Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Humanae Vitae was truly prophetic

July 25 this year marks the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI’s highly controversial encyclical on the regulation of birth. It proclaims that the only lawful place for sex is within marriage, and that it is never licit for married couples to obstruct, even for therapeutic reasons, the transmission of human life.

In plain language, artificial birth control, sterilization and abortion have no place in a Christian marriage, less so outside it. No encyclical has provoked a more intense conflict on the issue of human life. Pope John Paul II called it the conflict between the culture of life and the culture of death.

Within the Church, the 1968 encyclical drew fire from dissenters and critics. They had to be reminded after a while that the matter was no longer open for theological debate. But never did Paul VI entertain any doubt about it. In his book, Paul VI, The First Modern Pope, Peter Hebblethwaite recalls that on the eve of the encyclical the Pope told Edouard Cardinal Gagnon: “Don’t be afraid, in twenty years they’ll call me a prophet.”

No statement proved more prophetic. In 1988, Janet E. Smith noted that all the prophecies contained in Humanae Vitae had been fulfilled. The encyclical predicted that:

  • The widespread use of contraceptives would lead to conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality;
  • “The man” will lose respect for “the woman” and “no longer (care) for her physical and psychological equilibrium” and will come to “the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved companion;”
  • The widespread acceptance of contraception would place a dangerous weapon in the hands of public authorities who take no heed of moral exigencies; and
  • It would lead men (and women especially) to think they had absolute and unlimited dominion over their bodies.

The facts are beyond dispute. A new sexual morality, brought on largely by free access to contraceptives, has led to mounting divorces, children out of wedlock, teenage pregnancies, and abortion, which has inflicted more casualties than all the wars known to man have.

Not only has time proved Paul VI’s vision prophetic. It has also allowed personal devotion to that Pope, who served from 1963 to 1978, to grow. On my way with my wife to an audience with Pope Benedict XVI at Castel Gandolfo last year, I joined the endless queue to the tomb of John Paul the Great at St. Peter’s. Inside the crypt, everyone stopped before the simple tomb of that loving and much loved saintly Polish pope. Yet there was one other tomb before which people knelt and appeared to be lost in prayer --that of Paul VI.

Ranged against Paul VI was another Paul, with his doomsday scenario of what would happen if humanity failed to stop population growth --- the very opposite of Humanae Vitae’s message. This was Paul Ralph Erlich, a 36-year-old entomologist from Philadelphia specializing in the study of butterflies and moths.

The year the Pope released his encyclical, Erlich published his book, The Population Bomb, an instant bestseller which regurgitated the long discredited Malthusian scare theory about population growth outpacing food supply and added his own doomsday scare.

“The battle to feed all of humanity is over,” said the book. “In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of the crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate…”

Erlich’s prediction was a hoax. Throughout the seventies no country starved, except perhaps where genocidal wars had created their own hell. The American microbiologist and agronomist Norman Ernest Borlaug won the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for developing high-yielding varieties of wheat and other grain crops to launch the “Green Revolution” in developing countries.

In 1980, Julian Simon, who says man is the “Ultimate Resource” in his book of the same title, entered into a bet with Erlich to see who was right and who was wrong. Erlich predicted that over a certain period metal prices would rise sharply because of scarcity driven by population growth; Simon maintained the opposite. They chose five metals. Erlich lost.

In 1992, the Nobel Prize for Economics went to Gary Becker for showing that human capital is really the foremost creator of wealth.. This was a cool rebuke to the renewed activism of the neoMalthusians which allowed the world-famous Jacques-Yves Cousteau to tell the Courrier de l’Unesco a year earlier that we needed to eliminate 350,000 persons a day to stabilize world population.

All over the developed world, the population is declining. Birth and fertility rates are falling; demographers foresee a trebling of people over sixty years old by 2050., and a drastic shrinking of the work force. Infertile Europe is imploding.

Despite Malthus’s long demonstrated failure, his epigones continue to promote population control as a cure, instead of acknowledging it as a disease. In the Philippines, they insist on making the population the scapegoat for all its ills. They refuse to see that in the face of a collapsing global system, the country’s vibrant population stands as its first and last line of defense.

