Sunday, May 13, 2007

NFP Debate

I recently engaged in a debate over this post on a traditionalist group's blog. I was very sure going in that "of course, everyone needs to know NFP". After considering the issue further, I began to wonder if that was indeed the case. So, I hit the books to see if I could find evidence for the widespread teaching of NFP.

First I will try to give the highlights of the debate for those of you who don't wish to slog through it all on your own.

Their side:
1) learning NFP may tempt people to sin, either in the frank discussions involved in learning it or in the possession of knowledge about a woman's fertile times (i.e. a couple may use it without serious reason)

2) in the West, the experience of serious enough reasons for the use of NFP are so rare as to make widespread teaching of the method not just unnecessary and a waste of time, but potentially immoral, as learning it may be a temptation to sin

My basic arguments:
1) most couples will have serious enough reasons to use NFP at some point in their marriage, so it should be offered to couples at the start of their marriage

2) learning NFP in the pre-marriage period is less stressful than trying to learn it once a need arises - it's also easier as the signs confused by breastfeeding infertility, poor sleep due to newborn/infant/child sleep habits, etc.

The first thing that I took the time to read was Casti Connubii, something that's been on my "to be read" list for several years now. I then went through Familiaris Consortio. The contrast between the two is interesting, but I don't see any glaring contradictions. In 1930, when Casti Connubii was written NFP didn't exist as it does today, but still Pope Pius XI mentions and allows recourse to natural infertile periods for spacing births. Pope John Paul II had the benefit of seeing the effects of several decades of use of modern NFP, and makes quite a case for it's widespread dissemination.

I'll try to briefly reflect on what I see as some of the more relevant points in FC. In section 28, he writes, "Thus, the fundamental task of the family is to serve life, to actualize in history the original blessing of the Creator - that of transmitting by procreation the divine image from person to person. Fecundity is the fruit and the sign of conjugal love.... However, the fruitfulness of conjugal love is not restricted to the procreation of is enlarged and enriched by all those fruits of moral spiritual and supernatural life which the father and mother are called to hand on to their children and through the children to the Church and to the world." (para 2-4)

In this section we see, that while procreation is "fundamental" to marriage, the live-giving and life-serving responsibly does not end with procreation. Parents have the task of educating their children, especially in faith and morals, with an eye towards not only their redemption, but also that of the world by way of the example shown by the family. Thus, responsible parenthood should include discernment by the husband and wife of whether or not at any given time the family's life-giving service is best shown by seeking to add a new life or refraining from doing so. Parent's have a right to be able to take into consideration their ability to care for their children in such a way as to give them a solid foundation in the faith, when deciding about family size.

Section 32, para. 5-6: When, instead, by means of recourse to periods of infertility, the couple respect the inseparable connection between the unitive and procreative meanings of human sexuality, they are acting as "ministers" of God's plan and they "benefit from" their sexuality according to the original dynamism of "total" selfgiving, without manipulation or alteration.
The choice of the natural rhythms involves accepting the cycle of the person, that is the woman, and thereby accepting dialogue, reciprocal respect, shared responsibility and self- control. To accept the cycle and to enter into dialogue means to recognize both the spiritual and corporal character of conjugal communion and to live personal love with its requirement of fidelity. In this context the couple comes to experience how conjugal communion is enriched with those values of tenderness and affection which constitute the inner soul of human sexuality, in its physical dimension also. In this way sexuality is respected and promoted in its truly and fully human dimension, and is never "used" as an "object" that, by breaking the personal unity of soul and body, strikes at God's creation itself at the level of the deepest interaction of nature and person."

Here JPII, talks about how couple's benefit from the practice of NFP, in communication, responsibility and self-control. He talks about how NFP involves an acceptance of the truth about sexuality, and respect for the wife, as her fertility is not rejected as it is with contraception.

