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February 24, 2010
The wisdom of ‘Humanae Vitae’
This is Part 1 of a December 2009 blog posting. Part 2 will run in next week’s Denver Catholic Register.
By Msgr. Charles Pope
A generation has passed since the publication of the boldly pastoral and prophetic encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” which upheld the ancient ban on the use of artificial contraception. Perhaps no teaching of the Church causes the world to scoff more than our teaching against artificial contraception. The eyes of so many, Catholics among them, roll and the scoffing begins: Unrealistic! Out of touch! Uncompassionate! Silly! You’ve got to be kidding!
The Lord Jesus had an answer to those who ridiculed him in a similar way:
“To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.‘ But time will prove where wisdom lies” (Mt 11:16-18).
Indeed, time does prove where wisdom lies. Some 40 or more years after widespread acceptance of contraception set in how have we done? Perhaps it is best to review some of the “promises” that contraceptive advocates made, then review the prophecies of Paul VI. Then let’s review the record, looking at the “fruits” of contraception.
The promises of the contraception advocates:
1. Happier marriages and lower divorce rates since couples could have all the sex they wanted without “fear” of pregnancy.
2. Lower abortion rates since there would be far fewer “unwanted” children.
3. Greater dignity for women who will no longer be “bound” by their reproductive system.
4. More recently contraceptive advocates have touted the medical benefits of preventing STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) and AIDS.
What were some of the concerns and predictions made by Pope Paul VI? (All of these are quotes from “Humanae Vitae”)
1. Consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity (HV 17).
2. A general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law (HV 17).
3. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection (HV 17).
4. Who will prevent public authorities from…impos[ing] their use on everyone (HV 17).
So, 40 years later, who had the wisdom to see? The world or the Church?
In next week’s column, we’ll consider some of the data.
Msgr. Charles Pope is pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Parish on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and blogs for the Archdiocese of Washington’s “Maybe It’s God” blog at http://blog.adw.org. This blog posting is reprinted with permission.