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Affirming and celebrating Humanae Vitae

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July 25 marked the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, Blessed Paul VI’s encyclical on the integrity of love and the appropriate means of family planning. Issued during the cultural meltdown of the 1960s, and in a year when irrationality stalked the entire Western world, Humanae Vitae instantly became the most vilified act of the papal magisterium in history. And to what should have been their shame, entire national episcopates distanced themselves from Pope Paul’s teaching by a variety of stratagems, many of which exhibited some degree of theological confusion and some of which were downright cowardly.

Paul VI came to the judgment he did in Humanae Vitae for two reasons.

First, because he was convinced that using the natural rhythms of fertility to regulate births was the most humanistic means of family planning, and the method most congruent with the dignity of the human person — and especially the unique dignity of women.

And second, because he came to understand that many of those advocating a change in Catholic teaching on the morally acceptable means of family planning were in fact promoting a fundamental change in the Church’s way of moral reasoning: They denied that some acts are simply wrong because of their nature, and they argued that moral judgment is really a calculus of intentions, acts, and consequences. Had that “proportionalism,” as it’s technically known, been enshrined as the official Catholic method of making moral judgments, Catholicism would soon have found itself in the sad condition of liberal Protestantism — another Christian community with utterly porous moral boundaries.

His abandonment by a lot of the world episcopate deeply wounded Paul VI, a sensitive soul who had supported the Second Vatican Council’s affirmation that bishops are something more than local branch managers of Catholic Church, Inc., and who probably thought he was owed a little loyalty in return. So as the Church and the world mark the golden jubilee of Humanae Vitae, and as Catholics around the world prepare to celebrate the canonization of Paul VI in October, perhaps those bishops who understand that a serious breach in episcopal collegiality took place in 1968, when so many of their predecessors failed to defend the Bishop of Rome against his often-vicious critics, might consider making these affirmations about the encyclical, in one form or another:

  1. I am deeply grateful to Pope Paul VI for his courageous witness to the truth about love in the encyclical Humanae Vitae. With Pope Francis, I believe that Paul VI “had the courage to stand against the majority, to defend moral discipline, to exercise a ‘brake’ on culture, [and] to oppose [both] present and future neo-Malthusianism,” which treats the gift of children as a societal and economic burden.
  2. I believe that the truths taught by Humanae Vitae on the appropriate means to plan a family are important for human well-being today; that conscious use of artificial means of regulating fertility distorts the truth about human love inscribed into Creation by the Creator; and that conscience must respect these intrinsic truths in family planning.
  3. I believe that the truths taught by Humanae Vitae about natural family planning have proven themselves in pastoral situations around the world; that those truths have made significant contributions to family ministry and marriage preparation in various cultures; and that those who deny the human capacity to understand and live the disciplines of natural family planning often engage in racism, new forms of colonialism, or both.
  4. I believe that the “contraceptive culture” of which Paul VI prophetically warned in Humanae Vitae, and the related abortion license, are major factors in the sexual abuse of women that has come to public attention through the #MeToo movement; and I invite feminists to rethink their celebration of artificial contraception and abortion on this 50th anniversary.
  5. I believe that St. John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” has given the Catholic Church a compelling tool for explaining both the truths taught by Humanae Vitae and the unhappiness caused by the sexual revolution.
  6. I pledge to make this anniversary year an occasion to celebrate the gift of Humanae Vitae and to use my pastoral office to deepen understandings of the Catholic sexual ethic as a celebration of human dignity and the gift of life.

Comments from readers

RODRIGO RODRIGUEZ - 08/06/2018 01:30 PM
We Catholics know very well that our pastors have not even speak about this prophetic teaching, as a matter of fact they regularly advise other priest that come here from other countries to keep away from this teaching while in giving the sacrament of penance. Lately we have heard that the Vatican is involved in a study of this Encyclical in order to revise it and be able to make some changes. Now lets talk about abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, legalized suicide, etc.when was the last time your Sunday mass priest talked about these most important and latent issues in our society, if this rarely happens then we can know for sure that we will never hear about the Humane Vitae encyclical in our parishes. Finally this year during Lent, our Archdiocese promotes the "40 Days for Life Campaign" in their website, but when I asked my pastor his answer was he didn't know about it, neither did I heard or read in the parish bulletins of other parishes that I visited, I joined the Respect Life Ministry in 2004 and I can assure you that the lack of support in general from the clergy is dismal, they are the ones that should lead the laity and accompany us to the abortion mills, the March for Life in Washington DC, the Life Chain on US 1 and other events in the Public Square, our dear Bishops should step up and if not by a commanding order then at least by example they should show up. We are in a War with Satan and his cohorts, they know it and so do we. How about it?
Jose Ignacio Ignacio Jimenez - 08/06/2018 12:06 PM
From your post to God's ears - and the hearts of courageous bishops everywhere. Bishops must stand-up for the Truth and defend life as the Church has traditionally defined it based on natural law and divine revelation. There is no room for these to be redefined by society or Church leaders, but there is room - and in fact a desperate need for our shepherds to bravely step up and speak the Truth to society, rather than allow themselves to be pressured to redefine or retract Church teachings. Thank you for calling on our bishops to elevate the faithful.
Wilmina Iglesias - 08/06/2018 12:02 PM
As a Mathematics teacher I do not choose between a teenager girl 17 years old pregnant who decides an abortion is the right way and a teenager girl 17 years old who decides to raise a child is the right way. What seems not understandable is having Fear to face both realities. Schools do not prepare youngest for Life and I never hear a biological classroom explaining pregnancy in terms of getting sterile after abortion or the maturity in terms of doing things according age, or economic classroom telling how does it cost to raise a child on your own. Dealing with Society is specialization.

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