NFP and Serious Reasons…What are these reasons?

Do you need a reason to morally practice NFP or Naturally Family Planning? My post about the sinfulness of contraception and sterilization (Read: 6 Reasons Why Contraception is Sinful) stirred up some comments about natural family planning (NFP). Some have claimed that NFP is abused just as much as artificial contraception. So today we’ll look at NFP and the Catholic Church’s serious reasons or just causes for NFP.

In this post we’ll look at the teaching of Pope Pius XII and Pope Paul VI on the reasons for NFP. I’ll also share some personal thoughts about it all.

Natural Family Planning (NFP) is a popular contemporary term for “periodic continence.” NFP works by observing the cycles of a wife’s fertility (charting oral temperatures, measuring cycle length, and journaling interior fertility signs), and then avoiding the nuptial embrace during her times of fertility so as to avoid pregnancy. In NFP, the husband and wife abstain from the nuptial embrace altogether during the time of the wife’s monthly fertility (usually 7-12 days).

1943 FILE PHOTO OF POPE PIUS XII

Pope Pius XII Who Gave Us the”Serious Reasons”

The Church allows married couples to practice periodic continence only for what the church calls “serious” or “just” reasons. These reasons were listed by Pope Pius XII in his “Address to the Italian Catholic Union of Midwives” from 1951. Granted, a popes address to “Italian midwives” is low on the the pole when it comes to magisterial statements. It’s not a universal statement. Nevertheless, it’s helpful to begin our investigation here.

Pope Pius XII NFP Serious List (1951)

Pope Pius XII’s list from his “Address to the Italian Catholic Union of Midwives” in 1951:

Serious motives, such as those which not rarely arise from medical, eugenic, economic and social so-called “indications,” may exempt husband and wife from the obligatory, positive debt for a long period or even for the entire period of matrimonial life.”

Pope Pius XII gives us these four reasons:

  1. Medical reasons
  2. Eugenic reasons
  3. Economic reasons
  4. Social “indicator” reasons

Pope Paul VI NFP Serious List (1968)

paul_vi_-_official_portraitSeventeen years later, the serious reasons (seriis causis) were repeated by Pope Paul VI in his groundbreaking encyclical Humanae Vitae.

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 (seriis causis moralibusque praeceptis observatis), decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time.” (Humanae Vitae, 10).

Here Pope Paul VI mentions “serious reasons” (seriis causis) with four kinds of conditions:

  1. Physical conditions
  2. Economic conditions
  3. Psychological conditions
  4. Social conditions

It seems that Pope Paul VI has in mind the four reasons listed by Pope Pius XII with the additional help of “psychological” and the omission of “eugenic.” However, we can discern that medical, eugenic, and psychological belong to the one “medical” genus of reason/condition/cause.

I think we can simplify the lists of both pontiffs without doing injustice to either.

NFP Serious Reasons List: Simplified and Harmonized

  1. Physical conditions (including “Medical,” “Psychological,” and “Eugenic”)
  2. Economic conditions
  3. Social conditions

Note that NFP or “periodic continence” in itself is morally neutral since observing a woman’s cycle and remaining continent are morally neutral. Therefore, NFP is not intrinsically evil. Artificial contraception (condoms, the pill, interuptus) are intrinsically evil because they directly intervene in the natural process. Artificial contraception obstructs the natural act either through devices, chemicals, or direction intervention. So then, NFP can be used when there is a proper “serious” circumstance, and the Holy Father provides four such circumstances. Let’s go through these four grave reasons.

1. Physical (Medical, Psychological, and Eugenic) Medical reasons for NFP would prudently weigh whether the mother’s life is in jeopardy or whether a circumstance would endanger the newly conceived child’s life (eg, the mother is going through chemotherapy or other treatment that would damage or kill a newly conceived baby). In regard to serious medical reasons, Pope Paul VI, in Humanae Vitae n. 16, also spoke of “reasonable grounds for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife.”

The Catholic Church recognizes that psychological problems are serious. This might include not only the mother’s mental health, but also the father’s mental health. If either parent is depressed, schizophrenic, suicidal, etc. parents should prayerfully delay pregnancy “with due respect to moral precepts.” For more on “Catholic parent mental break down,” please check out my post on GBS: George Bailey Syndrome.

