NASHVILLE, Tennessee, July 13, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The New York Times launched what one prominent Catholic professor has called a “peculiar” attack on natural family planning (NFP) last week by sharing the tale of a young Evangelical couple that had championed the practice and then recanted, only to get divorced three years later.
Prof. Janet Smith, a consultor to the Pontifical Council on the Family and a famed opponent of contraception, told LifeSiteNews that she found the Times’ article “very peculiar” and “completely uninformative” as it “reports one couple’s experience as though it were universal.”
The article chronicles the experiences of Sam and Bethany Torode, who got married in 2000 at 23 and 19, and promptly created waves in 2001 when they published their book, “Open Embrace: A Protestant Couple Rethinks Contraception.” In the short volume, they argued that contraception violates God’s plan for creation and that its acceptance paved the way for abortion. “When we should be saying ‘I do,’ contraception says, ‘I do not,’” they wrote.
Sam even published a four-part series on the theology of the body, which was pioneered by the late Pope John Paul II, with an introduction by renowned theology of the body expert Christopher West.
But five years after the first book, as they prepared for the birth of their fourth child, the Torodes published an open letter claiming NFP had a “dark side we weren’t aware of.” They admitted that they had not anticipated the month-long periods of abstinence that NFP sometimes necessitated, and claimed that the resultant stress can be “more harmful for a marriage than good.” As a result, they endorsed “barrier methods” and “sensual massage.”
NFP is a “theological attack on women,” they wrote, because it requires “abstinence during the time of the wife’s peak sexual desire (ovulation) for the entire duration of her fertile life, except for the handful of times when she conceives.”
They discounted claims that contraception “leads to the slippery slope of relativism or divorce.”
On Friday, however, the New York Times reported that the couple divorced in 2009, and are now attending liberal Protestant churches.
“Where I’m at now, it’s confusing,” Bethany, now going by her maiden name of Patchin, told NYT. “One day I am like, ‘Sure, God exists and loves all of us,’ and the next day I am like, ‘No, I don’t think so.’ I think that’s healthy. Agnosticism is a healthy part of any good faith.
“I feel like I’m a secular Christian the way you can be a secular Jew,” she added.
“It’s unfortunate that I went through this serious period of trying to write theological works,” said Sam. “I am out of the business of trying to tell people what they should do. I am out of that business for good.”
Sam told LifeSiteNews by e-mail that it has been “a difficult few years” and he does not give interviews. He said the NYT piece was fair, but that he did not want it published. “I no longer agree with all the [theology of the body], but I retain a great respect for John Paul II, and believe his theology has been beneficial for many Catholics,” he explained.
In her remarks to LifeSiteNews.com, Prof. Janet Smith emphasized that NFP – which helps couples avoid or attain pregnancy by monitoring the woman’s cycle and fertility signs – has strengthened and even saved countless marriages, while the use of contraceptives has been linked to divorce.
The NYTimes article “made no attempt to get the testimony of those whose marriages have been saved and whose intimacy has been radically deepened by the use of NFP. They are legion,” explained Smith, who holds the Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. “Clearly the Torodes do not attribute all their marital problems to the use of NFP, nor should any reader of the article conclude that it was the use of NFP that led to their divorce.”
“It may well have been the recourse to contraceptives that led to the disintegration of the marriage,” she added.
In her popular talk, “Contraception: Why Not?,” Prof. Smith explains, citing research by Stanford demographer Robert Michael, that there is a clear link between the rise of contraceptive availability and divorce in the 20th century.
“[Robert Michael] actually discovered that as the contraceptive pill became more and more available, that line was parallel to the divorce line,” she explains. “In about 1975-1976 when every woman who wanted access to the Pill had it, that’s when the divorce rate leveled off.”
Couples using NFP, on the other hand, have vastly lower divorce rates than the general population, she said. In general, couples report better communication, mutual respect, and intimacy, and when used properly according to a reliable method, such as Billings or Creighton, NFP has been shown to be as effective at avoiding pregnancy as contraceptives.
NFP has also opened the door to advanced fertility care methods that solve infertility and other reproductive issues by treating the underlying causes. NaProTechnology, as the leading method is called, is not only more successful than artificial procreation, but also cost-effective and morally acceptable.