Would it ever be a sin to NOT use NFP (or abstain)?

There are some NFP topics in Family Life that made me wonder something. There is currently a debate over what is considered a valid “serious” reason for the use of NFP. It seems to me that the consensus in that topic is that NFP, while allowed, is not required for the ordinary Catholic married couple. But what if the situation isn’t ordinary? For example, one post mentioned the fictional situation of Melanie Wilkes in Gone With The Wind, who is told a future pregnancy could kill her, but gets pregnant anyway, and does indeed die. Did Melanie (and husband Ashley) commit a sin? What if a woman is taking a medication that can cause birth defects? Or what if the family is homeless, on welfare, etc? Or a situation like that of Andrea Yates? Did she and her husband sin by continuing to have children? But then you could argue that most families in Third World countries are sinning if they don’t use NFP, and that seems a little absurd. But then on the other hand, just because a lot of people are doing something (like masturbating) that doesn’t make it any less a sin.

So, would anyone argue that there are cases where a couple sinned by not using NFP, or not abstaining altogether?

No, they would not be sinning in these cases.

No. God is never going to create someone by accident. If He does not want you to get pregnant, you will not get pregnant.

The story of Gone with the Wind was fictional.

Yes I think that there can be cases where one would sin by not abstaining (NFP)…

Pope Paul VI (Humanae Vitae)

Responsible Parenthood

  1. Married love, therefore, requires of husband and wife the full awareness of their obligations in the matter of responsible parenthood, which today, rightly enough, is much insisted upon, but which at the same time should be rightly understood. Thus, we do well to consider responsible parenthood in the light of its varied legitimate and interrelated aspects.

With regard to the biological processes, responsible parenthood means an awareness of, and respect for, their proper functions. In the procreative faculty the human mind discerns biological laws that apply to the human person. (9)

With regard to man’s innate drives and emotions, responsible parenthood means that man’s reason and will must exert control over them.

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.

Responsible parenthood, as we use the term here, has one further essential aspect of paramount importance. It concerns the objective moral order which was established by God, and of which a right conscience is the true interpreter. 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 human society.

From this it follows that they are not free to act as they choose in the service of transmitting life, as if it were wholly up to them to decide what is the right course to follow. On the contrary, they are bound to ensure that what they do corresponds to the will of God the Creator. The very nature of marriage and its use makes His will clear, while the constant teaching of the Church spells it out. (10)

And here…and recognized Orthodox Catholic Moral Theologian:


I agree about the examples given by the OP. However, there are some cases where it could be sining to NOT use periodic or total abstinence.

One case would be if there was a high probability of loss of life to the mother and no plans were made to care for any existing children. That would be reckless and could be sinful.

Another case would be if one spouse wanted to just let nature take its course over the objections or fear of the other spouse. That could be sinful.

CCC 1750 The morality of human acts depends on:

  • the object chosen;

  • the end in view or the intention;

  • the circumstances of the action.

The object, the intention, and the circumstances make up the “sources,” or constitutive elements, of the morality of human acts.

The object of the act of marital relations with one’s spouse is good. However, either the intention or the circumstances can make marital relations sinful. The criteria of responsible parenthood relate to the circumstances of the act.

Here is more here: vatican.va/archive/catechism/p3s1c1a4.htm

If a mother chooses to risk a pregnancy and dies, then it is her choice. Not all pregnancies which doctors say will be fatal to the mother are fatal to the child. This results in one more infinitely valuable human being who never would have existed except that the mother sacrificed her life.

While a husband who merely wants the physical pleasure of sex compelling her into the act might be sinning, if the mother decides that she wants to risk her own life to create another, that is entirely up to her, and if she decides to and loses it, I cannot say that her life was more valuable than her child’s.

Of course it’s her choice. But that doesn’t mean that she isn’t culpable if she acts irresponsibly in some way. Parenthood doesn’t stop at childbirth. Parents must make decisions that show they are acting responsibly toward the well-being of their children. That doesn’t mean they avoid all risk but that they consider the risks prayerfully and make plans appropriately.

Are you saying that God controls the biology for each woman? I don’t think so.

If all of the physical elements are in place then a baby can be created. Doesn’t God follow the biology he created?

I don’t think they would be sinning, just making some unwise choices.

Each human being is created individually and on purpose. Nobody alive on earth today got here by accident - everyone was created by God, on purpose, for a purpose. God is not just sitting by, watching things unfold, or being surprised by anything. :slight_smile:

God specially creates our soul at our conception. God has a Divine Will for all of creation and for each person, individually. However, God allows Free Will.

