NFP as it is taught in Poland

Anthony Zimmerman
Article by Leon Monko S.J.
June 6, 1984
Reproduced with Permission

Translated and condensed by Anthony Zimmerman, SVD from the original German article in the book ELTERNSCHAFT UND MENSCHENWURDE, edited by Ernst Wenisch, Patris Verlag, Vallendar-Schoenstatt, 1984, pages 349-361.

Father Leon Monko S.J., biologist and theologian, was National Director of the Family Life Apostolate in Poland from 1964 until his death in 1980. He was a member of the Episcopal Commission for the Family Life Apostolate and editor of THE TEACHINGS OF THE CHURCH ON MARRIAGE AND THE FAMILY.

About 3000 Catholic Family Counseling Centers exist in various parishes of Poland, providing marriage preparation courses and teaching about natural family regulation methods. The nationally organized system enjoys strong support from the hierarchy, the pastors, and lay cooperators. Practically all couples married in Church receive 16 hours of instructions at one of the centers, including guidance in the natural methods.

The beginnings of this unique and tightly organized national system can be traced back to 1939 when the medical office of Dr. Jolanta Massalka in Warsaw was made into an information center about natural methods. By 1942 several such offices existed in Warsaw, where young doctors who belonged to the resistance movement provided free counseling to families. After the uprising in 1944 and Warsaw's destruction, the doctors were scattered to various other cities in Poland, and promptly began to teach natural methods there. Nurses and volunteer cooperators joined them, making this their apostolate. Bishops and pastors saw the value of their work and supported them. During the 1950's a net work of parochial counseling centers began to develop, as the work moved from doctors, offices to the parishes.

Therese Strzembosz in Warsaw and Dr. Wanda Poltawska in Krakow helped to organize the professional training of counselors who work at the centers. The training courses and supporting literature improved steadily despite various handicaps. Courses were also given at seminaries and for priest confessors.

In 1961 Bishop Karol Wojtyla convened a national scientific congress on ethical birth regulation in Krakow, for 250 experts, professors of moral theology, chaplains at health facilities, doctors, nurses, and other cooperators. It was recognized that, since the natural methods were not being taught by government people at public facilities, there was need for an independent network of Catholic centers organized nationally.

The Polish Episcopacy initially entrusted this work to the chaplains of health facilities, but later shifted it to the Episcopal Commission for the Family Life Apostolate. Thus a uniform and coordinated system of delivering marriage preparation courses and instructions on natural birth regulation could be developed throughout the nation, under Catholic leadership.

In 1967 Cardinal Karol Wojtyla established the Institute for Families at Krakow, with Dr. Wanda Poltawska as its director. Since that time the Institute has been exercising a vast influence on the family life apostolate in Poland, developing relevant science, providing information and instructions, doing research, and organizing seminars. Priests, doctors, chaplains and counselors at parish centers have been receiving training at the Institute.

In 1970, when the Polish Episcopate made attendance at the courses mandatory for all couples applying for marriage in the Church, the volume of activities increased significantly, as if by quantum leap. Of a sudden pastors required that couples applying for marriage bring along the certificate showing that they had completed the 16 hour mandatory course. Throughout the land younger couples became well acquainted with theology of marriage and with natural methods. Already- married couples also began to take advantage of the courses. The number of centers increased dramatically. (By 1983 there were 3000 centers.)

In the Archdiocese of Krakow statistics for 1978 indicate that 11,400 engaged persons attended the mandatory instructions at the 96 centers, and 13,400 others took advantage of the counseling services.

The Organizational System

To provide and perfect the instructions systematically, the work is coordinated within 4 frameworks: the national, diocesan, deanery, and parish levels. The aim is that competent instructions should be within reach of all in the nation.

At the NATIONAL LEVEL three persons are engaged fully: the national director, the specialist in the science of natural family regulation, and the national educator. They organize the work nationally, prepare educators for the diocesan level, and monitor the work throughout the nation.

At the DIOCESAN LEVEL there is at least one diocesan educator and a diocesan family life chaplain. They facilitate the formation of at least two leaders for each deanery, establish a model diocesan counseling center, and care for the cooperators at the deanery level.

