Refilling the empty pews

Can NFP course be an agent of evangelization?

The following comes from an August 19 story by John Kippley on the Homiletic & Pastoral Review website.

While visiting the Twin Cities in June 2011, I learned that my home parish is slated for closure in mid-2012.  The Church of the Visitation in southwest Minneapolis was created in 1946 because married couples were having babies.  It was carved out of Annunciation Parish, our former home, and Incarnation Parish, each about a half mile from the new church.  Fortuitously, in that June visit, I met a former pastor who agreed with me on the root cause for the closure: contraception.  To be sure, in the last 65 years there have been some changes in demographics, but the area is still middle-class, with the homes well-kept.

In the spring of 2009, Father Timothy Sauppe, pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Westville, Illinois, a rural parish in the far west of the diocese of Peoria, was forced by economics—too few children—to close the parish school.  He wrote to Bishop Daniel Jenky, to his parishioners, and posted on the parish website, that the root cause of the closure was the practice of contraception, including sterilization.

Over the last decade, I have read several articles accusing the users of natural family planning for the empty pews, but that is simply not the case.  The 2010 statistics make it clear that less than two percent of church-going Catholics are practicing any form of systematic NFP. But, those numbers do not take into account couples at the time of the survey, who were already pregnant, breastfeeding, or just accepting babies as they came.

With appropriate adjustments, it appears that the statistics are really saying that at least 90 percent of fertile-age, church-going, Catholics are using unnatural forms of birth control.  Statistics from once-Catholic countries in Europe indicate birth rates well below replacement levels, except among Muslim immigrants.  The Catholic Church in the West is closing its schools and churches.  In short, it is contracepting itself, either out of existence, or into a minor sect.

No one who cares about the Church, as the visible body instituted by Christ for the salvation of the world, can be happy about this.  In fact, no one who appreciates the great contribution to the public square made by well-formed Catholics can by pleased by this self-destructive diminution of its influence.

The problem has been recognized for some time.  In 1989, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in its Committee on Pastoral Research and Practices, published a book on marriage preparation entitled: Faithful to Each Other Forever. In it, they urged that every engaged couple be required to attend a full course on Natural Family Planning.  Recognizing that many couples would not appreciate this requirement at first, they expressed confidence that many would be very grateful by the end of the course.

Unfortunately, only seven dioceses (counting one on the way) currently have this requirement. Twenty-two years later, we are still waiting for the implementation of this recommendation.  Furthermore, two more recent USCCB documents about marriage do not reaffirm the NFP requirement.

Given that response, it seems to me that parish priests are called to be the real warriors in the effort to restore authentic Christian faith and practice to our Catholic parishes, and to the public square.

The problem of the rare use of NFP is not a lack of information.  There are NFP programs in every diocese, and anyone with access to a bookstore or the internet can teach themselves all they need to know about natural family planning—just Google “NFP.”  The basic problem is a two-fold lack of faith, and faith-based love.  Catholics, who read the papers, or watch the evening news, know that the Catholic Church officially teaches that it is immoral to use contraceptive drugs, devices, and behaviors.  These same Catholics may never hear this teaching from the pulpit, or see it in the parish bulletin, but the secular press takes a perverse delight in publicizing this doctrine, especially when the Pope reaffirms it.  The problem is that most Catholics today simply don’t believe the teaching.

Another serious problem is the difficulty of preaching Catholic teaching on chastity at Masses attended by a regular parish congregation including children.  It is a difficulty shared with the subject of abortion, but difficult is not the same as impossible.  The sexual revolution, and its consequences, simply cannot be completely off-limits, or else the entire area of sexual morality is surrendered to an aggressive, anti-Christian secularism.

I submit that the biggest need in the Church now, at least in the West, is the evangelization of Catholics who do not believe that, what the Church teaches as the demands of love, really are the demands of the Lord Jesus.  Pope Benedict XVI has recognized this by creating the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization.  Benedict has also indicated what the emphasis must be when he wrote in his book on Jesus: “The organ for seeing God is the heart.  The intellect alone is not enough … {man’s} will must be pure and so, too, must the underlying affective dimension of his soul, which gives intelligence and will their direction.”

