Thursday, April 25, 2013

Jay Boyd and the Traditionalist Trojan Horse

As I make clear often, I'm a traditionalist.  I'm also set to be married soon.  I hate the way perfectly Orthodox Catholics are mandated to take NFP courses as a condition for getting married.  I hate it, but I obey it.  I hate when those who are looking to have large families are accused of not engaging in responsible parenting by those who basically belong to the cult of NFP.  I also hate it when those like Christopher West portray every traditionalist as a sex-hating Manichean.

All of this is why I get so enraged when I see garbage such as the article by Dr. Jay Boyd which calls NFP a "Trojan Horse" in Catholic families which is destroying the proper understanding of marriage, procreation and sexuality.  Let's get the obvious out of the way before her specific arguments are dealt with. 

Like myself, Dr. Boyd attempts to wrap herself up in the mantle of a traditionalist, even expressing fidelity to the Magesterium before Vatican II to justify her points.  I submit that if we were following the glory days before Vatican II, Dr. Boyd would be forbidden from speaking on this issue, which would be pretty awesome.  You see, Dr. Boyd is not a theologian.  Her doctorate is in a secular field, Developmental Psychology.  As she is not a theologian, she certainly is not a moral theologian.  During the glory days before Vatican II, only those with formal training in moral theology were allowed to speak on these kinds of issues.  That is because moral theology deals specifically with what is and isn't sinful.  In order to come to that conclusion, priests were given training for 3-4 years 4 or 5 times a week exhaustively on this stuff.  They also were forbidden from writing about this kind of stuff in popular publications, to say nothing of online Catholic e-zines.  So if Dr. Boyd wishes to return to the glory days before Vatican II, let her do so by refraining from speaking on which she obviously isn't qualified to speak on. 

Yet if we must live in the post-conciliar days when any layman with google at their fingertips is allowed to speak on such issues, allow me the indulgence of stating why what Dr. Boyd teaches is wrong.  She begins by stating the following about NFP:

NFP doesn’t explicitly fly in the face of such an understanding, but it is dramatically not submissive to God. NFP is all about a degree of control that is objectionable in any traditional Catholic understanding of marriage or Catholic spirituality in general.

There's only one problem with this.  According to the "traditional Catholic understanding of marriage or Catholic spirituality in general", there's nothing wrong with NFP.  I issued Dr. Boyd a challenge.  Name me three moral theologians before Vatican II who taught that NFP was not submissive to God.  If she cannot name three, name two.  If she cannot name two, name one.  When I did so, she called me closed minded, and stated she wasn't interested in having this discussion.  Don't do it for my sake Dr. Boyd!  Do it for your readers, several of them who asked the same questions I did!

Just to humor her, we can cite some moral theologians before Vatican II who speak quite a bit about NFP.  Fr. Charles McFadden, a professor at Villanova wrote in Medical Ethics that "No unnatural action is committed by those who exercise their marital rights in a truly natural manner during the safe period."  Fr. Gerald Kelly, S.J. (1958) states in Medico-Moral Problems that when it comes to the rhythm method (a very early concept of NFP):

The Church teaches that contraception is a sin because it means doing what is evil. It is not the same with rhythm. Those who practice the rhythm do nothing evil. They simply omit doing something good — that is, they abstain from intercourse at the time when it might be fertile. Therefore, the morality of using rhythm must be judged in the same way as other omissions: if the abstinence from intercourse is a neglect of duty, it is sinful; if it does not imply a neglect of duty, it is not sinful
Dr. Boyd comes pretty darn close to saying that couples who engage in the marital embrace knowingly outside of the "fertile period" sin.  Fr. Nicholas Halligan (1963) disagrees in his The Administration of the Sacraments:

As regards the conjugal act spouses are free to choose whatever time they wish to use their marital rights or also to abstain by mutual consent. Thus they are not obliged to perform this act only during the fertile period, neither are they obliged to refrain during the sterile period.

