Monday, July 29, 2013

HUMANAE VITAE AFTER 45 YEARS (Part 4: Why Bother?)




(Click here for Part 1 , Part 2 or Part 3)

[Note: This final installment of my examination of Humanae Vitae comes on the 45th anniversary of the encyclical’s release to the public, July 29, 1968.]

Forty-five years after Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae surveys show that it has been overwhelming ignored or rejected by most Catholics, especially in the West. Study after study has shown that Catholics are no different than their Protestant or non-believing counterparts when it comes to issues of sexual morality. Just recently a poll found that 50% of US Catholics (55% of white US Catholics) support abortion on demand in “all or most” cases. According to a 2012 Gallup poll 82% of US Catholics responded that artificial birth control was morally acceptable. Does it even matter what or why the Church teaches as it does about contraception if so many don’t seem to care?

Yes it does! Although I have no empirical evidence to support it, I suspect that the majority of Catholics approving of and practicing contraception do not truly know or understand the Church’s position. Consider, when was the last time you heard a homily about contraception? What did your parish do for National Natural Family Planning Week? How much emphasis is placed on the Church’s teaching, NFP, or theology of the body for couples during marriage preparation classes?

I believe there are three main reasons for submitting to the wisdom of the Church on this subject: it’s true, we’re called, and the reality of sin.

My wife and I have been married for twenty years. While we’ve had our ups and downs like any other couple, we are proud to say that we have never used artificial contraception. We have successfully used NFP to plan and space the births of our children. After our first two girls were born we knew that we could not at that time responsibly have any more children. My wife had gone through two very difficult pregnancies including bed rest and preterm labor. She was dealing with an auto-immune disorder that left her with chronic pain and fatigue. We were also struggling financially as I worked for the Church and she stayed home to raise our girls. Still we continuously sought God’s will regarding our family. As the years past her health and our finances improved to the point that we had no good reason not to be open to more children. After prayerful consideration we were able to use NFP to try for more kids. Our third daughter was born ten years after our second and since then we’ve added two more girls and a boy after losing one child to a miscarriage.

While some may look at our larger than average family and see that as a failure of NFP they would be wrong. We have an attitude that embraces love and life. We do not see our children as burdens or inconveniences. They are not accidents, but sought after gifts from God; and we are entrusted with raising and returning them to him.

Humanae Vitae is worth following because it is true. Paul VI promised fruitfulness that would improve the relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children. Following the Church’s teaching goes well beyond just the means of birth control—artificial or natural—to an invitation of allowing God to become an intimate and involved member of your family. It draws our attention to the fact that marriage is bigger than the love between husband and wife because it is a sign of the love of God within the Trinity and the love of Jesus for his Church. It’s no wonder then that couples practicing NFP have a divorce rate under 5% and are much more likely to be active members of their church and more faithful in holding to other teachings of the Church.

In the beginning, God commanded us to “be fruitful and multiply”. We are called to allow our love to be fruitful and life-giving. Love cannot be contained it must burst forth. Likewise we are made in God’s image and that image is also an eternal, selfless, life-giving love. We should strive to be imitators of Christ and he held nothing back, but poured out all of himself into his bride, the Church, so that she could conceive the new resurrection life he offered.

St. Paul commands us, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” (Rom 12:1) As mentioned above too few Catholics stand out and resist being conformed to the world. We have allowed the world to form us in many areas, but perhaps none so strongly as our sexuality. The Church must pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit to open hearts and minds to hear and see the truth of this teaching and to be changed by it. The stakes cannot be higher.

Not to sound too harsh, but we are robbing God of children and contracepting ourselves out of existence. Many in the West bemoan the closing or consolidating of parishes, the lack of vocations to the priesthood or religious life, and lack of support for Catholic school. Yet, we fail to understand the connection to wide-spread acceptance of contraception and the contraceptive mindset that views children either as a virus to be avoided or as accessories to compliment the modern marriage (as long as the limit is kept at 1-2 kids). LifeSiteNews.com featured the sad story of Fr. Timothy Sauppe of Illinois who had to close his parish school and who clearly saw the connection to the contraceptive generation.

