(This is the second part in a series of my reaction to the Universal Health Care Takeover, and what we as Catholics can do about it. Please read my first post on this subject, "Upon Further Reflection", found here. Also, if you haven't yet done so, please read the Papal Encyclical Humane Vitae, found here.)
Humane Vitae (Human Life) was written by Pope Paul VI in July of 1968. It was considered by some to be prophetic, others to be salvific, and still others to be more destructive than Martin Luther to the Church. No single document in the history of the Church prompted more unconditional dissent from its members. A flurry of protests fueled throughout the world by Catholic Hierarchy made this document's teachings cumbersome to implement, to put it mildly. What happened in Humane Vitae that caused such a great scandal amongst members of the Church? Humane Vitae, for all of its controversy, really did nothing more than reiterate the sacredness of the Sacrament of Marriage. It recalled the intrinsic evils associated with artificial contraception, both in its application within the bonds of marriage, and its effect on society. Basically, for all of its broadest concerns, Humane Vitae was nothing more than a recap on 2,000 year old teachings of the Church. The key to understanding Humane Vitae's reception is not so much in grasping what it says, but understanding the culture in which Humane Vitae was delivered.
1968 was a dark and chaotic time. The Church found Herself in the throws of Post-Vatican II, as many of those time-tested, age-old religious practices were thrown out in pursuit of a "Mass for the people". The Catholic Church went from being the Church founded by Christ to just one of another tenet of Christianity. The concept of "seamless garment" was invented and implemented, making matters of life and death just another issue of social justice equivocal to poverty and a lack of education. Most Catholics put away apologetics in order to "get along" with their Protestant neighbors. Secularism was on the rampage as the institutions of marriage, family life, and religion were under constant assault. The world was in tumult, recovering from the battle stained war of its second world conflict, and recognizing the great evils of then Nazi Germany. A new war had been initiated against Communist North Vietnam. More importantly, mankind had become aware of the fragility of its nature, both in his lifespan and his subjectivity. For the first time in the history of the world, one press of the button, could set off an atomic explosion to annihilate the entire population of a country. This left all of humanity staring into the unblinking gaze of death and destruction.
The United States was not free from this cultural upheaval. The decade of the 1960's had seen the promise of the first Catholic President of the United States, John F. Kennedy (although he promised his nervous Protestant politicians to toss his Catholic religion to the curb upon his Presidency). JFK was assassinated in 1963. In 1968 both Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were killed. Racial riots ensued, bringing violence and destruction across the great cities of the U.S. in response to Dr. King's death. The Vietnam War "Tet Offensive" happened this year, delivering a crushing blow to the U.S. led invasion, and creating distrust between American citizens and their Government. The youth of America found themselves insecure in the shadows of the greatness of the generation before them. They experimented with everything, including sex and drugs, questioned all authority, and worked to reinvent themselves in the midst of a free society given them by a post-war/Depression generation. The youth singularly connected with the rock music culture that flourished during this time. Church leadership scrambled to keep up with the times both in America and Rome. Much of the authority of the Church was looked on as obsolete and superstitious, by young and old, Religious and laity alike.
This was the culture that Humane Vitae was to be born, but more important was her labor and delivery. In 1960, the first oral contraceptive was made available on the market. Many Catholic theologians thought this might be an acceptable form of birth control for Catholics as it did not physically interfere with the marital act. In 1963, Pope John Paul XXIII established a commission of six delegates to study this form of birth control, and to weigh in with their point of view on artificial contraception in Catholic marital relations. From 1963 to 1966 this commission deliberated, and in the end a majority of them agreed that birth control should be allowed in the vocation of marriage. In 1967, the findings of this commission were leaked to British and American press, and stories began that the Church would change her "archaic and oppressive" means of not allowing artificial contraception. It was in 1968, after all of this atmosphere had been established that Pope Paul XI released Humane Vitae, reiterating that artificial contraceptioin was intrinsically evil and therefore it was not to be used in the vocation of marriage.
Humane Vitae turned out to be an explosive, falling on the makeshift facade of "change" the Church was expecting based on rumors, hearsay, and the most blatant falsity. Two days after the release of this encyclical, many American Catholic Priests began dissent, led by Fr. Charles Curran. A majority of these Priests had not even read the encyclical itself, but knew that it spoke out against artificial contraception, thus spoke against what they had been teaching and implementing in their Priestly office for the past year. Many argued that this was a reformable document, that the Pope had erred, and that this was against "sensum fidelium" (the sense of the faithful). A clear message was sent to the Vatican, American Catholic couples have started to contracept, this encyclical needs to be changed or recanted, in order to meet the needs of these couples. (Notice the mantra of the 60's being injected here *think Bob Dylan* "The time's they are a-changin'"!)
Little was done in this time to call these dissenters into obedience, and to reassert the Teaching Authority conferred by Christ on the Pope. We see this effect in our Church today, where a mere 4% of all Catholics marriages are open to life, as opposed to those who use birth control (including those who abuse NFP). More than 1 in 2 marriages today end in divorce (this includes Catholic Marriages). There have been over 40 million abortions since Roe v. Wade. Homosexual marriages and Priestly vocations have run rampant, and are accepted in our culture as the "societal norm". Men continue to view women as sexual objects, leaving single mothers alone to face the challenges of parenthood without support or regard for the consequences of their own sexual actions. Co-habitation is regarded as the standard for relationships. The destruction and devastation of the Priestly Scandals in the Catholic Church over the last 10 years and more, aside from being hyper-inflated by the serpent media, speaks for itself.
Basically, the utter disregard and contempt harbored by those in authority in the Church led many Catholics astray. What's worse, we've not been led astray into the green pastures of Psalm 23. No we as a culture have been led into the pool of death. We've eaten its fruit and got drunk on its wine, and now the only way of this wicked path is death. And yet, God has given us this remarkable grace - this turning point in history. All signs have shown the way, how he's built us a bridge to cross over to ways of goodness and plenty. We'll examine this blessed encyclical Humane Vitae in the next post, how to live it, and how to use it to evangelize for our Church, for the culture of life, and inevitably for the future of the citizens of 'God's City', and, in the meantime, for the future of our country.