FLAGSTAFF — Pope Paul VI gave to the world a beautiful gift in 1968, “and the gift he gave us was ‘Humane Vitae,’” said Bishop James S. Wall of Gallup, New Mexico, during a Sept. 15 presentation of “The Wisdom of Pope Paul VI” at San Francisco de Asís.
The evening was part of the Shepherd Series sponsored by the Diocese of Phoenix Office of Natural Family Planning in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical “Humanae Vitae (On Human Life).” The series — which has been hosted in different parishes in the diocese throughout the year — also featured Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver. Bishop Wall was originally ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Phoenix in 1998 before becoming bishop of Gallup — a diocese that covers the majority of the Navajo reservation in northeast Arizona and northwest New Mexico — in 2009.
“The encyclical itself is a letter addressed from the Holy Father to all the members of the Church, but when he speaks of all the members of the Church, in a sense, he is speaking to all the people of the world,” Bishop Wall told the audience.
In 1957, the federal Food and Drug Administration approved the use of the pill for menstrual disorders, the bishop said, and in the 1960s, the FDA the approved it as a contraceptive. In 1966, at the height of the “sexual revolution,” a 72-person international commission produced a report for the pope that recommended declaring the use of artificial contraceptives as moral. A small group that included the future Pope St. John Paul II produced a minority report against it. Someone leaked the majority report results, and many people believed the pope would condone artificial contraception. Instead of acquiescing, Pope Paul VI released “Humane Vitae.”
“There was such a rebellion from it,” Bishop Wall said. “Even the people in the Church were drinking the Kool Aid of the times and they were rebelling against it, too.”
Bishop Wall said that through the prophetic document, Pope Paul VI gave four warnings of what would happen if the Church were to choose to accept contraception: a lowering of moral standards, an increase in infidelity, an increase in the objectification of women and a coercive use of reproductive technology by governments.
He said Pope Francis calls the coercion “new colonization,” where wealthy countries tie foreign aid to poorer countries with contingencies that they must accept things like artificial contraceptives, sterilization and abortifacients.
Bishop Wall said there are positives if couples choose Natural Family Planning. Since it is God’s plan for marriage, it helps couples stay together, but it isn’t easy and takes self-discipline. Though the national divorce rate is 50 percent even among Catholic couples, the rate drops to about 2 to 4 percent for those who practice NFP.
“Whoever really loves his partner loves not only for what he receives but loves that partner for that partner’s own sake — content to enrich the other with the gift of self,” Bishop Wall said, quoting from “Humanae Vitae.”
“What they are doing is pledging to one another that they are going to love and honor each other just as Christ has loved them,” Bishop Wall said.
The bishop recalled a seminary professor who referred to the Church as the “Old Lady” who “got it right” with “Humanae Vitae.”
“And even with all these pressures that were mounting upon the Church in the 1960s, she didn’t budge because she was pursuing that which was true,” Bishop Wall said. “And that which was true was to remain faithful to what God’s plan for marital love is — the unitive and procreative aspect of always being open and husbands and wives always pouring out their lives for the sake of the other.”