Is the Church going to “revisit” its teachings against artificial contraception? That’s what Melinda Gates – wife of Microsoft founder and billionaire Bill Gates – hopes. In a recent interview with the BBC, Gates said she is “optimistic” that Pope Francis and the Vatican might do just that.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is one of the leading promoters and providers of contraception in the developing world. So it’s no surprise that Melinda, who dissents from Church teaching on contraception yet considers herself a Catholic, is excited and hopeful the Catholic Church – the last major holdout against the contraception revolution – will cave into the zeitgeist. Perhaps Melinda was reacting to rumors swirling among well-informed Vatican sources that there are efforts afoot within the Vatican to “reinterpret” Blessed Pope Paul VI’s famous encyclical Humanae Vitae.
Published on July 25, 1968, Humanae Vitae stunned the world by reiterating the Church’s perennial teachings against artificial contraception, at a time when many people – including many of Paul VI’s own advisors on the subject – expected and were urging him to do the exact opposite.
Given how prophetic Humanae Vitae turned out to be, and the vast path of destruction that has resulted from its widespread rejection by Catholics and the culture alike, one would think that the time is ripe for the Church to celebrate that great encyclical and launch a widespread effort at catechesis on its teachings. Instead, troubling reports emerged earlier this year about a secret Vatican “commission” tasked with reviewing Humanae Vitae. The existence of this commission has since been confirmed, although there are conflicting reports about its purpose, and to what extent it has formal Vatican recognition.
Either way, it is evident there is a great need to remind ourselves of just how prophetic Humanae Vitae was and why its teaching must be upheld, defended, and vigorously taught.
Perhaps the most famous sentence from Humane Vitae is found in section 17, where Paul VI describes the “consequences” of embracing artificial contraception. That great pope predicted:
A general lowering of moral standards throughout society; a rise in infidelity; a lessening of respect for women by men; and the coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments.
Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.
It is heartbreaking now, 49 years later, to realize how painfully right Paul VI was. At the time many accused (and still accuse) Paul VI of being an alarmist. A quick survey of our culture reveals that, if anything, his predictions were understated.
Just last week, I wrote about how a leading magazine aimed at teen girls had published an article coaching those girls on how to engage in sodomy. That article is merely the tiniest tip of the iceberg of the vast and nearly unthinkable sexualization of our society – “a general lowering of moral standards” – in the past 49 years.
Since Humanae Vitae was published, we’ve seen the explosion of pornography, beginning with popular magazines like Playboy and Hustler, then VHS tapes, and now, on-demand streaming high definition Internet porn. The initial age of exposure to pornography is 12 years old, while a staggering percentage of teens – boys and girls – now watch hardcore porn as a matter of routine. Even many of our mainstream television shows and movies are now filled with sexuality so graphic that it is indiscernible from the stuff found on the porn sites.
Meanwhile, we now accept as “normal” public parades celebrating immoral lifestyles, in which nude men and women march down the street and simulate graphic sex acts. Millions of people attend these parades, and many of them bring their children.
After the advent of the Pill, divorce rates skyrocketed – “a rise in infidelity” – with as many as half of all marriages at one point ending in divorce. And while the divorce rates seem to have peaked, and possibly even fallen, sadly a large part of the reason is that many young adults aren’t even bothering to get married in the first place. They “cohabitate,” simulating married life.
The impact this has had on children is staggering. A 2012 study found that, among women under 30, more than one-half of all children are born out of wedlock. An unthinkable number of children have never known the fundamental good of a stable household or have never known one of their parents; moreover, many children are the innocent victims of ugly divorce proceedings and are passed around from household to household.
We have also seen massive government-sponsored programs of forced abortion and sterilization – “the coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments” – in countries like India and China. Many population alarmists, including Paul Ehrlich, the population controller who recently spoke at the Vatican, endorse government efforts to coerce couples into reducing how many children they have.
Meanwhile, new reproductive technologies, like IVF and surrogacy, have arisen that deliberately sever procreation from sex altogether. Children are bought like commodities. Prospective parents can even choose the characteristics of their child. Millions of excess human embryos are created and then left in a state of limbo in cryo-banks, or simply thawed and flushed down the drain like so much garbage. Wealthy couples and same-sex couples hire out impoverished women from third world countries to bear their children for them, and this is called “progress.”
I could go on and on.
Ultimately all of this unthinkable evil can be traced to one single thing: the severing of sexuality from the only place it belongs – marriage – and from its primary purpose – procreation.
After all, if we accept that it is moral to deliberately cut off sexuality from these two things, then sex becomes little more than a form of mutual masturbation. At that point, it also becomes practically impossible to make a cogent argument against other forms of non-procreative sex: mutual masturbation, sodomy, and other debased sexual activities.
In a post-Pill world, that most-powerful and fundamental force of human sexuality has now broken away from its mooring, no longer bound by the life-giving principles of the Christian worldview. Self-control, responsibility, and consequences are no longer deemed relevant. And set loose from these necessary constraints, sexuality becomes a ravening beast, consuming men, women and children.
Humanae Vitae is perhaps the most-hated and most-rejected encyclical in history. And yet, Paul VI himself knew that he was simply doing what any loving father does: helping his children understand and live within the life-giving laws that are the only path towards happiness and fulfillment. For as he wrote:
In preserving intact the whole moral law of marriage, the Church is convinced that she is contributing to the creation of a truly human civilization. She urges man not to betray his personal responsibilities by putting all his faith in technical expedients. In this way she defends the dignity of husband and wife. This course of action shows that the Church, loyal to the example and teaching of the divine Savior, is sincere and unselfish in her regard for men whom she strives to help even now during this earthly pilgrimage “to share God’s life as sons of the living God, the Father of all men.”