With regard to what Pius XII calls “eugenics,” if the couple would pass on dangerous birth defects or perhaps has a history of serial miscarriages, then parents might prayerfully delay pregnancy “with due respect to moral precepts.” Jennifer Fulwiler has an excellent post on NFP and her own personal experience with NFP, medical problems, her babies, and “hope vs. risk.”

2. Economic (Poverty and Debt) Economic reasons touch on whether the married couple is too poor to provide for a new child. Obviously, an economic “serious reason” does not to the inability to pay for fishing boats, fancy prep schools, a new hunting rifle, or Lilly Pulitzer diaper bags. We’re talking about falling below the poverty line within one’s culture. There is no point in comparing poverty in one nation to poverty in another. It depends on where you live. A family earning $20,000 in the United States would be “rich” in Indonesia – but they don’t live in Indonesia. They live in America! American parents must buy minivans, pay the mortgage, buy clothes, and provide religious education in America at American prices. So we shouldn’t say, “Even poor Americans are richer than central Africans, therefore, poor Americans can’t have recourse to NFP.

If a married couple are subsisting on government assistance, then they should delay pregnancy “with due respect to moral precepts.” There is one element missing from today’s discussion on Catholic marriage and family and that is debt.

Financial debt is a grave evil. The Bible often speaks of the danger of personal debt:

“The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.” (Proverbs 22:7)

Young people often entangle themselves in debt, and I personally believe that debt is the #1 reason for young people today avoid marriage. If 25-year old Tom has $18,000 in credit card debt and $45,000 in college debt, and 22-year old Sally has $5,000 in credit card debt and $52,000 in college debt, then they would begin their married life with $120,000 of debt! That doesn’t even include a mortgage. It’s a difficult subject, but my personal belief is that priest should not marry people with large debt amounts.

We don’t allow people to enter the priesthood or religious orders with stacks of debt, why then should we allow people to enter into a the sacrament of marriage burdened with debt. It’s hard to fulfill the vocation of having a large Catholic family if you begin with piles of debt. Nevertheless, some financially prudent couples find themselves drowning in debt for no fault of their own – often with insurmountable medical expenses for themselves or for their children. This is an economic evil and such families might consider the delaying pregnancy through NFP.

3. Social (Upheaval and Persecution) The Holy Father refers here to social disorder. Social disorder doesn’t include, “the Democrats won the Presidency again.” Social disorder refers to serious problems in which raising children would be almost impossible: Concentration camps. Religious persecution. Forced relocation. Famines. Living under China’s one child policy.

The growth of a family presumes a natural habitat for the family to flourish. When this habitat is removed or destroyed, it is not prudent to introduce children into the world. If a Chinese mother must worry about forced abortions for her next pregnancy, clearly this is a serious cause! No one would fault her for using NFP.

My Thoughts on the “Big Catholic Family”

Marshalls2013 (40)

Disclaimer: We have eight children. Do I ever get nervous about having more? Yes, I do. Does the thought of ten children sometimes scare me? Yes, it does. However, I try to make a trustful surrender of my will to God’s will. When we had five children, all we had to be reminded of is the fact that:

  • St Thomas Aquinas was number six in his family.
  • St Therese de Lisieux (Doctor of the Church) was the ninth of nine children.
  • St Gabriel Possenti (patron of handgun owners!) was number 11.
  • St Catherine of Sienna (Doctor of the Church) was number 23!
  • Saint Pius X was number 2 of 9 children.

We should be grateful to these saints, but also to their parents who were sacrificial in their generosity.

So, yes, it can be worrisome and scary. Yet God will always equip you with new graces. Earthly life is short. Eternal life is everlasting. Can you imagine having the everlasting glory in heaven for having been the parent of St Therese of Lisieux? What joy her parents must now experience.

St Basil the Elder and his wife St Emelia had nine children – five of which are canonized saints! So you never know. Trustful surrender. It won’t be easy, but it will be full of joy – both in this life and in the world to come!

Please also explore Taylor’s books about Catholicism at amazon.com.