Section 33:
(para. 3)
As Mother, the Church is close to the many married couples who find themselves in difficulty over this important point of the moral life: she knows well their situation, which is often very arduous and at times truly tormented by difficulties of every kind, not only individual difficulties but social ones as well; she knows that many couples encounter difficulties not only in the concrete fulfillment of the moral norm but even in understanding its inherent values. But it is one and the same Church that is both Teacher and Mother. And so the Church never ceases to exhort and encourage all to resolve whatever conjugal difficulties may arise without ever falsifying or compromising the truth: she is convinced that there can be no true contradiction between the divine law on transmitting life and that on fostering authentic married love.
(para. 5)
On the other hand, authentic ecclesial pedagogy displays its realism and wisdom only by making a tenacious and courageous effort to create and uphold all the human conditions-psychological, moral and spiritual-indispensable for understanding and living the moral value and norm.
(para 6) There is no doubt that these conditions must include persistence and patience, humility and strength of mind, filial trust in God and in His grace, and frequent recourse to prayer and to the sacraments of the Eucharist and of Reconciliation.
(para 7)
But the necessary conditions also include the knowledge of the bodily aspect and the body's rhythms of fertility. Accordingly, every effort must be made to render such knowledge accessible to all married people and also to young adults before marriage, through clear, timely and serious instruction and education given by married couples, doctors and experts. Knowledge must then lead to education in selfcontrol...(emphasis mine)

Here, we read that the Church knows that virtuously living out the marriage vows is difficult. Then JPII goes on to list some of the areas in which instruction and formation are necessary to enable couples to fully live out their marriage vows responsibly and without contradiction to moral norms. Psychological, moral and physical health are to be looked after, as teaching in and the practice of virtues. Seeing that these conditions are meet will help couples to have healthy marriages. JPII then goes on to say that knowledge of the fertility cycle should be made "accessible to all married people," and "to young adults before marriage." This sounds like a call for the widespread teaching of NFP to me. If JPII saw any threat of harm in teaching about fertility, he would not have called to it to be taught before marriage. Later, in section 35, he goes on to call for a "broader, more decisive and more systematic effort to make natural methods of regulating fertility known, respected and applied." (emphasis mine) Again we see the Pope calling for knowledge of NFP to be made more widespread, and put into use! If he was concerned about mis-use, then he would have been less forceful in his call for dissemination of the knowledge of NFP. And clearly, he believed that there are many couples for whom the use of NFP would be licit.

There are sections of FC that do remind couple's to use discernment in regard to family size. Specifically, section 34, calls couples to look to the teaching of Humanae Vitae as "the norm for the exercise of their sexuality." And later in the same section, "...
the function of transmitting life must be integrated into the overall mission of Christian life as a whole, which without the Cross cannot reach the Resurrection. In such a context it is understandable that sacrifice cannot be removed from family life, but must in fact be wholeheartedly accepted if the love between husband and wife is to be deepened and become a source of intimate joy." (para 6). So he doesn't do away with or forget about what was taught in HV. The conditions for use of NFP...just, serious or grave still apply. So we see that JPII's call for widespread teaching of NFP came even after consideration of the guidelines put forth in HV.

A summation:
There are many factors that come into play in a decision about whether or not to have another child. People must be adequately taught in order to live out their marriage vows and make responsible choices about parenthood. Part of that teaching should include knowledge of the woman's fertility. Having knowledge about a woman's fertility, and respecting her natural rythyms leads to the growth of virtue. The sense of responsibility fostered by knowledge of fertility, and the discernment called for in HV are integral to using NFP in a virtuous way. Knowledge of the Church's teachings on sexuality and responsible parenthood should be taught, including knowledge about NFP so that couple can make good decisions regarding family size and continue to live in service to life.

So, in the end, I am more convinced than ever that NFP is good, and that it should be widely promoted and taught, but only within the context of Church teaching on the family.


Sophie said...

I started a thread in the message forum of for this if you're interested. Very good post, BTW.

PJP said...

