Responsible parenthood: What does the Church teach about family planning?

It’s Natural Family Planning Awareness Week, and as the USCCB states, it’s about “cooperating with God’s design for married love.” As Catholics, we know that married couples are to be always open to life and never to use artificial contraception. Spouses give themselves totally to one another in marriage, and Natural Family Planning works with a woman’s fertility to help achieve or avoid pregnancy while remaining open to the possibility that they may be blessed with new life.

mom and babyWith that knowledge, some Catholic couples wonder if being open to life means that they could never seek to avoid pregnancy or limit their family size for any reason. Msgr. Stuart Swetland explained what the Church teaches about responsible parenthood during a recent episode of Go Ask Your FatherTM. To begin, he referred to Humanae Vitae, a papal encyclical by St. Paul VI with clear teaching on God’s plan for married love and openness to life.

“What paragraph ten talks about in Humanae Vitae when it talks about responsible parenthood, is that parents have to discern the will of God for their family. And so it says:

With regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised, either by the deliberate and generous decision to raise a numerous family, or by the decision, made for serious motives and with due respect for the moral law, to avoid for the time being, or even for an indeterminate period, a new birth.’

“Now, some translations out there say ‘grave motives’, but actually, if you look at the original language, ‘serious’ is a better translation,” said Msgr. Swetland. He went on to explain what the Church means by a serious reason.

“So, in the Church’s understanding, there’s three levels of a reason for doing something; positive reasons: just, serious, or grave. A just reason is any good reason. So, if someone asks me as a celebrant of a Mass for a dispensation from the fast of one hour before receiving Communion, I can give that dispensation for any just reason—any good reason is good enough to give that dispensation. But for a couple to forgo having kids, they have to have a serious or grave reason. And a serious reason here—what’s the categories? Physical, economic, psychological, or social condition. So it would have to fall into one of those categories.”

Despite having a serious reason for avoiding pregnancy at a certain time, the couple must remain open to life by using natural family planning. “There might be a serious or grave reason to decide not to have marital relations when a couple is most likely to be … fruitful because there is a serious or grave reason why this might not be what God wants for us. But even in that time you’re always open to the possibility that God knows better than you and so you’re always open to the possibility of life even if you think there’s a serious or grave reason why you think that’s not what God’s calling you to.

Read Humanae Vitae for more about Church teaching on married love and the transmission of life.

Visit the USCCB for more information about NFP Awareness Week!

Hear the full episode:

Go Ask Your Father airs weekdays at 1pm ET/10am PT, only on Relevant Radio®.


Lindsey is a wife, mother, and contributing author at Relevant Radio. She holds a degree in Journalism and Advertising from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Lindsey enjoys writing, baking, and liturgical living with her young family.