At the DEANERY LEVEL, the deanery team forms counselors who provide the weekly service at the parish centers; they also work with couples well versed in the natural methods who can popularize and promote them in their areas; they monitor the work at the parish centers and care for the counselors and cooperators; finally, they establish and operate a model deanery counseling center.

At the PARISH LEVEL, the pastor leads the work, with the help of assistant priests, chaplains and lay cooperators; they should provide suitable instructions for all couples who present themselves, free of charge. The number of clients is increasing continually. Smaller parishes may combine to provide the services at a common center.

The Formation of the Educators

The first step of formation is attendance for ten months at the ten monthly gatherings, some of which last the entire day. Three main areas are covered: the giving of instructions, religious formation, and discussion about practical aspects. Candidates for these courses are recruited by pastors and chaplains who should know their people best. Participants are tested for knowledge acquired. Those who volunteer to go into counseling work after completing the ten month course have an apprenticeship of one year under the watchful eye of the deanery educator. At the end of the year the Bishop announces officially the names of the successful candidates for work at the counseling centers.

A more advanced formation is provided in many of the dioceses in response to petitions of couples who wish to deepen their knowledge for the family life apostolate. A two year course is given on this diocesan level, the first year covering mainly doctrine and theory, the second also going into practical matters. The lecturers are various specialists in these fields. Here participants can perfect their skills for counseling and teaching at the parish centers, for leading discussions, for work with children, youth, adult groups of various age categories, for providing religious instructions to the young who have not yet received them elsewhere, for the special instructions to engaged couples and the newly married. After completing the two year course volunteers may choose to work in various areas of the family life apostolate if they wish; a number of them become providers of instructions on the natural methods of birth regulation.

Supervision and Care of the Educators

The national team circulates constantly through dioceses, deaneries and parishes to encourage and monitor the work at the grass roots level. They learn on the spot about the difficulties and successes, and support the cooperators. The diocesan teams similarly support the deaneries, and the deanery teams support the parish centers. This on-going care and concern fosters effective contact between the leadership and cooperators, softens feelings of loneliness, hinders discouragement under difficulties, and provides a general feeling of solidarity and security.

To facilitate and systematize these contacts further, meetings are organized on the national, diocesan, and deanery level for days of discussion, for the study of difficult cases and how to handle them, and for improvement of the counseling at the parish levels through this contact with the professionals. Regular meetings of educators of different levels are organized during the course of the year. A three day meeting is held once annually under the auspices of the Episcopal Commission for the Family Life Apostolate in which all the diocesan chaplains and educators participate. And twice annually there are working sessions at the national level.

Cooperators are encouraged and assisted to advance in their own spiritual and religious growth, - aware that they are engaged in the work of the Church, and that in addition to teaching and discussing, they should give witness to the Gospel by their own personal lives. They should also turn to the engaged couples and newly-weds with the word of God, giving heart and meaning to the more technical aspects. Days of recollection are therefore organized for the cooperators during the year to deepen knowledge and dedication and union with God. Educators also participate in retreats. Thus they endeavor to deepen their cooperation with God's grace, their prayer life, and participation in sacramental life and the liturgy. They do these exercises in order to keep their spiritual lives strong and joyful, convinced that only by personally living the message of the Gospel will they maintain the good will and spirit of sacrifice to provide this service for families.

Instructions in the Natural Methods of Family Regulation

a. The people who come for the instructions:

b. The people who provide the instructions:

The men and women counselors who received the training courses described above and have become qualified teachers are the main body of counselors engaged at the centers. Many consider this to be an apostolate, and do not wish to receive monetary remuneration for it.

Older couples are drawn into the work especially at the deanery level, instructing their younger peers; they are performing this service in a satisfying and superb manner.

Many doctors wish to be helpful with their professional knowledge-. They influence the medical personnel with whom they work as well as their patients. They help the counselors with difficult cases, and sometimes provide indicated medical intervention. Recollections for these doctors are held twice annually in three places in Poland.

Finally, the sick and the members of contemplative religious orders are drawn into the work; they provide a supernatural support for the apostolate through their prayers and sacrifices.

c. How the instructionsare conducted in practice:

On principle the instructions never begin with a presentation of biological or practical matters; the beginning theme is always some aspect of the theology of marriage as fits the occasion. Above all, the specific dignity of the vocation to marriage, its immediate participation in the creative and salvific work of God, is highlighted, in accordance with the teachings of the Church, especially Vatican II, GS 50,51. Experience shows again and again that couples quickly appreciate ethical duties and principles when projected against the theological background.

