After 50 years, It’s Finally Time to Consider the Wisdom of ‘Humanae Vitae’
On July 25, 1968 – in the midst of the “sexual revolution” which aggressively promoted premarital sex, pornography, homosexual activity and artificial contraception – Pope Paul VI with the courage of a prophet gave the Catholic Church and world an entirely different message.
In his encyclical letter Humanae Vitae (“Of Human Life”), soon to be canonised Pope Paul VI prophetically predicted that contraception would “open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards.”
He also accurately predicted government coercion in pressuring the use of contraceptive methods.
And with deep insight and beauty Pope Paul said, “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.”
In faithfully defending the ancient and continuous teaching of the Catholic Church that marital openness to the gift of procreating new human life together with the Creator naturally demands a complete rejection of contraception, Pope Paul and Humanae Vitae suffered immediate, fierce and disrespectful opposition from many of the clergy and laity.
Assistant Professor of Theological Anthropology, Margaret McCarthy, who teaches at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family at The Catholic University of America, said to me during an interview that “The dissent from Humane Vitae laid bare the profound estrangement of its teaching from modern, liberal culture and its commitments to diminished ideas of freedom, equality, as well as the mastery of nature.
“Indeed, dissent over the question of birth control is usually associated with dissent from other related counter-cultural church teachings – concerning abortion, divorce, homosexual practice, and now, same-sex marriage.”
McCarthy added, “Where there is a more vibrant Christian experience, there is a greater trust in the Church’s teaching on these issues. That, in turn, generates a greater Christian experience” .
McCarthy cited a 2005 World Health Organization declaration that users of oral contraceptives had increased risks of breast, liver and cervical cancers .
And because oral contraceptives cause the thinning of the lining of the uterus, whenever fertilization/conception does occur, the new human being cannot develop, thus causing an abortion (see: ).
Proponents of artificial birth control often make the claim that the world’s poor need contraception to rise out of poverty and to decrease maternal deaths. McCarthy calls this claim a form of “ ‘cultural imperialism’ disguised as philanthropy.”
An authority in this field, Obianuju Ekeocha, author of Target Africa: Ideological Neocolonialism in the Twenty-First Century, states that there is no correlation between increased contraception and improved maternal health. “What is directly traceable is the impact of improved prenatal and postnatal care on maternal health. Contraception is neither prenatal nor postnatal care” .
With so many marriages, families and much of society gravely wounded, it would do all of us well to seriously read and prayerfully consider – through the intercession of St. Pope Paul VI – the wisdom and love contained in Humanae Vitae.
It’s time to finally give Humanae Vitae a fair hearing!
Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated social justice and peace columnist. He is available to speak at diocesan or parish gatherings about Catholic social teaching. His keynote address, “Advancing the Kingdom of God in the 21st Century,” has been well received by diocesan and parish gatherings from Santa Clara, Calif. to Baltimore, Md. Tony can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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