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Helping couples to deepen conjugal love and achieve responsible parenthood is part of the Church’s total pastoral ministry to Catholic spouses. Fulfillment of this ministry includes both education and pastoral care. This means “instilling conviction and offering practical help to those who wish to live out their parenthood in a truly responsible way” (Familiaris consortio, no.35). Diocesan Natural Family Planning services must be based on the Church’s doctrine and moral teaching, as well as on the accumulated wisdom of the sciences. Concretely, diocesan Natural Family Planning (hereafter NFP) ministry involves the following:
-Instruction on human fertility and procreation including a fundamental education of the fertility cycle and how to interpret the physiological signs of fertility
-A process for enabling couples to understand motivation and other factors that affect their decision making with regard to responsible parenthood
-Formation in recognizing the value of moral commitment and spirituality that reinforces the human decision while integrating wholesome attitudes toward parenting and family life
To help couples become proficient and secure in using NFP, dioceses must provide competent NFP services. Such services should call upon the laity (especially the married), clergy, religious, healthcare professionals, and others in related fields.
The Standards for Diocesan Natural Family Planning Ministry (hereafter Standards) have grown out of a sense of need on the part of diocesan leaders for a nationally consistent, systematic training of diocesan NFP teachers. At the same time, the Standards are guides for the development of diocesan NFP ministry. They describe the basic program components for strong NFP ministry and set the expectations as to what knowledge and skills the NFP teachers should have as they work within their dioceses.
As a ministry of the local Church’s efforts directed to married and engaged couples, diocesan NFP services are unique, because they provide competent NFP education within thecontext of Catholic moral and sacramental teaching on human sexuality, marriage and family life. A variety of methods and schools exist in the NFP community. This often results in differently trained NFP teachers ministering in the same diocese. Indeed, it is “providential,” says Pope John Paul II, that “diverse methods of NFP exist” (July 3, 1982). The pastoral plan for diocesan NFP services also call for the availability of all methods within the diocese. “The Holy Father urges all in this apostolate to avoid limiting their efforts to only one approach, and also to avoid anything that will detract from a commitment to NFP” (Cardinal Terence Cooke, July18,1983).
While a gift, such diversity also presents a challenge: “How do dioceses and evaluate the variety of methodologies and approaches to client education, in addition to the competency of individual teachers?” The Standards provide the local bishop with an objective instrument for that purpose. The Standards also serve as a blueprint for diocesan program growth and activities, which also include outreach education to appropriate groups in the local Church (see Standards, Section One, H and L).
These Standards were developed by NFP experts and leaders (both diocesan and non-diocesan) who were selected by the staff of the Natural Family Planning Program (hereafter NFPP). The NFPP provides national leadership and assistance in NFP ministry for the Catholic dioceses in the United States.
Diocesan NFP ministry provides instruction in natural methods of fertility regulation and education on related issues. It is integrated into the structure of the diocese with an NFP coordinator appointed by the bishop, As well as NFP teachers who are accountable to and work in cooperation with the NFP coordinator. The primary focus of diocesan NFP ministry is to provide quality NFP services to married and engaged couples.
A diocesan NFP teacher’s primary role is to provide NFP instruction and follow-up to couples/clients. He or she conveys respect for each couple/client and promotes their autonomy in the use of NFP. By integrating Catholic teaching on human sexuality, marriage, and family life into their instruction, a diocesan NFP teacher encourages couples/clients to grow in their marital relationship. Diocesan NFP teachers are accountable to and work in cooperation with the diocesan NFP coordinator.
To achieve Certification under the Standards, a diocesan NFP teacher must attest to the fact that he or she
The diocesan NFP teacher must also
Diocesan NFP couple/client education includes instruction on NFP methodology and integration of Catholic teaching on human sexuality, conjugal love, responsible parenthood, marriage, and family life. It includes follow-up during and after formal instruction until the couple/client achieves autonomy. It is adapted to the particular needs and circumstances of the couple/client.
