Do Catholics Couples HAVE to use NFP?

Happy New Parents

Happy New Parents

I know that a Dad to ten children without a theology degree is probably NOT the right person to be writing this article.  Last week I got booked on The Son Rise Morning Show with Brian Patrick to talk about a topic near and dear to my heart, “Do Catholic Couples Have to Use Natural Family Planning?”

The simple answer is no.  Catholic married couples do not have an obligation to learn, let alone use, Natural Family Planning (NFP).  In fact, I could argue quite the opposite.  It is there for Catholic married couples who need to use it.  And IMHO there are very few American Catholics who are obliged to use it for grave or serious reasons.

The fact is that the science of fertility was unknown to most of the world until the last century or so.  We are fortunate to be living now in the 21st century with access to the wonderful world of science.  Married Catholic couples with a legitimate reason to either avoid pregnancy altogether or must space their offspring for grave or moral reason certainly should learn and use some form of Natural Family Planning.  For the rest of us, the vast majority of married Catholic couples, I say, “GO FOR IT.”

What is responsible parenthood?

Humanae Vitae is quite clear on this point when Pope Paul VI wrote, “responsible  parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have children.”

Clearly this does not mean when “we” decide that “we” can only afford, or need, or want, just two or three children, that we are being generously open to having more children.

Sadly statistics show that Catholic married couples practice some form of artificial birth control, which is most always intrinsically evil.  Last year a Gallup poll showed that 82 percent of U.S. Catholics — and 89% of all Americans — say birth control is morally acceptable.    NFP when used to prevent life for no legitimate reason contributes to a societal contraception mentality.  NFP is not, as many Catholics believe, a “Church-approved” method of birth control.  It should only be used if Catholic married couples are having difficulty having children or have a grave reason to space or prevent children from entering the world.  There is no requirement for married Catholic couples to learn it or use it.

Be fruitful and multiply!

Most people these days are shocked to learn that we actually have 10 children (8 boys, two girls ages 11-30, two adopted).  We were not always open to that idea.  In fact, our story has been recounted in a couple of books.  After three children, my wife went on The Pill, which was prescribed to her by our Catholic parish priest, who was also a family physician.  I prayed for the birth control to fail, for I wanted lots of kids.  Patti got pregnant with our 4th boy, Jacob who was born on my birthday, on Mother’s Day (just like me) and on the feast of the Fatima apparitions on May 13th.  Think we got the message?  Nope.  Patti determined that four was enough, and talked me into a vasectomy.  A year later we both realized our grave error, I got a reversal and Patti got pregnant five more times over the next 12 years!  Now with ten kids, even in Catholic circles, we are an oddity because of the size of our brood.

That wasn’t the case a generation or two ago when big families were the norm instead of the exception.  Today, even though our standard of living is higher, Americans have increased the number of vehicles they drive and reduced the number of children they are having.  Couples worry about the material things of this world, forgetting that creating a child is the only treasure they can produce for the next world.  As often as I can I tell young couples, “Children are the only things we can bring to heaven, the rest of the stuff stays here.”

So instead of worrying about how a new child will impact you financially or even worse, worry what others may think of you for having lots of children, you should rejoice that you actually can have as many children as God has planned for you!  Instead of Natural Family “Planning” why not just GO FOR IT and let God plan your family for you.

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  1. Pope Paul VI wrote, “responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have children.”


    I know of several larger or growing larger Catholic families who are on government assistance due to their large family size. Yet, they continue to have more and more and more children. They are in no way being “prudent” by choosing to have more children when they cannot afford to independently care for the ones they currently have without relying on the government.

    I love that the Duggar and Bates families each have near 20 children, yet they make it a point to NOT accept government assistance, though at times (maybe even now) both families would have qualified for it.

    Additionally, it is NO ONE’s business but a married couple and God’s why the married couple needs to use NFP. What might be serious for one couple isn’t for another and vice versa. NO ONE (other than God) has a right to judge whether another couple’s reasons for NFP use are “serious enough” or not. Instead we should pray that the seriousness be lessened.

    1. Sarah,

      Thanks for your comments. I would say you have to understand it is not just prudence involved here. The quote says “prudently and generously”, you cannot have one without the other.

