Monday, September 9, 2013

In response to Father Brian Mullady - "Contraceptive intention" and NFP

Over at Human Life International’s “Truth and Charity Forum” [here], Father Brian Mullady O.P. has an interesting little article on “Fundamental Differences: NFP vs. Contraception”.
While the majority of the article is quite insightful, Fr. Mullady falls into the same error which has plagued many scholars and lay-folk alike who enter this discussion: He fails to realize that a sinful use of Natural Family Planning is still not “an act of contraception.”

What he gets right
Fr. Mullady speaks well in his discussion of contraception. While his language is rather obscure in places – as when he defines contraception as, “The attempt to deny precisely all these relationships by robbing the relationship of its relationship to human life” – his analysis is essentially correct.
I would have preferred him to define contraception as:
“Every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible.” (Humanae Vitae 14, CCC 2370)
But Fr. Mullady speaks well when he states that, “Actions of sexual union done by couples which deny procreation are evil. They are so by their very object. Hence, these acts are intrinsically and always evil.”
He is correct. The act of contraception is an evil act, always and everywhere. No circumstance or intention can make this evil act to be good.
Furthermore, Fr. Mullady is right to state that Natural Family Planning is not evil in its act – because there is no activity which renders the conjugal act to be infertile. There is no fertile act which is made to be infertile by the taking of temperatures or the observance of fluids, etc.
Therefore, Fr. Mullady is correct to state, “So [NFP] is in object good and completely different from contraception.”
There are many other good points besides.
The error
However, here we come to the essential error in Fr. Mullady’s reasoning. Because an action, in order to be morally good, must not only be good according to the act in itself but also according to circumstance and intention, Fr. Mullady begins to emphasize that it is important for the couple to have the proper circumstances and intentions when practicing Natural Family Planning.
In this, I am in complete agreement – NFP can indeed be misused, and then it is a sinful action. Where I am convinced that Fr. Mullady is wrong is in his analysis of what NFP becomes when it is misused and is sinful.
Fr. Mullady first states that the couple’s “intention” can be “only contraceptive” if NFP is used in a selfish manner – i.e. without grave reasons or in improper circumstances. Now, we grant that NFP can be used in a selfish manner (perhaps this is even fairly common), but we do not grant and must not grant that a selfish intention is a contraceptive intention.
Sinful but not contraceptive
To be clear, Natural Family Planning may indeed be used in a sinful manner, but this does not make it contraceptive. The intention of the couple may be selfish, but it is not contraceptive.
Indeed, for an intention to be “contraceptive”, the couple must intend to “contracept.” That is, a contraceptive intention would mean that the couple is seeking to make a particular conjugal act to be infertile.
However, this is precisely what Natural Family Planning CANNOT do! A couple who misuses NFP might be selfish, they might be hedonistic, but (unless they are fools) they cannot possibly be “contraceptive” – because they are not doing anything to render the conjugal act infertile.
If a couple were so ignorant as to think that taking temperatures (and so forth) could make the conjugal act to become infertile AND if they then performed such actions with that intention, then that couple would indeed have a “contraceptive intention.” But this is clearly a stretch.
A particular use of NFP may originate from a sinful intention, but that doesn’t mean it comes from a “contraceptive intention.”
Why this error is serious and worth correcting
Fr. Mullady supplies us with the evidence as to why this error of linking Natural Family Planning to contraception is quite serious. Consider the final line of his article:
“Evil intention or frivolous circumstances could still preclude a person morally practicing NFP because it could reduce a morally good act to an act of contraception.”
After skating along the edge, Fr. Mullady finally takes the plunge and equates the misuse of NFP with contraception. In the end, the misuse of Natural Family Planning is said not only to be sinful and selfish (which it is), but also to have a contraceptive intention (which it doesn’t) and even further to be “an act of contraception” (which it cannot possibly be).
Nothing can reduce Natural Family Planning to an act of contraception. Nothing. Because NFP and contraception are completely different. At no level is NFP “contraceptive” – not in the act itself, not in the circumstance, not in the intention.
“Neither the Church nor her doctrine is inconsistent when she considers it lawful for married people to take advantage of the infertile period but condemns as always unlawful the use of means which directly prevent conception […]. In reality, these two cases are completely different.” (Paul VI, Humanae Vitae 16)
Contraception and NFP, mortal and venial sin
Contraception is always and everywhere a grave sin. Thus, if done with freedom and knowledge, it is a mortal sin:
“Any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin.” (Pius XI, Casti Connubii)
Notice the language: It is a grave sin deliberately to frustrate the conjugal act’s natural procreative power. Contraception does precisely this by rendering the conjugal act infertile through some action either before, during, or after the union of the couple. However, Natural Family Planning includes no such action and, therefore, is not contraception.
Contraception is always a grave sin, but the misuse of NFP may be only a venial sin. This difference is important to notice. If, as Fr. Mullady suggests, the misuse of NFP is “an act of contraception” that would entail that every sinful use of NFP is a grave sin. However, it is quite possible that some sinful uses of NFP are only venial sins.
Now, if a confessor were to hear a penitent confess the abuse of NFP (say, the excessive spacing of children without a serious reason) and were to immediately conclude that, since it is a sinful use of NFP it must be “an act of contraception,” he would then be forced to see the sin as pertaining to grave matter (because every act of contraception is a grave sin). But, it is very possible that the sin is only venial.
In any case, St. Alphonsus together with the Catholic moral tradition holds that, if the confessor mis-diagnoses the seriousness of the sin and proceeds to bind the conscience of the penitent in this manner, then he is guilty of a very grievous abuse of authority and of a potentially grave sin.
Certainly, we want priests to help penitents to avoid even venial sins! There is no question as to whether or not the misuse of NFP must stop – of course it must. However, it is precisely when priests start to say that venial sins are mortal sins (thereby inciting scrupulosity in the faithful) that the moral teaching of the Church begins to seem more a burden than a blessing.
If Fr. Mullady and others are convincing people that their misuse of NFP is “an act of contraception,” he and they are causing great harm to souls.
Call is sinful. Call it selfish. But don’t call it contraceptive.

