From Under the Rubble…Should the Church Abandon Humanae Vitae?

Pope Paul VI promulgated Humanae Vitae on July 25, 1968. It has had a rough ride ever since. Bishops admit that they’ve been reluctant to teach it. Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, Chairman of the bishops’ “Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth,” acknowledges that “the majority of Catholics still do not know about Church teachings on married love nor understand why the Church considers artificial contraception immoral.”

As the Rubble has noted, Mary Eberstadt’s Adam and Eve After The Pill (Ignatius) amply documents the social and cultural destruction caused by the contraception plague. Catholics have not escaped: traditional Church weddings are down, while cohabitation, illegitimacy, and contraceptive use among Catholics are widespread.

This moral and cultural crisis has had political consequences. Future historians – if that revered discipline survives at all – will marvel at how a well-orchestrated campaign featuring the demand for federally subsidized, risk – free, uninhibited and universal sex actually won a presidential election.

Today the Catholic Church confronts the fruits of that political victory. Dozens of Catholic institutions have filed suit against the HHS Contraceptive Mandate. Their lawyers will have to get in line behind those defending traditional marriage at the Supreme Court during Holy Week. Bishop Rhoades was right: the majority of Catholics still do not understand the Church’s teaching on marriage and procreation, and neither does anybody else.

That includes the folks at National Review. Ever since Pope Paul’s prophetic document appeared, Bill Buckley was weak-kneed about it all. Even many in the pro-life movement regarded Humanae Vitae as a poison pill that would split the pro-family coalition. So taxpayer funding for “family planning” at home and abroad – hundreds of millions a year – was seldom targeted if it didn’t involve abortion.

The silence had consequences. The carefully contrived campaign conducted by the cultural left and the Democrat Party last year did not arouse a wave of opposition from pro-life, profamily forces. Instead, it confronted an intellectual vacuum and a clueless crew of conservative candidates who were blindsided when Nancy Pelosi and some promiscuous flake from Georgetown Law School conjured up the convenient myth that the country faced a choice in November 2012 – a libertine sex life for all, or no contraceptives for anybody.

It worked – so well, in fact, that even National Review has now joined the crowd.

Contraception, Cowardice, and Contradiction

The magazine enlisted a curious authority to make its case. Conrad Black is indeed distinguished, in a novel sort of way. He is a Canadian businessman, a publisher, a British peer, a convicted felon, and a historian. He is also a Catholic convert. He frankly admits that he is “not qualified to discuss the theological arguments involved” in Humanae Vitae – and then he fires away.

Black does not write in straight lines. His meander is a reverie, a merry-go-round of Juan Peron, Maggie Thatcher, the Argentine junta, Islam, the abuse-and-cover-up scandals, the Falkland/Malvinas crisis, and John Paul II’s valor in the face of Nazis and Communists. On many points he blasts the Church’s critics for their malevolent attacks on John Paul, Benedict, and now Pope Francis. He condemns “Catholicism’s enemies” who imply “that most of the Roman clergy are deviates compounding superstition with perversion.”

For Black, such attacks are (to borrow the memorable phrase of Mr. Justice Goldberg) a “gross canard, cut out of whole cloth.” But when it comes to contraception, Black quails: “the Church’s official position … enables its enemies to portray it as an archaic society for the propagation of chaste humbug by an esoteric fraternity of superannuated clergymen in antiquarian costumes.”

Oh dear.

The spirit of the world attacks the Church, from within and without, all the time. Black parries the attacks of “Catholicism’s enemies” with ease – until he finds himself agreeing with them. Then he sees Christ and His teaching not as the light of the world, but as a ball and chain that can only deter and deflect Pope Francis from his mission of service to the poor.

Once conned, Black collapses into the usual drivel. The Church’s “attitude [sic] toward contraception [is] not supported by more than a small and very doctrinaire section of the laity.” Oh sure, Humanae Vitae is a “counsel of perfection,” but hey, “sexual intercourse has, for billions of people, become a mere extension of the pleasures of heterosexual affection, because of the ease with which it can be assured not to be a procreative act.”

Hey, Your Holiness! Everybody’s doing it – by the billions!

Well, that says it all. Outvoted, Pope Francis must quickly find a “dogmatically respectable way to execute a dignified climb-down” from Humanae Vitae “and declare the sexual act a consequential moral commitment appropriate to and generally reserved to marriage, but sometimes unexceptionable when undertaken with contraceptive precautions, and reprehensible only if entered into wantonly.”

Blah blah blah.

“A dignified climb-down.” Well, Black has written books on both FDR and Nixon, so it’s not surprising that he is willing to condemn the “reprehensible” but manages to avoid altogether the mention of “truth” and “sin” – outrages which would cause the world to react with “scorn and incredulity.” After all, the Church’s teaching on sexual morality merely “assists the Church’s numerous and influential enemies in discounting its moral influence” because, remember, “billions” reject the notion of sexual morality, don’t they?

It just gets richer. Black goes on to commend “the Roman Catholic Church’s desire to avoid trendiness and pandering,” but is willing to wallow in it himself. To drive his point home, the dismal Mr. Black suggests that “The Roman Catholic Church, with all respect to the long traditions involved, should not be in the business of appearing to be the party of joyless behavioral philistinism, and should not needlessly subject itself to unjust imputations of hypocrisy.”

Are you confused too? Oh, don’t forget that the Church’s teaching on sexual morality also weakens its ability to be a “mighty rampart” against militant Islam.

The Campaign For Humanae Vitae

Bishop Rhoades is right: “The majority of Catholics still do not know about Church teachings on married love.” Conrad Black is one of them, and he is not alone. That’s why the Bellarmine Forum has launched the Campaign For Humanae Vitae™, inviting Catholics and all men and women of good will everywhere to pray for our bishops – especially Pope Francis! – to encourage and support their efforts to teach the moral truths of the Faith, including the unpopular parts, to a world that is starving for the truth – as Mr. Black points out, by the billions.

Thousands of people from dozens of countries have signed the Bellarmine Forum’s prayerful petition in support of Humanae Vitae. You can read it and sign it at Mr. Black has demonstrated how necessary it is that the Church teaches the truth about sex, love, and marriage to a confused and miserable world that is hungry for the light of Faith. Your prayers, encouragement, and support will help Bishop Rhoades and his brother bishops make that light shine for all to see.

Happy Easter!


This article, From Under the Rubble…Should the Church Abandon Humanae Vitae? is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
Do not repost the entire article without written permission. Reasonable excerpts may be reposted so long as it is linked to this page.

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Christopher Manion

  • John Kippley says:

    I write this on Holy Saturday morning, a good time to remember that the whole world stands in the shadow of the Cross on which our Savior suffered and died for our sins.

    The problem with Humanae Vitae of 1968 and Casti Connubii of 1930 is that their teaching about love, marriage, and sexuality recognizes that Christian love is inevitably love in the shadow of the Cross.

    Within the Church, this teaching will once again be widely respected and practiced, but that will happen only when our Pope, bishops and priests require the right kind of courses as part of preparation for marriage, baptism, and parish ministries. The doctrine of Romans 10 applies all too well. How can men and women be expected to believe unless they have the teachings taught to them?

    One reason contraception was accepted by many Catholics is that bottle-feeding replaced breastfeeding, resulting in the loss of natural spacing and the births of babies within 12 months of each other. Thus it is important to teach that the right kind of breastfeeding, specifically Ecological Breastfeeding, naturally spaces babies about two years apart, on the average, without recourse to periodic abstinence from the marriage act. I consider it a matter of social injustice to withhold this information from young couples. See my recent blogs on this subject at

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