Humanae Vitae Turns 50 in 2018
“The unchangeable teaching of the Church is under unprecedented attack today.” – John Smeaton (SPUC)
Starting with the entire assembly singing Veni Creator Spiritus, the “Voice of the Family” (VOF) coalition opened its October 28th symposium at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas, the Angelicum, in Rome. Co-sponsored by Human Life International, with HLI President Shenan J. Boquet as co-Chair, the purpose was a pre-emptive strike against those seeking to weaken or reverse the Magisterium’s teaching on artificial contraception. Humanae Vitae turns 50 next year and was promulgated by Pope Paul VI.
The conference was filled to capacity with 300 seats at the Angelicum venue. There was strong international participation and talks were given in Italian, English and French with simultaneous translation. Many current and former members of the Pontifical Academy for Life (PAV) attended.
Series of Nine Talks Summarized
- Cardinal Walter Brandmüller made the opening remarks. Affirming that artificial contraception is intrinsically evil and the teaching cannot be changed, he said Humanae Vitae (HV) was prophetic and an example of transmission of the Faith.
- Professor Roberto de Mattei gave a substantial historical overview of the controversies leading to HV. He spent a large amount of his time speaking of Casti Connubi and showed how various clergy did their best to undermine the Church’s teaching that contraception is intrinsically evil both before and after HV. Most importantly perhaps, De Mattei reiterated the different popes who said the teaching on contraception was infallible as part of the Ordinary Magisterium of the Church. He condemned the error that a well-formed conscience and Church Law can be in conflict. (Some argue people can break the moral law by following their consciences)
- Professor Josef Seifert provided 7 reasons why HV’s teaching is correct, starting with the inseparable bond between the procreative and unitive meanings of the conjugal act. He used Dietrich von Hildebrand’s arguments as well as Karol Wojtyla/Saint John Paul II’s that contraception also undermines the unitive aspect of sexual relations.
- Serafino Lanzetta (Franciscan Friar of the Immaculate) spoke strongly against consequentialism and what Saint John Paul II referred to as looking at circumstances and not focusing on the object of the moral act in se. He warned of the danger of reducing morality to “good intentions.” He appealed to retain the teaching about the “ends of marriage”, with the procreative end as primary.
The afternoon session focused more practically on testimonies and the need for the Church to speak out against the Culture of Death, and particularly on the evils of the modern promotion of contraception.
- Jean Marie le Méné (Member of the Pontifical Academy for Life (PAV) and founder of the Jérôme Lejeune Foundation) lectured on the abortifacient nature of most hormonal birth control. He also spoke of In vitro fertilization (IVF) and how it shows the other side of HV, i.e. the procreative without the unitive aspect of conjugal relations.
- Thomas Ward (National Association of Catholic Families UK and former PAV member) gave many personal examples of the evils of governments pushing contraception on children and ignoring parent’s rights. He also spoke of the lack of support from some Church leaders and noted the personal support and encouragement he personally received from Pope John Paul II in his efforts.
- Philippe Schepens (Co-founder of the World Federation of Doctors Who Respect Human Life) gave stories from his native Belgium of pro-contraception propaganda within the Catholic Church. He also spoke of the demographic crisis of low fertility caused by the Sexual Revolution and the widespread contraceptive mentality.
- John-Henry Westen (Co-Founder of LifeSiteNews in Canada) spoke emotionally on confusion among the faithful. He noted a worrying “openness” to contraception as exemplified in Zika virus statements about “avoiding pregnancy” and forcefully repeated Church teaching that one is not allowed to do evil with a good intention or that good might come from it. An interesting point made was that God’s first command to humanity was not the 10 Commandments but the positive statement “Be fruitful and multiply…”
- Archbishop Luigi Negri emphasized that Doctrine is an expression of Life. He also insisted that conscience is not a “passe-partout” (key for determining right from wrong).
In a lovely conclusion to the conference, the entire assembly ended with singing the Salve Regina.
Summary: The conference made an authoritative, coherent and forceful argument that Humanae Vitae was prophetic and is in no need of “reinterpretation.” Speakers also showed teaching that artificial contraception is intrinsically evil is a constant teaching of the Ordinary Magisterium of the Church. It was obvious the organizers did not wait until the actual 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae in 2018 because they felt a special urgency to speak out before a new HV commission can insert ambiguity or changes into the doctrinal line of HV.
HLI’s Dr. Joseph Meaney, Director of International Outreach and Expansion, contributed to this report.