do not lift a finger to help lighten those burdens.”


      • “Do the old men in the Vatican have any idea what it’s like to follow their instructions, in the real world, day in and day out?”

        You seem to think that the old men in the Vatican invented these teachings and can change them. I could see a non-Catholic thinking this — but what if, as the Church teaches, the old men did not come up with these teachings but the Church received them from God?


      • I’ve been thinking about this constantly since Daniel revived this thread yesterday. There are a lot of things I could say. But I hesitate to say any of it. I’m not married, so this NFP boondoggle doesn’t apply immediately to me, and so I obviously have no experience with marriage and caring for a family.

        But I am a man, and being single and dedicated to the Faith and Catholic sexual ethics in this culture is it’s own nightmare. Struggling to be chaste these days isn’t easy, not that it ever has been.. Today though, technology like the internet and the pill have made it even more a crucifixion than it used to be.

        Because let’s be clear here, it’s like Marx said, the technology is inescapable. One hundred years ago this all was moot. It’s only because we can contracept effectively that we are even discussing this. Prior to 1960 and hormonal birth control and the earlier development of latex, none of this was an issue because there was really no other choice. Poor or not, rich or whatever, you had sex you had kids.

        That modern medicine has made infant and maternal mortality rare, and raised the average life expectation and lowered mortality increasing population is another issue – the Church looks absurd on all sides now.

        Modern gnostic whig progressivist utilitarian positivism demands the Church recant her obscurantist

        That fact needs to be reiterated and meditated upon. We are only having this debate because we can. Our recent ancestors simply accepted the teaching because they had no other practical option.

        That we all want to live bourgeois lives is understandable. Like the poor man who posted the comment here that revivified this discussion said, his kids want to be normal. They want all the trappings of middle class American life. As do almost all of us.

        Even Owen White in his anarchist syndicalist pique wants the same thing. Wealth, ease, bourgeois normalcy. That he is having difficulty achieving it is the source of his resentment and envy which feed his anger.

        Whatever. Ours is in any case the first era in which many people could aspire to such wealth, such ease. This technology and concomitant affluence is the source of our decadence.

        The Church’s stance on contraception has not changed. Even if the technology has. Read the didache. She’s hewing to her cross of contradiction there.

        That she has abandoned it on usury is an interesting point. 1748, Benedict XIV, condemned all interest as usurious, which is also a traditional teaching reaching back to the apostles. Now the Vatican has a scandal ridden bank, and is complicit in the web of international banking.

        Fractional reserve banking and hormonal birth control are hence the two great drivers of modernity, which is the death of feudalism and traditional family and sexual mores. The Church is essentially feudal, bound by absolutes, faith, obedience, and intimate relationship, and the newly enlightened world is consummately individualistic, gnostic and utilitarian.

        The Church is in this way a white hot mess doctrinally in a post modern light, and hence decadent pastorally. She has been made to look obsolete and ridiculous, obscurantist and backward, by circumstances. She sticks to her absolutes on sexuality, and expresses them in scholastic terms, and gets mocked and ignored.

        We all have two options before us:

        We can either stick to the Church in her apparent absurdity, hoping that her quixotic adherence to Christ and the anthropology of the Incarnation and Resurrection..

        Or we can embrace the Brave New World of the gnostics, in which salvation is to be sought through technology and power.

        This is our dilemma. Notice that only one of those options allows us to remain human.

        Blessings on all your heads. Veni Emmanuel.


  147. As a former NFP teacher (CCL) and user whose wife is now post-menopausal, I’m certainly sobered by the often bitter reactions to NFP on the part of so many. I was somewhat aware of the difficulties of many sincere NFP users already, but I wasn’t prepared for all the bitterness and even rejection of the Church’s teaching, even to the point of leaving the Faith. I can see more clearly that the mostly happy-face promotion of NFP does not address the situation of many. But in the end, what are the alternatives? Leaving the Church? Letting “doing what comes naturally” be our guide – a sure recipe for disaster in human relations? None of these solutions really can stand up to reason, however much they may seem to satisfy our immediate needs.

    The Catholic Church historically has realized the fraility of us humans, and rarely asks for heroic virtue on the part of her children. Unfortunately it seems that in this age the times for heroic virtue have increased. We need to postpone marriage longer, thus making for more abstinence. Even the matter of the poisoning of our planet and our bodies through artificial food and other pollutants – surely one of the most signal triumphs of Satan – affects us by probably making women’s cycles more difficult to interpret and thus increasing the need for abstinence in order to avoid a pregnancy. What easy answers are there? None, I’m afraid. Fortunately God is merciful and looks with great compassion on our sins of weakness. But still, they are sins, and any solution that denies that is not ultimately helpful.


    • on August 18, 2012 at 12:56 pm Kippleys Can Kiss My Ass

      Newsflash: Not having sex with your spouse for months and years on end IS an act of heroic virtue. I’m not a hero and I didn’t sign up to be one. “Doing what comes naturally” is being misinterpreted – no one here is asking for a wild, out-of-control sexual free-for-all. We were designed with a sex drive, and yes, we have reason and morals to guide it. But on the flipside, that sex drive is natural to biology and the Church is asking people to ignore their bodies, instincts, emotions, and other aspects of the bond of marriage that are hard to quantify and qualify. And suggesting that NFP is the answer to this dilemma is asking for people to undergo undue suffering in many, many cases. The happy-clappy NFP crowd, I am convinced, is delusional or so convinceed that sex is bad that ANY sex allowed seems like a gift to them.


  148. Revisiting my comments from a year ago…
    I am in the end thankful that I learned NFP. I am glad that my wife and I managed that experience, and I do think we gained from going through it. That said, I wouldn’t cavalierly suggest a young couple go through it or that it will magically solve problems. It is a more or less effective tool depending on circumstances. Once I finally wrapped me head around the fact that the church didn’t really care about me or my problems, I stopped being as concerned with her opinion on how I solved my problems. Living and persevering through poverty wasn’t earning me any hosannas in this life, and my wealthier betters sure as hell weren’t neglecting their present life in hopes of a good afterlife. Many of the people in the Catholic apostolates were too busy patting themselves on the back for their sacrifice of only making $60,000 to $150,000 per year. So when the consequences of having a child were severe enough we obeyed the doctors and used the proscribed methods. When that passed, I didn’t push to go back to NFP. If I’m going to hell for being poor, then so be it. I have to survive this life.

    Seeing the latest comments, I can’t say I’m really shocked. I live in one of the most impoverished parts of the country, and my parish is as happy and bourgeois as ever. All the bourgeois boys and girls will be getting First Communion and no one will really notice or care that there are only a few poor children up there. When I go to pay the $400 religious education bill – not school tuition, religious education bill – for my three children, there will be no interest in understanding where the money came from despite the fact that I’m finishing up school and there is no employer listed on my contact information. If anything a note will be made about the discount I’m getting for having three children. I’m not really asking for sympathy here. I’m getting paid more in my summer internship than a lot of poor people make, and after graduation I will be fine financially. I offer it for the benefit of others who can’t understand how following the church can very quickly drive poor people from it. Since my kids are going to RE, I’m obviously still in it. I guess I’m a masochist. But believe me, I could certainly understand why a poor person wouldn’t want to be in that country club.


    • Thanks, M – you’ve expressed perfectly the vast majority of Catholic and Orthodox congregations I am familiar with. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to walk out of a church service early because I just couldn’t stomach another second in the company of these smug, Republican voting (even if they pull the “lesser of two evils” mantra), piously chipper, closet health & wealthists (under the guise of being faithful to tradition/magisterium/authority/whatever) wraiths.

      What drives me nuts is that these churchgoers think of themselves as middle class when in fact they are upper middle class. The median household income in 2011 in the U.S. was $49,445. For non-Hispanic whites it was $54,620. I know more than a handful of Orthodox and Catholics who have the gall to tell you that they are lower middle class when they have household incomes of $70kish – they’ll tell you how they have at times struggled to make ends meet but by ‘ends’ they mean keeping the kids in private school and all their extra-curricular crap and the family vacation to the beach and in their weekly entertainments and in their better than Walmart clothes and in their cars that look decent. The vapid banality of this legion of Christians cannot be overstated, and there is nothing more cringe inducing than when such enter a conversation like this one talking about their ‘problems’ as if in some way that have any appreciation of what an actual human life is like. When I read some of the “yeah, I know what struggle is too” comments I want to get all Obama-after-Romneyesque and demand to know what their household income was for the last five years. In my mind, anybody in a household more than 10% or so above the median income should be required to shut the hell up – and I don’t care how many kids they have and if 70k is supposedly ‘tight’ with 9 kids – they choose to have all those children and like it or not, a large family is a consumer choice like anything else in our society, especially when you are doing it to score religious points and feel better about yourself when watching EWTN or reading the Catholic Answers site.

      My wife and I have found that the perfect spot for us (family of 5) is about 20k below the overall median, with a few tens of thousands of medical bills in a given year and no insurance. You make too much to get on state aid (at least in my Southern tea party controlled state) and too little to make any headway. Conservative Christianities in this country have made the Christian faith into an utter farce as they have so gentrified so many Christian cultures. That conservative Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and white conservative Protestantism has produced the ecclesial cultures they have in this country should be seen as an indictment of their truth claims (as if it matters how many rosaries you pray and how often you get all Janet Smith pious and don’t screw your wife when she actually wants it if you drive a $35k vehicle, own any pair of shoes that cost more than $100, and/or shop at Whole Foods). If Jesus came to save a bunch of comfortable white middle class Americans, then to hell with Christianity.


      • Oh man, Owen, I hear you and yet I have to disagree! Again, don’t you think the only answer here is S-I-N? I know too many awesome, holy, meek, humble Christians with large (and small) families, both rich and poor, to put different groups into the box you just made for them.

        And one thing we can all, always do, is find someone worse off than us. It doesn’t mean that things are still not hard if you’re a little better off than someone else. The answer isn’t for the Church to start teaching that sterilizing ourselves is the answer! The answer isn’t for Janet Smith to stop telling the truth. The answer isn’t to stop appealing to Our Lady, to pray for us. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater!

        I will pray for you guys. Life is so hard and money makes it so much easier. Our roof just started leaking, and we need a new roof to the tune of 20K. We are upper middle class, but we don’t have close to 20K to put on a new roof. We drive one old car, we buy cheap clothes, and we do have bunches of kids. Mostly because we believe that what the Church teaches is actually about how God made us in the beginning, and we aren’t to mess with it. Abstinence has been terribly hard on our marriage – not bond inducing, but the opposite. NFP doesn’t work well because it relies on not only a readable cycle, but a couple who isn’t drawn to eachother to the point of irresistibility (is that a word?)

        Christ is the only answer! And His bride is the Church, His body – you, me, our children, even the pharisees who don’t lift a finger. The humans in the Church (hierarchy, you, me) get it wrong. But Christ is still the answer!


      • If Christ did not come to save everyone, then to hell with the Christianity.


      • Sheesh. This is what keeps me from being able to take marxism seriously as a social movement – the fact that every marxist I’ve known personally or talked to at length is motivated by so much anger and hate. I usually agree with most of what you post Owen but the lack of charity or even simple rational clarity here is a red flag (pun intended). telling me where you are in the discourse is not where I want to be.


  149. Yes, the Church does not require heroic virtue of us; she does require virtue, as Thomas Storck indicates. If artificial contraception is truly immoral, what can the Church do but say it is immoral? Or should the Church say it is immoral but permit it nonetheless? Or should the Church, even if her entire tradition and the force of her reasoning say it is immoral, say it is not?

    I have been married for 25 years. My wife and I have seven children. We are not among the well-heeled, bourgeois Catholic set. Our budget becomes tighter and tighter, it seems, every month. We have known what it is to go without a paycheck and to face the possibility of being unemployed. My current economic situation is not secure — as if anyone’s is, these days. We understand, too, the trials of NFP. My wife and I, however, are very happy with each other. We are best friends — which is not to say we have not had our own difficulties in marriage. It is merely to say that, on the whole, we have a good marriage.

    The Church does not require heroic virtue, but circumstances may make it such that the practice of ordinary virtue must be heroic. A man in an unhappy marriage may fall in love with a woman not his wife; he may think her his soul mate; in such a case, the practice of marital chastity, an ordinary virtue, may become heroic. The same thing could happen if one’s spouse is so ill that he or she cannot perform the marital act or be a real spousal companion. In such cases, should one forego fidelity simply because it requires heroism? What if we faced torture and death if we do not betray a friend? Should we then betray? We are to confess Christ before men — something that, for the most part in the U.S., does not require anything but simple courage. But, what if we faced real ostracism, imprisonment, or death for confessing Christ? To confess him, then, would require heroic virtue. Since this is so, should we then deny him?

    The Church does not require heroic virtue, but we must prepare ourselves for the times circumstances may require it of us. We must train for heroism by prayer, mortification, works of charity and justice, and contemplation. I am as weak as anyone; I am not a mystic or great ascetic, so I do not write this lightly. I tremble at the thought of being so proved — would I stand firm or would I fall? I do not know. But I do know this: Christ promised to give us the strength we need to overcome sin and to endure the tribulations he allows us to undergo. He did not say, however, that he would make it easy for us or that we would escape misery; he simply promised that he would give us the power to overcome. One may call this pious claptrap, but it really is central to what it means to be Christ’s follower. If it isn’t true, then Christ, not the Church, is a liar.


    • Christopher, you are right. The old men in the Vatican did not make this up. The Church would make a liar out of God if they proclaimed that birth control was right. The Church cannot proclaim something un-evil, that is evil. I did not mean to start a Church bash on what She teaches. It is incredibly hard, and the only explanation for it all, is S-I-N. God did not create us to have these ruptures in our relationships, or to have crazy stress when being fruitful and multiplying. He did not create us to take pills to suppress our fertility. He did not create the beautiful marital act so that we would put condoms on. He never originally intended the hardship, when He created us, and we walked in the garden with Him. But because of sin, the vortex of the fallout is incomprehensible and touches our lives and messes up His original intent, in every way. You are right too, that maybe the only answer is heroic virtue, and acceptance of the cross, due to sin. (Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think it’s sinful to desire one’s spouse!)

      What I am dismayed about, is that the Church, in the hierarchical, human sense of the word, has abandoned its faithful. We sit in pews (well, we take up a whole pew) with mostly families with 1-3 children. We are denied financial aid because we’re not poor enough, yet not rich enough to spend $22,000 on Catholic school tuition per year. The schools here are filled with 2 income, small families, while the large ones who follow Church teaching, are homeschooled, and as I said, we mothers are beyond overburdened. The Church does nothing to lift a finger. In fact, our pastor just sent a letter out saying he fully expects our participation in every aspect of the parish – financial, time and talent. No way in hell am I going to tithe a bunch of money to subsidize schools that my children are excluded from….while I break my back every day because my kids still need an education.

      The American Church needs to bring millions of dollars back home, to its Catholic schools, and subsidize them like crazy. We need to take millions of dollars out of mission fields in other places, and give the millions of dollars to the mission field of Catholic education. It is a battle here too, you know, even though we have plenty to eat and drink and wear. It is a different kind of battle, but a crucial one.

      That is my beef with the Church, and why I still believe that the hierarchy asks us to move mountains, and sits back and watches us groan under the burden, and does zilch. I should also clarify that I know too many beautiful priests to even start counting. I know they hear me with compassion and wish things were otherwise.

      So really, Christopher, your long reply is probably the only answer. But it hurts. And we all need great grace.


      • Mom,

        I could not agree with you more about the lack of support for families in the Church. The Church too often looks like a social club; Catholics don’t understand that we are members of one body and thus have duty toward one another, not only in spiritual matters, but in temporal ones as well. One wonders at times how many of us truly believe that the Church is indeed the sacrament of God’s presence among men and the fullness of Christ.

        My reply hurt me as well. I want to see the need for heroic virtue minimized as far as it possibly can be. For this to happen, however, we have to address the social, political, and economic structures of sin in the Church and in the secular world.


      • on August 18, 2012 at 10:36 pm Kippleys Can Kiss My Ass

        I agree with what you just said. I really, really do. However, in the meantime, I’m not allowing my marriage to be destroyed while you solve all the world’s problems. Life is short.


      • To say you seem resentful of the Church would be an understatement. I assume that you think it is the Church alone that asks you not to use artificial contraception. But what if the Church here is expressing the mind of Christ? If so, then it is Jesus who is asking us not to contracept. What, then?

        I would not think of giving you any advice, for I don’t know you or anything really of your situation. Even if you detailed your life for us, we could not be sure we are getting the full perspective — and not because you would be lying. A true counselor would have to know much more than what even you could tell us — he or she would have to know your spouse, for instance, and other details of your life.

        That being said, I don’t discountenance the claims of those who struggle with NFP; I know personally that it can be very difficult, and more difficult for some than others. But — and I do not address you personally when I say this — from what I read from some who have deep problems with NFP, I detect that it is not finally NFP that is the problem but something else. Practicing NFP might exacerbate a preexisting problem, but it is not the cause of it. Nor would abandoning NFP for contraception solve the root problem. Such problems have a way of coming back, sometimes in more virulent forms. This is not to say that, in some cases, NFP may be a cause of marital problems; but, I don’t think one addresses this problem by falling into what is objectively sinful. Sin is a violation of our human nature; it destroys our integrity; it is a sickness of the soul. How, then, could it be a final solution? How could it ever be healing? The immediate problem might disappear, but what other problems would arise later?


  150. What if the only method the Church allows is hard on your marriage and unreliable? Isn’t that the anguished question being asked here? How can it claim authority, even infallibility if the hierarchy appears to be like the Pharisees that momofmany cites, laying burdens on the faithful while doing nothing to help them? If the only people who can follow Church teaching without great hardship are the healthy and wealthy?

    I for one am glad to see faithful Catholics questioning the NFP establishment; I have long suspected they were feeding us a line of crap.
    And no, I am not leaving the Church. But She may need some pretty creative exegesis to get out of this one. Sometimes the thought that none of this would even be an issue if I were Orthodox or (yech) Protestant, or even a nominal Catholic drives me crazy.


  151. And if sperm is so sacred that it can only be spilled in the vagina why was God so superfluous in its creation? Every ejaculation contains around 300 million of them; a man in his lifetime makes 1,000,000,000,000. That’s one quadrillion of them! I have fathered six, which sounds like a lot of kids until you consider that number of sperm that perished unfulfilled. Really, the Church is looking sillier.


    • Under so-called “natural” circumstances, ie with no chemical contraception being used, a women with regular sexual activity from her early 20s until the end of menopause will flush out most of her zygotes (the parameter most commonly cited is 60-80% of zygotes). Obviously as the woman ages there is an increase in the likelihood that a zygote will fail. Nature is one hell of a zygote holocaust.


      • How is this relevant?


      • It’s not particularly relevant to this discussion.

        Though, on another unrelevant note, it is quite plausible that many sexually active women lose less zygotes while using certain chemical birth control drugs (because of the prevention of ovulation for long periods of time) than they do when they use no contraception at all with the same level of sexual activity, even with the theoretical possibility of the drug very occasionally acting as a causal agent in the termination of a zygote. Thus it could be argued that these forms of birth control are potentially reducing the magnitude of the natural slaughter of the unborn.

        Not that I think that chemical birth control is a good health option for women, mind you, considering the risks for heart disease and cancer down the line, though new hormone cocktails have a lot more finesse and will presumably mitigate some of those risks.

        I have a friend who had what she thinks was at least a dozen very early miscarriages when having regular sex (with her husband) without contraception. She became very anxious about what she thought of as a bunch of dead tiny babies, and considered going on the pill to reduce the number of zygotes she was flushing down the toilet. If nothing else, such a case would present an interesting discussion among Catholic moral theologians – a woman going on the pill in order to prevent more repeated “deaths” her body keeps churning out.

        Other scenarios come to mind. The RCC has no problem with a woman taking “the pill” for reasons related to acne treatment, or treatment of depression, or to treat irregular cycles – all things the pill is sometimes prescribed for. So if a woman takes the pill with the intent to treat depression is she still forbidden to have sex with her husband because she is on the pill?, Does the probability that by taking it she is likely to experience less zygote deaths overall than were she not using any birth control have any bearing upon the determination of whether such an act would be licit or not?

        If we step aside for a moment from the role intent-to-prevent-prego plays in the morality of ABC use, we might also consider the fact that fertility in females is now, in the view of many scientists, being effected to some degree (in public health terms anyway) by chemical and hormonal factors outside of the use of so-called ‘abortificient’ birth control. For instance, all those Dobsonista adult pre-menopausal women who bought a chicken sandwich at Chick-fil-A appreciation day decreased their zygote viability (to some degree, however minor) by eating a piece of meat chock full of hormones*. To the degree that some of those women understood the potential impact of eating that sandwich on their fertility, I wonder what culpability the moral theologians would assess.

        *Chick-fil-A claims that its chicken is hormone free as, per FDA guidelines, the chickens it uses are fed hormone free feed. The problem is that they buy feedlot chickens from large suppliers, and these CAFO bred chickens eat slaughterhouse remnants of cows, and cows are given lots of hormones, including testosterone – this is one reason that U.S. non organic chicken meat is usually found to have exceptionally high hormone levels. In godless Europe the use of hormones in all meat production is banned, and their chicken has a great deal less hormones in it, thus improving the viability of zygotes across Europe. Go figure.


    • Silly? Catholics don’t claim that sperm is sacred.


  152. The Church has always upheld the unitive aspect of sex, as a remedy for concupiscence. The fact is that the natural outcome of the marriage act is pregnancy. Trying to cut corners and circumvent nature generally backfires. Our pregnancies were user failures, not method failures. We learned that sexual activity is either pregnancy-achieving or pregnancy-avoiding, depending on when it takes place. We can’t change the way it is, only ourselves. The Church gets a bad rap, even seeming to serve as a scapegoat for frustrations, which are undoubtably very real!
    That being said, I can relate to pregnancy feeling like a sword of Damocles hanging over our heads, and NFP a roller coaster or even like navigating a landmine. I am not a patient person, and all I wanted was to be on ‘auto-pilot’ and not have to think about any of that. Which is why it was easier to be pregnant, that way I didn’t have to worry about becoming pregnant. But there comes a point where we reach our limit and need to do something concrete (and permissible) to get a handle on our fertility. But as I’ve said before, eventually NFP becomes almost second nature and straightforward, or it should. When the rules are consistently applied, it is effective. As my brother says “success breeds confidence.” At first though, it felt hopeless, and beyond daunting. At that point, it can be very tempting to resort to immoral means, to temporarily or permanently avoid having children.
    I get that abstinence can be an adjustment at best (renouncing a due good for the purpose of avoiding conception) and a severe hardship at worst. It is a deprivation, and I know that the lack can cause tension and strain to different degrees in marriages. What I can’t understand is why it would be necessary to abstain a year, or years on end. A month, yes, (which admittedly can seem like forever) while sorting everything out and getting on an even keel. Even accounting for cycle irregularities and inexperience, a total blackout doesn’t seem at all reasonable. Am I missing something? That’s why we do appreciate NFP-so sex doesn’t have to be all or nothing. There are plenty of circumstances where we can’t indulge our desires. The desires for our spouse are good, in and of themselves, but they have to be ordered.
    Part of the problem is a society that is all about demanding our rights (not to mention hyper-sexualized, with multiple stimuli that make it extra challenging to be pure.) . Yes, sex in marriage is a right. But sometimes we have to forego it. Marriage is not just based on feelings, but on what is best for the spouses, and the family as a whole. And while it may seem on the surface that unlimited sex is better for the marriage, I’m not sure that’s the case. It’s a human reaction, and in our humanity we all are weak in different ways. But that doesn’t mean we should admit defeat. I know this is a very personal matter, and the factors and circumstances that make this area so trying are our own. My experiences are just that, my own.
    Saints like St. Augustine and St. Mary Magdalen were at one time entrenched in sin, but they didn’t persist in their sin, rather they overcame it. Didn’t he say “Lord, make me a saint, but not yet?” I’m sure we all can relate to that for our own reasons. My understanding is that we don’t have to BE saints to be virtuous, but it’s the striving for virtue-habits- that helps us become holy. I’m reminded of the saying “I’m a worthless servant; I have done no more than my duty.” It is primarily grace that allows us to pursue the good. I am grateful for the formation we’ve received, etc.
    Is there not a happy medium for people who are striving to follow Church teaching, but feel desperate under the uncertainty of fertility?


    • We abstained for a year because I conceived my second child during the first cycle of my return to fertility, after my first child. We abstained after my second was born because I was totally freaked out at the difficulty about the return-to-fertility signs. Lactational amenorrhea is only reliable under if all 7 standards are met. During the first six months, before my baby had his first solids, I was meeting these 7 standards, but my husband and I were living apart. He was a long distance trucker, working hard for our family. When we moved in with his parents, I was no longer meeting the 7 standards, but scared about return to fertility.

      My husband was so understanding to agree to abstain. It was a mutual decision while we relearned NFP and decided where to go with our marriage, religiously, financially, etc., since our life-track had gotten so screwed up by that point. We still live next door to my husband’s parents and are drowning in student loans.

      Really the whole NFP thing had less to do with the sex itself and more towards how following church teaching had completely thrown our lives off-course. Now that we’re stopped NFP, it’s not as if we’re having crazy-sex all the time–more like 2 to 4 times a month–if you must know. The difference is that sex is no longer this thing shrouded in fear, fear of ending the act in the wrong place, and/or fear of getting pregnant because I read the chart wrong. And this is why the Church, or at least the NFP literature doesn’t “get it.” They assume that a couple’s desire for marital relations is about lust. When really for most couples, especially those of us living below the poverty line, it’s about being able to express our love without fear that doing so will completely derail our lives.


      • Ugggh, I should have proof-read that comment, but my toddler distracted me. Sorry.


      • on August 18, 2012 at 10:41 pm Kippleys Can Kiss My Ass

        Amen, sister. That’s my biggest frustration – that sex is now covered in a layer of fear. Sex with your spouse was supposed to be joyful, not fearful! Worse, I have actually had someone tell me that my faith wasn’t strong enough if that’s how I saw it. Really? Wow! Just hand over those “more faith” pills and I’ll pop them! I mean, people are where they are in their faith journey, but some folks just think you should be somewhere else and have the same abilities and strengths they do. Faith is a journey and the Church never said “You’ll all be at the same place at the same time, or else!”

        The sadness and despair I feel because our sex life is clouded in fear is so deep that I don’t even know what to do with it anymore. Let me tell you, it doesn’t HELP spouses want to be together.


    • on August 18, 2012 at 10:34 pm Kippleys Can Kiss My Ass

      Sounding pretty preachy to me. Glad NFP works for you. It is incredibly prideful to sit there and tell us all that we just need to work harder at it. I AM SO TIRED OF HEARING THAT!!!! Stop already!

      I DO NOT want sex with my spouse unless I am ovulating.
      I DO NOT want to be pregnant again for a variety of reasons that are OUR business. I MASSIVELY RESENT the folks here judging people who have 1-3 kids. Hello NFP police!
      It is NOT NATURAL to stick your hand in your crotch everyday to examine your mucous and document it on a chart. It is furthermore not natural to deny your natural sexual desires, instincts, and physical love for a spouse.
      It is is NOT NORMAL to have intercourse with your spouse only 2-4 times a year, which is the current state of my marriage.

      The Church does not “get it,” and no matter what it teaches about artificial contraception, those teachings can not validate the hurting and sorrow of near sexless marriages that are forced into such situations because NFP rightly doesn’t work for a couple, no matter what the reason is. NFP is NOT required by the Church.


      • I just wanted to address Dan’s original premise, that not being able to have sex at the time of ovulation when the wife is most desirous may be hurting marriages. I don’t know if anyone has pointed out the obvious: that sex at ovulation would likely lead in short order to pregnancy, after which point she WOULDN’T ovulate for potentially the next year and a half! (In 10 years I probably ovulated 18 times. If amenorhea had lasted longer it would have been fewer.) The whole point of that desire is expressly for generation. And if one is trying not to conceive, of necessity one has to avoid that time. I’m speaking very practically, this is basic cause and effect, and I guess it’s the crux of everyone’s frustration.
        Pregnancy and breastfeeding naturally suppress ovulation. The pill does so unnaturally (and decreases libido in many cases); hysterectomy ends it altogether, I think. As does menopause. Condom use at the time of ovulation, if it were to fail, would be to invite pregnancy. The only means that would afford unlimited opportunities for sex at ovulation would be vasectomy (mutilation). Which is the same thing many others have concluded. But where we part ways with others in our position is that we take Church teaching as non-negotiable, while others take not having another baby as non-negotiable. I guess it’s primarily Catholics that adhere to the principle that the end doesn’t justify the means. I have known people to leave the Church precisely so that they have no scruples about getting sterilized. That’s not at all for me to judge (and forgive me if I ever sounded like I was doing so.) God alone can determine individual culpability, and I’m not going to try to prove His existence since I take it on faith. I’m trying to speak primarily from a natural, practical level. NFP has alot to recommend it as it doesn’t undermine the integrity of the body. (Yes, I know mental health is important too.)
        Taking L’s point into consideration, what he is suggesting seems about as natural as bulimia. The bulimic might say “why should I have to digest my food?” It’s rightly regarded as an eating disorder. It tries to circumvent the natural process of the act.
        If not being able to engage in sex while ovulating (which as a NFP practicer I don’t) were to hurt my marriage I think it would be because I focused on that, and let it cause resentment. I’ve given my version of an apology for NFP, not to try to be on a high horse, but mainly because L wanted to hear from people who were a little more ‘jaded’-were we still satisfied with NFP (and singing the same tune, so to speak.) Perhaps I’m not representative enough for some- of the kind of couple they want to hear from, not desperate enough, not in dire enough straits to be tempted to something drastic. But I can say with some assurance that I WOULD BE if NFP hadn’t been an option.


    • Sorry: I didn’t mean to say that the unitive aspect of sex was the same as the remedy for concupiscence aspect.


      • If you don’t understand that comparing our lovemaking with puking after a gluttonous meal is totally offensive I don’t know what to say to you.
        I understand your premise: that we are trying to avoid the consequences of our acts just as the glutton is. However, the glutton is eating immoderatedly and is trying to avoid weight gain. We are lucky with this many kids and a small house to find ourselves with 20 minutes without someone needing us or pounding on the door once a week. So we are not gluttons. And the end we are trying to avoid is not rooted in vanity but in trying to avoid very serious economic and health problems.
        What this thread cleared up is that Mr Nichols’ original question was on track. It also cleared up the fact that NFP is too unreliable to use if you are seriously trying to avoid pregnancy.


      • I honestly did not mean to cause offense, L. Perhaps the analogy is weak. To me, spilling seed and undigested food seemed not unalike, in their outcome. Though again, I could NEVER judge culpability. But my husband once used the example of lying vs. not speaking. In one you actually do something wrong, and the other you aren’t acting outside the moral order. No doubt you probably wish I’d “be quiet.” The thing is, I am so sympathetic to your plight that I genuinely wish you could find a solution that was truly beneficial to you and your family. It pains me that people feel compelled to find ways around this. Does your wife not have regular cycles (not that it’s any of my business)? My cycles have become so consistent that I can tell when the infertile period is, at which point I have assurance that pregnancy won’t occur. Whereas I once lived with the “fear” of pregnancy hanging over my head, I no longer do, and I sincerely wish that other people could reach that point. I realize this might be like someone saying “I don’t have any problem making a comfortable salary or keeping my weight down, why do you?” The fact is that people do. I recognize this, and the Church recognizes this. And as a married woman who has struggled coming to grips with fertility, and has alot of reasons to avoid pregnancy (only some of which are in my bank account that has all of 6 cents in it right now) I feel like I do get it. The one thing that I can’t do, because charity demands it, is to affirm something that the Church does not. I’m sorry if I sounded harsh. I can’t judge you for one, because it’s not peoples place to judge others- but I don’t even know you. Perhaps it makes it more difficult that we aren’t having a face to face conversation.


      • When the Catholic Church starts condemning things like wine tasting, where you spit out the wine, I’ll take the logic against condoms seriously. As it is, this (sexual intercourse) is the only area pertaining to bodily functions that the Church maintains that certain attributes must always be maintained. Bulimia is not a sufficient comparison because this is a mental, not just a physical disorder. Spitting out wine for wine tasting is a better analogy or eating a piece nutritive deficient chocolate cake, but neither of these acts are condemned by the Church.

        On a side note, I may take the Church’s argument against sterilization seriously, if I see the same sort of condemnation made against male genital mutilation (circumcision).


  153. I wasn’t trying to pry, so much as to understand the mentality that leads people to adopt such a drastic approach. I think it’s not at all uncommon to abstain altogether as the only failproof method.
    I found that transition cycles were completely nerve-wracking and we always conceived, or in this last case, narrowly missed by about 4 days. I always felt that as soon as I started to get on track I’d get knocked down (or up as the case may be.)
    Some may feel that this is no way to live but it is actually freeing to realize that there is a design and an order to fertility and it can be “mastered”, not that we’re ever completely in control, no matter what. Contraception (or other means) may appear expedient, but honestly I think it’s all about trade-offs.
    There may be a misperception that people who use NFP somehow aren’t as attracted to their spouse or interested in sex. In our case that’s not at all true. I have heard (and can believe) that people who don’t use contraception don’t have less sex, it’s just concentrated in the window of opportunity. Once at the point in the cycle where the chances of conception are nil then it ceases to be a fear, especially as other birth control “fails.”


  154. on August 18, 2012 at 10:50 pm Kippleys Can Kiss My Ass

    That’s one of the myths about NFP that I laugh at – that we can master our bodies. If that were true, there’d be no disease and death. There’d be perfect weight and perfect health. OK, so NFP gives you a handle on what’s happening, but it is no where near as effective as the cheerleaders claim and quite honestly, I’m glad. See, that’s where I give God credit where credit is due. We have imperfect bodies in an imperfect world. To me, it’s almost heresy to use the word “master” in relation to fertility. And no, some of us don’t believe that ABC is more effective as NFP. It’s not, and some forms I wouldn’t touch with a 10 foot pole. Still, good Catholics who resort to ABC after giving up on NFP are doing so because they have determined with a great amount of near certainty that if they don’t have some level of naturally-occurring sex with their spouse, their marriage will be destroyed.

    Personally, I’ve semi-vowed to stop hanging out with all the goody-goody 6-10 kids Catholics. That way I’ll at least stop one source of undue judgement and nasty assumptions about my marriage and whether or not I’m contracepting.


    • Last I checked, and I don’t have time to re-read all these posts, no one is judging anyone. No one is a policeman for NFP, and I think the major voice in these threads has been that this is a cross, NFP doesn’t work well and causes great angst in marriage. That’s what compelled me to even comment on this blog, was my own terrible struggle and fear surrounding Church teaching and fertility, etc. I completely and totally understand why any of you have decided to use birth control, or are in the midst of figuring it out. I haven’t decided to – not because I’m a goody goody – I’m the farthest thing from it – I just haven’t, for all kinds of reasons.

