Mandatory NFP classes in Texas diocese

Mandatory NFP classes in Texas diocese

Gerald reports that Bishop John Yanta of Amarillo, Texas, is now requiring all couples seeking to marry in his diocese to take natural family planning classes, as is also the case in Phoenix, Denver, and Fargo.

“Omnia parata” (All is ready) as Jesus said in the parable of the wedding feast. In all parts of the diocese we have teachers trained to give the Natural Family Planning instruction in both English and Spanish.

“I ask Almighty God to forgive me for waiting so long to implement Natural Family Planning as normative and as a requirement for a marriage to be witnessed by our priests and deacons in the Diocese of Amarillo.

“Every married couple has the right from the Church to continue on the road to sainthood begun in baptism by living as one joined to Christ: Natural Family Planning is God’s way to live responsible parenthood. Marriage and family are the pillars of the Church and society”.

As I’ve said before, I think NFP classes are a very useful tool, even if a couple knows they don’t want to engage in any purposeful spacing of children. There are good lessons on biology (ones which Melanie says she wishes they taught girls in high school) as well as on good relationships and Catholic morality. One of the biggest issues in Catholic matrimony today is the use of contraception (just ask anyone working in marriage preparation or in the annulment process).

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  • Papabile,

    I think you’re reading way too much into what Renee said. I didn’t hear a sneer or a judgement on the choices other people, you in particular, have made. Simply an explanation of why it is useful in some situations for some people. Can we stop reading other people’s comments in the worst possible construction and give them the benefit of the doubt? Please?

  • These are the typical arguments against NFP that claim that it is nothing more than another form of contraception. This is incorrect.

    NFP classes teach the couple about fertility and inform them about the many obstacles to fertility they may face, and as I said, Melanie was very grateful for it because it taught her much she didn’t know.

    Did you know that nutrition affects fertility? Do you know what specific foods can affect it and what diet you should have if you want to have children? Did you know that the amount of light in your room as you sleep can affect fertility? Do you know what affects male fertility?

    What dangerous pitfalls can develop between husband and wife as they seek to have children? What misconceptions (no pun intended) can lead to marital strife?

    All of these questions were answered in our NFP classes.

    But there is also something very good about choosing to just let God handle when the children come along.

    Which is what NFP does.

    Infante: Theology of the body is good, and I think every couple should get a copy of Christopher West’s CD series on it, along with Kimberly Hahn’s book “Lifegiving Love” (I think that’s title and I can’t look it up at the moment), but not as substitutes. Why can’t all three be incorporated into one? Certainly it would be better than wasting time on a lot of the pre-Cana dreck.

  • Brian Carl: I was mainly addressing the other Brian.

    “Father Barry”: Renee got it right. If you’re too innocent to learn where babies come from, then you shouldn’t be married. Seriously, once you’re married and having to deal with the mechanics of sex, pregnancy, childbirth, and caring for children, you’ll have wished you learned more about it upfront and didn’t wait to “learn on the job.” Innocence about procreation and fertility is for single people, not married people.

  • Dom, it could have all three.  NFP is optional, but understanding marriage and not using contraception is not.  That’s why I said ToTB should have pre-eminence to NFP.

  • Just to shed a bit of skepticism on the diocese’s otherwise admirable requirements, aren’t such conditions easily bypassed by a simple signature or two from a lazy pastor?  I’m in Denver, and I know some very orthodox newlyweds who noted the unease with which the parish secretary informed them of the NFP classes, presenting it as optional.

    (This parish is one of the flakier in the diocese, but I think reform is on the way.)

  • Dom, the vast majority of couples taking NFP classes, regardless if they are taught as being used in “grave circumstances” will see them as nothing but natural birth control.

    An unprovable assertion, and thus useless.

    This is EXACTLY the type of homemade NFP “theology” we DO NOT need being promoted in our churches.

    I can cite abuses of valid rules and teachings all day long. There are lots of wacky Traditionalists who abuse the Traditions of the Church. This doesn’t ivalidate the Traditions.