(please consider an article on this same topic, from about a year ago [here])


Boethius said...

Father, could you clarify the intrinsic evil of the contraceptive act? It would seem that Humanae Vitae would allow for a contraceptive act as an unintended consequence of a therapeutic act:

"On the other hand, the Church does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result there from—provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever." HV 15

If the contraceptive act was intrinsically evil, always and everywhere, then certainly it could not be the unintended outcome of a therapeutic act, according to the law of double effect. We, for example, always declare abortion to be intrinsically evil, and thus, it is never permissible under any circumstances.

Would we not say that intending contraception is intrinsically evil, always and everywhere, but that the act itself is not intrinsically disordered? If we are to say the act itself is intrinsically disordered, then how can it be lawful to have it as the unintended outcome of a therapeutic act and still follow the law of double effect?

Anonymous said...

Enlightening as always. Thank you, Father.

Kevin Tierney said...

As someone who has used the term in the past.... when you put it that way!

Thankfully I haven't used it very often in the actual writing I've done, so I am saved the embarassing rewrites. but still gotta train myself to drop it from the lexicon.

Will have to figure out what else to call it (maybe just selfish or hedonistic), but clearly can't use "contraceptive."

So thanks for the article!

Lamont said...

Boethius, the reason why you find this confusing is that you think that a human act is defined by and the same as a physical action. A human act, however, is primarily an act of the will. A person can morally will a therapeutic act that has contraceptive consequences because therapeutic acts are ordered to the good of health. Hence the act is not intrinsically disordered even though the physical action (taking certain pills) is identical with that of a contraceptive act.

A contraceptive act is intrinsically disordered because there is no good for it to be ordered to. One necessarily wills the evil or privation of infertility.

Jami said...