      I’ve said before, my beef with the Church is not that she upholds something that is true anyway, but that she drops those of us who follow her teaching, like a hot potato. Specifically I’ve referenced schools. Our family is excluded from the massively expensive Catholic schools, while smaller families with older children and two incomes can afford it. The problem here is the Church – basing tuitions and financial aid policies on a 2-3 kid family. Like I’ve already said, it makes me feel like they place burdens on our backs that are too heavy, and don’t lift a finger to lighten them.

      By the way, thanks Colby, for clarifying the unitive vs. remedy for concupiscence. The remedy for concupiscence aspect that the Church gives for sex is so disappointing to me. I mean, I realize it’s true, but I don’t want to believe it. I want to believe that couples are always coming together to show their love for one another.

      I don’t spend nearly enough time in prayer, but I’m going to pray for all of us in this thread – who are struggling under this burden, that God will lead each of us to the center of His will for us and our families, and give us the grace we need to do whatever He wants with us!


    • I put “master” in quotes. But to say we can “prudently govern” fertility would be more precise. I believe that it is possible to become proficient and skilled in this method. I’m not going to compare my situation with yours because it would perhaps be like apples and oranges, and not helpful. I don’t want to minimize the constraints that you or others find themselves under that makes the uncertainty and ambiguity of the signs so difficult to deal with. My husband said doing NFP was one of the hardest things he’s ever done. (And after one pregnancy I was in such a state that I considered adoption. Thankfully that passed after the first trimester; pregnancy hormones didn’t help.) It is a sacrifice to have kids and be pregnant, or to abstain, either way.

      But I think NFP is worth learning, if for no other reason than it would be harder to change other aspects; i.e. to get more resources (inner or outer) to be able to practice SFP (supernatural family planning, as Dan says) in which case we’d likely have 6 or 7 kids by now, or to last for 4 years of abstinence. NFP was simply the most viable option. I hate to see people so soured on the method. I wish I knew what aspect was the biggest stumbling block, or why proponents seem to provoke such irritated reactions. I won’t suger-coat it and try to say it is a magic bullet. It’s not. As for 100 % efficacy, nothing short of sterilization will give that. It would be an extreme route to take, as with walking away from the Church, and abstaining indefinitely, though the last is permitted, practically speaking it would be unthinkable.


  155. I was hesitant to say anything much on this thread because I felt considerable compassion for the difficult situations people were in, and I’d earlier expressed that I thought there was something lacking in what I called the usual “happy-face” presentation of NFP. But more than one person has said something like this: “And this is why the Church, or at least the NFP literature doesn’t “get it.” They assume that a couple’s desire for marital relations is about lust.”

    What evidence pray is there for such a statement? It seems to me that, with basically no support from the hierarchy, John Kippley and a few others went to great lengths to enable married couples to have as much sex as they could while not violating the law of God and yet postponing pregnancy. If you want to call their moral theology wrong, go ahead and do so. But they believed it was correct, and they, and the many unpaid teaching couples who teach NFP, are actually doing something about trying to help others to avoid sin, avoid pregnancy, and have as much satisfying sex as they can. I think it’s both unjust and uncharitable to call the NFP people anti-sex when, unlike the bishops themselves, they took the trouble to help others. I’m not aware of anyone in the NFP movement who thinks that sex is evil or should be limited beyond the bounds set by the natural law, which is the law of God. If you don’t agree with those limits, your quarrel is not with the NFP movement, but with the Church or perhaps with God and nature.

    You can say anything you like about the tone of the NFP literature. I agree that in many cases it can be misleading and downplay the difficulties. But it was out of a genuine, if faulty, desire to come across as having a positive attitude, that it was written that way.

    The people who really annoy me are those who condemn NFP users on the grounds that every Catholic couple should have a large family unless they have some “grave” reason not to. That’s simply false, contrary to what the Church teaches, damaging to marriages and families, and I’m convinced will lead to more than one apostasy from the Faith in years to come. I’m sorry that NFP hasn’t worked as well for many as it was hoped. In some cases this may be from faulty teaching or using a faulty method. In other cases, as Christopher Zehnder noted, circumstances can require us ordinary Christians to practice heroic virtue.


  156. I was thinking the same thing earlier today. The CCL teachers get no personal gain apart from helping people follow Church teaching. What puzzles me is why people are so dismissive of NFP, when they’re already used to abstaining for extremely long periods of time. Why not take the next step towards making their situation more bearable. It being the case, that they’ve already shown the capability of abstaining (and that is more than half the battle) why not take the time it takes to learn NFP using a very conservative approach? The pay-off is that once you’re at a point where you’re confident that you know what’s what, you should be able to engage in sex as much, as often and as spontaneously as you like, but within certain parameters, set by nature. The nice thing is that for the average woman, the cycle is generally pretty predictable.


    • You both seem to be missing the point that KCKMA and I have been discussing. If you have misread your signs after taking NFP classes, have difficult charts to interpret anyway, and are completely broke and desperate, it’s not about the abstaining….it’s about the fear of messing it up again. The advice to “relearn NFP” or “try another method,” rings hollow. As does trite comments about “this being a cross to bear” or “the Church calls for virtue,” blah blah blah. (We’ve been struggling for years and heard it all.)

      This is why I decided to say “to Hell with the whole thing.” The Church is wrapped up in this psychology of fear, and NFP just happened to be the place where it most manifested itself in my life. It was a zero win situation–
      1.) Have sex = fear of another baby and life becoming unglued again.
      2.) Non-approved sex acts = fear of hell
      3.) Total abstinence, which I used for a year because it was the least stressful of my options. There was no fear here, except that it would likely strain my marriage in the long run.

      And yes, it does make one wonder if the whole fearful system is just a load of baloney, made up by white guys with sex issues and aristotelian notions of biology and reproduction. (Sperm were regarded as homunculi, or little people. The woman contributed no material for the formation of a child, but rather the fertile field of her womb for it to grow.) And to be frank, it is quite alienating for a woman reading TOB to see that the focus is mainly on male orgasm, with little to do with a woman’s sexuality. (Christopher West and friends may interpret it otherwise, but the actual teachings are very male-focused.) And why should I believe an institution has moral authority, when it rationalizes this authority using completely outdated science?

      After reading all this, following the rules, abstaining for a year, praying for God to change my mind, atheism just made more sense. I especially didn’t want to teach my children to trust the Church because the Vatican says we should (circular logic), especially when the teachings are damaging. And I didn’t want to base their morality using a sin-based view of humanity and a fear of hell. Ultimately I’m happy that NFP caused me to question everything. No more bitterness here.


      • Kacy,

        I have read several claims you have made about Church teaching and, it is clear, you do not understand it. You claimed that the Church views the sexual act as an expression of lust. The Church does not — as Pius XI in Casti Conubii makes clear. You think the Church uses medieval biology as the rational basis of her condemnation of contraception. She does not. This basis is found in understanding the purpose of a human act, which purpose indicates the acts very character or nature. It is from this that we can determine how we may and may not act. The Church derives her rational basis for her teachings from moral philosophy, not empirical science. In fact, empirical science cannot detect in itself the purpose of a thing; it can only describe and predict how certain processes do and will work. In the case of sexual intercourse, it can tell us how fertilization works, not the purpose of the procreative act itself.

        You claim the Church inculcates fear — but, even as an atheist, do you not fear the consequences of certain actions? If an action is immoral, should it not be feared? This is not some irrational fear but a proper assessment of reality. Evil is bad and it harms those who perform it. This alone is fearful. The Church indeed tells us what we should fear — just as any good mother.


  157. “I have read several claims you have made about Church teaching and, it is clear, you do not understand it.”

    Ahh yes, the old “You don’t understand Church teaching” apologetic trick. You seem to forget the sic et non of Thomas Aqainas on pretty much every Church doctrine, or what G.K. Chesterton loved to call the thrill of the paradox. There is truth to what I have said about each of these teachings, and I’ll gladly provide evidence form the Church’s tradition and Church doctors, if you so feel inclined.

    “You claimed that the Church views the sexual act as an expression of lust. The Church does not — as Pius XI in Casti Conubii makes clear.”

    *How about the teachings of St. Augustine regarding married sex. Did Casti Conubii replace Augustine? No, Augustine is still a necessary part of the tradition.

    http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/aug-marr.asp

    Can you explain to me where the Church completely threw out Augustine’s teachings on sex? (Don’t even try saying that Augustine is part of the lower-case “t,” tradition because Casti Conoubii is part of this same tradition, and neither one are considered ex cathedra. I’ll give up Augustine in how I view Church teaching, when the Church gives up Augustine.)

    “You think the Church uses medieval biology as the rational basis of her condemnation of contraception.”

    I was speaking specifically of the teachings associated with sperm ejaculation, which are derived from Thomas Aquinas, another Doctor of the Church

    http://www.womenpriests.org/theology/aqui_wom.asp

    “She does not. This basis is found in understanding the purpose of a human act, which purpose indicates the acts very character or nature. It is from this that we can determine how we may and may not act. The Church derives her rational basis for her teachings from moral philosophy, not empirical science.”

    You are describing Natural Law Theory, first discussed by Aristotle and baptized, so to speak, by the Angelic Doctor/The Dumb Ox. There is Thomas Aquinas again, and what sort of biological understanding do you think he used to reason what was true about nature, and therefore what was true about Natural Law morality? He used the medieval understanding, I posted above. Yes there is a metaphysical aspect to it, but there is also a biological understanding there is well. This is why Natural Law is supposed to be observable and obtained by reason, even by a pagan who does not believe in Christianity.

    Can you please explain to me why I should understand Aristotelian Natural Law metaphysics as something completely separate from Aristotelian physics?

    “In fact, empirical science cannot detect in itself the purpose of a thing; it can only describe and predict how certain processes do and will work. In the case of sexual intercourse, it can tell us how fertilization works, not the purpose of the procreative act itself.”

    True, but Natural Law claims moral conclusions based on empirical observation (The purposes of sex are procreation and union. The purpose of eating is nourishment and pleasure.) These connections are not simply drawn from some sort of metaphysical form, completely separate from physical reality. Indeed, this was the way that Aristotle did science. I’m not applying anything to modern science, that natural law doesn’t already apply to morality, using Aristotelian science.

    I’ve spilled plenty of internet ink on this logic already.

    http://exconvert.blogspot.com/search/label/NFP

    “You claim the Church inculcates fear — but, even as an atheist, do you not fear the consequences of certain actions? If an action is immoral, should it not be feared? This is not some irrational fear but a proper assessment of reality. Evil is bad and it harms those who perform it. This alone is fearful. The Church indeed tells us what we should fear — just as any good mother.’

    Yes, there is a certain fear to doing evil These fears are rooted in natural consequences, which include strained moral relationships, punishment by civic authorities, etc. This is a healthy fear with clear consequences connected to the wrong-doing. The Church, however, takes fear to a whole new level, by making punishments eternal. This is not a rational or healthy fear, but one created based on an unfalsifiable claim.

    Your comparison to the Church as a mother telling her child what to fear is very telling. As a mother I explain to my child the natural consequences of her actions. I do not threaten with abusive punishments. (What is more abusive than eternal torment in Hell?) My goal is to teach her a morality based on basic ethical principles, principles which exist to create trust and bonds within the human community (compassion, honesty, responsibility, etc.). This is very different from giving her a list “evils,” and threatening eternal torment, if she should disobey even one of these rules, without being repentant.


    • Yes, Augustin is a necessary part of the western theological tradition. However, Augustin is not the magisterium of the Church. Augustin, as a theologian, is subject to the Church’s magisterium, which has corrected the excesses found in De bono coniugali. Specifically, the magisterium does not teach, as Augustin did, that sexual intercourse carried out for any other end than strict procreation is venially sinful. The Church recognizes secondary ends which, when specifically intended for their own sake, are not sinful, as long as the primary end is not thwarted. See Casti Conubii, for one, to see if Pope Pius XI does not disagree with Augustin on this point.

      The reasoning you present from Aquinas is not the basis for the Church’s teaching on contraception. St. Thomas was wrong in his biological understanding of the mechanism of fertilization. He was not wrong in seeing that the sexual act is primarily a procreative act and, as such, is bound by certain moral parameters. Too, like Augustin, Thomas is subject to the Church’s magisterium.

      Moral philosophy is different from an empirical science, say, biology, given what it seeks to understand and the manner in which it proceeds. Both, of course, draw on experience of physical reality, but have different concerns. An empirical science such as biology, in the particular instance we are discussing, seeks to know how the material principal of the sperm acts on the material principal of the ovum — how each contributes to the zygote. It seeks what is termed material causality and efficient causality, not final causality. The moral philosopher, however, seeks to understand the nature of the sexual act — formal causality — and the purpose of the sexual act — final causality. He will not be uninterested in the conclusion of the biologists, for he is interested, too, in material and efficient causality; but he does not need to have the biologist’s specificity of how exactly the sperm acts on the ovum to determine that the sexual act is primarily a procreative act — anymore than he needs to understand just how digestion works to conclude that the primary purpose of eating and digestion is nourishment. Too, the biologist’s conclusions cannot speak to morality. They do not tell us when it is right to engage in sexual intercourse or who should engage in sexual intercourse or even that it is ever good to engage in sexual intercourse. He merely notes that when people engage in sexual intercourse, these are the results, and this is how they come about. Morality is entirely outside his purview as a biologist.

      The Church does not threaten eternal torment in the sense that she imposes it. She says that certain acts separate from God, the result being eternal punishment. This, if the Church is right about God and man, follows from her premises. It is not abusive to say this, if the Church is correct.


  158. Two works which I think enormously helpful when engaging in this discussion are Noonan’s Contraception: A History of Its Treatment by the Catholic Theologians and Canonists and Brundage’s Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe.

    The noteworthy thing about dismissals of Augustine’s views as being magisterial is that prior to modernity there wasn’t a magisterium in the sense that is meant today. It is easy for neo-Caths to assert that such and such teaching prior to modernity wasn’t magisterial, as there was nothing equivalent to modern encyclicals then and there wasn’t the developed sense of the ordinary and universal magisterium. So much defense of the current position of CST (especially where it differs from former teaching) leads into this circular reasoning on how the former teachings weren’t magisterial but the current ones are.

    Well, if you read Brundage, you will learn that there was, for instance, a universal prohibition on marital sex once a woman was known to be pregnant, for the duration of the pregnancy. This was upheld by canons, popes, canon lawyers, theologians, and pretty much any bishop who wrote on the matter. Yet, if you press an NFP drone about this and ask about the possibility of a similar change from current marital sex discipline, they will tell you that the former teaching which prohibited sex during pregnancy was not magisterial in the manner that the prohibition of contraception today is. But every agency/authority in the Church in the middle ages, from popes to parish priests, that we know of anyway, prohibited sex during pregnancy. This, in my mind, points to the conclusion that there really wasn’t a magisterium in the modern sense until Pius IX or not much prior to him anyway. Even if the Church emphatically and widely taught a moral assertion for centuries with apparent universal agreement on the matter (at least publicly anyway), this does not amount to magisterium once that teaching gets trumped by the modern magisterium. Uh, OK. The modern magisterium creates a difficult situation when it comes to changing moral laws in the manner they have changed before.

    What we know now concerning the physiological and psychological benefits of sex for the female, including the health benefits of female orgasm, might well be conducive to future changes in a natural law approach to sexuality in the manner Kacy suggests. I note that Catholic apologist types, when discussing the prior prohibition of sex during pregnancy, often use the defense of “well, they thought it was a potential threat to the unborn child.” After reading Brundage I think that was a far, far secondary issue to the real concern – that being that sex was only justified when done for procreation and obviously a pregnant woman is unable to conceive. But in any event, we know now that sex during pregnancy is healthy for the prego woman and the baby. Semen contains prostaglandins which encourage cervical ripening, and so forth. Now, the change in RC law concerning sex during pregnancy didn’t come about because of new biological knowledge, but I like to think that the new biological knowledge makes it such that there is no going back to the old nonsense. Along those same lines, as more and more and more biological evidence amounts which shows all sorts of physiological aspects of female orgasm which do not relate to childbirthing or conception but have all sorts of health benefits (and it seems to some that keeping mom alive and functioning well for her already born kids is also a pro-life position), when the Church finally does get rid of HV policy I think it will be impossible to go back, as there will be insurmountable biological bases to return to the strained syllogisms of thomists desperately trying to maintain coherent and plausible natural law arguments against any male orgasm outside of a non chemically ABC’d vagina.

    Also, one of the reasons I think that people talk past each other in these discussions is this. For most conservative & traddie Catholics, the operative narrative of sex is one in which society at large is sex crazed and enslaved to every imaginable perversion, and it is imperative that the Church must make a valiant and heroic stand against this. Anything taken as a compromise only serves to fuel the flames of pandemic pansexualism. But there is another narrative that comes into play and that is the narrative of spiritual leaders using their spiritual power to “dupe” (a word used above on this thread) and manipulate their spiritual children towards all sorts of ends and baggage. When living the life of a Kacy or a similar writer above in this thread, I believe it is perfectly reasonable for them to come to the conclusion that they have been coerced by spiritual powers who, as M.Z. so eloquently stated “[don't] really care about me or my problems…” And that that coercion has led to destructive patterns for themselves and their families. I could believe this even if I believed that a prohibition on all male ejaculation outside of a non-altered vaginal state were immutable moral law. As seen on this thread, the voices which defend the current position of the Church tend to do so in a rhetorical manner that cannot escape the sense of placing strained theory above family thriving.

    The situation today is simply untenable for NFP practice on a large scale outside of the comfortable middle classes and up. Yes, some poor Catholics do pull it off, but I think that more make a colossal mess of their family lives, and certainly many more give up when they realize what consequences are coming if they don’t stop trying to have their married sex life conform to HV. The world has changed dramatically since Casti Connubii, heck, even since HV. A working class woman can expect to survive all of her pregnancies, expect to live to post menopause, and expect her husband (assuming she remains married) to also live nearly as long as her, and to be able to perform sexually to near the very end. This is a radically different set of expectations than women had prior to the 20th century, or even during the first half of the 20th century. Add to that the issues of wage and the need for two incomes, health care expenses, a decline in job security among working class women who get pregnancy (especially if they repeatedly get pregnant) housing and schooling costs, transportation costs, and a host of other factors relevant to working class families that might want a two parent home with lots of kids that remains financially and psychologically stable, and I think we can say that there is simply no way you could have working class Catholic families following church teaching on birth control on a large scale. It just isn’t socially sustainable. Tweaking this or that social policy isn’t going to dramatically change things. You would have to have a complete societal revolution for it to be socially plausible for a significant % of working class and poor Catholics to follow Church teaching on contraception. Having worked in a local public health clinic for a spell during nursing school, I found that even those working class Hispanic mothers with 3 or 4 kids in tow (you know, the people keeping up the birth rate in the U.S. until the recession and harsher immigration policies caused a lot of brown people to leave), notorious as far as the (mostly African American) staff was concerned because these Hispanic ladies almost always refused condoms (as their husbands/boyfriends would never use them, or so we were told), would line up and wait for hours to get IUDs and the pill. To expect otherwise on any notable scale under current societal circumstances is to live in a theologically induced fantasy world.


    • I think you’re on to something Red Owen. The operative narratives are different, which makes it difficult to find common ground in these discussions. Add to that the ability to pick and choose from the tradition, something everyone in these discussions does, and it’s a perfect storm for talking past each other.

      Of course the problem goes far beyond our comfortable middle class enclaves, and even working class Catholics in the US have it better than the masses living in Catholic nations. At least free and low-cost contraception is available if we need it. Others are not so fortunate:

      http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/population/la-fg-population-matters5-20120729-html,0,5897961.htmlstory


      • Owen raises an important point here, which is the social culpability for failures of sexual morality. I fully accept and attempt to fully practice the Churches moral proscriptions for sexuality, and I don’t agree that NFP is untenable for the poor. NFP or more likely SFP seems to work very well for the Amish (with whom I work and live very closely). They have very large families on very small budgets. But they also have a whole lifestyle and massive community built completely around supporting family life. Catholics in American once such communities, though to a lesser extent, in ethnic enclaves. But they left those communities in pursuit of middle class mainstream life. And so a poor Catholic family today likely has no extended family next door, no Catholic neighbors they know well enough to have the kids roam freely from house to house, no way to make living working at home or having only one parent working a low paying job, no sharing of resources like car or tools and such, no social network for finding economical ways to get things done or apply economic pressure. And so when that poor family all alone faces the moral decision about NFP/ABC, who all helps make that decision and who all bears the responsibility if ABC is the choice? I’d say we all help make that decision for them, and if they don’t muster the heroic virtue required we all bear the responsibility.

        I think is it comparable to the decision about sex before marriage – these days it is extremely unlikely to find a marriage partner before age 25, and so when we Catholics tell everyone to wait until marriage we are telling them to abstain during the peak of their desire, while living out in the world surrounded by other attractive young people who are ready and willing. I waited until marriage at age 30 by a mix of heroic virtue on my part at times and on others people’s part when my will faltered at other times. But for those who didn’t wait I put the blame as much on the society that puts young people in that position as on the ‘sinners’ themselves. Again the Amish for example don’t have as hard a time with that rule either because they marry at a more natural time, 19-22.

        So far for me sticking with NFP has been easy because though we’re just above the poverty line we only have two kids and we work from home. If things were different I hope I would muster that heroic virtue other have talked about because I believe the Christian calling is to he heroic in virtue, to be saints, and I believe we’re offered the grace to do so. But if I couldn’t, or if my spouse couldn’t, I would not feel too bad about it and just like with other chronic departures from the Church’s moral teaching that I have lived with I would confess it regularly and pray for the grace to live in virtue and then wait for the grace to come that would make that virtue livable for me. I would say that even more than it is the duty of every Catholic to personally obey the Church’s teaching on this, it is the duty of all of us who promote the Church’s teaching to do what we can to make it more livable. Thomas talked about how much the NFP community has done towards that end, if not without its imperfections. And we as a Church must do much more to make openness to life a more reasonable choice for everyone, rather than a radical act of faith and self sacrifice for the poor.


      • Zeb, Yours is a position I very much sympathize with, if one is going to hold the line.

        Recently on another thread someone quoted canons which allow a poor person to steal food if they and/or their family is starving. I realize that many will find perverse the notion that sex in marriage should in any way be equated with getting a basic caloric intake, but I think we might all agree that at least most marriages will not survive long term without coitus. Marriages on the whole just aren’t built that way, or, if one wants to get pious, we might say the grace for that doesn’t get around much (pun intended).

        It strikes me as utterly amazing that the Church will allow a man to steal in order to stay alive, but will not allow a man to use a condom with his wife when he or she gets AIDS from a blood transfusion, or when she is on powerful psychotropic drugs for serious depression (as is the devout Catholic wife of a friend of mine) and told by her doc she must make absolutely sure she never gets pregnant and NFP resulted in 9 kids for her. And yes, of course we’ve all heard the “well, you’d have to stay chaste if she were in a coma in the hospital for 15 years” bit, but if she were in a hospital in a coma I wouldn’t have much of a complex relationship with her – that isn’t anything like living with a sexually functioning person with whom one has a sexual history and sexual attraction to and is married to. I have read Janet Smith and the usual suspects. I understand the arguments in defense of HV. I simply think it absurd, especially now in the age of Theology of the Body. You can go down on your wife and bring her to climax, there is even nothing even intrinsically wrong with the use of lubricants, which are not natural, or other devices which a husband might use to please in wife in the wonderful wacky land of theology of the body. The Trojan is an affront to nature, but Astroglide isn’t. You can’t get to such a position without philosophical gymnastics which strain credulity on every level. If anything, the old hyper-trad position of all sex other than sex which leads to procreation is more philosophically and theologically plausible, even if something which only maybe, ever, 0.005% of Catholic marriages adhered to.

        The main reason that I simply can’t make myself believe the HV / Janet Smith line is that I have known too many non contracepting marriages that were horrific, and too many marriages that used ABC that were seemingly grace filled (including my parents marriage, which is one of the strongest I have ever seen, and my mother being a good feminist is a firm believer in the condom). One hears all the time from the anti-contraception crowd about the horrors contraception has wreaked on our society, but there is a flip side to that coin. We now have people, plenty of them, who have been married 40, 50, 60 years or more and used contraception throughout most of their married lives. Having known plenty of these marriages, particularly among Christian folks (Catholic, Orthodox, Prot) who have been married 4 decades or more, I simply see no indication whatsoever that contraception plays a necessarily detrimental role in a marriage. I realize this is anecdotal (and how can it not be – aside from increasingly rate instances of cruelty not leading to divorce it’s hard to weigh and compare the health of marriages — for the most part just to make a marriage last that long is an indication something went right). Say my observations truly are typical across social and demographic boundaries – and contraception doesn’t necessarily lead to harm in a marriage relationship, and can be used by people whose marriage (otherwise) grace filled and shows forth all sorts of good fruits. This doesn’t mean that HV and Janet Smith & Co. are wrong. But it does undercut significant supporting arguments for the danger of contraception in marriage, from Augustine on to HV. And it begs a lot of questions.


      • Owen I will be surprised if contraception doesn’t indeed go the way of “stealing-while-poor” in time, and then in short order go the way of anullment-not-divorce as it is in the Church now. As you say I am firmly in the “stealing-while-poor” camp now, I guess. I will be disappointed when the day comes you can get a dispensation from your priest to use a condom because you say “NFP isn’t working,” but it’s not like the opportunity for us to follow the spirit of the teaching will be taken away from those who would follow it, and it’s not like those who would abuse the dispensation would have followed the rule without it, so I suppose we shouldn’t fret too much when it happens.


      • http://www.catholic.org/national/national_story.php?id=47264&wf=rsscol

        Kacy:
        It all depends who you talk to. It’s ironic, because you think we’ve been duped by the Church, but how do you know you haven’t been sold a bill of goods by the feminist establishment? I am outside the “sisterhood” since I won’t tout the party line. Where does that leave me? Doggedly taking my temperature and charting away. I did peruse your blog and I was glad to see that you admit the value of fertility awareness. There are plenty of people who would rather not put chemicals in their bodies or the environment. Women are effectively guinea pigs for ABC. If they don’t like testing on animals, why people? Furthermore, the ST method is essentially cost-free (until one has a baby anyway, should they be so blessed.)


      • C.S.

        Yes, I have no problem with fertility awareness methods. The health of NFP vs. ABC is not the issue for me, nor is it the issue of the Church. The Church could care less about the health aspect of most issues, except as a matter of prudence.

        How do I know I’ve not been duped, you ask. Well I ask you the same thing. I’ve come to my own conclusions after studying and living both sides. I also think reasoning on this issue with an understanding of modern science, lived experience, and considerations of my family is a saner way to approach the issue than to insert a non-provable entity (God) as expressed by a power structure, whose legitimacy is based on the existence of a non-provable entity. But to each their own.

        As for the article you posted. I don’t think a biomedical scientist from Africa is in a qualified position to speak for all African women, particularly poor African woman. Melinda Gates isn’t forcing contraception on anyone. She’s making it available and providing education about sexual choices. The women will be making their own choices, as individuals and/or as families.

        In fact that whole letter can be summed up as “ignorance is bliss,” particularily the anti-intellectual jab against Western women knowing less about sex than the African women.

        Then there is the whole “postpartum depression doesn’t exist in Africa” argument. First, how is this relevant to the issue? And second, how does she know this isn’t because women are not allowed to talk about babies in negative ways. Postpartum depression has likely always existed to some degree, it’s just now becoming less taboo to talk about it. I mean come on, in some African tribes mental illness is interpreted as witchcraft or demonic possession. If I were depressed and in this situation, I’d sure as hell not want anyone to know about it.

        Finally, there is the same old ecological fallacy about widespread contraception had led to adultery, sexual promiscuity, and the breakup of families. (Because of course, none of this happened in the good-ol-days. Ha!) Correlation does not prove causation.


    • “This was upheld by canons, popes, canon lawyers, theologians, and pretty much any bishop who wrote on the matter.”

      Since you doubtless have read these books, please cite the specific canons and papal statements.


      • I have read both books. I own Noonan, and will look at it, but what I was recalling in the line you quote from my comment was in Brundage. I just checked and Google Books doesn’t include the needed pages. So, because I love you so much, I will, on my way back from work sometime in the next couple of days, stop by the local liberal Prot seminary library, which has Brundage, and make copies of the pertinent pages, and report back here. Thank you for your patience.


      • I am profoundly thankful in advance. It would especially helpful if you could be very precise as to the nature of the papal statements — whether they were found in epistles, bulls, condemnations of error, or conciliar statements — all of which, I am sure you know, were the modes by which the popes exercised their magisterium before the advent of encyclicals (which began in the mid-18th century with Benedict XIV, by the way.) There are, of course, papal writings which are not clearly magisterial but express the private opinion of the pope. It will be interesting to see, too, whether the alleged papal prohibitions were couched in doctrinal or disciplinary terms. The latter, of course, may derive from presuppositions of moral teaching; but, if the moral teaching is not itself defined, it would seem that it is not imposed.

        By the way, Hildegard von Bingen condemns sexual intercourse during pregnancy in her Scivias (Book I, Vision 3). Have you seen this?

        I’m surprised you haven’t noted that the Church up to and beyond the Council of Trent enjoined married people to abstain from intercourse for at least the night before they would receive communion. You can find a reference to this in the Catechism of the Council of Trent, which says that “we are to approach the Holy Table fasting” from midnight on and, immediately afterward, that “the dignity of so great a Sacrament also demands that married persons abstain from the marriage debt for some days previous to Communion.” The context here, of course, is disciplinary, not moral — unless one wants to conclude that the Church saw food and drink as defiling. It does not enunciate a clear moral teaching but lays down a disciplinary norm whose moral basis is unclear.


      • Yeah, I’m fairly familiar with the hermeneutic gymnatistics neo-Caths use in making these distinctions between categories which conveniently allow for the application of, shall we say, a hermenuetic of continuity.

        I have no doubt that in the instance you note the distinction between disciplinary and moral categories may coherently hold without much strain. But (sources coming on sex within pregnancy, yes, yes, yes), I also have no doubt that no shortage of direct moral language was used in any number of the Church’s former prohibitions on sex within marriage that are now acceptable (cunnilingus, sex not using the missionary position, sex on fasting days, during menstruation, etc.). Of course a neo-Cath is ideologically bound to find some hermeneutic device which tells us why such moral language wasn’t binding for all time but was only an assertion of discipline and not moral law, or wasn’t sufficient in its articulation of the moral qualities of the act to be binding for all time, etc.. I have little doubt that once HV is abandoned (er, further developed), the same sort of hermeneutic gymnastics will be used. The problem now is that the magisterium is going to have to eat crow like never before, and the mechanisms of the modern magisterium make changes in discipline a hell of a lot harder to legislate and pull off in terms of public relations, at least with sexual discipline and the like.


      • It is easy to dismiss lines of reasoning as “hermeneutical gymnastics” and to characterize those who reason thus as bound by ideology and to give them cutsey names, such as “neocath”, than to demonstrate why what they say is merely tendentious. But sneering and mockery have always been more politically effective than careful thought and honest discourse.


      • Yes, there are few intellectuals more maligned than the conservative Catholics. They are the constant victims of unconsidered and irrational malevolence. We all know that song and dance Christopher, and it too is bullshit, more contrived “proofs.”


      • ‘Neo-Cath’ is a fairly common term in blogdom, and it certainly did not originate with me. It refers to a theologically conservative Catholic who ardently defends VatII and JPII and the hermeneutic of continuity.

        Outside of a small and increasingly shrinking intellectual world, the hermeneutic of continuity gymnastics is rightly sneered at, not for reasons of mere petty religious or anti-religious bias (though that surely is part of the motivation of some), but because it is so obviously an intellectual farce. All we need to do to make this evident to any non Kool-Aid drinkers on this thread is get into a discussion about extra Ecclesiam nulla salus and have you display how neo-Caths argue that there is essentially a seemless (even if “developing”) teaching from, take your pick, let’s say the Fourth Lateran Council, to today’s teaching on the matter. Any person not drinking the Kool Aid and playing such fanciful games of strained parsing would be most comfortable with using the word ‘changed’ to describe the difference in theology on this matter between then and now. But of course the Catholic ideologue, er, true believer, can’t have change in matters of faith and morals, and hence the gymnastics.

        In the herm of cont method, there is the application of contemporary categories to older texts and historical events that is so blatantly disingenuous and contrived. It is obvious from the get go that the singular motivation and project at hand is to force former texts and teachings to either not be contradictory to today’s magisterium, or to be dismissed because of some anachronistically applied hermeneutic technicality. Oh to be sure, this can be done in a way that breaks no law of logic, as least not blatantly. The thomists will cross their t’s and dot their i’s – there will be no clear engagement in a logical fallacy. But as you well no, one can make rational arguments for all sorts of creative things when there is a philosophically trained mind and enough motivation. You want “careful and honest discourse” – and by this you mean you want someone to listen as you go through the banal herm of cont arguments for the litany of obviously contrived even if technically not illogical reasons that x, y, and z don’t involve a break from former teaching. Fine, but from the offset, someone needs to call that spade a spade:


      • The Owen White mode of argumentation:

        OW: “Modern ‘Neo-Cath’ developments of doctrine A are in glaring contradiction to medieval formulations of the same.”

        Benighted Neo-Cath Fideist: “No, that is not correct, and this is why I think it is not correct. [Insert relevant argument].”

        OW: “Yes, yes. How very cute. But if you read [insert relevant text], you will see that doctrine A was formulated just as I said it was, and no amount of hermeneutical gymnastics can get around that.”

        Benighted Neo-Cath Fideist: “I did not deny that it was formulated in that way. I gave reasons why it is not in contradiction to the doctrine’s modern formulations.”

        OW: “You’re just saying that because you are ideologically committed to the hermeneutic of continuity, and no one who has not drunk the Kool-Aid of Benighted Neo-Cath Fideism can take you seriously. It is obvious from the get go that the singular motivation and project at hand is to force former texts and teachings to either not be contradictory to today’s magisterium, or to be dismissed because of some anachronistically applied hermeneutic technicality. Oh to be sure, this can be done in a way that breaks no law of logic, as least not blatantly. The thomists will cross their t’s and dot their i’s…” [Et caetera, et caetera.]

        Benighted Neo-Cath Fideist: “It is not obvious to me…”

        OW: “That is because you are ideologically committed to the hermeneutic of continuity; and, moreover….” [Iterum, et caetera, et caetera.]


      • Cute.

        What needs to be added to the dialogue is the notion that the supposed “lack of contradiction” requires a modern hermeneutic being imposed on a former one, to the extent that the former one is no longer possible. In other words, there is a step (perhaps a leap) between statement one and statement two which requires, undeniably, hermeneutic gymnastics. Let’s not forget that step, or pretend it isn’t there.

