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Pontifications

An earlier post on the 40th anniversay of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical on contraception and procreation, “Humanae Vitae,” referred to various doom-and-gloom scenarios that champions of the teaching attributed to our wayward rejection of the encyclical’s reasoning and conclusions.
Among those I did not see until later were claims that the widespread rejection of the pope’s comprehensive ban on artificial (as opposed to “natural”) contraception is that it is one of the causes of pedophilia in the priesthood and the sexual abuse scandal.
Over at “The Catholic Thing,” Michael Novak writes:

“In the long years after 1968, many abuses took root in the church. Most of the Catholic West drifted away from Humanae Vitae. In all these years, I recall hearing only one sermon that presented a succinct argument against the corrosive effects of contraception, and offered a special vision of Catholic marital life. Worse, far worse, many Catholic priests habituated themselves to rarely or never speaking of self-mastery. Most became reluctant to talk about sexuality at all, let alone chastity. In this darkness, a few granted themselves the same leniency their silence granted lay persons. A few brought intense public shame on the Church.”

(I assume he is talking about the Father Geoghan types rather than the Cardinal Law types.)
Over in the Diocese of Madison, Bishop Robert Morlino gave a talk in which he made the connection even more explicit, telling the diocesan staff:

…”Once bishops, priests, and others decided that they could use conscience to excuse them from obedience to the truth, as taught by the Church – when bishops and priests started giving conscience the authority to determine moral truth, rather than to obey the truth as taught by the Church, it’s not surprising that [during those years] some priests and some bishops started to follow their own conscience in terms of sexual misconduct.”
“The rejection of the Natural Law and reason, in the rejection of Humanae Vitae because of a misunderstood notion of conscience, has led to all of these terrible consequences (mentioned above) and on top of all of it too, the sexual misconduct scandal with some priests.”
“That is where the disobedience to Humanae Vitae has led us; it’s a pretty grim picture and it’s going to be a long time before we recover from it,” the bishop added.

In his “Beliefs” column last weekend, Peter Steinfels went a long way toward compensating for the puzzling John Allen op-ed a week earlier (to date the Gray Lady’s only significant piece on the issue). In the piece, Steinfels is both enlightening about what was and is at stake, and incisive in getting to the heart of the matter:

It was not, for example, an analysis and prescient warning about the sexual revolution. Only a few sentences mentioned what was already obvious by 1968: effective and easily available contraception reduced the shame and suffering (“incentives to keep the moral law” was the papal phrase) that violating sexual norms had traditionally entailed.
Nor was “Humanae Vitae” simply an argument for openness to having children in marriage, although the encyclical certainly includes eloquent language about that. Nor was it a general argument that human sexual bonding should never be totally sundered from the procreative dimension that is its biological base and a natural outcome.
The central point of “Humanae Vitae” was that each and every act of sexual intercourse had to be free of any deliberate effort to prevent conception.

Read more here.

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