Anne Lastman

Until recently the most controversial encyclical of the 20th century had been the document released in 1968 Humanae Vitae (On the Regulation of Birth), where Pope Paul VI restated firmly the Church’s teaching that the use of contraception to frustrate conception is immoral. I say until recently because the publication of Amoris Laetitia evoked the same sentiments and same rejection both by clergy and laity. It’s interesting that the dissent of both relates to the intimate aspect of marriage and sexuality.

Indeed, both HH Pope Paul VI (Humane Vitae) and HH Pope Francis (Amoris Laetitia) knew that the documents in question would cause much dissension and even before their release both Popes knew that their encyclicals would be rejected. Would be maligned even by those who should have accepted and understood them and brought them with clarity to their flocks.   

Pope Paul VI towards the end of the encyclical called humbly to his clergy and spoke “And now, beloved sons, you who are priests, you who in virtue of your sacred office act as counsellors and spiritual leaders both of individual men and women and of families — we turn to you, filled with great confidence. For it is your principal duty … to spell out clearly and completely the Church’s teaching on marriage. In the performance of your ministry, you must be the first to give an example of that sincere obedience, inward as well as outward, which is due to the magisterium of the Church” (28). This with the hope that his “sons” would help the faithful understand the sinfulness of the times and the abuse of the sanctity of marriage and life.

A group of dissenting theologians led by Father Charles Curran of the Catholic University of America (Washington) defied the Pope and through especially catholic media outlets (same type of catholic media outlets which attacked Amoris Letitia) made statements challenging the document that said Catholics could in conscience reject and oppose the teaching.  The secular media fanned division which these theologians initiated against the Pope, Paul VI and the dissent grew, spreading throughout the Catholic world including teaching institutions even to moral theology professors in the seminaries. 

There were also pastors who heard the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking from the “Chair of Peter”, and remained faithful and trusting that the voice was from the Spirit through “Peter.” Priests who remained openly faithful were treated as pariahs After 1968, and the release of the encyclical also led to the previous brotherhood of the clergy to divide into those who agreed with the dissenters and those who wanted to remain close to Peter and the Voice of the Holy Spirit. Now there was distrust and division amongst the shepherds against one another, and so it became difficult for the Church explain this teaching to the average church faithful herself and for the practising catholic to understand what exactly this encyclical taught and be able to explain the deeper meaning and importance of this new apostolic writing for the times in which it was delivered.   

Today, globally it’s known that even those who consider themselves “good Catholics” have ignored the Church’s teaching on Humanae Vitae and indeed even force Catholic institutions change the culture and be forced to go against its very catholic teachings, such as contraception, abortion, euthanasia et al. 

Fidelity by the dissenting theologians and priests contributed much to the confusion which ensued. The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls this dissension by the clergy a grave violation of their sacred trust: “Scandal is grave when given by those who by nature or office are obliged to teach and educate others. Jesus reproaches the scribes and Pharisees on this account: He likens them to wolves in sheep’s clothing” (2285).

In 1930, Pope Pius XI wrote the encyclical Casti Connubii (On Christian Marriage), in which he restated the Church’s position on contraception. It’s a position which cannot change and it’s a violation against life.

HH Pope Paul VI, like Pope Pius XI appealed to his beloved priests, “We admonish, therefore, priests who hear confessions and others who have the care of souls … not to allow the faithful entrusted to them to err regarding this most grave law of God. … If any confessor or pastor of souls, which may, God forbid, lead the faithful entrusted to him in these errors or should at least confirm them by approval or by guilty silence, let him be mindful of the fact that he must render a strict account to God, the Supreme Judge, for the betrayal of his sacred trust” (CC 57).

As Casti Connubii was a call from the Holy Spirit via “Peter” to safeguard sanctity of marriage at a time when marriage was being challenged by the introduction of contraception, so too the encyclical Humane Vitae came at a time when human life and intimacy had been determined by secular sources and the graciousness of God and the holiness of life was deemed something only “religious” believe. Slowly from the introduction of contraception even in marriage the slippery slope had become very slippery and the sacredness of life had been diminished to a state of personal decision by those who only want “a baby” and other “babies could be disposed of with impunity.”

Then on behalf of life, another pontiff continued the battle for life.  HH St John Paul II with his Veritatis Splendor (the Splendor of Truth) devoted a whole magisterial teaching on morality which has become standard in institutions of Catholic learning. 

There are, of course, pastors who still dissent against Humane Vitae and will not give a  homily on the topic as they will not give a strong homily on abortion and its ensuing grief “because it might hurt some woman sitting in the pews” and whilst their intention may be kindness there is no kindness in fear and confusion to the soul of both pastor and penitent, and indeed we can say that this hesitancy by the shepherd has not helped those sitting in the pews who have experienced an abortion and its pain and suffer quietly but indeed their suffering continues, but they suffer it alone.