Opposition against contraception is given heavy stress. After all, contraception is the main cause of gravely evil conditions of married life in families and in society; contraception fosters egoism, destroys true love, leads to divorce, and sometimes even opens the door to the killing of unborn children. Teachers also point out unequivocably that many hormonal preparations and the IUD's really achieve their effect through abortion, despite the fact that companies advertise them as contraceptives.

The temperature method, the ovulation method, and the sympto-thermal method are explained in the courses, and supplementary literature is provided for on-going and follow-up studies.

What is especially helpful is the witness of older couples who have given up contraception and adopted a natural method. Not only has this enabled them to regulate the family in an ethical manner, but they regained love for each other again after it had been lost in many cases; they could be restored to the grace of God, to renewal of internal peace and to the joy of participating in the sacramental life of the Church. Many couples who come to the mandatory courses with no intention of adopting period abstinence change their minds after hearing this kind of witness.

Difficulties do not arise so much from the inconvenience of coming to instructions from some distance, or the hour, but from the psychological barriers and prejudices which participants bring with them. False attitudes absorbed from atheistic influences, a consumer mentality, and moral permissiveness are real obstacles, but instructors do not permit themselves to be intimidated. They are always ready to discuss these questions with patience and sympathy. In general the effectiveness of teaching at these centers depends on converging factors, including the attitude of the clients, the ability and training of the teachers, and the personality as well as commitment of counselors and staff.


Finances are needed of course for all this, for the establishment of the family counseling centers, the formation of the counselors, the provision of printed and supplementary materials, travel, a full wage for some counselors. The parishes and dioceses furnish the funds. Never has there been a lack of means. Bishops and pastors know very well the pastoral need and value of these counseling services which are so important a part of the apostolate. The family counseling movement adheres to the policy that one should pursue a pastoral activity on the basis of need, not on a basis of the amount of money available. After all, God promised that for those who first seek the reign of God, all other things will be given besides.


The fact that the Church supplies family life counseling and instructions in the natural methods of family regulation throughout Poland is proof that such a thing is indeed possible, even when obstacles are formidable and opposition is well entrenched. When due efforts are made, the possibilities unfold. Christian faith, hope, and love are the guiding stars of family counseling activity: faith in the Church and her teachings, hope in divine providence, and love which makes sacrifices to guide people on the way to good and to salvation.

Appendix: The Family institute of Krakow

Since the 1950's priest and lay cooperators had been active in the field of the family life apostolate, and this proved to be the foundation on which the Family Life Institute could be erected by Cardinal Karol Wojtyla in 1967, with Dr. Wanda Poltawska as Director. There were practically no finances, and obstacles were formidable, but the Institute has been able to function and serve the family life cause in a very meaningful manner. The areas of activities pursued are: The study of family life theology for lay people at the Pontifical Theological Faculty in Krakow. The instructions are spread over two years, being designed to form counselors for the family counseling centers. About 100-150 students attend once monthly, on a Sunday. Many of the students have already completed university studies.

The Institute planned to publish its own periodical but has not yet obtained the government's permission for this. Treatises and materials are sometimes published in other periodicals. Address: Family Institute, ul. Franciszkanska 3, 31-034 KRAKOW, POLAND.


Franciszek Adamski
Digest, by Anthony Zimmerman, SVD


Translated and condensed from the original German article in the book ELTERNSCHAFT UND MENSCHWURDE, edited by Ernst Wenisch, Patris Verlag - Vallendar-Schoenstatt, 1984, pages 362-370.

This is an analysis of three surveys conducted in Poland to study attitudes of families toward birth regulation and related Catholic teachings.

The first survey in the late 1960's and early 1970's covered 1,096 families in a new city founded after World War 2 having 200,000 inhabitants. The second in 1974 was made among engaged couples in all dioceses of Poland who had either begun or already completed the mandatory marriage preparation course before marriage in the Church; 2,139 engaged couples responded. The third in 1975-76 covered 500 families with many children (4 or more); 100 families in each of five areas were selected to get a representative sample of all Poland. The surveys were conducted by the Catholic University of Lublin with the assistance of the Thomas Institute of Warsaw. The part which is dealt with here is but one aspect of the larger survey.