Diocesan NFP couple/client education
A Standards-approved NFP teacher training program may be local, regional, or national. It will use a formal curriculum and maintain competent faculty. It will provide a supervised practicum, including an objective evaluation of its trainee’s knowledge and teaching skills.
To achieve Approval under the Standards, an NFP teacher training program will include the following components:
Avoiding Pregnancy Couples using NFP to space or limit pregnancy.
A couple who is spacing desires more children at some future time
but currently desires to postpone pregnancy. A couple who is limiting desires no more pregnancies.
Autonomy The accurate identification of the beginning and end of the woman’s fertile phase, and the couple’s confident use of this knowledge to direct their sexual behavior to correspond with their family planning intention.
Confidentiality A professional ethic that protects the privacy of clients.
Confidentiality prevents the disclosure of personal information to any third party outside the realm of NFP instruction without the client’s prior written authorization.
Conscience Moral conscience, present at the heart of the person, enjoins him at the appropriate moment to do good and to avoid evil. It also judges particular choices, approving those that are good and denouncing those that are evil.(Catechism of the Catholic Church, [CCC], no. 1777)
The education of the conscience is a lifelong task. . . . In the formation of conscience the Word of God is the light for our path; we must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice. . . . We are assisted by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, aided by the witness or advice of others and guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church. (CCC, nos. 1784 and 1785)
Couple/Client Teacher-client interaction for the purpose of
Contact instruction and/or follow-up. Ideally this
interaction should occur face to face. Given
geographic and time constraints, and distance
learning formats, other means such as mail, phone,
fax, and e-mail may be uses to facilitate teacher-client feedback.
Diocesan NFP Coordinator The person appointed by the bishop to coordinate and promote NFP in the diocese.
Diocesan NFP Couple/Client Education Diocesan NFP couple/client education includes instruction on NFP methodology and integration of the Church’s teaching on human sexuality, conjugal love, and responsible parenthood. It includes follow-up during and after formal instruction until the couple/client achieves autonomy. It is adapted to the particular needs and circumstances of the couple/client.
Diocesan NFP Ministry Diocesan NFP ministry provides instruction in natural methods of
fertility regulation and education on related issues. It is integrated into the structure of the diocese, with an NFP coordinator appointed by the bishop. The primary focus of the diocesan NFP program is to provide quality NFP services to married and engaged couples.
Diocesan NFP Teacher A diocesan NFP teacher’s primary role is to provide NFP instruction and follow-up to couples/clients. He or she conveys respect for each couple/client and promotes their autonomy in the use of NFP. By integrating Catholic teaching on human sexuality, marriage, and family life in their instruction, a diocesan NFP teacher encourages couples/clients to grow in their marital relationship. Diocesan NFP teachers are accountable to and work in cooperation with the diocesan NFP coordinator.
Family A man and a woman united in marriage, together with their children, form a family. This institution is prior to any recognition by public authority, which has an obligation to recognize it. It should be considered the normal reference point by which the different forms of family relationship are to be evaluated. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2202)
The family . . . is a community of persons: of husband and wife, of parents and children, of relatives. Its first task is to live . . . to develop an authentic community of persons. (Familiaris consortio, #18)
Natural Family Planning Methods for achieving and avoiding pregnancy that are based on
the observation of the naturally occurring signs and symptoms of the fertile and infertile phases of the menstrual cycle.
Couples using natural family planning methods to avoid pregnancy abstain from intercourse and genital contact during the fertile phase of the woman=s cycle. No drugs, devices, or surgical procedures are used to avoid pregnancy.
NFP reflects the dignity of the human person within the context of marriage and family life, and promotes openness to life and the gift of the child. By complementing the love-giving and life-giving nature of marriage, NFP can enrich the bond between husband and wife.
Church teaching on human sexuality, conjugal love, responsible parenthood, and marriage and family life are especially contained in the following documents.