Hello, Jen.

It is always a challenge to objectively read things without reading one’s viewpoint into a studied document. I praise your efforts in cracking the books, but I think you are misconstruing what is being written to some degree.

In this vein, I have some questions and comments for you.

1.Where in Casti Connubii does Pius XI refer to “recourse to natural infertile periods to space births”? I think I missed this section…

2.You read into FC 28, as it only supports the first end of marriage (primary end) – the procreation and education of children. This has nothing to say about NFP nor responsible parenthood with regards to limiting births. Furthermore, this whole section of FC (ch. 2) is called “SERVING LIFE”, which is the aim and thrust of Church teaching on marriage.

3. FC 32 does address the issue of “by means of recourse to periods of infertility”, but this simply states the difference between the use of contraception and NFP. We know and agree that contraception is wrong and NFP is acceptable and good in the context of serious reasons. Nowhere does the Pope say NFP should be a lifestyle or culture as we see growing today. Furthermore, it does not say NFP should be mandatory for each couple preparing for marriage. Just as the pope notes, NFP is a choice (not a lifestyle that should be adopted by everyone and mandatory). This choice, as we know, should be discerned within the context of serious reasons, as has been traditionally taught.

4.With regards to FC 33, there is no mention of mandatory necessity, but that the knowledge of NFP be accessible. Accessibility is quite different from mandatory necessity. I’ve never argued for locking up NFP course material or “striving for ignorance,” as another stated/accused. Furthermore, accessibility can be restricted by the necessity and discernment (see 33 § 6) regarding one’s personal circumstance, taking the moral norms of Catholic married life into consideration. This is where we gravely need priests to assist the faithful in discerning the moral truth of a certain situation that may lead to the application of NFP (see HV 28 and FC 34). We must remember, as the Pope notes, that our lot as married couples “must include persistence and patience, humility and strength of mind, filial trust in God and in His grace, and frequent recourse to prayer and to the sacraments…”

5.FC 33 also speaks of the virtue of chastity and self-control. One cannot limit such virtues to the practice of NFP.

6.JPII also talks about periodic continence and it’s virtue, instead of NFP, in quoting Paul VI: "To dominate instinct by means of one's reason and free will undoubtedly requires ascetical practices, so that the affective manifestations of conjugal life may observe the correct order, in particular with regard to the observance of periodic continence. Yet this discipline which is proper to the purity of married couples, far from harming conjugal love, rather confers on it a higher human value."

7.With regards to FC 35, the pope, again, does not call for mandatory classes or a NFP life culture. He only notes the natural methods should be made known. All of this has to be taken in the context of serious reason as Paul VI notes in HV. 10.

Remember FC 35 is read in light of 34: It is always very important to have a right notion of the moral order, its values and its norms; and the importance is all the greater when the difficulties in the way of respecting them become more numerous and serious.

8.As made known in my original post – there are No Formal Parameters, and we need our priests to guide us correctly in discerning serious reasons for the use of NFP. NFP is not to be a lifestyle or a mandatory issue, but an extraordinary reality in light of the beautiful teaching on marriage and family. We need priest to teach the faithful what is moral. When was the last time you heard a priest condemn contraception and promote the truth of Catholic marriage?

Hence, FC 34: “It must also be kept in mind that conjugal intimacy involves the wills of two persons, who are however called to harmonize their mentality and behavior: this requires much patience, understanding and time. Uniquely important in this field is unity of moral and pastoral judgment by priests, a unity that must be carefully sought and ensured, in order that the faithful may not have to suffer anxiety of conscience. (see HV. 28)

It will be easier for married people to make progress if, with respect for the Church's teaching and with trust in the grace of Christ, and with the help and support of the pastors of souls and the entire ecclesial community, they are able to discover and experience the liberating and inspiring value of the authentic love that is offered by the Gospel and set before us by the Lord's commandment. Instilling Conviction and Offering Practical Help.”