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  • Joe

    With all respect (and speaking as someone who has and was raised in quite a large family), I think it is improper to try to specify as rules what the Church, in her wisdom, has designated as something to be decided by the couple themselves. Of course they cannot rightly decide to use NFP to avoid pregnancy for just any reason, but it doesn’t follow that there is some exhaustive list of specific ‘approved’ reasons. Here is what Gaudium et Spes has to say on the matter:

    “Parents should regard as their proper mission the task of transmitting human life and educating those to whom it has been transmitted. They should realize that they are thereby cooperators with the love of God the Creator, and are, so to speak, the interpreters of that love. Thus they will fulfil their task with human and Christian responsibility, and, with docile reverence toward God, will make decisions by common counsel and effort. Let them thoughtfully take into account both their own welfare and that of their children, those already born and those which the future may bring. For this accounting they need to reckon with both the material and the spiritual conditions of the times as well as of their state in life. Finally, they should consult the interests of the family group, of temporal society, and of the Church herself. The parents themselves and no one else should ultimately make this judgment in the sight of God. But in their manner of acting, spouses should be aware that they cannot proceed arbitrarily, but must always be governed according to a conscience dutifully conformed to the divine law itself, and should be submissive toward the Church’s teaching office, which authentically interprets that law in the light of the Gospel. That divine law reveals and protects the integral meaning of conjugal love, and impels it toward a truly human fulfillment. Thus, trusting in divine Providence and refining the spirit of sacrifice,(12) married Christians glorify the Creator and strive toward fulfillment in Christ when with a generous human and Christian sense of responsibility they acquit themselves of the duty to procreate. Among the couples who fulfil their God-given task in this way, those merit special mention who with a gallant heart and with wise and common deliberation, undertake to bring up suitably even a relatively large family.(13)” Gaudium et Spes, section 50

    The Magisterium has consistently spelled out what kind of reasons can be appropriate, but it has consistently refrained from specifying, by way of an exhaustive list of rules, the specific situations which alone can justify the decision. And in Gaudium et Spes the Church says clearly that nobody can do that for other people, i.e., you cannot try to make the decision for others by making an exhaustive list. This isn’t really surprising: we cannot arrogate the authority of the Magisterium to tell others exactly how much money they can earn before they have to give the rest to the poor, for example. We cannot arrogate the authority of the Magisterium to tell others exactly how many minutes one has to spend in prayer per day, etc. etc. At a certain point it is no longer possible or appropriate to specify rules and lists: it becomes a matter of prudence, prayer, discernment, and moral formation by way of good examples. (Note that that doesn’t make it ‘subjective’; of course it is possible to make a wrong or selfish judgment. Just as it is possible to make a selfish judgment as to how much to give to the poor. Again, it doesn’t follow that there is some once-and-for-all list that will rule out such mistakes.)

    I do not think I am saying anything contrary to the Address to Midwives of Pope Pius XII. He did not go on to say, “and by economic reasons I don’t mean anything this side of dirt floors,” nor did he choose to specify that only cataclysmic social disorder, on the order of the Black Plague, could count as a legitimate social consideration. I submit that his choice not to specify in this way was just that – a choice. But even if you read the address otherwise, I don’t understand the hermeneutic that puts an address to midwives above Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World.

    A final point: nothing in the Church’s teaching suggests that one has to “clear” reasons with a priest before using NFP to avoid or delay pregnancy. It is certainly a good idea to seek counsel where it is available, but it distorts the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of married couples to say that one needs a sort of imprimatur before making this decision. The duty and responsibility lies with the couple, and it cannot be transferred to the priest. A priest can advise, but that advice is just that: advice.

    In sum: while I think much of this post is true and good, I think it a mistake, and in some ways a serious one, to try to propose a specification, for all times and places and circumstances, of what the Church has wisely and deliberately refused to specify further. I do not think it justified by the Address to Midwives or Humanae Vitae, and it is positively proscribed by Gaudium et Spes.

    • Raguel

      “I think it is improper to try to specify as rules what the Church, in her wisdom, has designated as something to be decided by the couple themselves.”

      Considering two Popes gave these reasons in two separate encyclicals, I think that you are picking and choosing what teaching you want to receive from the Church on this subject. I really don’t see what you are trying to imply Gaudium et Spes is saying, it does not mention NFP or periodic continence, only that the welfare of the Children and family should be considered. This could mean any number of things, including considering conditions such as personal debt before marriage.

      Taylor Marshal did not claim you need to “clear” anything with a priest before you have a baby or practice NFP, that right there is a straw man on your part. All the Church’s teaching needs to be taken into account, including the serious reasons given in the Address to Midwives or Humanae Vitae.

      • To be clear, the address to Italian midwives is not an encyclical, but it still cannot be entirely ignored.

