Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth in the UK in his Pastoral letter for the Feast of the Holy Family turned his attention to the 1968 Encyclical of Pope Paul VI Humanae Vitae.
Bishop Egan Writes;
In 1968, at the height of the Sixties, Pope Paul VI wrote an Encyclical Letter that then and now many Catholics find difficult. He repeated the traditional teaching of the Church, based on the natural law and confirmed by revelation, that sexual intercourse is an integral act for love and for life, and that these two aspects of sexuality – love and life - cannot be divorced. Humanae Vitae was a prophetic document. Pope Paul spoke of catastrophic consequences for society and culture if these two ends of marriage were split. 45 years on, we can see what he meant in such things as the reduction of sex to a leisure activity, the trafficking of people for prostitution and pornography, broken family relationships, and the explosion of addictive behaviours leading to despair, shame and guilt.As Catholics, we believe in the natural way of life. We believe that the purpose of sexual intercourse is to express the love between a man and a woman, a love which, within the permanent commitment of marriage, is open to being fruitful to life. This is the way to lasting happiness and fulfilment, even if to become chaste - that is, to develop a mature and fully integrated sexuality, as a single person or a married couple - involves a life-long struggle and “apprenticeship in self-mastery”. To help us, Jesus calls us to be his disciples, and offers us the healing balm and the strength we need, above all in confession and Holy Communion.Jesus Christ is the way to personal happiness and authentic humanism. Sadly, the teaching of Humanae Vitae about sexual morality and family values has become something of an ‘elephant in the room’ that no-one seems to mention. In this Year of Faith then, I would like to invite everyone to discover again the Church's wonderful vision of love and life, as expounded in the Catechism. I would also like to ask all families, whatever their form or circumstances, to think about developing a deeper and richer Catholic ethos in the home, so as to give a clearer witness to contemporary culture. For instance, why not spend an evening together as a family, occasionally switch off the computer, make the Sign of the Cross on entering the house, adopt a communal work of justice and charity, or keep special the fast-days and feast-days? I am sure you will think of many other ways of preserving our Catholic distinctiveness.
This encyclical which reaffirmed the Church’s constant teaching on the regulation of births is perhaps the most misunderstood papal encyclical. It simply teaches the truth about human sexuality, a truth which was (and still is) unpalatable to many, a truth that became the spark which led to decades of doubt and dissent among many Catholics, plunging us into what Pope John Paul II so aptly called the “culture of Death.”
Denounced by critics inside and outside the Church, Humanae Vitae has nevertheless proved to be chillingly prophetic in its warnings. Now over forty years later this encyclical is more relevant than ever.
The Encyclical warned of four trends which would occur if the use of artificial contraception became widespread.
- First it claimed there would be a general lowering of moral standards throughout society.
- The second claim was that there would be a rise in infidelity.
- The third claim was that there would be a lessening of respect for women by men, and
- finally that it would lead to the coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments.
Any truthful analysis of modern society will clearly show that all of these predictions have come to pass, each with its own drastic consequences, the moral destruction of society Paul VI warned about in his encyclical can be seen all around us.