Lisa and I are honored and grateful to have been chosen to be the 2016 recipients of the Fr. Richard M. Hogan Award from the Couple to Couple League International (CCLI).  CCLI is internationally recognized for their tireless work in promoting the Catholic vision of love, in particular by educating and supporting couples in the effective use of Natural Family Planning (NFP).

According to CCLI, the Fr. Richard M. Hogan Award is given to those who have excelled in the promotion of NFP in the fields of theology, psychology, sociology, or related social science!

Below is the text of the email that informed us of our award….
Dear Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak,

I’m very happy to let you know that you and Lisa are the latest recipients of CCL’s Fr. Richard M. Hogan Award, which is given to those who have excelled in the promotion of NFP in the fields of theology, psychology, sociology, or related social science!

We are so grateful for all of the ways you have not only promoted the beauty of the Church’s teachings on marital love and NFP, but also the countless ways you have supported and guided couples in living out this sometimes difficult teaching. 

Your first “The Marriage Counselor” column in Family Foundations was published in the January/February 2001 issue (!), and you have continued that now for over 15 years, and our readers consistently rank your column as one of their favorite parts of the magazine. And that column is just a small part of what you do to promote NFP. Between your professional practice, your many books (often co-authored by Lisa), and your husband-wife radio team (most recently with More2Life), both you and Lisa are tireless supporters, defenders and advocates for living out marriage according to God’s amazing design. Praise God for all of your good work!

Ann Gundlach
Director of Communications
Couple to Couple League International

Got Guilt? Peace of Mind for Scrupulous Souls


image shutterstock

Rhonda Ortiz at Integrated Catholic Life has an excellent piece on how to recognize and fight against scrupulosity. Here is her description of the three types of scrupulosity.

1. Scrupulosity Resulting from Idealism  Developmental scrupulosity is a byproduct of a deep faith experience, such as conversion or growing awareness of God, particularly in adolescence. In the process, a person can become overly-sensitive and overly-reactive to sin. The person worries about “doing it wrong” and overcompensates by trying to do “it” perfectly, whether that be religious practice or making any number of moral decisions.

The good news about developmental scrupulosity is that with the help of good spiritual direction and a solid prayer life, a person can grow out of it.

2. Scrupulosity Within a Group Dynamic  Milieu-influenced scruples are the second type, representing the fact that “scruples can be taught.” This happens when significant authority figures—family, religious leaders, influential friends—in one’s life “transmit a strong fear component in their [religious] message.” Scruples come when, as a response, the person comes to believe “that bad thoughts will be punished or that only perfection pleases God.”

Milieu-influenced scruples differ from the other types in that the scruples are shared within a group. Catholics can experience milieu-influenced scruples in parish life, in religious orders, in lay movements and confraternities, among family and friends, and even online—anywhere where we meet collectively as Catholics.

The particular scruples vary greatly; one religious group may be rigorous about a particular moral dimension but permissive about others. Ciarrocchi warns against thinking that these scruples reflect liberal-conservative concerns within a group; what truly drives this type of scrupulosity is worry and fear. 

A person affected by milieu-influence scruples has two options for dealing with them: he can choose to leave that particular group or he could choose to stay in the group but adjust his beliefs to ones not driven by fear. Either way, with the help of a good spiritual director, he should strive to learn and relearn the Church’s teachings in light of God’s unfailing love.

Also, I will echo St. Alphonsus Liguori and recommend avoiding persons and books that exasperate one’s scruples. For example, for many years I had to avoid reading Thomas à Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ—that great spiritual classic!—because I felt my own scruples flaring up every time I tried to read it. Thankfully, I’m in good company: there are many, many saints in heaven who never read the Imitation!

3. Scrupulosity as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder   —The third type of scrupulosity Ciarrocchi names is emotional scrupulosity, where “scrupulosity represents specific symptoms for the emotional disorder obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD),” an anxiety disorder where “the presence of either obsessions or compulsions . . . significantly interfere with normal functioning.”