      As an elected government official in my own state, I know that we dole out government assistance for a variety of reasons. A large family is entitled to more tax deductions for example, any family who chooses government daycare is entitled to government nutrition programs, our public schools are government-funded, etc. In fact, there is not a person or family I know that does NOT receive some kind of government assistance. Which have of us have eschewed all government assistance? No one that I know of.

      So the Duggars and Bates families do receive some kinds of government assistance, they just choose not receive certain benefits that they may qualify for.

      I agree that it is no one’s business why a couple needs to use NFP, nor should we judge larger families who seek the government assistance they qualify for.

      Sadly government assistance is also available to kill children as well with subsided government money available for abortions.

      If we are only prudent in our choices, we will have a hard time being generous as well. Being open to life requires both actions, not just one.

      1. I do not believe it would be possible for anyone to forgo government assistance. The assistance I am talking about is of the wic and foodstamp variety – optional forms of assistance that families must seek out to obtain.

        The main reason I brought the prudence aspect up is that the person who shared this article on facebook BRAGS when she gets pregnant again because it keeps her family qualified for wic, even when her husband gets a raise. She chose to quit her $40k a year job. They spent $15K on unnecessary home improvements last year, and now they want to buy a camper. They are supposed to be a “good Catholic family”, yet they are abusing the system (and bragging about it!).

        I do believe that NFP classes should be required for marriage prep everywhere. No one is forcing couples to use it after marriage.

        By requiring NFP classes, some couples’ hearts might be opened to seeing that they don’t need artificial birth control. Using NFP does force couples to decide monthly whether or not to open their hearts to pregnancy. Perhaps over time, the couples will no longer be opposed to pregnancy as they were before then they thought ABC was okay. I personally know of several couples to who this has happened.

        Also, should a couple ever have “grave reasons” and need to use NFP to postpone pregnancy, the couple will already have the knowledge to do so.

        My main beef with this article:
        1) You cut off the second half of the sentence you quoted from Humanae Vitae. This is the full sentence: “With regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time.” That second part is important!

        2) “IMHO there are very few American Catholics who are obliged to use it for grave or serious reasons.” This is NOT your call to make. Ever. If I hear that a couple is using NFP and not one of the 82% of Catholics who think ABC is morally okay, I’m going to assume, in charity, that the couple is NOT using NFP as birth control. I would much rather hear that a couple is using NFP to avoid pregnancy than ABC. Nothing else matters to me. NFP=moral. ABC=immoral. I (nor anyone else) need to know WHY. Again, because it is NOT ANYONE’S PLACE TO JUDGE.

        (p.s. Please do not believe that you’ve struck a personal issue with me with regard to NFP usage. Not that it’s anyone’s business, but my husband and I have used NFP to avoid pregnancy for exactly 1 month of our 10 year marriage.)

        1. Whoa Sarah, thank you again for your response. If your neighbor shared this article with you, then it should be interesting to hear your conversations when you are together!

          Blessed are the homemakers. I admire women who, like my bride, decided that children were more important to raise, than our income. Again, if families qualify for certain government benefits, designed to ensure proper nutrition for their children, then your beef seems to be with the government and not the Church I would hope. The Church has numerous programs around the world that help to do the same thing.

          I am not judging anyone here. All I am saying is to be both “prudent and generous” in making your decisions about whether to bring another soul into the world. A child is THE most beautiful gift God can give to a couple. We should leave that door to life open whenever possible.

        2. *clapping wildly*

          I too found this article very judgmental.

          My husband and I agreed long before we wed that I would stay home to raise our children. We also agreed that unless we fell on extremely hard times beyond our control we would not accept state aid because it was our choice to be a single income family and have many children. Living with many children on a single income in this materialistic world is difficult. I know from first hand experience! I am sure we qualified at times. We might still now. Our house could be bigger, we could go on fancy vacations, our kids could not be dressed in hand-me-downs, we’d be able to replace our clunker van with a more reliable one. This was all our choice. We would not be responsible parents if we showed our kids what it was acceptable to mooch from the state when it is not necessary and due to our own choices.

    2. Ms Sarah, I am sure you have read the fifth paragraph of the Responsible Parenthood section of [i]Humanae Vitae[i].

      [i]In a word, the exercise of responsible parenthood requires that husband and wife, keeping a right order of priorities, recognize their own duties toward God, themselves, their families and [b]human society[b].[i] BBM

      I wholeheartedly agree that being responsible to Human Society is not abusing government aid.