    Does the fact that indulgences were once sold invalidate the use of indulgences? No.

  • This statement, Natural Family Planning is God’s way to live responsible parenthood, troubles me, as it seems to imply that if you aren’t using NFP, then you must not be behaving responsibly.

    I think I should explicitly state that I agree with this statement, Stacey. I have a problem with anyone saying that any one way is the only way.

    I once had someone tell me that if you’re not Charismatic, you’re not an authentic Catholic. Uh, no.

    My problem with Brian’s and Papbile’s statement is that they are extrapolating specifics into generalities. Just because some people abuse something doesn’t make it bad.

    Just because the fellow told me that I have to be Charismatic, doesn’t make the Charismatic movement necessarily bad.

  • Again, someone please point me to an authoritative Church document saying NFP is Church doctrine.

    If it is NOT, then why is it being taught at Church by Catholics?

    How about financial planning?

    At the mandatory pre-Cana classes, they do cover financial planning.

    There are lots of wacky Traditionalists who abuse the Traditions of the Church.

    Unprovable assertion, and thus useless.

    Give me a break. Nice way to avoid the point. Shall I link to all the anti-Semitic Traditionalists? I’m not saying all of them are, but that you can’t judge a position by those who don’t adhere to it.

    “I am not pleased with the statement in the text that married couples may determine the number of children they are to have.”

    For one thing, that’s not a magisterial statement, but a personal opinion. I could quote all kinds of bishops saying all kinds of things. Second, I find nothing objectionable in what he’s saying since in fact NFP isn’t about determining the number of children.

    You are arguing against the abuse of natural family planning, not about NFP itself.

  • Father Barry,
    Please correct me if I’m wrong but I take it from your comments that you haven’t actually ever taken an NFP class and that therefore to some extent you are arguing from a position of ignorance. That is, you assume you know what it would contain, but not having been there done that you don’t actually know.

    I’m curious about your innocence. Were you homeschooled or how did you otherwise avoid both the sex-ed classes and the biology classes I was subjected to in both Catholic middle school and public high school that left me with a partial knowledge about human reproduction.

    I welcomed the nfp class as a relief and was mad at how incomplete my prior knowledge of how reproduction actually works was. We learned all about all sorts of other biological systems, but I had not a clue about how my own hormones worked.

    Why should this kind of knowledge be taboo? Why should I have a good understanding about how every other aspect of my body works, but be completely in the dark about this one thing? 

    I really don’t understand your point about innocence. Learning about ovulation and fertility is a different category of knowledge than the practical learning about your spouse that is private. One is learning about biology, the other is learning about a person and creating a relationship.

    If I’d known what I learned in my nfp classes before, I wouldn’t have fallen for the doctor who put me on the pill to regulate an irregular cycle. I’d have known better and solved the problem with nutrition and natural means. 

    I suspect from reading this thread that many people are talking past each other because of their very different experiences of nfp classes.

    It seems to me that one difficulty is that nfp means very different things depending on where you take the classes and who’s teaching them and how it’s done. And the same goes for marriage prep in general. There might be an argument here for some standardization, except I fear that would make matters worse not better

    Our pre-cana didn’t cover nfp at all, it wasn’t mentioned once. In fact very little was said at all about the church’s stance on contraception. Instead there were lots of talks about conflict resolution and money management and only two talks about the sacramental, theological aspects of marriage.

    And my impression of our fellow attendees was that the majority of them were either living together or at sleast sleeping together. These people really needed to be taught. They were sheep without a shepherd.

    So all the concerns expressed here about faithful couples who adhere to the church’s teaching and don’t want to take an nfp class don’t really seem to apply to the vast majority of people preparing to be married in the Church. Or maybe MA is just extreme and things are great in other parts of hte country.

    Our nfp class, offered by the family life office of the archdiocese of boston, was very clear about the church’s teaching and avoiding a contraceptive mentality. But I could understand feeling repulsed if your only experiences of nfp proponenets were the kind of extreme people that shove pamphlets at people.

