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White Mass Dinner . . . Hears Of How St. John Paul II Aided Development Of Humanae Vitae

November 7, 2018 Frontpage No Comments


PHOENIX — St. Paul VI’s historic 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae featured more involvement in its development than often is realized by St. John Paul II while the future Polish Pope still was serving the Church in his homeland, a New Mexico diocesan official told the annual White Mass dinner for medical professionals here.
Fr. Peter Short, one of two vicars general for the Diocese of Gallup, N.M., told the dinner that as he researched the topic of St. John Paul’s Theology of the Body and Humanae Vitae, “I found that there was a fascinating history behind the formulation of the encyclical within which the then-bishop and later Cardinal (Karol) Wojtyla…played a more important role than many imagined before, during and after the promulgation of the encyclical.”
The talk was one in a series presented by the Diocese of Phoenix’s Office of Natural Family Planning this year, “Humanae Vitae at 50: Celebration of a prophetic document.”
A White Mass at 6 p.m. on October 20, celebrated in the chapel of Phoenix diocesan headquarters, preceded the dinner for the Catholic Medical Association of Phoenix.
Preaching the homily, Short commended humble service to those who work in medicine, recalling that Jesus told His Apostles James and John that those who wish to be the greatest must be the servant of all.
Later, Short spoke in the dining room to more than 80 people on events preceding and following promulgation of the encyclical. In the interests of brevity, he condensed his material into a 25-minute talk, but provided The Wanderer with his complete text, from which quotations for this article are drawn.
One fascinating point was that the atheist, Communist government under which St. John Paul II had to operate as a prelate in Poland had encouraged immoral sexual relations, artificial contraception, and abortion as a way to break down the Church’s authority.
One can’t help but notice that such attacks on traditional morality and the family continue today to come from powerful institutions that want to leave people bereft of ordinary moral supports and protection for their human dignity, while bureaucrats, politicians, and entertainers vie to impose their own priorities.
Long before St. John Paul as Pope presented his catechesis on the Theology of the Body, Short said, the young Fr. Wojtyla, an ethics professor at the Jagiellonian University, in Krakow, and later at the University of Lublin, was “working closely with the young students (and) focused much of his attention for decades on the study of sexual ethics, love, and marriage.
“It was highly unusual — unheard-of, really — for a priest, much less a bishop, to be delving into these subjects at the time,” Short said. “The young Fr. Karol, however, pushed ahead long before the sexual revolution of the sixties, in what he may have foreseen as a topic which would dominate a great deal of the popular culture.”
His book in 1960, Love and Responsibility, didn’t present a new teaching but “clearly reaffirmed the constant teaching of the Church through the ages on love, marriage, and procreation,” Short said. “What was new was his approach to these subjects. He followed a line of thought which combined a classical Thomistic philosophy with phenomenology and personalism.”
In Love and Responsibility, “Wojtyla reminded us that love is the opposite of using another, that human beings, although endowed with a body with its urges and instincts, are persons and as such must integrate the urges into true love on the personal level,” Short said.
“He warned that the more the utilitarian attitude is camouflaged, the more dangerous it becomes: We begin to confuse love with its cheap imitations.
“Wojtyla had a very balanced idea of human love, avoiding at once both prudishness or puritanism and Freudian fixation,” the priest added.
In 1962, Wojtyla was a young auxiliary bishop as the Second Vatican Council convened, Short said, noting that this “Council was unique in that it was not convened to debate any doctrinal matter or to combat any contemporary heresy. The purpose of the Council was to open the Church up to an engagement with a rapidly changing modern world, and to express her pastoral position in the light of that world.”
Among events of the time, he said, was worry that human population was growing at an unsustainable rate, the acceptance by mainstream Christian churches of the use of artificial contraception within marriage, and the introduction of the first oral contraceptive in June 1960.
“Thus,” Short said, “there was tremendous pressure on the Catholic Church to change her position on contraception, even before the sexual revolution of the sixties came into full swing.”
Shortly before his death, Pope John XXIII, who had called the Second Vatican Council into being, formed a small commission to study the theme of population, family, and birth, while his Successor, Paul VI, subsequently enlarged the group to 75 members, among whom was Wojtyla, “aided by a group of Polish scholars and members of the scientific community,” Short said.
In 1966 the group presented its conclusions to Paul VI, with the large majority in favor of changing the Church’s traditional opposition to artificial contraception, Short said, while a small minority said the traditional teaching “should be considered infallible as ordinary Magisterium of the Church and thus could not change.”
