By Fr. George Welzbacher
August 3, 2008
Wonder of Wonders! Last Sunday, July 27th, The New York Times published on its Op-Ed page a pro-papacy essay! It was written by John Allen, a veteran reporter of many years standing for the otherwise anti-hierarchic (and basically dreadful) daily newspaper, The National Catholic Reporter. Over the years Mr. Allen's primary focus has been fixed on the papacy and the papal administration. Having lived in Rome for many years, he has come to know "most everyone" who is "anybody" in the papal as well as in the secular Italian government. While he may initially have shared his editor's anti- papal bias- I would assume that otherwise he would not have been hired-he quickly outgrew such prejudice and has come to be recognized as a man who tries to present the truth. He is an excellent reporter. What is remarkable in the fact that his essay was printed in the Times is that he suggests to the paper's readers that in issuing Humanae Vitae forty years ago, Pope Paul the Sixth may actually have been right and the world that mocked him, wrong. That does not quite jibe with the Times' normal view of things. Here is Mr. Allen's essay.
* * * * *
The Pope vs. the Pill
By: John L. Allen Jr.
From: The New York Times
Forty years ago last week, Pope Paul VI provoked the greatest uproar against a papal edict in the long history of the Roman Catholic Church when he reiterated the church's ban on artificial birth control by issuing the encyclical "Humanae Vitae." At the time, commentators predicted that not only would the teaching collapse under its own weight, but it might well bring the "monarchial papacy" down with it.
Those forecasts badly underestimated the capacity of the Catholic Church to resist change and to stand its ground.
Down the centuries, Catholics have frequently groused about papal rulings. Usually they channeled that dissent into blithe disobedience, though occasionally a Roman mob would run the Successor of Peter out of town on a rail just to make a point. In 1848, Pope Pius IX was driven into exile by Romans incensed at his refusal to embrace Italy's unification.
Never before July 25, 1968, however, had opposition been so immediate, so public and so widespread. World-famous theologians called press conferences to rebut the pope's reasoning. Conferences of Catholic bishops issued statements that all but licensed churchgoers to ignore the encyclical Pastors openly criticized "Humanae Vitae" from thepulpit.
In a nutshell, "Humanae Vitae" held that the twin functions of marriage-to foster love between the partners and to be open to children-are so closely related as to be inseparable. In practice, that meant a resounding no to the pill.
The encyclical quickly came to be seen, both in the secular world and in liberal Catholic circles, as the papacy's Waterloo. It was so out of sync with the hopes and desires of the Catholic rank and file that it simply could not stand.
And in some ways, it didn't. Today polls show that Catholics, at least in the West, dissent from the leaching on birth control, often by majorities exceeding 80 percent.
But at the official level, Catholicism's commitment to "Humanae Vitae" is more solid than ever.
During his almost 27-year papacy, John Paul II provided a deeper theoretical basis for traditional Catholic sexual morality through his "Theology of the Body." In brief, the late Pope's argument was that human sexuality is an image of the creative love among the Three Persons of the Trinity, as well as God's of love for humanity. Birth Control "changes the language' of sexuality, because it prevents life-giving love.
That's a claim many Catholics might dispute, but the reading groups and seminars devoted to contemplating John Paul's "Theology of the Body" mean that Catholics disposed to defend the Church's teaching now have a more formidable set of resources than they did when Paul VI wrote "Humanae Vitae."
In addition, three decades of bishops' appointments by John Paul II and Benedict XVI, both unambiguously committed to "Humanae Vitae," mean that senior leaders in Catholicism these days are far less inclined than they were in 1968 to distance themselves from the ban on birth control, or to soft pedal it. A striking number of Catholic bishops have recently brought out documents of their own defending "Humanae Vitae."
Advocates of the encyclical draw assurance from the declining fertility rates across the developed world, especially in Europe. No country in Europe has a fertility rate above 2.1, the number of children each woman needs to have by the end of her child-bearing years to keep a population stable.
Even with increasing immigration, Europe is projected to suffer a population loss in the 21st century that will rival the impact of the Black Death, leading some to talk about the continent's "demographic suicide."
Not coincidentally, Europe is also the most secular region of the world, where the use of artificial contraception is utterly unproblematic. Among those committed to Catholic teaching, the obvious question becomes: What more clear proof of the folly of separating sex and child-bearing could one want?
So the future of "Humanae Vitae" as the teaching of the Catholic Church seems secure, even if it will also continue to be the most widely flouted injunction of the Church at the level of practice.
