When I entered the Church early in 1978 there was little enough discussion of natural family planning or of the Church’s teaching that use of contraceptives violated the law of God. The Couple to Couple League had been founded just a few years earlier, and NFP was not a subject even written about much in the Catholic press, but when it did get noticed by orthodox journalists or writers, it received favorable attention. But perhaps it is fair to say that it was seen at the time by most Catholics who had even heard of it as something a bit on the extreme side. Use of NFP was definitely associated with being in the orthodox “wing” of the Church, perhaps even a bit hyper-orthodox, for the vast shift among Catholic couples to contraceptive use which took place in the early and mid-1960s was long over.
Now one of the, to me, most curious things that has arisen in the Catholic Church in the United States since, roughly I guess the early 1990s, has been a vocal, albeit probably not very large, anti-NFP movement. Not surprisingly the Internet has facilitated this and perhaps allowed it to appear larger and more important than it really is. This anti-NFP group consists not of the modernist, pro-contraceptive Catholics, who have never been supporters of natural family planning, but of those who claim the mantle of orthodoxy in their opposition to a method of child spacing sanctioned by popes since Pius XI. I know that my claim that NFP has papal sanction will be hotly disputed by some critics. Rather than repeat what I have written elsewhere, I invite readers to consult my 2006 article in Homiletic & Pastoral Review that provides appropriate quotations from papal teaching. In this present article I want to discuss not the morality of NFP but the phenomenon of the opposition to it.
Most of this opposition to NFP appears to come from those who call themselves traditionalists, and are generally identified by their adherence to the 1962 Roman Missal, the traditional Latin Mass. I am myself an adherent of that liturgy, and moreover it is certainly the case that many of the questions and concerns which the traditionalist movement raises about the direction of the Church and the state of theology since the Council are perfectly valid. But on NFP they are just wrong. The scientific and medical aspects of natural family planning were beginning to be understood around 1930, and the only papal reference by Pius XI was favorable though not very specific. His successor, Pius XII, however, treated the subject more than once and at some length, and if anyone will read and understand the quotations provided in my 2006 article, he will be able to see that his attitude was favorable also. So it is puzzling to me why those who claim to adhere to Catholic praxis as it was before the Council would want to dissent on that particular point….
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