The final reason for obeying Church teaching regarding contraception comes down to how the Catechism touches on the subject:

“In contrast, "every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible" is intrinsically evil.” (CCC #2370, emphasis added)

In other words, it’s a sin, and a serious one at that. What else does the Church consider “intrinsically evil”? Murder. Abortion. Euthanasia. Theft. Lying. Fornication. Adultery. Blasphemy.

This is not good company to keep.

What we do with our bodies matters! Contraception is ultimately a spiritual issue because it affects our souls. The Church takes such a strong stance on sexual sins not because she views sexuality as dirty, but precisely because she views it as holy. God teaches us through the Church that our truest fulfillment comes when we treat ourselves and others in the way he created us to be. Far from weighing us down, faithfulness to this teaching brings liberty.

We must learn to understand and accept God’s law as something positive rather than a list of Thou Shalt Nots. Consider how Pope Francis explains this in his encyclical Lumen Fidei when discussing the Decalogue (Ten Commandments):

 “The Decalogue is not a set of negative commands, but concrete directions for emerging from the desert of the selfish and self-enclosed ego in order to enter into dialogue with God, to be embraced by his mercy and then to bring that mercy to others. Faith thus professes the love of God, origin and upholder of all things, and lets itself be guided by this love in order to journey towards the fullness of communion with God. The Decalogue appears as the path of gratitude, the response of love, made possible because in faith we are receptive to the experience of God’s transforming love for us.” (Lumen Fidei #46)

This is a hard teaching. Jesus never promised that following him would be easy, in fact he said just the opposite by calling us to pick up our crosses, follow the narrow path, and die to ourselves. The road is not easy, but it is worth it! Thankfully we have a loving savior who knows our weaknesses and is ready to help us through sacramental grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit. He calls us to a fresh start through reconciliation and will see us through to the end.

Friday, July 26, 2013

HUMANAE VITAE AFTER 45 YEARS (Part 3: The Vindication of Humanae Vitae)



 (Click here for Part 1 and Part 2)

Within Humanae Vitae Pope Paul VI included a dire warning about the “dire consequences of artificial birth control”. He listed four specific consequences: conjugal infidelity and a general lowering of morality, loss of respect for women, possibility of governmental coercion, and the temptation for man to exercise illicit dominion over his body. To quote Mary Eberstadt from her book Adam and Eve after the Pill:

“Four decades later, not only have the document’s signature predictions been ratified in empirical force, but they have been ratified as few predictions ever are: in ways its authors could not possibly have foreseen, including by information that did not exist when the document was written, by scholars and others with no interest whatever in its teaching, and indeed even inadvertently, and in more ways than one, by many proud public adversaries of the Church.”

Conjugal Infidelity & Lowering of Morals

Paul VI foresaw the negative impact that contraception would have on marriages. By effectively removing the procreative aspect the essential nature of marriage changed. No longer was it fundamentally oriented towards the raising of children, but rather it became focused on the emotional relationship of husband and wife. Since Margaret Sanger’s contraception crusade in the 1920’s divorce rates have risen sharply while marriage rates in the age of the Pill have dropped. Just this week a study from Bowling Green University revealed that the marriage rate in the US has reached a record low with only 31 marriages for every 1,000 women.

The Pew Research Institute published a study detailing the changing face of families in the United States from 1960 to 2010. They found that the number of adults who had never been married had nearly doubled while those who have been divorced or separated increased three fold. The Pew report notes, “With the arrival of the birth control pill in the early 1960s, American women gained a new measure of control over their reproductive lives. Public attitudes about sex outside of marriage have changed dramatically since that time.” Citing a Gallup poll they noted that in 1969 68% of the public believed premarital sex was wrong; by 2009 only 32% held that position. I recommend taking the time to look at the Pew study, to see the empirical evidence of the moral decline of our society. Increased divorce rates, fewer marriages, greater numbers of children being raised in broken homes, all of these factors place a disproportionate burden upon women and children especially.

Lionel Tiger, Charles Darwin Chair of Anthropology at Rutgers University and no friend of organized religion, wrote a book called The Decline of Males. In it he documents empirical links between contraception and the breakdown of families, female impoverishment, and single motherhood. His research has also led him to make the claim, “Contraception causes abortion.” Even though Paul VI did not explicitly link the two in a causal relationship it is clear that contraception leads to sexual promiscuity and that abortion becomes the backup plan when birth control fails.

