Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Humanae Vitae is here to stay

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae.

There is a view that the teaching of the encyclical on the moral illicitness of contraception is widely disregarded by the ordinary Catholic faithful. I am not sure that such a generalised view is really true to the reality seen as an ecclesial reality, rather than as a sociological reality. I can think of several families I know who are obedient to its teaching; and I ponder that the real witness to the integrity of the teaching of Humanae Vitae lies in the witness of families like these rather than the percentages produced by surveys or opinion polls. If there are areas in which the Church's life appears to be in decline, then there are always the ordinary places, like these families, where it is truly alive.

Since 1968, the universal teaching office of the Church has, amidst a severe contestation, held to the teaching of Humanae Vitae without change. Combine this with the witness of families referred to in the previous paragraph, and we can say with some confidence that Humanae Vitae is here to stay.

Penny Morduant is tilting at windmills if she really thinks that the Holy See will change on this.

The following passages from Humanae Vitae use the translation given in Fr George Woodall's 2008 "Humane Vitae: forty years on".
Upright people can also be persuaded more fully of the truth of the doctrine which the Church proposes in this matter, if they turn their minds to those things which will come about form the means adopted and the grounds put forward for restricting artificially the increase of births. In the first place they themselves may recognise what a wide and easy road can be opened by this way of acting both to conjugal infidelity and to the general weakening of the discipline of morals. Nor is long experience necessary for someone to discover human infirmity and to understand that people - and especially the young, so subject to the pressure of their desires - stand in need of incitements to observe the moral law and that it is wrong to proffer to them the easy road to violating the law itself. [HVn.17]
Clearly the situation in less developed nations is not the same as that in highly developed nations such as our own. But what we can now see in the reality of widespread successive marriage/partnerships, and a culture of sexual intimacy as a recreational activity whose only possible moral constraints are consent and the condom, can surely be foreseen in the future of those less developed nations if they are subject to the promotion of a contraceptive ideology and practice.
It is indeed to be feared that husbands, already accustomed to these ways of blocking conception, may forget the reverence due to their wives and, putting the well-being of their bodies and minds in second place, may make their wives into instruments at the service of their own desire and no longer value them as companions with whom they ought to go through life with respect and with love. [HV n.17]
The narrative of women's control over their own bodies, presented as if it is the only and universal narrative, should be put beside the equally possible alternative that the availability of contraception permits a greater control of men over women. One signal of this might be those women whose decisions for abortion are driven by the attitudes of boyfriends to their pregnancy, particularly if the pregnancy has resulted from a contraceptive failure. It is misleading to suggest that the marketing of contraceptives to women in less developed nations will uniformly have the effect of increasing the empowerment of women.
… unless we wish the duty of procreating life to be left to the arbitrary decision of human beings, we must necessarily recognise that there are some limits beyond which it is not licit to proceed in the power which a person can exercise over his or her own body in undertaking tasks which are natural to it; limits, we say, which it is licit for no-one, either as a private individual or as one endowed with public authority, to violate. These limits are not established for any other reason that that of the reverence which is due to the human body as a whole and to its natural functions... [HV n.17]
And with the promotion of LGBT ideology and an ideology of gender - what Pope Francis refers to as an "ideological colonisation of the family" - we see, at the level of our culture, precisely a full implication of the removal of any accepted limits to what a person can licitly do with their bodies.

Some additional observations: about half of all women seeking abortions do so after using an effective means of contraception (source here). Penny Morduant cannot be unaware of this, and one can suspect that, in asking the Catholic Church to change its teaching on contraception, she also foresees abortion provision.

Pope Benedict, at the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae:
The possibility of procreating a new human life is included in a married couple's integral gift of themselves. Since, in fact, every form of love endeavours to spread the fullness on which it lives, conjugal love has its own special way of communicating itself: the generation of children. Thus it not only resembles but also shares in the love of God who wants to communicate himself by calling the human person to life. Excluding this dimension of communication through an action that aims to prevent procreation means denying the intimate truth of spousal love, with which the divine gift is communicated: "If the mission of generating life is not to be exposed to the arbitrary will of men, one must necessarily recognize insurmountable limits to the possibility of man's domination over his own body and its functions; limits which no man, whether a private individual or one invested with authority, may licitly surpass" (Humanae Vitae, n. 17). This is the essential nucleus of the teaching that my Venerable Predecessor Paul VI addressed to married couples and which the Servant of God John Paul ii, in turn, reasserted on many occasions, illuminating its anthropological and moral basis.
Forty years after the Encyclical's publication we can understand better how decisive this light was for understanding the great "yes" that conjugal love involves. In this light, children are no longer the objective of a human project but are recognized as an authentic gift, to be accepted with an attitude of responsible generosity toward God, the first source of human life. This great "yes" to the beauty of love certainly entails gratitude, both of the parents in receiving the gift of a child, and of the child himself, in knowing that his life originates in such a great and welcoming love.

Pope Francis, speaking during his visit to the Phillipines:
The family is also threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life.
I think of Blessed Paul VI. At a time when the problem of population growth was being raised, he had the courage to defend openness to life in families. He knew the difficulties that are there in every family, and so in his Encyclical he was very merciful towards particular cases, and he asked confessors to be very merciful and understanding in dealing with particular cases. But he also had a broader vision: he looked at the peoples of the earth and he saw this threat of families being destroyed for lack of children. Paul VI was courageous; he was a good pastor and he warned his flock of the wolves who were coming. From his place in heaven, may he bless this evening!
And, later this year, Pope Francis will canonise Pope Paul VI. It is difficult to see these actions as anything other than an affirmation by Pope Francis of the teaching of Paul VI.

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