      Have you read Rick Santorum’s book, [i]It Takes a Family[i]? In it he has a very detailed plan on how to greatly reduce government aid. If I remember correctly, his plan offers to provide able-bodied individuals with whatever assistance needed – such as housing, food, childcare, medical care, etc – as long as they are either gainfully employed (e.g. not at McDonald’s!) and/or they are attending some form of schooling that will lead to employment. Obviously, the goal is to enable people to become self-sufficient. If an individual quits his job or schooling, and if he does not re-enter the workforce or re-enroll in school within six months, all of his benefits will be cut off. (I believe unemployment benefits work in a similar way, though please do not quote me on that!)

      I am enthralled by this plan, especially coming from such a devout Catholic as Mr. Santorum.

      Following Mr. Santorum’s plan, in the case of your facebook acquaintance, she would have to re-enter the workforce, further her education, or simply quit suckling off of the proverbial government teat.

      As an aside, if a person is truly bragging about having children in order to quality for government aid, then I say judge away. That is truly horrible.

  2. This article is very “judgey”.
    {And IMHO there are very few American Catholics who are obliged to use it for grave or serious reasons.}
    Thank God that is THE AUTHOR’s opinion and not that of the CHURCH. Thankfully, the Church allows couples to prayerfully decide if their reasons are serious enough.
    Instead of harping on couples who are using NFP (where the author’s opinion on whether their use of NFP is due to serious enough reasons doesn’t matter); would it not be better to harp on the 82% of Catholics who believe artificial birth control usage is morally acceptable???

  3. After reading my husband’s article and comments, I see there is some judging and defensiveness going on. FIrst of all, the article did not point fingers at individuals and judge them, but rather challenges people to consider what it really means to be open to life. If life is eternal and a gift greater than any worldly goods, then couples should really push themselves to the physical limits of what they can accept, rather than choosing worldly pleasures over the gift of a new soul. Be careful about putting limits on God’s gifts.

    Mark and I never point fingers at people and say, “Look at them, why don’t they have more children.” Although, there are some who make public statements of getting fixed or that they would not want any more children. That aside, Sarah makes statements of her friend who has more children then brags about getting government assistance even though her husband is getting raises. That is certainly in poor taste and asking for judgement to be heaped on you. However, they could not be well off financially to be receiving this help. For WIC, a family of four must make less than $43,000 a year. Compared to 3rd world nations, it’s not bad. But in the US, that’s not a lot.

    Please consider, however, that WIC provides a very small amount of food for unborn babies and children. I think it is far more ridiculous that the government gives food to licensed day care providers. Two-income families can receive free food for their children for no other reason that they go to work. Two-income families are often better off financially than families with stay-at-home moms, but unlike many other developed countries, the government offers no assistance to help mothers stay home with their babies.

    I was on WIC for a few months in MT after Mark lost his job in an area with high unemployment. It amounted to a very small amount of groceries. It seems to me it was maybe 5 or 6 items in a month. As for food stamps, which I have never been on, the income requirements are much stricter. A family of 4 cannot receive more than $1,921 a month gross. I cannot imagine it being very easy to live on less than $24,000 a year for a family of four. That leads me to question Sara saying her neighbor is bragging about getting food stamps while the husband is getting raises.

    I don’t think it should be anyone’s goal to receive government subsidies, although we receive all kinds of grants, tax exceptions, insurance and the like from the government all the time. Plus, the government spends billions in aid for other countries. IN view of that, how bad is it if there are subsidies for babies and young children? What kind of a country are we if we consider babies and value of no value to support while pouring money into guns and foreign aid? Countries in parts of Europe and Asia, aren’t having enough babies to keep the population steady.
    Some governments have responded by paying people to have kids. Russia, Australia, Germany, Norway, Sweden, and many more.
    So governments around the world have started paying for babies.

    In Australia, you can get a baby bonus — payments of about $6,000 over the baby’s first year. In Germany, it’s paid childcare leave — up to $35,000 over the course of a year.

    The point is that I would never criticize a family welcoming a new baby even if that meant they were relying on a government subsidy. By any measurements, a 2-parent, loving home statistically offers the best opportunity for children to do well. But a soul is a soul and regardless of the circumstances they are born in, they are of eternal value.