The content of the message doesn’t change, but there needs to be more effort made to help partial believers accept the entire message of faith, with a renewed attitude of personal gratitude to the Lord Jesus for his entire work of salvation, including his gifts of the Church, and its teaching authority.  I suggest that the right kind of NFP course offers a unique opportunity to teach these basic attitudes and doctrines and thus evangelize the young people who are the future of the Church.

The first thing a parish priest can do is to love his parishioners so much that he is willing to suffer some initial rejection.  The next thing he needs to do is to remember that he has three great gifts that are not available to anyone else at that particular place and time.  First, he has been given the authority to teach what the Church teaches in that parish at that time.  Second, he has been presented with the right to preach from the pulpit.  Third, he enjoys the gift of being able to meet with parishioners, one-on-one.  Closely related to this is another gift. Some of his parishioners truly want to do what is right, and others at least want to have their wedding in the church building….

A second great charism bestowed on the parish priest is the ability to meet with individual persons, and couples, to help them grow in faith.  Here, he has a unique opportunity to evangelize them, and to build upon whatever he has preached at Mass.  Have they truly accepted Jesus as the Lord of their lives?  In making decisions, do they ask themselves what the Lord Jesus wants them to do, or not do?  Do they understand that the ultimate purpose of every human relationship is to help the other person on the path to heaven, and that this applies especially to engaged persons, and married couples?  Do the engaged couples realize that the demands of chaste Christian love require them to be abstinent until marriage, and that loving chastity also rules out excessively stimulating activity?…

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  1. It is about time that society recognized that the pill was the main cause, among many, of the decline of the middle class in America. It was readily accepted primarily for economic reasons. Ironically people had to work more and defer having families so they could pay the high taxes that were used to subsidize other families who had no sense of restraint in producing children. Instead of encouraging foreigners to migrate illegally perhaps the Church leaders could concoct a useful plan to help American families to increase and flourish on their home ground.

    • Well said Baron, well said

    • Baron:

      Are you assuming that membership in the US “middle class” is inherited?

      If the current middle class, with its Protestant “sense of restraint in producing children,” supports lower-class and immigrant families who welcome all the children God gives them, who grow up to join the middle class because they have excellent public education financed by the “high taxes” the current middle class pays,… Won’t that just increase the percentage of Catholics in the next-generation middle class?

      • Francis why do you put high taxes in quotation marks, what is it about reality you refuse to accept….exactly how much enough for people like you and when exactly are you will to say “OK thats enough government, no more”

        • Canisius:

          I understand that you have lived (currently live?) in Europe. Taxes in most of Europe are substantially higher than in the US. Sweden’s economy has functioned exceptionally well as an overtly socialist-capitalist hybrid with very high marginal tax rates and high overall taxes. That is reality, and I have no problem accepting it.

          Furthermore, US taxes, especially for people with high income compared to the median, are currently lower than during most of the 20th century. I put “high taxes” in quotes, because “high” is a relative term. They may well be “high” relative to what you are willing to pay, but that’s hardly an objective or universal comparison point.

          Isn’t the real issue with “high taxes” the perception that tax money is not spent well, or that somebody else (like all those illegal Catholic immigrants) is getting a free ride?

        • Kenneth M. Fisher says:


          You should have put excellent public education in quotation marks, by not doing so, you further indentify yourself as a liberal!

          God bless, yours in Their Hearts,
          Kenneth M. Fisher

          • Kenneth:

            Oh my goodness, I couldn’t possibly allow anyone to identify me as a liberal. Or worse yet, as a Christian.

            My Virtual Scare Quotes were so obvious I didn’t even consider they might be required! Skepticism and frustration with public schools is not a marker unique to any political alignment other than the teachers’ unions.