 Loss of Respect for Women

In the words of Paul VI, “It is also to be feared that the man, growing used to the employment of anti-conceptive practices, may finally lose respect for the woman and, no longer caring for her physical and psychological equilibrium, may come to the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved companion.”

For all those who accuse the Church of waging a war against women Paul VI demonstrates that sexual liberties actually lead to the abuse and objectification of women. Although he could not have possibly foreseen the explosion of pornography as the result of the internet, the pope did warn against its spread through modern media. In truth, without easy access to contraception and abortion the porn industry could not possibly exist in its current form.

The recent political debate over abortion restrictions in Texas afforded the world an uncensored glimpse into the heart sexual revolution. Beyond the offensive signs and slogans, apart from the mocking cheers of “Hail Satan!” the world was introduced to the Bro-Choice movement. What is Bro-Choice? In their own words, “A bro-choice is where I am pro-choice because I am a man and if women don’t have access to abortion on demand then I won’t get laid as often.” There’s probably no better spokesman for the hook-up culture of today’s youth and young adults. So much for chivalry and respect for women.

Government Coercion

Humanae Vitae was published the same year as Paul Erlich’s The Population Bomb. Paul VI even cites concern about the earth’s growing population as one of the reasons for examining the question of birth control. The pope recognized that if contraception along with abortion and sterilization became acceptable means for married couples to regulate births then governments would be emboldened to use them as well.

(For concerns about over population I refer you to this excellent site.)

The most obvious example of this prediction coming true is China’s notorious one child policy. Beginning in the mid-1970’s China encouraged its citizens to limit their families to only two children. When this suggestive approach failed to significantly impact birth rates the communist government instituted a mandatory one child per family rule. This policy relies on the effectiveness of widespread contraception along with abortion and sterilization—both methods often applied through force.

Some population alarmists in the West put suggested legitimate debate over the ethics of introducing contraception to the water supply to control population growth. In an ironic twist, concern is rising as hormones from oral contraceptives (making their way through the sewer system) are building up in water supplies to the point of causing sexual mutations in fish. Even though it may not yet be affecting people it’s proving expense to deal with.

Government intrusion into family planning is currently a source of great controversy over the implementation of Obamacare in the US. Here we see the federal government coming into conflict with religious liberty by attempting to force individuals, businesses and even some religious ministries to pay for and provide free access to contraception, including the abortifacient morning after pill.

Illicit Domain over Our Bodies

Paul VI’s final concern was that “the mission of generating life” would be exposed “to the arbitrary will of men,” and that this would lead to crossing over lines relating to the use of technology over our bodies that violate the “integrity of the human organism”.

Ten years to the day after the proclamation of Humanae Vitae, on July 25, 1978, Lousie Joy Brown was born in Oldham, England. She was the first “test tube baby” to be born using in vitro fertilization (IVF). We had moved on from a new form of artificial contraception to a new form of artificial conception—both deemed illicit for separating the procreative from the unitive aspects of the conjugal act. With the advent of IVF new ethical dilemmas arise in protecting the dignity of the human person and the dignity of the marriage act.

The process of IVF itself contains morally offensive acts by creating multiple human embryos. Typically multiple embryos are implanted and often some are selectively aborted intentionally or merely cannot survive a crowded womb on their own. Other embryos are kept in a state of suspended animation, cryogenically frozen either temporarily or permanently. Embryonic research, which necessarily results in the killing of embryos, is only possible due to IVF. Recently the US Department of Health has given a nod of approval to three-person IVF. In this procedure a donor egg has its nucleus removed and replaced with the mitochondria of another woman and then combined with sperm for fertilization. This embryo can then be placed in a surrogate mother and upon birth be adopted by another couple. Suddenly Johnny has SIX adults involved in his birth in some parental form or another.

