From the 1998 Inside the Vatican
Special Supplement on Humanae Vitae
An Interview with Father Daniel McCaffrey, STD
“THE TEACHING MUST BE PREACHED!”
By John Mallon
Father Daniel McCaffrey, ordained in 1958, received his doctorate in Sacred Theology at the Angelicum in Rome. He served for eight years a missionary in Pakistan and has spent more than 20 years as a U.S. Army Chaplain in Vietnam, Korea, Germany, Honduras and Army bases throughout the U.S. During his ministry, he has worked in the Apostolate of Marriage Enrichment, establishing successful Natural Family Planning (NFP) programs on the diocesan and parish levels, and he is dedicated to working with and promoting all legitimate methods of NFP. In1997, McCaffrey established Natural Family Planning Outreach in the Archdiocese 0f Oklahoma City at the invitation of Archbishop Eusebius J. Beltran.
John Mallon: Father McCaffrey, this year we commemorate the 25th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and the 30th anniversary of Humanae Vitae. It took only five years for some of Pope Paul VI’s dire predictions to come true. Now we live in the results of ignored prophecy. From your perspective, where do we stand now?
FATHER DANIEL MCCAFFREY, STD: I feel we have a golden opportunity to make Humanae Vitae effective. I don’t think the people have rejected Humanae Vitae; they just haven’t heard it preached. That, I think, is the real problem. We members of the clergy have not preached as we should have.
At the very end of Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI spoke to priests in particular and said, “Do not fear to get up and preach the truth of this matter, because the Holy Spirit in the teaching office of the Church is the same Holy Spirit in the hearts of those people to whom you preach. It will resonate, and the teaching will be fruitful and effective.”
You’re preaching missions not only on the truth of Humanae Vitae, but on the benefits of Natural Family Planning. Is that right?
MCCAFFREY: Exactly. But I do feel that before we get into Natural Family Planning, and perseverance in Natural Family Planning, we have to understand there is a certain sacrifice there. It’s not always easy to persevere in Natural Family Planning. It takes the grace of God, in my hum- ble opinion, for a person or a couple to persevere in this. It is very important that we preachers make clear to the people the moral imperatives that go behind this teaching. For example, why is contraception hurtful to their spiritual life? Why is it hurtful to marriage? Why is it hurtful to the Church, especially in the area of vocations?
To just get up and speak about Natural Family Planning is well in itself, but I believe it’s very important for people to know that this is a question of salvation. This is an issue of keeping God’s commandments. As you know, sterilization is a serious violation against the fifth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” in the sense that we may not mutilate our bodies, and contraception goes against the sixth commandment on chastity. When people are flagrantly breaking these commandments, we have a spiritual crisis on our hands. Therefore, it is important that we priests, and bishops especially, preach to the people and enlighten them in this area.
I sometimes jokingly say that most of our Protestant know what the Catholic Church teaches on this matter. The magazines and the radio shows all know that the Church has always been opposed to contraception and sterilization. But it seems our Catholic people have not heard this, or for some reason would rather feign ignorance in this area.
I’m also convinced this has affected the lack of vocations in the Church. I cannot see children going into the consecrated life, the religious life and the priestly life, from a family which contracepts. Contraception is a very selfish syndrome. It isn’t going to breed the generous children who will go into the priestly and consecrated life. It is not going to bring forth the generous children who will give their lives to God, totally and completely, in the religious life. I think there is a direct link between the vocation crisis and the contraception that’s been going on for the last 30 years among our Catholic people.
There’s a figure out that 80 to 90 percent of our Catholic people are contracepting or sterilized. Well, in the name of goodness, how can we possibly expect, in doing these things, that we’re going to come up to the stature of Jesus Christ?
That our marriages are going to be holy? Or that we’re going to spawn vocations to the spiritual life?
Then, as we preach, we also need to provide couples with good information on Natural Family Planning. Natural Family Planning is highly effective today. It’s as effective as any of these contraceptive measures that are being put out on the market.
You go out to parishes with medical personnel, and you preach at the weekend Masses and give the theology, while the physicians give the medical facts on Saturday or Sunday afternoon. How have congregations responded to your message?
MCCAFFREY: I must say they respond very well. I often joke with the congregation and say, “I have an automobile running outside and a driver in the automobile in case you people throw rocks at me.” And they smile and laugh. Then we go into the teaching, and I explain it. I find that people are very receptive. Oh, once in a while, someone may say something to me on their way out of church, that they don’t agree with what I’m saying, or take issue with it, but this is a rare exception, a very rare exception.
Now it may take people a long time to put this all together, because some people have never heard this preached! In 30 years!