  • Brian, By bringing in traditionalists Dom was making an analogy, saying your argumentation, attacking nfp by focusing on the fringe people who don’t really follow the spirit is like that of people who use the whackos to attack all traditionalists. not saying you were a traditionalist. I guess the purpose of his point was missed.

  • Brian, why are you attacking me? Why are you so hostile and unable to have a reasonable discussion? Why do yopu distort other people’s arguments, reading them in the least favorable way instead of giving them the benefit of the doubt and reading them with a dose of chrsitian charity? Some of us are trying to discuss like reasponable adults. You are being hateful.

  • i didn’t ask him for the intimate details of his life. He brought up the question of innocence and I was asking him to clarify what he meant by it. How he saw nfp as attacking that. You are a dirty-minded jerk if you think I was probing into the personal details of his life.

  • Furthermore, of course IVVF etc. is morally illicit.  I honestly have no idea how you come to the conclusion I could ever support that aboniation.

    I think Reneee was saying that the logic you were using semed to follow to that conclusion. She was not suggesting that you believed that. There’s a difference. Again, you read into other people’s comments personal attacks when none are intended.

  • Brian, if you thought I was attacking Traditionalism, then you are proving my point. I was saying that you can’t condemn based on the behavior of a few who are not representative of the whole.

    But you’re insuations about my wife are beyond the pale. As she has said, you have continually interpreted other’s statements only in the worst possible light.

    You will not do so to my wife on my blog. You will apologize before I allow you to post anything else.

  • Papabile,
    i think Dom’s point was that you are bringing those specific personal encounters into a more general discussion.

    You have no evidence that anyone here in this discussion would act in such a way or approve of such tactics. In fact we’ve outright condemned them.

    So can we talk about the merits of nfp in and of itself and not be sidetracked by the people who abuse it?

  • The way I see it, NFP is a tool. One can choose to use it or not, but the Church offers it as an option. But in order for people to be able to turn to it rather than contraception, they have to know that it exists and they have to understand it. Too many Catholics out there don’t know what it is and turn to contraception or sterilization because all they know about is the “rhythm method”.

    The bishop as the spiritual father of his flock is attempting to fight the evils of the contraceptive mentality that is so pervasive in our culture. From that perspective the NFP zealots that Brian and Papabile refer to are a minority problem. The majority problem, the much bigger issue on the bishop’s plate is the issue of Catholics who don’t understand the Church’s teaching on openness to life. Should that majority be denied access to the church’s teaching because a minority who do know about nfp misrepresent it?

  • Brian: I did not call all Traditionalists wacko. I said that there are some wacko Traditionalists and I have met them. I can even link to them. But that is off the point.

    What I haven’t seen yet is an apology. Last chance.

  • Papabile: Then I don’t know what the dispute is. We all agree that this shouldn’t be shoved down people’s throats, but if it’s going to be taught in pre-Cana then everyone is going to get it.

    My comment to Fr. Barry was not specifically about NFP, but about knowledge of biology and fertility. However you decide to deal with fertility, a willful ignorance of the facts in order to preserve some kind of innocence is misguided, in my opinion.

  • Papabile,
    Hey, I agree with you. No one should shove it down anyone else’s throat. Dom agrees with you. And I think Renee agrees too. Hey, we’re all on the same page now. As I said in my last post, I think what leads Dom and I to approve of the mandatory classes was our despair at the attitude of the majority of the couples in our pre-Cana class who seemed either not to know the Church’s teaching or didn’t seem to intend to follow it. Most of the people I know still think nfp refers to the “rhythm method”. Mandatory classes would be informational, couples could still choose not to chart.

    But from my perspective the numbers of people who simply don’t know outweigh the problem of the people who shove it down other people’s throats, which I agree is a real problem, though not one I’ve ever encountered or seem likely to encounter in this neck of the woods. I think it’s perhaps more a matter of perspective: Which seems to you the worse evil?

    The charting for reasons of health is one of the reasons I’m a big fan of nfp classes. I’ve seen so many benefits accrue that I think to construe nfp only as a way to avoid or postpone pregnancy is to misunderstand the whole picture of what nfp can do for people. For me it’s more about being informed and thus able to make decisions better. Part of that is being able to decide not to chart at all and accept what children God sends, which is a choice I fully endorse and respect.