    • Mbûkû Kanyau Mbithûka says:

      Are we not a classless society? with people moving up and down the social ladder based on merit?

  2. Father Karl says:

    Pope Paul VI was very correct when he condemned birth control. not only has birth control been responsible for an increase of sexual immorality, it has also led to population decline. Just travel around most American cities, and look at the streets. Where once children played there are now weeds. All over America, there are closed schools, not only public, but also Catholic schools. Entire neighborhoods are dying because there are no children. Nature abhors a vaccum, and quickly non Christians, especially Moslems, are moving into the dying cities of Europe. This will be coming soon to the Americas. It is very tragic to see once gorgeous Catholic churches now closed, or about to be closed because of no more members. Birth control is one of the greatest evils of the 20th Century. When procreation was replaced by pleasure the Pandora’s Box was opened: homosexuality, aids, abortion etc have been released upon us, as well as a declining population. The fact that we have fewer young people means less tax payers in the future, and a decrease of Catholics in the churches and in the schools. The irony is that the founder of the birth control pill was a Catholic, and Western civilization has committed suicide May God have mercy on us

    • As usual, I agree with everything you say. The irony is, we have obama to ‘thank’ for this knowledge to come fully into the public arena. Perhaps he is God’s ‘drastic’ scalpel that cuts and drains the oozing wound to our civilization. All of those ‘pleasures’ from Pandora’s Box that you mentioned are fully sanctioned by him and we see in full technicolor the ghastly carnage that we’ve been ignoring for too long. I’ve written about Carl Djerassi at this site before…a really good biography of him from a Catholic author like Ron Hansen would be very illuminating.

      • Anton L. Seidl says:

        Dana, you are very perceptive! Obama may yet prove to have been the catalyst that caused our Catholics to come to their senses. His radicalism is so profound that even our bishops have finally been roused from their slumber.
        His lies can no longer be swept under the rug or explained away. His intransigence with respect to the healthcare mandate is now engraved on everyone’s mind. Compromise is now impossible. Were Obama given another four years, our Catholic institutions would cease to exist.

    • Warren Goddard says:

      Pope Paul VI changed trusting procreation to Divine Planning and Providence to use of the fertile period for couple planning and spacing; birth control. On The Regulation Of Birth – Humanae Vitae

    • Mbûkû Kanyau Mbithûka says:

      The most basic problem is not Vatican II per say, but the unwillingness of shephards to teach God’s people, failure to form priests into teachers of the faith, and a lack of catholic sprituarity accross the americas.

    • Kenneth M. Fisher says:

      I can still remember the late Fr. Paul Marx, OSB, a good friend and supporter of CRCOA, Inc., stating at a HLI Conference that contraception would lead to the demise of Europe and eventually the USA. How right he was!

      Fr. Marx was the founder of Human Life International.

      God bless, yours in Their Hearts,
      Kenneth M. Fisher

    • Amen! Fr. Karl, amen. Mary Blessed (or St.) Karl of Austra pray for us.and Europe too.

  3. St. Christopher says:

    It is unquestionable that contraception is a great evil. However, the “empty pew” premise is wrong. So-called other-directed Catholics are not going to Church regularly due to the (1) awful masses (which are not corrected due to Vatican insistence that local bishops control the liturgy), (2) problems of homosexuality in the Church (which are never openly addressed), and (3) the simple understand that the Church leadership does not actually believe what it preaches. Instead, we have this constant tinkering with the externals of the Church (?Why empower yet another “Pontifical Council”?), like deciding to re-paint a car when its battery is dead. Saying, “well, sure, it is the problem of American women using the pill” is childish and the product of either dull thinking or a conscious attempt to deflect argument about the real cause — that Catholic clergy and administrators do not believe and do not administer the Faith in a way that suggests belief. When was the last time anyone heard a pastor say, in a sermon, that using birth control was a mortal sin? Or that any sex out of marriage was a mortal sin? Or that consciously missing mass on Sunday was a mortal sin? Nope, too judgmental, too unkind, too un-Jesus (who ate with sinners and loved, thereby making everything OK if done “with love”, blah, blah, blah). Now we hear that the Vatican — which can never keep its hands off of Catholic Tradition — wants to make everyone feel better by coming out with yet another missal change — perhaps some major changes to the Extraordinary Form Mass, to make it more in line with the N.O. That would really make sense!! What the Church needs is a revolution. It is certainly going to change anyway, as people will die and those that replace the dearly departed might have other ideas.