    It is true that some people are having more children and not taking proper care of the ones they have. But this is just an article with one point–NFP should not be used with a contraception mentality. I do think couples planning for marriage should have to learn it though, regardless of how open to life they plan to be. One never knows what the future holds. There’s no better time to learn about NFP than before having children. A situation could change suddenly and parents of young children are not always in a position to take classes then. Plus, a good NFP teacher will explain Church teaching and that NFP is not just holistic contraception.

  4. As soon as I saw this I thought to myself [i]Dear God, not another Grave vs Just argument.[i]

    Mark Armstrong is not helping his cause by omitting the majority of the Responsible Parenthood section of [i]Humanae Vitae[i]. It is six paragraphs long, not just the half of a sentence Mr. Armstrong sites.

    I have to question whether Mr. Armstrong has discussed with other Catholic couples their reasons for spacing or avoiding children.

    If Mr. Armstrong wants to chastise a group of Catholics, it should be the contracepting ones, not those who are doing their best to follow the teachings of the Church.

  5. FIrst Patti, thanks for your words of support, always nice to be on the same team on this issue. Dan Jones, thanks for your two responses. Let me first says my 600-word article is not meant to be an exhaustive review of what the Church has said throughout the centuries about married couple responsibilities. I would encourage all Catholics to read original Church documents and there are quite a few documents.

    Certainly Dan Jones I am not chastising anyone. I am giving a reasoned view based on discussions I have with other Catholics, parish priests and after given a lot of thought and prayer to this topic over the last 30 years.

    I am not condemning the use of NFP for those who need to use it. My argument is simply this: the vast majority of Catholic married couples in America should be open to life. And, if they cannot conceive a new baby, then NFP and other Church-approved methods might help them get pregnant. Obviously no Catholic should ever use artificial birth control nor should they use NFP to close off the gift that God wants to give to them. Souls are at stake here.

    Pius XI, in Casti Connubii (of chaste wedlock), wrote in the early 20th century…

    “Any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately deprived of 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.”

    Clearly for couples who have those serious personal circumstances that truly constitutes a reason to use NFP, they should by all means use it. Among the 82% of Catholics using intrinsically evil, artificial methods to prevent pregnancies, are way off the mark. For the rest of Catholics we should be open to new life, UNLESS, there is a just cause for closing that door.

  6. Sarah made a very good point above that is not really getting into the discussion. The fact that many couples are not learning NFP makes it very difficult for them to use it when a serious or grave reason arises. Most of us do not plan on having serious economic problems or grave medical concerns but they do come along, we need to be prepared when they do. I have 3 very good friends who all had complications due to multiple c-sections. They were all three advised not to have more children. None of them were NFP users, although they were all three Catholic. All three were advised to have tubal ligations and they did, since they felt they had no other choice; they were not at all confident in learning NFP at that time and in such a difficult situation. One is now divorced after 22 years of marriage. One is in a floundering marriage, with no intimacy in 5 years. And the other I pray for constantly. Had these couples learned NFP early on things may have worked out differently. God gave us the gift of our fertility and the gift of a woman’s cycle and the gift of an intellect to figure it out. Having the knowledge helps us in our discernment process and also helps us to build self mastery and better communication and respect between spouses. NFP helped lead my husband and myself into a better relationship with one another, with the Church, and with God.

  7. I know this is old, but it’s new to me! I read the article and loved it! I do not use NFP or ABC. We have 6 wonderful children. I don’t think this article is judge mental at all, just sharing information that many Catholics will never hear from anyone else. There are very few reasons to use NFP, I know some will say “You don’t know my reasons, they’re serious to me!” I have a friend who’s “serious” reason is that she won’t be able to afford college for a fourth child. I’m sorry, but that’s not a serous reason. Catholics need to be educated on this. If we can’t educate the Catholics who use NFP about when and when not to use NFP we have no hope of convincing ABC users to give up artificial methods. We look like hypocrites. Why would one stop using ABC to just pick up another form of BC that’s harder to use? The issue is not whether you are artificially of naturally stopping pregnancy the issue is stopping pregnancy. IMHO even being homeless is not a reason to use BC. Your child born in the most humble of beginnings could change the world one day. God HIMSELF was born in a stable and STILL we do not learn. Thank you God for giving us the gift of Jesus and opening my eyes. I will pray for all Catholics to have their eyes opened to the beauty of life, love, and poverty. Thank you Mark and Patti for spreading an unpopular truth. 😉

