NOTE: In Fall, 1998 the “Voice Crying in the Wilderness” newsletter, a widely-circulated traditionalist periodical, published an article condemning Natural Family Planning (NFP).The following is a letter to the Editor, written by Father Anthony Cekada. In addition to offering the traditional Latin Mass in Cincinnati and Columbus, Father Cekada is professor of canon law and pastoral theology at Most Holy Trinity Seminary, Warren, Michigan.
To the Editor:
This afternoon I spoke with a parishioner who was very upset over your article on Natural Family Planning (NFP).
I had to assure her (as I will probably have to assure others) that your comments were —and there is no diplomatic way to put this — presumptuous, ignorant and dangerous.
First, you have no business even offering an opinion on the morality of NFP, still less condemning it as sinful in a publication that you send out to tens of thousands of people.
One may indeed (as you do in other articles) catalogue, dissect and condemn the Modernists’ doctrinal errors, since so many of them are obvious and have already been condemned. But the morality of NFP is an issue for moral theology — the branch of theology which analyzes right and wrong, virtue and sin.
The subject matter of moral theology is vast and enormously complex, covering all the general principles of morality and all their particular applications. In the seminary moral theology is one of the major courses. It requires three or four years’ worth of classes conducted several times a week to cover all the material.
Despite the length of this course, it can only impart to the priest-to-be the mere “basics” for the confessional and counselling. Priests who wrote on moral issues before Vatican II — and it was only priests who were permitted to become moral theologians — always had advanced degrees. Their books were carefully checked by their religious superiors and diocesan censors.
If moral theologians did any speculative writing, it never appeared in popular publications such as yours.
You have no training in, and no experience dealing with, a complex moral question like NFP. We traditional Catholic priests have studied moral theology and we apply it in the confessional and in counselling. Leave such matters to us — and leave our people alone.
Second, although moral theology manuals emphasize that NFP is not a topic one should discuss in sermons or mass-circulation publications, The Angelus, The Remnant, and your own publication have spread some dangerous errors on the issue, and it is necessary that someone correct them, lest Catholics wrongly conclude they are committing mortal sin.
The moral aspect of NFP and periodic continence may be summed up as follows:
1. General Principles.
2. Requisite Conditions.
3. Gravity of the Various Obligations.
Do not presume that the defection of the post-Vatican II hierarchy gives you the right to settle all this, and then tell Catholic couples they are committing sin. Your article was ill-advised and very harmful. I suggest you issue a retraction and an apology to your readers.
— The Rev. Anthony Cekada