    • Kenneth M. Fisher says:

      St. Christopher,

      So very true. For example, just look at the horrible scandal created by the Head of the USCCB( Cardinal Dolan), which should be abolished, having the mass murderer of many innocent babies as a guest of honor at the annual Al Smith dinner!

      I assure all those that read these comments, you will hear about the evils of contraception, abortion, Mortal Sin, etc. etc. at any Tradional Parish. I heard about them last Sunday!

      God bless, yours in Their Hearts,
      Kenneth M. Fisher

  4. The Pill is not the cause of anything. To say that is to say that guns kill people. When is the last time anyone saw a gun walking around shooting people, or a pill leaping from a container and flying into an open mouth? The truth is that the responsibility of immorality is the soul, the individual soul. Golly gee, what would Heaven do if it were not for NFP?!?

    • Dear JLS, try to be compassionate to those of us who are not perfect and succumb to temptations like the pill, alcohol, smoking or other easy outs that we may fall prey to. True, the pill in and of itself can’t be said to be evil, anymore than obama can be said to be evil as no one was forced to vote for him, no one is forced to take the pill…but some of us are very weak often because we were spiritually unformed or misinformed. It’s not a matter of blame, is it? It’s a matter of hearing and recognizing the TRUTH, no? It should be our priority in life to share the good news with to as many as we can.

      • Kenneth M. Fisher says:


        Obama certainly can be said to EVIL. By their works ye shall know them, Jesus Christ.

        God bless, yours in Their Hearts,
        Kenneth M. Fisher

        • I agree. He’s evil incarnate, but I was thinking more in terms that if he hadn’t been elected president he would be just another seedy, sleezy community organizer turned senator making backroom deals in the Senate. I was making the point about what JLS said about the pill not being evil in itself. You have to use it. You have to vote for a badman to unleash his base intentions. It’s all an act of will on our part. Also, somehow JLS always seems to be able to turn everything I’m saying topsy turvey. How does he do that,Ken? ha

      • Weakness is no excuse, Dana. We all have access to faith in God. Especially those who have heard the Gospel have access to faith, which can overpower all temptation. I do not know the name of the heresy which says we are saved by weakness and faithlessness, but it is a heresy. True contrition and the absolution of guilt from these sins makes a person strong … It is their fault if they choose to rely on weakness instead of strength. A Church which self prophesies being too weak to resist temptation makes God a joke. It is neither God nor weakness that is the cause of sin, but rather the cause of sin is the will of the sinner. Of course we all sin, but some of us also repent and move on to the next challenge. Some do not repent and fall off the branch of life. Always we must remember that in Christ we can do all things.

    • Mary Helena Gamble says:

      The Pill is an abortfaciant.

  5. I emailed this to my pastor. I think many of us, as we reach our ‘sunset’ years and look back on our lives, can see the terrible harm that using contraceptives caused in the overall tapestry of major events in our relationships, marriages and of course, childbearing and physical and mental health. People close to me who never had children because of being on the pill, have become lonely and rather lost in their old age. Friends I’ve known all my life who’ve suffered the consequences of ill health and divorces that ensued from taking the pill. I try not to use the phrase ‘if only’ because it only leads to regret. I’m just thankful that I have learned of this before I died and will do what I can to share what I’ve learned with young people who come into my orbit. Thank you again CCD. Between you, Lifesite News and my pastor’s wonderful weekly newsletter I find my understanding expanding despite myself. :o)

  6. Anyone that’s actually familiar with the situation at the Church of the Visitation knows that the reason it’s being closed is, like the infamous St. Stephens and St. Joan of Arc in the same archdiocese, due to its heretical and disobedient practices. Too bad the bishops here in the Bay Area can’t act as decisively–but I’m sure someone is “looking into it.”

