July 25, 1968, a day that will live in infamy? That, of course, was the date of the promulgation of Humanae Vitae. 50 years later what has the failure to heed it’s teaching wrought and what has acceptance of its teachings bought?
As Pope Paul VI predicted the wide spread and uncritical acceptance of contraception has led to marital breakdown. No-fault divorce for one. This means for the first time in our history you can be commanded by a judge to appear in court for having done nothing wrong. A spouse who does not want to divorce is hauled into court and a great part of their life (and bank account) now is controlled by a judge for no other reason than for continuing to love their spouse. We can add to this sky-high rates of cohabitation (which amounts to experimenting on one another). The effects of contraception also contribute to harm women’s health, including death (just read the warning label on the pill or IUD); the poisoning of our lakes and rivers and water supply; the deformation of many aquatic species exposed to high levels of hormones in the water, the unknown effects on humans drinking and bathing in the same water supply. Same-sex marriage, polygamy, children raised without one parent, artificial insemination, surrogate mothers, unknown fathers from sperm donation and the legal and psychological mess these have caused; the spread of venereal diseases, increases in extramarital affairs; the birth of internet pornography, human trafficking in the sex trade, embryo destruction and experimentation all were spurred along by separating out procreation from conjugal love. And of course, abortion gives the illusion that having no child is better than having an unexpected one.
Paul VI also pointed out that women would suffer greatly at the hands of men. Perhaps the biggest effect of contraception has been that it lets men off the hook for their sexual exploits. What to do about pregnancy is the woman’s problem, whether to abort or raise the child as a single parent. All in all, contraception provides the perfect set up for men to be irresponsible and women to bear the brunt of the consequences.
It was also pointed out by Humanae Vitae that unscrupulous governments would impose contraception and sterilization on the population. China has had the “one-child policy” but surprisingly it has been the US government that is one of the biggest culprits in this by imposing our sexual mores on the rest of the world. The obsession with population control has led our government to tie all sorts of financial assistance and economic development to a country’s willingness to insist on “family planning”. That is code for “if you don’t make your people use birth control we won’t help you out”. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and the UN are accomplices in this. There is also the off and on-again policy of US tax money funding overseas abortions or fighting for abortion rights in other countries.
Then there is the problem of AIDS particularly in Africa. We have made it policy that to get our money Africans must use condoms. In the process we have created a multi-million-dollar condom industry that preys on the people of Africa. The Africans have resisted this approach and told us again and again that it fails to stop AIDS. The best prevention comes from good old monogamy. Uganda’s promotion of monogamy has greatly slowed the spread of AIDS in that country. Despite the cries from African leaders that our imposition of the solution is not helping it is hard to fight the illusion that condoms are the most effective strategy.
But for those who do accept the teaching of Humanae Vitae and are willing to accept the sacrifices it entails they experience greater intimacy, stronger marriages, less divorce, no chemical side-effects, and happy families that are animated by trust in God and divine providence.
Humanae Vitae realizes the challenges married couples face and that not everyone will be able to accept its teaching all at once. The encyclical invites married couples to work towards fully accepting this teaching. This requires thought, effort, prayer and spiritual advice, in other words the formation of one’s conscience. In the end it fosters an attitude of self-giving which allows marriage to reflect the self-giving love of Christ. The letter also asks the medical world and scientists to develop better methods of natural family planning, to assist women with health issues related to pregnancy; it asks pastors to guide couples so that they can embrace this teaching; it challenges confessors to show mercy realizing the problems that couples face.
It is obvious from reading the letter that the Pope knew how difficult this teaching is and how much resistance it would generate. But reading his words 50years later it also reveals his great concern for the peoples of the world and our future. In the end Paul VI reminds us that we can not find the happiness that we seek without respecting the laws of God written in our very nature which oblige us to follow with intelligence and love.
Fr. John B.BACK TO LIST