OCD is a disorder of the brain and behavior that causes severe anxiety. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one percent of Americans suffer from OCD.  (In a similar vein, eighteen percent of Americans have or have had an anxiety disorder; some anxiety and OCD symptoms overlap.)

An obsession is a persistent idea, image, or impulse that the person views as intrusive and senseless. Usually the person tries to get rid of it. A compulsion is a repetitive act that a person feels compelled to carry out. The act does not usually make sense to the person even though he or she feels required to do it. Compulsions can also be internalor mental, e.g. saying a prayer to oneself in response to a blasphemous idea.

There is a ton of good stuff in this article and I would definitely second all of Ms Ortiz’s recommendations for  reading and resources, especially the work by my colleague, Dr. William van Orum (whom Ortiz mentions several times).  Dr. Van Orum directs the American Mental Health Foundation and I’m pleased to serve on their advisory board.  It’s good to see his excellent work being recognized.

Additional Thoughts About Treating Scruples

The only thing I would add to Ms. Ortiz’s comments is that it can be difficult to get effective counseling help for scrupulosity in general and type 3 in particular (the type that is most consistent with obsessive compulsive disorder).  The problem is that many clinicians use something call Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy to treat OCD.  This approach involves exposing the client to the thing they are obsessed about (a germy object, for instance) and then teaching them to relax and overcome the obsessional thoughts and feelings while in the presence of that object.  It can be a very effective form of treatment for general OCD, but you can’t use it to treat scrupulosity because you can’t exactly tell a client to go and do something sinful and then teach them relaxation techniques while they, say, cheat on their husband.  That, combined with the fact that scruples often involve moral/religious content that many secular counselors can’t relate to, leaves a lot of therapists scratching their heads when they encounter scrupulous clients. That, in turn, can leave a lot of scrupulous clients feeling like there is no hope. Happily, that is not the case.

In addition to ERP, there is another effective form of treatment for OCD, developed by Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz called the 4R method that helps the client Relabel, Reattribute, Refocus and Revalue the scrupulous feelings and find relief without having to be exposed to the source of their anxiety.  We use this approach very effectively, along with several other techniques that integrate spiritual insights as well as cognitive therapy,  with our scrupulous clients in the Pastoral Solutions Institute’s Catholic Tele-Counseling Practice.  If you are struggling with scruples and are looking for help, I encourage you to pick up Dr. Schwartz’s book, Brain Lock, and, if you decide to seek professional assistance, be sure to work with a faithful therapist who is familiar with the 4R approach to treatment.

The good news is that, with the right kind of help, even people with severe scruples can live much more peaceful lives.  I’m grateful to Rhona Ortiz for highlighting this important issue in her article and I join her in encouraging all people who are struggling with scruples to take advantage of all the resources that can help them win the battle against disordered guilt and anxiety.

“How Do You Teach Your Boys Not To Rape?” Asks Mom

Image via Shutterstock

Image via Shutterstock

In a Facebook thread on the Brock Turner rape case, a mother posed the provocative question that serves as the title of this post,  “How do we teach boys not to rape?”

It is a remarkable question.  But, I believe there is a simple and solid answer.

The Opposite of Love

St. John Paul the Great reminded us that the opposite of love is not hate, but use.  When we love someone, we build them up, we make them feel more human, more real, more whole, healthy, and grace-filled. But when we use someone, we treat them as if they were the opposite of a person.  We turn them into an object, a thing, a tool or a toy that we can use however we want.  Rape is the ultimate act of using someone.

Parents teach their boys not to rape by teaching them from the youngest ages that every time they interact with someone, their behavior either communicates, “I love you” or “I am using you.”  A child says, “I love you” not by mouthing the words, but by taking turns, willingly playing the other child’s game, doing his chores, being appropriately affectionate, intentionally looking for little ways to bring a smile to the people around him, and doing any number of things that take care of those around him.  A child says “I am using you” when he does the opposite.

By the time a child is 4 or 5, he can understand the difference between loving and using. If his parents teach him, both in words and by modeling it in the family interactions, he can understand–on a surprisingly deep level– that his body has been given to him as a gift from God to love others, to do things that make people happier and healthier.  He can understand that he must never use his body to hurt or use another person.