    • Lane Andrew

      I think you make some good points; however, it seems like you’re saying that the Church is simply teaching that a couple can use Nfp and no one can question their decision. That’s not really the sense I’m getting from the teaching of the Church. The Church teaches that children are the first blessing and primary end of every marriage. That they are wonderful, they are important, that artificial birth control is immoral, etc. At the end, the Church says, for those of you with serious reasons, you can use Nfp.

      It almost sounds like you’re arguing that serious reasons has no real definition. That if someone tries to bring meaning to it, they are impinging on a couple’s rights. But how does a couple know if they have serious reasons, or even a valid reason to use nfp if there are no examples given? How can their consciences be properly formed? How can they differentiate between motives of selfishness and truly serious motives, as the Church teaches?

      I don’t think anyone can write down an exhaustive list; yet, I don’t think nfp can be extended to almost any circumstance. The couple has the right (or obligation) to make the final call, but just because they think they have a serious reason does not mean they do. God ultimately will be the judge of whether they did have a serious reason. If we don’t help couples make the right decision by talking about examples of what serious is, then many couples will use nfp on less than serious grounds (as judged by God). How will this be good?

  • Beth

    Bravo! I love this article!

  • Laura

    So let me get this straight…my floors are tile and not dirt, I don’t have multiple personalities, I don’t live in a concentration camp and my first five weren’t born with fins, so it’s time to get pregnant again? My twins are only seven months old, but by this post I suppose I should look at it as “already seven months old…”

    This post was a little “out there” for me. The Lord told us to “be fruitful and multiply.” He didn’t tell us to “be as fruitful as physically possible.”

    • Lane Andrew

      So then what did God expect of those men and women who lived before the advent of nfp?

      I think you don’t realize that childbearing was going on long before the modern age of nfp and the Pill. “So it’s time to get pregnant?” Well, if the Church says couples are not supposed to use artificial contraception on pain of mortal sin, and nfp was only invented 50 years ago, then what conclusion can you draw? If you were living in 1283 A.D., what would the Church and God expect of you, to get pregnant? Yes. But until modern times, couples were not so much concerned with limiting the number of children they had.

  • James

    The Address to Midwives is very easy to take out of context. In an address only a short time later, Pius XII also said that the reasons for avoiding pregnancy can be “very broad”. Placing Pius’s statement in the context of the consistent teaching of the Church, including Casti Connubii, Humanae Vitae, and Pius’s own words, he is giving a series examples, not a checklist.

    As for St. Pius X, yes, he was one of 9 children. Margaret Sanger was one of 11. Having a large family is no guarantee that your children will be holy. Indeed, Scripture (Sirach 16:1-4) cautions against this.

    • Josephine Harkay

      Margaret Sanger, right on! The icon of Planned Parenthood.

  • TO

    I know I’m late to the party, but there is a difference between “Just Causes” (which the Church requires for spacing births), and “Grave Causes” (which she doesn’t).

    In Canon Law, just cause is basically “is it rational”, grave cause is “is it rational, and of most serious necessity.” Let’s not put words in Holy Mother Church’s mouth.

  • Anton Casta

    A perfect approach Taylor, one that echoes the encyclical tradition of the Church and the eternal posture of spiritual fruitfulness — always trusting Daddy Creator God above all. Bravo!

  • Jeremy

    Great information Dr. Marshal. As you know from experience, Catholics who follow the teachings of the church in regard to life are daily persecuted for being open to life. Those with large families are a visual witness to the world and give many opportunities for admonishing the sinner. I just wanted to say that it is refreshing to get good solid teaching on these matters and ammo for when I have to give a reason for my faith. God Bless you Dr. Marshal and ill see you at Mass.

  • papakevin

    I believe God’s words are quite clear and by virtue of the fact that He says “Be fruitful and multiply” He speaks decidedly against birth control. I hear God’s word clearly say “God hath said” I hear YOU say “Hath God said?’

  • papakevin

    The very first commandment God gave to humanity was “Be fruitful and multiply” it was not a suggestion. By virtue of the fact that God commands us to be fruitful and multiply He speaks against birth control. I am not Roman Catholic even though many Catholics accuse me of being Catholic and not knowing it yet.