  7. Mbûkû Kanyau Mbithûka says:

    Protestants find themselves in a bind trying to defend marriage. Since they cannot argue on any level that the marital act and self-gratification as an end in itself is not justified under anything outside of what scripture says.
    They cannot also defend scripture other than site other parts of scripture.

    • Kenneth M. Fisher says:

      Mbûkû Kanyau Mbithûka,

      If you are now in America, WELCOME. If you are not, God bless you for your willingness to defend the True Faith from wherever you are.

      God bless, yours in Their Hearts,
      Kenneth M. Fisher

  8. Elizabeth says:

    The problem with NFP is not NFP of course…..

    We Catholics need to hear it from the pulpit. I have a feeling that here in the S.F. Archdiocese, with our new AB Cordielione, it is going to be
    promoted, big time!!!!!!

    And you are NOT going to hear it from the secular news, no way…..
    perhaps a chance on Fox, but even that is a longshot!

    Many a person at our pro-life tables do not know about it and are SO
    happy to learn about it! We always tell them it is the moral way and
    the organic way to go.

    • Kenneth M. Fisher says:


      You will probably hear about it when Archbishop Cordileone preaches about it, when the MSM attacks him for it. Pray for him.

      God bless, yours in Their Hearts,
      Kenneth M. Fisher

  9. Clinton R. says:

    What happened to Catholics trusting in God and having children? The Church certainly didn’t need NFP 100, 200 or 2000 years ago. Children were seen as a blessing from God. Now, we either contracept or in rare cases, use NFP to try to outsmart God. We never hear that NFP is to be used only when the health of a women would be endangered through a pregnancy. It should not been seen as “Catholic contraception”.

    • Kenneth M. Fisher says:


      NFP can also be used for other reasons. You are correct that it should not be used as a substitute for contraception.

      God bless, yours in Their Hearts,
      Kenneth M. Fisher

      • Clinton R. says:

        You are right, Mr. Fisher. I should have said NFP should only be used in grave situations as stated by Pope Pius XII in his Address to Midwives, Oct. 29, 1951.

        • Warren Goddard says:

          Clinton. Correction. Pope Pius XII’s address limited the marriage act to the infertile period as a method of birth prevention. Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae ON The Regulation of Birth uses the fertile period as a method of birth control. He also changed trusting in Divine Planning and Providence to couple planning and spacing births.

          • St Paul, on the other hand, teaches that man and wife should not deny one another, other than for prayer. Why is it the things that require holiness and are the simplest of things are ignored? Instead people bring in all sorts of gimmicks and juggling techniques.

  10. Is it possible that the decline in the number of children being born since the pill was made available is an indicator that all the children born to Catholic families before then were not really wanted? Is it possible that the pill allowed women to gain control over their own bodies? Is it possible that the pill reduced the fear of another child when the husband forced himself on his wife? Is it possible that 90%+ of Catholic women don’t want all of the children that their grandparents were forced to have? So many questions!

    • Clinton R. says:

      Children both Scripturally and traditionally were seen as blessings from God. Now they are seen as a disease to be eradicated and every means should be used to frustrate the marital act. A woman’s body is not her own. We belong to God and must follow natural law. Abortion and contraception are not natural and play into the hands of the devil, or his henchmen George Soros and Barack Obama.

    • Bob One, the pill worked in men’s favor more than in a woman’s.

      • I’m not convinced that being absolved of responsibility for making conscious and responsible sexual choices is necessarily in a man’s “favor” any more than it is in a woman’s. NFP doesn’t just change what a couple does; it grows cooperation and intimacy. For example, I would not directly contradict Clinton’s comment that a “woman’s body is not her own” but I find it unbalanced; her husband plays as important a role in NFP as she does. The couple preserves their common sexuality when they turn it over to God.

