A banner referencing "Humanae Vitae," the 1968 encyclical of Blessed Paul VI, is seen in the crowd at the conclusion of the beatification Mass of Blessed Paul celebrated by Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Why the Church won’t change 'Humanae Vitae'

  • September 22, 2022

Perhaps you’ve heard some recent rumours and rumblings from Rome about the possibility of the Catholic Church reconsidering, re-looking at, revamping, re-working or redacting Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life), the 1968 encyclical by Pope Paul VI on contraception (synopsis: the document says “no” to contraception).

Friends, when I heard these maladroit insinuations, I spontaneously erupted in laughter. (Sometimes that’s the best response to blatant falsehoods.) The prelates in question were so obvious in laying groundwork, sowing doubts and raising hopes. What exactly was stated? Legitimate-sounding word salads. Something about “development of doctrine” and “progress.” But I am here today to tell you that it is impossible to change “Church teaching” on contraception-abortion.

Are you surprised that I hyphenated contraception-abortion? As a former radical feminist, I had a very hard time understanding the link between contraception and abortion. Doesn’t contraception prevent abortions? Nope. Just the opposite. People don’t realize that no contraception is or ever claimed to be 100 per cent effective, so abortion becomes back-up contraception. By Planned Parenthood’s own stats, 54 per cent of women seeking abortions are already on contraception. And more than that, since human life begins at conception, many contraceptives are actually abortifacients, preventing new human life from implanting. The introduction of the Pill in 1960 saw sex outside marriage explode because folks thought it was a silver bullet and women on the Pill could never get pregnant.

Maybe you are one of the estimated 90 per cent of Catholics who ignored Humanae Vitae and used contraception (of whatever ilk). Or more likely, maybe you are one of those millions of Catholics who were never even taught what the Church teaches on contraception and why. You may have had a fuzzy notion that the Church leaves it up to the individual or the couple, and that there’s nothing moral or ethical about it one way or another.

I was in the latter category for many years. The Church failed us by not explaining the meaning of our body’s design, desire and destiny. The Church failed us by not explaining what we’re saying “yes” to when we say “no.” The Church failed us by not teaching us about Natural Family Planning — a safe, natural, scientific, effective way (as effective or more so than the Pill) to avoid pregnancy, but also to achieve pregnancy by working with and not against a woman’s fertility. Incidentally, (or not so incidentally!) the divorce rate of NFP couples is one to two per cent.

Why can’t this Church teaching change? Because, it’s not just “Church teaching.” In reality, there was nothing revolutionary or shocking about Paul VI’s document. He was simply reiterating thousands of years of “it is what it is.” It’s natural law. It’s reason. It’s Biblical. It’s Christianity. The two ends of sex can’t be separated or thwarted. Union and procreation can’t be separated. Love and life can’t be separated. Pleasure cannot be divorced from purpose. The human person cannot be used. Sex is the language of total gift, not partial gift; unconditional love, not conditional love: “I love all of you except your fertility.”

“Development of doctrine,” does not mean changing doctrine. The Catholic faith does not change. It means to go deeper into a teaching to gain richer insight and understanding. “Anyone who is so progressive that he does not remain in the teaching of Christ does not have God” 2 John 1:9.

Unfortunately, there are those who will play on the ignorance of the average Catholic by saying: “Church teaching has changed before.” The average Catholic may not know the gradations of the Church’s teaching (e.g., “no meat on Friday” belongs to the disciplinary measures of the Church, which can indeed change). But what is essentially right or wrong, intrinsically good or evil, can never change.

Those seeking to alter the unalterable always start slowly, “in certain cases” — but some things are always bad, no matter the circumstances or good intentions.

So, if someday soon you hear that contraception is now permitted by the Catholic Church (if certain conditions are met, of course) — it will not be the Catholic Church speaking, but what Archbishop Fulton Sheen called: “the ape of the Church.”

Let us pray for and support our faithful shepherds and remain faithful to Jesus ourselves — come what may.

(Sr. Helena Raphael Burns, fsp, is a Daughter of St. Paul. She holds a Masters in Media Literacy Education and studied screenwriting at UCLA. HellBurns.com  Twitter: @srhelenaburns)

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