“Chaste” abstinence is key to NFP

Are couples who use systematic “natural family planning” following the chaste-marriage teaching of the Catholic Church? From the available evidence, some are and many are not. The “method” of true systematic NFP is chaste abstinence during the fertile time of the cycle. That is, not only do the couple abstain from full sexual intercourse but they also refrain from masturbation, whether mutual or solitary, and other immoral activities such as oral and anal copulation. In short, they abstain from all orgasmic activity.

It has long been agreed by moral theologians that abstaining married couples can morally engage in romantic activities that do not conclude with orgasm. That, however, is not what is practiced by some or many couples who do “NFP” without chaste abstinence. In a recent discussion about these matters on an NFP email list, several studies were referenced. A 1970 study of temperature-only couples found that almost 90% of the couples had some sexual activity and that in most cases this led to climax. A 1978 study of mucus-only couples found that 70% reached climax during the fertile time. A 1993 study of mucus-plus-temperature couples found that 84% engaged in romantic activity during the fertile time and that 62% reached climax via mutual stimulation, 10% by self-stimulation, and 40% used barrier methods. This is obviously not the chaste abstinence called for by Catholic teaching.

Those studies were of non-American users. Are things different in the United States where only a very small fraction of Catholics are practicing any kind of “NFP”? I have no reason to think American NFP Catholics are more chaste than our international friends. Some years ago I had a phone call from a repentant woman. She and her spouse had been practicing mutual masturbation during the fertile time for eight years, having taken an NFP course that did not teach chaste abstinence.   Last fall a woman wrote in a similar fashion, “Sadly we were trained 23 years ago – that is why I was so shocked to know that we had been doing something wrong for all these years.” As we dialogued, she noted that she thought everyone was acting as they had been doing. Within the last month I have heard from another woman who has been discussing the problem of marital chaste abstinence and is appalled at the lack of support. She listed seven types of responses she had received including “I have sought priests who think I’m crazy for not giving in to contraception.” In context, she was looking for priests who could give her and her spouse some helpful counseling about marital chastity.

How can this happen? How can couples who are of sufficient good faith to attend NFP courses because they want to follow Catholic teaching still think that mutual masturbation and so forth is morally acceptable? Well, I am not going to ignore the strong tendency to rationalization, but in the above cases, these couples were never informed by their NFP course and/or instructor and materials about the demands of chaste married love. Providentially, they had stumbled upon an NFP manual written by my wife and me. Further, some previously unchaste couples have reported that our books helped them to make the decision to become chaste and eventually to promote or teach natural family planning. See Chapter 7 of our current manual, Natural Family Planning: The Complete Approach. The current problem is that there are widely used NFP books that do not teach morality. They might teach to avoid genital contact, but that can be interpreted in a strictly pragmatic way and says nothing about some of the various activities told to me.

Ultimately, of course, the problem lies with the bishops. Collectively or individually, they could stipulate that any program in any way affiliated with the diocese or a parish simply must teach explicitly against these common sins to which NFP-using couples are tempted. That would have to apply to all teaching manuals as well as to the verbal instruction. It only takes a few lines and a couple minutes. Why don’t they take this simple step?

Can there be anything resembling a New Evangelization without teaching the demands of marital love and chastity and generosity?

I suggest that this is worthy of our prayers as we celebrate Divine Mercy on the Sunday after Easter.


John F. Kippley, also at http://www.nfpandmore.org where Sheila blogs weekly




What God Has Put Together

Every informed Christian is aware that even in the Catholic Church today there are significant efforts to undermine the teaching of Jesus about the permanence of marriage. Fortunately, the traditional teaching is being well defended by eminent Churchmen and theologians.

What is not often pointed out is that the words of Jesus about marriage also help to illustrate the evil of marital contraception. Just ask any believer, “Who put together in one act what we commonly call making love and making babies?” The believer has to answer, “God Himself put together in one act what we call making love and making babies.”

The next question: “What is marital contraception except the deliberate effort to take apart what God Himself has put together in the marriage act?” The answer is obvious. Marital contraception is nothing less than the effort to take apart what God Himself put together in the marriage act. For believers, the lesson should be obvious. “What God has put together, let no one take apart.”

I am hoping that the Synod of the Family will make these connections. It seems to me that the Church-listening and the entire world need to hear the words of Jesus about the permanence of marriage affirmed clearly and beautifully. In his teaching, the Lord Jesus is not trying to make life difficult with artificial hoops and hurdles. Rather, as Pope Francis said so well, Jesus is teaching us the way of love and authentic happiness (“Ten Commandments are a signpost of freedom,” Wednesday, June 13, 2013).

Along with a beautiful and clear affirmation of the Lord’s teaching about the permanence of marriage, I hope the Synod will also affirm the teaching about marriage affirmed in Casti Connubii and reaffirmed in Humanae Vitae and the Letter to Families from Pope John Paul II. “In the conjugal act, husband and wife are called to confirm the mutual gift of self which they have made to each other in the marriage covenant” (Letter to Families from Pope John Paul II, 2/2/1994, The Year of the Family).

In this statement, Blessed Pope John Paul II may be the first Pope ever to use that phraseology — that the marriage act ought to confirm the marriage covenant —  and that is significant.

First of all, the renewal-of-the-marriage-covenant theology points at the intrinsic meaning of human sexual intercourse. It ought to be exclusively a confirmation or renewal of the marriage covenant. That helps to explain why fornication is morally evil. There may be romantic love in some such actions, but there is no commitment. There is no marriage. There is no covenant to renew. This does not eliminate the traditional explanation that fornication is a sin of injustice because it may bring a child into the world with only its mother to love and support her or him. The revisionists, however, have worked overtime for the past 100 years to say that contraception does away with such reasoning. But nothing can do away with the fact that fornication is essentially dishonest because it is not a marriage act.

The same thing can be said about the other abuses of the powers of sex—adultery, incest, and so on. The evil of same-sex marriage is also illustrated and shows the need to emphasize that the covenant is not of one’s own description but the natural covenant of marriage that has existed from the beginning.

Experience has shown me that the covenant theology makes sense to those who seek to know and do what God wants them to do, and that includes not only truth-seeking Catholics but also truth-seeking Protestants and even truth-seeking agnostics and atheists.  The problem to day is not with the teachings of the Church.  The real challenge for the Pope, bishops, priests and the believing laity is to increase the number of the baptized who truly WANT to walk the path of self-sacrificing love, the narrow path of Jesus.

John F. Kippley
http://www.nfpandmore.org  where Sheila blogs every week.