9.Btw, we are not a Traditionalist blog, though we hold to traditional values and support the return of the Traditional Latin Mass. We are traditional Catholics, but Catholics nonetheless.

Thank you, Jen, for your post. We all are called to know the Church’s teaching on sexuality and responsible parenthood to make good moral decisions regarding our families and to live in the service to life. Let us pray for our priests so they may assist the faithful in their vocation to Catholic marriage. We have such a gift from God, may we only open to doing His will daily. Let us recapture the beauty of Catholic marriage for what is truly is!

God bless you and Jimmy. Be assured of our prayers.

In Him,

Carley said...


Hello, I am a contributor to PJP's website, and I too have been following this debate.

I would like to comment/ respond to your two basic arguments.

1) How can you state that "most couples will have serious enough reasons to use NFP at some point in their marriage"?
I guess it goes back to "what is serious?" If money, then surely this is NOT the case in the West.

2) Is learning NFP in the pre-marriage state "less stressful...?" I think that's purely a matter of opinion.

Also, as Peter has been saying, this makes it seem as if the Church is promoting NFP as a way of life, which she is not. NFP is medicine to the sick, as one professor of mine put it. Unless you go into marriage with the intent of having a "sick" lifestyle (no pun), then it shouldn't be presented as such. The problem I find with your second argument is that it promotes as a lifestlye that which shouldn't be. And with your first point, I don't believe you can ever justify that claim.

Thanks for your post and debate on our blog.

Sarah said...

You referred to us as a "traditionalist group". I want to note that Peter and I do not call ourselves "traditionalists". We are Roman Catholic. We attend the Traditional Latin Mass, the bishop-approved indult. We do not adhere to any of the disobedient attitudes and behaviors of many who call themselves "traditionalists", we are faithful to Rome in every which way.

I recently posted this on my blog and I wanted to add it here because I want to clarify our position. The included quotes are mostly statements made by Paul, a fellow blogger on your site. I want to make it clear that I am directing my comments mostly to Paul, not to you, but the piece on a whole illustrates our position. This is not meant to provoke you, just to help you see where we are coming from.

NFP. It’s a big issue. Being such a recent phenomenon in the Church and being approved by the Magisterium with such “very wide limits”, there are many questions and concerns to be considered by everyone involved – bishops and pastors, NFP instructors, the average Catholic couple. That is ultimately what Peter had in mind when he posted on this topic: to raise questions where questions can and need to be raised.

The fact remains: there have been very few and very vague guidelines set for the use and instruction of NFP. That leaves us much room for debate and discussion. The questions surrounding NFP pose challenges and therefore the answers will never be easy to come by. In fact, since the Church doesn’t, I don’t think we will ever come up with “answers”. We cannot set strict, defined limits where the Church has not done so. Obviously.

However, as intelligent human beings, we can consider the issue as it is being practiced in a general and theoretical sense, without making any moral judgments on anyone in particular, nor "harboring prejudice against other Catholics". We are using our brains to critically think about a relatively new issue in the Church. Are we not meant to use our minds for that?

The very fact that we at RCP are interested in looking at the question of NFP illustrates that we are striving for much more than ignorance. We do not "loathe science or nature". We simply do not think that we must use a scientific method to determine God’s will for our family-size. It is perfectly acceptable and laudatory to go to God as children do their parents, with their hands open, trusting that He will only ever give us what is good. This is not “leaving things to chance”. This is leaving things to God. In doing so, we are not looking down on others who use NFP. We have been advised that we cannot tell others that they shouldn’t use NFP. Why, then, do some think that they can tell us that we should know and use NFP?

(I quote Paul: “…discerning God’s will is far more then leaving things to chance. If there is an intelligent way to more fully conform to God Will’s then we should do it, instead of just plodding along and saying that everything that we do and subsequently what happens to you is “God’s Will”.”)

