I copy here an entry from the Catholicism.org News Portal because it brings up the moral issue of NFP, but first, a few more general thoughts on the subject:

NFP, or Natural Family Planning, is a more scientific version of what used to be called the “Rhythm Method.” Under Pope Pius XI, the church tolerated the use of this kind of “planning” by married couples, but under very strict circumstances that involved grave dangers to health or serious poverty. There is today a very dangerous movement that virtually sacramentalizes NFP. The votaries of this movement make it a virtual obligation on all couples to learn NFP and practice it to some degree. This is an objectionable abuse of the tolerance previously allowed by the papal magisterium. Married couples that have serious problems of health or poverty ought to consult a priest formed in the traditional theology on this point. Under his direction, they may, in good conscience, temporarily utilize the infertile periods as provided for in the program of NFP.

Now for the news story:

On Friday, Pope Benedict send a message to the President of the John Paul II Pontifical Institute for the study of Marriage and the Family. The message was occasioned by an International Congress marking 40 years of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae. Both Vatican Radio and AFP have coverage of this story.

The tendentious journalism of the AFP report may not be trustworthy, but it contains this notable paragraph:

The 81-year-old pope’s message Friday to a seminar on the encyclical also reaffirmed that the rhythm method is an acceptable form of contraception for couples in “dire circumstances” who need to space their children.

If the Holy Father really restricted the use of infertile periods (he almost certainly would not have said “rhythm method”) to “dire circumstances,” then he is distancing himself from the increasingly liberal interpretations of the Church’s traditional tolerance of this practice. The “tolerance” was limited to highly restricted circumstances, and the practice of the method for putting off contraception was always seen to be temporary.

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