Dear Friends in Christ:
Two weeks ago, Pope Francis canonized seven new saints. Among the newly canonized were St. Oscar Romero (1917-1980) and St. Paul VI (1897-1978). St. Oscar Romero was Archbishop of San Salvador. He was murdered at the altar as he was offering Mass for preaching the Gospel and standing up against the brutal and authoritarian military regime of El Salvador. This regime oppressed the nation’s people, especially the poor. St. Paul VI (1897-1978), was pope from 1963-1978. He was responsible for bringing Vatican II (1962-65) to its conclusion and overseeing the start of its implementation. During his pontificate, St. Paul VI issued several important encyclical letters. This past summer on the Feast of St. James, the Church marked the 50th Anniversary of St. Paul VI’s famous encyclical letter Humane Vitae (On Human Life) (July 25, 1968). This is perhaps the most controversial papal document of the last 100 years. At the time of its publication, it was almost universally denounced and ridiculed by secular sources and caused great controversy even within the Church; including bishops and theologians. The late American sociologist and priest, Andrew Greely, often said that this encyclical was the principal reason why so many American Catholics lost faith in the leadership of the Church and left the practice of the faith. I do not know about that, but I am certain that it played a significant part. This encyclical letter addresses the issue of artificial contraception and restates the Catholic Church’s teaching that the use of artificial means of contraception is immoral, sinful and harmful to people, marriages, families and society. St. Paul VI also restated that abortion and sterilization are grave sins and are forbidden. The teaching of Humane Vitae, one can fairly say, is widely rejected and ignored. That is not to say totally or completely, as there are many faithful Catholics and others who see the truth and beauty of this teaching and strive to embrace and live it faithfully.
Surprising to many people today, prior to 1930 almost every Christian body rejected contraception, abortion and sterilization as immoral and sinful. Today, the Catholic Church practically stands alone in holding fast to this teaching, although there are individuals and groups of non-Catholic Christians who have since come to see the wisdom, truth and beauty of this teaching. Simply put, the Church teaches that marriage is given and designed by God and has two natural purposes or ends: the unitive and the procreative. Sexual intimacy between husband and wife is to unite the couple in love through a mutual, exclusive and lifelong giving of self, and to share in God’s creative action. For Christians, marriage as a sacrament represents the union of Christ and his bride the Church. Artificial contraception separates these two ends and eliminates the procreative nature of sexual intimacy and marriage. It disables and frustrates both the natural and supernatural design of the Creator for husbands and wives.
In recent years, Humane Vitae has also been seen by many as the most prophetic document of the Church in the last century. A growing number of theologians and bishops, including Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis have pointed out that what Paul VI saw 50 years ago is in fact happening today. In Humane Vitae, St. Paul VI warned the Church and the world of the consequences which would result from contraception and the mentality that accompanies it. Among the harmful and dangerous consequences, the pope warned there would be an increase of marital infidelity and promiscuity. Simply put, it would make it easier for spouses to cheat on each other by committing adultery, which in turn would weaken and destroy marriages. It would lead to a lowering of moral standards, not just sexual morality but morality overall. St. Paul VI also warned that this contraceptive mentality was a danger to young people, as it made it easier to sin and give into temptations. Long before the #MeToo Movement, St. Paul VI and the Catholic Church warned that this would lead to a decrease of reverence and respect for women! He foresaw that women would be reduced to being a mere instrument for men’s satisfaction and desires. Ominously, Humane Vitae warned that artificial contraception would be abused by governments “who care little for the moral law” and that they would attempt to use contraception (and abortion and sterilization) as an easy fix to solve societal problems. Governments and public authorities would use these contraceptive methods not for the good of people, married couples, children or families, but for their own benefit. Paul VI prophetically says “They (public authorities) will impose their use on everyone.” St. Paul VI warned that contraceptives would lead to an “invasion of government into the most personal and intimate areas” of people’s lives. Lastly, the pope warned us that this mentality would reduce reverence due to the whole person.
Can anyone not see that what St. Paul VI warned us of in 1968 has indeed and sadly come true?
St. Paul VI, Pray for us!
In Pace Christi,
Fr. Troy Gately