Though all we have ever done is simply look at the NFP phenomenon by critically considering theoretical questions using hypothetical situations, we have been held in suspicion of making private judgment on individual persons/couples.

(Again, I quote Paul: “Wouldn’t you agree that it a rather stunning hypocrisy to hold in highest regard a married couple that didn’t even ever try to conceive a child, yet criticize other couples who for one reason or another delay having children…”) Which other couples have we criticized? We have criticized attitudes and policies, but never once have we criticized any couples.

I have said several times in this post that I do not, because I cannot, judge in any particular instance. We have just brought up certain hypothetical circumstances in the hopes of helping others to think of the issue for themselves and form their own consciences about what may and may not constitute a “just reason”. We are simply challenging others to consider all that we in the modern Western world believe to be a serious/just/worthwhile reason for using NFP and put these reasons into the context of all of history and Church tradition. We all need to seriously consider the meaning of “just reason”. Not because we want to look down at others, but so that we may properly form our own consciences and live justly in the sight of God.

We see and accept that some may licitly use NFP, exercising their intellect to understand their fertility and applying their knowledge when necessary. However, it is our argument that knowing and practicing NFP is not the ONLY way to use one’s intellect in discerning God’s will for one’s family. I may need to use my intellect in every area of my life, but must I do so in a scientific and biological way? My husband must hold a job to the best of his ability, and must use his intellect to consider whether he should seek another job when necessary. But must he look at each and every minute detail of his job on a daily basis and have monthly meetings with me about possibly changing his line of work and looking for something else? Each and every month?

In order to make prudent decisions, must I always use my intellect, or is it possible to do so by simply seeking God’s will in prayer? I may use my intellect to aid me, but must I always use it? Or will there be times when God’s ways are not my ways? When I must trust in faith what I cannot understand with my frail intellect? According to St. Teresa’s explanation of contemplation (the deepest earthly communion one can have with God) it is necessary that the intellect is NOT employed. There is something very significant about this.

We can look at the documents and understand that when PJPII in Familiaris Consortio asks that [NFP] be made “more accessible” this does not mean that it must/should be made mandatory. We can use our intellect to look at the reality of our fallen human nature and our concupiscence, and the nature and content of NFP course material and know that there may be some, perhaps many, couples who will be in a near occasion to commit the sin of lust because of such a course. We are using our intellects when we judge that for that reason alone, NFP courses should not ever be made mandatory. (Knowingly putting oneself into a near occasion of sin is already in itself a sin. If a couple attends one NFP class and realizes that it presents serious temptations to them, then knowingly attending the class again would be sinful. How can something be made mandatory for all if it is likely (history shows that sexuality often strongly affects concupiscent persons) to cause some/many to be in a near occasion of sin and possibly lead them to fall into actual sin?)

We hear the argument: NFP must be taught so that couples will know that contraception is intrinsically evil, and using our reason we can see very clearly that this is quite silly. No one needs to learn NFP in order to know that contraception must never be used.

As for Latin, we do not need to know Latin to participate in a Latin Mass. That’s why we have our missals. In fact, I do not know a lick of Latin, but every week I attend the TLM and Jesus speaks to my heart each and every week when I have received Him in Communion. I do not need to know Latin to communicate with God, even if I do attend a Latin Mass. And I do not need to understand my fertility to do His will. It may be helpful in some/many circumstances, but it is certainly not necessary for all.

Knowledge can be a good thing, but it can most certainly pose serious dangers to my relationship with God. We know from Holy Scripture that the primordial temptation that man faces is the grasping for knowledge in order to become like gods. Knowledge can be good. But we must be vigilant in guarding it, we must use it carefully, we must share it with others with the greatest prudence, and it must only ever be at the service of our faith and our relationship with God.