      • The pill did not work in anyone’s favor, k.

    • The population of the world has been rapidly increasing since the pill was made available. Bob One, why do you make up stuff that is false? Since the pill came out, the world population has approximately doubled from four billion to eight billion.

  11. When is the last time NFP was seen hanging from a Cross? Wasn’t it “Mom”, then “apple pie”, then Chevrolet? And now they’ve added “NFP”. Jesus explains about why with Moses, even though it was never God’s intention that man should have more than one wife, He allowed it to ease matters. Nowadays to ease matters, we can all go back to the Law of Moses so that God will allow NFP due to our hardened hearts. Hopefully, God will send us a savior as the Prophets have foretold … oh wait, am I missing something here? Jesus saved us from life in a harem; but who will save us from life with NFP?

  12. Women ovulate 14 days after the start of the last menstrual period. The oocye only survives for one day. However, sperm can survive in readiness in the uterine tube for six days. Thus, from the 28 days of the menstrual cycle there are only seven (1+6) days in which the woman is receptive to fertilization. The great advantage of this natural birth control method is that it does not increase the incidence on Breast cancer.

  13. Abeca Christian says:

    I wonder who invited the birth control pill? Who invented condoms? I’m sure birth control also came to be because of the abuse many woman had to endure when they were considered the property of men.

    • As Fr.Karl & I said in our posts above, it was a Catholic, Carl Djerassi back in the 1950′s. He was a chemist at Stanford etc. & styles himself as a writer. I think he’s still alive, Abeca. Condoms have been used for a long time…hundreds of years. I think they first used sheep skin parchment that could be reused. They were called French love letters I think.

      • Abeca Christian says:

        A Catholic did? Wow. Even in the 1950′s one would think that they would of had some decency. I wonder what was his reasoning behind his creation?

        I was 22 when I got engaged to my husband and I praise God that when we married we never used contraceptives. Even though my Catholic church never once, as I can recall, ever taught us about the church and it’s teachings on such things. My grandmum passed the year I got married, I’m sure she prayed for me, it was the graces from our Lord that kept me away from those things. I love my husband and I thought to my self, if I get pregnant on our honeymoon, it was because it was God’s will, so I was open to life from the beginning of my marriage, I soon miscarried. It was then that I wanted to study my body and ovulation, and I did. It worked out for the good, all for the Glory of God!

    • Anonymous says:

      No, birth control came to be so that men could have greater “use” of women without the consequences of having to take care of children. The first use of “birth control” was Onan in Genesis 38:3-10/

  14. anne cherney says:

    I think almost the whole confusion about appropriate NFP use came about because it was given that name! The fertile time was only discovered about 1930. This way to avoid conception was approved by the Church only where grave problems of health or economy existed. When I grew up it was called “rhythm,” was used only in such situations, and Catholic families were large and “God-planned.” Then the pill happened in 1960. Unfortunately, the Church did not at first recognize its evil nature. Many leaders approved of it, including the majority of the commission Pope Paul VI set up to study it! That pope in 1968 bravely wrote Humanae Vitae, condemning it. But by then many Catholics were already using it. Then, to make matters worse, rhythm began to be taught as “natural family planning.” The Church had NEVER approved of couples “planning” the family”…Planned Parenthood’s goal. It seemed to be now, but with a means that simply took more work than the pill did…so people went on using the pill. What’s more, the fact that the Church seemed now to be promoting the PLANNING of the family, those of us who just went and let God plan were accused by some of being irresponsible! Some newlyweds, newly taught the method, began their married life planning the ideal time for each child…as though the method were to be the norm…when really it was just to be the exception.

  15. Fr.Groschel had a wonderful Catholic doctor, Mercedez Wilson, from on his show last night and she covered all the topics we have talked about here. Check it out for a great deal of excellent information…especially for those who are having trouble conceiving.

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