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Shocking development! I’m a heretic! March 7, 2013

Posted by Tantumblogo in Abortion, Basics, contraception, Dallas Diocese, Domestic Church, error, family, priests, secularism, self-serving, Society, Virtue.

Or Jay Boyd is, or both of us, or something something something.  Last week I did a post on Dr. Jay Boyd’s new book.  By some means, that post got linked to a Yahoo group for “NFP professionals.”  Within a very short time, Jay got word of that post, and the comments it attracted from the NFP professionals.  Jay has made her own response here, where she cuts and pastes some of the comments.

Basically, there were two people in the group who determined, from the post (which I admit, wasn’t my best effort, it was not well written, but you get what you pay for, and in spite of my repeated attempts to extort money from you people (not), this blog is free to read) that I am a manifest heretic, a Janssenist who hates sex* (which, to put it bluntly, this statement is so far off-base as to just make me laugh, that’s all I could do, because it’s just so wrong.  Modesty preventscontraception me from saying any more) and a “providentialist.”  That last bit is a neat trick, taking a term NFP advocates have used to describe some of their “opponents,” those who basically let God determine how many children they’ll have, and turning it into a heresy.  Somehow, it’s absent from my manual on moral theology.  I think the denunciation of this term strange, as aren’t we to trust that God will provide for us, at least to an extent?  That doesn’t mean we lie around waiting for stocked Frigidaires to fall from the sky, but there is nothing wrong (and really, much to commend) in taking a leap of faith in a given situation, trusting that God will provide for our needs. To denounce that seems to me to be very troubling, indicative of something I’d rather not say.  I, or Jay, or both of us, were also likened to the devil, as “all heresies have a common ancestor.”  Before I proceed any farther, I want to make clear that of course there are valid reasons to use NFP to periodically abstain from the marital act, but I have serious reservations about how NFP use is presented in many quarters.

Well.  I originally thought I might parse some of the statements, but Jay has already done that, for the most part.  Another reason was that I just don’t much care for blogfoolery, internecine strife between Catholic bloggers.  I comment and even condemn certain aspects current in the Faith in a general sense quite frequently, but try to stay away from denouncing individual bloggers, etc.  But there was a statement made by a Hanna Klaus, MD at the Natural Family Planning Center of Washington, DC and “TeenSTAR Program” that I think deserves some comment. This was one comment Jay decided not to directly address.   Here she blows (my emphasis):

From the brief look at the blog, the protagonist appears to be  partly a providentialist  (God will provide,  period)   and partly has  a residue of Janssenism (sex is basically sinful and has to be redeemed by procreation)       couples are free to practice NFP or not,  but they are not free not to practice responsible parenthood.   Humanae vitae  makes it clear that the marital act has two “ends”  the perfection of mutual love and the transmission of life.   Let’s not revive the controversy about grave vsserious reasons for avoiding more children… that’s been done. 

Now, again, it’s hard to know just which portion of the 1000+ word post is being addressed here, whether it’s something I said, or something I pasted from

I'm sorry, I couldn't resist

I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist

Jay,or what.   This statement about “practice responsible parenthood” is very nebulous and potentially disturbing. That can be used to justify NFP under just about any circumstance.  It also seems to pass judgment on others who may hold different values when it comes to how to provide for children. To some, an inability to pay for a private education or college could be a sign that children are not being responsibly raised.  I’m mostly going to let that lie, however, as it’s just too vague and, frankly, confusing, to address. But there are a couple of neat rhetorical tricks towards the end that do merit comment. First, note how the writer places the two “ends” of the marital act, with the unitive aspect first, and the procreative second.  Revealing?  I doubt it’s accidental.  There is also a third end, relief of concupiscence, which is sort of tied in with the unitive aspect but often goes overlooked (as I did the other day, thanks, Steve K, for reminding me).