Humane Vitae, is and has been, a prophetic word from the Holy Spirit the Lord and Giver of Life and this is evident when looking backward from the vantage point of past 55 years.  The loss of sacredness of life, the diminished sense of holiness.  The change in all forms of morality. The acceptance of previously un heard of liberties and even sacrament. The slow and methodical development from the culture of life to the very obvious culture of death.

Humane Vitae’s timely release of such a document attempted to slow down the onward lurching into this culture we now know where human life has lost its divine origins and its rejection of the of human being designed in the image and likeness of God. Humane Vitae has been reviled and rejected within and without the Catholic Church, and as a result, millions of abortions per year, legalised euthanasia, transgender confusion, assisted suicide, and other life demeaning beliefs.

In this document the Holy Father, stressed that sexuality and marriage call for a love which is “total” where the “husband and wife generously share everything, without undue reservations or selfish calculations” (HV 9). “Whoever loves his marriage partner loves not only what he receives, but for the partner’s self, rejoicing that he can enrich his partner with the gift of himself” (HV 9).  This, continued the Holy Father, is the “unitive meaning of marriage” and is a love which is faithful and exclusive until death. (HV 9).  

In Humane Vitae, the Holy Father has shown that contraception is intrinsically evil (HV14, CCC 2370) because an intrinsically evil act is understood as action which in themselves are opposed to the love of God. Their object is evil itself, and as such cannot be ordered to God, thus violating the good of the human person created in the Imago Dei (Veritatis Splendour 80).

In this situation the covenanted couple are called to offer themselves in their entirety and their essence as a gift to each other. “Whoever loves his marriage partner loves not only what he receives, but for the partner’s self, rejoicing that he can enrich his partner with the gift of himself” (HV 9).  This, continued the Holy Father, is the “unitive and procreative meaning of marriage” and is a love which is faithful and exclusive until death. (HV 9).  Hence, marital love is a creative love, and cannot be exhausted and continues to create new life (HV 9). Therefore, we can see that by the very nature of contraception, is a deception and a blasphemy against life, and the Lord and Giver of Life Himself.

In 55 years since the promulgation of HV and with the benefit of hindsight it’s possible to see that rejection this encyclical, first by the Catholic population, together with the absence of strong teaching on this matter by the priests and bishops, followed by humanity in general has indeed rendered a deadly wound to society.  It left the people of God flailing and rudderless in a sea of immorality and violence.

This has been a spiritual abandonment which has occurred now to three generations of men and women who rly on artificial contraception, (the pill) to prevent possible conception and open doorway to rampant sexuality. This abandonment opening a portal for societal degradation and degeneration, a loss of true love and respect for women (HV 17) and a mentality which says that children are disposable.

It’s further interesting that since 1930 at the Lambeth conference, where the doorway for contraception even in marriage was followed by explosion of open sexuality leading to growth of open and rampant sexuality even in the very young led to thirty-eight years later an Encyclical (Humane Vitae on the Sacredness of Life) which was necessary to try and stem the subsequent sexualised, loosened culture which had developed following that decision at that Conference.

 It’s further interesting that 55 years after the issuing of Humane Vitae the prophetic nature of this document is clearly evident with contraception not necessarily used only within marriage to space out family as it was first thought, but is given to very young girls who are assumed to become sexually active as soon as puberty begins its work.

Humane Vitae was and is a gift to humanity by the Lord and Giver of Life Himself which was for the most part rejected and we can know that this is a reality because today we live in a society whose ethos is “disobedience” which permeates all levels of human endeavour and such a loss of divine and human respect   The notion of authority and obedience being anathema.  Indeed, the Edenic story is being replayed. 

Sacredness of life, and the holiness and fruitfulness of the sexual union of a married couple and the teaching that “it is never lawful, even for the gravest of reasons, to do an evil that a good may come from it.” (HV14.)   this is the spiritual abandonment which has occurred to three generations. A starvation of soul food.

However, with our God, it’s never too late, because always there is the possibility of recovery. Just as Job’s losses were restored, but different, so too can society be renewed and restored, and this can be simply by taking up Humane Vitae and making it and its teaching our goal for the evangelisation of the children of the creator God who said be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. (Gn 1:28)

Humane Vitae, Donum Vitae, Castii Conubii, Veritatis Splendour, Evangelium Vitae, and Theology of the Body, Amoris Laetitia, are magnificent gifts from the Holy Spirit Himself for our edification and the understanding of His plan for Love and Life as spoken of in the beginning.

Anne Lastman

Clinical Counsellor   

B.A. (Psy/ Rel Stds) Dip. Ed., M Rel. ed.  MA (theol. Stds) Member Aust Couns. Assoc. (Level 4) Mem. Fed. Victoria Counsellors. Mem. ACA College of Loss & Grief (Level 3) Founder Victims of Abortion Trauma Counselling and Info Services, PO box 6561, East Perth, Western Australia 6892.  +61 408175033.