Humanae Vitae today

With the annual mailings from insurance companies to their beneficiaries (although that term can be debated, given the vast sums of money that the supposed beneficiaries have to pay to these companies in premium and co-pays), the issue of contraception returns to one’s mind. The Affordable Care Act (commonly referred to as Obamacare) forced all insurance policies to cover contraception, regardless of the deeply-held beliefs of many Americans that these practices are immoral — and their wish that their insurance premiums (and tax money) not go to “services” which contravene the loving will of our Divine Creator.

Last year the independent Catholic news website Crux had an article observing the half centennial of St. Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae, which reaffirmed the Church’s opposition to artificial contraception. In “At 50, fans say you can debate ruling in ‘Humanae Vitae,’ but not its relevance” correspondent Ines San Martin interviewed a number of people who spoke about the amazing insight with the pope had back in the turbulent year of 1968.

San Martin wrote, “[A] half-century later, supporters say that whatever else the encyclical is today, ‘irrelevant’ isn’t really it. Italian Msgr. Gilfredo Marengo, for instance, said that Humanae Vitae actually was adept at reading the signs of the times when it appeared. ‘At the time in which Humanae Vitae was published, the process of decolonization in many parts of the world was coming to an end,’ he said.

‘Birth control policies supported by many international agencies, such as distribution of condoms and legalization of abortion, were a worrying sign of willingness of many people to intervene and influence many new countries, especially in the developing world.’

“‘In this sense,’ Marengo said, ‘those policies can be read as a form of ideological colonization.’ (That phrase is especially associated with Pope Francis, who’s denounced ‘ideological colonization’ on multiple occasions, meaning Western nations and NGOs exerting pressure on poorer societies to adopt a liberal sexual ethic as a condition of humanitarian aid.)” (the parenthesis is from San Martin’s article).

San Martin also quoted Pascoal Carvalho, a doctor from India and a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life. “Some foreign aid to countries of the developing world was linked with promoting contraception and abortion, all part of a reproductive health program for women,” he said. Carvalho added that HV pointed out this pernicious attitude and motivated some Catholics and others of good will to be proactive in helping families. 

San Martin also quoted Pia de Solenni, Chancellor of the Diocese of Orange, who said about HV, “The document is about real love. Recent allegations of sex abuse involving Cardinal [Theodore] McCarrick and other Church leaders show exactly what happens when we don’t live chastity according to our state in life.” She said (before Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote on this topic recently) that sexual abuse, inside and outside of the Church, “are a pretty good indication of what happens when the teaching is ignored. We mock love and use people.”

De Solenni added, “Without contraception, there’s no need for abortion. Abortion exists because we have bought into a contraceptive mentality which sees unborn human life as an object that is a burden and shouldn’t exist.”

Echoing the chancellor, a graduate student at Catholic University, Jeanne Marie Hathway, said, “Ultimately, contraception and abortion are band-aid measures a society adopts so it doesn’t have to make serious improvements in its treatment of women.” Hathway told San Martin that she supports Natural Family Planning (NFP), which includes “fertility awareness-based methods of family planning” that “offer women a different way of being in their bodies — one, she said, which calls men to recognize and respect the intricacy of life.”

Hathway also spoke against a common cultural belief: “The idea that abortion or contraception (or both) are necessary for human flourishing — more specifically, female flourishing — comes from the fractured worldview that life is a balancing act between things we want and things that happen to us. Sex is ‘something we want,’ and children are ‘something that happen to us.’”

Archbishop Christian Lepine of Montrael was also quoted by San Martin regarding HV and its understanding of “the consequences that contraception has had in people’s lives.” He said that St. John Paul II’s theology of the body built upon what his predecessor taught in HV. “More and more people see in this theology of the body a vocation to love and to the other, the mutual gift they are to each other, as well as to the communion of the couple and the fruitfulness of love,” he said.

Like the teachings on the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, only a minority of American Catholics accept the teachings of HV. Hathway explained that the problem isn’t that people reject HV after having read it — instead they’ve never understood the teaching in the first place. “Our society tells us that contraception is a necessary small piece of connecting the bigger pieces in life — career and romantic relationship, freedom and adventure, fulfillment and stability.” However, she added that HV is a “blueprint,” bringing these disparate parts together. “Human beings are created for relationship with God. The family is the school of relationship, and the root of the family is the friendship between a man and a woman. Paul VI recognized contraception as part of the fracture, not the glue, of human life.”

There is a powerful documentary in theatres right now, “One Child Nation,” made by a Chinese-American immigrant, Nanfu Wang, about the one-child policy which ruled Communist China from 1979 to 2015, when it was replaced by the two-child policy. Both policies were (and are) enforced through mandatory sterilizations and abortions. The movie is heartrending. One of the most moving segments is the regret and anguish that a midwife has for the thousands of children whom she aborted (while many of the other people in the movie just said, “we had no choice”). However, the filmmaker, showing that she has been indoctrinated into American anti-life attitudes, says towards the end of the movie that the Communists in China (forcing abortion on women) and American Pro-Life activists (trying to limit abortion) are similar because “both are about taking away control of women’s bodies.” In saying this, she is both contradicting her own documentary (she proved in the movie that the Communists’ motivation had to do with their belief in Malthusian economic models, nothing to do with female sexuality) and making assumptions about Pro-Lifers just based on the popular culture’s condemnation of us.

May our relationship with Christ, Who gave up everything out of love for us, guide our relationships with each other, especially those within Marriage. 


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