But what I find most concering is the author’s complete disregard for other Magisterial statements on marriage and family life. This ties in with the whole “theory of rupture” regarding Vatican II, that basically the Church started anew in 1962 and everything before is both obsolete and can be forgotten. But those statements prior to VII DO matter, and HV must be read in light of them, not the other way around.  In my post that got them riled up, I mentioned that HV natural-family-planning-10140_0was “problematic,” or not as clear as it could be on this issue of the primacy of the procreative end of the marital act, which has been confirmed in Casti Conubbii, Arcanum Divinae Sapientiae, and many other documents and is firmly grounded in Thomist theo-philosophy.  I say this because we see the evidence right here in the quote above, someone pointing to HV and putting the “unitive” aspect of the marital act first, which is a radical shift from what had always been Catholic belief before about 40 years ago. Since Doctrine can only evolve in its explanations, but never change, this shift is very troubling to me.  This is one of my strongest concerns regarding NFP, that many of the folks using it are embued with an acceptance of dominant cultural mores that say that a couple should regulate the number of children they have, that children should only ever be had under optimum circumstances defined by the couple, the whole personalist/primacy of the individual conscience paradigm that is so dominant in the Church today. But one’s conscience must first be formed in the mind of the Church, before it can exert its primacy!

The last bit, regarding the difference between “grave” and “serious” reasons to periodically abstain from sex is more than mere semantics. For those grave reasons have been defined in the Papal encyclicals which were written prior to Vatican II.  Valid reasons to periodically abstain from sex to avoid conception that stem from those documents include grave illness, very difficult financial situations (although I know many couples that fight through that, right now), some mental incapacity that makes the couple unable to properly raise a child (but in which case, why were they married?), and a few other reasons.  It isn’t a carte blanche for couples to “examine their conscience,” and determine this year isn’t the right one to have a child, because the Cote d’ Azur is calling. Whether one calls the reasons for using NFP made plain in previous Magisterial documents serious or grave, the general sense of those reasons has been conveyed.  Jay sums up the general problem in her post (my emphasis):

That still doesn’t answer the question of why NFP advocates and promoters become so angry and defensive when anyone disagrees with them, though. Perhaps the answer is that questioning the use of NFP means questioning the false sense of autonomy many Catholics have with regard to “forming one’s conscience”. Many Catholics talk about conscience, but few understand that one’s conscience must be properly formed according to the teachings of the Church. It’s the improper formation of conscience that has led many Catholics to accept artificial contraception, homosexual marriage, and even abortion with no qualms. And it is “conscience” on which NFP users rely when deciding whether or not they think God wants them to have another child.

Further, I suggest that the failure to correctly understand conscience flows from the personalist and existentialist notions that have crept into the minds of Catholics by way of some of the verbiage used in various Vatican II and post-Vatican II documents – verbiage that suggests that saying “I prayed about it, and I feel it’s right” is the only justification needed for one’s actions. That’s called moral relativism.details_perimon-natural-family-planning-3_6_9
And that is precisely my concern over NFP, that many couples may be using it for reasons that really aren’t that serious and that there could be moral culpability they are unaware of.  One thing I rarely hear NFP advocates say, which troubles me, is the need for anyone contemplating its used to consult with a good, orthodox spiritual director. I know such are rarer than hen’s teeth in the Church today, but the recommendation should still be made.  In the presentations on NFP I hear on certain EWTN programs, or see in certain books, NFP is presented as an unalloyed good in and of itself and the need to consult with a spiritual director is rarely mentioned, if ever.

I want to make clear again that there are valid reasons to use NFP.  But I have grave concerns that many popular representations of NFP basically turn it into Church-sanctioned birth control, and lose sight of the limitations that have been put on its right use by the Church. To provide some additional background, I’m linking below some very good presentations on NFP and the marital act, from a  very good, traditional priest.  I think they are the best elucidations on the subject I’ve ever heard from the pulpit.

http://www.audiosancto.org/auweb/20120212-The-Sanctity-of-Marriage-The-Duty-of-Motherhood-Versus-the-Abuses-of-NFP.mp3 – this one is, I think, the best of the three