Knowledge about Methods of Birth Control

In the responses 70% mentioned the "Marriage Calendar" which is the method known by most. The temperature method of natural family planning is known to every 4th woman, and in the cities, to every 3rd woman. Contraceptives are known even in tradition--bound rural areas (46% know the pill, 36% the mechanical methods). 18.4% respond that they know no methods whatsoever, the rural percentage being higher than the urban.

It is remarkable that a majority of the respondents indicate that they either don't know which methods the Church permits (37.4%) or say that she doesn't permit any method whatsoever (22.8%). One of three women responded that the Church permits the calendar method, and 12.9% mentioned here the temperature or mucus method.

All three surveys indicate much ignorance about the natural methods. As high as 73% of the mothers of many children indicate that they never heard about the natural methods; middle age mothers come next with 46%; and among the engaged couples 39% (1974) had not heard about the temperature or Billings method. But this latter group consists only of couples who had not participated in the Catholic marriage preparation courses. All who had participated in the courses had a good knowledge of all the natural methods.

Since the Catholic courses for the engaged who intend to marry in the Church were made mandatory only in 1970, the surveys do not yet indicate the full impact of the courses on the population. It is characteristic that the younger the respondent the more knowledge about natural methods is indicated. The positive influence of the Catholic courses is therefore already shown.

How is knowledge about the natural methods acquired? Among the younger age categories the source of this knowledge I decisively the Catholic instruction course. This played a part three times as great among the younger generation: among the middle age and older generations. Some of the persons in the oldest and in the middle age generations had learned about the temperature method, and less frequently about the Billings method, from the press, from brochures, or from family counseling. But the youngest group drew their knowledge directly from the courses arranged for the engaged couples by the Church; they learned it there even before they sought other sources.

If these mandatory courses continue to be used hereafter, we can await that in future the majority of couples will have not just some knowledge about natural methods of family regulation, but a very exact and adequate knowledge, and that this will not vary by educational levels or social standing. But the other question is whether they will also use the knowledge they have acquired and accept it for application in their own lives.

Attitudes Toward Family Regulation

The attitudes or respondents reflect their degree of knowledge about specific methods, and their faith in the reliability of the methods. Only a small percentage indicated a negative attitude toward the temperature method. In fact, among the younger generations of married and engaged couples, it is rare and only exceptional that any one declares opposition to the natural methods of family regulation. They generally indicate a YES to the principle of Catholic ethics which forbids contraception.

The teaching of the Church about birth regulation was agreed to by 70% of the engaged, 60% of married couples in the new city, and 47% of the mothers of many children. 10% of the young couples and 10% of the new city couples declared that the method of family regulation is indifferent; if we those who did not respond, ab out one if four indicated opposition to the Church's teaching on this point. But 38% of mothers of many children were of the opinion that a Catholic is not obliged to observe the Church ethic about regulation of births.

A look at the statistics could tell us that the older generation simply disagreed with Church teaching from the beginning of their marriage and lived in that way. But we can also take a different viewpoint of the findings. The younger generation, and especially the youngest who have more extensive and adequate knowledge about the natural methods accept the teachings of the Church more quickly without inner hindrances. When knowledge about the natural methods becomes ever more widespread and adequate thanks to the good religious instructions and the mandatory courses for the engaged, this can help to strengthen the inner YES to periodic abstinence. One may expect in future that the YES will also rise to the older age levels. Knowledge about the natural methods makes it easier to agree to the Church teachings about birth regulation. One is permitted, on this basis, to hope that the Catholic instructions, which are improving continually, especially in regard to the engaged couples, will occasion a more positive attitude to Church teachings through all ages of the population.

After ascertaining the attitude towards Catholic teachings about birth regulation, the same group of persons was then asked how they themselves are now applying, or how they intend to apply in future, these principles in their own lives. Two thirds of the married couples confirmed the application of the principles to their lives, 70.4% of women, 56.1% of men. Only one third of the women and one fifth of the men declared themselves in favor of contraception, the frequency rising with the level of education.