The artificial conception industry has given rise to sperm banks. These also carry their own ethical challenges. In 2001, the New York Times featured a story about one sperm donor who is said to have fathered 150 children. The Huffington Post began an April 2012 story with the follow line, “Ed Houben was a virgin until the age of 34. Now he's the biological father of 82 children.” Most children are never told their father was a donor and most donations are restricted to a small geographical area. Now just imagine Johnny (with his 6 parents) meets Suzy twenty years from now, they fall in love and get married without know that they are actually half-siblings.

To return to Paul VI, there is a reason there are “limits which no man, whether a private individual or one invested with authority, may licitly pass.”

Two More Paul VI Didn’t See Coming

I’d like to finish this post by pointing out to other consequences that Paul VI did not predict: cafeteria Catholicism and gay marriage.

As I mentioned previously, Humanae Vitae was the Lexington moment for open rebellion against the Church from within. In their effort to undermine Paul VI’s authority progressive theologians opened the Pandora ’s Box of unformed conscience. The basic message sent forth was that each individual could freely decide for his or herself which teachings to accept and follow and which to reject or ignore. While this attitude had been simmering at the academic level for some time, it was only in the wake of Humanae Vitae that the average lay person was swept up in this current. So now we have untold numbers of the baptized who have been told and believe that they can be “good” Catholics while agreeing to disagree with the Church on issues like contraception, premarital sex, abortion, and homosexual behavior. This dissent did not end with only morality, but now many Catholics also feel free to ignore the Church on doctrinal issues such as the Real Presence or purgatory and discipline such as mass attendance or fasting.

As for contraception’s connection to gay marriage, allow me to quote from Mary Eberstadt:

 “By giving benediction in 1930 to its married heterosexual members purposely seeking sterile sex, the Anglican church lost, bit by bit, any authority to tell its other members—married or unmarried, heterosexual or homosexual—not to do the same. To put the point another way, once heterosexuals starting claiming the rights to act as homosexuals, it would not be long before homosexuals started claiming the rights of heterosexuals…Thus in a bizarre but real sense did Lambeth's attempt to show compassion to married heterosexuals inadvertently give rise to the modern gay rights movement."

When sex becomes solely focused on recreation to the exclusion of procreation it becomes removed from the context of marriage and therefore marriage loses its intrinsic nature as a life-long committed relationship oriented towards raising children.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

HUMANAE VITAE AFTER 45 YEARS (Part 2: A Closer Look)

(Click here for Part 1)


On July 25, 1968, Paul VI promulgated the much anticipated encyclical Humanae Vitae. While simply maintaining the position held by the Catholic Church for nearly 2,000 years, and reaffirming the teachings of the popes since Pius XI in 1930, Paul VI’s pronouncement was met with shock and incredulity by the self-proclaimed experts who had anticipated a change of course. Professional reputations were at risk and many felt that the pope had betrayed them. Open revolt was about to take place as those who were hoping for change scrambled to push back against what they perceived as a serious mistake by Paul VI.

The encyclical was released to the public on July 29th and on July 30th Fr. Charles Curran, a theologian at Catholic University, and a group of Catholic theologians held a press conference to address the world with their opinions of Paul VI’s work. They began by attacking the authority of the document itself, calling into question the weight a papal encyclical had on binding the conscience and behavior of Catholics. Their basic premise was that Catholics were free to take what the pope had taught and simply decide for themselves whether they agreed with it or wanted to follow it. In this sense, Humanae Vitae gave birth to the modern concept of “faithful dissent” or what others would call cafeteria Catholicism, the notion that one could remain a Catholic in good standing while freely choosing to ignore or reject individual teachings of the Church. Combined with the sexual revolution and chaotic social upheaval of time and full blown dissent among many theology departments in colleges and seminaries a generation of Catholics, lay and clergy, were left with the impression that the Vatican was simply out of touch and married couples were free to allow their conscience to dictate sexual ethics in their marriages.

While many have criticized Paul VI and ignored Humanae Vitae, few have read it. What exactly did Paul VI say? What reasons did he give for retaining the practice of condemning artificial birth control? Did he provide any guidance to married couples?