The knowledge of NFP may be useful and helpful, it may be applied in the living out of God’s will for our marriage. But this particular knowledge of one’s fertility also poses great danger because it can be misused by men to become like gods in the determination of when life will come into the world. We live in a world in which there is little moral guidance and little appreciation for the gift of life. It seems especially dangerous to disseminate such a powerful kind of knowledge as NFP to so many people who are so poorly formed in their faith and in their moral conscience. Practically speaking, it seems like a waste of time and energy, when young couples are in such need of basic catechetical instruction. Even still, Peter and I have never advocated that it should be “shut away in a closet and never taught.” We are simply questioning whether current attitudes and policies regarding NFP education should be reformed so that it is treated with greater caution.

Peter and I are always seeking to understand our faith better, and to see the reality of the Church in modern times in the context of all of Church history and tradition. We do not ever claim to have all the answers. We post on these sensitive issues and ask difficult questions because we are truly asking the questions for our own edification. We started RCP over a year ago believing that we had much to share with others; in the course of the past year we have come to realize that God is using the apostolate to teach us that we will always have much to learn.

We thank you for contributing to our post. We have closed it from further comments so that we may look at other pertinent issues in the world and in the Church.

I know you have experienced some hostility from other bloggers on our site and I apologize for that. You have my personal invitation to join us in other discussions if you ever want to. God bless.

Jen said...

Sorry for the long response time, it's been a crazy week.

I'll try to answer some of your questions/arguments. Not sure if anything I'll say will be convincing for you, but I'll give it another try.


First, I'm sorry about the "traditionalist blog" remark. I didn't mean it in a disparaging sense, nor did I mean to say schismatic, though some may take the term that way. I was probably confused by your fellow blogger Steve, and his "Evil Traditionalist" site (which he has recently left dormant for a new blog).

1. CC doesn't specifically say "to space births." Here's the section to which I'm referring:

59. "...Nor are those considered as acting against nature who in the married state use their right in the proper manner although on account of natural reasons either of time or of certain defects, new life cannot be brought forth. For in matrimony as well as in the use of the matrimonial rights there are also secondary ends, such as mutual aid, the cultivating of mutual love, and the quieting of concupiscence which husband and wife are not forbidden to consider so long as they are subordinated to the primary end and so long as the intrinsic nature of the act is preserved."

As I said, CC allows marital relations during natural infertile periods. And since the second part talks about the husband and wife being allowed to consider secondary ends, this means that they may still have marital relations when they know themselves to be infertile... either because of the time of the month or because of "defects".

2. From Familiaris Consortio:

1. The Transmission of Life
Cooperators in the Love of God the Creator
28. With the creation of man and woman in His own image and likeness, God crowns and brings to perfection the work of His hands: He calls them to a special sharing in His love and in His power as Creator and Father, through their free and responsible cooperation in transmitting the gift of human life: "God blessed them, and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.'"(80)
Thus the fundamental task of the family is to serve life, to actualize in history the original blessing of the Creator-that of transmitting by procreation the divine image from person to person.(81)
Fecundity is the fruit and the sign of conjugal love, the living testimony of the full reciprocal selfgiving of the spouses: "While not making the other purposes of matrimony of less account, the true practice of conjugal love, and the whole meaning of the family life which results from it, have this aim: that the couple be ready with stout hearts to cooperate with the love of the Creator and the Savior, who through them will enlarge and enrich His own family day by day."(82)
However, the fruitfulness of conjugal love is not restricted solely to the procreation of children, even understood in its specifically human dimension: it is enlarged and enriched by all those fruits of moral, spiritual and supernatural life which the father and mother are called to hand on to their children, and through the children to the Church and to the world."

Note that it says "free and responsible cooperation in transmitting the gift of human life" at the start of the section. Thus this section does have something to say about responsible parenthood.

3. et al: I don't say "mandatory" anywhere. I say "widespread". I don't say it's a 'lifestyle', although I can understand why it may be advertised as such.

