Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Humanae Vitae - a Catholic Widow's Perspective

On July 25, 1968 the world shattering encyclical Humane Vitae was published by the Vatican.  Blessed Pope Paul IV answered a question that truly shattered many American Catholics - the question of whether or not artificial birth control was a moral choice for anyone.  Speaking to us with love and with courage, the pontiff stated:

No member of the faithful could possibly deny that the Church is competent in her magisterium to interpret the natural moral law. It is in fact indisputable, as Our predecessors have many times declared, (l) that Jesus Christ, when He communicated His divine power to Peter and the other Apostles and sent them to teach all nations His commandments, (2) constituted them as the authentic guardians and interpreters of the whole moral law, not only, that is, of the law of the Gospel but also of the natural law. For the natural law, too, declares the will of God, and its faithful observance is necessary for men's eternal salvation. (3) (

I was only 12 years old, a Catholic school girl whose family had been torn apart by divorce and who was dealing (at the time) with being something of an oddity among her schoolmates.  I was the only kid in my class whose father had walked out, whose mother had to work outside the home and who had to go home to a babysitter rather than a mom after school.

I remember the 'funny' posters that popped up on the walls of Spencers' Gift shop in the Mall - one showed Pope Paul VI pointing his finger at the world and the caption read "The Pope Says the Pill is a No-No".  I was shocked, of course.  No one criticized the Pope in my world.  I didn't really understand it.  What was the Pill and why would the Pope care?

It is common during this, the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, to point to the words of the Holy Father and shake our heads at how accurate he was in predicting all that would come from the so-called Sexual Revolution.  

Reading this amazing work, I was struck by this:

...the exercise of responsible parenthood requires that husband and wife, keeping a right order of priorities, recognize their own duties toward God, themselves, their families and human society. (Chpt 10, Responsible Parenthood).

Keeping a right order of priorities - what an amazing phrase.  The Holy Father, gently but efficiently, reminded the men and women of the world that there is a right order of what is important and that if, through selfishness and sin, they decide that those priorities should change then all hell will break loose.

It did in my life.

My father had many challenges and fidelity was one of them.  His inability to stay faithful to his marriage vows has caused damage in our lives even today.  The result of poor fathering can be something that becomes a kind of ugly family legacy and I have seen it in my own family. 

When we, as Catholics, celebrate this amazing document I hope we do not simply glorify a past that existed in the minds of Hollywood.  You know the one - the one where everyone lives like the family in Leave it to Beaver and the worst thing that happens is the Beave gets stuck on a billboard.  When we, as Catholics, quote from this document let's not forget that women were being treated in America as second class citizens.  They could not have bank accounts on their own if they were married.  If their husband dumped them, he took his pension with him leaving them with the children and very little means of support.  If they were beaten, the police often told them to be better wives.  If they were raped, they were asked what they had done to tempt their attacker.

Many people grew up with wonderful fathers and intact families.  Many of us did not.  Many of us had a mother and father in the home and still dealt with sexual abuse, verbal abuse and physical abuse.  

I maintain that people who are free do not seek liberation.  The women's liberation movement did not happen in a vacuum; rather, women who had found themselves victims of the Sin of Adam sought a way of life that would allow them to flourish.  They, mistakenly, looked at what the biggest difference was and came to the conclusion that getting pregnant was 'the problem'.  If, they thought, a woman could decide for herself whether or not she had to get pregnant then that woman would be free.

The error, I believe, was the premise:  women who sought remedy for injustices looked at the behavior of immoral men and concluded that immorality equaled freedom.  If we women could have sex 'without consequences' (the terms used at the time - already reducing a child to a consequence rather than a beautiful result of sexual intercourse) then we would be fulfilled.  We would be free.

The Holy Father wrote:

Consequences of Artificial Methods

17. Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first 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. 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.

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. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.

Today, women are fighting the very things predicted by the Holy Father.  The hashtag #MeToo  is indicative of the horrors we have suffered at the hands of those who consider us mere receptacles for their own pleasure.  Did these types of men exist before 1968?  Yes.  Were some of them our fathers, our brothers, our priests, our teachers, coaches, pack leaders?  Yes.  Is this behavior ever okay?  NO!  However, we women better be willing to look at the role our own yearning for freedom and liberation has played in the failure of the moral life today.  While I refuse, and will NEVER, take any responsibility for anyone's criminal behavior (and putting your hands on me without my permission is criminal, let's be very clear) to pretend that the free wheeling atmosphere that took over the world in the late 1960's and exists now in the present day does not provide a kind of cover for sexual assault is crazy.  Women who insist on being treated as a total human rather than just a sexual being are still suspect.  When I shared with a man who claims to be very close to God (he is a non-practicing Catholic who still thinks of himself as a Catholic) that I have been celibate for 18 years, he was shocked into silence.  He stuttered, "Why?".  I answered him that at 8 years sober I had taken my eyes off the prize and committed a sexual sin.  I shared that I felt the separation from God, went to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and have requested help from The Lord and The Church ever since so that I can grow in holiness.

His answer?

"That's just CRAZY".


Despite the fact that this is my choice, that I want to be a member of The Church (and a member in good standing) and that I have found a happiness denied me when I wanted only to 'be free', he thinks I am crazy.


Pope Paul IV wrote in Chapter 18:

It is to be anticipated that perhaps not everyone will easily accept this particular teaching. There is too much clamorous outcry against the voice of the Church, and this is intensified by modern means of communication. But it comes as no surprise to the Church that she, no less than her divine Founder, is destined to be a "sign of contradiction." (22) She does not, because of this, evade the duty imposed on her of proclaiming humbly but firmly the entire moral law, both natural and evangelical.

Since the Church did not make either of these laws, she cannot be their arbiter—only their guardian and interpreter. It could never be right for her to declare lawful what is in fact unlawful, since that, by its very nature, is always opposed to the true good of man.

In preserving intact the whole moral law of marriage, the Church is convinced that she is contributing to the creation of a truly human civilization. She urges man not to betray his personal responsibilities by putting all his faith in technical expedients. In this way she defends the dignity of husband and wife. This course of action shows that the Church, loyal to the example and teaching of the divine Savior, is sincere and unselfish in her regard for men whom she strives to help even now during this earthly pilgrimage "to share God's life as sons of the living God, the Father of all men." (23)

Again, I do not expect anyone to look at all sides of this while celebrating this great document.  I would be surprised if they go beyond 'look what artificial birth control did to America' and address the problems man has with sin and has always had with sin.  I sometimes feel like a true voice in the wilderness when I say, "We did not have perfect families in the 1950s!  There is a REASON women thought they needed to be liberated!".  

I believe that turning our eyes to the past is important so that we can learn - not just from the good we let slip away but from the ugly that was there and that we were dealing with back then.  I always want to tell our more vocal Catholic male speakers, "If men behaved like The Church taught, women would be safe."  

We aren't...we haven't been since Eve offered Adam the fruit and he caved under the fear of loneliness.  By choosing not to  honor the priorities of God, Adam allowed sin to enter the world and we have been battling the consequences ever since.

On this, the 50th anniversary of the publication of Humanae Vitae, my prayers are that we stop caring about ourselves and start caring about our relationship with The Creator.  My prayers are for those who have decided there is no God at all.

And my prayers are that Holy Mother Church continue to be that sign of contradiction in the world.  

Blessed Paul IV, pray for us.

1 comment:

Dina said...

Thank you for your beautiful witness to the truth in regards to Humanae Vitae. It is difficult to discuss but so very necessary.