  • What I got from what Renee said is that for some people it is not good providential judgement, for whatever reasons, to simply throw away the charts and accept what comes. It works for you but not for them.
    I didn’t see her as being morally superior at all. Just pointing out examples of people who are doing what they think is best for them in their situation. And that for them the choice was not the same as yours. I think you are seeing a personal attack where none was meant.

  • I agree with both the sentiments of the Bettinellis and Renee and the sentiments of Papabile.

    Personally, I loved the fact that my wife and I(we were married on June 10th) went through the NFP classes here in Phoenix.  I think it is a beautiful thing to know about my wife’s body and all of the inner workings of it, it is truly a masterpiece of God’s creation in so many ways.  I think that Theology of the Body and NFP together is a beautiful way of understanding our sexuality and marriage among other things.

    Having said that I am sympathetic to the sentiment of papabile having NFP being forced down his throat, I think it would be nice if those who support NFP (such as myself) understand that for some responsible parenthood does not include charting, but rather if they believe that responsible parenthood includes not trying to plan their children but rather leaving that completely to God, then they should be able to do so without feeling like they are not faithful Cattholics (and vice versa). 

    I think that it is obvious that the good Bishop is worried about the vast majority of Catholics whose souls and marriage are in peril by using artificial contraception.  I think it would be nice if the NFPers and those like papabile would stop bickering and unite behind the Bishops.  Going to NFP classes does not necessitate that one uses it.  If one feels so strongly that they should not take NFP because they deem responsible parenthood to not include NFP, then perhaps the Bishop could make some sort of arrangement where those couples can skip the classes.

    Having said that I think it far more important to evangelize the Catholics who are marrying about the teachings of the Church in regards to sexuality and thus build up marriage and family life rather than worry about the few who may be incovenienced by this, after all it is a tradition in Catholic teaching to offer things up.  Perhaps you can offer up your inconvenience of attending something you would rather not to the build up of sacramental marriage in this country.

  • Brian,

    You’ve never met the whako traditionalists, I’ve never met the NFP Nazi’s I guess I can see why we end up talking past one another.

    I think everyone needs to spend some time trying to see things from the other person’s perspective. Then we might realize we don’t really disagree about the fundamentals.


    Like I said, I’ve never met them so I’m coming from a different place. What I see is the couples to whom the Church’s teaching seems impossible. Not everyone is called to have big families and for some people it seems like that’s what an anti-contraception message is saying they must do. Contraception seems the only answer. For them NFP is the only morally licit alternative. In that respect it is a good. Because otherwise in our culture of death the alternative is being completely closed to life.

    For me nfp is a gateway for people who are having a hard time accepting the church’s teaching about being open to children.

    My suspicion is that’s where it is easy to get too caught up in the benefits of nfp and to go too far in the other direction as you describe.

    it all comes down to knowing your audience. Are you speaking to someone who accepts the Church’s teaching about openness to life? In that case NFP might be more likely to lead toward a contraceptive mentality.

    But if you are dealing with a person who is steeped in the values of the secular world, nfp is a good in that it gives them an alternative and I believe when taught properly as it was to us it leads one into the heart of the Church. 

    I think that Pre-Cana classes now are like trying to stick a finger in a dam. The Church is trying to stem the tide of divorce and using all tools possible to get couples prepared for marriage. It would be nice if we could restrict marriage in the Church to only those couples who understand and accept completely the fullness of the Church’s teaching about the sacrament of marriage. But I think right now that’s an unlikely goal.

    It’s part of a bigger picture of reform that needs to happen at all levels. The thing is adults getting married now are the product of years of bad catechesis. The Church has a small window to grab them when they come to her seeking the sacrament of marriage. But it can’t all be fixed in the small window of marriage preparation. So we do what we can, introducing talks on financial planning and nfp and conflict resolution because we’re dealing with the world as it is not as we’d like it to be.

