Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Humanae Vitae - 40 years later... a comparison of 2 editorials

"I'm sorry, Mr. Kennedy, but your behavior is totally unacceptable."

What an interesting comparison...
thanks to Fr. Z. for his commentary.

Op-Ed Contributor
The Pope vs. the Pill

Published: July 27, 2008

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 “monarchical 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 [excellent word, and it sets a tone…. keep reading] about papal rulings. Usually they channeled that dissent into blithe disobedience, [still setting the tone…] 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 the pulpit. [painting a picture as a backdrop to what is coming up…]

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. [Excellent. Allen actually gives a fair view of the reasoning in Humanae vitae. NB: This wasn’t published in the journal he usually writes for, the NCRep – which had its own dissenting editorial. For the NCRep Humanae vitae was about holding on to power and, digest this, against "real" love.]

The encyclical quickly became 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 [too be fair, we have to include the many of the hierarchy] that it simply could not stand.

And in some ways, it didn’t. Today polls show that Catholics, at least in the West, dissent [I am glad he calls it what it is.] from the teaching 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. [This use of "official" is not charged with the negativity that it has in the NCRep editorial.]

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 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.” [Good point!]

In addition, three decades of bishops’ appointments by John Paul II and Benedict XVI, [A very important factor. I have written about this more than once: this is one of the most important things to consider during the long pontificate of John Paul II.] 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.” [I know he is relating facts, here, but I wonder if Allen isn’t quietly arguing that dissent from Humanae vitae is out of step with the present direction of the Church? Namely, if it isn’t a washed up cliche of the "sixties"?]

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. [Perhaps I am unclear about terminology, but do we mean "fertility" rate or "birth" rate? There might also be fertility problems on the rise because of the damage (usually unknown) done by some sexually transmitted diseases, but surely contraception and aboritifcients and abortions are keeping the number of live births very low.]

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.” [Well said! An artifically created "Black death" as the consequences of, really it must be said, "dissent" from Humanae vitae’s conclusions in many ways.]

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? [Hits the nail squarely on the head.]

So the future of “Humanae Vitae” as the teaching of the Catholic Church seems secure, [Because the Church is committed consistently to teach the truth.] 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 vigor well into the 21st century.

Catholicism can and does change, but trying to guess how and when is almost always a fool’s errand. [And some things really can’t be changed.]

John L. Allen Jr. is the senior correspondent for The National Catholic Reporter and the author of “The Rise of Benedict XVI.”

Humanae Vitae at 40 years

By NCR Staff
Publication date:
July 25, 2008
C. Editorials

As we roll through 2008, the press is filled with 40-year anniversary stories. 1968 was a tumultuous year; some say it was a year that helped define America for years to come. [It still divides much of Catholic America, for sure.]

The baby boomers recall vividly the Vietnam War Tet offensive in January; the April assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; the Paris Peace talks and riots in May; the June assassination of Sen. Robert Kennedy; and the August protest riots in Chicago at the Democratic convention among nation-shaping events that year.

Catholics might recall another 1968 defining moment, the July 29 encyclical called Humanae Vitae, literally “Of Human Life.” The encyclical was a sensitively written expression about the sanctity of marital love and the need to nurture life in marriage. But whatever else it stated, it has been remembered for only one thing: the upholding of the Catholic church’s ban on birth control.

The encyclical upheld Pope Pius XII’s support of the rhythm method (now called natural family planning) [I think there are significant differences between the old "rhythm method" and modern NFP. However, I think this was put in for a reason. The "rhythm method" was widely derided. So, I am guessing that the intention is to paint NFP with the same brush, so to discredit it. This helps to set up the point down the line.] and in doing so, revealed its particular understanding of natural law. [Did the "rhythm method" have a "particular understanding of natural law"?] Its reasoning, theologians say, rested on the physiological structure of the act of intercourse while largely discounting the larger context of human love and family life.

Less than a decade after the encyclical’s promulgation, polls showed it was overwhelmingly rejected by Catholics. Eight out of 10 adult U.S. Catholics simply disregarded it. While bishops were largely upholding the document, many priests in pastoral settings, including confessionals, were saying it was a matter for individual conscience.