        So, with extra Ecclesiam nulla salus – only the most feverish neo-Caths, and no one in their right mind who is not engaged in epistemological anarchy of the most pomo manner, argues that with extra Ecclesiam nulla salus the belief of those advancing and receiving that teaching in the past did not believe it in the literal sense – those not in the RCC were necessarily going to hell. There is nothing in the historical & textual records which suggests otherwise. So, if you asked any first year student of logic about the following statements:

        The RCC believes that it is only possible for those who die as Catholics inside the Church to be saved in eternity.

        and

        The RCC believes that it is possible for those who die as non-Catholics to be saved in eternity.

        you would be told that both cannot be true at the same time, they are contradictory. To overcome this contradiction there are only three choices. Deny that by the repeated extra Ecclesiam nulla salus teaching the first statement above was what was meant (ie those promulgating the teaching didn’t mean it in this literal sense), a thesis which is not considered plausible when considered historically or through any serious textual criticism, or, deny that the extra Ecclesiam nulla salus assertions did not and do not carry full dogmatic weight (which in this case can’t be done, as so many papal and conciliar documents of technically sufficient authoritative weight assert it), or nuance this by saying that some or most Catholics then may have understood extra Ecclesiam nulla salus in the sense of the first statement, but as that statement was not fully articulated, in a document which carries dogmatic weight, in a manner that fully and unequivocally asserts that literally all non-Catholics after Christ will spend eternity in hell, we need not interpret it as necessarily meaning what it would mean in a strait-forward reading.

        As I say again and again, you can’t argue with fideism. I’ll leave it to readers here to conclude whether or not I am correct in asserting that the Fouth Lateran’s dogmatic statement “There is but one universal Church of the faithful, outside which no one at all is saved” (emphasis mine) and Lumen Gentium’s dogmatic statement “those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience — those too may achieve eternal salvation” can be reconciled without hermeneutic gymnastics and without a schema in which quite contrasting modern formulations must be, in as strained an hermeneutic technique as one can possibly imagine, engaged in.

        What get’s me most about all this is that if you take what is otherwise an obvious change like this one and assert that because statements like “There is but one universal Church of the faithful, outside which no one at all is saved” or Greg the Great’s (also quoted authoritatively in GregXVI’s Summo Jugiter Studio) – “the holy universal Church teaches that it is not possible to worship God truly except in her and asserts that all who are outside of her will not be saved” don’t preempt modern interpretations by having a suffix which states – “oh, yeah, and for you moderns who will be born hundreds of years from now, what we mean here is that literally no one who dies outside of communion with Catholicism can be saved – that includes Protestants and others who you might think have some mystical connection to the Church that they don’t fully understand through no fault of their own” they then are subject to these modern “developments” (which we of course deny to be changes) then it is logical that one can play the same game with any older authoritative text or collection of texts. I mean, say we get to the point wherein homosexual male couples can have babies together via some crazy biotech project which creates a synthetic egg with one of the partner’s dna. I suppose at some point it could be argued that because ancient prohibitions of homosexuality did not specifically spell out that monogomous homosexual married men who are capable of procreation are included in the condemnations of homosexuality, then their relationships can indeed be blessed by the Church. That hermenuetic play would be essentially the same as what is going on with extra Ecclesiam nulla salus. Because an ancient text or collection of texts does not explicitly condemn my modern interpretation using modern intellectual constructs, then it need not be read as necessarily condemning them. The obvious meaning of the text, and the manner it was interpreted by those who read it for hundreds of years, doesn’t matter if it gets traded in for something different.

        I can understand the gymnastics used in extra Ecclesiam nulla salus interpretation – the idea that none outside of communion with the RCC are saved is sick and disgusting. I understand why neo-Caths go the route that they do, as they really have no choice. But I cannot believe, as it strains credulity beyond measure, that in any other context in which this same sort of gymnastics is used, these same thinkers would not call the change change. The only reason their own intellects don’t assert a change here is because their theological system mandates a priori no change in dogma or moral law, and thus an explanation that doesn’t involve change must be found. Lo and behold one always is. What is an ideology other than that sort of intellectual compulsion? You must deny change here. Change is a priori impossible, and thus anything that appears to be evidence to the contrary is but data and texts that must be creatively re-read to fit the current authoritative understanding.


      • Cute, but very, very accurate.

        I would think that, by this time, you would just be ignoring me. After all, what am I but a naive fideist, whose tribe is ever decreasing in numbers and becoming ever more irrelevant? But now you want to discuss extra ecclesiam nulla salus with me — or rather, use it to show just how ideology-ridden and really so very stupid people like me are. Vis-a-vis extra ecclesiam nulla salus, I could note that such absolute statements were made about the necessity of baptism for salvation at the very same time churchmen held to exceptions in the case of martyrdom or an explicit votum for baptism. I might argue that one could extend the reasoning of St. Thomas Aquinas about the relative necessity of instrumental causes (such as the Church or baptism) and the possibility of God working outside those means. I could chew the fat about the nature of propositions and how they are to be interpreted in light of their context. But you would not address the arguments but only sneer and scoff. So, I’ll not bother.


      • I will say this, it’s as close to a compliment on this matter I can muster. At least conservative Catholics bother to find (and/or try to find) rational arguments for continuity. The Orthodox explanations for, ahem, changes, are either pop modernist sentimental gobblygook or outright denial, the latter being fairly common with the set that actually believe that St. Luke painted the first icon, and that it actually was in the Byzantine iconographic style.


      • I would think that, by this time, you would just be ignoring me. After all, what am I but a naive fideist, whose tribe is ever decreasing in numbers and becoming ever more irrelevant?

        Those with your views do tend to be something of a reactionary vanguard though, with an astoundingly disproportionate influence. And besides, interacting with people who adhere to niche, boutique intellectual positions is something of a hobby.


      • Well, I am glad we can amuse you.

        Thanks for letting me know that we fideist Neo-Caths have a disproportionate influence. I had assumed we had become irrelevant.


    • Amen, Owen. Well reasoned and well said.
      I should clarify that while I have never made your $70,000 I am not really poor by any means. It is just that my wage does not cover the expenses of so many children, and we have had several very expensive calamities in years past, hence big debt.
      It is always before me that if it is this hard with my fairly decent wage it is impossible for the working poor.


    • Owen, this is for you. (Or maybe only I can relate.) Did I mention we spend one third of our disposable income on food?

      http://www.conversiondiary.com/2012/06/buying-a-cookie-at-whole-foods-the-story-of-an-epic-voyage.html


    • Decades ago now, Congar, the great historian of ecclesiology, showed conclusively that, as Owen suggests, the modern notion of “magisterium” was precisely that: very modern, and very different from anything comparable exercised in the past. For most of the last century, “magisterium” has usually been taken to mean “the pope wrote an encyclical about X, so that solves it.” This is really a post-1870 development (Vatican I + the loss of the papal states = excessive focus on the pope). Congar’s historical work has also been supported by two great medievalists, Francis Oakley and Brian Tierney. Owen’s example of no-sex-during-pregnancy is not a stand-alone, either. There are plenty of other canons governing sexual conduct that have been quietly abandoned or “forgotten.” As I’ve shown elsewhere, if some of those canons had not been forgotten, the scandals of priestly sexual abuse and episcopal cover-up might have been far less horrific.


  159. “The situation today is simply untenable for NFP practice on a large scale outside of the comfortable middle classes and up.”

    What makes it so untenable? Does it all boil down to the fact that it is user-dependent? Isn’t that more the basis of the frustration? That was initially the basis of my frustration, which at one time led me to conclude that pregnancy was inevitable, which was a helpless feeling. I’ve since changed my view.
    I must admit I bristled at the Whole Foods comment made earlier. Why is it wrong to want to buy whole foods? We primarily stock up on 50 pounds of rice and beans at a case discount, and we spend 20 % of our income on food, as an investment in health. I don’t think it’s fair to write off a whole category of people because they don’t share the same experiences and outlook. We are living just above the federal poverty line; not destitute by any stretch, but living paycheck to paycheck nevertheless. We can only afford to send one of our kids to parochial school, and that only because our parish is subsidizing 4/5 of it.
    Here I’m being defensive; I don’t think anyone should have to justify their reasons for adopting a given means of avoiding pregnancies, so long as it is Church approved. I do try to toe the line, for our own good, because it would not be charitable to myself or my spouse to persuade him to use an immoral means. Last I checked morality was objective; only the application of moral principles subjective. Even if this view is unpopular. Fulton Sheen said “moral principles do not depend on a majority vote. Wrong is wrong even if everybody is wrong. Right is right even if nobody is right.” In other words…don’t shoot the messenger.


    • In my area of the country, “Whole Foods” is a grocery store for the moderately wealthy. In contrast to Grocery Outlet. Or Winco’s. Or Cash and carry.

      The working pooor cannot afford bulk organic flour at $20/lb.


  160. By the way, the Church is not saying anyone has to have as many children as they can, and has given us a means to avoid doing so. It may be a challenge but she does not just leave us out in the cold, so far as I know. I’m sure that a spiritual director would in fact happily guide anyone through the rough patches, so we don’t have to go it alone. (Moral support and understanding are invaluable.) I’ve done what little I can to reach out in this limited way to prove that I care what people are going through but I’m not sure there’s anything else I can say. I apologize for any comments I made that have injured. I do wish we could all find a common ground.


  161. The idea that the Amish are thriving is a myth. A significant portion of their members leave the community or are pushed out the door early in adulthood. A significant portion of their members are on medical assistance it turns out. A significant portion of their members are fully dependent on employment in the secular economy or tourist dollars. There isn’t anything wrong with secular employment, but it isn’t the Amish model. The Amish of today are not the Amish of 50 years ago.

    By the way, no one should expect that subsistence farmers should be able to afford the $10 to $15k a year in medical care a family can expect to incur via insurance or otherwise. Just because they are Amish, doesn’t mean they have a special charism to escape the economic realities everyone else faces. The biggest factor in not being able to afford children is that society is bearing very few of the costs. Those who do take advantage of the social provision are ostracized and called deadbeats. Until that changes, the idea that austerity will lead to being able to provide for a large brood is nothing more than happy talk.


    • In the rural area of central WI where my mother-in-law, a diet tech (who has worked in the local hospital), lives, the amish have moved in heavily within the last 15 years or so. They have nearly bankrupted the hospital there because of the huge increase of persons who have neither health insurance nor Badgercare. Only in the last couple of years did the hospital strike a deal with the Amish to get them to pay some more of their bills, but they still lose a great deal of money when Amish walk in the door. Taxpayers subsidize Amish health care, and truth be told, the Amish there get a better deal on health costs for non-insured, non state covered persons, because they are in a larger client demographic than others who fall between the cracks, and because there are warm sentiments toward the Amish on the part of the hospital administrator execs who don’t have to deal with them in person (the nurses and other staff there generally can’t stand them). This is but one example of how the Amish life is subsidized by non-Amish. And it is certainly not something that can be done on significant scale.


      • “This is but one example of how the Amish life is subsidized by non-Amish. And it is certainly not something that can be done on significant scale.” What are you talking about Owen? Isn’t this what on a universal scale – having the working poor subsidized by the non poor? The Amish I work with have a deal with UPMC that they get a 75% discount and in return they pay their bills within 30 days. That’s the kind of economic pressure a community in solidarity can exert. It’s very strange to hear you talk about a strong community working poor community in economic solidarity as if they are parasites. You sound exactly like a Tea Partier talking about illegal immigrants.


      • Zeb,

        What I meant was that hospitals and other health care entities are not, under current conditions and foreseeable conditions, going to allow these sorts of deals (which they lose money on) to demographic groups any larger than the Amish. The Catholic Church is the largest religious body in the U.S. with 68.5 million adherents. Even if only, say, 3% of them decided to live in Amish style communities engaged in Amish style economics, the result is a public health strain far greater than what we get with current Amish demographics (there are 300,000 or less Amish in the U.S.).

        If there were a single-payer health care system in this county, with adequate funding, and if there were German/French style financial and social supports for maternity, this would certainly make NFP or no use of ABC much more plausible to working class and poor Catholics who want to follow those moral precepts (better act soon if you want there to be more than a handful of white poor Catholics left – the gentrification of white Catholicism in America seems to be irreversible now). It is telling that most of those Catholics who defend HV are those who are politically most likely to be movement conservatives and libertarians who oppose state funded health care (or distributists heavy on the anti-statism such that they oppose federal level health care initiatives on principle). The angels will sing with glee as the non condom using genitals of this sort burn for eternity in hell.


      • Oh, and the Amish in my mother-in-law’s area nearly ended a rural non-profit hospital that is very affordable as far as health services normally go, a hospital that routinely offered major discounts to people who couldn’t afford their bills. The deal the Amish finally assented to is akin to the one you describe, and it is one the hospital still loses money on, and the Amish community continues to grow – to the tune of thousands in that area. The Amish in that area are generally fairly well off. Their businesses are thriving (authenticity seeking suburbanites bus in from Madison and the Twin Cities and even Chicago). They Amish can afford to pay more and they are leeches for putting such a strain on a non-profit health care service which now has less resources to provide help to people less fortunate than the Amish.


      • Owen I’m confused; is it that the Amish way of providing for large families is irrelevant because they are too poor or because they are too rich? And how is what the Amish are doing different from what socialized medicine would do, which is to use the clout of numbers to force health care prices down and at the same time use taxes to get that cheaper health care provided by wealthier tax payers? You do realize the Amish pay all the same taxes everyone else does, right? Just not Social Security, which they also don’t use. You say the hospitals couldn’t strike similar deals with a larger population, but that is exactly what we’re trying to achieve with single payer. Medicare/Medicaid also pays lower rates that hospitals often claim are unsustainable, and indeed they pass the excess on to insured and especially uninsured patients E(xcept the Amish, who have in solidarity organized to resist). It is truly surreal hearing a marxist complain about a group of working class people organizing to demand more services at lower costs from either corporate health providers or our capitalist government health providers, because it is leaching off the tax payers. You still sound like a Tea Partier talking about uninsured Mexicans using emergency room health care.


    • What do you know of the Amish M.Z.? I don’t know about “the” Amish, but I know the Amish I live and work with. They are thriving. Some are poorer than others. Some work off the farm more than others. That might not be your “Amish model,” but it fits them. You’re wrong about one thing, these ones at least do have a “special charism to escape the economic realities everyone else faces.” It’s called community. And it’s not just the sharing of resources, it is also the aggregation and dissemination of practical wisdom and knowledge. The lead farmer of the group I work with had brain surgery last year that cost over $100,000, and at the same time his daughter had to go into a residential program for girls with eating disorders followed by months of counseling that cost many thousands of dollars. This on top of the usual broken bones and tooth fillings and such of a family of 12. They did not get any help from the community in paying their bills, but because they’ve amassed a huge amount of capital over the generations they had the means to borrow to pay for it themselves. That capital, and the means to pay off the loan taken against it, come from the wisdom and the material advantages of living in community. There is a system of mutual aid for medical expenses though for those who need it. And by the way, they are not subsistence farmers. They modestly successful and extremely frugal and resourceful businessmen.

      I didn’t notice anyone talking about austerity leading to the ability to provide for a large family. In the case of the Amish they manage to have large families often despite austerity because they have a robust community that shares resources and aggregates knowledge and wisdom.


      • There was extensive TV coverage on some of the social problems in southeastern Ohio. There also was a large settlement of Amish into southwestern Wisconsin where I grew up.

        It’s not about my model. People talk about the Amish as if they are self-enclosed community and other than a minority sect or two, they are about as detached from the world as your typical evangelical megachurch. That doesn’t make them bad people. It just doesn’t make them a model for what people want them to be.

        I really have no patience for anecdotes. We have broad data. The counties in Ohio have significant group data because the Amish are a burden on the public infrastructure. We in fact know that farming is becoming more and more of a minority activity within the Amish community. We in fact know that a lot of Amish farmers are supplementing their income by driving a tractor for a secular farm.

        I didn’t notice anyone talking about austerity leading to the ability to provide for a large family. In the case of the Amish they manage to have large families often despite austerity…
        I imagine you think you made a point here, but I can’t see it for the life of me.


      • There are Amish and then there are Amish. The New Order Amish tend to be pretty well off; they often live in suburban-like homes, only without being connected to the grid. But with all the conveniences, powered by batteries and propane.
        The Old Orders can be dirt poor; they are the ones who eschew most comforts and live more austerly. It is dumb to generalize about “the Amish”…


    • “I really have no patience for anecdotes. We have broad data.”
      OK, let’s see it. Obviously “extensive TV coverage” is an unsatisfying source. And then please tell me the relevance of anything you are asserting. It seems like maybe you are reaching for an ad hominem, like, “The Amish are a burden on [middle class taxpayers?] and they don’t live the romantic mythologized life some people imagine, therefore…” ignore them as an example of anything? What exactly?

      “I imagine you think you made a point here, but I can’t see it for the life of me.” My point is that there are living examples low income people raising large families and thriving in America. Furthermore I mean to suggest that the way those Amish who are doing that do it is through the benefits of communities that are large, tightly knit, and old. I was the first one who used the phrase “the Amish” and to be accurate I should have said “some Amish” because I don’t know how well all Amish are doing and there is vast diversity among them. In particular I know how one community of Amish is doing and even if the are the sole group of thriving poor people raising large families (though their extensive connections with other communities all over eastern America and Canada makes me doubt that), their example shows that it can be done and could give some guidance as to how it can be done.


  162. Part of the reason I disagreed with Owen’s assertion that wide-scale NFP use is untenable is that I don’t think it gives people enough credit. Apparently, in India, when a town realized they weren’t producing enough food for everyone, all voluntarily lived apart from their spouses and thereby stopped having children until they were self-sustaining again.
    I agree with what Zeb said, and think he hit the nail on the head in assessing the situation. In the climate we live in, the deck is stacked against us. The powerful drug companies have a stake in people using ABC and sterilization. Honestly, what’s their financial interest in people successfully limiting their families, if they feel called to do so, with NFP? If people directed their energies and resources towards decreasing the demand for contraception, we might see a difference.
    With people seemingly jumping ship as regards the sexual teachings, the
    bandwagon effect is powerful.


  163. Owen,

    Many of the people I know, and myself also, who accept the Church’s teaching as expressed in Humanae Vitae are neither conservatives, libertarians nor “distributists [who are] heavy on the anti-statism such that they oppose federal level health care initiatives on principle.”

    But I am cheered to find out that you accept the Church’s teaching on hell.


    • I didn’t mean to imply you are that sort. And I know Daniel isn’t. If y’all were there would be no conversation to be had here. The distributists I referenced above are of the sort Daniel used to call ‘right distributists’ which were the dominant wing of the distributists I knew in Dale Ahlquist’s Minnesota Chesterton Society world back in the day.

      And, as for hell, maybe there is hope for me after all.


  164. Sex is just a problem, and that’s all there is to it.

    No, not really all, of course. But this is one of those difficulties in human life that are never going to be resolved in any across-the-board satisfactory way.

    I am basically in agreement with Storck, Zehnder, and Colby here. I’m saddened by the people testifying to how miserable NFP made them, especially someone leaving the Church over the question (although I guess there were other things involved, too). As converts thirty years ago my wife and I decided that we really ought to try to follow HV, and we muddled through, even teaching the CCL method for ten years or so. We certainly tried never to give anyone the impression that it would be easy, because it wasn’t for us. And that’s as much personal testimony as I’m going to give.

    I still find HV pretty convincing from a sort of intuitive as well as an analytical perspective. But I do find myself wondering if the Church might not eventually back off from it.


  165. “I also think reasoning on this issue with an understanding of modern science, lived experience, and considerations of my family is a saner way to approach the issue.”

    It sounds to me like you’re saying that I, and others like me, are in-sane. Do you think I have no lived experience and no consideration of my family? I assure you I do. The Church doesn’t force us to follow its precepts. It teaches and guides. The civil authorities don’t force us to follow civil law, but there can be a price to pay for disobeying it.

    Let’s say I desperately need some money. There are certain actions I wouldn’t take (like robbing a bank for example.) For one thing it’s against the law, and I’d probably get caught, which would be the consequence of my action. But let’s say that an armored truck broke open and money spilled out (which actually happened here a few years ago.) Could I help myself, even if I’d never get caught? I maintain that by doing so, I’d still be committing a wrong-doing and that engaging in vice would hurt myself on a natural level. It would make me more likely to do it again. I could try to rationalize that the money was covered by insurance and finders keepers, etc. but I would really be cheating myself out of an opportunity to grow in natural virtue by turning it in. (I’m obviously not a moral theologian, but I hope this makes sense.)

    If I want to lose weight I have to eat less and exercise more, plain and simple. I cannot expect to eat unlimited amounts of food and not sooner or later gain weight. Modern scientists say that we can separate the cause and effect of an action. But to me this is just circumventing a natural biological process, and I don’t think that in the long run it is healthy for us or the environment. They have also developed life in laboratories, and other Frankensteinish things. We have to use technology prudently. I saw one woman in a different place say women are just expected to be “walking incubators,” yet it’s the other way around. Incubators are like stationary mothers.

    Basically, If I want to have sex and not have it result in a pregnancy, which as any scientist will tell you, is the natural outcome of the act, I have to have sex at a time when pregnancy will not naturally result. Unless I want to wait until menopause to have sex (which is entirely out of the question) I have to order my acts accordingly. I accept that. I don’t resent it and I don’t want to find a way around it. It just is that way.

    I think that attitude is a big part. If I start out a diet all gung ho but throw in the towel after a time because it feels impossible to see results and I WANT to have my cake and eat it too, I’m NOT going to see results. Often life requires consistent observations, judgments, motivation and will-power. Either NFP works as they claim or it doesn’t and I am saying that it can, and I have found it to be reliable once I figured it out. I could tell you all the “errors” I made in the first 9 years, but I don’t regard my children as mistakes, rather the fruits of my marriage. I’m not sure what the whole basis of this argument is, or if I’ve even addressed it.

    I’ve seen bumper stickers that say “In reason we trust” and I’m wondering where exactly they think reason came from.


    • “It sounds to me like you’re saying that I, and others like me, are in-sane. Do you think I have no lived experience and no consideration of my family? I assure you I do.”

      Of course I don’t think someone following Church teaching is insane. I just found my better piece of mind, in my own life, by eliminating Catholic moral reasoning as the guiding force in my own moral reasoning.

      Humans are rational creatures and make rational decisions based on their own interest. Using NFP out of fear of Hell (not that this is the only reason someone would use it) is still a rational decision, in that it makes sense logically when one believes the Church’s claims.

      I just happen to find no logical reason for believing the Church’s claims to divine guidance, apart from tradition, the bible, and the magesterium. Since, these are also part of the Church, it would be circular to believe that the Catholic Church has moral authority, based on its own documents.

      “The Church doesn’t force us to follow its precepts. It teaches and guides. The civil authorities don’t force us to follow civil law, but there can be a price to pay for disobeying it.”

      It’s interesting that you compare this to civil law, since the Church is trying to use its view of contraception to influence civil laws.

      Of course no one can FORCE anyone to do anything, but there are various forms of coercion used. The Church uses fear of hell as a form of coercion. This is about the only coercive force the Church has left, since it no longer holds any temporal power of the everyday layperson.

      The civil authorities use coercion to get us to follow the laws, fines, jail time, penalties, etc. Does this mean the laws are always just? I think we’d both agree that it is often better to disobey an unjust law than to follow it, out of fear of coercion.

      “Let’s say I desperately need some money….”

      The bank robbery and spilled money comparisons are a giant red herring. Of course, there are reasons one would not rob a bank and there are reasons of integrity one wouldn’t keep money found from a bank robbery. But this in no way relates to contraception, except that you think both are bad. I agree with your bank robbery analysis, but I fail to see how this relates to whether the Church’s ban on contraception carries the same moral weight.

      Additionally, Thomas Aquinas and other theologians have said there are just reasons one could steal–to feed one’s family in dire circumstances. It’s philosophical sloppiness to try to relate this to birth control, unless you’re trying to say the Church will make exceptions at some point, as others here have argued.

      “If I want to lose weight I have to eat less and exercise more, plain and simple. I cannot expect to eat unlimited amounts of food and not sooner or later gain weight. Modern scientists say that we can separate the cause and effect of an action. But to me this is just circumventing a natural biological process, and I don’t think that in the long run it is healthy for us or the environment.”

      Sure, I’ll agree some things are healthy or unhealthy for ourselves and the environment, but this is not the moral argument the Church uses against birth control. The Church does not condemn stupid dieting practices or weight loss drugs, as it condemns contraception. It also doesn’t condemn other drugs that also contaminate ground water, like hormonal contraceptives. Health issues for the individual and environmental concerns are completely different from the metaphysical natural law argument made against birth control.

      “They have also developed life in laboratories, and other Frankensteinish things. We have to use technology prudently.”

      Of course we do.

      “I saw one woman in a different place say women are just expected to be “walking incubators,” yet it’s the other way around. Incubators are like stationary mothers..”

      I’m not sure what you’re getting at here.

      “Basically, If I want to have sex and not have it result in a pregnancy, which as any scientist will tell you, is the natural outcome of the act, I have to have sex at a time when pregnancy will not naturally result. Unless I want to wait until menopause to have sex (which is entirely out of the question) I have to order my acts accordingly. I accept that. I don’t resent it and I don’t want to find a way around it. It just is that way.”

      It is that way if you wish to follow Church teaching, yes.

      “Either NFP works as they claim or it doesn’t and I am saying that it can, and I have found it to be reliable once I figured it out. I could tell you all the “errors” I made in the first 9 years, but I don’t regard my children as mistakes, rather the fruits of my marriage. I’m not sure what the whole basis of this argument is, or if I’ve even addressed it.”

      I’m glad it has worked for you. That’s awesome! If it’s helped your family life, and you are happy with it. Then that is great.

      But such anecdotal evidence is unconvincing to others, especially when this thread shows that there is plenty of anecdotal evidence for those unsatisfied with it as well.

      “I’ve seen bumper stickers that say “In reason we trust” and I’m wondering where exactly they think reason came from.”

      Once again how is this relevant here? But I’ll take the bait. Reason comes from our brains and our neurological abilities to see and interpret patterns, use language, and construct symbols. You can push this back ad absurdum if you like, but doing so wouldn’t necessarily lead to the Christian understanding of God. One could just as easily say our ability to reason came from the Magic Sky Gnome. I have just as much basis for attributing reason the Magic Sky Gnome, as I do the Christian God. The burden of proof rests upon the person making the positive claim. I’m happy to believe that reason comes from neurological brain functions and leave it at that. If you want to go beyond that, you’ll need to provide the reasons.


      • My husband is a much letter logician, and better at presenting an argument. He has studied Aristotle, Plato, St. Thomas, etc. I’ll admit I’m outside my depth in these intellectual grounds.

        Yes, my evidence is completely anecdotal. Isn’t everyone’s, including the fact that Owen’s grandparents had a happy marriage despite contraception? Sure, some smokers (like my own grandmother) can smoke for 60 years, and live until age 93. But we can’t deny that the wider evidence is that smoking can cause lung cancer. People who smoke do so at their own risk. The Church doesn’t have a position on smoking. There is no inherent meaning in the act of smoking, unlike marital union. Contraception in and of itself is morally neutral. Intention and circumstances dictate the morality of its use, just like a knife or a gun. The state can’t outlaw the use of ABC, because it would be impossible to enforce.

        There is alot of fallout in the world from failure to follow the moral order. Yes, we are weak due to original sin. But does this mean that we shouldn’t try to overcome that weakness? Alot of people deny objective morality and view it as completely subjective, in this generation more than ever. I think it’s similar in many ways to ancient Rome. My contention is that immorality weakens the structure of society, which is based on the family. The family is breaking down, due to alot of factors, and the choices made by millions of people. I can’t change that. I can only live my own life in the way I think I should. I am heavily influenced by the Church, but I would much rather that, than adopt what I see as the destructive outlook of the popular culture.

        I think we could take the Church out of the equation altogether and still reach the same conclusions. And practically speaking, if you were to tell me that you or anyone you know of consistently followed all the NFP rules to avoid pregnancy and conceived anyway, I’ll eat my words. The message I’m getting is that you-and many many others who see no reason to follow what the Church teaches just because she teaches it – have jettisoned it as too “unreasonable.”

        Clearly all of us have wrestled with these issues. As I’ve said, I wish we all could reach a place where we are at peace with our decisions.

        As a complete aside, have you seen the quote that says “Atheism: the belief that there was once absolutely nothing. And nothing happened to the nothing until the nothing magically exploded (for no reason), creating everything and everywhere. Then a bunch of the exploded everything magically rearranged itself (for no reason whatsoever) into self-replicating bits which then turned into dinosaurs.” I don’t have the credit for this but it’s food for thought.


      • I am not at all competent to provide proofs for the existence of God. However, I just came across this article (and I’d be happy to read whatever articles you suggest) that I found interesting and apropos to the question of God and the moral order.

        http://catholicexchange.com/why-i-secretly-root-for-the-atheists-in-debates/


    • My husband is better at these sorts of discussions too. He’s the one with the philosohpy degree, who focused on Medieval Studies in grad school. If you lived closer, I’d invite you and your husband over for some of my home-brewed mead to discuss these things. I find these conversations enjoyable most enjoyable outside the internets.

      “Contraception in and of itself is morally neutral. Intention and circumstances dictate the morality of its use, just like a knife or a gun.”

      I agree with this, but I think we disagree when it comes to the use of contraception in marriage in order to prevent pregnancy. I see this as a fine morally use, but you, with the Church, see this as morally illicit.

      On this topic, I think I saw a Catholic joke recently called “How to use a Condomn.” The punch line was that they made great water balloons. I see no problem with using condoms as water balloons, but I also see no problem using them as a form of protection in consensual sex. Heck, even using them as water balloons can be morally problematic, if the intention is to hurt someone with the water balloon. So my quibble here is with the circumstances and intention behind the contraception as well.

      “There is alot of fallout in the world from failure to follow the moral order. Yes, we are weak due to original sin. But does this mean that we shouldn’t try to overcome that weakness? Alot of people deny objective morality and view it as completely subjective, in this generation more than ever.”

      Leaving the original sin bit aside, as I don’t believe in original sin, I agree we should all work to become better people and overcome moral weaknesses. I never denied objective morality.

      “I think it’s similar in many ways to ancient Rome. My contention is that immorality weakens the structure of society, which is based on the family. The family is breaking down, due to alot of factors, and the choices made by millions of people.”

      My issue here is what you mean by family because family structures have fluctuated relative to time, location, and customs. The idea of a “traditional family” is a myth, and Rome didn’t fall as a result of changing family structures. For more on this I recommend Stephanie Coontz’s book, Marriage: From Obedience to Intimacy to see how views and practices of marriage and child-rearing have evolved in Western society.

      “I can’t change that. I can only live my own life in the way I think I should. I am heavily influenced by the Church, but I would much rather that, than adopt what I see as the destructive outlook of the popular culture.”

      Yes, but is contraceptive sex really THE major destructive outlook in popular culture? I’m more inclined to decry consumerism and anti-intellectualism myself. These things CAN go together with an anything-goes view of sexual relations, but they are not necessarily related.

      “I think we could take the Church out of the equation altogether and still reach the same conclusions. And practically speaking, if you were to tell me that you or anyone you know of consistently followed all the NFP rules to avoid pregnancy and conceived anyway, I’ll eat my words. The message I’m getting is that you-and many many others who see no reason to follow what the Church teaches just because she teaches it – have jettisoned it as too “unreasonable.” ”

      Yes, I find the reasoning unsatisfying, which is why I see no reason to continue following what the Church teaches. I have reached some of the same conclusions. Contraceptive pills are unhealthy and bad for the environment, so I don’t use the stuff. This doesn’t mean that I think my reasons are morally binding on others. I may believe (and know) that chocolate cake is unhealthy, but this doesn’t mean I commit a moral wrong-doing by eating a piece or two. In the same way, contraception may be unhealthy, but that doesn’t mean those using it are committing a moral wrong.

      “Clearly all of us have wrestled with these issues. As I’ve said, I wish we all could reach a place where we are at peace with our decisions.”

      I have reached a point of peace about my decision, even if my decision bothers many conservative Catholics.

      “As a complete aside, have you seen the quote that says “Atheism: the belief that there was once absolutely nothing. And nothing happened to the nothing until the nothing magically exploded (for no reason), creating everything and everywhere. Then a bunch of the exploded everything magically rearranged itself (for no reason whatsoever) into self-replicating bits which then turned into dinosaurs.” I don’t have the credit for this but it’s food for thought.”

      Haven’t seen it, but as I said, we can follow the logic of beginnings and first principle ad absurdum. All you end up getting is some imaginative explanation of first cause–be that a Christian God, a Deist god, or a Magic Sky Gnome god–ultimately this logic can’t tell us anything about the primary cause other than IT is the primary cause. As an agnostic-atheist, I readily admit I don’t have an answer to this question, and I’m fine with that. In a similar vein many Christians are fine with having no answer to the mystery of theodicy. Personally, I’d rather eliminate theodicy as an issue and stick with a primary cause mystery. And heck, if sufficient evidence is found for a particular primary cause, I’ll gladly recognize a God, or a Magic Sky Gnome, or whatever.


      • Kacy:
        My husband teaches philosophy, specializing in medieval and ethics (I think) and he makes mead too! (And hard cider: he buys jars of apple cider at Whole Foods (sorry Owen) by the caseload, for a discount – 16 bottles at a time- ferments it and voila, hard cider.) I’m sure we probably have alot in common, lifestyle-wise. We are very anti-consumerist, for example.

        I think our main disagreement is probably in the purpose and nature of “the marriage act.” Which is why I recommend Love and Responsibility. This is a perspective that the vast majority of people aren’t familiar with. Catechesis suffers nowadays.

        If people don’t believe that the marriage act has inherent meaning in itself then I can understand that almost anything goes. I think the reason promiscuity is so prevalent is perhaps the fact that many don’t believe in an eternal soul, or that it’s just the “ghost in the machine” or something.

        If this is the case then sex would be a biological function no different from eating. I have perhaps a very disordered appetite for cake and other sweets, (not to mention computer use.) But they don’t reach the proportions of grave matter. If I had a dependence on alcohol such that it caused me to get drunk, and I willfully chose to get drunk, then I’m responsible for my actions. They could hurt myself and others. Yet alcohol in itself is good.

        Closing my eyes in itself is not wrong; closing my eyes while driving down a street filled with cars and pedestrians would be. Married sex should always be ordered to its proper end, which is having children. But you already know the teaching; you’ve studied it!


  166. By the way, when discussing this matter I hate how people tend to feel defensive. I don’t want either to be defensive or put anyone on the defensive. I think judging NFP on its merits is a useful exercise though, and obviously particular experiences come into play.


  167. rather, I dislike that it’s the case that people feel they have to be defensive on any side of the issue. We answer to ourselves and God. I do think though, that as Zeb said, our actions do impact others. Scandal breaks down the body of Christ. For example, I personally get discouraged when I witness Catholics publicly disregarding Church teaching. And it is encouraging to see others try to live out the Faith in all its aspects.


  168. Lady Comp. That is all.


  169. We used a fertility device (Clear Blue) that measured hormones; it was slightly more conservative then we would have liked, but I received it for free for joining the Marquette University study, and sold it afterwards on ebay. The drawback for us was it required buying test strips. Otherwise it might yield alot of peace of mind since it spells out in black and white fertile or not.

