The Observer—Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Rockford
Publication date: July 14, 2006
By Patricia Pitkus Bainbridge
Director, Respect Life Office
I have become accustomed to the common objections offered by many Catholics to the Church’s unwavering and non-negotiable stance on many issues associated with human sexuality—especially in the area of marriage and procreation.
Their opposition typically originates from little, if any, accurate information on the Church’s teaching on matrimony as well as a lack of understanding about Natural Family Planning (NFP). Once presented with the truth, many are struck by the awesome wisdom of the Church and they embrace it fully.
Others, of course, are obstinate—refusing to accept the truth and choosing, instead, to follow their own personal opinion. They seem to believe that they are wiser than the Church.
Surprisingly, there is a small group of individuals who appear to be faithful to the moral teachings of the Church with one exception: they believe NFP is morally wrong. They view it “Catholic contraception.”
In writing Evangelium Vitae, John Paul II reiterated the traditional teaching of the Church: “The work of educating in the service of life involves the training of married couples in responsible procreation . . . [which] requires couples to be obedient to the Lord's call and to act as faithful interpreters of his plan. This happens when the family is generously open to new lives, and when couples maintain an attitude of openness and service to life, even if, for serious reasons and in respect for the moral law, they choose to avoid a new birth for the time being or indefinitely. The moral law obliges them in every case to control the impulse of instinct and passion, and to respect the biological laws inscribed in their person. It is precisely this respect which makes legitimate, at the service of responsible procreation, the use of natural methods of regulating fertility."
Many in the anti-NFP crowd erroneously think the Church’s moral teachings changed after Vatican II—they think the pre-conciliar Church forbade NFP. They are either unaware, or refuse to accept Church documents before Vatican II that approved of periodic continence for regulating birth.
In 1853 a ruling by the Sacred Penitentiary declared that periodic continence for the purpose of avoiding pregnancy (for right reasons) was moral.
Pius XI’s encyclical Casti Conubii (Christian Marriage) was written in 1930. In the fourth chapter, he wrote: “any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin.”
Referencing the first two words (“any use”) some insist that Pius XI was condemning both contraception and NFP. Reading the entire sentence (and the entire chapter) makes it clear he was referring only to contraception. NFP does not frustrate the “natural power to generate life.” If the “act” (marital intercourse) does not take place (the couple abstains), it cannot be “frustrated in its natural power to generate life.”
Earlier in the chapter, Pius XI explained the moral difference between contraception and periodic abstinence when he wrote that a contraceptive act is a “sin against nature” and a “deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious, but “virtuous continence” in matrimony is permitted by “Christian law” for [the avoidance of pregnancy].
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2370), being the “sure and authentic reference text” for Catholic doctrine, declares that “Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self- observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality.”
The people who reject the Church’s teaching on contraception as well as those who reject her teaching on NFP are failing to think “with the mind of the Church.” We cannot, on the one hand be Protestant in our approach to moral truth nor more Catholic than the Church when we interpret clear definitions and boundaries set by the Church’s Magisterium.