This coming July, we will mark the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s deeply controversial encyclical letter Humanae vitae. I won’t bore you with the details of the innumerable battles, disagreements, and ecclesial crises that followed upon this text. Suffice it to say that this short, pithily argued letter became a watershed in the post-conciliar Catholic Church and one of the most significant points of contention between liberals and conservatives. Its fundamental contention is that the moral integrity of the sexual act is a function of the coming together of its “procreative and unitive” dimensions. That is to say, sexual intercourse is ethically upright only in the measure that it is expressive of love between married partners and remains open to the conception of a child. When, through a conscious choice, the partners introduce an artificial block to procreation—when, in a word, they separate the unitive and procreative finalities of the sexual act—they do something which is contrary to God’s will.
I would like to draw particular attention to a remarkable passage in Humanae vitae, namely section 17, in which Paul VI plays the prophet and lays out, clearly and succinctly, what he foresees as consequences of turning away from the Church’s classic teaching on sex. Though he is convinced that artificial contraception is morally bad in itself, he’s also persuaded that it would, in the long run, adversely affect general societal attitudes regarding sex. Here is a first observation:
“Let them consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law.”
Does anyone doubt that, in the last fifty years, we have seen a profound attenuation of marital fidelity? Could anyone possibly contest that the last half century has witnessed a significant breakdown of the institution of marriage? Is anyone so blind as not to see that during the last five decades “a lowering of moral standards” has taken place? To be sure, there are multiple causes of these declines, and certainly not all the blame can be ascribed to artificial contraception. However, Paul VI was intuiting something of great moment, namely, that once we commenced to redefine the nature of the sexual act, we placed ourselves on a very steep and slippery slope toward a complete voluntarism, whereby we utterly determine the meaning of sexuality, of marriage, and even of gender. And the rapid rise in pornography use, the sexual exploitation of children, and human trafficking are functions of this same arbitrariness. What was only vaguely envisioned and feared fifty years ago is now accepted more or less as a matter of course.
In that same section, Paul VI continues to prophesy:
“Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.”
In the post-Weinstein era, we hear practically every day of another celebrity who has treated women with disrespect, turning them indeed into objects for his own use and manipulation. The entire society is rightly outraged at this behavior, but precious few cultural commentators have noted the link between this kind of objectification and the conscious disassociation of the twin ends of the sexual act. When we are permitted casually to separate love from procreation—or as one analyst had it, to sever the link between sex and diapers—we place ourselves on a short road to reducing sexual intercourse to a form of self-indulgent recreation.
Section 17 of Humanae vitae concludes with a startling act of prescience regarding the political implications of countenancing artificial contraception:
“Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone.”
What might have seemed exaggerated, perhaps even slightly paranoid, in 1968 is now a commonplace. The HHS Mandate, which would require even Catholic institutions to provide insurance coverage for contraception and abortifacients, has been so aggressively pursued that even the Little Sisters of the Poor found themselves battling for their rights in court. Pope Francis, an ardent admirer of Paul VI, has picked up on this theme, bemoaning the “ideological colonization” that takes place when the Western powers attempt, through threat of economic sanctions, to impose their sexual program on the underdeveloped world.
Full story at Catholic World Report.
The sad thing is that so many women don’t understand this in their quest to to be equal with men. To think also that so many women are even willing to kill the babies in their wombs to accomplish this end and that there are men also who encourage them in this so that they can have sex without consequences.
..Just as prophetic as his comments in his Address to the Lombard Seminary faculty and students Saturday, Dec. 7th, 1968 when he warned of “the smoke of Satan invading the church even unto the altars,” in contrast to the hoped-for positive change of Vatican II.
Only second-hand notes survive of the Address, one version at the Vatican website and another at L’Osservatore Romano, week of Dec 13, 1968. But those who attended at the time said it was stunning.
Paul VI returned to this theme on the Solemnity of SS. Peter and Paul, June 29, 1972, speaking of the shock that followed the expected hopefulness of V2.
And we now know it was prophetic.
