In 1981, the Catholic Church in the United States heightened efforts to make the natural methods of family planning (NFP) and Church teaching which support the use of those methods in marriage, both more widely known and used. To pursue these ends, the Administrative Committee of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (now United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, or “USCCB”) approved the establishment of the Diocesan Development Program for Natural Family Planning (now NFP Program) as a program of the bishop's committee for Pro-Life Activities.
Terence Cardinal Cooke, then Chairman of the bishops’ Committee for Pro-Life Activities, was the moving force behind this effort. During the Synod of Bishops in October 1980, Cardinal Cooke became convinced that priority must be given to the family apostolate: "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."
Acting upon this inspiration, Cardinal Cooke asked Msgr. James T. McHugh, former director of the bishops’ Family Life Bureau and Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, to direct and devise a pastoral plan for NFP ministry. Msgr. McHugh was the logical choice for this work since he had extensive knowledge about the modern methods of NFP. In the past, he had been involved in organizing or taking part in the early conferences on the Rhythm Method. In addition, Msgr. McHugh knew about many diocesan and grass roots NFP organizations and had established relationships with national and international NFP leaders.
The bishops’ NFP ministry was established as the Diocesan Development Program for NFP (or DDPNFP). Cardinal Cooke and Msgr. McHugh collaborated on the mission, goals, and objectives of the DDPNFP. As a first step in the planning stage, Msgr. McHugh consulted with various NFP diocesan, regional and national leaders as well as with the Knights of Columbus. The NFP community had been hard at work building education programs from the late 1960s. By 1981 these early efforts were organized into diocesan programs (e.g., St. Cloud, Cleveland, Boston), regional associations (e.g., The New England Association) and national organizations (e.g., Couple to Couple League, Family of the Americas Foundation, and Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction). The Knights of Columbus had a long-term commitment to Pro-Life and Family Life issues. It was to them that Msgr. McHugh discussed conditions of funding the bishops NFP efforts. The Supreme Knight, Virgil Dechant, agreed to award an annual grant. The bishops are grateful to the Knights for their continued generosity in funding the NFPP to the current day. With regard to the mission, goals, and objectives of the DDPNFP, Cardinal Cooke and Msgr. McHugh proposed a plan that was approved by the Bishops’ Committee for Pro-Life Activities in 1981 and continues to guide the activities of the bishops’ NFP Program (see below).
In 2008, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops reorganized and moved the NFP Program from the Committee for Pro-Life Activities to that of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth. This move underscores the role of Natural Family Planning ministry in the strengthening of marriage.
Rooted in Catholic teaching on God’s design for human sexuality, marriage and family life, conjugal love, and responsible parenthood, the Natural Family Planning Program (NFPP) of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops seeks to assist the Catholic dioceses in conducting “a broader, more decisive and more systematic effort to make the natural methods of regulating fertility known, respected and applied” (Familiaris consortio, no. 35).
- To support and strengthen diocesan NFP ministry.
- To promote education in NFP and Catholic teaching which support the use of the natural methods of family planning in marriage, especially to engaged and married couples.
- To evangelize about the truth of Catholic teaching on human sexuality, the virtue of chastity, the sacrament of marriage, conjugal love and responsible parenthood.
Natural Family Planning Program
Secretariat for Laity, Marriage, Family Life & Youth
3211 4th Street NE
Washington, DC 20017
Telephone: (202) 541-3240
Bishop James T. McHugh, a Pro-Life pioneer, was a major strategist in the construction of the modern Right to Life movement in America. As noted above, Bishop McHugh was the architect of the U.S. Catholic bishops' diocesan NFP ministry. To learn more about Bishop McHugh's legacy see Richard Doerflinger's article published in the Catholic Social Science Review (2002).
- Terence Cardinal Cooke, “NFP: Some Pastoral Observations,” Address at the Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, July 18, 1983. (Washington, DC: DDPNFP, 1983), 5.