While NFP is morally acceptable for Catholics to use, and is promoted by the Church, it is not required that people use it (if a couple has a just reason to postpone/avoid pregnancy, their options are total abstinence or one of the methods of NFP). This being the case, why do some dioceses require all couples to learn NFP as a part of their marriage preparation, and should this practice continue or even expand to other dioceses?
My opinion as an NFP instructor who has worked/lived in a diocese where it was not required, and one in which it was required, is that promoting NFP for all couples is indeed a good thing and should be encouraged in all dioceses. I say that not because it means more work for me, but because of the observations I’ve made in doing this. Obviously none of this is definitive, but is merely my opinion based on my limited experience.
1) It forces couples to consider more carefully going off the pill.
Because many young women are put on the pill for a variety of issues, many of the couples who come to me are on the pill. Since it isn’t really possible to chart whilst on the pill (one of the ways the pill works is to alter the cervical mucus, and this is a key sign for charting), the couples are then confronted directly with the problem of being on the pill. Once on the pill, it is easy to just stay on it, as it’s comfortable and you needn’t think about it too much. It is, in fact, scary to go off it (or at least it was for me). It is, therefore, much easier to just ignore the problem of it. Making a full course in NFP a requirement, though, means they cannot ignore it, and must choose whether to go off the pill and complete the course, or not complete the course and risk not fulfilling their diocesan requirements (as with anything, there can be extenuating circumstances, I’m sure, and those would obviously be dealt with on a case-by-case basis).
2) It can identify potential health/fertility problems before the wedding
On more than one occasion, I’ve had a couple come to me who had no concerns and what appeared to be perfectly regular cycles. Once they started charting, though, it turned out that they either weren’t ovulating, or had low progesterone, or a thyroid issue, or something going on that needed medical treatment. Had they not been charting, they never would’ve known there was a problem until they weren’t conceiving. Charting is a great medical tool that can help couples get the treatment they need by identifying a problem.
3) It is easier to learn before marriage
Many couples will encounter a time where postponing pregnancy is prudent. Their options, then, are NFP or total abstinence during that time. Learning NFP after the wedding is more difficult, or at least more annoying, since abstinence is needed until her pattern is determined (at least in my method, the Billings Ovulation Method; that might not be the case with other methods). If they’ve learned the method prior to getting married, it will probably be easier to implement when needed (though I do recommend a refresher with your instructor).
4) It ensures the couple knows what the Church finds acceptable before marriage.
I’ve encountered more than one Catholic who didn’t know about NFP or Catholic teaching on it. While my job isn’t really to talk about Church teaching, including this as a requirement makes it likelier that that aspect will be discussed more as a result of making NFP a requirement, if for no other reason than the couple having questions for the priest. More than once I’ve had clients ask me the whys behind Church teaching, and I wonder if they’d have asked had they not been forced to confront this.
These are just some of the reasons I see for why NFP should be required as a part of diocesan marriage preparation, despite the fact that NFP isn’t required for all to use. The benefits, to my mind, are clear. Even if the couple thinks they will never need to use this knowledge, they have been given practical knowledge of it that is available should they ever need it. None of us can predict what the future holds, but being aware of the Church-approved means of family planning can be nothing but valuable, in my opinion.