Thank you for this clarification. There is so much confusion among Catholics about proper use of NFP, so one of my biggest pet peeves is when people start throwing around the 'contraceptive mentality' verbiage. As an instructor of NFP, I would even go so far as to say that it's difficult to use NFP selfishly because there is so much sacrifice involved in abstaining. If a couple doesn't have a truly serious reason for avoiding a pregnancy, it's unlikely that they'll abstain for any length of time.

CM7 said...

Fr. Ryan,

What is your position on one who claims that those that use NFP to NOT have children, without serious or just reasons, have a "contraceptive mentality"? Meaning, they are using NFP for the same reasons one would be using contraceptives. I agree that the act of using NFP this way is NOT contraception but I don't see a problem with pointing out the shared mentality of the two acts, regardless if one is always wrong and one is not.

I also think, maybe, Fr. Mullady may have been trying to say that the intention (I rather mentality) to use NFP to not have children without sufficient reasons is kin to the intentions one may use for contraception, but not. The intentions are kin to each other, not the act itself. I think there is a clear distinction between the two.

Boethius said...


I appreciate your response but I'm not sure it solves the issue. While the will certainly plays an important role in determining the culpability of a person for their act, the act does stand on its own as objectively right or wrong. This is why when we use the term "intrinsic" to describe the evil of an act, we are denoting an act that is evil by it's very definition, by what it is. Nothing can make an act like this morally good.

While the example you gave is correct, willing the therapeutic end and not the contraceptive end does make the act moral, it would not do so in the case of an intrinsically evil act. We could take, for example, a situation where an abortion would save the life of a mother. Because abortion is intrinsically evil (taking an innocent life), it is never permissible, even if one wills a good, therapeutic end for it, namely the saving of another life. Likewise, one could not kill one innocent person, even to save 10 other lives. Willing the good end never outweighs the evil means of an intrinsically evil act.

An intrinsic evil is just that, an evil which under no circumstances can be considered moral. This is where my question arises in using that term to describe the act of contraception.

Launa said...

It seems the key concept of NFP never being contraceptive could be more explicitly stated as: A couple that does not engage in conjugal union (e.g., abstaining) is not contracepting. A couple that is using NFP is being open to creating new life in each conjugal encounter.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...


Killing an innocent is always wrong and intrinsically wrong.
Even in a just war, it happens that as an unintended side-effect, an innocent is killed.
By the principle of double effect, this killing of the innocent is not murder because it is an unintended consequence of another action.

Likewise with certain medicines ... it can happen, for example, that a woman must have her womb removed on account of some major health issue ... this renders every subsequent marital act to be infertile -- however, it is not an act of contraception because that infertility is an unintended (but foreseen) side-effect of the hysterectomy.
The same holds for other such therapeutic measures.

Should be clear now?

The act is not an act of contraception, because the act itself is not order to rending an act infertile -- that is only a side-effect. The act itself is ordered to health.
The intention of the individual comes later, but even the act itself (though physically the same act) is not an act of contraception.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...


The Church never uses the term "contraceptive mentality" to refer to the intention of a particular couple, but rather to the mentality of a larger society.

As to the intention of the couple abusing NFP to be similar to that of a couple using contraception ... it would be better to say that the intention is "selfish" rather than "contraceptive".
Indeed, just think -- shall we say that one couple using contraception and another abusing NFP both have the same intention as two homosexuals (namely, enjoying sexual pleasure without intending children), and then say that they all have a "homosexual intention"?
Wouldn't I seem a total fool if I began accusing contraceptors or abusers of NFP as having a "homosexual mentality"?

It should be quite clear -- it is reduced to utter absurdity.

Anonymous said...

"But Fr. Mullady speaks well when he states that, 'Actions of sexual union done by couples which deny procreation are evil. They are so by their very object. Hence, these acts are intrinsically and always evil.'

"He is correct. The act of contraception is an evil act, always and everywhere. No circumstance or intention can make this evil act to be good."

