“Humanae Vitae”–The Pill, pedophile priests, and the real story

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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posted August 4, 2008 at 12:03 pm

An interesting premise, “the widespread rejection of the pope’s comprehensive ban on artificial contraception is that it is one of the causes of pedophilia in the priesthood and the sexual abuse scandal”
If we take that logic of that premise one step farther and remember that the pope rejected the the bishops objections against humanae vitae and issued it anyway, then we have to conclude that it was the pope’s failure to heed the wisdom of his bishops, in other words, it was irresponsible action of the pope that became the principal cause of pedophilia in the priesthood and the subsequent scandal. If on the other hand, the pope had acted responsibly and heeded the advise of the bishops, then the we can conclude that the pedophila and subsequent scandal would not have occurred.
Of course, in order to reach either of these conclusions, or the conclusions presented in the article, we have to ignore the fact that pedophilia has been a problem in the priesthood long before humanae vitae was even conceived, but hey, lets not let insignificant things, such as evidence and facts get in the way.

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posted August 4, 2008 at 4:07 pm

This stupid ‘it all began in the 60s’ argument is 6 years old. It was the first bishop response to the ‘scandal’ The ignoring of HV loosened the priests’ morality so that pedphilia became OK in their minds is re-heated garbage… can we now extend this stupid reasoning to the parish embezzlement scandals? Sounds like an aurgument made by Wall Street cons.’We’re all crooks’
Maybe when in 1968 the ‘Red’students disrupted Ratzingers classes and he ‘freaked’ out and became a conservative is an example of how we ended up with cowardly leaders.Afraid to lead..Afraid to change.

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posted August 4, 2008 at 4:52 pm

All of this would be laughable if it were not tragic. The sexual abuse scandal was obviously caused by the failure of the church’s leadership to act properly against priests who were pedophiles. I wonder if that is what the Pope told the victims of sexual abuse when he met with them, “You know, all of this could have been prevented if you people had only followed HV.” Somehow, I don’t think he did.
In terms of what John Allen said, “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.” Since natural family planning, the approved method of contraception, is a birth control methodology acts of intercourse using it are not free of any deliberate effort to prevent conception. They are planned to prevent conception. So if that was the central point of HV, then approving “natural” family planning defeated its central point.
Two major issues in the Church that have undermined its teachings are HV and the sexual scandal. Both can rightly be blamed on leadership in the church. The Bishop was correct when he said, “It’s a pretty grim picture and it’s going to be a long time before we recover from it.” What he doesn’t understand is that he is part of the cause.

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Iris Alantiel

posted August 4, 2008 at 7:47 pm

If the sex abuse scandal didn’t offend Catholics’ sensibilities enough for the hierarchy’s tastes, let’s try this new method: “Hey there, laity, it’s your fault our priests sinned! All those little kids whose futures have been complicated by sexual abuse – that’s not because of us, it’s because YOU were disobedient.”
Also, I *really* hope somebody takes up gmo2’s point about NFP being a deliberate effort to prevent conception. This was something I haven’t quite been able to grasp about the distinction the Church is making between NFP and artificial birth control. I’ve been told that the difference is that NFP is still “open to life” even if you’re trying to employ it in such a way as to prevent conception. But if God really wants me to be pregnant, is there any method of contraception He couldn’t circumvent? As I’m understanding it, “open to life” (as applied to the use of NFP) seems like code for “this birth control is more likely than others to fail”.

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recovering ex-Pentecostal

posted August 5, 2008 at 4:22 pm

What a pious bunch of self-righteous blather this thread is.
Illogical, “re-heated garbage” that blames child-raping priests and their protectors on the birth control pill. Utter (and utterly unbelievable) nonsense.

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posted August 8, 2008 at 12:15 am

I’m with you, Iris. I assure you, we tried NFP. And tried and tried. But irregular cycles made all that fussing around with the calendar and the thermometer fruitless. And artificial in the extreme. And resulted in 4 (single) babies in 4 1/2 years. At that rate, it was extremely scary to think what the potential number might have been.
After the 4th , we tried the pill which was new enough then that even my doctor didn’t know it would dry up my milk. Three in diapers and one who was VERY hungry. It was simpler just to get tubes tied. Only one visit to the confessional.
I wonder how many amateur AND professional theologians have EVER been in that situation, have any grasp of the stress that puts on marital and family relationships.
Oh yes, just have faith. Uhn-huh.

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posted August 11, 2008 at 8:17 am

HV basically turned the whole Catholic Church into a Protestant one. Most married Catholics use birth control and don’t even confess it. They do not see it as a sin but as a matter for individuals to decide for themselves. This opened the door for more and more Catholics to pick and choose what they wanted to accept as Catholic doctrine for them. The pedophilia scandal furthered this kind of independent thinking as
Catholics would say to themselves, “If my priest is molesting little boys, why shouldn’t I do the lesser sin of masturbating?” The horse is out of the barn and the barn is on fire. The church cannot bring back “the good old days” Any salvation lies in returning to the Gospel emphasis on love and forgiveness rather than doctrine and law.

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