Working for the Good of Others

Parents serve their children well by outwardly acknowledging–in little ways like a smile, or a hug or a simple word of encouragement–when their children use their bodies and actions to serve others and work for their good.  And when their children act selfishly or in ways that use their bodies to hurt others or tear others down, good parents not only apply consequences that get their children’s attention, but they also require the child to make a plan for healing the damage they have done to the relationship.

Families also do well when they practice asking each other, every day,  “How can I make your day a little easier or more pleasant today?”  Spouses should ask that question of each other every morning, and then ask their children to respond to that same question at breakfast.  Root the day in a spirit of loving service.

Finally, parents do well by their children when they are extravagantly affectionate, showing their children what it means to be loved in healthy, generous, appropriate ways and giving their children a positive, authentic experience of what good and godly touch feels like.

The child raised in such a household has a visceral reaction to the very idea of using someone.  He is disgusted by it. It would never occur to him to use another person.

Can I Get A Witness?

I was raised in a similar manner to this and it has served me well my entire life.  I remember once, when I was in college, I was visiting a girlfriend in her parent’s home. In the morning, she came in to wake me up for breakfast. Before I knew it, she climbed into bed with me.  She asked me, “What would you do if I got under those sheets with you right now?”

So many feelings flooded my mind and my body all at once but I said, “Please don’t.”

She smiled and responded in her most flirtatious voice, “And what if i did it anyway?”

Don’t get me wrong.  Part of me wanted her to.  But it just felt…wrong.  Not shameful.  I didn’t feel bad about it.  I just knew it wasn’t the right way to show her how I really felt about her.  I said, “I think I’d have to get out of bed.”    I’ll never forget the hurt look she had on her face.

I remember taking deep breath to compose myself. I looked at her and said,  “I love you and I think what we have is amazing, and as much as I really want you to do that, I would never want to do anything with you to mess this up.  Does that make sense?”  She nodded and left the room.

Of course, I was destroyed when she broke up with me later that week.  No matter.  God saved me for an amazing woman who knew how to give me the same gift that I wanted to give her. And together, we are raising three amazing kids, two of whom are adults who put both my wife and I to shame when it comes to the strength of their faith and their moral maturity.  I know–without a doubt–that each of our kids, in a similar circumstance, would respond as well, if not better, than I did back in college.  When you raise a child to understand–on a gut, experiential level–the difference between loving and using someone, it is next to impossible to even think of using someone–even if they want you to.  More than simply knowing that using someone isn’t right, everything about it just feels wrong, less than, hollow, incomplete, and ultimately, demeaning.

So, to go back to that mom’s question, “How do you teach your boys not to rape?”  The answer is simple.  From day one, you teach them what it means to love.

If you’d like to discover more ways you can help your children become loving, godly, grace-filled adults, I invite you to check out Beyond the Birds and the Bees. Raising Sexually Whole and Holy Kids.


Cosmo and Vice Magazine Say Public Waking Up to Dark Side of The Pill



There have been two major secular articles in the last several months–one in Cosmopolitan and the other in the online pop mag Vice–that explore why women should think twice about their casual acceptance of the Pill.

I encourage everyone to read the articles (with the qualifier that the are both fairly graphic and use potentially offensive language) and promote the articles far and wide.  People need to know about the truth of how the Pill is wrecking both women’s health and relationships and Catholics need to know how to address this issue in ways the secular mind can comprehend.  Reading pieces like the ones I’m linking here may stretch some reader’s comfort zones, but if you can’t evangelize effectively if you don’t know how to meet people where they are at.  Taken together, these two articles represent powerful weapons in the pro-life, pro-NFP arsenal that Catholics would be foolish to ignore.

The Weird Way The Pill is Effing With Your Health–Cosmo

Why Can’t We Be More Critical of the Pill–Vice.

