In my previous blog, I commented on the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to accept homosexual sodomy as marriage. I pointed out that this follows logically and sociologically from the wide cultural and legal acceptance of heterosexual sodomy as marriage, understanding that all unnatural forms of birth control are essentially forms of sodomy. I noted that the big question of the day is this: What can leaders of the Catholic Church in the United States of America do about this? I think certain things are obvious.
First, Catholic bishops and priests need to revisit Humanae Vitae. They need to see that this encyclical is far more of a blessing than a burden. They need to preach and teach what Jesus taught—that his burden is light and that his yoke is sweet.
Perhaps they would also do well to revisit the arguments. I have tried to help by providing an analysis of the Birth Control Commission majority and minority reports in Sex and the Marriage Covenant: A Basis for Morality. It is clear that the arguments for contraception cannot say a logical NO to any mutually acceptable sexual behaviors. Revisionist theologian Michael Valente made it strikingly clear that the rejection of Humanae Vitae logically entailed the rejection of the entire natural law theory on which he said it was based. He used the example of bestiality to make his point. Yes, according to the principles of dissent, he and his fellow revisionists could not say a firm NO even to bestiality. In an article in the liberal Theological Studies, I showed that the decision-making principles of arch-dissenter Fr. Charles Curran cannot say NO even to spouse swapping.
Second, Catholic bishops and priests need to get over their fear of requiring something that is for the good of the persons involved. The Bishops’ Committee on Pastoral Research and Practice had it right in 1989 when it urged that every engaged couple should be required to attend a full course on natural family planning. Current experience shows that almost no engaged couples take a course in natural family planning unless they are required to do so. Ironically, they have had to take required courses all their lives, but as they approach one of the most important things they will ever do, they are not required to take the one course that addresses the one issue that is the biggest issue in the Church today. Couples will take an NFP course if required. As Church required, such a course ought to be teaching much more than just fertility awareness. Well informed priests can do much to help couples understand that the teachings of the Church about love, marriage and sexuality are far more of a blessing than a burden.
Third, the contents of a required NFP course need to be adequate for the task at hand, and that means that it will be a holistic approach that is more than just teaching fertility awareness.
- The course must be a New Evangelization effort. Young people need to learn that Jesus truly is the Author of all the teachings of the Church including those dealing with love, marriage, and sexuality. The blessings of increased discipleship far outweigh any effort put into helping the couples understand some of these basic facts of Christianity.
- The course must include specific teaching against immoral sexual behaviors. Silence or ambiguous statements to avoid genital contact during the fertile time are easily interpreted in an exclusively pregnancy-avoiding way. Couples have told us how their interpretations of that terminology led them to adopt immoral practices. As a result some or many poorly instructed “NFP couples” practice periodic contraception instead of periodic chaste abstinence. Catholic moral teaching also includes the call to generosity in having children. Systematic NFP is not “Catholic birth control.”
- The course must teach the abstinence-free form of natural spacing with breastfeeding. That means teaching the Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding. To the extent that couples adopt this form of natural baby spacing, both babies and mothers will be healthier. The blessings are far greater than the “burden” of frequent nursing.
- The course must teach a supporting theology that is easy to understand. We have found that the renewal-of-the-marriage-covenant theology is easily grasped and almost immediately makes good sense to people of open hearts and goodwill. St. John Paul II used this concept in his Letter to Families, but it is still unknown by many. Regarding hearts, a priest can do much to help open hearts if he takes the time to help couples appreciate the love that Jesus has for us and our need to show our gratitude by following his commandments of love. Again, the blessings of this understanding of the meaning of Christian love and marriage far outweigh the very slight burden of teaching.
- The course ought to teach all the common signs of fertility and infertility. Comparative studies have shown that systems that use crosschecking signs have a higher user-effectiveness than those that focus just on cervical mucus. Couples have a God-given right to know about the cross-checking signs. That gives them the freedom to make an informed choice about which fertility sign or combination of signs they will use. I do not care what system they actually use, but I think it is imperative that they should have the knowledge-based freedom to choose for themselves. The blessing of having this legitimate freedom of choice far outweighs the slightly greater effort to teach more than one sign.
- The course ought to be available via a Home Study taken at the couples’ own convenience and speed. The Home Study Course offered by NFP International is being used very successfully by couples all over the States.
- The course ought to be affordable. The NFPI Home Study Course and its classroom course are both available for a requested donation of only $70.00. Very low cost and yet the most complete.
Bishops and priests who make use of the resources offered by NFP International will be gratified by the results. Priests and bishops alike would benefit by taking the course themselves. They would learn the scientific bases for Ecological Breastfeeding and a cross-checking system, and, best of all, they would also see how all of the above elements are easily integrated into a teaching program. They will see that the NFPI effort is a working example of lay evangelization and accompanying practical help. They will receive expressions of gratitude for having been required to take the course as preparation for Christian marriage.
John F. Kippley, July 2, 2015 for posting on July 8.