No circumstance? In marriage, denying the procreative also denies the unitive. But outside marriage? Greedy sex traffickers force prostitutes to use contraception. Pure evil, but for utterly different reasons from the contracepting married couple. In a war, a convent of nuns was victimized by systematic rape. The superior asked the rapists to use condoms. Is it good for such victims to use contraception to avoid pregnancy? Yes. Violence can have no unitive effect, thus no harm in "frustrating" the procreative. Thus contraception is not "inherently evil," "always and everywhere," regardless of "circumstance." I'm happy to be corrected.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Anonymous (12:22am),
Please use a pseudonym...

I defined contraception as frustrating the procreative aspect of the CONJUGAL act ... this means sex by a married couple ... Fr Mullady defines contraception also in relation to a married couple (speaking of "relationship") ... ... so, contraception, properly defined is always and everywhere a sin.

Now, when a woman resists a man who is raping her, she is not guilty of coitus interruptus (a contraceptive act) because it is not the conjugal act that is being frustrated.

Should be clear enough.

Contraception is always and everywhere wrong - it is inherently evil.

Boethius said...

Thanks for that example, Father. The just war explanation is a particularly good one. I suppose that when it comes to intrinsically evil acts, we also have to distinguish between how the intrinsically evil act comes about, whether it is incidental to the act being committed (as it would be in unintentionally killing an innocent in a just war) or essential to what the act is (as it is in abortion).

Thanks for that clarification.

Anonymous said...

"Do not refuse one another except perhaps by agreement for a season, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, lest Satan tempt you through lack of self-control."

I am reminded of this verse supporting NFP.


Anonymous said...

'Contraceptive mentality.' What's in a name?

From the pastoral perspective, as Fr. points out, if a priest uses that phrase in confession, and means it in a theological sense, then he abuses his authority. But some people don't use it that way. They just mean that people that use NFP and people who contracept desire the same outcome. That is what they mean by contraceptive mentality. Used in this theologically imprecise manner it nevertheless conveys a clear meaning: people using NFP selfishly are just as selfish as those who contracept.

Fr.'s concern to preserve theological categories by distinguishing the species of sin is valid. But we cannot always control how the common man uses language, as Fr. hopes to do, in order to accomplish this valid aim. Nevertheless it is good to try to do so. Because as Fr. points out, the priest he discusses was lead into objective error by appropriating the common use into moral theology. And we want to avoid that, whether in the case of priests or laymen.

So thank you Fr., for your work and explanation. It helped me see clearly, I think, why we should avoid the use of the phrase 'contraceptive mentality' except when speaking of the culture. If it is unavoidable at certain times when speaking with people to use that phrase, we should attempt to qualify its use by explaining why it is that those that selfishly use NFP nevertheless do not contracept.

Best Regards

Eufrosnia said...

Hello Father Ryan,

I have read some of your posts including this one and I must first thank you for taking the time to write them!

I also have the following question regarding what you said here.

Could not one make the case that to misuse NFP (I presume we are not considering complete abstinence from sexual activity) means to reject the fertility of ones wife? Hence it commits the same sin that contraception is guilty of violating? i.e. the deliberate rejection of the spouse's fertility rather than a complete giving of each other?

I can see how this is different in the case where NFP is done with proper intent because then the issue has nothing to do with rejecting the fertility and is more of an acceptance but simply abstaining due to inability to support a child. One would even say there is a love and openness for a child but the circumstances stop one from doing so.

But in the disordered case, the couple will

1) pursue some other inferior goal which conflicts with what in their eyes they consider lesser => a child
2) resolve to reject the fertility aspect of the partner by simply having sex in the infertile period

So whereas in the proper practice there is a respect toward the fertility of the partner, one would say the abstinence is out of respect for the fact that one has to then support a new child and accepting that they do not have the means at the moment. But in the second case, the mentality does seem contraceptive, no?

I am not a Theologian or a Philosopher so I maybe terribly wrong. But it is what came to my mind.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

The mere relation of tendencies and intentions between two sinners committing differing acts does not make the two acts to be the same, nor to have the same "intention".