    I’m not sure if my analogy was confused. I am not equating married sex in and of itself with vice. But I do think that resorting to artificial means and other forms of disordered love are not exactly virtuous (on principle.) Please don’t anyone take this personally, but I believe that oral sex by definition is not sexual intercourse, and I’m not sure it’s even “loving” in the proper sense of the word “love.” I highly recommend the book Love and Responsibility by Karol Woytyla (sp.) (Pope John Paul II). I know many have read TOB.


  170. Lady Comp is a fertility monitor that tells when ovulation has occurred, as far as I know. I never used it, but friends have. I sure wish we could hear from more of our contemporaries who are satisfied with NFP!


  171. on August 22, 2012 at 8:49 am Daniel Nichols

    Googled “lady comp”. It claims to be 99% accurate BUT costs $485. Once again, a nice, Church approved method that is limited to the affluent.

    Still waiting on Owen documenting medieval bans on sex during pregnancy. I couldn’t find anything that moderns would deem “magisterial”; no papal or conciliar statements. I did find references to medieval penitentials, though, which forbade sex not only during pregnancy but while the woman is nursing(!). As this would mean years-long abstinence I think it safe to assume this was all but universally ignored.
    And while hardly “magisterial” in the developed sense of the word, a penitential would reflect the mind of the Church regarding just what was sin, and would thus indicate that the Church viewed procreation as the only justification for sex. Which is a far cry from NFP and Theology of the Body. This has huge implications on sorting out the questions raised on this thread…


    • Daniel,

      From what I have read, it is not clear that the medieval Church had a unified view on the morality of sexual intercourse when engaged for other reasons than simply procreation. St. Augustin in De bono coniugali, (On the Good of Marriage), says such sexual intercourse is permissible as a cure for concupiscence but venially sinful. St. John Chrysostom seemed to hold a very different view, though Augustin was far more influential in the West. Even so, It does not appear that his opinion was universally held. I’ve recommended it before, but Monks on Marriage Jean Leclercq offers an interesting overview of the attitudes towards marriage (showing that they were very positive on the whole) and argues that a new appreciation for marriage developed in the West in the 12th century. He discusses attitudes towards sex and argues that not all medieval writers shared St. Augustin’s opinions. The difficulty some theologians had was that they had not yet developed a clear understanding of secondary causality.

      As for sex during pregnancy, St. Hildegard von Bingen condemns it in her book of visions, Scivias (Book I, Vision 3, I think). Her reasoning is that it could lead to the death of the unborn child. I had not heard before of the prohibition during nursing. Where did you see the reference to this Liber penitentialis? I have not studied the matter of such works much, but my suspicion would be, given the decentralized character of the medieval Church, the prescriptions of such books were not uniform. One finds the same thing in examinations of conscience published before Vatican II: some are very rigorous, others gentle.


      • The prohibition against sex while breastfeeding can be found in Pope Nicholas I’s letter to the king of the Bulgarians, dated 866. Pope Nicholas I quotes Pope Gregory’s letter to (presumably) Augustine of Canterbury.

        Chapter LXIV.

        For how many days after a woman gives birth to a child a man should abstain from her, is stated not by our opinions but in the words of the Roman Pope and apostle of the English nation, Gregory of blessed memory, who, when he writes to Bishop Augustine, whom he had sent to Saxony, says among other things: “A woman’s husband should not approach to lie with her until the infants, to whom she has given birth, have been weaned. But a depraved custom has arisen in the behavior of married people, that women despise nursing the children whom they have born and hand them over to be nursed by other women; and this seems to have happened solely because of incontinence, since those who refuse to restrain themselves, despise nursing those to whom they have given birth.”

        Interestingly enough, in the previous question, he answers the king’s question about sex on a Sunday.

        Chapter LXIII

        You also ask if a husband is permitted to have intercourse or sleep with his wife in the daytime or night time on Sunday. To this we respond that if one should cease from all worldly labor on Sunday, as we taught above, how much more should one beware of carnal pleasure and every sort of bodily pollution, especially since the name “the Lord’s day” shows clearly that the Christian should do nothing on this day except what is the Lord’s.

        (I guess Pope Nicholas I didn’t know that the marital act was a “living image of God,” or that “God was present in the marital act,” or whatever.)

        I don’t expect anyone to care very much about what Pope Nicholas I said, because, as a wise man once said, “Catholics believe in Tradition, but they do not believe in history.”

        Here’s the link, it’s quite fascinating, (f you believe in history) and most of it has nothing to do with sex.

        http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/866nicholas-bulgar.asp


      • Thanks for the link. I will look at the entire text with interest. This is an example of a disciplinary norm, based on certain attitudes toward sexual intercourse, that has since changed. The quotation about nursing suggests that Pope St. Gregory I thought sexual intercourse was a danger to a nursing child, which some avoided by passing the child to a wet nurse.


      • on October 6, 2013 at 9:28 pm AnonymousBadCatholic

        One would think that if Pope Gregory’s problem with sex while nursing was solely concern for the infant being nursed, he would be somewhat less condemnatory of those married couples unable to avoid lovemaking while breastfeeding (I would imagine women likely breastfed for at least a couple of years back then? we are talking some fairly prolonged abstinence here, in a time when there wasn’t much to do once the sun went down, and the act of sleeping in the same bed was probably performed out of sheer practicality–keeping warm–as much as anything else; I can’t imagine it would be easy to be abstinent for 2-3 years under those circumstances) who chose to use a wetnurse rather than put their infant in danger with their lovemaking.

        Somehow I doubt too many actual married couples living in the villages worried too much about what Pope Gregory had to say about the matter, but I do wonder if his prohibition had its roots in an effort to effect some birth control/child spacing. I can see why St. Gregory’s rule about sex might be better for health of the mother and any child who might be conceived while she was still nursing. I’ve been pregnant and nursing on more than one occasion, and it can really drain a person’s physical, emotional, and psychological resources.


    • I haven’t been able to get to the sem this week (forgot about kids’ dentist appts, etc.). Will definitely get there before the end of the week. Sorry for the delay.


  172. Well, what I am going by is the modern (JPII variety) understanding of marriage and the marriage act. Abstaining for a year and a half would well-nigh require living apart. I’m glad that’s no longer a requirement. My thought would be that it was disciplinary (like not eating meat on Fridays, that would at most incur the venial sin of disobedience.)
    Dan, going back to the issue you raised of the extremely intense desire women have for sex at ovulation. Yes, it is all too real for most of us, and it can be very difficult to ignore. There was one year we skirted pregnancy in May only to conceive in October. Then the time my husband showed amazing restraint in the midst of much pressure (for which I give him much credit) was because he knew that while I may have ‘wanted’ in the sense of ‘strongly desired’ to be united that I didn’t actually “want” it, in sense of will the end. It’s a key distinction (one of the only things I remember from philosophy of man class.)
    The important thing is, it does get easier the more we train the will. (At first it is *agony.* In time it becomes routine to order our acts accordingly.)This is something that in theory is true with strong cravings and desires for sweets or the like. I have yet to master those completely, but since subverting the end of the marriage act constitutes grave matter, we kind of had no “choice” but to get on board with NFP. It may sound like I’m patting myself on the back. But it’s simply part of our duty as Catholic parents.
    I have given much thought to the situation of KCKMA. I wonder if they could buy the ClearBlue monitor (available on ebay used for probably $50.) It would require urine testing every morning until ovulation is shown to have taken place. But once the extreme fear of pregnancy occurring is lessened or removed (which in itself may be throwing off her cycles), then perhaps in time she could come to enjoy having sex in Phase III. Just a thought. It definitely takes away much-almost all- of the thought and judgment. Especially in conjunction with whatever knowledge she already has of the basic physiology of the cycle. It sounds like the fear has been quite crippling.
    I’ll expound on what Mom of Many said. Our call as parents is to procreate AND educate. Yet many Catholics limit their families in large part because Catholic schools cost an arm and a leg. And they cost an arm and a leg partly since there are fewer children.
    The grade school my husband went to has since closed its doors. One family we knew when we were newlyweds living in that town had several children (at least half a dozen) but they were a rarity. Another family had several, but they went to public schools-the father worked for a Catholic institution, as does my husband-presumably for apostolic wages. That’s too bad when couples who might otherwise have more children, choose not to because of the high cost of Catholic schools. (Homeschooling doesn’t burn out all mothers, but it often does.)
    We got zero financial aid from the diocese. If it weren’t for the generosity of our parish, who views it as a work of mercy to ‘instruct the ignorant’ we wouldn’t be able to send one out of our five kids to parochial school, not by a long shot. As Mom Of Many said, tuition can cost upwards of $20,000 in toto- prohibitive for most people. When my mom was growing up, a class had around 60 students. Now it’s half that.
    Not sure what the answer is!


  173. I didn’t mention the fact that many Catholic schools are NOT places parents would even like to send their kids to. Ours aren’t perfect, but for the lower grades I doubt they’ll compromise kids’ faith. In fact, they have Mass every Wednesday, Stations of the Cross during Lent, etc.


  174. “Googled “lady comp”. It claims to be 99% accurate BUT costs $485. Once again, a nice, Church approved method that is limited to the affluent.”

    Yeah, but don’t blame the Church for the fact that some capitalist has invented an expensive gadget. He just saw his opportunity – you know how that is… All for the common good and all that.


  175. Full disclosure: ClearBlue is specifically marketed as a device for achieving pregnancy. Personally I think it’s better a couple use this means than IVF or the like. If it’s covered by insurance as a family planning aid, so much the better. Provided one has insurance of course. I’m not sure about Lady Comp or ovacue indicator. These are outside my budget, but if they provide peace of mind, and can be effectively used to avoid pregnancy, they may be worth it for someone else. One of the benefits about sympto-thermal NFP is that it is virtually cost-free.


  176. Colby, if I might ask for another disclosure – were you a cheerleader when you were in school?


  177. Do you mean graduate school? We had very little money then, but were able to keep our expenses down. The tiny 1 bedroom house we owned was where we lived until our third child was born. (Incidentally, we had neighbors temporarily living in a similar house with 3 teenage sons.) During that time we didn’t seem to have the discipline/will to follow the rules to a t, even though we were “ostensibly” practicing NFP. (Guess we were using the method to get pregnant, even though that wasn’t necessarily our intention.)
    Then my husband got a full-time job. We were on our feet, in a bigger house, but by no means was the salary lucrative. Pregnancy number 4 at first put me in a tailspin (to put it mildly.) I think a big part of that was that I blamed us for not getting it right. Yet another pregnancy resulted from still just being in denial about symptoms and not being able to accept that so much was required of us. Recession made us lose a lot of money on the house, through no real fault of our own, other than buying vs. renting.
    Real life caught up to us and I realized we were at our limit. I don’t know if it’s a combination of age and no longer being newlyweds but we were finally able to realize that we could have our cake and eat it too, so to speak-if we could just wait for phase III. NFP gurus liken it to the honeymoon effect, and there’s something to that. We appreciate each other more, and in my case, I REALLY appreciate that I have full cooperation from my husband. Whereas before, the fear of pregnancy approached paralyzing (I tend to be melodramatic, but still) it no longer is, since there is a basic order to the cycle that is consistent. Certain things will throw it off, like the fear I used to have, or traveling, but I won’t go into that.)
    As for NFP cheerleader, I would never go so far as to tell someone it was what they need to do, (even learn it, much less practice) but I also don’t like to see people dismiss it out of hand as unrealistic. The Church doesn’t provide a list of reasons, because it’s left up to individuals’ discretion. Hope this answers the question, by way of background. I think we’re somewhat representative of Catholics our age following Church teaching. However, I think it would do engaged couples a service if they explained at the outset that they can expect to have alot of kids in quick succession unless they are serious about NFP. That way they’ll have the right expectations from day one. Most of my friends that we went to school with have 5-8 kids already, no doubt by using NFP loosely. Those using NFP seriously have 2-3, or a few have as many as 4. Doctors tell me I need to pace myself, which I think is good advice. But for many reasons, greatest of which is Church teaching, but secondary is health, ABC is a no-go.


    • No I was thinking more high school, and the poms poms sort of cheerleader. You are very enthusiastic and “positive” in your posture. A bit peppy. I’m glad your life is so happy. I don’t mean that snarkily. I just don’t think that the paradigm you operate out of can be applied broadly.


  178. Daniel, a friend of mine took the incredible amount of time it must have taken to read this thread, and he noted to me that the moniker ‘Red Owen’ has already been taken:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Owen_Roe_O'Neill

    Of course, I don’t mind bearing his name. The thought of killing English aristocrats and their thugs makes my heart warm and brings a smile to my lips.


  179. on August 22, 2012 at 5:30 pm Daniel Nichols

    Well he was “Red Owen” on account of his hair, not because of his politics. While you have red haired daughters, you have no hair that I could see. You don’t want to be “Bald Owen” do you?
    And while I have no desire to kill anyone, I cannot bear all those books and movies romanticizing the English aristocracy. You know, Jane Austen and all that…I prefer Dickens.


  180. Owen, no it’s funny. I am more of the dour type! But it’s amazing what a difference being at peace can make in one’s outlook. Hmm: as I noted much earlier we have the support of our family, moral and financial. But we also recognize our limitations, and realize we have to work within them.
    It is very hard for me not to compare myself as mom with my shiny happy counterparts. You know-the kind who have lots of money for every homeschooling material under the sun and all the material comforts- plus a big brood- the ones who scream Catholic parents extraordinaire. That can make me feel insecure, especially when that type of family is held up as THE ideal, as best living up to “the mind of the Church.”


  181. But I do take what you said as a compliment, Owen.


  182. “I just don’t think that the paradigm you operate out of can be applied broadly.”

    First of all, why not, if I may ask? If you’ve already answered could you encapsulate?

    It may be the case that God will hold alot of priests and bishops accountable for not promulgating the law enough. As for us, we can’t exactly claim ignorance.


  183. This study may be of interest; assuming it is accurate.

    http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/wils/wils_01naturalfamilyplanning1.html


  184. As a poor couple with now going to be 7 kids in 8 years..I am at the same point of frustration and have considered having a tubal.Not because I dont believe in NFP but because I cannot afford health-wise or financially,another “NFP mistake.” NFP isnt supposed to be full proof,unless completely abstinent,which IMHO DOES ruin marriage and rob us of the graces and strength needed to do the very thing we are called to do! That aside, I conclude that whatever I do after this baby (due in Jan) if I have the tubal or not, I know that NFP and the church is not to blame.The world is.The world has not been set up/crafted with the family’s best interest in mind-and that is why it is so hard to have these children.So while I am a poor weakling who will trust in God’s mercy, I do not feel free to make a moral decision I would make if I felt free to do so.People would say “There is no (literal )gun to my head”-but I would argue that.I feel I have no choice.Whats left? Have my kids taken away bc I cant support or care for them? I believe in the church and in NFP..it makes so much sense to me I couldnt believe anything else if I wanted to.god would rather have you in the church, saying to Him “I am sorry I feel like I have to do this.” than to leave bc you dont feel like you are being consistent in your beliefs.I would say to trust God,and realize the church must tell us the ideal…we must try honestly to live it. When reality happens, he doesnt want us to leave Him bc we couldnt “keep the rule.” I know I sound like a big fat “liberal” catholic, but God does understand things.These decisions are so very nuanced,and He obviously knows that. I myself feel like its do or die with this issue,and if it were just me to think about,I may just die.But I have 7 kids to think about,and I cant take them down with the ship if there is another mishap.*Sigh* Its the worlds fault-its those who choose against the family and nature that make the world today “unhospitable” and intolerant of what naturally happens in a family.And there is little to no support for women anymore.But it is not the churches fault-truth is truth regardless of how bad the world gets.I direct my anger towards those who attack the family and the church,and modern science that treats my body like there is something wrong with it.Its like building a house with a 4 foot ceilings and giving people a pill so hopefully they wont grow to high to live naturally in the house.


    • Tanya I think that is a perfect statement of the real situation. The Church is right and justified in its teaching, but society itself has made it almost impossible for many to follow that right teaching. Granted, for what it is worth, the Church – both clergy and laity – bear some responsibility for society being that way. I agree completely too with your assessment of the moral dilemma. One may decide that contraception is the lesser of three evils (those being contraception, abstinence, or conceiving children beyond one’s capacity), but that decision, made in humility, should not divorce one from the life life of the Church or acceptance of her teaching authority. When earthly circumstances provide no means for making the moral choice all we can do is pray for God’s grace, that some divine way be opened up for us either internally or externally. And then, of course, take the grace as it comes and in the words of Peter Maurin, keep working “to make that kind of society where it is easier for men to be good.”


  185. on August 24, 2012 at 10:22 am Daniel Nichols

    Tonya- Yet another heartbreaking testimony to the unreliability of NFP. And I don’t see how the Church is not to be blamed if the only method it allows is so unreliable…

    I am still waiting for Owen to document that the Church banned sex during pregnancy. And to have any weight he has to show that it did so not because of some mistaken notion that it would harm the baby, but because conception is impossible.


    • Daniel, how is the Church (magisterium) to blame for the unreliability of a method developed outside of the magisterium? If the Church allowed the use of condoms would it also be to blame for their failure rate? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_birth_control_methods
      This whole discussion has been based on the unchallenged assumption that if the Church would just let us use condoms or other methods we could all breath a sigh of relief and go at it worry free. That’s a dangerous lie. I’ve known people who go conceived using many different ABC methods (probably imperfectly, as you do), including my wife. Like I said earlier, each of my children comes from imperfect use of family planning methods, one artificial and one natural. So I don’t see a loosening of restriction by the Church as a panacea anyway. As Tonya so well said, the solution is not to stop fertility, which cannot be done easily and certainly not without grave harm to the full human being, but rather to being about that society that welcomes many children and large families with much support. Which I think you believe and I don’t need to tell you, but this comment seems out of place given that understanding.


  186. “And I don’t see how the Church is not to be blamed if the only method it allows is so unreliable…” Dan, I’m surprised at you for this comment. Perhaps it’s God or nature you should blame.


    • on August 24, 2012 at 5:21 pm Daniel Nichols

      Well, Tom, I have been mulling over this since my original post brought such a response; all these heartbreaking stories It seems to me evident that NFP is unreliable and often a strain on the relationship, given the demand for abstinence when the woman most desires her husband. It seem as if the Church is imposing heavy burdens on the few who take her teaching seriously.
      And Zeb, I know other methods are also unreliable; I have seen other numbers than the ones you link to, which suggest that NFP’s failure rate, as actually practiced, is one of the highest. It might be all right for those who would just prefer to have 3 or 4 kids, but what of those whose health or well being are seriously threatened?
      Doesn’t it seem that the Church has moved steadily away from the antisexual, procreation alone stance that once characterized it? And perhaps may one day see procreation in the lives of the married couple as a whole, rather than demand that every act at least “resembles” a procreative act, even if, as she does now, the Church allows sex when procreation is impossible?

      I know, even questioning this makes me a Bad Catholic, which is unfamiliar territory…


  187. Tonya, my heart breaks for you, and everyone in your situation!
    I think we all agree that what is needed is the support of a cohesive community, centered around the Church. Without that we will flounder to different degrees. We are not meant to struggle along on our own. My eyes have been opened to the incredible struggles that some go through- I don’t know how to answer the hard cases! Some of them, admittedly, are nightmares (including one I read about elsewhere where the wife was sick. Her non-fertile window was 5 days, at which point she was no long ‘interested’ and had to work really hard to become so. Then they conceived when the doctor said it was impossible they should have-the one time in two months so there was no question. At this point she was in danger of dying, and her husband describes his slow spiral into pornography. He tried so hard to resist, but having his wife reject his advances repeatedly caused a slow burn that eventually reached the breaking point and exploded.
    The point is we’re all human, susceptible to weakness and sin. I think the world tries to capitalize on that, by offering “solutions” that aren’t ultimately helpful. How do the uninsured even come up with the money for sterilization, much less the ongoing expense of ABC? Just something I was wondering rhetorically. I guess the government is only too happy to pay for it.
    Chris Zehnder was absolutely right in saying that while for the majority of us only ordinary virtue will be required, for some heroic virtue will be required. Winston Churchill said “Sometimes its not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what’s required.” (In our case, what the Church requires.)
    My point in detailing our personal experience was that-for us- growing in ordinary virtue will hopefully make it easiER for us if heroic virtue was required. But I couldn’t say for sure what would happen in that event. Tonya is right, that the Church does offer the grace of forgiveness and would rather that people fall and get up than fall and not get up. Because in our frailty, we all fall short of the mark.
    Incidentally, I request prayers for the friend of a friend. She is a Catholic convert, just had a third baby and has a life-threatening health concern. They live in Appalachia (we’re talking poor). She’s had hospital expenses and is on expensive blood-thinners. My friend is trying to talk her into NFP. We’ll see what happens…


  188. Also, those who do manage to persevere through tremendous hardship shouldn’t underestimate the tremendous graces they are receiving as a result of accepting the trial.


  189. OK, I’ll post this down here for simplicity’s sake. I’m sorry this took so long, I’ve had a long, lousy week which didn’t allow me much time to get away.

    This is what I have so far from Brundage’s book. All quotations are from Brundage unless otherwise noted.

    The citations from Augustine forbidding sex during prego go on and on. Among them are De bono coniugali 6.5, in CSEL 41:194; De nupt. Et concup. 1.24.27, in CSEL 42:239-40.

    St Caesarius of Arles, bishop and author of two monastic rules, Serm. 44.7 in CCL 103:199.

    Jerome, of course, Commentarium in Ezechielem 6.18 and Commentarium in Zachariam 3.13.1, in PL
    25:173, 1517.

    Concerning Pope St. Gregory – After noting the seeming ritual impurity the Reponsa connoted upon pregnancy and childbirth itself (the Responsa links postpartum bleeding with the pleasure the female had in the conception of the child – Gregory I, <Registrum 11.56a.8, in MGH, Epist. 2/1:338) Brundage notes – “Once pregnancy was over, the child was born, and the postpartum continence period had passed, couples were still forbidden to have sexual intercourse, according to the Responsa Gregorii, until after the child had been weaned. Well-to-do women could avoid this prohibition, however, since they usually entrusted their infants to wet nurses shortly after birth – but the Responsa denounced that practice as immoral. Gregory I, Registrum 9.56a, in MGH, Epist. 2/1:339.

    As for Penitentials – “Penitentials frequently prohibited sexual relations during pregnancy. The proscribed period usually ran from the first evidence of pregnancy to the birth of the child.”

    Sources of penitentials and later canonists cited include:

    Bigotianum 2.93, in Bieler, p. 222

    Canones Gregorii 80, in Wasserschleben, p. 170 [that would be the the Decretals of Gregory IX – the important source of medieval canon law written by St. Raymond of Peñaforte and ordered by Gregory IX, in what was meant to be an expression of his power over the whole church.]

    Cummean 2.30, in Bieler, p. 113

    Finnian 46, in Bieler, p. 92

    Old-Irish Penitential 2.36, in Bieler, p. 265

    Regino 1.328 in PL 132:256

    Burchard, Decretum 19:155, in PL 140:1013 also Decretum 19:5, in PL 140:959

    Ivo, Decretum 15.163, in PL 161:894 also , Decretum 8.88, in PL 161:601-602

    In Gratian – “Prohibitions of intercourse during menstruation, pregnancy, and lactation are found in D. 5c.4 and palea post c.4.”

    Brundage doesn’t have a single section on a prohibition on sex during pregnancy. His book goes chronologically and I’m certain that the index doesn’t cover every mention of the prohibition. I’ve only included about half of what I found in the index (later stuff, like from the Decretists, didn’t seem pertinent, and by the 14th century the prohibition begins to ease up, with disagreement among saints and canonists).

    While glossing over this material again trying to find these sources, I saw a number of gems, like this on Jerome:

    “Since sex was a usual (and, in his view, regrettable) feature of most marriages, Jerome and like-minded writers argued that couples had a moral obligation to limit marital relations to an absolute minimum. Jerome was bitterly critical of married men who lived their wives excessively. This was a ‘deformity,’ Jerome believed, and he cited with approval the Stoic writers Seneca and Sextus, who had declared that ‘A man who loves his wife too much is an adulterer.’ There can be little doubt in this context that Jerome identified love with sexual relations and that what he attacked so fiercely was immoderate indulgence in sex by married persons. Marital sex, Jerome thought, should be indulged in only very infrequently and then with sober calculation, not with hot desire. ‘Nothing,’ he asserted at one point, ‘is filthier than to have sex with your wife as you might do with another woman.'”

    One big exception to the prohibition on sex during prego (and a number of other prohibitions) was Albert the Great (though this is late, of course). Though the overwhelming majority opinion seemed to have been that one was to never touch your spouse’s genitals, Albert was quite the sexpert:

    “The pseudonymous treatise De secretis mulierum, ascribed to Albert the Great, gave detailed instructions for the technique of marital coitus. The spouses should prepare themselves physically and mentally: they should not make love immediately after eating and they ought to make sure that bladder and bowels were empty. Some foreplay – kissing, embracing, and fondling of ‘the lower parts’ – was prescribed, since the author considered it essential to raise the woman’s body heat to the proper level. The husband would know that the critical moment had arrived when his wife commenced ‘to speak as if she were babbling.’ The husband should immediately commence intercourse when this happened and the woman was instructed to lie absolutely still, since if she moved the seed might divide with the result that a defective child would be conceived. The woman should also pay attention to what was going on and not let her thoughts wander to other matters, since if she were musing at the critical moment about, say, a cow, her child might turn out to resemble the animal.

    Earlier prohibitions against intercourse during pregnancy and menstruation produced a rich casuistry to deal with doubts about these practices, but most thirteenth- and fourteenth-century writers treated ritual purity as a minor issue. Albert the Great thought that sex during pregnancy ought to be excused, since he believed that the fetus stimulated the expectant mother’s nerves, which made her hunger for sexual satisfaction. ‘A woman,’ he declared ‘never desires sex so much as she does when she is pregnant,’ and he believed this furnished ample reason for allowing coitus during this period, since ‘Medicine is most needed in the time of greatest illness.”

    I’ll continue to look over the book (I ended up checking it out) and note other sources as I do.


    • Two things I would add:

      First, it seems that for the first millennium of Christianity, and for a period of 100-maybe200 years into the second, there is no indication of any moral code for Christians which states an allowance for sex during pregnancy. There are any number which prohibit it. If a Christian during the first thousand years of Christianity were to turn to any authoritative source in order to discern the matter, the only texts they would have been able to find which dealt on the matter, from Pope St. Gregory’s work to the penitentials, condemned the practice of sex during pregnancy. Considering all of the other marital sex phenomena condemned by these texts, this would hardly have come as a surprise to the pious Christian of the time.

      Second, one can point to variances. Augustine was more lenient than Jerome because he did not find all marital sex utterly disgusting as Jerome did. But compared to, say, Theology of the Body, Augustine and Jerome and every other Catholic writer on sex in the first millennium (so far as I can tell) have far, far more in common with each other than they have with Theology of the Body, or even with late medieval canonist work by the time casuistry whittled away at many of the prior prohibitions. While scholars may note this and that minor difference in view among the fathers of the church, on sexual matters the more amazing thing is their prudish homogeneity. There is this bizarre adoption of Greco-Roman views on the disgustingness of sex, but without the means Greco-Roman cultures had for allowing those ‘filthy’ desires to have an outlet. The Greco-Roman man of culture had a concubine and/or a whore to release those unseemly desires which he would not show his wife so as to not debase her. The Christian is expected to treat his wife with the same Greco-Roman decorum and lack of “hot desire” but at the same time has no outlet for that. Strange, and obviously a moral posture which could not last forever, and was probably largely ignored by the masses, even the ‘faithful’ masses, just as HV is by the vast majority of Catholics today.


    • I thought that, since I have De Bono Coniugali, I would look up the reference Brundage gives. This is what I have found.

      Section 6.5 follows 5.5, the latter part of which asks what one is to think of a woman who, though unmarried to a man, wishes intercourse for no other purpose than procreation. Augustin immediately says that such a woman is to be preferred to many wives, “who although they be not adultresses, yet force their husbands, for the most part also wishing to exercise continence, to pay the due of the flesh, not through desire of children, but through glow of lust making an intemperate use of their very right; in whose marriages, however, this very thing, that they are married, is a good. For for this purpose are they married, that the lust being brought under a lawful bond, should not float at large without form and loose; having of itself weakness of flesh that cannot be curbed, but of marriage fellowship of faith that cannot be dissolved; of itself encroachment of immoderate intercourse, of marriage a way of chastely begetting. For although it be shameful to wish to use a husband for purposes of lust, yet it is honorable to be unwilling to have intercourse save with an husband, and not to give birth to children save from a husband. There are also men incontinent to that degree, that they spare not their wives even when pregnant. Therefore, whatever that is immodest, shameful, base, married persons do one with another, is the sin of the persons, not the fault of marriage.”

      What is unclear from this passage is whether Augustin thought intercourse during pregnancy was anything more than venially sinful — just as, in his mind, any intercourse undertaken for any other purpose than procreation was venially sinful. Nevertheless, he thought (as he explains in 4.4) such intercourse is not forbidden; indeed, it may even be obligatory, to counteract concupiscence. So, could it not be the same, in his mind, for intercourse during pregnancy?

      I could not find anything about this matter in On Marriage and Concupiscence, in the sections Brundage seems to reference. If anyone wants to look at the text, it can be found on Google Books in A Select Library of the Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers.

      As for the greater claim — thus far, the texts cited or as cited do not support the contention that the prohibition of sexual intercourse during pregnancy was anything more than a disciplinary provision; indeed, the text from Augustin cited does not even specifically prohibit the practice, only marks it as a sign of incontinence and deplorable, like the passion displayed by the wife who wants her husband only out of the “glow of passion.” Too, the texts do not cite the reasons for the prohibition, which, if it was thought that such intercourse could lead to an abortion, would have been reasonable in the context.

      Finally, what we have all agreed on thus far is that at certain periods, churchmen forbade a certain practice. It seems from what Owen says, too, that not even all penitentiales forbade this particular practice. How universal the ban was is thus unclear, though I would assume it was rather widespread. But, in any case, it seems we are dealing with a mere prohibition. The Church’s teaching on contraception is not simply a prohibition — a birth control ban. It is a teaching about the nature of a particular act — like the Church’s teaching on murder.


      • On Augie you might also try Contra Julianum 3.14.28, in PL 44:716-17, it was unclear to me exactly which citation Brundage was applying in that portion of his text.

        There are so many references to Aug in Brundage, I will mention more as I find them.

        Yes, I think it true that not every single penitential nor every single passage from a father of the church dealing with marital sex during pregnancy mentions, explicitly and in absolutely uncertain terms, the prohibition of sex during pregnancy. The point might also be made that though during this time there was a great deal of writing about what sex was and wasn’t allowed, no one seems to have asserted that such sex was licit. That did not seem to occur until the mid to late medieval period.

        Brundage doesn’t present it this way, but it seems to me that you can break things up into three very roughly defined periods when it comes to marital sex act law – first the period where everything seems to be informed by Greco-Roman standards that were baptized, in addition to ritual purity laws (the penitentials are full of prohibitions such as variable penances for priests and sometimes other men who touch a pregnant woman, etc,). There there is the period of the canonists where many, perhaps most of the earlier prohibitions begin to be codified, with a beginning though mostly latent start of casuistry and an ever slight nod to relaxations. Then a third period starting sometime around the late 13th early 14th centuries when casuistry begins to go full gear and you have all sorts of relaxations developing.

        With regard to the distinction between prohibition and a teaching about the nature of a particular act, I don’t disagree with you that what I present here is prohibition. Though, again, it seems that two Gregorian popes, separated by six+ centuries, prohibited the act, along with a number of others of note, and when considering the distinction you mention it occurs to me to wonder when these same fathers and popes condemned other sexual sins via an authoritative and official teaching on the nature of the act. Where does Gregory the Great condemn homosex in a manner that teaches about the nature of the act in the manner that HV considers the nature of contraceptive use?

        In certain respects this question could be tricky because patristic rhetoric can so often be read a number of ways. Jerome might rage against marital sex and say all sorts of things about it but does this constitute a teaching on the nature of the act when mostly he just calls the acts derogatory names (you might think he and I somewhat alike rhetorically)? I don’t know. Nor does he have authority in the manner that a pope does, and with both the Gregorian texts all we have, it seems, is mere prohibitive mention.

        But I do think that what constitutes moral law teaching today was something hardly on the minds of these leaders of the first 1000 years of Christianity. They, it seems, expected to give orders and have them obeyed, at least by people who were serious about being Christians. There wasn’t a socio-cultural need for explanation on the nature of acts in the manner we find today. I think it helpful to look at all this from the point of view of the faithful layperson at various points in Church history – a person asking, “what does the Church require of me in terms of sexual morality?” When considering that question asked over different periods I think it undeniable that the Church has changed her message to the faithful. When parsing exactly what moral law was and is, for the Church to have any kerygmatic integrity, it would have to have a moral law that is consistent with what its own hierarchs, popes, and saints are teaching. What hierarchs, popes, and saints are teaching (and telling someone that x, y, and z acts are prohibited is at least teaching them what they as Christians are not allowed to do — and one would think such prohibition, acting as de facto moral law, would not go far from de jure moral law when being uttered by popes, saints, bishops, etc.) then is different from what they are teaching now with regard to marital sex. Pregnancy is but one issue here. Brundage goes on at length concerning prohibitions of sex during menstruation (especially in the ritual purity period), lactation, post partum, he notes prohibitions against various (virtually all except missionary) sexual positions (and we learn that this must have been a fairly big deal as the later canonists argue at length about it, with casuistry coming in when it is argued that in the case of an obese spouse an allowance might have to be made, etc.), and so on and so forth. The case for a highly regulated, highly restrictive moral norm normative to Christians (in terms of what they were hearing about these matters from hierarchs and monastics) concerning marital sex is overwhelming. And despite some variances, and despite these being mere prohibitions, there is seemingly no counter voice at all saying that pleasing one’s spouse sexually is a good (other than a lesser of evils, in some cases, for some saints) – despite graphic descriptions of sexual activities by saints throughout the ages – you don’t get any saint or pope, so far as I can tell, arguing that it is appropriate for a spouse to touch the other spouse’s genitals until the second millennium. What possible conclusions were the faithful able to draw from this authoritative teaching milieu concerning the nature of marital sex that in any way conform to the teaching on the nature of marital sex today? The change, it seems to me, is fairly radical.


      • The passage in Contra Julianum says nothing about intercourse during pregnancy. It does speak, however, to Julian’s insistence that there is no shame in sexual intercourse between spouses. It is interesting to note here that Augustin argues against this because Julian’s position is based on a denial of concupiscence — the rebellion of the flesh after the fall — because, being a Pelagian, Julian denied original sin.