And if you are looking for an effective way to both live out the fullness of the Catholic vision of love in your marriage and help your friends see the practical blessings that accompany a Christian view of sex, I hope you’ll pick of a copy of Holy Sex! The Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving.  Here is what one reader had to say about it…

“This book was literally God sent. Through much prayer God heard me. Out of no where in a difficult time I heard the title and author It changed my life our life! Thank you Dr. Popcak! And thank you God! My husband and I read it together and I wish more catholic couples would re discover Holy Sex!”

Check out the articles about and the book.  I hope you will be blessed by these resources that help you experience God’s love more fully in your marriage and do a more effective job proclaiming the love of God to the world.



It’s wedding season and the following  question popped up on a Facebook thread I participated in. There were a lot of solid responses offered, but the questioner mentioned that he felt my response made the most sense to him, so I thought I would share the interaction.

QUESTION:  My girlfriend is a Protestant and her mother recently asked her a question that I haven’t been able to find much information on. She asked, “Why can’t a Protestant and a Catholic have a Protestant marriage recognized by the Catholic Church?” My understanding is with the proper dispensation, it is possible. I couldn’t really explain though why a dispensation is required or what that entails. Can you enlighten me on how to explain what the rule is and why it is that way?

ANSWER:   Of course, the most obvious way to answer this is in terms of the canonical “rules” or sacramental “requirements” but I think these sorts of answers, while being technically correct, miss the point.  What does it really mean to say to a person that “dispensation from form” is required for a Catholic to get married in a non-Catholic church.  That just ends up sounding like “Catholics have a bunch of rules that have to be followed by everyone regardless of whether they’re Catholic because we say so dammit…so there!”  and doesn’t really move the conversation forward in any personally meaningful way.

I would like to suggest a more pastoral/practical answer.

The entire Christian walk, from baptism forward, is intended to be a process of discipleship in which we learn to answer the question, “How does God wish us to love him and each other?” Catholic marriage, which is all about living out this baptismal call–makes some specific claims about what it means to be loving: namely,  that it requires a couple to be willing to commit their lives to apprenticing in the Catholic vision of love.

For all intents and purposes–because we are all broken and fallen people who really don’t know how to love each other–from a Catholic perspective, whatever THE COUPLE thinks marriage ought to be is irrelevant.   Instead, when a couple agrees to get married in the Church, they are agreeing to let the Church define their marriage for them as an intimate partnership dedicated to an ever deepening experience of love as a free, total, faithful, and fruitful, mutual self-gift. The couple that marries in the Church is, in effect, saying, “We recognize that we don’t naturally know how to love each other as God wants us to, but we promise to spend our life learning how to love each other in the free, total, faithful, and fruitful way,  and to bear witness to the world that this is the vision of love intended by God for all couples, everywhere, because it is the vision of love that best reveals Christ’s relationship with his bride the Church.

A couple who have radically different ideas about what married love should look like–in theory or practice– simply cannot share the vision that the Church asks the couple to share in order to have a valid marriage (that is, to do what the Church says marriage ought to do for the Kingdom of God). Likewise, if a couple wants to get married in a way that is somehow different from the normal way Catholics usually make this promise to live lives of loving discipleship (i.e., a ceremony in a Catholic Church), they need to demonstrate to a competent authority in the Church (usually the bishop) that they really do mean to do what the Church asks of them in marriage.

Although it is rarely stated this way, the truth is that all of the sacramental requirements and canonical rules that are in place regarding what constitutes a valid or invalid marriage have to do with protecting this unique Catholic vision of love as a witness to the kind of love Christ has for the Church. I wish that ministers of the Church would do a more effective job communicating these underlying truths about the Catholic vision of love and how it relates to marriage instead of focusing so much on how and why couples need to color inside the canonical lines.

The rules don’t exist for the sake of the rules. They exist to protect and preserve the integrity of the sacramental mystery represented by the godly love shared between a man and a woman.  For more information on what, specifically, makes Catholic marriage unique and different from other types of marriages and how to fully live out the Catholic vision of love check out the brand new, revised and expanded edition of For Better…FOREVER! A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage