A comment by EPMS yesterday reminded me of this article I had seen on Crisis Magazine’s site Does History Repeat with Amoris Laetitia Confusion? by Deacon Jim Russell.
As we have discussed before, Humanae Vitae has been effectively rejected by over 90 percent of Catholics of reproductive age. It doesn’t generate conferences, because the non-compliance is private. Although the current generous approach to annulments has somewhat masked the problem of marriage breakdown among Catholics, divorce is not something a pastor can gloss over with the same “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach, owing to its public nature. And the divorce rate is 28% among US Catholics. That’s a lot of people.
When we came into the Catholic Church, we were expected to assent to the Catholic Church’s teachings on artificial contraception. EPMS, do you think because 90 per cent of Catholics of reproductive age ignore a teaching of the Catholic Church, then the sensus fidei of “the people” has spoken and the doctrine is a dead letter?
That is certainly not what was required of us in order to enter the Catholic Church. It made me a little angry at the time because cradle Catholics get away with so much—can believe whatever they want, do whatever they want, but they are part of the family. But to get into the Catholic Church and fulfill the honest requirements (I say honest requirements, because it is always possible to parish shop and find a priest and an RCIA program that would slip you in with your heresies intact, but we as a community were not like that. If we said we believed, we studied what we were believing and we assented.
One cradle Catholic who said she was never told contraception was wrong until years into her marriage said we are blessed to have had this rigorous catechesis, but I digress.
Deacon Russell writes:
Now, it was only about thirty years earlier (December 1930) that Pope Pius XI’s marriage encyclical Casti Connubii had taught quite clearly that contraception was always and everywhere morally wrong, but because the Pill’s mechanism was indirect, relative to marital relations, Catholics of all kinds began questioning whether the Pill might be morally okay, followed by theologians and bishops beginning to ask whether, given the “aggiornamento” underway, all contraceptives might be permissible, given the global overpopulation panic.
This questioning of Church teaching continued parallel to the official convening of the Second Vatican Council in 1962, and it was pretty self-evident that the Council Fathers (especially those desiring change) were quite ready and willing to engage the divisive contraception question at the conciliar level.
Council, Commission, Conflict, Intrigue
So, in early 1963, Pope St. John XXIII opted to redirect the simmering birth control question to a smallish separate papal commission. Yet, his death on June 3, 1963, put both the council and the commission on hold, until both were taken up again—and the commission expanded—by his successor Blessed Pope Paul VI later that year.
Meanwhile, the controversy over birth control in the Church was gaining even greater momentum and attracting more attention from the already-divided body of Council Fathers. Some theologians and bishops were already proclaiming that contraception was not in fact contrary to natural law and were battling over the Church’s teaching that procreation and education of children was the “primary end” of marriage (resulting in the ambiguous compromise language on marriage’s ends found in the documents). Retreating from these “outdated” principles would make room for a change in teaching, contraception advocates thought.
The whole thing is very much worth the read.
In my 13 years as a reporter writing for Catholic papers and thus covering various Catholic movements, bishops, documents and so on, I have observed the following: the couples that do not practice artificial contraception seem to have the happiest marriages.
Before I took on this job, it was rare for me to encounter a family with more than three children, though a couple who introduced me to the Baptist Church and lived next door to me for a while had four lovely children.
I remember early on attending an Opus Dei family picnic near Montreal, and seeing many many families with four or more children. And it impressed me how loving the siblings were with each other and how generally well-behaved but happy the children were.
Now I have many friends with families of five to 10 children.
It is interesting to read Deacon Russell’s article to see how many controversies were at play at the time of Humanae Vitae. There were even cardinals who publicly dissented from the document, among them Cardinal Leo Suenens, who, as an aside, is very popular among charismatic Catholics since he reputedly prayed in tongues. In Canada, the bishops signed the Winnipeg Statement that basically told Canadian Catholics to let their consciences be their guide when it came to birth control.
Cardinal Leo Joseph Suenens, a moderator of the ecumenical council, questioned, “whether moral theology took sufficient account of scientific progress, which can help determine, what is according to nature. I beg you my brothers let us avoid another Galileo affair. One is enough for the Church.” In an interview in Informations Catholiques Internationales on 15 May 1969, he criticized the Pope’s decision again as frustrating the collegiality defined by the Council, calling it a non-collegial or even an anti-collegial act. He was supported by Vatican II theologians such as Karl Rahner, Hans Küng, and several bishops, including Christopher Butler, who called it one of the most important contributions to contemporary discussion in the Church.
All very interesting, and it all goes to show none of the controversies going on now represent anything new.