Memorandum on the Apostolate For Natural Family Planning

Anthony Zimmerman
Addressed to Fr. Henry Barlage
Superior General of the SVD
Feast of Christ the King
Nov. 20,1988
7845-E Airpark Road, Gaithersburg
Maryland 20879 USA
Reproduced with Permission

1. May I kindly lobby for a vigorous apostolate by the SVD in the area of natural family planning; it is an apostolate dear to the heart of our Pope, as he told us: "The promotion and teaching of the natural methods is, then, a truly pastoral concern, one that involves the cooperation on the part of priests and religious." (Address to Family Congress, June 8, 1984). Our group from Japan who participated were personally encouraged by the Pope to continue to do our work here.

2. Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, when Nuncio to Germany at Munich before the outbreak of World War II, revealed to his close friend Dietrich Von Hildebrand, that it is his daily prayer that science discover a reliable way of predicting fertility. Perhaps his keen vision into the future gave him an inkling of the disaster for humankind which the Pill would soon occasion.

3. Since that time science has already done what Pacelli prayed for: methods of natural family planning are now as reliable as the Pill for avoiding pregnancy, or even better; the sympto-thermic method as taught by Dr. med. Josef Roetzer for over 30 years, has been found to be 100% effective in the latter 10 days or so of the cycle if the rules are followed, and above 99% in the initial week or so. The Billings method, when followed correctly, also surpasses the Pill in effectiveness. But the Pill, IUD, sterilization, condom, abortion - these now ravage the spiritual lives of perhaps half the families of the world's population of 5 billion people; whereas the use of gentle NFP still blesses only a small minority of the world's families. We have much work to do.

4. We can predict with confidence that it will not be contraceptors who carry the mainstream of the human race into the future; contracepting populations are in a downward demographic spiral everywhere; such populations are graying: top-heavy with age, children are few, marriages are unhappy; as if they can't die out fast enough, some accelerate their exit from the race by use of euthanasia. Not such are the hope of the future. It is rather the remnant who try to obey the laws of God who will constitute the future of our race, and we SVD's should know that the beautiful families who live in harmony with God, who are nourished abundantly by His grace, will be the gardens in which vocations sprout and grow to maturity. If we adopt a strong NFP apostolate, if we thereby put ourselves into close contact with these dynamic families who carry the world into the future, then we ourselves will be carried into the future continually, down through the centuries, on their shoulders.

5. We need not give up hopes for vocations in the Americas and Europe, even though contraception has blighted the Church so tragically there. For example, if even only a group of 100 or 1000 families anywhere follow God's law, such groups can be seed-beds of vocations for us. We should create, guide, and support these good people strongly. It is with this remnant that the future lies, and with such we too will survive.

6. Nor need we despair that Europe and the Americas are in a course of irreversible decadence. The natural family planning apostolate has not yet shown its respectable power. We can help to turn this picture of decadence upon its head. The Pill has deceived us, yes, like the serpent once deceived Eve. Eve and Adam recovered, and humanity can recover today. God helped Adam and Eve to make a good confession, made clothing for them and dressed them, and was pleased to see them carry on anew as the founders of our race. Even if Europe and America stumbled, they can get back on their feet.

7. The Pope sees the apostolate of NFP as one of prime priority now; our blessed Founder always looked for signs of the times, of Divine Providence, to see which apostolate can be most effective; he did not hesitate to change plans to adopt providentially offered apostolates. Now is the time for a vigorous, fresh, imaginative, and effective SVD apostolate for NFP around the globe.

8. Experience has demonstrated that couples who abstain periodically to reasonably space or limit births, tend to grow into loving and peaceful personalities. They are able to break through barriers against communication which plague contracepting couples. Month after month they bring a sacrifice of love for each other by abstaining together; this refreshes their marriage, as so many say; in this way they also bear witness to each other, month after month, year after year, that they respect and love God and obey His laws; they agree that the spouse do the same. They are martyrs for each other in this sense - true witnesses of their inner faith in God. In the long run this nurtures sturdy families, whose parents love each other and their children dearly. Sister Helen Paul told how personalities grew after they started using NFP, in Bukidnon, Philippines, where she helped to teach 4,000 - 5000 couples:

9. A remarkable improvement in the law-and-order situation in the camps of the laborers was noticeable. A change seems to occur in an individual's self-image, the way a man sees himself as a man. He becomes a person aware of his dignity, a person worthyof respect; a person who can expect respect from his peers, from his wife and his children. His personal discovery of self-control in his sexual life opens up to him the opportunity for change in other areas: gambling, smoking, alcohol. It is interesting that a change in an individual's self-image opens to him a possibility for a change in many other areas of life.