Paul VI begins his encyclical with a review of the modern concerns and questions that gave rise to the formation of the birth control commission and a summary of his evaluation of its findings. He mentions concern about increasing population, economic difficulties faced by large families, the changing role of women in society and concerns over the value of marriage itself. In addition, he cites advances in modern science (the Pill) giving man greater control over the forces of nature. Paul VI establishes the moral authority of the Church to address these concerns as being rooted in Christ’s commissioning of the Apostles and their successors, and noting the “coherent teaching” on this subject that has been handed down.

Paul VI acknowledged the efforts of the birth control commission, yet noted that their conclusions could not be taken as definitive. He notes that the commission itself was divided in their interpretation and application of moral law. He further noted that “certain criteria of solutions had emerged which departed from the moral teaching on marriage proposed with constant firmness by the teaching authority of the Church.” (HV #6)

Before addressing the issue of contraception, Pope Paul VI first provided an exposition on the very essence of conjugal love. The love of husband and wife finds its ultimate meaning and purpose in “God, who is love.” Paul affirms that marriage is an “institution of the Creator” and not merely a human construct.  Within the union of two baptized persons marriage takes on a special meaning as a sacramental sign of Christ’s love for the Church. This conjugal love is rooted in an act of the will, not just emotions, and is oriented not in what one receives but on giving of one’s self to their spouse. In this sense, the love of husband and wife is fecund, fruitful, dedicated to raising up new life. For this reason marital love must also be faithful and exclusive until death.

Within the context of each marriage Paul VI calls couples an “awareness of their mission of responsible parenthood.” Contrary to popular belief, the Catholic Church does not command husbands and wives to simply have as many children as possible.  Humanae Vitae teaches that responsible parenthood means a thoughtful, prayerful consideration of being open to new life. Paul VI tells married couples to be knowledgeable of natural biological rhythms of fertility. He challenges them to exercise reason and will to keep passions in proper order. Most importantly he recognizes that “physical, economic, psychological, and social conditions” should be legitimately considered when deciding to raise a “numerous family” or by using methods in keeping with the moral law “to avoid for the time being, or even for an indefinite time, a new birth.” Within this context Paul VI affirmed the Church’s teaching that, what has become known as Natural Family Planning, is morally licit and acceptable.

Only after laying out the Church’s consistent position on birth control, praising the beauty and significance of conjugal love, and urging responsible parenthood does Paul VI then turn his attention to pointing out specifically illicit means of regulating births. First among these is the use of abortion, “even if for therapeutic reasons”, and sterilization as a means of birth control. Paul VI then writes, “Similarly excluded is every action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible.” Of particular interest are the sources cited as an end note to this particular sentence. Almost as a means of tying Humanae Vitae to Church tradition he cites the Catechism of Trent, Pius XI’s Casti Connubii, and writings of Pius XII, John XXIII, and Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. He reminds the Church that no good reason or purpose can ever justify the deliberate use of an immoral action.

(Note: Paul VI, relying on the moral principle of double effect, specifically address the issue of use of procedures that may prevent conception but are done for other medically necessary reasons by saying the Church “does not at all consider illicit the use of those therapeutic means truly necessary to cure diseases”.)

Apart from Paul VI’s predictions of the consequences of wide spread contraceptive use (which I’ll explore in Part 3 of this series) the remainder of the document is a call to holiness and encouragement by the pope. He recognizes that “this teaching will perhaps not be easily received by all”, but also proclaims the Church’s call to faithfulness to Christ over cultural relevance. Confessing that the Church is not the author of the moral law, but only its guardian Paul VI calls on the children of the Church to rely on God’s grace to find the strength for obedience.

For those with the strength of will to adhere to this teaching, the pope promises of various fruits within marriages and families. For couples, rejecting a contraceptive mindset will lead to serenity and peace, driving selfishness out of relationships, being more attentive to each other, and acquiring greater capacity for deeper and more effective influence over their children. Children and youth would benefit as well according to Paul VI by being raised with a just understanding of human values. In order to preserve towards the goal of faithful adherence Paul VI urged married couples to call upon the grace available to them by virtue of their baptism and matrimony. Particular emphasis was placed on drawing strength from the Eucharist and turning to the sacrament of reconciliation when they fail. He encouraged couples to encourage others through being apostles of marriage by spreading the love, joy and hope found in being faithful to the Church.