    Six months ago I started fasting from food the first three days of each week and right from the get go The Lord started showing me how important having large godly families is to Him and how intrinsically evil anti conception is. It doesnt take a prophet to foretell the future of the world in the coming decades. Only a demographer, a sociologist or some one with paper and pencil with elementary math skills. At the rate Christians are multiplying as compared to Muslims the entire world will be under Sheite law in a matter of several decades. In the last couple verses of Malachi it says that there will be a great revival of parents and children “Parenting” at the end of the age “Or else!” “Behold, I will sent you Elijah the prophet before the great and dreadful day of the Lord and he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the children to to fathers or I will come and strike the earth with a curse.” If Worldwide Sheite Law isnt a curse, I dont know what IS!
    The first verse The Holy Spirit showed me that drove home the value of Children in God’s economy is in Psalm 8 “Out of the mouth of Babes and Nursing infants have you ORDAINED STRENGTH because of the enemy, to SILENCE the enemy and the avenger.” It is no wonder that the Church is pathetically weak and unable to silence her enemies and God’s enemies. ALL THE CHILDREN ARE MISSING! Note it doesnt say young adult children or adolescent children who can wield bow, sword or spear by which we ordain strength but by the babes and nursing infants. The strength isnt in the wrestling team or football field but in the maternity ward! In a plethora of ways God blesses his people, families the culture and the world through the children. Until the Church goes back to Genesis chapter one and learns to obey “Be fruitful and multiply” she will remain in this pathetically neutered state and the world will wax darker and darker.

    I recently was given a documentary that demonstrates from history, both secular, Church and the dark history of the Eugenics movement how contraception went from being condemned by ALL denominations (And even the government) to being accepted and practiced by virtually all who name the Name of Christ. I was so impacted that I obtained 100 copies to give out. “Baby Wars, Defenders and defectors” You can google it and watch it on line for free. I gaurantee you wont win any popularity contests with its message. Not among Protestants especially. I have already angered many of my protestant friends by simply telling them what the Bible says about contraception. It has been around since 1930 and like the Israelites when after the captivity most of them refused to leave Babylon and go back home. Their captivity was their Nativity.
    I take my hat off to you pesky Papists. You got it right on this crucial contraception issue too! However even a blind hog finds an acorn now and then. Before you get mad at me I heard that remark from Scott Hahn. 😉

    I recently Produced a Documentary you can watch on our website conceivedinrape.comYou can watch the feature film there and also about 20 extended interviews. I encourage people to replicate it, organize showings and post it on their u tubes and websites. Colorado is the first state that had legal abortion in 1968 and it was for rape and incest exceptions. It only seems natural that God would answer that by hailing His reply from the same state. Please check it out. God’s hand was evident from start to finish in its production.

  • Lolita

    Huh? Are you talking about the article, or someone else’s post? I did not get anything from this article that would = ” My twins are only seven months old, but by this post I suppose I should look at it as “already seven months old…” ”

    I don’t agree that parents need to avoid if they are accepting gov help, but that is another subject.

  • Sometimes you don’t encounter the serious problems until you hit physical, psychological & mental problems, as I did catastrophically after the birth of my 10th child, Jacinta in October 2000. It was enormously difficult for my husband & children. My eldest was 13 when I gave birth and became very ill., and helped care for her siblings.She is now married, a doctor, has a son Gabriel, & is expecting another. All of us suffered but by the grace of God survived.

  • Raguel

    A lot of the replies here contain pretty large logical fallacies. This blog does not ignore modern states of poverty, in fact Taylor Mentions living on government assistance as an economic reason. Neither does Taylor claim you need to “clear” anything with a priest before you have a baby or practice NFP. In other places, people try to claim the Church has not made any definitive statement and left it up to the couple.

    The problem today is that there are people out there claiming that NFP should be the default state, that label those who do not practice it as somehow irresponsible. Modern man is not so advanced from our Catholic ancestors that we need NFP to complete our marriages where they did not. It’s a legitimate tool, not a default position or a “lifestyle.”

    The way I see it, if you have a good reason to use NFP, then you would not need to feel threatened by what these Popes have said or what this blog outlines. The Church has indeed spoken on this subject, and it has given guidelines to couples for using NFP, it has not simply let us decide what is right and wrong on this important moral issue.

    You need to take everything into consideration when trying to understand what the Church teaching is, not just Gaudium et Spes. Encyclicals such as Arcanum by Pope Leo XIII, Casti Connubii by Pius XI, as well as what was cited in this post.

    • rec

      Thanks for this! I should have read more comments before asking my above question! One question here, though. Why should NFP not be the default state in a marriage? Of course I agree that if a couple chooses not to use NFP, they also must have a legitimate reason to do so. But what is the moral problem with NFP being the default? Thanks!