The encyclical's surprising resilience is a reminder that forecasting the Catholic future in moments of crisis is always a dangerous enterprise - a point with relevance to a more recent Catholic predicament. Many critics believe that the Church has not yet responded adequately to the recent sex-abuse scandals, leading to predictions that the Church will "have to" become more accountable, more participatory and more democratic.
While those steps may appear inevitable today, it seemed unthinkable to many observers 40 years ago that "Humanae Vitae" would still be in viaor well into the 21st century.
Catholicism can and does change [though not in its doctrine] but trying to guess how and when is almost always a fool's errand.
* * * * *And for a brief but accurate summary of the Theology of the Body that pope John Paul the Great did so much to elaborate, may I refer you to an article by Christopher West that appeared in the July 24th edition of The Catholic Times, the first-rate newspaper published by the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin. Its editor is Dan Rossini, son of Dante and Mary Rossini of our parish.
* * * * *Contraception and the Language of the Body
By: Christopher West
From: The Catholic Times of July 24, 2008
We continue our series commemorating the 40th anniversary of "Humanae Vitae." Pope Paul VI released this oh-so-controversial encyclical on July 25, 1968, reaffirming the constant teaching of the Church on the immorality of contraception. To this day it remains a "thorn in the side"' of many. It was once a thorn in my side as well John Paul II's Theology of the Body helped remove that thorn and show me the glorious fragrance of the rose.
Last time we observed that contracepted intercourse marks a determined "closing off" of the sexual act to the Holy Spirit, to the "Lord and Giver of Life." In this way, as John Paul II expressed it, contraception falsifies "the language of the body."
We all know that the body has a language. A wave of the hand says "hello" or "goodbye." A shrug of the shoulders says, "I don't know." A raised fist expresses anger. What is the sxcual embrace meant to express? What is its true lancuage, its true meaning
According to Scripture, the sexual embrace is meant to ecpress divine love. Precisely here, in the consummation of their sacrament, spouses are meant to participate in the "great mystery" of divine love. Whether spouses realize this or not, this is the sacramental power of their love. It's meant to be an image and a real participation in Christ's love for the Church (see Ephesians 5: 31-32).
As John Paul II candidly expressed, "Through gestures and reactions, through the whole... dynamism of tension and enjoyment-whose direct source is the body in its masculinity and femininity, the body in its action and interaction-through all this man, the person, 'speaks.'...Precisely on the level of this 'language of the body' ...man and woman reciprocally express themselves in the fullest and most profound way made possible for them by ... their masculinity and femininity" ("Theology of the Body," 123:4).
But if sexual love is meant to express Christ's love, we must properly understand the language of this love. Christ gives His body freely ("No one takes My life from me, I lay it down of my own accord," John 10:18), He gves His body totally--without reservation, condition, or selfish calculation ("He loved them to the last, " John 13:1). He gives His body faithfully ("I am with you always," Matthew 29:20). And He gives His bod yfruitfully ("I came that they may have life," John 10:10).
If men and women are to avoid the pitfalls of counterfeit love, their union must express the same free, total, faithful, fruitful love that Christ expresses. Of course, as fallen human beings, we'll never express Christ's love perfectly. Even so, we must commit ourselves to the life long journey of learning how to express this love and, at a minimum, never willfully act against this love. The name for this commitment is marriage.
This is precisely what a bride and groom consent to at the altar. The priest or deacon asks them: "Have you come here freely and without reservation to give yourselves to each other in marriage? Do you promise to be faithful until death? Do you promise to receive children lovingly from God?" The bride and groom each say "yes".
In turn, spouses are meant to express this same "yes" with the language of their bodies whenever they become one flesh. "In fact, the words themselves, "I take you as my wife/as my husband," John Paul II says. "can only be fulfilled by conjugal intercourse." With conjugal intercourse we pass to the reality that corresponds to these words" (Theology of the Body, 103:3)
The sexual embrace, then, is where the words of the wedding vows become flesh. It's where men and women are meant to incarnate divine love. It's a fine thing when a couple returns to the church to renew their vows on a special anniversary, but this shouldn't undermine the fact that every time a husband and wife embrace each other sexually they're meant to renew their wedding vows with the language of their bodies.
How healthy would a marriage be if spouses were regularly unfaithful to their vows? On the other hand, how healthy would a marriage be if spouses regularly renewed their vows with an ever increasing commitment to them? If you'd prefer the latter type of marriage, you have just accepted the teaching of Humanae Vitae. In the next column, I'll explain why.