IN his book, “The Runaway Church” (1978), Peter Hebblethwaite traces the theological underpinnings of the Catholic Church’s stand on artificial contraception all the way to the last encyclical of Pope Paul VI, “Humane Vitae” (Of Human Life), June 9, 1968. The controversial encyclical met with a lot of opposition from a large segment of the hierarchy, clergy and laity.
“Humanae Vitae” hit the Church like a bombshell because it contradicted an earlier Vatican II document, the Constitution “On the Church in the Modern World.” This central council document conceded that the Church, having much to learn from the world, should discern nuances of doctrine from life in the modern world. With “Humanae Vitae,” Hebblethwaite laments, Rome was once again on dictation mode.
Indeed one can read in “On the Church in the Modern World” that marriage “is not instituted solely for procreation.” It is rather the whole marriage that should be open to procreation and not necessarily the individual acts of sexual intercourse by the married couple. The married should, therefore, fulfill their procreative task “with human and Christian responsibility” (translation: follow an informed conscience).
In his well-documented book, Peter Hebblethwaite narrates how in 1966 the four theologians in the Pontifical Commission set up earlier (1962) by Pope John XXIII “admitted that they could not show the intrinsic evil of contraception on the basis of natural law alone.” The Commission had to lean back on the Church’s teaching authority and artificial contraception became evil because it was so taught by Rome and not because it can be proven to be intrinsically evil.
In denial, apologists of “Humanae Vitae,” later insisted that contraception was not wrong because it was condemned but rather it had been condemned because it was wrong. But then again, like the theologians of the Commission in 1966, they encountered extreme difficulty in proving that artificial contraception is essentially evil. They instead attacked and denounced theologians, bishops and lay people who had what they termed a contraceptive mentality.
Because those who oppose the reproductive health bill in this country still cannot prove the intrinsic evil of artificial contraception, they impose their stand by demonizing those who favor the bill. They arrogate to themselves the title of pro-life advocates when their opposition to the bill will ensure continuance of the scandalously high (for a Christian country) mortality rate of infants and of their poor mothers.
I hope Congress passes the RH bill for, in the words of Peter Hebblethwaite, “Only the truth can console. Denial and deception, even with the best intentions, are counterproductive.”