For example, a homosexual couple intends to enjoy sexual pleasure without being open to life -- however, no one in their right mind would say that a couple who abuses NFP has a "homosexual intention".

An intention is "contraceptive" if there is the deliberate will to render an act infertile. This is precisely what NFP NEVER does.

Eufrosnia said...

Thanks Father for your reply.

I guess the problem for me is partly because of how you define the issue. Therefore I am not sure the analogy you draw is valid.

A homosexual couple has an intent to have sex with ones own sex. So a heterosexual couple that engages in sexual activity does not have a homosexual intention, right?

On the other hand, a person who engages in sex during the infertile period to avoid children without a grave reason does have the same contraceptive intentions (seeing children as a lesser good, wanting to enjoy the spouse without her infertility).

So I fail to see how the comparison is valid.

I agree with you that "results" do not equate actions. BUT, in this case we can see a repeated abuse of NFP as indeed having contraceptive intentions without much strain.

To say that there has to be an actual act of intercourse in which the person rejects infertility is an addition to the definition, right? From what I understand, Humanae Vitae makes a distinction between lawful and unlawful Birth control methods. It does not seem to speak of intent during the sex act per se.

So to perhaps present a problem I see with your position, how would you categorize the birth control pill that altars the period (perhaps delaying it or suppressing it))? It is a pill taken before sex which affects the sex act. The person who took the pill had the same intention as that of a person who wants to practice NFP. One could also argue that there is no rejection of the other person's fertility because the altered cycle does not have such an effect anyway.

By your approach to this issue, the only thing the person is guilty of is altering the menstrual cycle. So using the same methodology you used for NFP, then we must conclude that this is not contraception as well?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

A contracepting couple has the intention to render an act infertile ... this is precisely what the NFP couple does not intend to do.
Therefore, there is no analogy.

If you want to refer to how the Popes speak about NFP and Contraception ... well, then you should know that the Popes have never used "contraceptive mentality" or "contraceptive intention" to refer to the intention of a particular couple -- but have only used that term to refer to the way in which contraception leads a society to accepting abortion.

Regarding your silly discussion of the pill -- obviously the immediate effect of the pill is to altar the menstral cycle, but the intention of the act is to render sex infertile. Just as the immediate effect of the condom is simply to cover a bodily member, but the intention of the act is to render sex infertile.

This is the point of NFP, the couple never intends nor does anything that makes an act to be infertile.

Can there be a "selfish intention"? Yes. But it is a serious abuse of language to say that the intention is contraceptive.

Eufrosnia said...

Thank you father for your reply once again.

The issue here is on how you define what the couple "DOES" with respect to making an act infertile. A couple that deliberately waits for the infertile period to have sex to many would be included in the definition of what a couple "DOES". Therefore, when viewed from this perspective, if there is intent born out of a disordered desire (considering children a lesser good or rejection of the spouses fertility), then the abuse of NFP itself becomes contraception.

Now it is clear to me that you obviously do not see things this way and you have a different definition of what constitutes an act against infertility. But to continue to argue how you do not see it that way while not addressing a positive argument toward why people see it that way does not help. Right?

So if I may suggest and request, can you present a reason on how we define what constitutes as "Couple DOES" with respect to the sex act? If you cannot present a reason that makes one abandon the naturally obvious position of including "waiting till the infertile period" as also part of the act, then there is a legitimate problem here, yes?

(I presented the silly example of the Birth control pill to raise this point to you but I think I did a bad job with that one)

Eufrosnia said...

Actually, I think I understand your point better now after reading some more articles online. I guess the Church in her opposition to contraception refers to particular acts themselves that are used to avoid having children rather than intent of trying to avoid having children. Am I understanding properly?

If that is the case, then what is the desire to "avoid having children" labelled as in the Church? I always thought that too would be referred to contraceptive mentality?

Eufrosnia said...

Hmm, I am actually more convinced you are right now.