Deus caritus est (2005)
Evangelium vitae (1995)
Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994)
Donum vitae (1987)
Familiaris consortio (1980)
Humanae vitae (1968)
Gaudium et spes (1965)
Casti connubii (1930)
The Standards—A History
In March 1981 the Administrative Committee of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) established the Diocesan Development Program for Natural Family Planning (DDP) as a program of the bishops’ Committee for Pro-Life Activities. Cardinal Terence Cooke, then chairman of the Committee for Pro-Life Activities, urged this action. During the Synod of Bishops in October 1980, Cardinal Cooke became convinced that the family apostolate must be given priority:
At that world Synod, I was impressed with the variety of family structures in the different nations and cultures, with the similarity of problems that families face, with the contributions that families can make in ministering to one another, and with the importance of the Church’s teaching and its pastoral care of families. (Cardinal Terence Cooke, Address at The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, July 18, 1983)
Acting upon this inspiration, and with Cardinal Cooke’s encouragement, the bishops of the United States appointed Msgr. James T. McHugh of the Archdiocese of Newark, as director. Msgr. McHugh then began to assist dioceses in implementing the Church’s teaching on conjugal love and responsible parenthood, assisted by Mary Catherine Martin, PhD. They took a systematic approach in helping dioceses to expand the availability of NFP services to the local Catholic community. Today, NFP services are found within a variety of diocesan structures (e.g. departments in and of themselves, parts of family life offices, components of Catholic Charities, or as Catholic hospital programs).
Having national standards for diocesan NFP ministry was formally recommended by diocesan NFP coordinators in July 1987 at their biennial meeting (Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ). The NFP coordinators called attention to the fact that the need for national standardization of diocesan NFP ministry and teachers had been a common concern in the diocesan NFP community. At that conference, participants joined in a thorough discussion of the project. They anticipated possible problems: How would diocesan NFP ministry be evaluated? Could one evaluation process cover different NFP training programs? Among the benefits identified were: NFP teachers certified according to the Standards would have the advantage of validation (ecclesial and professional) issued from a body separate from their particular training programs; unity would be encouraged among diocesan NFP teachers; diocesan NFP services would be viewed with greater credibility; and the diocesan bishop would have an objective means by which an external evaluation could be made of his NFP program.
The participants asked Msgr. McHugh to select NFP experts (both diocesan and non-diocesan) who would form a “certification committee” that would study the best approach to developing standards for diocesan NFP ministry. Within six months of the 1987 conference, invitations to join the committee were sent to ten NFP diocesan coordinators, experts, and consultants (Stephen Burke, MSW, Providence; Carmela Cavero, MS, CNM, San Diego; Donna Dausman, Springfield, IL; Rose Fuller, Portland, OR; Robert T. Kambic, Baltimore; Mary Catherine Martin, PhD, St. Louis; Jay Paulukonis, MSLS, Sioux Falls; Mary Ann Stanton, Cleveland; C. James Statt, MD, Phoenix; and Mary Pat Van Epps, Memphis).
Aided by DDP Assistant Director, Rev. Philip Kraus, S.J., NFPP, the Certification Committee began its work in January 1988. It defined priorities, articulated tasks, agreed on a schedule, and identified sub-committees, which would meet between plenary meetings. The sub-committees treated the subjects of: human reproduction and NFP methodology; Church teaching; marriage and family life; teaching and communication skills; and diocesan program development. The sub-committee on methodology prepared the first draft of the Standards. This draft was first discussed by the members of the Certification Committee during their June 1988 meeting. The draft was approved as the working document where all other sub-committee work would be integrated.
The Certification Committee elicited ongoing consultation informally from diocesan NFP coordinators and representatives of national NFP provider groups. The final plenary committee meeting (April 6-8, 1989, Newark, NJ), synthesized this input and revised the working document. The committee decided to mail the revised document to diocesan NFP coordinators and NFP providers, asking them for feedback. They also would present it for additional scrutiny to participants at the forthcoming national conference of diocesan NFP Coordinators in June 1989.
