Affirming and celebrating Humanae Vitae

George Weigel

July 25 is the fiftieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae, Blessed Paul VI’s encyclical on the integrity of love and the appropriate means of family planning. Issued during the cultural meltdown of the 1960s, and in a year when irrationality stalked the entire Western world, Humanae Vitae instantly became the most vilified act of the papal magisterium in history. And to what should have been their shame, entire national episcopates distanced themselves from Pope Paul’s teaching by a variety of strategems, many of which exhibited some degree of theological confusion and some of which were downright cowardly.

Paul VI came to the judgment he did in Humanae Vitae for two reasons.

First, because he was convinced that using the natural rhythms of fertility to regulate births was the most humanistic means of family planning, and the method most congruent with the dignity of the human person – and especially the unique dignity of women.

And second, because he came to understand that many of those advocating a change in Catholic teaching on the morally acceptable means of family planning were in fact promoting a fundamental change in the Church’s way of moral reasoning: they denied that some acts are simply wrong because of their nature, and they argued that moral judgment is really a calculus of intentions, acts, and consequences. Had that “proportionalism,” as it’s technically known, been enshrined as the official Catholic method of making moral judgments, Catholicism would soon have found itself in the sad condition of liberal Protestantism – another Christian community with utterly porous moral boundaries.

His abandonment by a lot of the world episcopate deeply wounded Paul VI, a sensitive soul who had supported the Second Vatican Council’s affirmation that bishops are something more than local branch managers of Catholic Church, Inc., and who probably thought he was owed a little loyalty in return. So as the Church and the world mark the golden jubilee of Humanae Vitae, and as Catholics around the world prepare to celebrate the canonization of Paul VI in October, perhaps those bishops who understand that a serious breach in episcopal collegiality took place in 1968, when so many of their predecessors failed to defend the Bishop of Rome against his often-vicious critics, might consider making these affirmations about the encyclical, in one form or another:

1. I am deeply grateful to Pope Paul VI for his courageous witness to the truth about love in the encyclical Humanae Vitae. With Pope Francis, I believe that Paul VI “had the courage to stand against the majority, to defend moral discipline, to exercise a ‘brake’ on culture, [and] to oppose [both] present and future neo-Malthusianism,” which treats the gift of children as a societal and economic burden.

2. I believe that the truths taught by Humanae Vitae on the appropriate means to plan a family are important for human well-being today; that conscious use of artificial means of regulating fertility distorts the truth about human love inscribed into Creation by the Creator; and that conscience must respect these intrinsic truths in family planning.

3. I believe that the truths taught by Humanae Vitae about natural family planning have proven themselves in pastoral situations around the world; that those truths have made significant contributions to family ministry and marriage preparation in various cultures; and that those who deny the human capacity to understand and live the disciplines of natural family planning often engage in racism, new forms of colonialism, or both.

4. I believe that the “contraceptive culture” of which Paul VI prophetically warned in Humanae Vitae is a major factor in the sexual abuse of women that has come to public attention through the #MeToo movement, along with the related abortion license; and I invite feminists to rethink their celebration of artificial contraception and abortion on this fiftieth anniversary.

5. I believe that St. John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” has given the Catholic Church a compelling tool for explaining both the truths taught by Humanae Vitae and the unhappiness caused by the sexual revolution.

6. I pledge to make this anniversary year an occasion to celebrate the gift of Humanae Vitae and to use my pastoral office to deepen understandings of the Catholic sexual ethic as a celebration of human dignity and the gift of life. 

COMING UP: Why you can (and should) enroll in the Denver Catholic Biblical School

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

Why you can (and should) enroll in the Denver Catholic Biblical School

Seminary Lay Division launches new website and scholarship fund

Whether you’re at the start of your first full-time job, at the top of your career or recently retired, taking some time during the week to dive deeper into your Catholic faith just keeps getting easier in the Archdiocese of Denver.

Exciting things are happening at the Denver Catholic Biblical and Catechetical Schools. With the formal creation of the St. John Paul II Scholarship Fund and the relaunch of the upgraded website that presents the in-and-outs of the program and now offers a faculty blog, any lay person in the archdiocese can see that it is possible to obtain great Biblical and catechetical formation from quality instructors.

The first reason to do it? “We cannot love what we do not know, and we cannot give what we do not have,” as Dr. Nicholas Lebish, Director of the St. John Vianney Seminary Lay Division and teacher for the Biblical School, said. “These are two very common expressions, but they’re very true in our faith. We’re called to follow Christ, and to share the Good News of Jesus Christ and our own testimonies. So, when people enroll in our programs, they are learning and loving their faith in order to share it.”

Moreover, the four-year Biblical program and the two-year Catechetical School under the Lay Division of St. John Vianney Seminary offer a wide variety of locations and times for classes, which are once a week and two hours long.

If money is a concern, there is financial aid available. Through the new St. John Paul II Scholarship Fund, the Biblical and Catechetical Schools will continue to donate around $150,000 in financial assistance to approximately half of their student population. Scholarships are awarded not only on basis of need, but also in forms of discounts to employees of the archdiocese or Catholic schools, seniors, veterans, active military and first responders.

“In continuity with the archdiocese’s evangelization efforts through the launching of the More Than You Realize initiative, we decided to formally create the scholarship fund after St. John Paul II,” Dr. Lebish said. The archdiocesan initiative, like the Biblical and Catechetical Schools, seeks to help Catholics follow their calling to become missionary disciples of Jesus Christ, impacting not only parish communities but also society.

Adding to the communal aspect of the programs, in which students have a few minutes of prayer time and discussion in small groups at the beginning of class, the new website now offers “The Scribe,” a new weekly blog written by faculty that finds its roots in an old print letter that was published by the Biblical School many years ago and carried the same name.

“Every week we’ll have a new short article from different members of our faculty. It’s a nice way for our students or non-students to get to know the faculty, as we talk about all things Catholic in the lay division, related to Biblical and catechetical topics, Church history, apologetics, etc.,” Dr. Lebish explained.

If you still have doubts about enrolling, check out the new website, which, other than explaining clearly the mission and structure of the seminary lay division, now offers video testimonials of alumni, attesting to the great fruits that come from diving deep into the Catholic faith through these programs.

“We hear all kinds of testimonies, but one very important thing we see over and over again is people falling in love with Jesus Christ and his Church — people convert, they encounter Jesus and they fall in love with him and his Church,” Dr. Lebish concluded.

To donate to the Saint John Paul II Scholarship Fund visit sjvlaydivision.org/donate.

For more information visit sjvlaydivision.org