Since contraception is an intrinsically immoral act, I presume there cannot be an act such that intent or circumstance will make it a contraceptive act. Therefore NFP is either always contraceptive or it cannot ever be contraceptive.

Would that thinking be correct?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Yes! Your last comment captures the point exactly!
You see, that earlier post with the example of the pill would have led to the conclusion that every act of NFP not only had a contraceptive mentality but was even an act of contraception itself.

Notice, this is precisely what Fr Mullady says at the end of his article - that NFP is reduced to an act of contraception.
In this respect, he is directly contrary to the teaching of the Church and makes a very serious error in moral theology.

But your last comment definitely gets the point well! +

Eufrosnia said...

Thank you father for replying again and bearing with my questions.

I think I see with your help now why Fr. Mullady has indeed made a mistake in what he has written. Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions and I look forward to reading many more posts on your blog! :)

God bless you!

DO said...

Fr. Mullady was my moral theology professor last year, so I speak with some specific knowledge here. He uses "contraception by intention" as a figure of speech - and a powerful one at that; one certainly sufficiently accurate.

An "act of contraception" is an "act that is against-life."

This whole article is based off the false premise that the "act" in reference is sexual intercourse. Not so. the "act" in this context is the decision to use NFP (and such a decision is indeed a morally good act given the right intention and circumstances), which - if undertaken without grave reason - becomes an "act against-life," in other words, an "act of contraception." Obviously (and trust me, Fr. Mullady would not say this and does not say this) the decision to use NFP for selfish reasons does not render each act of sexual intercourse undertaken while this decision is in effect an intrinsically contraceptive act.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...


For all the reasons I outline above, it is a seriously erroneous to say that NFP can ever become "an intrinsically contraceptive act" ... in fact, this is expressly contrary to the teaching of John Paul II and also the encyclical Humanae Vitae.

However, what your comment does illustrate is that the thought of Fr Mullady will lead to dangerously misguided pastoral practices.

DO said...

Fr Mullady did not say that NFP can become "intrinsically" contraceptive (such a statement would be philosophically confused anyway; the recognition that an act can become one thing or another is itself a recognition that it is not intrinsically one thing or another); he said that if done unjustly it can be reduced to "an act of contraception."

Papal teaching provides us theological doctrine, it does not constrain all the faithful to phrase everything in precisely the same way as it is presented therein. The mere fact that there is not a Magisterial document currently in circulation that refers to the decision to unjustly use NFP as contraceptive is not sufficient to publicly rebuke another priest (one of the only mainstream well-known priests with the courage to condemn the abuse of NFP) and accuse him of promulgating serious, dangerous error simply because he chooses to publicly recognize that to enter into marriage and then intentionally refuse to have children for selfish reasons is a decision against-life; contra-ception.

If you desire a sense of absolute security want to limit yourself to only phrasing things precisely in the same ways that you are able to find in the magisterium, then that is fine, but do not publicly rebuke others for refusing to limit themselves in that way; this strikes me as precisely the type of factitiousness that Paul condemns.

Now, I do appreciate your desire to ensure that Catholic moral teaching does not become a burden instead of a blessing. Fr. Mullady always teaches his seminarian students to be extremely merciful in the confessional, and he does not go insisting that NFP can only be used if the woman's life is in serious danger from another pregnancy (he usually uses the example of desiring an additional car or vacation as insufficient to use NFP).

In sum, and in the spirit of Aquinas, I do believe a simple distinction could settle this dispute (and I wish that happened privately between you and Fr. Mullady before this post was published)

Insofar as one argues that the unjust decision to use NFP can render the sexual act itself (undertaken while this decision is in effect) an intrinsically contraceptive act, he is promulgating serious error

Insofar as one argues that the unjust decision to use NFP is a decision that is against-life, or contra-ceptive, then he is promulgating an extremely important truth that is barely ever heard in mainstream Catholic circles

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

you said "and i wish that [what] happened privately between you and Fr. Mullady before this post was published" ... that is an absurd accusation. I have never met the man, never spoken with the man, never had any contact whatsoever with him. Nothing has ever "happened".