    • rec

      to clarify on my below question: because NFP can be used to both achieve and avoid pregnancy, what would be the reason for it not being the default in a marriage? Shoudn’t the couple be using NFP as a tool to understand her body, pray about whether or not they should have a baby right now, and then act on that information? Thanks!

      • Raguel

        The physical, economic, psychological and social conditions given here are not the default in most healthy marriages. Unless these conditions are present, the answer to the “prayer” is always yes, because the primary reason for the institution of marriage is the rearing of children. God already gave his answer when he gave us his first command “to be fruitful and multiply.” And the couple gave their consent to that command when they got married.

        The default in marriage is to render the debt to each other and be open to life. You don’t need NFP to conceive nor to help you understand your wife’s body. But more importantly, if you do not have grave reason then you are abusing NFP.

        • Laura Christine

          unsubscribe!

          Subject: Re: New comment posted on NFP and Serious Reasons… What are these reasons?

        • rec

          Hmm. I think I will ask someone credible for an answer to this question. I don’t think you can make such sweeping generalizations about whether or not it’s prudent for a couple to have a child. And I do know many women who have gone through the pain of infertility who have become pregnant through the use of NFP. That was a very insensitive answer, someone who does not sound like he understands the intricacies of his wife’s body. Sorry to come on so strongly, but a woman’s fertility is a sensitive subject that should be treated with delicacy and reverence.

      • Lane Andrew

        Rec,

        Think of it this way, should a couple pray every week and decide if they should tithe to the Church? Of course not, unless they had a serious reason, some kind of financial crisis going on.

        The same is true of having babies—a couple in a normal state should not pray each day as to whether they should have a child, no more then they should pray whether they should tithe. Or whether they should go to Mass on Sunday, or love their enemy, etc. The answer to all these is always yes.

        When a couple has the mindset that they have to pray and “discern” each month about having children, it sets the wrong tone, as if it’s always a question as to what to do.

    • Josephine Harkay

      The danger then will be that they will just live together if forbidden to marry. That is certainly not desirable.

  • Cait

    I think your “they live in America!” reasoning is a little weak. We could use that reasoning to get us to many dangerous places (having to accept the redefinition of marriage, becoming prochoice, watching scandalous television shows). The truth is that there are many “things” we are told we “need” to have children and to “provide” for them. When people speak about the parents in third world countries and talk about the fact that they can raise their children who are just as likely to make it to heaven as ours are, they have a good point, one that should no be dismissed so rapidly. You can buy a cheap minivan pretty easily, you could probably even get one donated to you if you asked around enough. We don’t “need” nearly as many clothes as we buy our children. 2 outifts would be plenty, 3 luxurious, 4 downright scandalous. We don’t have to model the religious in what they wear, but we could definitely do better in modeling the quantity of clothing they have. It’s not a matter of what prices are in America, it’s a matter of having a very misguided notion of what we need. When we were expecting our second after 3 years of marriage on a grad students’ stipend we got rid of our cell phones **shocking** and were fine (and still are).
    Also, your comment about “subsisting on government assistance” being a clear reason to delay pregnancy paints too broad a stroke and certainly is not supported by Church teaching. Government aid to families is in no way looked down upon by the church and in and belonging to some professions it is impossible to exist without it. Should those hardworking people who know God has called them to those professions just not have children or should we say, “Hey, those wages are unfair, the government does a good thing trying to compensate for that injustice!” Perhaps we should also work to rectify the disparity in wages, but until then it is unfair to forbid those people to have children.

    • Laura Christine

      Subject: Re: New comment posted on NFP and Serious Reasons… What are these reasons?

    • Rosie

      I have to echo some of these concerns. My husband works hard and makes enough for us to provide for our children without much left over. I stay home and care for them, currently homeschooling as well. I could get a job teaching in public school and send our 3 kids there, thus costing the government about 70k a year after my salary and kids’ costs. We wouldn’t be below the poverty line, we could pay off our mortgage quicker and wouldn’t need the earned income tax credit or food stamps. But at the end of the day,we would be receiving MORE government assistance than we are now…significantly more. Yes, debt is evil and I hate I and if I could do it all over again, we wouldn’t have a mortgage and would be even more frugal so we could have emergency funds so that we didn’t have to put our new sewer line on a credit card… but all that to say…does a less than perfect financial situation mean we shouldn’t have more children? That just doesn’t seem right to me.