The majority opinion “was subsequently leaked to the press” in order to put even more pressure for change on Paul VI, Short said. However, the Polish delegation “did not accept the majority nor even the minority opinion, since neither in their judgment was satisfying in the effort to defend or explain the reasons for the constant teaching of the Church.
“Wojtyla was not thinking only in terms of those in the Catholic Church who presumably would be obedient to its teaching but also to arguments that he knew inevitably would come from outside the Church,” Short said.
“The times called for an engagement and dialogue with the world — that was what in large part the Council had been convened for — and Wojtyla with the Polish delegation were determined to give the world the reasons for the truth of this teaching,” Short said, and they thus brought up the topic of Natural Law, a concept that required clarification.
There’s a difference between a justified human autonomy of action and an unjustified attempt to be free from God and His will, Short said. “Thus, in the teaching of the Church, Natural Law is the participation of the eternal law of God in a rational creature. Human reason does not creatively make up the law but is illuminated by the divine law to discover the good toward which nature is inclined, and to order its actions toward this good.”
Those alive in the time leading up to the promulgation of Humanae Vitae will recall a frequent media theme asserting that Paul VI would accept artificial contraception. When he didn’t, media outrage urged the public to reject the encyclical because the Pope, according to this assumption, had broken his promise — when in fact he did no such thing.
While “a tremendous crisis rose in the Church” over the encyclical, Short said, “In Poland things were quite different, not because they were not affected by these elements, but because they had begun to deal with them long before the sixties.
“One of the reasons Wojtyla wrote Love and Responsibility and thought so hard on the subject was because the Polish Communist authorities had already begun to encourage young people to libidinous sexual relations, contraception, and even abortion,” Short said.
For the Communists, he said, “it was a way to contradict the moral norms that the Catholic Church taught the faithful, thus undermining the Church’s authority. So, far from being a bishop from a country who had no idea of what it was like to live and be a pastor in a Western, modern society (as he was at times accused of), Wojtyla was actually far more ready to deal with the onslaught of the sixties than most of the Church of the West.”
After the encyclical was promulgated, Wojtyla as a cardinal immediately issued Introduction to Humanae Vitae for all of Poland, and suggested that Paul VI do the same for the universal Church, Short said.
“During the ten years following the promulgation of the encyclical, which the then-Cardinal Wojtyla understood to be so fundamental and important for family life in the world, he looked on with evident anguish as he saw how the encyclical was denigrated, ignored, and even contradicted by pastors of the Church and theologians. Cardinal Wojtyla continued to work, often behind the scenes, to promote its teaching,” Short said.
In the ten years between the encyclical and John Paul’s becoming Pope in 1978, Short said, “Wojtyla worked to strenuously defend, explain, and put into practice the teaching of Humanae Vitae. It was during these years that he wrote a book which he entitled Human Love in the Divine Plan, The Redemption of the Body and the Sacramentality of Marriage, which would be later called ‘theology of the body’.”
In early September 1979, St. John Paul divided the yet-unpublished book “into 135 talks to be presented during the Wednesday Catechesis over five years. So, providentially, a book he wrote to supplement the need of a true anthropology in the ethical teaching of the Church with a more personalist philosophy to give a solid basis to the teaching of Humanae Vitae was now not simply written for a Polish audience, but presented to the world,” Short said.

Faith And Reason

Short lauded the Diocese of Phoenix for having a bishop, Thomas Olmsted, “who knows intimately the teaching of the Theology of the Body and together with many well-engaged priests and laity have been promoting on many levels its teaching.”
In closing, Short cited a paragraph from Humanae Vitae that St. Paul VI directed to the health-care community. It said in part:
“We hold in the highest esteem those doctors and members of the nursing profession who, in the exercise of their calling, endeavor to fulfill the demands of their Christian vocation before any merely human interest. Let them therefore continue constant in their resolution always to support those lines of action which accord with faith and with right reason. And let them strive to win agreement and support for these policies among their professional colleagues.”

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Having watched the first session of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops General Meeting, and that fact that the Pope has ordered them not vote on any action items, I have to ask, what is the point of this meeting? What is the point of National Bishops' Conferences?

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