        IN his work, “Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, Book I, Chapter 10, Augustin makes a distinction between sexual desire and “shameful lust.:” Augustin thought sexual desire existed before the fall, but not “shameful lust” — i.e. concupiscence. Sexual desire implies sexual pleasure — for we desire pleasure. Thus, sexual pleasure is not in itself evil, according to Augustin. Shameful lust is because, being concupiscential, it draws one into sin.

        It seems to me the state of teaching on marriage in the first millenium was at least this: 1. The primary purpose of marriage is procreation. 2. There is at least one secondary purpose: the cure for concupiscence. This, according to Augustin, is at worst sinful, but it is venialis, subject to venia, mercy. (Later writers, however, means something different by venialis. Other writers do not make the distinction at all.) As for pleasure — I shall try to find it (Daniel has quoted it on this site — but in one of his sermons St. John Chrysostom speaks rather approvingly of sexual pleasure and indicates it is without fault. Then there is a passage from the Vita Sanctae Idae, by the monk Uffing, written about 980. Speaking in the context of Ida’s conjugal relations with her husband, Uffing says: … quam duobus in carne una, unam inesse Spiritus sancti indicissam operationem, quae illos deforis connubali iure connexos, ardentiori coelestium intus inflammavit amore. “For the two in one flesh, there is present one undivided operation of the Holy Spirit, which inflames from within those outwardly joined by marital right with a more ardent heavenly love.” Uffing here is basically saying the marital union is the occasion of the enhancement, not simply of earthly love, but of heavenly love.

        Admittedly, there remains in the Fathers and in the generations up until, at least, the 12th century, a suspicion or downright detestation of sexual pleasure. But, if Chrysostom and Uffing are any indication, there seems to have been a counter-trend. It is clear from Augustin and other writers that marriage must be be based on and foster love. The question would have been, does sexual pleasure have any role in this? As long as it was not clearly seen that it did, but that it was, at best merely a cure for concupiscence, it would be looked on askance (especially by heirs of Greco-Roman Stoicism). The development here is the realization of the role of sexual pleasure in fostering love, which seems to become more prominent in the 10th-12th centuries. There is then no contradiction between the earlier teaching on the marital act and the later formulation. It is still primarily for procreation; it is a cure for concupiscence; but it is also productive of love. This further development would inevitably find expression in a new discipline.

        One last note: reading ancient disciplinary norms is often like interpreting the findings of an archaeological dig. We do not know the exact context of the prohibitions; we don’t know exactly how they were understood or how they were applied. For instance, ritual uncleanness to moderns seems to imply sin; but, for the ancients, it would not necessarily equate with sinfulness; in the Old Testament, for instance, David and his men were not deemed sinners if they slept with their wives; nevertheless, if they had done so within three days, they could not partake of the showbread. A society, too, that sees all reality as iconographic of deeper truths might even have prohibitions on how one carries out certain actions, rooted in an idea of their unfittingness.


      • More than one saint taught that sex should be done in a way so as to enjoy the least pleasure possible. In general, women who enjoyed sex were disturbing and sinful. Part of St Mary of Egypt’s depravity is that she enjoyed the sex. St Augustine wrote that if a man wanted non-procreative sex, it was best to do it with a prostitute. Chrysostom was more “moderate”, perhaps, but was quite clear about the sinfulness of sex without procreation as its purpose.

        Sex during pregnancy was bad because it was thought it might cause a might cause miscarriage, the man’s ejaculate (which is a person) would die, and because sex for any purpose other than babies is sick, depraved and sinful.

        In addition, sodomy was defined by sexual acts, not sexual preferences or gender pairing. That is, giving or receiving oral sex, or engaging in anal sex, with your wife was sodomy, just the same as two dudes, no matter where the prize ended.

        To claim that there is some constancy between then and even the strangest closeted sexually repressed whack jobs of today, is fanciful.


      • Lotar,

        St. Mary of Egypt had been a prostitute; it was not just the fact that she enjoyed sex but that she was so insatiable that she offered her services to men for free, if I remember the story correctly. In De bono coniugali, St. Augustin said specifically that one could engage in intercourse for other reasons than simply procreation as long as the end of procreation was not thwarted. He specifically said that even a spouse whose desires, in his mind, were inordinate was at least praiseworthy because she wanted only her husband. And besides sex done without openness to its primary purpose is immoral. In one of his sermons on marriage, St. John Chrysostom criticizes women who withhold themselves from their husbands, saying they should not be surprised if their men turn irritable and are tempted to adultery. This is what he says in Homily 19 on Marriage:

        “‘The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband’. And what are conjugal rights? First, it means that the wife has no power over her own body, but she is her husband’s slave — and also his ruler. If you refuse to serve your husband properly, you offend God. So, wife, if you want to abstain, even for a little while, get your husband’s permission first. That is why St. Paul speaks of conjugal rights as a debt; to show that neither husband nor wife is his or her own master…”

        Note the “even for a little while.” Obviously, Chrysostom does not think sex should be reserved for those rare times when one things procreation will occur.

        Finally, Lotar, try to be more precise in your writing. This post of yours is misleading.


      • “True, not every reference to sex in every passage of the Fathers was wholly disapproving. Some patristic writers commented married love as a virtue, and others praised procreation as a virtuous goal. It would require an artificial manipulation of the patristic texts, however, to fabricate from these scattered and fragmentary references a tradition of Christian tolerance toward sexual desires, much less a school of Christian eroticism, either in the patristic period or in the Middle Ages. Overwhelmingly the Fathers of the Church and their medieval successors saw sex as a danger to be combated, not a pleasure to be praised.

        …If fourth- and fifth-century patristic literature about sexuality was almost exclusively negative, the Church Fathers were emphatically positive in their praise of virginity. The notion that virginity possessed singularly powerful, almost magical virtues was, like the deprecation of sexual pleasure, a belief with pagan antecedents.”

        Brundage, pgs 82-82


      • Well, John Chrysostom seemed to have more than a mere tolerance for sexual desires. One swallow, of course, does not make a summer; but if one spotted a species of bird he had never seen before, he might conclude that, perhaps, there are others of its kind. I have spotted this bird in Constantinople and in 10th century Saxony. I have seen it, as well, in 11th century Europe, and its number increases into the Middle Ages. Such evidence may suggest that current scholarship about these matters does not tell the whole story.

        But even if it does, the developed teaching of the Catholic Church does not see sexual intercourse as inherently suspect. I have already given my reasons why I think this is a real development, and not an evolution, of earlier teaching. Nothing presented yet from Brundage has shown otherwise.


      • Christopher,

        In reference to St Mary, it is telling that you go straight to the “no, it’s that she was a prostitute” line. Yes, but what made it WORSE was that she enjoyed it. That is why I wrote “part”. She was not only a prostitute, but she tempted Christian men, and not only that, she enjoyed it. It’s all there in the texts, obvious to the context of the times.

        Then you go to the woman’s responsibility to giving into the desires of her husband/master. If you want to read and “interpret” Augustine’s thoughts on when it is okay to have sex, and the morality thereof, you have to read where he is speaking to men, since they are the only ones who can morally initiate sex. Women can only give in to the desires. You cannot synthesize what the fathers “must have meant,” in this regard, from their exhortations to women.


      • Lotar,

        Yes, it’s all there in the text about St. Mary of Egypt, and it all has nothing to do with what Christians thought about female enjoyment of sex in the married state. In regards to St. Augustin, in the passage I cited, he speaks of the husband’s duty to give into his wife’s desire. The “master” language is from the quote from St. John Chrysostom, where he says: “the wife has no power over her own body, but she is her husband’s slave — and also his ruler.” You will notice that he calls the wife both slave and ruler? That is because, as the passage also says, “‘The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband.” Both are ruler and slave to one another, get it?

        A bit of advice: it is good to read what someone actually writes before commenting on it.


      • Says the guy who didn’t read my first comment… I did read it. Have fun with that.


      • A mention of old Auggie concerning his views in light of recent comments that deplorable politician Rep. Todd Akin. This is not from an academic source, but it is an interesting read nonetheless:

        http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/atheologies/6316/%E2%80%98let_it_be_unto_me%E2%80%99:_akin,_rape,_and_the_early_church/


      • Virginia Burrus misinterprets the passage from Augustin (City of God, 1.19, which one can read here: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/120101.htm). Here, Augustin wonders why Lucretia, being innocent of the rape, punished herself with suicide: “But how is it, that she who was no partner to the crime bears the heavier punishment of the two? For the adulterer was only banished along with his father; she suffered the extreme penalty.” Augustin is arguing that the the suicide is inherently unjust, for Lucretia was innocent, yet suffered the punishment reserved for the highest guilt. As a possible explanation of why she killed herself — which is the conundrum Augustin is seeking to answer — Augustin wonders if she felt guilt for inwardly consenting to the crime. This would extenuate the guilt of the suicide, but sully her purity. Given the homicide, then, those who extol her (and disparage outraged Christian women) have this dilemma: “that if you extenuate the homicide, you confirm the adultery: if you acquit her of adultery, you make the charge of homicide heavier; and there is no way out of the dilemma, when one asks, If she was adulterous, why praise her? If chaste, why slay her?”

        Augustin finally gives this explanation: “Nevertheless, for our purpose of refuting those who are unable to comprehend what true sanctity is, and who therefore insult over our outraged Christian women, it is enough that in the instance of this noble Roman matron it was said in her praise, There were two, but the adultery was the crime of only one. For Lucretia was confidently believed to be superior to the contamination of any consenting thought to the adultery. And accordingly, since she killed herself for being subjected to an outrage in which she had no guilty part, it is obvious that this act of hers was prompted not by the love of purity, but by the overwhelming burden of her shame. She was ashamed that so foul a crime had been perpetrated upon her, though without her abetting; and this matron, with the Roman love of glory in her veins, was seized with a proud dread that, if she continued to live, it would be supposed she willingly did not resent the wrong that had been done her. She could not exhibit to men her conscience but she judged that her self-inflicted punishment would testify her state of mind; and she burned with shame at the thought that her patient endurance of the foul affront that another had done her, should be construed into complicity with him.”

        How different, says Augustin, is the attitude of the Christian women who had been raped: “They declined to avenge upon themselves the guilt of others, and so add crimes of their own to those crimes in which they had no share. For this they would have done had their shame driven them to homicide, as the lust of their enemies had driven them to adultery. Within their own souls, in the witness of their own conscience, they enjoy the glory of chastity. In the sight of God, too, they are esteemed pure, and this contents them; they ask no more: it suffices them to have opportunity of doing good, and they decline to evade the distress of human suspicion, lest they thereby deviate from the divine law.”

        It is always important to consult the actual sources; not simply quote what scholars say about them.


      • The writer in the article I link to notes that it was Augustine’s “suggestion” – and Auggie does suggest this possibility –

        “Or perhaps she is not there, because she slew herself conscious of guilt, not of innocence? She herself alone knows her reason; but what if she was betrayed by the pleasure of the act, and gave some consent to Sextus, though so violently abusing her, and then was so affected with remorse, that she thought death alone could expiate her sin? Even though this were the case, she ought still to have held her hand from suicide, if she could with her false gods have accomplished a fruitful repentance. However, if such were the state of the case, and if it were false that there were two, but one only committed adultery; if the truth were that both were involved in it, one by open assault, the other by secret consent, then she did not kill an innocent woman; and therefore her erudite defenders may maintain that she is not among that class of the dwellers below who guiltless sent themselves to doom. But this case of Lucretia is in such a dilemma, that if you extenuate the homicide, you confirm the adultery: if you acquit her of adultery, you make the charge of homicide heavier; and there is no way out of the dilemma, when one asks, If she was adulterous, why praise her? If chaste, why slay her?”

        What a sick SOB Augustine was.


      • What Virginia Burris says is this: “For what [Augustin] does is essentially to blame the victim nonetheless, much as Akin seems to do. He suggests (while acknowledging that only Lucretia herself could have known this) that Lucretia must have been ‘so enticed by her own desire that she consented to the act.'”

        Augustin does not say Lucretia “must have been so enticed.” He says “if” she were enticed. And, yes, there is quite a difference between “must” and “if.” The first indicates necessity; the second, possibility. He does not blame the victim; he is offering an explanation for why she killed herself. Too, the passage, “But this case of Lucretia is in such a dilemma, that if you extenuate the homicide, you confirm the adultery,” is not stated as the only alternative we are offered but under the supposition that she committed adultery in her heart. That this is not the only alternative is evidenced by the final possibility Augustin offers, and which you and Burris ignore: that Lucretia killed herself out of offended dignity, not because of a consciousness of guilt.


      • After asserting that the suicide was a homicide by his logic, he asserts ” if you extenuate the homicide, you confirm the adultery.”


      • I am tempted to say, “address the points made, Owen.” But i’ll not bother.You never do. Instead, defeated with one text, you throw up another. Brundage was a wash, so find an article where a two-bit early church historian gives an tendentious interpretation of a passage in the City of God. And all this is supposed to show, what? That the Catholic Church is a wash? Well, from where I sit, if that is your intent, you have singularly failed. Others may judge differently, but that is their business. They, and you, can take your way; I’ll take mine. But, frankly, all this angst about “Christian eroticism” is so very, very bourgeois. After all, what is more middle class than contraception?


      • Zehnder,

        Seriously, fuck you and your patronizing bullshit. You ignore the vast majority of my above points in interpreting the data in Brundage as well. I wasn’t asserting all of Burris’ views as my own, I just noted the link as it had to do with some of the things we have discussed here.

        The points you made about all the other things Auggie says in that passage don’t detract from the fact that he asserts exactly what Burris says he asserts. That Auggie in other places in that passage suggests other (contradictory, variable) things doesn’t take away that he in that passage I last quoted writes in a manner which makes Burris’ “must” not inaccurate. Auggie, like plenty of patristic writers, contradicts himself all the time and uses multiple and discordant rhetorical strategies within the same argument all the time. That is par for the course. It does not detract from the fact that one of those lines of argument asserts a guilt by way of pleasure in the rape.

        Brundage was hardly a wash. Refute the two Gregory texts, which he deals with much more specifically than Auggie anyway. The prohibitions are there – in at least two popes and in a number of the penitentials. It is clear that Auggie thought it a venial sin, which is still a sin, and contrary to Church teaching today. Find me one Latin writer before 1000AD/CE who asserts unequivocally that sex during pregnancy is not a sin? Brundage shows that there were the prohibitions I said there were. And we danced around one small area (pregnancy prohibitions). Brundage’s documentation of sexual teaching in the patristic and medieval eras is such that only an astounding level of casuistry that no non ideologue modern would accept can “make it all work” in a “hermeneutic continuity” manner with modern RC teaching. Shit, I shouldn’t have to be spending hours writing out passages from Brundage. His is the standard text on this matter in English and it should be a requisite part of this conversation. You patronizingly appeal to primary texts but the only ones you get into are Augustine. John Chrysostom is a bit off course as the Greek fathers had very little to do with the formation of Latin sexual moral laws. And the Chrysostom corpus is so huge (the vast majority of it not in English, a fair amount of it not even in the PG) that citing him is always dangerous.

        “Christian eroticism” may be petit-bourgeois is Burris’ hands, just as it is when it is adopted in variant fashion by the Theology of the Body folks. It is no more petit-bourgeois than the typical life of your average NFP using family in America, in the ever gentrified world of White conservative American Catholicism.


      • You offered me references to the Gregory texts. You did not quote them. I tried to find them, but as yet have not. I will not comment on texts I have not read. Do you have the texts? Have you even read them? I am sorry, but Brundage’s word is not enough for me — especially since the texts you cited by Augustin did not support your contention. By the way, I have been able to find the Patrologia Latina for other writers on Google books; I shall see if there is a PL volume for Gregory’s Regulum.

        Another thing — I never denied such prohibitions; I even gave you a text from Hildegard’s Scivias (highly regarded by popes and bishops, by the way) supporting your point and, moreover, giving the rationale for the prohibition. I have done some of your work for you. I have never denied the prohibitions; I have disagreed with your contention that they constitute a contradiction in Church teaching. I have argued why I do not think they are. And you have never refuted me.

        Curse me, if you will. And your calling me patronizing is really very funny. Cognosce teipsum, amice. Cognosce teipsum.


  190. There is a lot of criticism of conservative Catholics on this blog, of Paul Ryan, Fr. Sirico, Newt Gingrich, etc., criticism that is more than justified and which I engage in myself. Their views on social justice, war, the environment, hardly square with Catholic teaching. But how can anyone who attacks Ryan and company do so if he himself doesn’t accept what the Church teaches on sexual matters? It’s very hard, reading the accounts of couples utterly stressed out in their circumstances, to insist that they must obey God’s law as taught by the Church. And for that reason I’m not going to address them, certainly not directly. But it’s one thing to sympathize with them, even to turn a blind eye toward them – after all, I’m not their pastor or confessor – but it’s something entirely different to say that the Church’s teaching is wrong, that it will probably change, that it’s ok to commit a sin. Anyone who does that is opening himself to the charge that he’s as selective as Paul Ryan in his adherence to Catholic doctrine. That’s a major reason why we have such an impasse in the Church today. Conservative Catholics look with scorn on liberal Catholics for their dissent, and liberal Catholics justify it by the equally grave dissent of conservative Catholics.

    The more one learns about the history of theology the more questions arise, it sometimes seems. There’s no question but that many important writers in the past had a very negative view of marital sex, although the quotation from Thomas Aquinas I posted earlier in this thread shows that he certainly did not nor did he feel bound by the opinions of his predecessors. How are we to understand all this mass of data? The only method that makes sense, I think, is to accept the Church at her word that she is consistent in understanding and teaching the essentials of doctrine, even though admittedly that teaching is often colored by the prejudices and opinions of the various eras of history. What attitude a Catholic of the 5th century had toward the common view of marital sex is unknown to us, and we really can’t base any argument on it.
    It seems to me, however, that we cannot have all the “nice” aspects of the Faith – the liturgy, art, music, community, social doctrine – unless we accept it all. What principle could we employ to allow us to accept some of Catholicism and reject other parts?

    It’s widely held today that the Church changed her teaching on usury. I don’t think so, despite the almost complete silence on that subject today. But if we think that teaching can change on sexuality, why not on the just wage, or war?
    Owen points out that most Catholics today ignore Humanae Vitae. True enough, but they also ignore the social encyclicals, the prohibition of torture, the just war doctrine, the duty of solidarity with Hispanics, etc., etc., etc.

    Dan, I know that you have a theory that the Church can “tighten up” her moral teaching, e.g., on the death penalty, so that what was ok in one era becomes wrong in another. Here you seem to be going in the opposite direction, what was wrong might become licit later on.

    Further we shouldn’t forget that many kinds of people have frustrations with abstinence: people with same-sex inclinations, unmarried people who for some reason can’t find a marriage partner, priests. If our sympathy with the plight of married couples leads us to think that the law of God as taught by the Church should change, then why not for these others too?

    Well, this is probably enough.


    • I’m not sure I would go so far as to claim the Church’s teaching is wrong here. I do think it is untenable. I do think it is exceptionally burdensome for the impoverished. The use of contraception is admittedly a direct sign of sinfulness; one doesn’t generally impulsively do it, I don’t think it is really any different than a number of other sins that we as Americans explain away because our kind doesn’t commit real sins.


      • “I do think it is exceptionally burdensome for the impoverished.”

        Unfortunately in this sinful world of capitalist exploitation, pretty much everything is “exceptionally burdensome for the impoverished.”


      • I’m not sure how “untenable” is different from “wrong”?

        Anyway, it is definitely true that we have a tendency to explain away our failings as not really wrong or sins, and this is more serious than the fact that we commit sins.

        It might be appropriate to remember the Catholic principle of loving the sinner and hating the sin. All of us need forgiveness, and none of us can earn heaven by our own merits. But in order to receive forgiveness, we need to admit that our sins are in fact sins.

        In the earliest days of the Church, direct assaults were made against the faith, and it was often very difficult to refuse to deny Christ and worship the Emperor. No doubt some Catholics argued that a pinch of incense burnt to the Emperor was not sinful, and that the demands of the Catholic Church were untenable. Yet, while Catholics who failed but repented could receive forgiveness, a Catholic who claimed not to have done wrong could not, because of that very claim, ask for forgiveness.

        In our time, chastity has become similarly hard to practice. Sexual sins are certainly not the only sins or the gravest sins, but they seem to be the sins that we are now least ready to acknowledge as sins; and chastity is a virtue that is especially hard to practice given the state of our culture. Just as many Catholics were ready to suffer and did suffer martyrdom in the early days of Christianity, we now need to be ready to suffer in order to remain chaste. And if Christians are ready to suffer, then their chastity will be a witness not unlike that of the martyrs, and may produce a similar harvest of saints. But if, when we fall short, we refuse to admit that we have sinned, then we can’t ask for forgiveness.

        No one denies that practicing chastity is difficult, and at times very difficult. But the Church does not choose or make up morality; she hands down what she has received from Christ. If we do not believe this, we cannot call ourselves Catholics. If we do believe it, then we have no choice but to practice what Christ commands and to ask for forgiveness when we fail. This is difficult, but not impossible, while to refuse to acknowledge our sins and call the teaching of the Church “untenable” makes it much less likely that we will ever repent.

        It is also true that, when we realize that we have no choice about something, it is much easier to do than if we think there is a way around it. If we are taking a long hike, we are much more likely to give up and say that there’s no way we could possibly finish the hike if we know that we can use a cell phone to get a ride home. If there is no easy way out, then we finish the hike. Similarly, if we think that there are easy ways to get around practicing marital chastity, then that makes marital chastity that much harder for us to practice, and makes us likely to give up. Much better to realize that there is no easy way out, and to follow the Church’s teachings.


    • True enough, but they also ignore the social encyclicals, the prohibition of torture, the just war doctrine, the duty of solidarity with Hispanics, etc., etc., etc. Fair point.

      I assume that Daniel focuses on conservatives in large part because here in America, among white Catholics there has been an incredible gentrification and sweeping conservative swing in Catholicism. It’s not like the political left poses a serious “threat” in white American Catholicism anymore. As one “for instance” of the many we could draw from, Dolan is going to bless the GOP, and wouldn’t be seen anywhere near the Dem convention.

      One of the things that makes Daniel’s voice unique is that he is that increasingly rare thing – a real, in the flesh, working class white Catholic with a real working class job, and with no petit-bourgeois aspirations (like the guy who is lacking in funds whilst finishing medical school or waiting to get tenure or somesuch). Also he doesn’t look like he is trying to win suit/nerd of the year like so many online Catholic thinkers.

      His true working class life also makes him somewhat of a rarity amongst distributists who have a public voice. When you look at most distributists writing for the public today, they are not men who have spent their lives among working class rank and file working with their bodies to make a living. When I look at the Distributist Review ‘about us’ page – at the names of the editorial board and contributing editors, I see a whole lotta names of people who have not lived working class lives (I met a lot of those folks when I worked at Loomes, and a number of them are well known enough to know their backgrounds). I’ve told the story before of my meeting Dale Ahlquist – the lawyer whose primary (one?) client for years was the rich rancher suing the Air Force to try to get them to stop flying over his big ass ranch out west. Nice guy. Like ChesterBelloc – doesn’t have a clue about the real life of working class people in his own culture. You have the Zwicks, who are salt of the earth and know human suffering backwards and forwards, but running the most successful Catholic Worker complex on donations ain’t the same as working a blue collar job. There’s no glory in what Daniel does, no thanks for it, and most Americans resent what he has — conservatives who hate the Post Office and want to further privatize it – and even poor workers if only because of jealousy over his union job and benefits, and, if this election results in a Romney win and the Repubs taking the senate, Daniel’s livelihood could potentially be under threat. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I suspect he doesn’t have the safety net some of the folks who write on this thread about their financial hardships have. I suspect a hell of a lot of people in Catholic blogdom, even the distributist niche of Catholic blogdom, have no idea what it is to have one’s back against the wall with no solid safety net, no place to run. I suspect very few of them have worked as a pawn doing a manual labor job, day in, day out, for years, with all the indignities and struggles that go with that, with no hope of doing anything “better.” Daniel may be a lot more romantic about certain things than I am, and he may love Jesus more (no doubt), and he might be more innately inclined toward religion, and he may be hesitant about the levels of resistance to capitalists I would advocate (in theory, of course, wink, wink), but the reason I continue to read him and interact with him is that he is pretty much the only Catholic online voice who speaks not just for and about religious people living working class lives in America, but he speaks within working class life in America, and his sense of solidarity with his own class is palpable. So I’d be careful to run him through some strict “keep the rhetoric on message” dogmatic litmus test, as as far as I can tell, he’s the feather in your distributist club cap. Besides, I haven’t read him formally dissent from any teaching, only ask some hard questions about it.


      • OK, many good points, but what has this got to do with anyone not accepting the teachings of Christ as taught by the Church? Like it or not, the Church has one doctrine for everyone, just as she is open to everyone. Your argument is akin to that of Michael Novak who would excuse Americans from adhering to Catholic social doctrine on the grounds that we’re special here.
        Well, the poor really are special, I grant, but not so special as to be exempt from their duties as Catholics. But I think God will more willingly forgive them for any failures. That’s why I specifically said I was not intending to preach to those whose struggles have been chronicled here. Dan has joyfully accepted a large family, so I was certainly not addressing him on that point. His original post, you may recall, was prompted not by his personal experience with NFP, but by his witnessing the marital failures of some who were promoting it and for whom it did not seem to be an aid to their marriages.

        Nor was I even specifically addressing Dan about dissent – or what you call a
        “dogmatic litmus test” – Maclin’s musing that perhaps the Church would change her teaching was just as bad. But anyone educated in the Faith, as Dan certainly is, and undertaking to teach – however loosely one uses that term – has an added obligation to adhere to the Church. We can hardly speak as Catholics, which is what Dan consciously does, if we’re not following the Church’s doctrine.

        Again, what right has anyone to score Paul Ryan for his views if he’s doing the same thing himself on another matter? Owen, I’m afraid it’s an unavoidable dilemma. One can’t accuse another Catholic of failure to uphold the Church’s teaching if he’s doing it himself. He’s sawing off the branch he’s sitting on.


  191. Yet Christ called us to be poor in spirit. I think that Christians need to be a sign of opposition and one of the ways we do this is in our idea of the family as a vocation. We should expect to be under attack since we are counter-cultural. I think it was Belloc that said only a dead fish swims with the stream. As the Church Militant we have to battle, our inclinations being just one example, so that in having strong families we can be a witness to the world. I am convinced that this is in order now more than ever. Keep up the good fight, fratres!


  192. I didn’t mean to deny that the exploitation of those who are destitute is a tragedy of the highest magnitude. It seems though, that in poor areas of the world, including China (where the fear of pregnancy is enormous, NFP is successfully used. The study I cited earlier said “98 plus percent.” I would be interested to know what evidence one has that NFP user success rates are any different than the user success rates for contraception, apart from sterilization.


    • on August 25, 2012 at 4:03 pm Daniel Nichols

      There are various studies. I suggest that the ones from the NFP organizations are about as reliable as their claims that NFP couples rarely divorce. Most studies say that the success rate is 98 or 99% practiced under optimal conditions. Independent studies indicate that the actual success rate is much lower, 85% or less, because of human error and tricky symptoms. If it really in actuality was 98% then just about everyone who experienced failure turned up on this blog, which I think unlikely. The ancecdotal evidence is that it is pretty unreliable, plus a strain when the woman must abstain when that is most UNnatural to her….


    • on August 26, 2012 at 12:16 pm AnonymousBadCatholic

      What I am most interested in is real life and how people make decisions in real life. While I certainly don’t downplay the importance of studies and empirical data, I honestly believe most people don’t make choices based on such studies but instead make choices based on what they actually see happening around them.
      I have grown up in the circles of couples who practice NFP, and I know many, many “NFP babies”.

      What is hard to determine is how many of these couples were actually seriously charting every last sign and following every last rule vs. how many were just working off a wing and a prayer and calling whatever they were doing NFP.

      My brother and SIL are currently expecting #5 and were working very, very hard at charting NFP to avoid pregnancy. This pregnancy has occurred at a horrible time in their marriage, and they are really struggling with this issue right now. My sister’s last pregnancy also occurred while she and her husband were strictly practicing NFP. Now they are practicing the virtually-no-sex form of birth control because they can’t trust NFP. Time will tell how well that works out for their marriage overall.

      One of my closest friends is an NFP practitioner. Her last baby was a complete surprise. Following every rule and no fertility signs whatsoever until AFTER they had had intercourse. Oops.

      I myself have had several pregnancies occur when the charts told us we were safe and even the NFP practitioners were mystified.

      Pregnancies occur with every form of birth control out there, some because people screwed up and some because for whatever reason, the method itself failed. I have colleagues and acquaintances who have condom babies, pill babies, IUD babies, and yes, even tubal/vasectomy babies. The hard cold truth is that nothing short of 100% abstinence or a complete hysterectomy is 100% guaranteed to prevent pregnancy. But the difference is that when an average couple has a condom baby, they can switch to the pill. If they have a Pill baby, they can switch to an IUD. If they have an IUD baby, there is always sterilization.

      When you are using NFP because of your religious convictions, and you have NFP baby after NFP baby, you are simply SOL. Yes, you can try another method. But as somebody who honestly worked very hard at several different methods, I can tell you that that only goes so far.

      So I guess I would say studies are fine, but once you’ve had one baby that was totally unexpected while you were faithfully and strictly practicing NFP, studies go right out the window because they become utterly meaningless. And those of us who married young and have lived in NFP circles all our lives have known enough NFP babies to know that either we just happen to have the weird experience of knowing just about every baby in the world who was ever a true NFP ”failure”, or the studies are based on parameters that are so unrealistic that these studies have no meaning to the everyday couple just trying to get by in life without having 12 kids. Because most of us can’t handle 12 kids well. Certainly most of the couples I know with that many aren’t handling it well at this point in their lives.


      • We all have to cast ourselves on God’s mercy, and work out our salvation in fear and trembling.
        I’m glad you admit the contraceptive “failures.” True, there’s no safety net with NFP, save adoption. We have to be very careful. Will I ever conceive again? I can’t say with certainty. Will we be able to practice this indefinitely? We’ve been on a roll for two years, so I have no reason to believe we couldn’t continue in this vein. I am baffled by what is causing the difficult cycles for so many. Could a doctor remedy them? Is it a thyroid issue? Or due to the high levels of hormones in the food and water? We pay a disproportionately high part of our income to buy organic food, fwiw, so I don’t know how it would be otherwise.
        We aren’t hearing here from those who lives were negatively impacted by contraception. It was supposed to reduce the number of divorces, not to mention abortions, but I don’t notice that happening.


      • Sorry my comment above was disjointed. My computer screen is broken, and I was replying to two comments in one.

        Re. NFP that backfires: yes, I know of friends who jokingly refer to their “immaculate conceptions”- meaning the ones that have no explanation. It would be a fantasy for me to claim that it works perfectly across the board. It can be very difficult to break the cycle of back to back pregnancies when the mom is so burned out that she doesn’t have the mental or emotional energy to devote to NFP. Added to that the fact that she just wants to seek solace and comfort in her husband’s arms, when we all know what that can lead to, and what THAT can lead to.

        For us, it took a re-ordering of priorities and a strong determination: a refusal to consider a non-approved means. I think that NFP is predicated in large part on that. On accepting the fact that it is incumbent on periodic abstinence, and there is no getting around that.

        NFP is not going to sound very appealing to most. It’s the narrow road. Incidently, t here will be priests who disapprove of legitimate NFP use, wrongly I believe. That fact tends to confuse the matter, and cause people to think that the Church is demanding more of them than it is. Those priests are in the decided minority. We definitely haven’t been discussing that here.

        But if a couple starts out thinking they have to have as many children as they can, they may quickly reach their limit and find they don’t have the wherewithal at that point to figure out NFP. Some throw up their hands in defeat, but can’t shake a feeling of resentment. That doesn’t send a very positive message to their children, or others that our life bears imitating.

        I would never try to get inside your head or heart, but I hope that you wouldn’t regret the years that you spent denying yourself legitimate sexual pleasure, since you were allowing God to be present in the marriage act. As they say, virtue is its own reward. It was not in vain, and I imagine bore positive fruit.


      • on August 27, 2012 at 7:50 pm AnonymousBadCatholic

        “I would never try to get inside your head or heart, but I hope that you wouldn’t regret the years that you spent denying yourself legitimate sexual pleasure, since you were allowing God to be present in the marriage act.”

        Colby, I thought about your challenge (and I mean this in a good way)quite a bit today, because I had never thought of my experiences with NFP in this way before.

        The short and quick answer is that I can’t honestly say I regret any of the suffering I’ve experienced in this world because it has all made me stronger.

        But the longer answer to the challenge is that I don’t see NFP as having denied me sexual pleasure. The deprivation was not sexual–it was spiritual, emotional, and psychological. For me, the sexual experience is not at all about the orgasm, although orgasms are nice, don’t get me wrong. But I could honestly live my entire life without having one and not feel like it was the end of the world. For me, making love to my husband is primarily about melding into him, if that makes sense. (“L’s” solution of oral sex would never work for me because of this). It’s the two puzzle pieces finally fitting together. That melding experiences is much, much more powerful during my fertile times than at any other time, although I always experience it to some degree. The other great source of my pleasure in lovemaking is the pleasure I give to my husband–it is one of the most affirming experiences of my life. These two aspects of the act are what bring me pleasure in lovemaking. Genital pleasure and stimulation follow very distantly. I say this as a woman who didn’t even experience orgasm for the first few years of marriage and who doesn’t find the actual act of intercourse in the least bit orgasmic, although it is physically pleasurable or at least not painful the vast majority of the time.

        So when you about the benefits of having sacrificed sexual pleasure while practicing NFP, I hear the words you are saying but it’s like you are speaking a different language to me. To me, that’s akin to me having given up Eucharist for a period of time and then asking me if I didn’t see the benefit of that. I mean, sure, all suffering and deprivation can make us stronger, but on the other hand, when what you are giving up is something that sustains you, it’s not an unqualified good in and of itself to have been deprived of the thing.

        Eucharist and lovemaking is hardly a perfect analogy, but it is the only way I can think to describe how it feels to me to have given up that kind of unitive act with my husband. The melding of the two of us in lovemaking is something that is a source of strength to keep us together and strong when the everyday stressors of life and the frailties of human nature work to pull us apart.

        I find myself wondering if the Church wasn’t on to something when She seemed much more of the mindset that NFP is something to be tolerated when serious conditions warrant it rather than the best thing since sliced bread and the way all married people should live their lives. This kind of musing puts me in the league of some rather strange bedfellows with whom I agree on little else!

        I don’t know–there are no easy answers. I could never say I regret learning NFP. I am a huge proponent of both men and women knowing how the female’s body works, and the crunchy part of me, even to this day, gets kind of excited at the thought this could work out for a lot of people and save both women and the environment from all those hormones being pumped in every single day. It’s just that for me, it didn’t work out so well.


  193. This is the Marquette University study that I participated in:

    http://nfp.marquette.edu/efficacy.php


  194. A clarification, in reply to Tom’s remark above: “Maclin’s musing that perhaps the Church would change her teaching was just as bad,” meaning, I gather, that I was advocating a change.