Ah yes…the good old days prior to the 1960’s. Based on the personal experience of growing up in a family with 14 children in the 1950’s & 60’s, it wasn’t that great. As the third oldest, I remember my mother begging my dad, “please, no more children!” Also, I was “encouraged” to leave home at age 16 because of lack of space in the house and food shortages. My junior and senior year of high school was spent living with an aunt and uncle. Many wives were treated disrespectfully and told to submit to their husbands!
So, the Catholic Church is to blame for your unhappy and hard childhood.
Time to grow up.
Yes, I think that was the point, A2
Well JRed, as much as you decry the family that God chose for you, your younger siblings are probably very happy to have been born. Which of them should your parents have skipped?
One need to only consider the horrible child abuse that was occurring in the Church prior to V2 to realize “the smoke of Satan” had already invaded the Church many years earlier. Ecclesia…semper reformanda est!
And this is a factually wrong claim—that clergy child abuse, a terrible crime, was more extensive in the “old” Church.
John Jay U study (2004) provides a statistical chart on the frequency of abuse incidents: though reported abuse did occur prior to 1960, it was relatively rare (100 or so reports a year among then about 75,000 priests and even more religious); but the numbers literally quadrupled from 1965-1985.
You can see the chart, p.28, sec 2.3. Look up the study —its on pdf.— and disabuse yourself of your myth.
REPORTS. We all know that bad things happenned before Vatican II, even before Vatican I, but people didn’t come forward to REPORT it for fear of recrimination, a sense of shame, a feeling that a young girl or boy wouldn’t be believed over and against a powerful cleric, and a desire to remove themselves from the problem rather than deal with it headon. Please read the Time Magazine “person of the year issue”, and while you are at it and watch “Spotlight” to understand how this works. Not every sexual abuse story is reported, my friend. Even in this day and age, let alone in prior years. “Reported” cases mean nothing and are almost always the tip of an iceberg.
Atta boy Anonymous 2 for defending Holy Mother the Roman Catholic Church from the lies the liberals like to think-up and spread to justify the rampant changes that have happened in the last 50 + years since the V2 Council and its aftermath. So many times these liberals get on line and spew lies to support their hidden and sinful agenda to be progressive and liberate the remnants of the church even further. They won’t stop until there is nothing left and the way they are headed, it is doubtful there will be much left in another generation. CARA at Georgetown has all kinds of surveys and statistics that show the degradation and loss of the true faith these last 50+ years in the tens of millions of souls. Where will Christians who care…
Where will Christians who care to receive the last Sacraments turn to in their final hours without any priests to turn too? The creamatoriums show many do not care anylonger. Perhaps because they’ve drank the protestant kool-aide that all go to heaven. We need to pray for souls to return to Holy Mother the Church of our great-grand parents generation for their own salvation; but even more, the honor and glory of God!
The Holy Mother Church of our great grandparents generation is the one united with the Pope and all the Popes since St. Peter. Let no one deceive you otherwise.
Holy Mother Church grants a plenary indulgence at the moment of death in case a priest cannot be present.
Anonymous 2 and Kristin: notice I never blamed the Church (by the way, I am still a faithful and practicing Roman Catholic) for any of the above experiences. People often long for the “good old days” – before TV, pop culture, V2, technology or whatever – and my point is… the “good old days” were not always GOOD!
Your childhood, JRed, like many of ours, was hard and difficult, and that is regrettable; but it certainly wasn’t clear from your account of your troubles. Thank you for clarifying your point.
To return to the main point that needs emphasis: If Paul VI was at times shockingly prophetic, he twice in the most stark language spoke of “the smoke of Satan entering the Church” after V2; instead of hope and peace came troubles (Jer. 8:15). Let’s not continue to close our eyes, but find out why.
We know why. Satan wants to harm us. You have to know and love the Church or he will mess you up. The saddest thing I see here is people who really think they are serving God by committing sins against the Pope and the Church. The gate is narrow and the way is rough and few there are who find it.
Well, you certainly are blaming. Need you be reminded, the “good old days” were not always BAD!
JRed, notice I did not mention the Church. I simply asked which of your siblings you would have preferred your parents not have. Well?