    But we also focus on formation of children so this problem doesn’t perpetuate itself in coming generations.

    I agree it would be nice is marriage prep could focus only on the sacramental stuff, but I just don’t think that’s realistic given the state of many couples seeking marriage in the Church.

  • Father Barry,

    yep you’re right on about my identity. I often forget not everyone knows to make the connection.

    Thank you very much for your thoughtful response. I’m glad to see we’re on the same page (or at least as on it as two people from such different perspectives can be.)

    You know I’ve been reading up on home schooling and all; but it’s still pretty intellectual knowledge, not experiential. So yeah I can see how you’ve been privileged to avoid much of the innocence-stealing influences of pop-culture and institutional education I take for granted.

    I’m glad you can see how you’re pretty much the exception the bishops’ mandatory policy hasn’t taken into account, though. I hadn’t taken it into account either, until this discussion. Like you said, much food for thought.

    I’m a bookish, brainy type, thinker not feeler, with an almost insatiable appetite for information. I guess I’ve always thought of biological facts as morally-neutral data. I like to know how things work and I’m just as curious about the mechanics of the reproductive system as those of the circulatory system. So your point of view that it is sensitive and perhaps not desirable is new to me. For me nothing was contained in our NFP class that hadn’t been covered in hs biology except the finer details of exactly how and why some of the hormones work. (And of course the moral/theological content.)

    I’m still struggling to see it from that perspective; but I’ll take your word for it that such is the case. Just as I have come to understand that some people are squeamish about the details of sausage-making and animal slaughtering and discussing medical details at the dinner table. I can respect it, but not really understand it. 

    Additionally, I strongly suspect that a good pastor would have give you a pass to skip the NFP classes, even if they were officially “mandatory”. Good pastors know when to make exceptions to the rules. As ours didn’t make Dom and I jump through some of the usual hoops (compatability questionnaires etc.) because he knew us well, knew our circumstances, saw us at daily mass together, etc.

    Again, thanks for sharing your perspective.

  • I just stumbled across this statistic:

    “Birth control/contraception is supported by 93 percent of all adults,  including 90 percent of Catholics and 88 percent of born-again Christians, the “very religious” and Evangelicals.”

    from an article at the Ignatius Insight blog

    I have to say the number of Catholics that according to this poll are pro-contraception is much higher than I’d have thought. Given those kinds of numbers I challenge those who question this proposal by the bishops to propose an alternative.

    I would argue that given this acceptance of contraception as a starting point for the majority of Catholics, a program that only addresses the theology and the spirituality will not get through to most people. They need at least to begin with seeing that the Church does not demand that Catholics have as many children as possible despite their circumstances, that spacing children through NFP is morally licit and that NFP is not the “rhythm method” and is therefore reliable.

    Yes, I will concede that NFP can be used with a contraceptive mentality. But I think this grave situation needs to be addressed by our bishops. It cannot remain as it is. Something must be done and I think an NFP program is probably a good place to begin. But with the caveat that a well-designed NFP program must have a component that deals with the moral issues and that stresses the Church’s teaching on openness to life, the necessity of discerning “grave” reasons for postponing pregnancy with prayer, spiritual direction, and much discussion between spouses. Otherwise, it is useless for combatting the contraceptive mentality.

    Time and time again I’ve heard testimony of couples who begin NFP with a contraceptive mentality but find that the discipline of NFP effects a change over time and theat they grow more and more open to life. That is where I see the most hope. If you can convince couples first to forego artificial contraception then I think you will start them on a path that will more likely lead to full acceptance of the Church’s teaching. Perhaps it will not happen overnight.

    And perhaps some couples who go through an NFP class will continue to hold on to that contraceptive mentality. But those with such hard hearts would likely not have been moved by any marriage prep program the Church could offer.

    Also, I suspect—though maybe this is naive of me,  and therefore I ask for those who know otherwise to provide evidence to that effect—that bishops who are bold enough to mandate NFP classes will also be cautious enough to require that the classes are taught with a strong emphasis on the moral and spiritual components.