Humanae Vitae Rediscovered

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A tapestry of Blessed Paul VI hangs from the facade of St. Peter's Basilica during his beatification Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Oct. 19, 2014. The Mass also concluded the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family. Blessed Paul, who served as pope from 1963-1978, is most remembered for his 1968 encyclical, "Humanae Vitae," which affirmed the church's teaching against artificial contraception. (Paul Haring/CNS)
A tapestry of Blessed Paul VI hangs from the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica during his beatification Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Oct. 19, 2014. Blessed Paul, who served as pope from 1963-1978, is most remembered for his 1968 encyclical, “Humanae Vitae,” which affirmed the church’s teaching against artificial contraception. (Paul Haring/CNS)

We need to return to the message of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae of Blessed Pope Paul VI, which highlights the need to respect the dignity of the person in morally assessing methods of regulating birth.” With these words in his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis reminded us that his own teaching on marriage and the family builds on the teaching of his papal predecessors; in this particular case when it comes to contraception and the gift of new human life, he draws our attention to the prophetic voice of Blessed Paul VI.

Why does Pope Francis say we need to return to the message of a document written 48 years ago? For one, he sees the need today to reiterate its key teaching on the “intrinsic bond between conjugal love and the generation of life” (AL #68). So, our present pope stated in paragraph #82 of Amoris Laetitia, “The Church’s teaching is meant to help couples to experience in a complete, harmonious and conscious way their communion as husband and wife, together with their responsibility for creating life.”

The Most Rev. Thomas J. Olmsted is the bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix. He was installed as the fourth bishop of Phoenix on Dec. 20, 2003, and is the spiritual leader of the diocese's 1.1 million Catholics.
The Most Rev. Thomas J. Olmsted is the bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix. He was installed as the fourth bishop of Phoenix on Dec. 20, 2003, and is the spiritual leader of the diocese’s 1.1 million Catholics.

But, of equal if not greater importance, Pope Francis agrees with Paul VI’s prophesy of four dire consequences of rejecting the moral norms for birth regulation. Nearly half a century ago, in paragraph 17 of Humanae Vitae, he had predicted the following:

  1. Contraceptive practices would lead to marital infidelity and a general lowering of morality;
  2. Young people, who particularly need strong guidance on following morality, would be especially affected by the weakening of cultural sexual mores.

    This is the first in a series on "Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love)," Pope Francis' post-synodal apostolic exhortation on marriage and the family.
    This is the third in a series on “Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love),” Pope Francis’ post-synodal apostolic exhortation on marriage and the family.
  3. Respect for women would decrease as they were seen increasingly as objects of pleasure rather than persons to be loved and to be treated as equals;
  4. Governments would coerce persons to act against their consciences and moral convictions, intervening aggressively into the intimacy and parenthood of married couples.

EN ESPAÑOL: Humanae Vitae Redescubierto

 

All four of these predictions, sadly, have proven true; indeed, the damage has dramatically increased in the past half century, just as Paul VI had foretold. For this reason, Pope Francis spoke of them forthrightly in Amoris Laetitia, even as he looked at what needs to be done today to address them effectively. For example, our present Holy Father writes in paragraph #54:

…the shameful ill-treatment to which women are sometimes subjected, domestic violence and various forms of enslavement which, rather than a show of masculine power, are craven acts of cowardice. The verbal, physical and sexual violence that women endure in some marriages contradicts the very nature of the conjugal union. I think of the reprehensible genital mutilation of women practiced in some cultures, but also of their lack of equal access to dignified work and roles of decision-making … and the exploitation and commercialization of the female body in the current media culture.”

In paragraph #56, Pope Francis says, “Yet another challenge is posed by the various forms of an ideology of gender that denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family. This ideology leads to educational programs and legislative enactments that promote a personal identity and emotional intimacy radically separated from the biological difference between male and female.”

Later in this same paragraph, the Holy Father points out, “On the other hand, the technological revolution in the field of human procreation has introduced the ability to manipulate the reproductive act, making it independent of the sexual relationship between a man and a woman. In this way, human life and parenthood have become modular and separable realities subject mainly to the wishes of individuals or couples. … Let us not fall into the sin of trying to replace the Creator. We are creatures, and not omnipotent. Creation is prior to us and must be received as a gift.”

After acknowledging, then, the prophetic insight of Paul VI, Pope Francis indicates what needs to be done today to address this moral quagmire, saying (#57), “We should not be trapped into wasting our energy in doleful laments, but rather seek new forms of missionary creativity. In every situation that presents itself, the Church is conscious of the need to offer a word of truth and hope. The great values of marriage and the Christian family correspond to a yearning that is part and parcel of human existence. If we see any number of problems, these should be … a summons to revive our hope and to make it the source of prophetic visions, transformative actions and creative forms of charity.”

A great source of hope and inspiration in the Diocese of Phoenix today is the response of young people preparing for marriage, a process that, by the grace of God and the dedication of many apostolic clergy and lay faithful, has them encountering the fullness of the message of Humanae Vitae. With more than 100 instructors of Natural Family Planning in three languages, the positive vision of the fullness of the marital act becomes clear to so many of our young couples. As a result, more than 60 percent of our couples share that they plan to live Natural Family Planning in their marriages, and avoid contraception. Truth and love, man and woman, life and joy speak for themselves when they are given voice by so many apostolic clergy, couples and medical professionals. Certainly more is needed as we move into a 21st Century with so many challenges, but let us never doubt that God is with us!

On July 25, we shall mark the 48th anniversary of Humanae Vitae. May the Lord help us, as Pope Francis wishes, to discover anew the wisdom of this prophetic document. Let us be confident, creative, energized, and trust the truth regarding sexuality that the Holy Spirit has protected through the Church’s gift of prophetic teaching.

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