NFP: Imprecise Terminology?

Allow me one quick observation before saying anything substantive about NFP (Natural Family Planning; Catholic jargon du jure). Does that term (FAMILY PLANNING) not sound a bit communist to you? I always reckon It sounds too close to “planned economy” or “central economic planning,” both hallmarks of Communism. In fact, whenever I hear “planning” at all, I get this nervous intuition that Chairman Mao is waiting in the bushes about to bum rush me.

In all seriousness though, we have some trouble with imprecision of terminology with the topic of NFP. First, Humanae Vitae as well as the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) do not use the term anywhere. I appreciate their more precise phrasing of “spacing births” (see Chapter 16 of Humanae Vitae for more on this). Pope Pius XI’s encyclical on Christian marriage, Casti Connubii, makes no mention of the term either.

Second, let’s remember that ever since the advent of artificial contraception, the entire world, including Catholics, has developed a contraceptive mentality, and although I believe that spacing births is within Church teaching, we abuse it ferociously.

So, having established a couple of sticking points with our approach to the beloved/maligned NFP, what other problem is there?

Well, we lose precision when it comes to the threshold for employing NFP. Humanae Vitae, a commendable encyclical and gift from Holy Mother Church, says that we must have “well grounded reasons for spacing births.” I think this is where people get confused. What in the world constitutes a “well grounded reason” when it comes to this practice?

I can think of 100 different ways to operationally define that, many of which thrust open the door for laxity and lazy excuses (“Oh no, my car needs new tires, I better hold off on the marital act in light of these well-grounded circumstances.”).

I don’t believe this has been clarified much and that appears to be grounds for further teaching on the subject. We shouldn’t be surprised that lax clergy and laity have latched on to the loosest possible interpretation of magisterial teaching on it.

Does this mean that I, Chris Munier, have an answer to what constitutes a well-grounded reason? No. Do I expect the Church to erect rigid two-dimensional barriers that indicate the exact moment we might enter the well-grounded territory? No. As a humble lay person, I request that the Church further clarify the terms and conditions of this concept.

In the meantime, I also wouldn’t mind if we ditched the term “Natural Family Planning.” I believe it’s reached the level of caricature and idolatry in modern Catholicism.

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