* – the actual quote was “Janssenism (sex is basically sinful and has to be redeemed by procreation)”, but since we are called to hate sin, therefore, I must hate sex



1. St. Anne Center for Reproductive Health - March 7, 2013
2. Michael P. Mc Crory - March 8, 2013

Great job that you do expressing your gift of Faith , I think both you – and Hanna of NFP- may be expecting too much by conducting your dispute in print, when maybe a phone call is needed (and possible) on such an important topic for us Catholics.
It is so easy to misunderstand each other when we know little or nothing about the other person.
It happens to myself a lot- so I know.
Careful as you generally are about avoiding such in-fighting it appears to me that (both of) you may be reading too much into the other’s words.
I admire you both for your courage in putting yourselves ‘out there’ and
” . . going against the flow.”
We need more people like you.

3. skeinster - March 8, 2013

“Redeemed by procreation”? Isn’t that its purpose?

4. cori - March 8, 2013

I guess you married such a pretty lady and had all those kids with her to cover up how much you dislike women. Clever guy you are.

Anyway, it’s amazing what a fluff this stuff can cause. People really get their undergarments maladjusted when you talk about something that casts light on the remote possibility that they’ve maybe been a tad bit selfish about being not quite as open to new babies as they put on.

5. KC Schnitker - March 8, 2013

I’m an NFP instructor – The Ovulation Method- and I always teach couples that they must have a good reason to postpone pregnancy. I think most NFP teachers do that. Why? Because you have to be REALLY committed to the Church and your faith to teach NFP at all since it is a bit like being on a battle ‘front’ and you have to be an avid promoter or you won’t have anyone to teach at all.
I define NFP as using the method to either achieve or postpone pregnancy AND just living your life and being open to what God wants to do in regards to giving you children- both of those are NATURAL family planning and both are morally exceptable (given you have valid reasons if postponning)- but NFP is not anything in between.
The use of NFP aka marital chastity gradually opens couples up to the idea of having a larger family because the ultimate act of love they share is always connected to the idea of the child and their own potential motherhood/fatherhood either through ‘we are willing to parent the child for x number of years’ or ‘ we are willing to abstain until the fertile passes because of the child’. They end up seeing children as the ‘fruit of their love’ and so the fear of having children that many have living in this contraceptive culture is lifted- because that fertile time comes up every month and they have to take responsibility and exercise self-control- every month. The use of NFP intrinsically and very practically teaches the couple ‘marital chastity’ and roots out lust easily- nothing is more unattractive to lust than ‘responsibility’ 🙂 It restores and preserves the sacred and the sense of beauty to the renewal of the wedding vows- which helps prevent the ‘I have a headache’ syndrome women eventually experience when lust is a dominant factor. This is one reason why I have even tried to reach my devout Catholic friends with NFP- I suggest they use it for a few months so they can route out lust and it works- beautifully.
What is really thrilling to me as a Catholic and an instructor is seeing how many couples go off the pill after an NFP class, decide to remain chaste until marriage and those who started out taking an NFP class because they wanted to postpone pregnancy, but do it ‘morally’- through the practice of NFP become open to the gift of children. As Blessed John Paul II said, ‘the use of NFP requires a conversion and it also facilitates one’.

tantamergo - March 8, 2013

I appreciate your comment. It’s a nice testimony to NFP. I don’t want it to be thought that I totally oppose NFP. I don’t. I think it is a necessary tool for those who face unexpected difficulties. I just object to some of the popular presentations, by folks like Popcak, de Sollenni, and others, who present NFP as a life-time tool to use to limit births. In doing so, I never hear them say “you need to review any decisions in this regard with your spiritual director,” or even give any caveats. I have heard Pia de Sollenni on the radio at least twice say couples can use NFP for the entirety of their married lives, which I suppose could be true in very exceptional cases, but she presents that as just a regular old option to the use of NFP. And that I find problematic. In arguing the point, I probably far too often give the appearance of extremism, which I don’t intend, it’s just the way I argue. I have a tendency to want to crush the opposition, which probably isn’t helpful at times. Or ever, I don’t know, I’m an engineer, I’m thorough.