“God has endowed the nature of woman with both periods. Deliberately to limit the use of marital relations exclusively to the sterile periods in order to avoid conception (i.e., to practice periodic continence or rhythm) is, according to the common teaching of theologians, morally lawful in actual practice if there is mutual consent, sufficient reason and due safeguards against attendant dangers.
Finally, in one of the more authoritative Pre-Vatican II theology manuals, Handbook of Moral Theology, Fr. Dominic Prummer states:

To make use of the so-called safe period (i.e., to refrain from the conjugal act during the period when the woman is fertile) has been declared lawful by the Sacred Penitentiary, but it is not a certain means of preventing conception, since there is no infallible way of determining the safe period

So now that we've established that the Church before Vatican II viewed NFP a lot more permissively than Dr. Boyd, what about the Popes?  As Fr. Brian Harrison (as always) masterfully displays, NFP was given formal sanction by the Catholic Church back in 1853.  This was reaffirmed several times by those with the competent papal authority under those great Popes of Happy memory Blessed Pius IX, Leo XIII, St. Pius X, and finally Pius XI.  Now that we have established what the Church taught before Vatican II, let's ask ourselves which sounds more in line with traditional Catholic teaching and spirituality.

NFP is all about a degree of control that is objectionable in any traditional Catholic understanding of marriage or Catholic spirituality in general.  (No name layman with a psychology degree)

“If therefore there are well-grounded reasons for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances, the Church teaches that married people may then take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile, thus controlling birth in a way which does not in the least offend the moral principles which We have just explained....  And when the infertile period recurs, they use their married intimacy to express their mutual love and safeguard their fidelity toward one another. In doing this they certainly give proof of a true and authentic love  (Servant of the Servants of God Paul VI, Bishop of Rome, Humanae Vitae)

Considering that she wrote a book on the subject, you'd think she would indulge in this kind of research, instead of pontificating (without any authority) about how sex between spouses when they both know they aren't fertile is sinful.

Finally, she seems to have an odd view of "remedy of concupisence" when she states:

When a married couple thinks the time is not right for pregnancy, the first option is abstinence; but, if desire is too strong, then charity demands that they engage in the remedy for their concupiscence.
It would probably help if she understood a bit about biblical languages.  John Paul II did, and he gave a pretty good understanding of this in his Wednesday audiences.  Forgive the lengthy citation, but one needs to use overwhelming force here:

In the Pauline words, "It is better to marry than to be aflame with passion," the verb ardere signifies a disorder of the passions, deriving from the concupiscence of the flesh. (Concupiscence is presented in a similar way in the Old Testament by Sirach; cf. Sir 23:17.) However, marriage signifies the ethical order, which is consciously introduced in this context. It can be said that marriage is the meeting place of eros with ethos and of their mutual compenetration in the heart of man and of woman, as also in all their mutual relationships.....

Those who, as spouses, according to the eternal divine plan, join together so as to become in a certain sense one flesh, are also in their turn called, through the sacrament, to a life according to the Spirit. This corresponds to the gift received in the sacrament. In virtue of that gift, by leading a life according to the Spirit, the spouses are capable of rediscovering the particular gratification which they have become sharers of. As much as concupiscence darkens the horizon of the inward vision and deprives the heart of the clarity of desires and aspirations, so much does "life according to the Spirit" (that is, the grace of the sacrament of marriage) permit man and woman to find again the true liberty of the gift, united to the awareness of the spousal meaning of the body in its masculinity and femininity.

So let's break this down here.  Concupisence effects everything, including the bedroom.  Yet as couples grow in holiness, including through the marital embrace, the hold concpusience has over them is lessened.  When it is lessened, there is the chance to gradually rediscover and live the true freedom we were meant to live as spouses, a freedom ultimately modeled on Christ and the Church, and the communion of the Blessed Trinity.  In this context, the marital embrace is not a mere concession to our sinful ways.  It is something that, when used properly, leads to that freedom!