Take the question of sterilization, for example. I would say that you could probably count
on one hand the people who have heard a sermon on sterilization in their whole lives. And I would say very few have heard sermons on contraception. They may have heard sermons on Natural Family Planning, but I feel that talking about Natural Family Planning without speaking about the moral imperatives that underlie it won't be successful. And so, we clergy have to
bite the bullet. We have to stand up there and tell the people the truth.
Now, some people will say, "Well, how do you know what's going on? You don't understand married life. You don't understand how hard this is." Well, I say to them, "For 67 years, I've gone to bed alone. Now, why don't you try that? And if God has given me the grace to go to bed alone for 67 years, He's going to give you the grace to abstain at certain times during the month for love of Him.
And you're going to be able to do it. I can look you in the eye as a chaste person and say, If God has given me this grace, He is not going to deny you the grace of the married life to do this.'"
Natural Family Planning is a wonderful way to show sacrifice, to show respect for each other, and to bring about a great bonding. After all, the married life is really an image of the life of Christ
and His Church. When married couples live chastely together, they are authentic symbols of
this great union of Christ and His Church. They become two in one flesh, as St. Paul says, the
husband and wife are symbols of Christ and the Holy Church. This is a very sacred action.
It's a sacred bonding, and to contracept is a falsification. It's a lie. It's a downright lie, because when these people contracept, they're not giving themselves to each other. They're holding back.
It's a real falsification. I think that this ultimately causes the woman to feel used and abused if the man only wants his own selfish satisfaction. I think that brings about the syndrome for divorce and some of the unhappiness that's present in many marriages.
Also, a lot of people don't realize that some of these contraceptives have an abortifacient effect. Some Catholics have never heard that before. Some of these pills, the low-dose pills —not the high-dose pills of years gone by — can allow breakthrough conception. Now, what happens if conception takes place? These chemical contraceptives cause the woman to slough off what has been conceived. How many times this happens, we don't know. But it certainly has a distinct possibility of happening. So, when people take these things, they're also opening themselves up to the abortion mentality, and to abortion itself.
So, it's an issue that deserves to have a high priority among our bishops, priests, diocesan
offices and family life institutes throughout the country.
Many who have been involved in promoting and teaching NFP have called it one of the Church's best-kept secrets, meaning they seldom find the support they need in parishes and dioceses. Are clergy now more ready and willing to preach Humanae Vitae and teach about Natural Family Planning?
MCCAFFREY: As you know, I'm been in this full-time since I retired from the army in 1991. I
have found as the years have gone by that there is a definite, tremendous interest. I am receiving
phone calls from all over the United States from people who want me to come and speak in their
parishes. I'm very encouraged, personally, about the enthusiasm and the interest. I can only speak
from personal experience, but where this is preached, it does turn things around. Just to give you a little example, when I first came out of the army, my bishop asked me to take over as an administrator at a large parish in Texas. Since I had been in this work for a longtime, I said, well, here's an opportunity.
One of the Gospels on the coming Sunday had to do with divorce, and our Lord condemning divorce and speaking about married life. So I said, here's a good opportunity to speak about
contraception and Natural Family Planning. It fits in with the Gospel. So, I preached to about a
thousand people that weekend, at all the Masses, Saturday and Sunday.
I had invited a lady and her husband from Austin, Texas, to come up the next evening, Monday, and give a general review of how Natural Family Planning works. This woman was a Creighton-model Natural Family Planning practitioner, and her husband was coming up to support her. They would give witness as a user couple, that is, a husband and wife who use NFP.
As we were planning it they kind of laughed at me and said, "Father, there will be nobody there! We'll be able put all the people who show up in a phone booth." Then she said, "Why don't we go out and ask some of the Protestant people to come in?" I said, "Well, It's too late to do that now. This is Thursday night, and I'm preaching this on Sunday, so I can't go out to different churches around here and do that. We're just going to have to go through with the talk."
Well, you know, we got almost 100 people there, on a Monday night. The woman almost fell down. And we signed up between 43 and 45 couples — from one little parish in Midland, Texas. Forty three to 45 couples, out of this little parish, signed up because of this homily that
was preached by their priest.
So, you cannot tell me that this is unpreachable. This message is very preachable. And, as Pope Paul VI said in Humanae Vitae, priests need to get up and proclaim this, and not be afraid. The Spirit is in the hearts of those people, know that from experience. The Spirit is in the teaching office of the Church that the priest proclaims, so he need not fear.
The people do listen. As I said before, it's not a question of the people rejecting Humanae Vitae.
The people have not heard the teachings of Humanae Vitae proclaimed in a credible way.
That is the problem.
NFP Outreach is an international apostolate of preaching on the truth of' Humanae Vitae. The
missions include teaching by OB/GYNphysicians who give instruction in Natural Family Planning.
Fr. McCaffrey can be reached at:
Natural Family Planning Outreach
3300 NW 56th Street, Suite 200
Oklahoma City, OK 73112