By any measure, a gulf between official church teachings and Catholic practice [Again, watch the word choice. I think "official" is code for "something we don’t really have to pay attention to" because, after all, people who are moved by "the spirit/Spirit" are above that sort of backward view of the Church. All those rules stiffle real Church.] had begun to grow and was to continue to grow and to permeate a host of other Catholic teachings on sexuality and morality from homosexuality to the use of condoms in the fight against the HIV virus. The right of women to have special say in reproduction, then an almost exclusively male terrain, was soon added to the list. [Note the shift to a feminist perspective that pits women again men.]

In the four decades since the encyclical was promulgated, the church hierarchy, fully recognizing Catholic lay resistance to the strongly stated ban on the use of birth control, dug in. Pope John Paul II affirmed Humanae Vitae as a pillar of Catholic morality—as well as a pillar of papal authority. [the NCR just made this into a power issue.]

Meanwhile, Catholic lay confidence in the institution was eroding by the year. [What "institution", the Church? That is the "institutional" dimension of the Church? Otherwise, perhaps the "institution" they are talking about is "papal authority"? The antecedent isn’t entirely clear. However, the intent is clear. NCR is pitting an "official" or "institution" or "rule-bound" hierarchical Church against the lay people who are making up their own minds about things and the priests who advise them.]

Torn between following the advice of a partially lay pontifical commission, created to assess the birth control issue, a commission that eventually supported changes in church teaching, and his desire to remain consistent with earlier papal declarations, Pope Paul VI chose the later course. [Hang on. What about Paul VI’s desire to do the right thing? It wasn’t a simple choice between the past and the future. It was about the truth.] The need to assert church authority persuaded him. [Again, the NCR makes this into a power issue. The purpose is to help the reader over to the position that because the decision had such a (low) motivation, those who are enlivened the "the spirit/Spirit" can discount the teaching of Humanae vitae and other rule-bound official Church teachings about morals because they are, after all, only rooted in the desire to maintain power.]

After all, he reasoned, how could the Holy Spirit have allowed the church to be wrong for so many years on an issue of such importance? [THAT is how they describe Paul VI’s reasoning? How stupid do they think we are?] His decision, in the end, was more indicative of church hierarchical dysfunction—the institution’s inability to look at matters, particularly sexuality, in light of new understandings and insights—than it was seemingly of any movement of the Holy Spirit. [And there it is folks! The "spirit/Spirit" is guiding the enlightened!]

Research conducted by sociologist Fr. Andrew M. Greeley found that the encyclical so shook Catholics that by itself, it would have reduced religious practice by almost one-half. That decline never fully occurred, and the reason it did not, Greeley found, was the favorable impact the Second Vatican Council was having on the lives of most Catholics. [Right. But we are not talking about the actual documents of the Council, but rather the "spirit", again, but this time the "spirit of Vatican II", the breaking of "institutions", the deconstruction of whatever was rule-bound or official.]

Repeated U.S. surveys find that Catholics regard church teachings on sexual morality increasingly out of sync with their lived experience and their understanding of love and intimacy. [You are to conclude from this that whatever conflicts with the majority opinion (the rule-bound institutional Church still trying to keep its grip on power by controling how people have sex) is therefore against love and intimacy.] They knew and still know [Notice the authority they give to this "knowledge". It supercedes "official" Church teaching and any insight or motivation the "hierarchy" might have.] that sex between husband and wife is capable of creating far more than new humans. [Dog bites man.] They also know their gay sons and daughters are not disordered. [Another shot at the Church’s "official teaching" about the nature of homosexual orientation.] The surveys have confirmed Rome’s worst fears, [Remember, for the NCR the " Rome" (a bad thing) is only about men struggling to maintain power.] causing at times even more thunderous condemnations [HUH?] that have failed to win many converts. So the cycle of dysfunction and disbelief continues.

National Catholic Reporter July 25, 2008

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