It’s been 50 years this July 25th since Pope Paul VI released the Encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae (On Human Life).
There’s even a documentary about it that is being screened across the country.
There’s so much to be said about this prophetic letter, negative and positive. Most people talk today about the negative effects – how it caused such a rift between the Church, between priests and bishops who didn’t agree with the Pope’s message, between Catholic couples who ignored it altogether, between secularists who thought the Church was being old-fashioned and “should just get with the times.”
No matter what your feelings are on the Church, one cannot help but read the letter (it’s only 6 pages) and come to understand that, tragically, what Pope Paul VI predicted has come to fruition.
Section 17 of the document is the most “famous” for what the Pope saw as the notable and disastrous effects on society if birth control were to be embraced, namely – increased marital infidelity, a general lowering of moral standards, reducing women to mere objects, as well as the government and public authorities imposing their use on everyone.
Plenty of theologians and people smarter than I have written extensively on Humanae Vitae. I added a new section to the blog specifically for it.
As for me and this post, I just thought I’d offer some common sense logic as far as this document goes and express my thoughts on what I came to understand after reading it for the first time a few years ago.
First, a fun fact: Did you know that long before Pope Paul VI wrote HV, there already was a 100% guaranteed effective method of preventing pregnancies? It’s called abstinence.
Not the most glamorous word. Not a word that gets us very excited. It’s pretty blah, I admit. But maybe that’s because it’s not a virtue. It doesn’t take PRACTICE to be abstinent.
It DOES take practice to be chaste, though. And that challenge of practicing chastity, especially with someone we love and are deeply and completely devoted to, is difficult for people to adhere to. And I think, at least in my opinion, this is a key reason why so many folks became bitter and dissident from HV. They don’t like being told what to do.
And all they saw/heard when this document was released was “No.” But they never heard the WHY. They just heard a Rule and didn’t hear the love behind it. It’s really a pity because Pope Paul VI was just trying to do what the Church does – Mother us. Guide us. And protect us from going down a destructive and sinful path.
So let’s look at each of the main predictions and see how they match up to today’s reality:
Decline in morality and uptick in divorce
Last I checked, despite the controversy over the ACTUAL percentage, it looks like around 42-46% of marriages end in permanent separation or divorce.
Among some studies I found, many of them ask participants open ended question of why they got a divorce and infidelity was in many of the top 5 most common answers.
So what’s the link between infidelity and contraception? Well, I had never thought of it this way, but think about it – Men who cheat/women who cheat won’t do it if there’s a possibility of their spouse finding out, right? But how would they know? If the woman gets pregnant.
So where does the Pill come in to play here? Well, if a woman is taking a contraceptive that prevents her from becoming pregnant, you can clearly have an affair much more easily. And if she does become pregnant, she can always get an abortion and the “problem” goes away. And no one is the wiser.
What is argued from the pro-life Catholic perspective is that the Pill tells the man and the woman that sex is all about pleasure. We’ve eliminated the possible outcome of a pregnancy so we can just “have fun” with no consequences.
But that’s not pleasure – that’s USE. The man uses the woman for her body only. And the saddest part is hearing other women argue against this and say that this is crazy talk. But it’s not. It’s the truth. Maybe that’s not the INTENTION of the woman. Because of course, who the heck wants to be used and then discarded once the man gets tired of her? But this is exactly what the pill/contraceptives do.
Another way women are treated as objects is through exploitation in prostitution and human trafficking. According to Mary Leary of the Columbus School of Law at The Catholic University of America, sex trafficking and prostitution is a $40 million industry in D.C. alone. “Women are seen as one-dimensional objects – commodities – to be bought and sold in this “modern-day slavery.”
And then you have women being used for their eggs through surrogacy, egg donation and in vitro fertilization.