    I didn’t intend to be suggesting that I thought such a change would be a good thing, or that I hoped it would happen. What I said was “I do find myself wondering if the Church might not eventually back off from it.” I meant that purely as a sort of sociological speculation, and I had in mind the kind of “backing off” that lets a teaching fall into disuse without necessarily being repudiated, as has happened with the teaching against usury, or gets expanded in ways that would not have been accepted by some of its earlier proponent, as with “no salvation outside the Church.” And as in fact seemed to be happening in the years immediately after HV.

    In fact, as I also said, I find the teaching persuasive even apart from its authority. I don’t think it should change, don’t want it to, and really think a change unlikely on the whole. Moreover, I would be prepared to defend it vigorously if I felt there was a need for me to. But it has many able defenders, and my attention is on other things.

    I admit that I’m distressed by the number of faithful Catholics who seem to have been willing to accept and live by the teaching, made an honest attempt, and found themselves miserable. I had hoped, twenty or thirty years ago, that a new generation of Catholics who had seen through the false promises of Sangerism and the sexual revolution would fully reject ABC, and it’s disheartening to find some of those–I don’t have any idea of the numbers or proportion–now re-considering the appeal of ABC. (I’m not implying blame with that–like everyone else on the pro-HV side in this discussion, I’m very sympathetic and I don’t venture to judge.) That phenomenon is partly what provoked the “I do find myself wondering” comment. But “I wonder” certainly wasn’t meant to imply “I hope” or even “I expect.” I also wonder if Tropical Storm Isaac is going to be a severe hurricane when it lands here in a few days.


  195. Interesting to see this thread was revived after a year.

    My husband had a prostate cancer scare earlier this year. It’s been 8 ½ years since he had the vasectomy, and there was a superstitious part of me that was truly afraid that God had decided it was time to punish us. I shared my thoughts with my husband, who told me (kindly) I was being ridiculous. I knew I was, but I still couldn’t help it. Perhaps it is because of the superstitious French blood from my mother’s line or simply the authoritarian Catholicism I was raised with, but I realize I will probably never completely shake the deep-down feeling that I am a sinner in the hands of an angry God who will happily wreak vengeance upon me for my sinfulness.

    I don’t really believe in that God. At least I don’t want to anymore.
    Thankfully, not only was my husband’s biopsy negative, but his PSA level came down tremendously, so we have every reason to believe he does not, in fact have prostate cancer. But perhaps he had a prostatitis, and perhaps that is because of his vasectomy. Who knows.

    What I do know is that there are natural consequences to making an end run around Mother Nature. And Mother Nature tends toward procreation. The problem is that we all want to make love to the spouses we have committed our hearts and souls to, and most of us can’t handle the consequences of 10-15 children, at least not well. I don’t care what form of birth control you use, there are probably going to be consequences, and anybody who thinks there won’t be is naïve. The exceptions to that—just like the 102 yr olds who smoked for 90 years and are the picture of health—are rare.

    NFP is no exception. I see that more and more as I move through the decades surrounded by couples who have never used anything but NFP to space their children. The picture is pretty ugly—and this could well be because we do NOT move in wealthy, bourgeois circles of Catholicism—and what is very clear to me is that the real experiences of this subset of NFP-following Catholics are not likely to change the hearts of anybody out there in the general public regarding the Church’s teachings on NFP.

    I just spoke to an old friend. She’s pregnant and now into the teens (yes, the teens) as far as numbers of children go (after trying multiple methods of NFP, working one-on-one with various NFP counselors, etc), and she admitted to me she actually considered an abortion when she found out about the pregnancy. Before anybody passes judgment, please let me explain that if you knew everything she had been through in the past two decades, even the most ardent of pro-lifers would at least feel a small degree of empathy for her. It’s been brutal. She just burst out laughing as she told me about the pregnancy—because, as she said, if she wasn’t laughing, she would be crying hysterically. She told me that all that has saved her from getting a tubal is to remind herself regularly of how bad hell is. What is there to say? Not much, except that I will pray for her. I just listen empathetically to all these women I know who share their stories with me. I don’t have any answers. There ARE no easy answers. Biology is biology, and there is no escaping it, and if you want to adhere to Church teaching and if your body doesn’t cooperate to give you nice regular cycles and nice regular signs of fertility, and you and your husband have normal sex drives and still like each other enough to want to make love to each other (and ESPECIALLY if you married in your early 20s, to boot), you are going to pay a heavy price in this life. And you are not likely to inspire the masses to want to ditch their Pill prescriptions and sign up for NFP.

    I look around at so many friends and family struggling and remain grateful my husband took action to save me from pregnancy after pregnancy, as my health continued to seriously decline. I know it is against Church teaching, and I agree with Church teaching in theory. We fell down in practice, and I can’t help but feel grateful for the good health and other blessings this decision brought to us. I hope and pray and yes, trust that God will have mercy on us for not being able to be the heroically virtuous ones in this particular area of our lives.

    I live under no illusion, though, that there might not be future consequences to my husband’s health for the decision we made, and I am immensely grateful to him that he was willing to make that sacrifice to keep me healthy. A sexless existence just wasn’t realistic for us, and I hope God will have mercy on us.

    We remain very happily married—he is truly my soulmate. I do struggle with what to teach our six children regarding NFP and the Church’s teaching. I want them to be Good Catholics, but I really don’t want them to have to live like most of the other Good Catholics we know. I don’t want my daughters to ever feel like I did all those years, used by the system, only able to make love when it feels least good to them, at the mercy of irregular cycles and fertility signs so ambiguous that the NFP instructors themselves looked at us helplessly. I guess what I really want is for them to have really regular cycles withe very clear fertility signs and to be able to practice NFP with no more than 10-14 days of abstinence a month. And I hope they aren’t like me and don’t find that the sexual experience is completely different for them—mindblowingly wonderful!! And I’m not talking about orgasm; I’m talking about the whole spiritual experience—when they are fertile vs. when they are not. I guess I hope they are what the NFP-cheerleading-squad has been telling me I am supposed to be all these decades. Desipte all the evidence to the contrary, there is still some small part of me that hopes that maybe I really am the weird anomaly the NFP crowd seems to want us all to believe I am.

    Because, deep down, there is a part of me that is afraid of my children burning in hell because of my own inability to live the heroically virtuous life the Church asked of me.


  196. on August 25, 2012 at 9:27 pm AnonymousBadCatholic

    Oops, sorry, not sure why “AnonymousBadCatholic” didn’t show up as my moniker in the post above. Anyway, I’m the person who posted as AnonymousBadCatholic here a year and just showed up as “truthwillout”


  197. on August 28, 2012 at 5:32 pm AnonymousBadCatholic

    Colby,

    I certainly haven’t found you to be self-righteous or a propagandist in our exchange and have enjoyed the discussion.

    I both understand and respect your determination to not consider anything other than NFP and operated off the same principle for over a decade myself. It was really my illness, with which I was very sick in my early 30s, that pushed us over the edge. Having baby after baby after baby was destroying my body, and my husband could see the effects of it in my very real physical agony. The long periods of abstinence were wreaking havoc on our relationship, given all the other stressors we were experiencing at the time.

    As far as the couples we know who are miserable, I do always believe there is more to it than just NFP, although NFP can certainly add to the stressors. Quite honestly, for most of them (with the exception of perhaps one or two couples), if the Church told them tomorrow it was okay to contracept, this would not fix all their problems. Sometimes NFP is blamed for issues that go far deeper. And sometimes use of NFP lulls couples into thinking they don’t need to work on their deeper issues because somehow NFP is going to sanctify their relationship and heal brokenness that no method of child spacing should ever be expected to mend.

    We had a strong marriage prior to using NFP (when we first married, we pretty much used supernatural family planning and just let whatever happened, happen), a strong marriage while using NFP, and still have a strong marriage after abandoning NFP for a vasectomy. We didn’t expect a vasectomy to “fix” anything, other than the problem of me getting pregnant every year, which was a huge problem given how sick I was at the time. It did indeed fix that problem, but as I mentioned in a post above, I don’t live under any illusion that my husband might not have to pay a physical price for the gift of my health at some point in the future.

    My interest in the subject at this stage of my life is largely due to the fact that I now have children entering their late teens and wonder how they are going to cope with this issue. Looking around at so many couples miserably using NFP, I certainly hope my children don’t have to live that life. But then again, I don’t want them popping the Pill or putting in an IUD, either. In the end, they will somehow have to muddle through and figure out their own solutions to the problems that life throws at them, but as a mother I can’t help but wish that this particular issue could be easier for them than it was for their father and myself. I almost left the Church over it at one point, and that definitely would have destroyed our marriage, at least our marriage as we know it.


    • Anon.
      My prior comment was removed at my request, since it accidently got sent before I was ready. Whoops.
      Anyway, I do thank you for the reassurance. In an online conversation it’s hard to gauge tone of voice and body language, but I assure you and everyone else that I mean only the best. I think it is good to strive to build up the Body of Christ with positive encouragement. I may be a little zealous at times!


  198. I have found your witness very thought-provoking!

    When I try to put myself in yours, or Tonya’s shoes, I relive the desperation I felt at one point. I’m only semi-anonymous but I’ve already alluded to the fact that my fourth pregnancy briefly put me in a catatonic state. I think it was because I was trying so hard to control my fertility. I had five months of “practice” under my belt and then-not so fast. As if practice will make perfect.

    One mom of 12, wife of a doctor, listened to my angst and said that my reaction of tears was not uncommon. Then she went on to say that they had been practicing NFP since day one! Hmm. Kind of like what my brother said sagely when I told him we were doing NFP, by way of explanation why my husband and I had forego our romantic getaway, because ironically, traveling had thrown off my circle. (What would have been a golden opportunity was a no-go. Not that I feel sorry for myself!) Anyway, my brother, father of eight said “yeah–works for us.”

    I only want to say that there is no shame in adoption, even if it’s “not done.” Many grandparents are raising grandkids since their kids are in no position to. (My mom offered.) But I recovered, and have had another baby since. I have been very fortunate to have good physical health. I realize that many women have very severe hardships-reading this blog is ample evidence of that.

    I think the reactions of mothers are so human and real-visceral even. Our husbands want so much to make things easier, and often there is no easy way. My husband has really stepped up to the plate, and been very available to our family. Honestly, I would rather have him around than have him work three jobs to make more money.

    You sound very humble. I think that if we admit our failings to our kids they will hopefully learn from them. As KCKMA said, we are all at different stages in our faith journey. We often falter along the way. And we pick up our cross and carry on. Parenthood in itself requires daily sacrifice. I think of the people who have converted on their deathbeds, like Danton of the French Revolution, and Oscar Wilde. And how Dr. Carroll was at one time an atheist, but his wife married him and prayed for him. And even though they weren’t parents, they are spiritual parents of hundreds! It is all grace.


  199. I keep seeing this idea (argument?) that there is something particularly tragic in the fact that a woman should have to abstain when she is the most desirous of having sex.

    I don’t get where the force of this argument is supposed to come from. It would be absurd for men to argue that it is tragically unfair that they should have to abstain from sex when they most want to.

    At least women go through this desire only at certain times, while men can feel intense desire for sex at any time at all and for long periods of time. Shouldn’t this argument have more force for men than women?

    But if men made this argument, they would be scoffed at or maybe labelled as pigs. And if it’s absurd for men to argue this way, why is it not absurd for this argument to be made on behalf of women?

    The author of “Open Embrace” has gone so far as to call such abstinence a “theological attack on women”.

    I don’t get it.

    St. Paul said the flesh lusts against the spirit. Denial is frustrating. It sucks for sure. But to make of it some kind of moral tragedy is something I don’t understand.

    Is it natural for a woman to abstain when she most wants to have sex?

    Let’s rephrase that to: Is it natural for a man and woman to mutually agree that a pregnancy would not be good at the moment and so willingly abstain from that act which leads to pregnancy for the sake of the truth?

    No, of course not. That would be perfectly natural for human beings.

    It used to be called virtue.

    Go back through some of the comments in this thread and replace NFP with virtue, it can sound pretty absurd.

    Is virtue unfair? Does virtue ruin peoples marriages?

    Does virtue create too much stress and strain on people’s relationships?

    Maybe it does. But what is the alternative?


  200. “Let’s rephrase that to: Is it natural for a man and woman to mutually agree that a pregnancy would not be good at the moment and so willingly abstain from that act which leads to pregnancy for the sake of the truth?”

    Amen to that! (Yes)


  201. To my husband and me, contraception is unthinkable. So to us, “NFP” doesn’t mean abstinence; it means a break from the total abstinence we would otherwise need to practice.

    In other words, if the alternative you’re opposing to NFP is contraception, then “NFP” means abstinence. But if the alternative to NFP is complete abstinence, then “NFP” means sex.

    What’s more “natural” for a married couple: never having sex, or having sex sometimes? What’s better for a couple’s marriage: never having sex, or having sex sometimes?

    Daniel, you started by asking whether NFP is really “natural,” but now it seems you’re asking whether contraception is really (morally) unnatural. I just want to say it was from you, years ago in the days of the magazine, that I learned that God’s Face is imprinted on the cosmos. “Every bush is burning,” remember? Contraception is wrong because it’s sacrilege: it’s an attack on an icon of the Divine. This is not a matter of moral-theology niggling. It’s a whole worldview.


    • Abby- I started this long discussion by questioning the NFP establishment’s claims to a remarkably low divorce rate, in light of my own anecdotal experience. That opened up a huge conversation which included lots of testimony that my initial hunch was correct, that abstaining during a woman’s most sexual time is hard on many couples. And it also revealed a lot of NFP horror stories, of people finding it unreliable, some to the point of real hardship. So yes, I am questioning the whole idea that every act must be, well, not open to life- the Church says you can be intimate even when conception is impossible- but must “resemble” the procreative act. I am questioning where this came from. It strikes me as odd that if this was the central principle to sexual ethics why it is nowhere mentioned in either the Old or New Testament. The Church has clearly evolved; once sex was for procreation and as a relief from concupiscence. Then slowly the unitive value became apparent. Then the fact that sexual pleasure is a binding expression of love, that this love has meaning beyond procreation. I am questioning whether the procreative dimension of a marriage ought not be seen in thier lives as a whole, not necessarily in the individual act. I nowhere questioned the immorality of chemical or surgical contraception, which intuitively seem unnatural and “ungreen”. I am trying to be principled in this and it seems like this is the direction the teaching is evolving toward. I mean, as I said in another thread, how would the Theology of the Body have been received in the wake of Vatican I? Or Lateran I? Or as someone mentioned how would all but the most conservative teachers idea that oral is fine as long as everything ends up in the “right” place have been received at any time before the sexual revolution?
      These are honest questions, especially in light of the fact that the Church doesn’t seem to expect anyone to really take it seriously. And most don’t. What has been refreshing about this discussion is that these are not people who take it lightly, but have really tried to live by what they have been taught. Some find it easier than others (affluence really helps, which just seems wrong).
      I really had no idea that my initial post would ignite this long and honest conversation, but it is one that needed to happen.


      • Periodic abstinence isn’t some sort of ideal that the Church tells us we should live; it’s more like the best we can do given very bad circumstances.

        My moral objection to contraception is not that it’s not “green”; it’s that it’s sacrilege. You want to make a distinction between chemical pills and devices, on the one hand, and mutual masturbation on the other. Certainly there are differences. But the morally relevant question is whether mutual masturbation intentionally deforms a living image of God.


      • I’m glad you asked the question of how TOB would have been received in the aftermath of Vatican I or Lateran I, especially in light of Anna and Colby’s comments. Anna refers to sex as an “image of the Divine,” and “a living image of God.” Colby refers to procreative sex as “allowing God to be present.”

        Is this really how previous generations of Catholics would have viewed sex? Origen and Turtullian, I believe, hypothesized that when a man and his wife had sex, the Holy Spirit temporarily left the couple.. Even without this more extreme hypothesis, would any of the Early Church Fathers referred to marital sex as “an image of the Divine” or speak of “God being present with the couple?”

        To me, these comments show how drastically the modern Catholic understanding of sex has changed from Catholics’ historical understanding and thinking about sex.


      • This is in reply to emmasrandomthoughts below, but I couldn’t see how to get
        my reply in the proper place. Sorry.

        You ask how theology of the body would have been received earlier in the life of the Church and you mention some of the negative comments about sex by some of the Fathers. Well, I, as well as one or two others, have already posted on this thread more than one positive comment from both the patristic age and the Middle Ages about sex, so I’d suggest you should read them. As to theology of the body, it’s hardly Catholic doctrine, but simply an interpretation of that doctrine and it is hardly the first positive statement about
        sex in Catholic tradition.


    • Well, I guess my comment did get in the right place after all.


  202. I have been following this thread with a good deal of interest since it covers a lot that is unfamiliar to me, a man with same-sex attraction who has chosen celibacy (I have issues with gay sex even without the reinforcing conviction of the Tradition).

    This conversation confirms further my intuition that my burden is actually not all that heavy – my life is really very, very simple in many ways. For example, I don’t have to deal with anxiety over fertile times and how to cope with providing a stable home for my family amid economic chaos. My temptation is perhaps to smugness and detachment (the wrong kind of detachment – there is a very good kind of detachment which is promulgated by all the great spiritual writers, including those of other religions). On the other hand, I do wonder about getting older without many younger close relatives.

    In any case, it is quite possible to be very selfish even while living a technically chaste life.

    I think it was Maclin Horton way, way up in this thread who said something like “Sex is trouble” – for all of us. I agree. It’s trouble whether our inclinations are hetero or otherwise; whether we are trying to follow the teaching of the Church or dismissing it and playing around, thinking we are free. It makes me think of the first line of the Buddhist creed: “Life is suffering”. I think it’s very important to be reminded of this. I like Christopher West, although I think his interpretation of ToB glosses over the inevitable difficulties and brokenness we face in this world. There’s a lesser known book by Jean Vanier about the ToB written in the 1980s that looks at it through the lens of life with the mentally-handicapped: Man and Woman He made them. I strongly recommend it.


    • It’s certainly true that chastity without charity and humility is without value (while charity without chastity does not seem possible).

      “In hac lachrimarum valle. . .”

      At the same time, Christianity has affirmed the existence and goodness of being.


  203. I haven’t given NFP much thought lately because we’ve been open to expanding our family for some time. In the first 1-1/2 years of our marriage, when we were trying to get established, we were full bore monitoring / charting, etc. We have several couple friends who are still “actively managing”. It is a struggle. No doubt. The cultural backdrop sells sex as a free, cheap, and readily accessible commodity. It doesn’t make adherence easy. Only anecdotal – of the 5 NFP practicing couples I know, all 5 are still married. One of the reasons for the lower divorce rate is that when there are a lot of kids involved, it’s a lot harder for one spouse to check out and leave. There’s definetly the focused communication – you’re either open to having another kid or you’re not – if not – why not. The “why not” gets severe scrutiny.

    I don’t think there is any “easy” path if you want to be a faithful Catholic. Super-fertile bunnies – they have the obvious difficulties of large families and the care and provisions. Those with same sex attraction have their own unique challenges. Sub-fertile bunnies are charting hoping to get pregnant, trying to space their “honeymoons” for optimal chances of getting pregnant, and those sterile as mules – “you can always adopt” is a glib gloss-over.

    I don’t think anyone has an easy cross if they’re honestly picking it up every day and laboring under it’s shadow. It’s tempting to look for a lighter cross – one less crushing, with fewer splinters. Christ fell 3 times. We will all fall and falter with our crosses – that’s not really the point though – it’s the re-orientation of our heart towards the light of Christ, getting up again and stumbling forward.

    It’s still going to hurt like hell. Hearing/reading the struggles of others is a good reminder that I’m not the only one who struggles.


  204. NFP is truly a martyrdom for many people. During the persecutions in the early Church, sometimes martyrdom was of precept. Many abjured the faith rather than suffer torture and death. What happened to them? Some rejoined the Church when the persecution let up, and were readmitted. Those who refused martyrdom and died unreconciled we leave to the mercy of God, who alone can judge the soul and who is always showering us with grace, especially during our last moments.

    It’s similar with NFP. It may be difficult to understand that the end of the sexual act cannot be thwarted without sin, especially in our age which emotes, reacts, doesn’t think, and eschews suffering. Granted, sex has another purpose, the mutual love of the spouses. But this doesn’t trump the other meaning built into the marital embrace. Our sexual organs are even referred to as the reproductive system and genitals, because they are intended to create life.

    For those who have difficulty with NFP, suffering is of precept. As with those who refused martyrdom in the early Church, Catholics who defect on contraception can only be judged by Our Lord (even though objectively their acts are evil, a sacrilege as Abby said). We’re called to love God and the Church even to the point of death, if necessary.

    Cognitive dissonance is hard to live with. So it’s understandable that those who find NFP hard to live with end up changing their views.

    I’m now beyond my child-bearing years. My husband and I certainly found NFP challenging at times. But at least I had him by my side, and so many aren’t blessed with a happy marriage.

    My prayers are with those who are faithful, and those who aren’t.


  205. One of the things that has helped me is having someone specific to offer up a struggle for, and it is genuinely encouraging to know that others are doing the same.

    My sister reminds me that at one point I was moaning why couldn’t the Church make an exception for me? Of course, I don’t remember that!

    But at this point, I appreciate so much the design of nature–that what God joined in the first part of the cycle, He separated in the latter part. If the female cycle were completely random, it would be very discouraging. If NFP were ineffective, then I would most likely be about to conceive my seventh child, with any number more in the offing. And I think that frequent childbearing, whether I was ready or not, would be far more of a strain on my marriage than NFP could be.

    I think that engaged couples might just as easily try to push the envelope on sexual activity and rationalize that they will be getting married anyway, so what’s the difference. But it does matter. Marriage is more than just a piece of paper that gives us carte blanche to do whatever we please, as long as we satisfy the letter of the law.

    I admire all those who are fighting the weaknesses of their human nature. Their actions truly do build up the Body of Christ in ways they might not even realize.


  206. I should have said if ‘fertility’ were random it would be more difficult. The very word cycle implies a rhythm and a pattern.

    I am realizing more and more that pregnancy is a state that the female’s body naturally tends towards, and it practically requires ‘violence,’ to suppress this if she isn’t working with the rhythms of her body. Just for instance, the fact that some contraception induces a state of menopause, even in the teenagers that use it!

    I am glad that everyone here seems to recognize the inherent unhealthiness of most contraception. I’m not sure what exactly NFP is being opposed to for the sake of this discussion.


    • Having read this thread and done my own research, I have come to the following conclusion.

      The general consensus is that fertility awareness is good. For women who have regular, predictable cycles, and understanding husbands, NFP can be a very positive thing in their marriage.

      The problem is if one of these things is missing:

      The Church has pastoral direction for couples who have do not have the cooperation necessary to practice the method.

      As for fertility being predictable, in Love and Responsibility, the future John Paul II makes the assumption that fertility will be easy to calculate, and the abstinence relatively short. When this is not true, as it is with some menstrual disorders, the entire Theology of the Body falls apart.

      As I see it, the Theology of the Body is a beautiful ideal, but it is just that: An ideal.

      Eventually, we will all determine fertility with perfect accuracy with our medical tricorders and the Church will be vindicated. But for now, this is a major pastoral problem.

      I do think some NFP promoters do terrible harm to people. Our experience with Couple to Couple League was terrible. The material taught obsolete methods and junk science, spread bad theology, and promoted relationally harmful behavior because it is likely to create new life. I know there have been some changes to CCL recently, but the have really given NFP and the Catholic Church a bad reputation. I think that many couples that could have been helped by the NFP methods are being pushed away by this strange cultural movement.

      I think the “dissent” here is against “every orgasm should be oriented toward procreation”, along with the theology of “Pope” John Kippley.

      But those who dissent on these grounds should be careful in how they speak. Disagreeing with the Catholic Church on this particular issue can very easily be misunderstood as accepting ALL methods of contraception and the secular culture’s belief in treating fertility as a disease preventing pregnancy at all costs, no matter the consequences.

      You are right about some methods of contraception doing violence toward women’s bodies. But secular “fertility awareness” advocates have put together a much better argument against this than most Catholic sources.


  207. Christopher Zehnder,

    I have finished re-reading the Brundage text in full, as well as our exchanges in this thread. I have also consulted two friends who are canonists on this matter.

    In light of that reading and those discussions I will assert thus:

    You won the argument. Despite what I still believe to be a profound difference between the normative preaching and reception of sexual law between ancient&medieval Church and contemporary Church, nothing I can present, and nothing in Brundage, presents a clear and decisive contradiction between current RCC teaching and former RCC teaching on the nature of sex during pregnancy. In light of recent conversations with those who know better than I, I must concede that the canons of the two Popes Gregory that I mention are a matter of dispute in interpretation, and both at most are a matter of discipline, and do not teach to the nature of the act.

    I lost my composure in our debate, and used language I regret (not the language in and of itself mind you, but the manner in which it was directed) and for that I ask your forgiveness.


  208. You can add me to the list of divorced NFP instructors. My (now ex) husband and I taught for six years with CCL (I did most of the teaching). We were Catholic converts (his idea) and married for ten years. I initiated the separation. Our divorce had nothing to do with NFP; it was due to trust issues, bad communication, infidelity, addictions, etc.


  209. [...] begs the question “what is natural“?  Because discussing a sexual relationship in these terms certainly [...]


  210. I have been reading this thread over and over again for several weeks. While I’m single, this thread really struck a cord with me and I have been thinking about it for several weeks.

    First thought: NFP promoters need to stop the lies. NFP promoters seem to feel the need to lie about many of the aspects of the method.

    NFP promoters often over exaggerate the failure rate of other methods of birth control. I’ve seen people argue that contraceptives don’t prevent unplanned pregnancies. If this is the case, then why is the birth rate in America so low? America is not a sexually restrained nation, and yet our birthrate is now below the replacement rate. The same can be said for Europe. My grandmother used a diaphragm throughout her marriage and only had three children, my mother did the same and only had two children. I have met people who come from large families, but I can only think of three off the top of my head. Three people in nearly 30 years of life. Clearly contraception works pretty well, NFP promoters also seem to exaggerate the effectiveness of Natural Family Planning methods. Danielle Bean wrote an article “Five Ways I don’t love Natural Family Planning” where she discussed how NFP did not work for her while she was breastfeeding. I’m adding her story to the mix of other tragedies on this blog, even though she seems happy with her family and still supports NFP. (She seems happy, emphasis on seems. Who really knows?)

    NFP promoters also argue that NFP strengthens marriages and that contraception weakens marriages. Daniel Nichols points out the claim that NFP marriages have low divorce rate, and people continue to cite that statistic despite the fact that no one can source it. (There are lies, damn lies, and statistics.) A couple who volunteers for CCL used to run adds for NFP in our parish bulletin saying “Want to build a stronger marriage from the start?” It reminds me a little bit of the “no dating/don’t kiss before marriage” movement in some Evangelical churches. The practitioners appeal to the listener’s fear of divorce and and practically guarantee them that “If you follow these five simple steps, you will never get divorced and your life will be filled with wedded bliss!” (Janet Smith’s talk Contraception: Why Not? actually does promise no divorce.) However, these promises are false promises. People have gotten divorced through no fault of their own. It is impossible to guarantee anything in this life. Furthermore, NFP also appears to be a real strain on marriages at times. Danielle Bean writes that at times, NFP was real strain on her marriage. She also writes with some degree of bitterness of the happy clappy way NFP is presented. Look for the line about the “smiling husband” waking her up every morning. There’s a little bit of bile attached to that line, and this from an NFP promoter.

    The reality is, contraception manufacturers do not promise anything other than pregnancy prevention. Pharmaceutical companies who make the Pill or other hormonal contraceptives do not argue that their method will make marriages happier. Neither do the makers of condoms or diaphragms. They simply promise that their products will prevent contraception, and they seem to do that pretty well. NFP promoters on the other hand, promise everything but the kitchen sink. “NFP is as effective as the Pill! It improves marriages! It’s non toxic! It slices, it dices AND it’s dishwater and microwave safe!”

    I think it’s worth remembering that lying is a mortal sin. Plus, if the only way to support an idea or practice is by lying, then the idea or practice you’re supporting is probably a lie. Anonymous Bad Catholic wrote about that here, and she is right. The duplicitous, deceptive activity on the part of NFP promoters have made me (a single woman) more determined than ever to use contraception if and when I marry.

    I actually have more to say, but that’s it for now.


    • I do not approve of any lack of honesty in promoting NFP. Finally, the definitive reason for using NFP is that the alternative (besides complete abstinence), artificial contraception, is opposed to the natural law, the following of which (and not just in what pertains to sex) is not always easy. Indeed, it may require even the sacrifice of one’s own life. And lest I be thought an arm-chair theologian, I have been married for 25 years, have never been near wealthy, and my wife and I have seven children. We could have had more.


  211. I also want to talk about the original premise of the article, that NFP can damage relationships because it requires abstinence when a woman’s sexual desire is often at her peak: ovulation. Based on what I’ve read here, I want to say that I think it can be a major source of strain on a marriage, but for reasons that are far more subtle than simply not scratching an itch.

    First of all, it is clear from reading these comments, and from comment elsewhere on forums, that some women using NFP feel a tremendous source of fear about the possibility of an unplanned pregnancy because the method is very user dependent and can be very unreliable. These may be from selfish reasons, but they may not be. They may be for very, very good reasons. When this happens, the woman begins to approach the sexual act with real terror. However, the wife feels a certain obligation to have sex with her husband when she does not desire it. The wife may have been taught that she owes her husband “the marital debt,” and therefore must provide her husband with sex, even when she does not want to, or risk driving him to sin. When this happens, when sex becomes not just a chore, but a terrifying chore. In these situations, the wife may start to resent, and even hate, her husband. The sexual act, rather than unifying the couple, becomes a wedge driving them apart.

    Second of all, marriages and sexual relationships have changed drastically within the last 100 years. It is no longer enough for a man to be able to have sex, he has to be praised for having sex. His wife has to praise him. The days when wives could simply “lie back and think of England” and keep their husbands happy are long gone. Men today, even most devout Catholic men, now want and expect their wives to be eager sexual partners. It is possible to find men on the internet who do not wives who enjoy sex, but these men are no longer common (if they ever were) and are regarded as oddities. For the wives using NFP, this means it’s not enough to do something you don’t want to do and that fills you with terror, you have to enjoy it. That is a recipe for disaster.

    People often point out that men in NFP have to abstain as well, and for long periods of time. This is certainly true, as evidenced in the comments. However, this argument shows a certain lack of understanding of female psychology and female sexuality. Men and women’s attitudes towards sex are different. A man can have sex out of a sense of obligation, or have sex with a woman he does not love, and not suffer any negative emotional or psychological effects. For a woman in equal circumstances, there are often very great emotional and psychological consequences.


  212. So, it has been a year and a half since this thread got started. I had a lot of things to say, and my name was used many times. I won’t offer a complete retraction, but I thought it may be helpful to offer this email that I just recently sent to a friend.

    ————————

    “So, on that “conception” and “NFP” front. I still haven’t found what I think is some thoroughly convincing articulation of the “whys”–it remains a mystery. And I think that it may just stay that way for a while. Perhaps that is ok? I have thought and prayed about it a lot. There are a lot of things that are “mystery” in this Faith of ours (Trinity, etc. etc. etc.). We seek understanding, but even when we understand things often remain a mystery.

    I have discussed this at length as well with a priest. After three hours of conversation he said that he felt I was less convinced of the “wrongness” of the whole NFP/Contraception thing than I really was–he based this off my overall actions. He suggested that my openness to life life thus far, and my desire to continue to have children, combined with the fact that I wasn’t actually “doing anything differently” was more impressive to him than my “thoughts” on the matter. I didn’t find it completely convincing, but perhaps he is right. After that I went to confession and I have since returned to the Sacraments. I didn’t realize how starved I was–my life has changed for the better (dramatically so) since then. And I no longer feel at odds with my Faith–a Faith that I love with all my heart.

    My mind is a rational one. I almost have an obsession with seeking out “answers” and “understanding”. Perhaps I need to find more comfort in transcendence, in mystery, and in Providence…”

    – END –

    ————————-

    I might add that I have been dismayed a bit or, better, sorrowful to hear of some of those who expressed a lost of Faith due, at least in part, to comments on this thread (or at least due to the subject of “contraception/NFP/sexual ethics” in general). Indeed, I know many who have. For those noted here and those not mentioned, I offer my prayers and my sincere sympathy and empathy–two things that I couldn’t have ever imagined myself being able to offer some years ago.

    Here’s to transcendence, Providence, mystery, and struggling through this life on earth as a stranger and a sojourner.


  213. Oh, I forgot to mention that my wife and I have found GREAT success in using the Lady Comp in the last couple years. It is not cheap, but for us it has been worth every dime. In fact, if it was four times the cost it would still be worth it. This has in no way removed the various “struggles” that come with these issues, but it has certainly provided for us a method that we feel confident in. See: http://www.lady-comp.com/en/


  214. Anything that I HAVE found to be interesting seems to come from John Finnis (though he may not be discussing such things directly). His manner of thought is one that I can relate to. He is not interested in much in-house logic or platitudes, which I find laudable.


  215. See: http://www.twotlj.org/OW-Every%20marital.pdf . He also has a lot to offer on related subjects, such as SSM, which has some interestingly related overtures. Anyway… Finnis’ work is the closest that I have come to in finding logical thoughts on sexual matters. Sometimes these thoughts are sterile (excuse the pun), seemingly devoid of “reality”, but “emotion” and “reality” don’t always equate to Truth. So… That is all for now. Cheers.


  216. Another thing that really strikes me about the NFP philosophy/theology/ideology is how it manages to be both anti-women and anti-men at the same time.
    At one point, I did think that the NFP movement might be onto something, when I heard someone say that contraception says, “I love you, but not your fertility.” At the time, I thought that was a pretty unromantic, the idea of someone rejecting your fertility. But as I looked closer at the NFP movement, and the women who espoused it, they all seemed to be homeschooling moms with large families. While in theory NFP does allow a woman to have a smaller family and even work outside the home, I realized that these options are not viewed positively in the NFP community. I realized that the movement had little love or respect for the women’s own gifts and talents and desires, except as they related to child rearing. Essentially, they are saying to women, “We love you, but not your intelligence. Not your talents. Not your gifts.” To me, that was a horrific realization, and I also realized that death was infinitely preferable. I spent time reading literature in my teenage years that argued that women should never have jobs, and it was a real source of existential anguish for me. I thought about all of the intelligent women I know, and all of the intelligent young women I knew at school, and the idea that their intelligence, gifts and talents didn’t matter as much as their reproductive capabilities was horrific in a way that I cannot fully explain. I felt as if all intelligent women were freaks of nature, aberrations from the divine order, as if their very existence on the planet was wrong. I struggled to understand why God created intelligent women if He hated them so much.