Meeting again at Seton Hall University, diocesan NFP coordinators provided the Certification Committee with recommendations for refining the Standards draft based on their experience. The approximately 160 participants included representatives from eighteen archdioceses, fifty dioceses, and all of the national NFP education providers. The remaining numbers represented a good sampling of the many autonomous NFP organizations.
The Certification Committee carefully considered all conference recommendations as well as written critiques by national NFP providers and diocesan coordinators at a meeting on November 2-5, 1989, in St. Louis. Several significant changes were accepted. Most notable perhaps was a reorganization of the Standards content. Sections concerning teacher evaluation and implementation were removed from the draft document, to be included in a companion workbook. The rationale for this change rested on the fact that “evaluation and implementation” more properly belong to a continuing process, rather than fixed elements of standards. The final draft was mailed to all bishops for their editorial comments. Suggestions regarding the importance of including a standard on NFP outreach education to seminarians, religious, permanent deacons, and priests as well as chastity information to adolescents were submitted and accepted.
The Standards cover the following areas: I. Diocesan NFP Ministry; II. Diocesan NFP Teachers; III. Diocesan NFP Couple/Client Education; and IV. NFP Teacher Training Programs. The language is specific and was chosen so as to be easily understood by anyone reading the document. The Standards respect and uphold the authority of the local bishop and the integrity of the local diocesan NFP ministry. They are not intended to provide specific answers to all situations that might be encountered when establishing diocesan NFP ministry and providing NFP services. They are intended to provide a framework within which a conscientious response to such situations can be formulated.
The bishops are indebted to many people for the design and development of this important document. We are especially grateful to the Knights of Columbus for their outstanding support of marriage and family life. The Order’s generous grant to the bishops for the purpose of NFP education and activity has enabled projects such as this to be realized. With regard to the 1990 document, gratitude is also extended to: Diane Daly, American Academy of NFP; Thomas W. Hilgers, MD, Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction; R. Patrick Homan, the Couple to Couple League; Hanna Klaus, MD, NFP Center of Washington, DC, Inc.; Mercedes Wilson, Family of the Americas Foundation, Inc.; numerous diocesan coordinators; and the participants of the 1989 National Conference of Diocesan NFP Coordinators.
The 2000 edition was the result of ten years of experience in helping diocesan NFP coordinators implement the Standards. During 1999, the NFP National Advisory Board (Donna Dausman, Springfield, IL; Kay Ek, St. Cloud; Richard J. Fehring, DNSc, RN, Milwaukee; Janet Kistler, Phoenix; Stella Kitchen, Harrisburg; and Mary Pat Van Epps, Memphis) refined the Standards in light of the experience gleaned from reviewing diocesan NFP programs. This revised 2010 edition represents additional insights gained from ongoing work with diocesan NFP coordinators.
IMPLEMENTATION OF THE STANDARDS
These standards are intended for use in Catholic dioceses in the United States. There are three systems for implementing the Standards: Endorsement for diocesan NFP ministry; Certification for diocesan NFP teachers; and Approval for NFP teacher training programs. Only diocesan NFP programs can apply for ministry Endorsement. Diocesan NFP teachers must apply for Certification through their diocesan NFP office. Any NFP teacher training program can apply for Approval.
To begin the process of Endorsement, the local bishop should appoint a diocesan NFP coordinator and write to the NFPP requesting that all appropriate materials be sent to that person. The NFPP staff will then contact the diocesan NFP coordinator to begin the process. The Certification process can begin at the same time as the Endorsement process; however, Certification will not be awarded to diocesan teachers until the diocesan program has achieved Endorsement.
Directors of NFP teacher training programs who are interested in meeting the Standards are encouraged to contact the NFPP directly.
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
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For additional information about diocesan NFP ministry, contact the Natural Family Planning Program, 1-Secretariat for Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, USCCB, 202-541-3240; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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