None of this is to say that NFP isn't abused.  In many cases, it clearly is.  Yet traditionalists should not be fooled by amateur hour bloggers who promise the teachings of the Fathers, but instead give the lies of the evil one behind the veneer of tradition.  We should instead look at what the Church actually teaches on the manner.  I provide the official Church teaching, and I'm not charging you 18 bucks to do so.  I don't need to give you a 5% discount on free ninety nine.  If you were going to spend your money on her book, you don't need to.  Spend it on my wedding instead!


  1. You don't actually have to buy the book. All of the chapters in it - plus a few that have been written since the book was published - are available for "free ninety nine" at my blog Just click on the NFP tab at the top of the page.

    BTW, I cite Fr. Brian Harrison's article, too; especially since he emphasizes the "serious needs" idea. And I think you might find some other points of interest and agreement between us if you took the time to read all of the posts, or the book in its entirety (which does include some additional material and references beyond the posts on my blog).

    Thanks for thinking and writing about my article

  2. Hello Dr. Boyd,

    I've given some of your blog a read, but not that part yet, will when I can. I really don't doubt that we have a lot of areas of agreement. Me and my bride to be get looked at with the funny eye, even amongst otherwise orthodox catholics, when we indicate that we will very likely have children within two years of marriage. I know those who could afford kids, but choose to delay them so they can travel, save up for the big house, etc. They might even use NFP for that, and they are almost certainly doing it wrong. This really is a contraceptive mindset which views children a hinderance towards marriage, and that all Catholics should reject.

    As I said, I also strongly disdain the idea that perfectly orthodox couples with no intent to contracept are forced to sit in classes where they are taught their desire to have several children is not "responsible parenting" by some laymen with no formal theological training. Yet I also understand why many dioceses want these programs, as sadly, a lot of couples are contracepting, and by making light of NFP, these priests are simply taking the path of St. John Vianney, who counseled others to handle the confessions of penitents in these kinds of matters. St. John Vianney meanwhile was simply taking the guidelines of the Holy See, under the direction of Blessed Pius IX.

    Yet I'm hesitant to say that the majority of people who are practicing NFP are guilty of this. A very solid majority of those practicing NFP among my generation I'd wager have several children, and are looking to have more. Many times they use these methods to increase the chances of pregnancy, and there exist serious economic, health, and other circumstances which might require the spacing of births, in which case it should be done only in conjunction with real spiritual direction from a confessor, so he can make sure your reasons are serious, instead of just trying to get around the difficulties of the cross.

    In the end, what you or I say really doesn't matter. It's why I focused so strongly on the moral theologians. The moral theology manuals priests follow say this is okay, and have since the 1800's(when this stuff became possible.) The Popes from Pius XI, Pius XII, Paul VI and Bl John Paul II have all explicitly said NFP was permissable from a pastoral as well as dogmatic standpoint. With that being the case, it is highly imprudent to refer to something sanctioned by 150 years of moral theology and formally by 4 popes as a "trojan horse" which is destroying Catholic family life.

  3. Mr Tierney:

    Aside from the many ironies expressed in your article, which I wont comment on, please allow me to point out what concerns many who are less than enthused about NFP: the taking of God out of the marriage "process". By that I mean the decision by couples to decide for themselves how many children to have. That is the central issue of the debate and it is the "third rail" which no one, priest, Bishop or layman wishes to touch.

    Contraception involves two sins. The first is, of course, the destruction of created life by chemical or other means, as you well know. There is no argument about this, I believe, and no one who is appalled by NFP would accuse those who use it of destroyinga life already created. The second sin is the deliberate refusal to accept the children God Himself has sent to them.