In contrast to the positive attitude of the married couples is a more frequent departure from Church approved practice intended by the engaged. Only one third of the engaged couples declared themselves in favor of periodic abstinence in actual life; one fourth were in favor of contraception. 53% did not respond, and we can assume this to mean a negative answer. The norms are accepted in general, but when it comes to a decision about future practice there is a want of firmness. This indicates the need of ever more adequate instructions, especially since an association is seen between lower degrees of marriage preparation and higher percentages of ignorance or indecision about natural methods. An ever improving basic religious formation, underlining awareness of the duty to adhere to norms should lead to a firmer decision in future, although there is a religiously weak sector of engaged couples among whom contraception is popular.

Observance of the Ethical Norms

The mothers of many children were asked directly about whether and how they practice birth control, and by what means they learned methods. Only 23% responded that they sought advice from doctors, and in almost all cases they received only information about barrier methods or the pill. A few sought advice at the Church, but we must remember that the network of Catholic counseling centers was developed only after these mothers had already born their children. No adequate teaching of the natural methods was known or available.

If we can believe the data, only 15.8% used barrier methods, and 7.8% used the pill; one in ten used coitus interruptus. Although 53.8% responded "We don't use any method" it should be kept in mind that many do not consider coitus interruptus to be a "method." We assume that the 53.8% hides much information about coitus interruptus. Such is the profile of usage among these, hardly any of whom had attended Church sponsored courses for engaged couples, since they were married before the courses were obligatory.


The surveys indicate that in recent years a change occurred in Poland, namely a visible tilt away from contraception and toward natural methods of family regulation. The most plausible explanation for this is the fact that the Church is providing suitable marriage preparation courses including adequate information and motivation about natural methods of family regulation. The fact that the courses were made obligatory for all engaged couples in Poland intending to marry in the Church is seen as the factor which tipped the scales. Although courses had been available before 1970 they were not obligatory; and few of the engaged couples knew about them or paid attention to them.

It is early to evaluate whether the changed attitude in favor of natural methods is being reflected in actual conjugal behavior. That is a subject for future empirical studies.

Addendum by Fr. Zimmerman 1985: Poland is listed as Number One Nation in the world in the use of natural family planning, if we can accept the data appearing in POPULATION REPORTS, Sept.-Oct. 1985. Already in 1977, 31% of currently married women age 15-44 in Poland were using "rhythm;" next in rank there is Roumania with 24%; the USA is listed at 3%. The list is incomplete and the surveys leave much to be desired. But - hats off to Poland!

Addendum in July 2000: If Poland has gained control of the abortion situation today, this has roots in the long years of family life education in years past. It should encourage all of us to continue efforts, even if results are not seen immediately. What follows is a report written by Dr. Jack Willke, International right to life federation, inc. NEWSLETTER, June 2000:

Poland - No Underground Abortions

We are pleased to publicize a remarkable record from Poland. Ten years ago this country was killing 160,000 to 180,000 babies a year in abortion. Last year it killed 250. This is a result of a pro-life law passed in 1993. When debated, the press, U.N. agencies, etc., all screamed that to forbid abortion, after having it free and state-paid for 44 years under the Russians, would merely drive it underground. Abortions would be begun clandestinely, and thousands of women, bleeding and infected, would flood into hospitals because of "miscarriages". Many would die.

But abortion was forbidden. And what is today's record? - The number of abortions has dropped from 160,000 to 250. The number of admissions to hospitals for "miscarriage" has dropped from 59,454 to 44,185. The total number of admissions for "complications of pregnancy and childbirth" has dropped from 178 to 144 per 10,000 women. In the last four years, no woman has died from abortion, legal or illegal. Premature babies are often born of women who have had prior abortions and they die more frequently. In the last ten years the number of such neonatal deaths has dropped from 19 to 9.6.

Poland is a western nation of almost 40 million people. Pro-abortion forces have always claimed that to forbid abortion will merely drive it underground and women will die. This now constitutes a legitimate field trial. None of the bad predictions have happened. Poland and its women and babies are healthier today than they were when abortion was legal. If this is the result in Poland, we can predict that there will be a similar result in other developed nations, if and when they forbid abortions.