Humanae Vitae at Fifty

Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University is hosting a series of lectures recognizing the fiftieth anniversary of the promulgation in 1968 of Humanae Vitae by Blessed Pope Paul VI. An article by George Weigel raises concerns about the impact of our contraceptive culture. When we separate sex from procreation, we reduce sex to self-absorbed pleasure (even if shared), reduce our spouse to a means to an end, and reduce children to a lifestyle choice. Not only does this lead to a disrespecting of the glorious God-given gift of sex but, even more ominously, to the disrespecting of children. When children become lifestyle choices, they can quickly become perceived as burdens, and unwanted burdens at that. Buyer’s envy, anyone? Hence, the advent of “wrongful birth” lawsuits, of abortion as contraception, of the near extinction of Down Syndrome children, of the acceptance, even among many Catholics, of justifying aborting children with genetic disorders, and the gaining popularity among the pro-choice crowd of equating unborn children to parasites. More than that, it also leads to children being had but not raised, of placing on very young children the responsibilities of adulthood or protecting older children from the responsibilities of adulthood, of handing over one’s children to others to be cared for and raised, and of seeing one’s child as a reflection of one’s own success or failure.

After Weigel lists the very low Total Fertility Rates of all of the countries of the European Union plus Great Britain, he concludes:

“… from a strictly social-scientific point of view, one is led to the inescapable conclusion that Europe’s infertility is self-induced. Which means that European infertility is deliberate and willful, not random and accidental. Which means that Europe is contracepting itself into demographic oblivion.

“And that means that Paul VI has been thoroughly vindicated in his warnings, in Humanae Vitae, about the effects of a ‘contraceptive culture’: a culture in which love and reproduction are technologically sundered; a culture in which children become another lifestyle choice, like the choice of vacation (the Dalmatian coast or Majorca) or automobile (BMW or Mercedes-Benz); a culture in which the family is defined absent its most fundamental characteristic, the transmission of the gift of life and the nurturance of the young.”

Weigel points out how disappointing it is that none of the lecturers in the series at the Gregorian, in his estimation, are proponants of Humanae Vitae. If that’s true, then I share his disappointment. I would hope that the Church, especially at her highest levels of academic thought, would be supportive of her own teachings and of those who have sacrificed, sometimes greatly, to live those teachings faithfully.

A discussion takes place in the comments section where some commenters insist on identifying natural methods of family planning as “contraception.” I suppose if one wants to justify dissent from Church teaching one can play all kinds of logical and mind games. But, the claim that NFP is simply another form of contraception is absurd. Those who cannot see the difference between exploiting the natural processes of the body to avoid or achieve pregnancy and chemically manipulating the processes of the body or, worse, creating an environment in the uterus that is hostile to the implantation of an embryo (and, thus, abortifacient) reduce NFP to a method of avoiding pregnancy and fail to see the goal of NFP of engaging in responsible procreation while respecting the duel unitive and procreative purposes of the sexual act and of respecting the other (one’s spouse) as an end in him or herself, and not merely as the means to the end of sexual pleasure.

Pope St. John Paul the Great, in a 1998 letter to Dr. Anna Cappella, director of the Center for Research and Study on the Natural Regulation of Fertility at Rome’s Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, addressed the essential difference between NFP and contraception and the mistaken claim that it is no more than another form of contraception.

If you are Catholic, or if you’re not Catholic, I highly recommend considering what the Catholic Church teaches about contraception and why. I also highly recommend investigating the different methods of NFP, how they work and why they work.

Before 1930, every Christian church condemned contraception as a grave immoral act, as it constituted a rejection of the procreative purpose of sex and as it reduced the sexual partners to means toward the end of sexual pleasure. In 1930, the Anglican Church met at that year’s Lambeth Conference and voted to allow for the use of contraception in rare and extraordinary cases. Having cracked the door an inch, it was quickly kicked fully open so that, in only thirty years time, every Christian church adopted a moral theology allowing contraception except the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

Sex is a beautiful gift that both nurtures love and creates more love. But, as is true of genuine love, it requires respect and an openness to sacrifice for the sake of the other. Contraception contravenes both.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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