WARNING TANGENT AHEAD: Contraception is typically advertised with the thought "get birth control off your mind"... i.e. make it simple, and easy to forget about... "don't make me think about what I'm doing!" Though the contraceptive mentality certainly represents a life-style those using contraceptives want to ignore that reality (that contraception affects more that just one area of your life). Whereas, in NFP you are made aware of the need to think about your choices regarding birth regulation. You know that the choice of 'methods' in this area has a dramatic impact on other areas of your life, and you aren't trying to wall off one area from another.

I never said that the only way to learn the virtues of chastity and self-control was by doing NFP. Merely that NFP is a way to learn them, as opposed to contraceptives.

I think that you are making a false dichotomy between "periodic continence" and NFP. NFP is a form of periodic continence. The passage that you quoted does not exclude NFP when it talks about periodic continence.

I wish more priests would talk about the evils of contraception and the joys of openness to life, and even give firmer guidelines on what constitutes responsible parenthood. however, I don't think that every couple need seek specific permission of their priests every time that they discern a need to space via NFP. If they feel a need to permanently limit that is more serious, and should involve a visit to an orthodox priest.

I will join with you in praying for our priests that they may become better guides in this area.

Thank you for your comments. I hope that I have done an adequate job here of further explaining my position.

Jen said...


Welcome to the debate. I was also following the debate on the RCP site, even after I ceased commenting there. Paul is a friend of my husband and I, as you may have guessed.

In response to your fist question/comment, I'll repost here in part what I said on the RCP comment thread:

"As to what constitutes "serious reasons", you are right in saying that we have significant disagreement here. I feel that you are setting the bar way too high. There are far more serious reasons then those which you speak of.

Let's take C-sections for instance. A doctor will advise a woman not to conceive again for about a year after having a C-section, in order to allow proper healing, and to avoid potential complications to the health of the mother and the baby which can arise when this healing is not complete. It would be imprudent to go against sound medical advice in this situation. So for many women this would be a situation in which NFP charting would allow the time for proper healing (for other woman breastfeeding would provide a long enough period of infertility). About 25% of all deliveries are by C-section. This is hardly what I would call a 'rare' occurrence.

Some other "serious reasons" IMHO:

- the woman taking a needed medication that would pose a danger to the baby

- recovery from PPD (Post-Partum Depression - 5-25% of new mothers affected)

- birth of a sick or significantly developmentally delayed child

- significant financial distress

I could go on. Obviously, there is a great deal of discernment in each of the above categories.

Any competent teacher, when asked about what constitutes serious reasons would give some general guidelines, encourage significant prayer, and urge the couple to seek spiritual counsel from a competent authority.

Serious reasons to space children are not as rare or as remote as you think. Hence my advocacy for couple's learning NFP before marriage.

(an aside, serious reasons to permanently avoid pregnancy occur much less often, and maybe this is where your main objection arises?)"

As you can tell, financial difficulty, while a serious reason, is not mainly what I'm thinking about here when I say that most couples will have a serious reason to space children.

I would agree that in the West, we don't have poverty at the same level as in other countries, thus fewer people would have serious enough financial reasons here in the US than other countries.

In regard to your second point, about whether learning NFP in the engagement period is truly less stressful, I would stand by my statement that trying to learn how to do NFP once you are in the midst of a "serious reason" to postpone pregancy is more stressful than learning it in the pre-marriage period.

I say this based on my experience and observation of couples in both situations trying to learn NFP, as well on the testimony of couples who have written in to various publications which I read regarding NFP (specifically Family Foundations, published by the Couple to Couple League, for whom my husband and I teach). I have no statistics to back up my claim.

I would also point out that having a serious reason to avoid in and of itself is stressful, in addition to the stress of learning NFP.

Also, read my TANGENT in my response to Peter. I may develop my thought on the "NFP as a life style" question in a future post.

I don't think that NFP as lifestyle is necessarily in conflict with Church teaching. Depends on what you mean by lifestyle. Do you mean using NFP for the entire marriage without discernement? Or do you mean using NFP as an integral part of discerning responsible parenthood?