      • We’re just saying that “economic” is a reason. I didn’t think of public schools as government aid. I was thinking more of being on food stamps and living in government housing.

        I don’t know if it’s just for a homeless married couple to keep having children and then say: “The local community needs to pay for these kids (via taxes).”

        • Rosie

          I guess I’m curious where we draw the line as to what form of government aid is okay to use and what isn’t, and at what point we should just stop having children because we happen to qualify for certain government programs. I think that often times certain types of aid are seen as morally reprehensible while others are not, when in fact they are all drawing from taxpayers’ pockets. For example, my choice to stay home with my children and homeschool them entirely at my expense (while continuing to pay property taxes, state income taxes, sales taxes, etc) will save the taxpayers around me quite a lot of money – as in tens of thousands of dollars a year. Why then, is it considered morally wrong or irresponsible, for our family to receive $200/ month in “supplemental nutritional assistance”, but not wrong or irresponsible for us to receive thousands of dollars a month in “free” schooling? I can understand if people were lazy bums who refused to work, but my husband is a dutiful, full-time state employee and I spend all day caring for our children & home. I know you didn’t mean to delve into every possible scenario in your original post, and I think that there is more to the subject of government aid & family size than perhaps could have been covered. We don’t have a perfect financial situation, but we try to work hard, not waste things as much as possible, and live frugally. Would it be considered morally wrong to have more children in such financial circumstances, so long as it wasn’t done with the intention of greedily seeing how much government aid one could accrue?

        • Well to be honest I know a very devout Catholic family with 14 children on state assistance. also my grandparents & ancestors all had very large families on very meagre incomes.

    • Marie

      No more than two outfits, Cait?? I don’t know if that’s very reasonable. A parallel: Just because it is physically possible to subsist on rice and beans with no fruit, vegetables, bread, or meat doesn’t mean one has a moral obligation to live that way. Similarly, just because two outfits would be a bare minimum to keep a person clothed in clean clothes at all times (I presume the reason you conceded a second outfit was so a person would have something to wear while washing the other thing?), does not mean there is a moral obligation to subsist on just that, either.

      You call upon the example set to us by religious orders, whose life is emphatically not meant to be imitated by those in other states of life (ie families). If it were, should our kids become vegetarians like the Carmelites or fast on two meals a day and one in Lent like the Carthusians? Should dad stop his workday several times to pray the Divine Office like the Benedictines? (I’m sure his supervisor would looove that)

      Instead of trying to model family life on religious life, model it on the life of saints who lived in the world. St Gianna Molla had a lot more than two outfits and one of the activities she engaged in during her final days was looking at fashion magazines to plan her wardrobe for upcoming season. She’s held up by the church as having lived a life worthy of imitation. Blessed Zelie and Louis Martin (parents of St Therese) did not deprive their children of a comfortable life (lived at _much_ a higher standard than you seem to be advocating) and they and their more well-known daughter are held up for us by the Church as models of virtuous life – heroically virtuous.

      • cait

        Marie, never did I state that it’s a rule to holiness to only have two outfits or subsist on rice and beans. I was merely challenging the idea that somehow we can use “living in America” and thus living a luxurious American life as a need that could somehow count as a grave reason not to be open to more children.
        As far as an example set by religious orders, I strongly disagree that their life is “emphatically not meant to be imitated by those in other states of life.” Certainly not reproduced, but there are many aspects of religious life that should be imitated by all holy men and women. Maybe your husband doesn’t have time for the divine office at work? Okay, fine, but he does have time for at least an Our Father at those same intervals and that time of prayer punctuating our day is something both imitated by zelie and louios marten and shown in religious life. I could site other examples, but if you want to read more on how marriage can and should imitaw/reflect religious life I suggest a new book coming out from catholic university of america press, Vocation to Virtue by Kent Lasnoski.

        • Lane Andrew

          Cait, I totally agree with you!! So many people get caught in this line of reasoning:

          I need a certain standard of living.

          If I have 4 children our family can’t have that standard.

          Therefore, use nfp to limit our family to 3 children.

          I’m a great Catholic!

          Instead, you’re saying:

          Be open to life.

          If that means lowering a family’s standard of living a notch or two, then so be it.

