Unpacking the NFP controversy: to the sources!

We see a lot of discussions here about what constitute “valid” reasons for NFP, about couples who “abuse” NFP, and so on. While such confusion is understandable, it is helpful to look at the first ever Magisterial pronouncement on the use of such methods:

The date was 1880, under the Pontificate of Pope Leo XIII.

The following query was submitted to the Sacred Penitentiary by a Fr. Le Conte:

Questions: *1. “Whether married couples may have intercourse during such sterile periods without committing mortal or venial sin?”

  1. “Whether the confessor may suggest such a procedure either to the wife who detests the onanism of her husband but cannot correct him, or to either spouse who shrinks from having numerous children?”*

The response was as follows:

“Married couples who use their marriage right in the aforesaid manner are not to be disturbed, and the confessor may suggest the opinion in question, cautiously, however, to those married people whom he has tried in vain by other means to dissuade from the detestable crime of onanism.”

Note that the above document is uncontroversial even in Traditional circles, and is cited with approval even on Sedevacantist sites, so we’re not talking about “modern innovations” (sarcasm intended!) here. :slight_smile:

Note that the reply -

  • does not answer the second question (“shrinks from having numerous children”) directly.
  • provides a valid reason for NFP which is seldom discussed, namely, to dissuade a spouse who is in favour of using artificial birth control (in this context, onanism = coitus interruptus; in those days, there were no “pills”)
  • recommends that the confessor suggest this method to those who struggle with sexual sin within marriage
  • mentions the word “right” in the first sentence, suggesting that this method can be open to abuse.

Nothing much has changed today, has it? :smiley:

Discuss. :slight_smile:

The Onanism part is off topic note that was dealing with a different matter.

Nice brief summary from the Compendium issued by Pope Benedict XVI

**497. When is it moral to regulate births?

The regulation of births, which is an aspect of responsible fatherhood and motherhood, is objectively morally acceptable when it is pursued by the spouses without external pressure; when it is practiced not out of selfishness but for serious reasons; and with methods that conform to the objective criteria of morality, that is, periodic continence and use of the infertile periods.

**498. What are immoral means of birth control?

Every action - for example, direct sterilization or contraception - is intrinsically immoral which (either in anticipation of the conjugal act, in its accomplishment or in the development of its natural consequences) proposes, as an end or as a means, to hinder procreation.


I don’t think it’s off topic at all, if we take “Onanism” as referring not to coitus interruptus per se, but to “contraception” in general. Apparently, offering NFP as an option to couples who would use contraception if NFP was not available IS licit, but many who identify as Traditionalist would side-eye that as an example of “using NFP for contraceptive purposes”.

There was also another statement that year with more detail about it:

"De uso exclusivo temporum agenneseos:

“Qu.:An licita in se sit praxis coniugum, qui, cum ob iustas et graves causas prolem honesto modo evitare malint, ex mutuo consensu et motivo honesto a matrimonio utendo abstinent praeterquam diebus, quibus secundum quorundam recentiorum theoremata ob rationes naturales conceptio haberi non potest?”
“Resp.: Provisum est per Resp. S. Paenitentiariae, 16. Iun. 1880.”

My translation:

Whether licit in itself is the practice by which for just and grave causes, wishing to avoid offspring in a honorable way, from the matrimonial use abstain, by mutual consent and with honorable motives, except on those days which, according to certain recent theories, that for natural reasons conception is not possible?

I wonder if this Father Conte is related to the “theologian” Ron Conte.

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