Thursday, July 31, 2008
Not So Happy Birthday, Humanae Vitae
This past Friday, July 25th, marked the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, an encyclical written by Pope Paul VI at the height of the 1960s sexual revolution concerning reproductive issues. The letter, sent to bishops worldwide, affirmed the Roman Catholic Church’s official position forbidding voluntary sterilization, abortion, and any method of artificial contraception. Humanae Vitae also addressed sexual relations between married couples, stating that sex should be mainly for procreation, although natural family planning is acceptable.
Pope Paul VI wrote that the use of artificial contraception would contribute to the “general lowering of moral standards” and would increase the danger of men reducing women to “being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of [their] own desires.” While this may sometimes be true, isn’t it possible that women could use men as “mere instruments”? Most likely the Church is actually afraid of people of both genders using sex as a “mere instrument for the satisfaction of [their] own desires.”
Pope Paul IV’s strongest argument in Humanae Vitae was that this teaching has been consistent throughout the Church’s history and that it is not within his power to change it. However, if the pope doesn’t have the power to change the direction of his own church, who does? His arguments clearly highlight the Church’s backward thinking and their attempts to limit the reproductive rights of women.
The clearly controversial Humanae Vitae signified the first time in the 20th century that Catholics and clergy around the world openly criticized and questioned the teachings of the Church. In addition to the voiced opposition, thousands of Catholics left the Church. Catholics leaving the church for this reason is a clear signal that there are many faithful Catholics worldwide that support the use and distribution of contraception methods for women and men. Being Catholic doesn’t mean you have to be impractical.
Forty years later on Friday, more than fifty Catholic groups published an open letter in Italy’s largest newspaper, Corriere della Sera, calling on Pope Benedict XVI to lift the Church’s ban on artificial contraception. The letter to the Vatican said the ban “has had a catastrophic impact on the poor and powerless around the world, endangering women’s lives and leaving millions at risk for HIV.” Obviously these things are not what the Church wants to promote, so instead of condemning the use of contraception, the Church should perhaps be attempting to prevent the spread of HIV and working to decrease the rate of poverty.
One group who supported the letter in the Italian newspaper was the US based Catholics for Choice, a group whose name may sound like an oxymoron to some.
When thinking about the traditional beliefs of Catholicism, many people naturally assume that all Catholics are anti-contraception. Organizations like Catholics for Choice confirm to the public that there are many Catholics in the United States who do care about and support the reproductive health and safety of women and men--even when the Vatican and current pope do not. According to the Gallup Polls, more than 75 percent of Catholics in the U.S. believe that the Church should allow use of contraception.
While it seems apparent that the majority of Catholics support the use of contraception, in 1993, Pope John Paul II reaffirmed the Church’s position on artificial contraception in his encyclical, Veritatis Splendor and then again on Friday, Pope Benedict XVI also showed his support for the forty-year old publication. He claimed that the key message is love and called Humanae Vitae “a gesture of courage”. The current pope also said it is “a sign of contradiction but also of continuity of the Church’s doctrine and tradition…what was true yesterday is also true today…in light of new scientific discoveries, its teaching is becoming more current and is provoking reflection.”
With the 40th anniversary of the Humanae Vitae encyclical and so many Catholics in support of contraception use, it is now time for the Vatican to retract the content regarding voluntary sterilization, abortion, and contraception use. The Vatican does not have a good track record for admitting their mistakes, so this may be too much to ask for, at least for the time being. Hopefully, however, the letter written by Catholics worldwide will be a catalyst in the realization that contraception is not evil after all, but necessary.
Catholics and contraception use will always be a hot topic—any comments about this?