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Humanae Vitae Takes The Stage

April 15, 2018 Frontpage No Comments

By CHRISTOPHER MANION

After several years of pleas from the pews, the USCCB acknowledged the importance of Humanae Vitae by sponsoring a major conference celebrating the encyclical of Blessed Paul VI, promulgated fifty years ago this July. “Embracing God’s Vision for Marriage, Love, and Life” met for three days at the Catholic University of America during the Octave of Easter, and it was simply thrilling.
World-class speakers addressed every aspect of this crucial Church teaching. Philosophers, theologians, historians, scientists, physicians, social analysts, even medical statisticians wove together a fabric of beauty and truth to confront the shredded culture of death that has prevailed in so much of the West.
There was no little irony in the fact that Catholic University hosted the conference. Dr. John Garvey, undoubtedly the finest university president in the country, reminded attendees that Catholic U was the focal point of what Fr. Peter Mitchell has called a “revolution in American Catholic Education” (The Coup at Catholic University: The 1968 Revolution in American Catholic Education, Ignatius Press: 2015).
Dr. Garvey, who has labored long and hard to enrich CUA’s Catholic character, gave a spirited defense of Humanae Vitae, something precious few dared to do on the campus fifty years ago.
Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM Cap., chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth, was the only prelate to speak at the conference.
His historical sketch began with pagan Rome, where men were expected to be promiscuous while women were not (and slaves and prostitutes were “safety valves” for men). “No classical people or civilization believed in universal human dignity,” he said, pointing out that St. Gregory of Nyssa (+ c. 395) was the first classical figure to condemn slavery.
In responding to questions regarding the collapse of sexual mores, Archbishop Chaput candidly admitted that “they’ve won” — American culture had embraced the sexual revolution — but that did not diminish the challenge to teach the truth and practice it in our daily lives.
Archbishop Chaput’s comments gave social critic Mary Eberstadt the opportunity to probe further a central contradiction. The elites embraced the sexual revolution, even though the research of elite scholars in numerous fields — many of them no fans of the Church — revealed that Blessed Paul’s encyclical was not only sound, but prophetic.
“There is only one conclusion to be drawn from the mass of empirical evidence now out there. . . . It’s simply this: The most globally reviled and widely misunderstood document of the last half century is also the most prophetic and explanatory of our time,” she said.
One of the most striking examples of that affirmation came from none other than Mahatma Gandhi: “It is futile to hope that the use of contraceptives will be restricted to the mere regulation of progeny. There is hope for a decent life only so long as the sexual act is definitely related to the conception of precious life,” he wrote.
Several speakers picked up on Eberstadt’s theme to address what all agreed were the lies of the advocates of population control, from Margaret Sanger to the present day. The pill didn’t make women happier, it made them miserable. It didn’t make families closer, it alienated spouses and made “unplanned” children the enemy. It didn’t “liberate” women, it liberated men from their time-honored responsibilities. Reducing population didn’t enrich countries, it impoverished them.
And the “Prime Mandate” of the pill — that it would reduce abortions and unwanted pregnancies — was a lie. We recall that Roe v. Wade came after the pill, not before.
In destroying the family, what has the pill wrought? Broken families — or no family at all. Examples abound: One out of four elderly Japanese dies alone, and often nobody notices their death for weeks. One in four Germans over 70 has no visits in a month. One in 10 has no visits at all.
Historian Donald Critchlow brilliantly surveyed the Catholic landscape since 1945. After World War II, Western elites decided that overpopulation caused war and conflict, and they began advocating “family planning” programs for countries all over the world.
Surprisingly, one of the first instances of these efforts actually took place within the U.S. During the war, eugenicist Margaret Sanger, foundress of Planned Parenthood, convinced First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt that the war effort required government-sponsored birth control.
Why? Because most able-bodied men were on the front lines, she explained, so women constituted the majority of the workforce in the factories producing war materiel. If these women were to become pregnant, Sanger insisted, it would profoundly hamper the war effort! Mrs. Roosevelt consulted her husband, and FDR approved government distribution of contraceptives in the factories.
During the 1950s, the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations funded multiple international family planning efforts. Eisenhower refused to go along, but Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon supported them, with Fr. Hesburgh’s Notre Dame giving them cover. These efforts were propelled in the culture, highlighted by the appearance of Paul Ehrlich’s now totally discredited best-seller, The Population Bomb.
Critchlow described the cultural tsunami of science fiction novels, movies, and media-generated fear that gave the often inhuman movement its sordid “seal of approval.”
(In 1968, Richard Bauer of Zero Population Growth said that “volunteerism is dead,” and advocated sterilizing welfare recipients and sterilizing parents after the birth of their fifth child).
Dr. Critchlow’s most intriguing remarks addressed the approach of the American bishops to contraception during the 1960s. At the time, he said, Catholic social services counted on federal funding, so the archives revealed division among the bishops.
William Bentley Ball, who had been editor of the Notre Dame Law Review fifteen years before, spoke out strongly against the federal funding of family planning programs. However, he was quickly slapped down by a leading prelate who insisted that Ball did not represent the view of the bishops. Instead, the prelate said, Catholics have no right to impose our views on others.
Critchlow’s most interesting comment came when he was asked whether his extensive research had revealed any instance of the bishops publicly objecting, on any occasion, to federal taxpayer financing of contraceptives in family planning programs funded through its domestic or foreign agencies. His answer was a flat “no.” When he was president of the USCCB in 2012, Cardinal Dolan confirmed this view when he told The Wall Street Journal that the bishops had suffered from “laryngitis” on Humanae Vitae since “the mid- and late ’60s.”
Dr. Critchlow’s comments bring to mind the 1968 “revolution” that Dr. Garvey mentioned in his welcoming remarks. At the time, the “revolution” was inspired by a single-minded demand for the Church’s approval of artificial contraception (and its conceptual companion, sodomy, among homosexuals).
Unfortunately, Catholic bishops allowed the revolutionaries, and not the Holy Father, to frame the issue. Hence the issue for them was contraception, and it paralyzed them. In Cardinal Dolan’s words, Humanae Vitae “brought such a tsunami of dissent, departure, disapproval of the Church, that I think most of us — and I’m using the first-person plural intentionally, including myself — kind of subconsciously said, ‘Whoa. We’d better never talk about that, because it’s just too hot to handle’.”
Led by Dr. Garvey and Archbishop Chaput, the Catholic U conference addressed all of Humanae Vitae — encompassing every aspect of “God’s Vision for Marriage, Love, and Life.”
Since 1968, our bishops could have affirmed and taught the entirety of Blessed Paul’s teaching — embracing the virtues of modesty and chastity, while echoing “the most prophetic document of our time….” But they did not. And Cardinal Dolan admitted that bishops had “forfeited the chance to be a coherent moral voice when it comes to one of the more burning issues of the day.”
At Catholic U, that moral voice made a daring and welcome reappearance. May it prosper, saving marriages, lives, and souls!

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