I don’t believe Church teaching would back you up here. Can you give the Church teaching that God wills each person, specifically and for a specific purpose? Following your logic, God wills rapes in cases where children are conceived and God wills crack babies to be born to addicted mothers and God wills children to be born into abusive homes.

No, the Church does not teach this. What the Church does teach is that God allows free will, and that God allows the natural consequences of our actions including rapists, crack mothers, and abusers. What God does do is bring good out of all circumstances especially when we cooperate with his Divine Will.

Foreknowledge and predestination are not the same thing.

None of this contradicts the idea that we are created purposefully.

Following your logic, God wills rapes in cases where children are conceived and God wills crack babies to be born to addicted mothers and God wills children to be born into abusive homes.

Many great Saints became so by enduring and overcoming difficult circumstances. All of these children have the opportunity to become Saints.

What God does do is bring good out of all circumstances especially when we cooperate with his Divine Will.

Children are God’s greatest gift, and are often the good thing that is coming out of a particular bad situation.

Fourteen years ago I saved a child from being aborted. Today, that same child is a blessing to her mother and to her whole family - they all say, where would we be, if it were not for her? Surely, God gave that child as a gift to her mother - on purpose. :slight_smile:

I agree with you, but I think a lot has to do with intent: if someone knows that she is high risk, and doesn’t care that she would be leaving other children behind because for some reason she has to have more children, then IMOHO that would be sinful (selfish) if not really irresponsible. But a lot of people consider it a leap of faith to continue having children and don’t think their unborn children are any more or less important than the ones they already have. Their intent isn’t to die, but to live. There is a difference between throwing caution to the wind out of pride and selfishness, and quite another to take a leap of faith. It depends on the individual person.

I’m not sure if it would be “sinful” or to some degree of “sinful” to not use NFP or abstain if it is known that the parents have a transmittable illness (either hereditary or bloodborn) that the children will end up with, but I certainly think it’s not wise, to be polite…

1ke has the right line of thinking. God created our biology. If a woman exercises her free will and engages in intercourse during her fertile time she could become pregnant. God, as co-creator, imbues that child with a soul.

Fourteen years ago I saved a child from being aborted. Today, that same child is a blessing to her mother and to her whole family - they all say, where would we be, if it were not for her? Surely, God gave that child as a gift to her mother - on purpose.

This is a very dangerous line of thought for you to pursue. What if that person had become a serial murderer - would it also be God’s will for you to “save” that unborn child so he/she could later kill others?

We are all exercising free will, and our decisions have consequences, both for ourselves and for others. God is not playing a giant chess game with all of us.

It might be comforting to believe that ‘everything happens for a reason’ but sometimes bad things happen because of the bad choices someone made, and sometimes good things happen just by coincidence.

So, if you have a condition or are taking drugs that would cause defects in a child, it is your responsibility to take appropriate measures (abstinence) to prevent creating a child with defects.

PaulinVA, I agree.

I have a Traditionalist friend who is totally against NFP. She and her husband believe NFP is a form of contraceptive and that it is just as immoral to use it as contraceptives.

While I don’t agree with her, I do not believe that she is sinning by refraining from using NFP. Historically, NFP has not been around that long, and giving birth has always involved a lot more risks to the mother and to the child. In third world countries, this can still be the case.

As such, its understandable why Kipling would write:
"The female of the specie is more deadly than the male
She who faces Death by torture for each life beneath her breast
may not deal in doubt and pity - must not swerve for fact or jest
These be purely male diversions - not in these her honor "

Anyway, my friend can’t believe NFP is ok because past generations never had it to use.

I do not think she in her husband are sinning by refraining from using NFP. This is something she and her husband are united on.

What I do see as very damaging is if there is disunity between husband and wife. I don’t believe it is a husband’s place at all to demand sexual relations in a manner that puts her life at risk. I believe husband and wife should strive to be at one with their decision. The man should have a great sense of love and fear of losing his life as much as the woman has fear of losing her own life. That is to say as St. Paul says, that he should love his wife as his own body. If the couple decides to be open enough to life to take a chance, that has to be their mutual decision. I do know many NFP using couples who have had a number of risky pregnancies and deliveries against their doctor’s wishes and who claim that doctors overestimate the risks. Maybe that’s true or maybe God is simply blessing them for their generocity. However, I think it can be just as generous and loving for a couple to decide that pregnancy is just so risky that they decide having sex at all is simply too risky.

Regardless, the choice needs to be made out of love. In one way or another, the sacrifice involves a form of laying down your life for another person, whether it is your child or laying down your sexual desires as an offering of love toward each other.

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