    In this way, Janet Smith, as much as she is a spokesperson for NFP, is also a spokesperson against NFP. Janet Smith is a professor at a university. She reviews theses and dissertations, she teaches, she travels around the country giving lectures and is a published author. Many young teenage women who have heard her lectures or read her articles may wish to follow what she teaches, but they may also wish to be her. They may wish to be intelligent and articulate, active in academia and as an author. However, as they get older, they then realize that if they choose to live the life that she does, they may well have to decide to stay unmarried, just as Janet Smith is unmarried (so far as I know). When they realize this, they will also realize something else, that the young men their age do not have to make the choice between career and a large family the way that women do. For a man, children (even a large number of children) are little more than pleasant diversions requiring sperm and money. For a woman, a large family requires everything she has, and more. Some women are happy to make the sacrifice, but not all women are the same. Many of the young women who feel forced to choose between being a homeschooling mother of 9 children or an unmarried career woman will feel very bitter that these are her options.

    At the same time, the NFP philosophy/theology/ideology/what have you is also not very fond of men either. One of the repeated arguments made for the use of NFP is that if a man begins to use contraception, or his wife uses contraception, then the man will begin to view his wife as a sexual object, and use her in that way. Implicit in this way of thinking is a belief that men’s sexual desires are so distorted, so unbalanced, so dangerous, that only the threat of pregnancy can restrain their sexuality’s destructive power. It’s a pretty bleak picture. AnonymousBadCatholic wrote about how her friends, raised with the NFP/TOB ideology have a nagging fear that their husbands will start using them sexually, or view them as objects. I’m not surprised. Western culture at the moment is pathologically afraid of male sexuality (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo anyone?!?!) and then teenage girls hear the same thing from religious leaders. “Girls, your fertility is your greatest protection against your future husband’s horrific desires. If you use contraception, you’ll be completely at his mercy, and he’ll probably kill you.” I wonder how these women feel as they approach menopause.

    A previous poster said that contraception does not allow us to remain human. If this is what it means to be human, I’ll gladly pass.


  217. on February 5, 2013 at 6:22 pm Daniel Nichols

    The thread that will not die!


  218. Perhaps we are expecting too much out of Natural Family Planning. The method is merely information about fertility.

    http://20somethingcatholic.wordpress.com/2013/02/21/fertility-charting-and-birth-control-not-quite-the-same-thing/


  219. I’m struggling. I am a converted Catholic married coming up on 24 years. I was on “the pill” to help with PMS and what have you. I’ve been off and on it between kids. But about 3 years ago I ended up having a severe blood clot in my leg in which I could not go back on the birth control pill. It was from an injury in my foot and wearing a boot cast. I am 47 years old and we started using the condom since we both agreed we didn’t want anymore children. And I was fearful of the risk of another blood clot. This Lent my husband was enlightened and decided no more condoms. This he tells me after I was enlightened during Lent that I wasn’t giving enough to him and wanted to show him more love and affection. I love my husband and have a strong relationship with my dear Lord so I decided to educate myself with Natural Family Planning. I realize that this is important to him and I can see a little bit of giving yourself totally to God and trusting him. However, I’m not feeling very confident. This isn’t easy to talk about – I have no friends I could comfortably confide in. I fear if I were to get pregnant again that I would be at a risk for another blood clot and I don’t want to go through that again.

    My husband understands it might be difficult and he doesn’t want a child either – but now that he’s seen the light – there is no going back. So right now I’m fearing that we are going to have to practice abstinence till I know I can’t get pregnant. Which to me sounds like eternity. This could be years.

    This is messing with my brain and emotions. I don’t feel loved anymore and feel like my body is working against me. We are at a standstill and I am suppose to chance it and trust God.

    It feels like to me that this is tearing my marriage apart. We could probably financial swing another child, we could face the obstacles ahead I’m sure even with a blood clot – but why should that be necessary. We have a teenager experiencing anxieties and OCD which has taken up a lot of our time and energy. I can’t imagine adding anymore. The stress of all this worry about him (especially him thinking about suicide and self harm) has put me in a very fragile mental state.

    This has compounded it. A time when I could use the tender loving care of my spouse and some attention. Now I’m afraid to even hug him because that is a temptation for him. In what I’ve read it’s a sin to do anything that might have him come outside of you. Sorry to speak frankly – but I’m so confused.


    • Confused

      NFP really, really does work. I have been using it for many years and have had no problems. Check out Taking Charge of Your Family for a great, great easy to understand guide. It is a secular book, but it really explains the whole things better than any of the NFP books I have.


      • Well good for you,but if you have read this long thread you will see that many people find it unreliable; I know many personally, people impoverished by yearly pregnancies, people for whom the abstinence stressed the marriage to the breaking point, women whose health has been damaged by repeated pregnancies.
        And while I think one could make a good natural law argument against it, note that the Church does not teach that the Pill, which suppresses ovulation, is immoral; its hospitals give the morning after pill for rape victims, and missionary sisters are prescribed the Pill if they are in high rape areas. But if you are a married woman in Cape Town, which has one of the highest rape rates in the world, or if the woman’s life or health would be endangered by pregnancy, or her family stuck in poverty? Nope, Not allowed. Why? Because someone might have sex with no possibility of pregnancy? But the Church allows this; that is the (flawed because unreliable) premise of NFP, and one is allowed to have sex if the woman is pregnant or post-menopausal or if both spouses are infertile.
        Am I the only one to whom this is increasingly appearing ridiculous?


      • Nope, not the only one. The mental and philisophical gymnastics seem a tad ridiculous to me too. I think there are some situations where contraception would be the best call, although I think NFP or total openness is ‘ideal.’ I’ve kept up with this thread over the years and I think it shows the true complexity of this issue quite well.


      • That being said I am faithful and loyal to the Church. At this point my questioning is only intellectual.


  220. Confused, a blog you might find interesting and useful is Melinda Selmys’ Sexual Authenticity. The main subject she writes about is homosexuality, but as a lesbian (or former lesbian, I’m not sure how she’d put it) who is married with several children she talks about sex within marriage too. What is so valuable about her perspective is that she stays within the Church’s teaching but is not at all romantic or abstract about it. If you want a frank and educated take on Catholic sexual morality without a lot of guilt or romance or fairy tales that’s a great place to go.


  221. Hi Quah

    I’ve read this entire thread yes and found it very sad. Very sad indeed. I was just specifically addressing my post to confused because she said she felt unsure about the practicalities of NFP. I was just pointing out that it does work for many people and that TCOYF is the best book around. There are people it doesn’t work for yes, but there are also people for whom it suits perfectly (the same as any method).

    I totally agree with hat you are saying BTW. I actually disagree with the Church’s position on non abortificant contraception, such as condoms. I also agree with your statements about poverty and kids. I don’t think it is right to make people who cannot afford kids have any more. :(


  222. I wanted to reply to Dan’s post above, but can’t figure out how to get my message to appear right under his.

    So – I used NFP both with my first wife (deceased) and my present wife, and my first wife and I were CCL teachers for 7 or 8 years until her death. We found it worked well for us and at the time didn’t know of anyone for whom it was a big problem. I now know of lots of younger couples for whom NFP doesn’t seem to work well – some of them have posted on this thread. I don’t know why this is so, whether it was faulty teaching or what. Without examining lots of people’s NFP charts I couldn’t even begin to guess why. But I do realize that the necessity of abstinence or the fear of pregnancy or too many children too closely spaced has caused considerable stress for many couples and I’ve come to see that the happy-face presentation of NFP is wrong and insulting to many well-meaning couples.

    The following remarks are addressed really to those who believe that the Catholic Church is what she claims to be. If the Church is not the Mystical Body of Christ and cannot speak with the authority of God, then there is no need to regard her judgments as – under certain conditions – infallible. So when abstinence gets too hard, one simply looks to other solutions. But if one is convinced that the Church does have the authority to speak infallibly, then we must start with the conviction that contraceptive use is wrong, that its use is not a solution, that we can’t consider going that route. Just as there are many other stresses in life and many other false solutions offered by the world, so here also, we can’t opt for anything that violates the teaching of the Church.

    Now, lastly as to Dan’s statements about contraceptive use and the implication that there is something wrong or illogical with the Church’s teaching.

    First, he wrote “that the Church does not teach that the Pill, which suppresses ovulation, is immoral.” I presume he was speaking here about using the Pill to regulate cycles so that the early form of NFP – calendar rhythm – could be practiced more easily. This, as I understand it, was a common opinion around 1960, and under the principle of double effect seems legitimate. But under later forms of NFP, which don’t require regularity of cycles, it seems rather obsolete.

    Secondly, he wrote that the Church’s “hospitals give the morning after pill for rape victims, and missionary sisters are prescribed the Pill if they are in high rape areas.” Well, yes, the specific immorality of contraception is to separate the unitive from the procreative aspects of sexual intercourse. A woman who is raped wills neither the one nor the other. For her the rapist’s sperm is simply a extension of his invasion of her body, and she in no way is required to consent to either. Of course, a baby, even if its father is a rapist is another matter, but there is no reason that a woman has to tolerate the sperm of someone who forced himself upon her.

    Then Dan wrote, ” But if you are a married woman in Cape Town, which has one of the highest rape rates in the world, or if the woman’s life or health would be endangered by pregnancy, or her family stuck in poverty?”
    I suppose that one could make an argument that if a woman lived in a very high-risk area for rape that it would be legitimate for her to take the Pill, for the same reasons I just gave about rape. But we’re not talking about sex that is willed here, we’re talking about potentially violent assaults.

    But Dan continues and repeats some of the stock arguments made against NFP, namely that “the Church allows this; that is the (flawed because unreliable) premise of NFP, and one is allowed to have sex if the woman is pregnant or post-menopausal or if both spouses are infertile.”

    There is a difference between taking advantage, as it were, of what natural processes give us and directly and willfully interfering with those natural processes. A couple who is infertile do nothing to interfere with nature, they simply do what is natural and are prepared to take the consequences. The fact that sometimes, e.g., during pregnancy or post-menopause, one knows with certainty that those consequences will not occur is beside the point.

    The natural law, as interpreted by the Catholic Church, sometimes demands behavior which is not easy in this world. Persons with homosexual inclinations are called to complete continence, many unmarried persons for one reason or another cannot get married and yet must remain chaste, priests might regret their decision and wish they could marry – and lest someone bring up the example of married Easter Orthodox priests or married Catholic priests (e.g., some Eastern Catholic churches or ex-Anglicans, etc.), then I’d point out that if their wife should die, they cannot marry again after having received Holy Orders. There are many situations in this world that truly call for heroism, but it is never a solution to disregard the law of God. I’m all for doing anything that can morally be done to help couples having difficulties with NFP, anything that is, short of disregarding the law of God.


  223. But Tom, is this not a teaching of the ordinary magisterium? And has the ordinary not changed its teaching on any number of things (democracy, religious freedom, the use of torture, the meaning of “Extra Ecclesia non solus” etc)?


    • Yes, it is ordinary magisterium, which can also be infallible under certain conditions, e.g, when that teaching is repeated as something true over a long period of time and throughout the Church. I think that contraception fits this well. On the other subjects, I’m not aware of any documents on democracy that condemn it as such or on any documents that specifically approve torture, i.e., doctrinal documents. On religious liberty, you’re probably familiar with the arguments that I’ve made more than once, and certainly Dignitatis Humanae did not propose any change in the Church’s teachings on this matter. As to Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus, this is an interesting question that I think I’m just beginning to get a good handle on. St. Thomas teaches that mere unbelief itself is not a sin (S.T. II-II q. 10, a. 1), and Pius V repeated that in an authoritative document in the 16th century, so if this is true and has been accepted as true for centuries, then it appears that the Extra Ecclesiasm definitions were not addressing the questions that they are usually thought to address, i.e., the mere fact of someone not being a Catholic. Thus when Pius IX stated baldly that non-Catholics could attain salvation, he was making explicit what was implicit in both St. Thomas and Pius V.

      In all these questions, of course, one must make lots of distinctions between different levels of authority, different kinds of documents, etc. But in a Church 2000 years old, with a long tradition of intellectual inquiry, with tons and tons of statements and theologians, that’s simply the way the Catholic theological and intellectual tradition has got to work. I’m not accusing you of thinking this way, but the kind of mind that revolts against all this and simply cries out, “Enough of all these subtle distinctions, we want simple facts, the pure Gospel” is the Protestant response, the response that’s impatient with subtlety and patient intellectual inquiry, the kind of mind that produces the Rush Limbaugh’s of the world.

      But for better or worse, we Catholics have an incredibly complex intellectual tradition and to make sense of it requires that we sometimes make subtle and intellectually sophisticated distinctions.


      • Also, I didn’t think to mention last night, that if one attacks Catholic teaching on contraception on the grounds that it is merely ordinary magisterial teaching, then what about Catholic social doctrine? That also is ordinary magisterium, with the exception of usury about which there are some conciliar statements. I do not see how one can hold that Catholic social teaching is authoritative and binding unless one grants the same status to Catholic teaching on contraception.


  224. Justin mentioned that some people had a crisis of faith due to comments made on this thread. As one of the NFP supporters, I sincerely hope that nothing I said contributed in any way to that. If so, I’d be horrified and sincerely ask forgiveness. Most of my thoughts were not original, but back up things I’ve heard elsewhere. This is a very personal- hot button topic.

    I think that the criteria of judgment one would have to earnestly apply (with my or anyone else’s comments and experience completely aside) is whether any given course of action is pleasing or displeasing to Our Lord. In these matters of prudential judgment, the Church can only give general guidelines, but the application has to be subjective since there are so many different situations.

    For those who do choose to try to follow Church teaching, especially when it becomes challenging, they really do need support and encouragement. There will be plenty of that for those who contracept, but for those who don’t, not so much. And they may be caught in the middle, between the culture at large and those who frown on any kind of family limiting.


  225. WOw, couldn’t read all of this but I read thru enough of it to see that this is an issue that cuts to the very core of what it means to be human, to love and to be loved. As such there are strong feelings on both sides and it is hard not to make arguments based on personal experience. I find that the personal stories here lend a deapth to the argument and show that nfp, like all things is neither an evil destroyer of marriage nor a magical formula for marital bliss. Spouses (shocker, I know) make or break a marriage.

    So now I offer my own personal story to add to the list.

    My mother and father were reverts and in their marriage wanted to follow the teachings of the church, They also were ahead of their time and back on the seventies and eighties my mom had the courage to naturally birth and breastfeed all four of us children. Just as her strength and determination to do these things has empowered me as a wife and mother to my own four children so am I awed by her example of in using the billings method for over a decade to postpone pregnancy so that she could be a healthy mom to us.

    My mother has bipolar disorder and had to be on a medication that would cause birth defects should she have conceived. She needed the medicine for her mental and emotional health for without it she was unable to care for the four of us that she and my father had generously conceived. My father married late in life (he was almost forty) and knew that having us meant working well into his elderly life. My mother battled depression, and severe mainia, and came from a family history where both her mother and grandmother had died of suicide. If anyone had the excuse of being already burdened, it was they.

    I am now in my thirties, marries for almost thriteen years and mother to my own four. I have practiced nfp on and off with my own husband over the years. My mother’s respect for nature and healthy diet she raised me with have given me a cycle that reads clearly. I grew up looking at a mucus chart our bathroom wall so my cyle and body are not a mystery or taboo to me. These are blessings that I realize God has given me. On the other hand I am married to an artist so income has been wildly unpredictable and we have never had medical insurance other than the first two years of marriage. By no means would I call nfp and the abstinence it entails easy. It requires heroic virtue and it has jump started my prayer life on more than one occasion. I know that there have been times of trial and temptation in my marriage as there are in all marriages. But nfp is neither the villain nor the champion here.

    I will be honest that it is and will be harder for my generation to have families. The culture is much worse now than it was when I was a child and the economy that marginally supported families, now was degenerated to activley discourage even the thought of marriage and one or two children.

    To my mind nfp is like organic farming. It requires stewardship of fertility. While contraception is like agri-business both in its complexity and desire for total control of fertility regardless of destructive results, I find the quiver-full attitude also extreme in that it is another form of ignoring fertility like plowing up a feild and letting God decide what grows. In stewarding the land, one must learn the natural processes and work with them. It is not easy, and it requires more back breaking labor, and sometimes crops fail. But those things don’t make organic farming ineffective. They just are part of the fallen world.
    In a sense gardening organically is not as “effective” as petro fertilizers and pesticides but perhaps that is the point. Sometimes we realize we can’t plant more because we are exhausted tending the plants we have already sown. A smaller tended garden with a few volunteer plants keeps us humble, and in awe of the greater mystery of it all.

    Also as a final side I was married at nineteen and come from a family of women with really late menopause so without nfp I could be looking at 20 kids over the life of my fertility:)


  226. on May 30, 2013 at 10:45 am Theodore Seeber

    anna, that is beautiful. And it leads me to post something I’ve been considering for quite a while.

    NFP is successful in marriages that have good communication between the spouses.

    NFP is not successful in marriages where the spouses never talk to one another.

    It may not be NFP that is the problem here. I am amazed at how often among my friends, I have to repeat the same story twice to both a husband and a wife, where in my marriage, telling either of us something important means it will get mentioned and the other one will hear about it.


  227. on May 30, 2013 at 12:16 pm Daniel Nichols

    NFP clearly works for some people, but for those with irregular cycles or tricky symptoms it does not. What I found fascinating about this long thread is that these are not nominal Catholics, contracepting without a thought, but faithful Catholics really trying, and finding that their experience contradicts the cheery and glib Official Line. Ideologies are frequently destroyed by crashing into real life. I started this discussion only questioning the (it turns out, phony) statistics about the “rarity” of divorce among NFP practitioners, based upon anecdotal experience. Reading this long converstion, as well as watching two couples close to us, one on the verge of divorce, the other who got a tubal ligation after six children in seven years (there would have been seven, but they abstained for a year) while practicing NFP. The woman has severe health problems and is around 30, three of their kids are autistic, and they are poor. She said she felt like she had a gun to her head…I do not think sterilization is moral, but damned if I am going to judge them. And the more I think about (ordinary) magisterial teaching, which is not based on divine revelation but a flawed understanding of natural law, the less sense it makes.


    • When you say it doesn’t work for those with irregular cycles, do you mean that people miscalculate and end up pregnant, or that the abstinence time periods are too long? My cycles are a bit irregular (generally 32 days, but with stress can go to 35, and with travel across multiple time zones to the 40s), and the calculations still work for me. My cycles used to be irregular all the time: 35-45 days, yet I never had any accidents.

      If you are talking about the issue of abstinence with irregular cycles, then you are right about that. Couples have longer abstinence windows when a woman has irregular cycles. However, when it comes to calculations, IMO a women with an irregular cycle just needs a good teacher. JMHO.


      • I have PCOS and my cycles are 40-80 days. The amount of abstinence it would take for NFP to be effective for us is 6 to 8 weeks every cycle.


      • That is tough. NFP really isn’t viable in any practical sense in that situation. I’m really sorry to hear about that. In terms of your general health, have you ever tried herbs like vertex, supplements like progesterone cream or dietary changes to improve your PCOS? My PCOS used to be really severe and thanks to the above changes it no longer is. I was so ill before…

        Check out the work of Matt Stone, Marilyn Shannon and Ray Peat for more info.

        God bless.


      • That should have read ‘vitex’, not vertex. :)


      • What is progesterone cream? Sometimes I take progesterone pills to induce a period if I haven’t had one in awhile. I’ll take it for 12 days and then stop, and my period comes a few days later. Is progesterone cream the same thing in cream form? Where do you put it? How does it work?

        I took metformin for PCOS for four years, and was up to the highest possible dose at one point. On metformin I had 40-60 day cycles instead of 40-80 day cycles. I never became regular. I am not overweight and have no PCOS symptoms at all except long cycles. The only reason PCOS is a problem for me is that it made NFP extremely difficult, and I also want to make sure I don’t get cancer from not getting my period enough.


      • What brand of progesterone pills do you take? There are two types: one is made up of progestin, which is a synthetic replica of progesterone but isn’t the exact same molecular structure *at all*, and the other type of pill is a progesterone pill that is made up of actual real progesterone. Progesterone cream is a cream that is made to mimic the *exact* molecular structure of the progesterone that naturally occurs in a woman’s body. It can be bought over the counter and actually is protective against cancer. I would also imagine your oestorgen levels are high, which is why your cycles are so long. Can you get them tested 7 days after the ovulation temp spike? This is the most accurate time to test them. High oestrogen levels can be lowered by DIM and D-calcium glucurate, which are types of supplements. You can find out more about all of this by googling oestrogen dominance. There is also a great Facebook group called ‘sexy hormones’, which is focused on the topic of sex hormone imbalance.


      • Lynn, I just saw your response and I’m not sure how to reply to your post below. I take Prometrium, the natural progesterone, not Provera, the synthetic one. Does progesterone cream induce a period the same way Prometrium does? Which is better? Where do you put it? I’m surprised you can get it over the counter. Thanks for your responses!


      • Hi S

        That’s great that you take Prometrium. Many women take Provera, not understanding the difference between the two. Have you ever tested your oestrogen levels 7 days after the ovulation temp spike?


    • I know that in extreme cases the Church suggest abstinence until menopause, and I often wonder if this is really a reasonable solution for the average couple. We are not Mary and Joseph and I don’t know that my husband and I would have the strength to live this way. And St. Paul’s warning not to deprive each other seems especially relevant here since facing 20ish years of abstinence, in the case of your friends Daniel, could put a couple at risk for infidelity (or just major issues with attraction towards others, lust, porn) who might otherwise have no problem being faithful. Obviously this is a bit convoluted in my mind, but the Josephite marriage solution I often hear for the tough cases seems cruel.


    • on May 31, 2013 at 1:43 pm Theodore Seeber

      With autistic kids, I wonder why they didn’t try the Family Bed method of contraception.

      With my special needs son, it prevented us from practicing NFP in reverse regularly for nearly 6 years.


  228. “the cheery and glib Official Line” – if you mean the public statements from the NFP organizations, yes, you’re right to call them “cheery and glib.” But I don’t think the Magisterium puts the same happy smile on its teachings, it just reiterates the teaching of Christ, which is sometimes very hard to follow in this world.


  229. on May 31, 2013 at 6:40 am Daniel Nichols

    I am unaware of Christ (or St Paul) saying anything on the subject. Where exactly in Divine Revelation do you find this?


    • Daniel,

      What do you accept as the authoritative sources of Divine Revelation? Scripture and the first Seven Ecumenical Councils? Since you have left without challenge Tom’s statement that the ordinary magisterium can be infallible, but keep reiterating that it cannot be infallible, and you have in the past denied the binding authority of any councils outside the first seven, it is clear you do not accept papal authority as binding. Where then do we look for Divine Revelation?


      • on May 31, 2013 at 5:47 pm Daniel Nichols

        I did not deny the authority of any but the first seven councils; I merely asked a question that a lot of Eastern Christians ask. Nor did I reject papal authority as binding. Again, I am just asking questions. Any conclusions are tentative.


      • You merely have been asking questions? Conclusions are tentative? This indicates that you are at least suggesting that it is permissible for a Catholic to entertain the possibility that the Church is wrong, even in her infallible pronouncements — that a Catholic can say, without violating the virtue of faith, that the Catholic Church may not be what she says she is. And now you attack Church’s authority in the domain of morals, based on your personal judgment. How do you reconcile this with Lumen Gentium 25?

        “This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.”

        Or do you think you must reconcile your stance with the council?


      • on June 1, 2013 at 7:28 am Daniel Nichols

        Christopher: do you acknowledge that papal teaching, and other ordinary magisterial teaching, has changed on any number of things? And that the Church does teach the primacy of conscience? And that the idea that there were only 7 genuinely ecumenical councils is widespread among Eastern Catholics? Including scholars and prelates in good standing?


      • My God, Daniel. You’re starting to sound like a Call to Action member. The Church teaches that conscience must be informed; she teaches the duty of Catholics to conform their minds and wills to the teachings of the Church. I am not aware that any teaching proclaimed by the universal and ordinary magisterium as binding has changed. Doubtless, you will trot out usury and religious freedom — but I don’t think the Church has changed her teaching on these matters. What other doctrines of the universal and ordinary magisterium do you have in mind?

        As for Eastern Catholics — you forget, perhaps, that I have spent about as much time among Eastern Catholics as you have. All my children were at least chrismated and communed in the Eastern Rites, others were baptized as well in Byzantine churches. We went frequently to Holy Resurrection Monastery for several years. I have read Eastern Catholic and Orthodox literature. I have delved into the Eastern fathers and St. Gregory Palamas. We would probably still be attending Divine Liturgy if we had anything close to us. So, yes I do know what many (but not all) Eastern Catholics think about ecumenical councils, and I think they are wrong. If they are right, then there is no magisterial authority, and if there is no magisterial authority, then Christ was a liar when he said he would lead us into all truth. St. Paul was wrong when he called the Church the pillar and foundation of the truth

        There. I’ve answered your questions. I would be gratified if now you answered mine.


      • on June 1, 2013 at 5:27 pm Daniel Nichols

        Really, Christopher? The ordinary magisterium has never changed its teaching? So you believe that we should torture suspected heretics and if they do not recant we should burn them? What? You deny that the Holy Inquisition, charged with insuring orthodoxy, was part of the ordinary magisterium? And you believe that no one who is not a member of the Catholic Church can be saved? That indeed was the understanding of the Church for a good long while (yes, I know there are glimmers here and there to the contrary, but that was the consensus). And you believe that Jews should be denied basic human rights, like owning productive land,and forced to wear distinctive clothing? What? Papal bulls do not qualify as “ordinary magisterium”? You “don’t think” the Church has changed its teaching on religious freedom? Huh? That is indeed a stretch, a long way from “error has no rights”, which one still hears among fundamentalist traditionalists. You don’t think the Church has changed in its teaching on marriage? Do you really think NFP would have been well received in 1200? Or that the theology of the body would have flown if it had been proposed in the wake of Vatican I instead of Vatican II?

        I sound like Call to Action? Give me a break. I can recite the historic creeds without flinching. I am not a relativist nor a consequentialist. For that matter I do not deny papal infallibility, only the way it was promulgated, without the consensus of the whole Church, East and West, and the way it has been used, rather arbitrarily. Indeed, I think the West has a lot to repent of, acting independently of the whole Church: changing the creed, changing the order of initiation, denying the cup to the laity, etc.

        I’m sorry if you think I am a Bad Catholic for trying to find ways to resolve the things that keep Orthodox Christians from seeking unity, Roman hubris being among the chief…and I’m sorry if you think I am a Bad Catholic for trying to incorporate lived experience, so eloquently and painfully expressed in this thread over the last couple of years, into an understanding of matters of sexual morality. I’m sorry if you think I am a Bad Catholic for not shutting my mind down and asking questions, for seeking to understand.

        And I don’t think I have an uninformed conscience; my formation was sound (do you want my credentials?); I have been struggling with and praying about these things for two years, at first very reluctantly. But like Owen says, it is the mark of the ideologue to solve whatever problem your ideology causes by applying it even more severely (see late Marxism and current economic libertarianism)…


      • Daniel,

        You will note I used the term, universal and ordinary magisterium. Some of the items you mention are matters of discipline, not teaching. Some are matters of doctrinal development — such as religious liberty. And, no, I don’t think that finally Dignitatis Humanae contradicts earlier teaching; it expands it, it nuances it, it looks at it from a new perspective. But it does not contradict it. Papal bulls can be doctrinal. They can be disciplinary. When they do teach, they do not always and everywhere express teaching with equal degrees of authority.

        You are not merely “trying to incorporate lived experience” into an understanding of the Church’s teaching on contraception. You are citing “lived experience” as the reason to deny the teaching. In doing this, you are doing essentially what the Call to Action people do. I would still be interested in hearing how you reconcile this with Lumen Gentium 25.


      • on June 3, 2013 at 11:44 am Daniel Nichols

        Really Christopher; this is what Owen calls “the hermeneutic of continuity” and you do it well. I once engaged in the same sort of pretzel logic. I hope you know it will not convince anyone who is not already convinced. Indeed, it appears ridiculous. And I hope you know that you can’t have it both ways: when the Church has acted in a way or taught something (not formally defined) that is unpalatable it does not meet your standards for infallible ordinary magisterial teaching, but when it is something you hold dearly it qualifies, even though it meets the same criteria as those teachings you dismiss.

        And I am not merely citing lived experience, though not taking that seriously and just reiterating NFP talking points is sort of crazy. I am trying to understand the created order, in light of revealed truth. That is how one determines what natural law is, and I think a lot of Church teaching is based on a flawed understanding of the created order.


      • Someone else I think spoke about a hermeneutic of continuity besides Owen, but none so erudite. It must be bad if Owen is agin it.

        If the Church is what she says she is, the hermeneutic of continuity is the only thing that makes sense. You can talk all you want about “pretzel logic,” but the proof is in the particular. In other words, you would have to confront particular instances of demonstrating a continuity to show that they don’t work. General denials are merely a kicking up of dust.

        And speaking of kicking up dust, why do you refuse to directly answer my question about Lumen Gentium 25?


      • on June 3, 2013 at 5:54 pm Daniel Nichols

        Maybe because I resist proof-texting as an argument?


      • Clever evasion. Goodbye, Daniel.


    • on May 31, 2013 at 1:47 pm Theodore Seeber

      I just looked it up, but I don’t think modernist Americans will like the answer to that question (1 Corinthians Chapter 7 is not exactly one of St. Paul’s more politically correct moments, especially from the point of view of modern feminism).


    • Where does Christ or St. Paul speak of contraception? Isn’t this essentially a Protestant objection?


  230. on May 31, 2013 at 5:53 pm Daniel Nichols

    No, it is not. I cannot think of another Catholic doctrine for which there is no scriptural support. Granted, we do not believe in Sola Scriptura, but still. For that matter where is an ex cathedra statement from a pope or a definition of a council? It is clearly a matter of the ordinary magisterium, which at least can be fallible. And the ordinary magisterium is most likely to be fallible when it is basing its teaching on natural law. As knowledge of the created order grows more sophisticated, conclusions about natural law can change as well (think geocentrism, or when ensoulment occurs).


  231. As you know, contraception was around in the ancient world, even if not very effective. What attitude were Christians to take to it? From the beginning the Church has condemned it. The ordinary and universal magisterium is infallible. That is, when a teaching has been proclaimed as true over long periods or time and throughout the Church, even if only by the ordinary magisterium.

    I’m afraid I don’t understand what you said about geocentrism or ensoulment, or rather, the relevancy of those matters. Although I find the natural law argument persuasive myself, I don’t think Catholics are obliged to accept any particular understanding of natural law – simply that from antiquity the Church has said that contraception is illicit, and that in this case the ordinary magisterium is infallible because it is ordinary and universal.


  232. on May 31, 2013 at 6:17 pm Daniel Nichols

    I understand that the early Church did condemn contraception, but it seems to me that what they were condemning was not a Christian couple, in a procreative marriage, contracepting. This was practically unheard of in the ancient world; high infant mortality rates as well as the uncertainty surrounding old age made limiting the family illogical. Today, when a woman marrying in her twenties can expect to have 10 or more children, all of whom will survive childhood, it is different. And that is true for those for whom NFP, for whatever reason, is not reliable. The early Church, it seems, was condemning the pagan practice of contraception, not marital use of same in a procreative marriage.
    And I am out of here, and may not have access to a computer until Monday (our new laptop did not last long, alas…)


    • on June 3, 2013 at 7:56 pm Theodore Seeber

      So, changing the infant survival rate is your argument for contraception and family planning?


      • on June 4, 2013 at 9:12 am Daniel Nichols

        Uh, no. But it does make larger families inevitable, which changes things considerably.


      • on June 4, 2013 at 5:48 pm Theodore Seeber

        I see larger families as a good thing, but that is because I actually prefer 19th century economics to 20th. More hands make for lighter work, and more opportunity for the family as a whole to prosper.


      • on June 4, 2013 at 5:56 pm Daniel Nichols

        Large families are a very good thing; I have seven, soon to be eight. But they are much easier if one is affluent, and a real source of suffering if one is poor. I am neither rich nor poor, but it is hard to make ends meet, and I think with horror of people trying to do this on a really low wage…


      • Blaming the suffering of poor families on the fertility of poor families doesn’t make much sense to me. Blaming the suffering of poor families on the greed of the .001% grabbing resources that rightfully belong to the poor, on the other hand, makes a lot more sense.

        If we truly valued life over profit in the United States, we’d be paying the poor to be parents.


  233. The ancient link between contraception and abortion must be considered in light of ancient biologies, which viewed semen in something quite akin to the way we view a zygote today.


  234. I should also like to ad my backstory to this thread.

    At a time when my wife and I were having a very difficult period as Orthodox Christians, and I had decided to return to Rome (which did not happen, a result of a series of strange events) and my wife was considering it, this post and thread were the single greatest influence on my wife’s decision to stop considering Catholicism. It was by no means the only factor, but it was one we discussed quite a bit and had an impact on her. She has since returned to a more or less active participation in an Orthodox parish and is content there. Moving to a place with better Orthodox options is also a big part of that.

    I have also shared this post with a three Orthodox friends considering conversion to Rome (and a lot of other friends not considering any moves). I didn’t preface this link with anything other than – make sure you read this, and I didn’t intend anything other than the notion that people should be aware that this issue is present and must be addressed when living a Catholic life. All three of them since decided not to convert to Rome, and I suppose this thread had varying degrees of influence on that decision, but I know in at least one case it was a factor. I am fairly certain that in all three cases the RCC teaching on contraception being a ‘hard teaching’ was not the primary issue, but rather the methods used to defend that teaching, and the language used by the true believers, which, in the words of one of these friends, who, ironically, has four kids in 10 years of marriage and does not use ABC (but does not rule out a use in the future), is “cult-like.” And note – he is not saying that because a non-relativistic firm position has been argued, but rather because of the drone like saccharine predictability and machinely rote quality to both the thomist and EWTNpopCath type responses.

    I am grateful to this post for allowing me to see, in very practical application, the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of popular American thomism’s damn uberparochial form of pedantic didacticism chauvinistically demanding universal application. It operates in a manner so similar to the rhetorical/logical discipline of some of my old orthodox marxist comrades. A method so clearly subject to the intellectual constraints and cookie-cutterness of rank ideology.


    • I’ll also note that I told a couple of friends that I think it possible that a similar post and thread could be done relating Orthodox experiences with regard to birth control – I’ve heard plenty of horror stories and dismal argumentation regarding birth control in American Orthodoxy as well. In Orthodoxy teaching on birth control is determined either by the bishop/synod (rarely), or by the local priest (usually), if it is mentioned at all. Things tend to gravitate towards three positions:

      – a free for all regarding contraception, including the pill. The couple should do whatever suits them.

      – an allowance for only those ABCs that are not among the so-called abortifacient ABCs. This is usually held by priests who had been conservative Evangelicals and/or are Touchstonistas.

      – the position that ABCs are always evil, which in Orthodoxy usually comes with a sternness regarding other aspects of the marital act – strict no coitus on fasting days (half the year), on the night before one plans to receive communion, face to face missionary position with no or little hand on genital foreplay, etc.