Do you belong to that mass of persons who assumes that two individuals can't dissagree without having some sin? Are you so dominated by the passions that you must assume that passion dominates everyone else's theological discuissions as well.

Well, you and Fr Mullady contradict the magisterium in your thought ... for Pope Paul VI has stated (HV 16) that NFP and contraception are "completely different".
Sitting in your tower, you tie the heavy burden for others to carry.

DO said...

I am well aware there was no contact between you and he, and I lament it (it would not have been hard; try googling "contact Fr Mullady." Or if you'd like I could put you in contact.) I will now ignore your rhetorical questions and proceed.

Paul VI did not say that. He said that NFP and "the use of means which directly prevent conception" are completely different. Obviously both I and Fr. Mullady fully accept and submit to that (could Fr. Mullady have been any more clear on that in his article? I think not.). Paul VI did NOT say that ONLY those means which DIRECTLY prevent conception can be licitly referred to as contraceptive in any way. This is your own extrapolation, and it is truly sad that by it you are ready to imply that I and Fr. Mullady are heretics. You have basically insisted upon in your own mind (and evidently built very high mental walls around this insistence) that it is sinful to use the word "contraception" except in reference to the deliberate and direct artificial frustration of the conjugal act itself. Please recognize that this insistence is of your own making, and that you are the one tying up heavy burdens on others by accusing us of grave sin by not speaking exactly the same way you do.

If you need further proof, please feel free to mine up every single magisterial document that refers to the sinfulness of contraception. You will not find one case where the magisterium says "all contraception is an intrinsic grave evil," or anything to that effect. This is because the the Holy Spirit via the magisterium is well aware that the term "contraception" can licitly be used how Fr. Mullady uses it, since there are cases where contraception is only evil by intention and not by object (viz., the unjust use of NFP).

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Where do I say that contraception has to be artificial? I would say that coitus interuptus is contraceptive.

However, there is no contra-ceptive act or intention in NFP -- maybe selfish, but not anything which renders the act infertile (neither in the intention nor in the act).

Anonymous said...

Fr., you say there is nothing about NFP which renders an act infertile, either in the intention or the act. But surely NFP is frequently employed for the purpose of preventing conception. Why then would it not be contraceptive in intention?

If a man uses a condom, his act may nevertheless fail to prevent conception. Thus its use does not in and of itself 'render' an act infertile. Why then is his act intrinsically contraceptive, but, a couple which uses NFP for the same purpose is not judged to have acted with the intention to prevent conception? Surely both have the same intention both in regard to the end that they desire to achieve, and in regard to their hope that the act which they do will be adequate to accomplish that end.

The difference between the 2 acts then has to do with recourse to artificiality. Thus, it would seem that artificiality is the key to understanding what is licit and what is not.


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

It is not about natural verses artificial ... coitus interuptus does not use any artificial tool - but it is still contraceptive to withdraw early.

NFP does nothing to take an act and make it infertile - rather, it just allows the couple to make use of the infertile period.

WannabeSaint said...

A fan of both replies, but i really think that game, set and match go to Daniel O'Connor on this one.
Father, with all respect as an avid reader of your blog, you did not really address any of the points in Daniel's last post which very lucidly presented his case and the apparent weakness in your position as regards both the moral theological nuances and the corresponding Magisterial teachings.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Wannabe and Daniel,

The fact is that the Church sees NFP and contraception as completely different, and refuses to use the term "contraceptive" to describe illicit uses of NFP ...

consider Familiaris Consortio, 32 -- "In the light of the experience of many couples and of the data provided by the different human sciences, theological reflection is able to perceive and is called to study further the difference, both anthropological and moral, between contraception and recourse to the rhythm of the cycle: it is a difference which is much wider and deeper than is usually thought, one which involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality."

There you have it ... "contraception" used as directly opposite to NFP

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