Humanae Vitae, forty years later

This being a more generally conservative, rather than specifically Catholic, web-log, the thought of tackling the great questions concerning what is, regrettably (I employ this term because, as opposed to spurring debate, papal letters speaking against capitalism and socialism, exempli gratia, Rerum Novarum and its descendants, generally pass by the way-side as Catholics, foolishly, by-and-large, stand, depending on ideological perspective, behind the coercive, consolidating powers un-bridled capitalism or the coercive, consolidating powers of watered-down socialism, either way pushing us toward “a third thing different from either of its two begetters — to wit, [T]he Servile State.”), such a controversial encyclical entices me very little. How-ever, I am unabashedly (and quite im-perfectly) Catholic, to-day marks the fortieth anniversary of Humanae, and I encountered this, to which I feel I must offer some rejoinder, on Yahoo! News this morning:

The letter said the Church’s anti-contraception policy “has had a catastrophic impact on the poor and powerless around the world, endangering women’s lives and leaving millions at risk of HIV.”

It also said the encyclical continued to be “a source of great conflict and division in the Church” and because most Catholics use contraception and feel they are not sinning, the policy has been “an utter failure.” [My emphasis. – NPO]

In part, I wish not to tackle this issue because, I concede, I sympathize with those who, with-in the marriage bed, sincerely believe that, for what-ever legitimate reason (Opening my-self, and them, to questions of subjectivity, I know. C’est la vie.), the decision to avail them-selves of the preventive benefits of artificial forms of contraception. Wishing to following the Teaching of the Holy Mother Church, I do not, bear in mind, condone such use; how-ever, I am, out of cognizance of my own sin-ful ways and because I can conceive of multifarious reasons why a couple would feel that they are in the right to violate this particular teaching, unwilling actually to condemn it, out-rightly, either.

The italicized segment of the block-quoted text, none-the-less, troubles me, gravely. Simply because people believe that they sin not when violating the Church’s proscription against birth control hardly constitutes a valid rationale for over-turning the teaching. Mayhap, in light of the reality of the situation, Church leaders should contemplate re-considering the prohibition. I’m not sure. I aver one thing, though, quite dispassionately and assuredly: Any serious revision to Church Teaching regarding this most sacred act, that of the act of conjugation and procreation in the marriage bed, requires solemn, somber adherence to the precepts of reason, Tradition, and respect for the sacredness of the act; “because most Catholics use contraception and feel they are not sinning” fails to suffice.

Last Saturday, I walked to the vigil Mass on campus, rather than, per the usual, attending the Sunday after-noon Mass at the National Shrine. In F’r Kyle Ingles’ stead, F’r Rob Walsh, presently in residence at the Catholic Student Center, offered the Mass. In a rather gutsy move (Seriously, what priest ever takes on such profound issues in his homily these days? He must be a reader of the New Oxford Review!), F’r Walsh spoke, insightfully, sincerely, and eruditely, about Humanae Vitae. He proffered, I believe, an exceptionally valid argument, which goes, approximately, as follows:

Generally speaking, Catholics — well-meaning Catholic couples — reject the Church’s prohibition because it’s not easy. This is rarely a matter of intellectual confounding; it’s because it’s hard. Catholics faithfully accept such mind-boggling Teachings as the Trinity, that Three Persons constitute One God, rather than three Gods — or one Deity with three names — reigning on high; the Incarnation, that Christ, born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, lived at once fully human and fully divine, rather than as fully divine, but taking on human appearance, or being half-God, half-man, some sort of biblical Hercules; and the Eucharist of Transubstantiation, that Christ truly has a physical presence in what were moments prior just bread and wine; we accept all of these, but we can’t accept some-thing so simple as “Theologically [and biologically], sexual intercourse is a means not merely to the end of pleasure, or even to the greatness of love between man and wife, but to the ends of even more substantial love that inheres in the openness to procreation.” That, really, is not a hard thing to grasp. But, as F’r Rob eloquently contended, because it’s not easy to follow (understandably, as I early recognized), it’s easier to reject. F’r Walsh exhorted those Catholics who fail to live up to the Teaching on contraception not to fear bringing their short-comings to God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, reminding us all that no sin, no matter how much it may embarrass us (or, in the case of this one, not), is some-thing God hasn’t heard before, not some-thing that He will refuse to forgive, so long as we sincerely repent.

Pro Ecclesia * Pro Familia * Pro Civitate offers a list of links regarding this contentious papal letter. I’ve read none of them, but I, willingly, put money down suggesting they support continued up-holding of Humanae.


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