Seriously though, what happened to our moral compass? I try to think, for me, personally, how was I influenced as a youth/young adult? Who did I look to and who was I influenced by when it came to what was immoral vs moral? Of course, the Church. And the 10 commandments. But, I was also easily influenced by the culture. And when I think of the culture I think of tv and what was popular in those years. For me, when in high school and college, the biggest hit tv show that I think *most* of my generation watched was “Friends.”
Watching some of the repeats now on syndication, I am shocked at how much every single episode is literally about sex. Apparently someone with a lot of time on their hands counted 2,000 references in all of the episodes. And this was on NBC, this wasn’t HBO’s Sex and the City. This was one of the most popular sitcoms on TV in the 90’s-early 00’s.
And I would argue the quality of the tv shows on today haven’t gotten much better as far as morals. And let’s not get started on movies. Fifty Shades of Grey ring a bell?
I’m not about to blame the decline of morality on one tv show or one movie. It’s just that we have to admit at some point that things started to take a turn for the worse.
Abortion stats are widely known.For those that aren’t aware, we’re at just over 60 million unborn babies killed in the womb in the United States since Roe v Wade.
The stat on children born out of wedlock is staggering – about 2/5th’s of all births are to unmarried women. In the African American community it’s extremely high at 72%.
I found the reason for this increase from an article particularly fascinating:
“The increased availability of contraception and abortion made shotgun weddings a thing of the past. Women who were willing to get an abortion or who reliably used contraception no longer found it necessary to condition sexual relations on a promise of marriage in the event of pregnancy. But women who wanted children, who did not want an abortion for moral or religious reasons, or who were unreliable in their use of contraception found themselves pressured to participate in premarital sexual relations without being able to exact a promise of marriage in case of pregnancy. These women feared, correctly, that if they refused sexual relations, they would risk losing their partners. Sexual activity without commitment was increasingly expected in premarital relationships.“
That last sentence is particularly of interest. That’s the definition of the hook-up culture. Sex without commitment. It’s happening right now. It’s happening on college campuses at this very moment. And with the internet and online “dating” sites like Tinder and goodness knows what else (do we really want to know? I sure don’t) the hook up culture shows no signs of slowing down or stopping.
Keep in mind that quote above is from an article in 1996. I would argue things have only gotten worse in the past 20 years.
The lack of respect for women and treating them as objects
I’ve already covered this with the hook up culture and sex outside marriage (sex without commitment) but I would throw in the rampant use of online pornography and the now infamous #MeToo movement.
Government would forcibly use contraception abortion and sterilization for population control.
In other words, if two people can control their own family population, what’s to stop the government from enforcing their own population control onto their countries?
The most glaring example of this was the Obama Administration and the HHS Mandate; forcing pro-life/religious organizations to provide their employees with contraceptives and abortifacients.
So what’s the Good News?
I think there’s a lot of hope for the future. I think many women, especially young women, are waking up to the fact that the sexual revolution sold them a bunch of lies. Freedom does not equal happiness and empowerment. There’s nothing empowering about raising a child alone because the father left and wasn’t ready to commit. There’s nothing empowering about taking a level 1 carcinogen that could possibly cause you to have a stroke. There’s nothing empowering about getting a ride to an abortion clinic to kill your unborn child. And there’s nothing empowering about waking up next to a man in bed after a one night stand. There’s nothing empowering about your spouse leaving you for someone else. There’s nothing empowering about finding out your infertile because you were on birth control for decades because your doctor told you as a teen that it would clear up your acne. And there’s nothing empowering about selling your body for money or drugs.
This is empowering? No, this is degrading. And women, and men, and children, all deserve better.
The answer to how the Church can fix this mess is still the one it’s always been and continues to be – Prayer. And speaking the truth in love. Women are speaking up. Mothers are speaking up. Priests and Bishops are speaking up.
Keep the conversation going.
Let’s not wait another 50 years before we speak up again.
One thought on “The Prophetic Message of Humanae Vitae”
Hate, hard stuff!
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