    But there is the same second problem with NFP. More often that not, for not very good reasons, those who engage in Natural Family Planning ("planning" being the operative word to keep in mind)are refusing to accept the children God wants them to have. I am not competent to speak on the level of sinfulness involved in this second issue or any culpability on the part of the couple, nor are, I am sad to point, many "pre-Vatican 2" theologians (wasn't it, after all, the "pre-Vatican 2" theologians who got the Church into the mess it is now in?). I cannot count the number of books in my library written in the last 100+ years that contain not only sound moral thinking but also some incredibly modernistic ideas. That most of them were published in America by American clerics should not surprise us. "Americanism" was alive and well then, and is still alive and well now, vide Cardinals like Dolan and Wuerl. The Americanists looked around them and instructed their faithful to conform more closely to their non-Catholic American brethren and that is one reason why they promoted the "Catholic" method of birth control. That is why I read any Catholic book written withing the last two centuries (especially the American ones) with discernment, and so should everyone else.

    But in practical terms the situation is thus: despite all the high-falutin' statements from couples about making prayerful decisions, the fact is that the average Catholic family today is about the same size as everyone else's. And if you speak to those who use NFP, as I have, you will find that with very few exceptions their families aren't all that much bigger. They have developed a rather elastic attitude towards the Church's "grave reasons" warning.

    Remember, too, that there is a wide difference between what the Church permits and what the Church promotes. The Church has permitted NFP in grave cases. But it didn't take long for the modernists to take that permission and turn it into the horrors which you describe, like the mandatory NFP courses. The Church, extrememly unwisely, permits Communion-in-the-hand, too. And now look where we are. Recall, too: the Church's opinion on the use of NFP does not fall under the charism of infallibility. The issue SHOULD be a matter of ex cathedra teaching but I very much doubt there is sufficient courage in Rome to tackle the matter.

    NFP has today become exactly analogous to the Church annullment process: a ridiculous farce. We have to put away the cliches face that reality.

    All this is written just to remind everyone that the requirement here should be to calm down, take a long, hard, sobering look at the realities and then engage in polite discussion. That's the best way.

  4. Aged Parent,

    I don't think you are going to get much argument here that NFP is abused. I don't think anyone sane would argue otherwise. The question is, does the abuse define something? Is it possible to use something properly? I say it is. Since at least the 1850's, the Church has stated that NFP is lawful, and when used, should be used a certain way. Our opinions on the matter really mean nothing.

    I will not forbid what the church has not forbidden. If anything, I'll do my best from my limited station in life to make sure abuses are rooted out, and that people see how it is possible to live out a healthy marriage, whether they are using NFP in serious circumstances or they aren't. That starts with my own example.

  5. Nice article. Just want to add something:

    Pius XII was the first to use the term "serious reasons" when contemplating spacing births - an explanation of an idea first developed in 1 Corinthians. The current Catechism, 2nd edition, uses the term "just reasons" (see #2368). Is justice considered serious matter? Sure. But just bear in mind that nowhere in Church teaching is the term "grave" used when describing reasons to postpone pregnancy.

    I expanded on the Church's historical teachings a bit here:

    Hopefully ya'll find it useful.

  6. Mr. Tierney, as a traditional Catholic myself, I have discovered this topic to raise a lot of eyebrows and ires. While it is true that the Church has never forbidden married couples from being continent, it has never been encouraged or recommended. In fact, quite the opposite. You are also correct in your analysis that this discussion would never have even taken place before our current times, primarily because things of such an intimate nature were best left to private conversations with priests. However, in just a few years, Catholic family size has shrunk rapidly. So much so, that Catholics have just about the same family size as Protestants or seculars. The root of the issue is not necessarily the periodic practice of continence. It is primarily an idea for Catholics that developed out of Vatican II and Pope Paul VI called "responsible parenting." This idea, in fact, was a novelty to Catholic thinking, yet it has taken root within the hearts of even traditional Catholics. I suspect now that traditional Catholics who practice NFP (and I do know some who do) have good intentions, but are actually being misled. Periodic continence can be a moral good if one is particularly inclined to sexual sins. Put periodic continence is a moral evil if couples are intentionally avoiding children without very, very grave reasons. I have also written about this subject here: God bless, Mr. Tierney.


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