  • rec

    Taylor, can you explain a little further on other reasons to space children using NFP? I totally understand the extreme reasons (depression, poverty, etc…) but what about other reasons such as “we want our children to go to college” or “we want to be able to afford Catholic school” or “mommy just feels really stretched”. Your thoughts on a big Catholic family are awesome and I totally agree, but I think perhaps some people just aren’t called to that..isn’t it a matter of conscience? I might suggest that there is perhaps a difference between the moral obligation to ask God what he has planned for your family and act on that vs. leaving the size of your family up to the capacity of your reproductive system. Or am I looking at this incorrectly? Insight would be appreciated!

    • REC,

      I hear you. Trust me, I hear you.

      One of the things I try to do on this blog and deal directly with Catholic texts. Here we have “serious reasons” and we need to unpack that. We can’t just ignore it. If “kids going to college” is serious then we need to explain it in light of the text/tradition that we have.

      I’m getting hit on both sides for this article (“it’s too lax” or “it’s too strict”) so let’s hear more perspectives.

    • Lane Andrew

      If the Church taught that artificial birth control is immoral, but nfp is not immoral and left it at that, then your thinking here would be fine.

      But the Church always says that nfp can be used only for serious, just, grave, etc., reasons. So no, we cannot just use nfp whenever we want. Why is it that the Church teaches that there must be a serious reason? That’s the question. Could it be that children are a greater blessing then the burdens they bring into our lives?

  • Dr. Marshall, I notice you removed my post. I did not intend offense and apologize if I gave it.

  • Thomas Sharpe

    An NFP trainer told me this once, and I think it’s a good rule of thumb. He said “if the your wife thinks that together you have all the children you can handle at the time – that’s a serious reason”.

    Why? Because women tend to be more intuitive and intelligent about this question. The husband may not be helping out as much as he should and that should change . Women are more practical. Women are more apt not to cave into passion.

    I’m not saying that husband and wife shouldn’t discuss this, they should! I’m not putting the burden of this question on the woman, the husband should be actively part of the decision. What I am saying is that women usually just “know” and the man should listen.
    Peace.

  • It’s also worth stating that nfp isn’t compulsory.

  • Elijah fan

    Isn’t censoring wunerful.

    • guest

      Thank you for bringing up these excellent points!

    • Marie

      No idea about Paul VI or Benedict XVI, but JPII’s mother died in childbirth, so no, the small size of his family was not due to his parents’ choosing NFP.

      • Elijah fan

        Then you and wiki differ:

        ” His mother was Emilia Wojtyła, née Kaczorowska. She was born March 26, 1884 in Biała, Poland. Her parents were Maria Anna (Scholz) and Feliks Kaczorowski. Her name would later be bestowed to a road tunnel built in Silesia, in March 2010 (Tunnel Emilia).[2] His mother died of heart and kidney problems on April 13, 1929 in Wadowice, Poland. On hearing of her death, he composed himself and said, “It was God’s will.”[citation needed] His only sister, Olga, died in infancy before Karol was born.”

  • David

    Thanks for the article,Taylor. Do you think there is any correlation between the length of time NFP is practiced and the gravity of the reason needed? In my admittedly un-researched opinion there would seem to be a significant difference between delaying pregnancy by a couple of months and delaying the birth of a child by several years or even for the duration of the the marriage.

  • guest

    Everyone has serious reasons for delaying, spacing, and limiting the number of children they believe they are called to have for all good reasons of sanity, solvency, and general health, especially that of the mother. How they accomplish that is between the couple and God. No one needs to feel obligated to justify their family plans to anyone else except God. Few people can manage families larger than the average range of 2-5. A hectic life of living from chaos to crisis is not for everyone. It is interesting to note that the last 3 popes before Francis were one of 3 children. Pope Francis himself is one of 5, as I am. There are excellent reasons most couples don’t have more than five! I have always been glad my parents didn’t.

    • Lane Andrew

      This is the kind of thinking that pervades the Catholic world right now. Have 3 kids, there’s no way anyone can handle more. Use nfp at the drop of a hat. Sad, very sad.

  • Josephine Harkay

    It is interesting that the Church never spells out specifically what those serious medical, economical and social reasons are. Who says that if claiming economical reason you have to be below the poverty line? Who says that for medical reasons the woman has to have cancer or be seriously ill? Not the Church. It is certainly between God and the individual couple.

  • Suzy Spears

    Thank you for reminding me why I quit Catholicism. Too much legalism and no compassion.