  8. God HIMSELF was an only child and STILL we do not learn. We are not required to have as many children as physically possible. Yes, some are called to have big families. However, we are not called only to be fruitful and multiply, but also, and perhaps foremost, to raise up disciples of Christ. I believe that some Catholics take this responsibility much more seriously than others. Better to limit your family size and get them all to heaven, than to have a large family and lose half of the souls because you were not able to bring them up properly. I would love to have baby after baby, because it fulfills my selfish desires. But I know that we have to be prudent when planning our family, as God calls parents to a very high standard when he entrust precious souls to a family.

    1. Dee, there are some very good thoughts in your post. Jesus was an only child for a reason and it was God’s plan for it to be that way. This is why we must not judge others by their family size. Of course we must do our best to raise our children for heaven. I think that it is a mistake, however, to consider family size–either yours or someone else’s–in terms of how many souls you can get to heaven. We are to trust God and not think that it’s we who are in control. To determine number of children you can handle and get to heaven puts it on your shoulders and it is not. You are to be faithful and do your best. In the end, God is in control, not us. God equips those he calls it’s not about calling the equipped. I have a large family and know many others that do to. There are times we feel overwhelmed and other times we fill the fullness of our blessings. In the end, each and every new baby, each new soul, is of infinite value and a total blessing. To say “Better to limit your family size and get them all to heaven…” speaks of you controlling things. You can do your best and because of free will the kids turn away from faith. And I know quite a few people who came from atheist families (Jennifer Fulwiler is a good example, you may know) and some whose families did not practice anything and are priests. I also know the opposite situations–good Catholics with kids that turned away. But of course, the latter pray and trust in God, hoping that their children will return to the faith that was handed down. Your post is too much about you and not enough about God, faith, trust and the eternal value of a soul.

  9. I know this is a few years late but just for those like myself who have come across this now. My husband and I have 12 children and I can assure you there much judging aimed at us from being “irresponsible” mostly from our fellow Catholics. This article brought a smile to my face and I was surprised at the anger it caused. All I read was a joyful account if God’s great plan and providence. be not afraid. Sheesh….the encyclical was not entire but it wasn’t taken out of context. Calm down, relax and hear the encouragement of a couple who just may know a bit more than you in this arena. God knows what He is doing. Whenever we reduce the decisions if others to have more children to irresponsibility, we remove the fact that God called a soul forth into this life for a grand purpose. Food stamps or not (no we aren’t on them:)), please remember that there is a Divine plan whether you approve or not.

    1. Thanks Elena for your testimony! God’s the only one who should be in charge of planning and prayer is the only way to listen!

  10. I am the first born of 12 (once upon a time ago). There was no way that my parents could afford 12 kids but they trusted God to provide. And it was so.

    This trust in God’s provision and will is probably the greatest gift my parents gave me. Such trust in the Divine is rarely found today. Rather, the modern newlyweds tend to blindly trust in science, society, and themselves; God is missing from the equation.

    NFP as part of marriage prep is tacit approval by the Church of the concept of birth control. It is an unspoken instruction that the perspective that children are an unnecessary burden is correct and true. Sad.

    1. Thanks Fred. You are spot on in your conclusion. In fact in our Diocese there is a fundraiser to continue to raise money and hire workers to teach couples Family Planning before they are allowed to get married. More than tacit IMHO.

  11. Thanks for this post. I have 13 children children and my husband moved out when there were still ten at home. Apart from a small amount of child support, I rely on welfare to raise the 7 left with me now. Many times, I’ve wondered if it was irresponsible to have had so many children. But I can’t allow myself to rest at that conclusion, because each child was willed by God. To say that He sent ‘too many’ children is saying He made a mistake. Even though our lives are quite hard in many ways, He is in charge and He blesses us. I have many regrets, but my children are not among those. I also wholeheartedly agree that NFP should be taught before marriage! If nothing else, it gives spouses a platform for communicating about their fertility and also for studying Church teaching on sexuality and the family. God bless you.

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