For some countervaling examples, I know a handful of Catholic couples just in my own little circle who used NFP in a manner very analagous to contraception. They used it to space their desired number of births to an optimal time, and when they “had enough children,” met their quota, or whatever, they all got their husbands sterilized. That was 5 different couples I knew! And they thought it was fine, no problem. It’s just what one does. So when Dr. Boyd speaks of a “birth control mentality,” I think there may be something to it.

The main two points I was trying to make were, or maybe it was three, were 1) NFP is a tool only to be used in extremis, 2) the Magisterium of the Church has made pretty clear what those extreme situations are, and 3) anyone contemplating the use of NFP should really review thier decision to do so with a good spiritual adviser. As a tool, it’s morally neutral, it just depends on how it is used. That’s all.

One final point. If one wants to argue that NFP can be used as a “bridge” to ween people off contraception and into a viewpoint much more accepting of life, that argument may have some merit. It’s still problematic, morally, to teach folks to use NFP in a manner analagous to contraception, but it would at least get them to stop poisoning their bodies, possibly unintentionally aborting who knows how many fertilized eggs, and just really being in rebellion to the belief and practice of the Church. I have sensed at times in certain NFP advocates that they feel at least somewhat that way about the practice, that NFP should be “sold” as a way to control fecundity in order to appeal better to users of contraception and hopefully get them to a position where they can eventually accept the Church’s beliefs regarding these issues. Such is never said openly, of course. As I said, such a view, while very well intentioned, is still morally problematic (and quite so), but it might go some way to explain the way that NFP is presented. In their zeal to get couples to stop contracepting, NFP advocates go a bit overboard and present NFP as a lifelong contraception alternative. Not in so many words, but that’s the effect. I think that zeal may be misplaced, for even though NFP has many advantages like I listed above, and more, viz a viz contraception, if there is still the mentality that one should be “in charge” of making decisions about when babies come and how many, for want of a very serious or grave reason, there is still a great disconnect from the Will of God as expressed in the Mind of the Church.

I think this shall be a post.

6. Hopefully, my final post on NFP | A Blog for Dallas Area Catholics - March 8, 2013

[…] NFP instructor left a comment in a previous post on the popular presentations on NFP. I replied, and I think the reply is worthy of a post in its own […]

7. Karel Skočovský - March 9, 2013

I dont know who sent you the NFP Professionals discussion. It was non-public informal correspondence not to be discussed and exposed with a gusto in public.

The whole thing is very unhappy, full of misunderstanding and sarcasm and the only effect of it is a division of people of good will.

tantamergo - March 12, 2013

I write with a bit of snark because I think it provides a measure of entertainment or engagement in what are sometimes bland, doctrinal subjects. Plus, it’s just my sense of humor, very dry. Jay got sent the conversation from a radio personality. I don’t recall the name. It was never presented as a private discussion. I would add that expecting privacy on the internet without express demands for it are doomed to failure, and even with much language bringing great wrath on those who violate the ostensible privacy have proven to be ineffective. Essentially, the rule of thumb is, if you want something to stay private, don’t say it on the internet.

Even people of good will can develop wrong ideas. It is not a cover for error. The views I read expressed in that convesation – the most hostile of which I didn’t even address – were rather concerning. They seemed to be blanket promotion of NFP in all circumstances as a “better alternative” to contraception, but with the same end goals in sight – control over the timing and number of offspring. But I didn’t go into that because I gave the benefit of the doubt to the writers. I only picked on one bit of text that seemed a bit developed, more than an off-the-cuff remark.

8. Dan - March 9, 2013

So NFP is no good? I need to talk to the parish priest allowed the material of NFP displayed.

tantamergo - March 12, 2013

No, I didn’t say NFP is no good. But the Church has prescribed limits on its use, limits which are often ignored, forgotten, or dramatically downplayed by some (or many) NFP advocates.

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