The children used to comment about the change in mom and dad. No more fighting at home, they say. And when this happens within a home, the children apply it in their own relationships. We see this change in behavior of' children because of the change of their parents."(Zimmerman, e d., NATURAL FAMILY PLANNING, NATURE'S WAY - GOD'S WAY, De Rance, Milwaukee, 1980, pp. 10- 11; prepared for the 1980 Synod of Bishops.)

10. Sr. Paulette, M.C. paused at her work in an NFP clinic in Calcutta, to point to the shelves of files with records of the 37,000 couples who had learned NFP and were graded as "autonomous users." Lives change, she said. Husbands become less suspicious, more peaceful. For example, they will sit on the floor with the wife to examine the temperature and mucus record; and if doubtful will send the wife to the sister for clarification. "We teach young families NFP" said Mother Teresa to 20,000,000 TV viewers in Japan (1981) "so that they can look to the future with confidence, so that the future will become simple for them... And the poor people told me from the time we are practicing this way of life our family has remained united, our family is healthy, and we can have a baby whenever we like. It has brought so much peace and unity into the lives of our poor people."


People in Japan - and surely elsewhere - can do some of their banking very conveniently nowadays: there is a cash dispenser and deposit receiver in a section of banks which is open for long hours, with their magnetically coded credit card and their private code number they can draw or deposit cash at any time of the day, without assistance. The same will be done to help couples practice NFP in the future, we hope; perhaps in the very near future. The wife can insert her NFP card into the small computer at the pharmacist or doctor's office, and so call her records to the visible window console for viewing and for entering new data. Then she can get a print-out to take home, which tells them when the light is red, green, or yellow (fertile time, infertile, insufficient data). If our group in Tokyo invents this software - they told me several days ago it can be done in 6 months - NFP can become a business; "a real big business" said Mr. Ikechi. We want to put the Roetzer-Doering-Billings rules into this software, so that people who put in correct data should receive a correct answer every time: tonight it is red; or green; or yellow (meaning you be the judge).

12. The same Tokyo group speaks about importing the Dr. James Brown technology from Australia. His tests of urine specimens are so sensitive and the display is so visible and easy, that there is no longer any doubt possible about when the fertile time begins, when it peaks, and when it ends. He is testing the device on 200 women in Mercy Hospital, Melbourne, and plans to be ready to go on the market in two years. His device can be especially helpful for sub-fertile couples to achieve wanted pregnancies. The Tokyo group is also testing Bioself, a computerized thermometer with memory~ not satisfied with results, we recommended improvements. some of which will be made very soon. The day is not far off when NFP electronic devices will be competing with Pill and condom; they will most certainly create an economic niche, and hopefully crowd out those very crude contraceptive competitors, which are so insensitive to the inner grace and yearnings of couples.


Mother Teresa has made it part of the constitutions of the Missionaries of Charity that each house shall have at least one person who exercises the apostolate of NFP. What should be the mode of action of the SVD? Maybe we should start in Nemi: Call Dr. med. Josef Roetzer and daughter Elizabeth for 3 days each course; that team is unbeatable, speak well, have good slides, materials, and experience as none other. Nothing there of the "Schlamperei" which bad mouths attribute to Austria, but theirs is a thoroughness and system which can make German efficiency envious. Address: Vorstadt 6, A-4840 Voecklabruck (Austria). Telephone: 07672-3364. Their INER organization arranges teaching sessions in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. Roetzer teaches the Billings signs and system also, but prefers that all signs be taught so that couples can choose what they prefer.

14. There are good courses given periodically at Gemelli Medical Center, directed by Doctoressa Anna Cappella; the Pope gives an address at these occasionally. The Nemi groups might attend.

15. Bishop James McHugh, who coordinates the NFP apostolate among the dioceses in the USA, learned in a survey that many couples would be happier if the pastors of the parish were more positive in attitude toward NFP, and more knowledgeable and helpful. If our SVD pastors - how many are there in the world? - will become apostles of NFP, as the Pope desires, this can make a difference; a vital difference to the parishioners, and a strong supportive boost for the future of the SVD.

16. Attend NFP and Pro-life conventions. Fr. Paul Marx arranges the best of these, in the USA, Canada, Mexico, Yugoslavia, around the world; he says that one meets the world's best people at these conventions, and I agree; vibrant leaders speak there, those who teach in universities, who lead movements, who write the articles, who are in the front lines. Rubbing elbows with them can bring a new surge of life into our SVD; our aging SVD in Europe and the Americas. If we become a part of that dynamic world of people, we can also draw vocations from that prime source, where God's people are at their best.

17. And more. For Christ the King, let us do it. Let the SVD read the signs of the times well, and move into the future in the company of healthy families who keep God's laws - also in the Americas and Europe, and in all the countries in which we work. Dixi. Thank you. May the Lord be with us.

Humbly and cordially yours in Christ,

Fr. Anthony Zimmerman, SVD