[This article is the first in a series on Humanae Vitae: Fatherhood.]
Pope Paul VI’s widely rejected, and even ridiculed 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae is in my view the most important of all the documents of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church on marriage and the family.
The reason is that it goes to the very heart of the sexual revolution.
The question is, can a person, morally as well as practically, separate sex from procreation? Can people separate sexual pleasure, in whatever form they want it, from the act which is biologically designed to bring babies into the world?
Sexual Revolution’s Answer
From the sexual revolution’s “yes” to this question, people have justified masturbation, premarital sex, adultery, homosexual activity, pornography, even bestiality. From these activities have also flowed the consequences of men viewing women as sexual objects to be used, gross adolescent immaturity and selfishness which can extend into the third decade of young people’s lives, out of wedlock births, fathers rejecting their children and fathers and mothers rejecting each other, abortion, broken hearts, gay marriage, and rapidly approaching us, polygamy.
And in the last generation with advances in medical technology it is even possible to separate procreation from sex. People can separate bringing new people into the world from sexual intercourse. So artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, surrogate motherhood, and lesbian and gay partners having or adopting children are all justified. We don’t even know what the full consequences of these practices are. We have just rushed into them because we wanted to and could.
What is the sundering of the two meanings of sexual intercourse? It is either separating sex from procreation or separating procreation from sex. That we should not do this and why we should not do this is what is at the heart of Paul VI’s message in Humanae Vitae.
So many of the problems facing the family, society and the Church stem from not appreciating and following the doctrinal and pastoral principles Paul VI heroically taught.
Fathers Should Defend Responsible Parenthood
So much good can result if we, Catholic fathers, understand, live, and can defend the Church’s fundamental teachings in regard to responsible parenthood. Our bishops, priests and Catholic theologians and academics should be pounding away on these topics, but they are not. A few weeks ago, taking up about thirty seconds of his seven-minute homily, our pastor spoke against contraception and for natural family planning. I was flabbergasted because the last time I heard a priest mention contraception was eighteen years earlier (and I attend daily Mass and have done so all over the country).
I think Catholic fathers have to take the lead, to help our wives, our children, our parish priests, a lot of bishops, and all people of goodwill return to the ground zero which Humanae Vitae is for the modern world. Maybe we can embolden our Catholic leaders in this task.
So, for anyone who wants to read them, I will post five further columns that explore Paul VI’s encyclical from the perspective of the Catholic father and his role as protector of the family.
Specifically, I will address five questions:
- What is “responsible parenthood” as the Church defines it?
- What are the unitive and procreative meanings of sex and why should my wife and I not separate them?
- What is the “question of conscience” my wife and I need to answer when it comes to responsible parenthood?
- Just why are natural family planning and contraception so different, even though they kind of look the same?
- Should my wife and I actually intend to have many children if we can?