      I have known people who did not convert to Orthodoxy after considering it, and people who left Orthodoxy, in part anyway, because of their discomfort with encountering too much of the first phenom (free for all).

      I have also known people who were really, really messed up by priests holding to the third position. Including in a couple of cases priests who asked for very detailed descriptions of what went on in the marital bed.

      One problem with not having a magisterium is that in Orthodoxy the local bishop (rarely) and the local priest (usually) then becomes the magisterium. In some arenas of life it is better to have the moralist tyrant a few thousand miles away, rather than at your home parish.

      So I don’t mean to suggest in what I write above that the matter is less complicated in Orthodoxy. The grass isn’t green anywhere. Late modernity and sex is a messy business in every camp.


    • I came back to Rome and then returned to Orthodoxy about 6 months later. I discovered this discussion during those 6 months. I can’t say that this thread alone made me return to Orthodoxy, but I think it did have an impact. I have infertility so the RCC’s teachings on contraception had no practical effect on us. Reading the stories here made me feel like a hypocrite. It’s easy for me to follow the rules and be a “good” Catholic when it’s probably impossible for us to conceive. I had to ask myself how I would feel about these teachings if I had normal fertility?

      As someone who has always struggled with infertility I have no idea what it’s like to do NFP to prevent conception but I have used the same methods to try to get pregnant. It was awful and it took years for our marriage to heal. I came to really hate it and had to give up trying to conceive entirely. The cheerleaders don’t want to admit that it doesn’t work for many (most?) couples so it becomes a blame game. “It’s not that I’m wrong, you’re not doing it right.”

      I found that I couldn’t condemn the men discussed above who decided to get sterilized. I can’t look at these marriages and conclude that they don’t really understand marriage or that they don’t really love their children. I think it’s the opposite, that those men did what they did because they loved their wives and children. I think they are the best guys discussed here. Better than the “faithful” ones who either leave all of the responsibility for this on their wives to chart, etc. or the ones who are lackadaisical about it, leaving their wives to have pregnancy after pregnancy and not enough money to provide for all of the kids.

      I think in the end that the kids most likely to end up Catholic will be the ones from those where the husband got sterilized.

      I’ve come to resent the outright lies made about NFP; e.g. that it will prevent you from getting divorced or that it causes cancer. Those lies particularly enrage me because it’s like they don’t trust that Catholic women will follow the rules if they’re honest about how awful NFP really is. And even if they don’t believe it’s a lie, I think underlying the cheerleading is the prosperity gospel, follow the rules and God will reward you. God condemns the pill so it must cause cancer. God condemns IVF so it must cause birth defects. Sorry but it’s just not that simple. (and yes I know the WHO says that one kind of birth control pill is a carcinogen but when the claim is made that the “pill” causes cancer the distinction is never made between the different types of artificial birth control)

      And to Owen’s point below, even though I’ve returned to Orthodoxy I agree there are issues within Orthodoxy too. Luckily we’ve never attended a cult-like parish full of ex-evangelicals. As an Orthodox Christian I’ve always felt like we could discuss using contraception with our confessor who has always said that a marriage should be open to children but that there are times when a couple might choose to use contraception to space children.


  235. Damn, blood on my hands. Mea culpa.


  236. Dan – “I cannot think of another Catholic doctrine for which there is no scriptural support.” The Assumption?


  237. I’m thinking that this should be my last comment on this thread as it is getting out of hand. I’ll make a couple parting remarks – though I realize that someone might respond to them and I can’t necessarily expect to get in the last word.

    Really, everything depends on what we think of Christ, what he did, did he found a Church and where is it today. If one is convinced that the Catholic Church or EO is the true Church of Jesus Christ, then I don’t understand the reasoning that since I find the moral teaching difficult or problematic in some way, I’ll leave and look elsewhere. That’s making my concerns and my problems and my life the center and criterion for one’s recognition of the truth.

    The deficiencies of any particular NFP group are not to the point. The method can work, it can work with irregular cycles, but I do understand that it can be difficult for many couples, particularly post-partum. But as I’ve said before, the question is, what does the Church teach and with what authority?
    We don’t have to like the tone of CCL publications. They’ve done a great service to many, and for that I appreciate them, though I agree with there should be more understanding of the difficulties of actual couples, and less
    celebration of their “success stories.”

    It’s undeniable that the Church’s praxis has changed considerably with regard to many things. With a Church having a 2000 history there’s certainly a lot of messiness. But, if we’re careful, can we discern that the Church has never taught something as true, over time and throughout the Church, that she later retracted? I’m sure that if you’d asked most of the medieval popes whether torture for suspected heretics was licit, they would have replied in the affirmative. But I’m not aware that any of them ever taught this in the manner I described. Practically speaking, of course, they did approve it, but they did not teach it as part of the ordinary magisterium. I’m sure some will think I’m splitting hairs here, but really it’s the only way to proceed if one is convinced of the claims of the Catholic Church. And what options do we have if we are Christians? Protestantism? Orthodoxy? the Catholic Church? Those are the three major groups, and apart from smaller groups, the only other option we have is to make up our own magisterium apart from any ecclesial context, which is in effect to be a Protestant.

    And, Dan, if you think that the condemnations of contraception by the early Church do not apply today because people live longer, what about divorce? I’ve seen the argument that in the past a man might expect to be married twice or thrice since maternal mortality was so high, and who can expect someone to marry at 25 and remain with the same woman for 50 years or more. A lot of moral teaching can be relativized this way, and this was what Novak and Weigel et al. have tried to do with Catholic social teaching, relativize it according to context of time or place.

    I will respond to a couple comments of Owen’s. He spoke of “the drone like saccharine predictability and machinely rote quality to both the thomist and EWTNpopCath type responses,” and later of ” the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of popular American thomism’s damn uberparochial form of pedantic didacticism chauvinistically demanding universal application.”

    Since I’ve been one of the defenders of the Church’s teaching on this thread, I suppose I should consider myself to be the target of at least some of these remarks. But in the first place, I don’t get what it has to do with being an American one way or the other. It’s a teaching of the popes, indeed of the whole Church, that one is discussing here, not something concocted by EWTN or Catholic Answers. Do you have evidence that Paul VI or John Paul II, or for that matter any of the popes would answer differently to these admittedly difficult dilemmas that have been raised here? I’m also very dissatisfied with the conservative Catholic establishment here in the U.S. The answer, though, is not to embrace liberal Catholicism or some homemade variety of one’s own, but to try to adhere to orthodoxy and to understand it. Otherwise we’re making up our own magisterium. That’s what I did when I was an Anglican and I see that that had nothing to do with historic apostolic Christianity.

    One last point. The magazine Caelum et Terra was one of the most interesting things in the Church over the last 30 years. It was Catholic, orthodox, yet avoided the dull bourgeois face that Catholicism in the U.S.
    most often presents. For that reason is was exciting. It would not have
    been exciting had it espoused dissenting positions. It’s easy to be a Catholic dissenter, just as it’s easy to be a bourgeois Catholic, but it’s not easy to be an orthodox Catholic who understands and presents the Faith in an interesting and fresh and yet orthodox manner. Dan had a vision that no one else had, or at least that no one else managed to set forth. It is very sad to see that vision end as simply another dissenting voice.


  238. Well said Tom!

    JUst a quick note on contraception and scripture. I believe in th Old Testament the act of withdrawal and spilling one’s seed (oldest form of contraception no doubt) is condemned by God. I believe the Protestant “quiver-full” folks base their belief on this as well. (Though I find their attitude completely crazy.)
    I am also shocked at the judgment on a teaching of the church just because some of its use among her members is observed in repulsive manner. Remember that most moral teachings in an American cultural vacuum have a tendency to be reduced to a sing-song commerical face. That is the fault of our culture, not those moral realities.
    I spent a while living overseas and met many Italian Catholic couples and know that some of them used nfp. They were not overly saccharine about it. One Italian wife joked about how much she hated the thermometer. But at the same time they didn’t take the pill. It is so easy for us to just take what we want of culture and morals and throw out what we don’t want here in America.
    That’s sort of the American way.
    In Italy I found that there was much more acceptance of the problems in the church and people still held to the faith anyway, as all those who experience village life know, perfection is not the way of our world, but Christ is with us in the church and we all plod along and try our best. After all the debating and philosiphizing, we all still have to eat, poop, and hang laundry. We don’t have to solve every problem in the church . We just have to get to heaven.
    In other countries, nobody expects life to be easy and convenient. Perhaps this is why nfp is easier for them to swallow and why in America it has to be twisted into a “product” and given a selling line.
    After all, not many Americans are sold on a product that can only be described as difficult and inconvenient, with its only selling point that it is morally permissible.


    • “In other countries, nobody expects life to be easy and convenient.”

      You can’t possibly believe that a higher % if regular communicants in Italy than in the U.S. abstain from ABC use.


      • Don’t know Italy, but it seems to me that in most old catholic countries, people just don’t communicate so often as they do in USA. Most men confess and communicate once or twice per year (Easter and Christmas) or even once each several years (my last two communions were for my youngest children baptisms)

        We’re bad catholics, we know it, communion is forbidden for those that are not in state of grace, so we don’t communicate and that’s it…


      • I think that K is right about this. The birth rate in Italy is far below the replacement rate, as it is in most Catholic countries, so it’s not so big a deal to simply confess using contraception once every few years and get on with life.
        FWIW, I don’t think that most Catholics in countries in Europe have ever taken the Church’s teachings on sexual morality all that seriously. Perhaps if people studied more history they would realize this fact.


      • I don’t think there are all that many regular communicants in Europe. In Spain at least, the vast majority of people identify as Catholic, but only a small minority of them attend Mass once a week, as the Church requires. If Catholics in Spain can’t bring themselves to attend Church for one hour a week, I highly doubt their motivated enough to track their fertility signals.


    • on June 3, 2013 at 9:42 am Daniel Nichols

      Actually, Anna, the passage on Onan is not understood that way either by the rabbis or Christain scripture scholars; it is universally held that Onan’s sin was not in “spilling his seed” but in not fathering children with his brother’s widow, as the Law demanded.
      Did you know that even the most conservative rabbis do not forbid oral or anal sex, so long as both spouses desire it and the marriage is procreative? I was sort of shocked to discover this when I was googling around, trying to figure things out. Further, the OT writers, who did not hesitate to condemn all sorts of sexual sins, most of which I don’t need to be told (really, I don’t want to screw a donkey!) never forbade such things between a man and a woman, though people have been doing such things since the beginning of time.
      And Tom, it sort of hurts to be dismissed as “just another dissenting voice”. I am not aware that the Call to Action folks take the doctrines and traditions of the Faith at all seriously; one would hope that I am at least granted that…and I don’t know any that have 7 kids, going on 8, or were formed by places like Notre Dame Institute, with Fr Hardon, Alice von Hildebrand, etc, as teachers. Etcetera.


      • Don’t take it personally Daniel. I once had a Facebook friend call me a “so called Catholic” because she thought I voted for Obama.

        It’s an interesting phenomenon in the conservative American subculture that there is this secret “night of the long knives” fantasy. I remember reading one comment on National Catholic Register of a woman who bragged that she had dissuaded her friends from joining the Catholic Church because they had doubts on the contraception teaching. I tried to imagine how different the history of the Western hemisphere would be if the Franciscans and others had followed this line of thinking. Never mind contraception; some Catholics in the Western hemisphere still practice witchcraft! And yet the Church has a very visible presence in countries like Haiti, despite this fact.


      • Dan, I didn’t say anything about you and Call to Action.


      • on June 4, 2013 at 5:29 pm Daniel Nichols

        No, Tom, that would be Christopher “Grand Inquisitor” Zehnder…you only called me (sob) “simply another dissenting voice”.
        Would that you would note that it is a reluctant and somewhat disoriented voice…
        We should really try and talk about this over some good fresh-brewed beer. You realize that we saw each other more often when you lived in Maryland than now, when you live in Ohio, albeit three hours away?


  239. on June 3, 2013 at 8:00 pm Theodore Seeber

    I’m still for the form of NFP my wife and I discovered by accident: If you want your kids widely spaced, sleep with them past the first three months……in that fourth month sometime an attachment happens that will prevent you from having kids for the next 6 to 8 years.


    • on June 5, 2013 at 8:26 pm AnonymousBadCatholic

      You have mentioned this particular form of birth control several times, and while I am happy that you found an effectived form of birth control that worked for you, for the poor sleepers of the world, sleeping with children beyond a month or two old would be not only deleterious to one’s health, but sheer hell.

      Plus I like being intimate with my husband. It’s part of the glue that holds us together. That may be part of what makes me a Bad Catholic, but it’s the honest-to-God truth.


      • on June 6, 2013 at 1:13 pm Theodore Seeber

        There is more than one way to be intimate. Try what my brother used to call “oral intercourse”- talking with each other.

        Having said that, I didn’t say this was easy. Just pretty dang near foolproof (luckily, after a month or so, Christopher did sleep through the night- even if Daddy’s fear of the smothering possibility turned into Daddy being Christopher’s favorite mattress- an attitude that continued until age 8 or so)

        Though I do have to wonder if this contributed to my sleep apnea.


      • on June 6, 2013 at 6:52 pm AnonymousBadCatholic

        You seem to be assuming that we don’t already communicate constantly. We do. If you don’t need regular physical intimacy with your wife, that’s cool. But others do. Again, it may make me a Bad Catholic, but I gave up being dishonest about these matters–with myself and with God–a long time ago. It is what it is.

        And I agree with November: even if we had a child in bed with us, we would simply find another place in the house to make love, so co-sleeping would be an ineffective form of birth control for us (and I suspect many others).


      • Theodore, I think it’s a little out of line to imply that Anonymous Bad Catholic does not talk to her husband regularly. She says that she does.

        I’m sure most wives do talk to their husbands. They also talk to their family, their friends, their doctors, their priests, their dentists, their hair dressers, their waiters, their mechanics, and random people they meet at parties.

        The point is that conversational intimacy is something that can be shared with anyone. A woman can share personal things with her husband, she can also share personal things with her hairdresser. Most women do, for that matter. (I do.) Indeed, it is entirely possible that a woman does not consider her husband to be her closest confidante, and a good wife does not tell her husband everything she is thinking and feeling.

        Some women are fine with having the same relationship with their hairdressers that they do with their husbands. Other women are not. Other women want to have something that they share with their husbands, and only their husbands. Now, it’s true, that does not have to be sex, but it has to be more than simply talking, because women will talk to almost anyone.


      • This implication among NFP literature that when a couple can have sex that is the only way they will spend time together or show affection needs to die.

        If a couple can only show affection through sex there is a problem whether they are abstaining or not. This theory implies that a couple who never has need to abstain will only show affection to each other through sex. Plus the Church does not teach a couple ever has to abstain (provided they are healthy enough to have sex), they can simply accept what children come (or don’t come. Is the infertile couple somehow stunted in their communication since they do not have NFP imposed abstinence?). Would anyone argue that the couple who is always open to children (so does not abstain) is somehow stunted in their communication and only have sex?

        When I am pregnant and my husband and I can have sex whenever we want does that mean we never talk to each other? Uh no. We talk, we have sex, we do house projects together, we go for walks, we pray together. When we are trying to abstain from sex we still do all these things, just not the sex part. In fact, when we are having sex freely I would say our other forms of communication are also enhanced since we don’t have to worry about being too flirtations or loving. I know that’s not what NFP proponents say, but I figure this thread can handle it. If a couple needs abstinence imposed in order to communicate in other ways that is a problem whether they are using NFP or not.


      • on June 7, 2013 at 5:05 pm Theodore Seeber

        Had to read that 10 times to understand it November, but that’s what I’ve been trying to say all along.

        In a loving marriage, sex is NOT and should NOT be the primary focus, unless you’re actually trying to have children.

        Funny, the only way I’ve ever used NFP, we’ve ever used NFP, is in trying to have children, never the reverse.


      • I agree with you November, a couple that cannot communicate will not be able to communicate, whether they’re having regular sex or not.


      • Exactly emmasrandomthoughts. No sex does not necessarily teach a couple to communicate, and sex does not necessarily keep a couple from communicating.


    • You seem to be saying that they way to space kids is total abstinence (with a child in bed to enforce). Although this is a perfectly moral choice, most couples would prefer not to abstinent for 6-8 years if there is any way to avoid it (hence why they try to use NFP).

      Additionally, I don’t know about other couples but when my husband and I have a child occupying our bed it most certainly does not stop us from using other parts of the house. There is no rule sex must happen in bed.


      • on June 6, 2013 at 1:15 pm Theodore Seeber

        “There is no rule sex must happen in bed.”

        And there’s where modesty gets in my way, at least with my wife. We haven’t used other parts of the house since she turned the rest of the house into a daycare 9 years ago. Possibly due to the wrong type of toys and the alphabet cartoons on the wall, but it just isn’t conductive to that kind of mood.

        Ever since Christopher was two, though, I’ve been taking her away to a hotel once a year for her birthday. WITHOUT the boy.


      • You get laid once a year?

        That explains a lot.


      • on June 7, 2013 at 5:03 pm Theodore Seeber

        My son is 10 now. We’ve been wanting to give him a sibling for YEARS. Sex is now a flurry of several times a month whenever the data suggests she *MIGHT* be fertile.


  240. on June 8, 2013 at 10:24 am Daniel Nichols

    Ted Seeber, last of the true romantics…


    • And to go back to the original point- if we’re finding NFP so bloody hard in reverse, how does anybody ever use it for birth control short of total abstinence?


  241. on June 9, 2013 at 6:20 pm AnonymousBadCatholic

    “If a couple needs abstinence imposed in order to communicate in other ways that is a problem whether they are using NFP or not.”

    Amen, sister.


  242. I second the vote for everyone to discuss this issue over beers. My husband actually refuses to post on online discussions such as these. He claims that this medium is never horribly fruitful and I dare say he is probably right. He says, “If anyone wants to know my views on morality, they can come over and discuss it over beer or wine.” Also more conducive to charity and a better understanding the other person.

    So here we have final conclusion of NFP debate: Beers!

    I love it.


    • on June 9, 2013 at 6:51 pm AnonymousBadCatholic

      I love the idea of sitting around drinking some wine, but I can tell you right now that when the topic of NFP comes up over beer/wine in the circles of Catholics we grew up with, I am never this honest. I simply keep my mouth shut or make a few non-committal sounds of agreement when others talk about how hard it all is.

      It’s been made all too clear to me over the years that this is one of those issues that will destroy all your credibility among Catholic friends and family if if it ever becomes known you made a sinful choice. ESPECIALLY if you are tremendously happy together despite making the kind of choice that is supposed to result in a miserable marriage according to the current common conservative American Catholic wisdom on the matter.

      I mean, we are godparents to some of these people’s children, for heaven’s sake. They’d be horrified to know that a couple they chose to be godparents actually had a vasectomy. (When asked to be godparents, I can honestly say we had no idea we would choose sterilization–at the time, we fully planned to be NFP- practicers all our lives.)

      When it comes to this matter in our real lives, we hold to a strictly “Don’t ask/don’t tell” policy with fellow Catholics (except for one married couple we are very close to, who made the same choice before meeting us, as it turned out). And I plan to keep it that way.


  243. I just skimmed a good deal of this thread in one go (or, most of the good bits, i.e. the Owen White posts). To bring this back to the beginning…why even keep the box of condoms? Why not just pull out? This renders irrelevant any whole obligation to throw out the condom box, and that’s the least of the improvements.


    • Onanism is a crime against nature, and a mortal sin. The man who pulls out of his wife is as damnable as he would be had he murdered her, in God’s eyes.

      As any man who has had coitus with a woman knows, the nature of natural law made it so that none of the seed is ever, ever, wasted, if you do things the obviously natural way. So if your unnaturally inclined “wife” gets up immediately after a consummation wherein she was on top and more of your seed doesn’t end up on target than would have otherwise had you been having missionary position sex and your wife tilted her pelvis upward for four hours after your release in order to conserve all of your sacred natural seed, then, well, obviously, she is playing God, and you may as well start calling her Luciferina.


      • on June 10, 2013 at 1:30 pm AnonymousBadCatholic

        Hmm, I can only imagine what this implies about all those seminal fluid rules you are supposed to follow in some of the NFP methods. You know, the immediate post-intercourse kegel and wipe, repeat, until it’s all gone so that you won’t confuse it with fertile mucus.

        I suppose it’s all about giving the swimmers a chance. Once they’ve had their chance, it’s open season.


      • AnonymousBadCatholic, I have always found those particular techniques ironic considering the must ejaculate in the right place rule.


      • Nothing screams *in accordance with nature* to me like “the immediate post-intercourse kegel and wipe, repeat, until it’s all gone so that you won’t confuse it with fertile mucus.”


  244. on June 10, 2013 at 2:31 pm AnonymousBadCatholic

    Yeah, the kegel-wipe thing never sat very naturally upon me. Plus it really made me feel like I was trying to get rid of any sign my husband had been there, as fast as I possibly could. Not exactly very unifying.


  245. on June 11, 2013 at 6:58 pm Anonymous Catholic

    I know this is none of my business, but I’m wondering hypothetically whether a priest would require a penitant who had undergone sterilization to abstain henceforth during the wife’s fertile time. Would that be reasonable? Why or why not?


    • I don’t think that you’d find a consensus of moral theologians who would impose this on a penitent. It might be fitting, as a penance, to enjoin abstinence during the fertile time for a limited period, say 6 months to a year, but I think to require that during the entire time of the wife’s fertility or during her entire lifetime would be jansenistic and unduly harsh. Generally the
      Catholic Church in her pastoral praxis has been lenient and merciful, as far
      as the law of Christ permits.

      The parallel which I think someone was suggesting below, of a person who has stolen some money and wants to keep it, is not really a parallel.


    • on June 12, 2013 at 1:51 pm Theodore Seeber

      I doubt they would, but perhaps they should. Male vasectomies are almost as unreliable as the most expensive condoms; 1% spontaneously reverse within the first 5 years.


  246. Btw, I shouldn’t have usurped your moniker, (A.B.C.) which I figured was tongue in cheek anyway. But I would never apply Anonymous “Good” Catholic, even anonymously. So you could always pick another random one if you want to mix things up a little ;)


  247. Just to explain a little where I’m coming from. Let’s say I could steal $25,000 from a friend, that I knew would never report me. Then I went to confession and that was that. I was then free to happily spend all this money with no consequences except possibly God “punishing” me by allowing my house to be destroyed in a flood, or some other threat to my well-being. Rather, I would expect the confessor to tell me I needed to do restitution, and it might be very, very difficult to recoup and repay the money. I’m not trying to tell anyone what to do (it’s not my place to “play God”) but I have heard that if a woman is on the pill, her husband is bound not to have relations, because it’s potentially an abortifacient. i don’t know whether there’s an official position on this or not.


  248. My question was completely out of place, and I humbly retract it. My husband thinks such action is by no means required. I tend toward scrupulosity (root of which is pride) so that’s where I’m really coming from. Dan, please feel free to remove these comments, which add nothing of value to the discussion!


  249. I have been following this thread since it first started. My husband and I used NFP for ten years and had four pregnancies, all surprises. I have a health condition (PCOS) that causes 40-80 day cycles and very confusing fertility signs. I tried multiple methods, a fertility monitor, diet, medications, and having an erosion on my cervix cauterized. I have been going to an NFP-only doctor for 7 or 8 years. Nothing worked. My husband was threatening to leave me if we didn’t do something permanent. So he got a vasectomy. I tell myself that it is his sin and not mine, but sometimes I think I didn’t do enough. My husband was also a devout Catholic when we got married, but is now basically agnostic.Our struggles with NFP weren’t the only thing that caused him to lose his faith, but it had a lot to do with it.


    • on June 21, 2013 at 12:31 pm Theodore Seeber

      Must be basically agnostic, to threaten to leave a wife over an illness. What would he do if you were in a car accident and paralyzed?

      There is something I suggest to wives in your condition- Knights of Columbus. If you can get him to just go through the degrees, he’ll find the support he needs in his local council. It has done incredible things for my faith.


      • He is not going to join the Knights of Columbus. He isn’t Catholic anymore. I can’t make him join. I am not sure what you expect me to do.


  250. There is no logical way to get from “This is hard” to “This is not true,” though it doubtless sounds very callous to say this in so many words.


  251. I admit that I hear of difficult situations–new ones all the time. It’s hard to know what to say that will be most helpful, especially when the person approaches/confides in you personally, as happened to me just yesterday.

    Sometimes it helps just to have someone listen, and be supportive of the tremendous struggle that’s being faced. We all are need of encouragement and solidarity!


  252. on June 21, 2013 at 12:32 pm Theodore Seeber

    This is the thread that will not end,
    Yes it goes on and on my friend,
    Daniel started it, not knowing what it was,
    And it will go on forever just because….


  253. Good one!


  254. on June 21, 2013 at 9:20 pm AnonymousBadCatholic

    This is the thread that is immortal
    For to so many it is a portal
    To a place they can safely share the ways
    NFP has honestly affected their days…….

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist.


  255. on June 22, 2013 at 9:50 am Teena H. Blackburn

    Hard doesn’t equal not true. That is accurate, However, I’m thinking of a conversation I had last week. I was talking to an Italian American woman. Her parents were from Naples. She said her mother had 11 kids, and then was told it was life threatening to have more. The husband wanted more (so it appears he wasn’t the kind of guy who would have gone along with NFP). She had a tubal, and then felt guilty and went to a priest-who told her she was going to hell (this was her parish priest). This woman had 11 children-she was generous with life. She had a tubal because her husband would have probably insisted on continued sexual relations, and pregnancy endangered her life. She defended her own life, and her parish priest told her she was going to hell. Where exactly is Christ in that? What should she have done, given that at one time marital rape was not unusual? Can one venture to say what this dialogue did to the faith of the daughter relating it to me?


    • “She had a tubal, and then felt guilty and went to a priest-who told her she was going to hell (this was her parish priest)”

      I guess this priest was unfamiliar with the sacrament of confession?


    • The priest who told the woman that she was going to hell – well, how did he know her soul? He could speak to the objective wrongness of the act but not to the subjective pressures and fears which may well have diminished her guilt. Indeed, perhaps he should have told the woman’s husband that unless he was willing to practice periodic abstinence to protect his wife’s health and life, that he might be headed to hell!

      But having said this, such hard cases come up in other areas of morality – divorce, abortion, doubtless other areas too, and although anyone with any
      amount of compassion is going to feel uncomfortable telling someone what the sometimes hard demands of the moral law are, what other choice does someone have – although one hopes it will be said with compassion.

      Really it comes down to what we think about the Church and her teaching. If it is from God, then we must try to live by it, even when it is hard. If someone doesn’t think that it’s from God, then I’m sure he won’t feel bound by it. But the fact that it’s hard is no argument against its truth.


  256. on June 22, 2013 at 11:18 am AnonymousBadCatholic

    Hard doesn’t equal untrue. But hard that causes real harm in your life doesn’t make sense to most, no matter how logical or according to natural law it might be. It’s one thing to stick to something hard when you see it bringing about good things in your life. It’s another thing altogether to continue to do something that is not only hard, but having a negative effect on your marriage and family life.

    Most human beings make decisions based on experience and emotion
    (for an interesting read, check out this recent paper by the John Jay Institute: http://www.johnjayinstitute.org/docs/Marriage_Primer.pdf). I highly doubt that is ever going to change.


  257. Good Lord. I’m not arguing the legitimacy of the contraception prohibition, but … do you all never go over the speed limit? Never lie to protect someone’s feelings? FFS we live in a fallen world, where sea otters rape and drown baby seals, where our entire biology is simply not what it’s supposed to be.

    In some contexts, doing things that are intrinsically wrong is practically unavoidable. Having your heart in the right place doesn’t excuse knowing wrong-doing, but it does MATTER.

    I don’t make excuses, but I do accept the reality of the condition we’re in, and acknowledging that we’re not all saints. We’re going to sin. When you genuinely love someone, at some point sexual sin is going to happen.

    Whatever the circumstances, we should be contrite, seek forgiveness, and thank God that His grace and mercy are infinite.


    • Funny thing about that. I recently crashed my car, and bought a Prius. You know what? I never speed anymore. If anything, I often drive at half the posted speed limit- because I have instant feedback on the sins of wasting money and destroying the environment, right there on my dash. Following the speed limit very judiciously- taking my time to slow down, speeding up to *exactly the speed limit* then coasting to the next sign- pays me directly in fuel savings now.

      What has this got to do with NFP? Perhaps we’re looking at the problem of the sin wrong. Perhaps instead of looking at how much compliance with the Church costs us, we should be looking at what not sinning gains us. And what comes from following the rules.


      • on June 23, 2013 at 12:49 pm AnonymousBadCatholic

        Indeed. This is what kept me practicing NFP for 10 years—the belief that not following the rules would send me to hell. That’s what keeps pretty much all of our friends and family who use NFP on the straight and narrow.

        But fear of hell probably isn’t going to work for the masses, most of whom have a hard time believing in the kind of God who would send a woman who had 11 kids to hell for having her tubes tied.


      • on June 24, 2013 at 12:04 pm Theodore Seeber

        I’m not talking about the fear of hell, ABC. That requires delayed feedback, and my generation isn’t very good at delayed feedback at all.

        I’m talking about the immediate positives- knowing my wife’s temperature every morning seems like such a small thing. But it’s an opening. A start to an ongoing conversation about human sexuality. One which turned into fights over Obama’s presidency last year (my wife is a relatively recent convert and the Church has never won her over on pro-life issues, though we wouldn’t be doing NFP in reverse if we were not open to and praying for another child; sometimes the answer to even the most fervent prayer is not right now) turned into very intimate discussions on a personal level.

        That’s a level of intimacy you can’t arrive at by mere sex for recreation level relationships.

        More data is good. Even if the data does not result in the outcome you want.


  258. AnonymousBadCatholic,

    We don’t know in any particular case the state or fate of any soul. We know that God is merciful and takes account of all human weakness and confusion.
    But as I pointed out earlier, there are other instances where following the law of God can be difficult. Two spouses separated for a long period, one spouse injured and unable to have sex for the rest of his or her life, all the sad stories that lead some to justify an abortion. Sometimes following Christ will not result in any obvious good in this life. “Death but not sin” said St. Dominic Savio.

    Today it’s pretty much only the Catholic Church that teaches contraception is wrong, and I think that’s one of the factors that makes the Church’s teaching seem so unreasonable. But go back only 80 years or so and you’ll find most if not all Christians teaching that contraception is wrong.


    • on June 24, 2013 at 6:12 pm Daniel Nichols

      Actually the Amish still teach that, though I suspect that the New Orders have grown lax, which is odd as they prohibit (ala the evangelical influence) tobacco and drink, which the Old Orders see as legitimate pleasures…


    • on June 24, 2013 at 6:13 pm Daniel Nichols

      And, of course, the Old Orders also practice “bundling”, ie, unmarried couples sharing a bed, albeit with a board between them, which renders it “safe”, generations of pregnant brides to the contrary.


    • “Death but not sin” said St. Dominic Savio.

      St. Maria Goretti chose that logic, in its extreme and fanatical form. What father, including God the Father, would support such a perversion of humanity? What father would rather have his daughter dead than raped?

      “Young people, pleasure of the eyes of Jesus, are you determined to resist any attack on your chastity with the help of grace of God?”

      So said Pius XII at the canonization of MG. May he burn in hell.


      • I’ve spilled enough ink on poor St. Maria Goretti and the cult of virginity surrounding her, but I just want to point out that rape is not a sin. I’m sure you know that, but I just had to say that in case someone else out there lurking on this post believes that rape is a sin.

        To lurkers: rape is not a sin.


      • on June 24, 2013 at 10:11 pm AnonymousBadCatholic

        Thankfully, the consignment of anybody to hell is way above my pay grade, especially when they are probably just spouting off some general nonsense widely believed by their age.

        But I am really glad my daughters are not growing up in a world where the intactness of their hymen is more important than their life. And where it was thought if you could just prevent some creep determined to hurt you from penetrating that hymen, you had somehow prevented him from sinning. Really?

        I’ll be the first to admit we live in a crazy age, but I’ll take our crazy over that kind of crazy any day of the week.


      • Damn, Owen! Savanarola’s got nothing on you!

        I’m not going to declare what a woman should or shouldn’t do when threatened with rape; even I’m not that arrogant (or stupid or cruel, etc.). At the same time I find it rather bizarre and distasteful that someone would choose to heap scorn on St. Goretti’s refusal to be violated.

        What a curious culture we live in: we have no problem with slaughtering our own children by the millions or euthanizing those deemed “useless”, but the notion that moral excellence is ultimately of greater importance than one’s brief sojourn here on Earth (admittedly a fringe idea in Western culture, only to be found in Greek myth, Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Church Fathers, the martyrologies, etc.), well Anathema Sit to that! We truly live in an age dominated by the most vulgar and depressing form of utilitarianism.


      • There is nothing whatsoever morally excellent about preferring death to being raped, and the religious culture which inculcates such a preference is morally bankrupt. That isn’t chastity, it’s insanity, cruelty, a cult of self-hatred, and an oddly sadistic and fetishized fixation on sexual activities that is captivatingly mimetic, in a way, of the sexual fixations in dominant secular cultures (these two sides of the same coin operative even at the time of MG, and probably discernible in the West from the sexual revolution that began in the 1880s in Europe and the U.S.). But by all means, relate it to abortion so as to return our poor souls to The Only Moral Issue That Ever Matters.

        I consider consignment of Popes and bishops to hell more of a Dantean hobby.


      • I still think you’re off target here, Owen. Obviously the victim of rape commits no sin, but something precious is still lost in the act (whether or not he/she’s a virgin), no? I don’t see this as applying only to sex; if someone in combat knows that capture means slavery, his sense of his own dignity may dictate fighting to the end rather than enduring such dishonor. Such an act is obviously not obligatory, but I wouldn’t call it nuts.

        “I consider consignment of Popes and bishops to hell more of a Dantean hobby.”

        Tru Dat!


      • on June 25, 2013 at 9:22 pm AnonymousBadCatholic

        In my book, it takes far greater courage to live with this kind of “dishonor”–scare quotes because I honestly believe nobody else can dishonor you unless you give that ability to them.

        A woman raped is not “dishonored”. The man who rapes her dishonors himself. Her dignity remains intact, and his sin is in no way hers, and his sin wouldn’t be any less if she chose to die rather than be penetrated.

        And yes, I have far greater respect for the man who has the courage to choose life, even if it means slavery, than the one who chooses to die rather than be enslaved. After all, where there is life, there is hope. This is not to say I don’t believe you have a right to fight for your own freedom, or that you don’t have the right to try to fight off somebody trying to hurt you. But when it becomes obvious they have the upper hand, you have a choice to make.

        I don’t sit in judgment on people who makes choices I find far less than heroic. I might have made the same choices if I were in their place. But that doesn’t mean I thjnk their choices should be held up as the heroic standard.

        Then again, I’m the type of person who really admires the guy who can cut off his own arm to escape the cave and make it back to ci