(The writer, a former senator of the Philippines, sits on the governing board of the International Right to Life Federation, Cincinnati, Ohio, and the international and governing boards of World Youth Alliance, New York. He lives in Manila.)


Charles said...

With all due respect, sir, I think you may be a bit premature in your conclusions. Indeed technology did offer a way out of the Malthusian tragedy, but we have no evidence, nor grounds for belief, that this will always be the case. There is mounting evidence that Civilisations have failed due to pressures related, directly or indirectly, to population - such as food and water supply. That the Malthusian situation does occur in nature does not require mention. It seems to me that the only question is whether or not we allow natural corresponding correcting mechanisms to act on human populations. It seems to me that more people are bound to suffer and die if we fail to take the reins of our fates more firmly in hand - evidence for this lies in basic epidemiology and economics.

Regarding the involvement of the clergy in Caesar's affairs, although my judgment tells me that secularism is the only safe way to avoid a frailocracy, it must be admitted that society is served well by a clear and concise opinion from the Catholic organisation. The real question, however is whether the Catholic church
Would and could take responsibility for the generalized suffering and pain an out of control population would inflict upon the common man should it happen to be mistaken regarding the population issue. (The Galileo fiasco really should never be repeated by men of sincere hearts.) Will it share of its coffers funds to build the various systems that are required to make any society work?

cuyunon said...

In a recent column, John Nery wrote about what he nicely dubbed “Pope Paul VI’s ardent, anguished love letter to an unchaste world” (Newsstand, PDI 7/22/2008). Humanae Vitae is indeed addressed to the world (and 1968 was the heyday of the Pill, “free love” and hippie culture), not just the faithful, which probably accounts for its leaning towards “human reason”, rather than theology, in explaining the teaching on contraception.
The encyclical essentially teaches that the human sexual faculty is ordained by nature towards both procreation—the begetting and rearing of offspring—and the union of the spouses; that these “unitive meaning and procreative meaning” of the marital act are inseparable; and that the use of the human sexual faculty in denial of these ends is contrary to the natural moral law. Thus, contraception, i.e., “any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means” (HV, No. 14) is immoral. Incidentally, just to be clear, this includes “withdrawal” (coitus interruptus), the “sin of Onan” when he “spilled the semen on the ground, lest he should give offspring to his brother,” an act “displeasing in the sight of the Lord” for which Onan was slain (cf. Gen 38: 1-10).
On the other hand, the encyclical also teaches, “If there are well-grounded reasons for spacing births,” couples may “take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile” (HV, No. 16) Mr. Nery rightly points out the difficulty in understanding the distinction between contraceptive sex and “recourse to the infertile period”. He asks: “If both the unitive and procreative dimensions inhere in the conjugal act, why should spouses perform the act during infertile periods?”
Perhaps the threshold issue and key to understanding the encyclical is the inseparability of the “unitive meaning and the procreative meaning” of the marital act. Why should the procreative purpose of sex be inseparable from its unitive purpose? Why can’t sex be solely for love or solely for procreation? The quick answer is: If sex were not for procreation, homosexual intercourse would be morally okay (as long as there is love between the partners), but it is not (Sodomy is explicitly condemned in both the Old and New Testaments); and the institution of an indissoluble marriage would be meaningless (since the indissolubility of marriage is a demand of the welfare of the offspring, of the procreative purpose), which cannot be the case (Divorce is prohibited in the Gospels). On the other hand, even if open to the possibility of offspring, sex without mutual love would be rape (or at least dehumanizing of both partners), which cannot be moral, either. Therefore, the marital act is ordained to both procreation and union.
Contraception is the removal of the procreative end from the sexual encounter by positive human action. On the other hand, sex during the infertile periods involves nothing of that sort: even if foreseen or availed of by the spouses, the impossibility of achieving the procreative purpose of the sexual encounter is “independent of their will”. Indeed, even during the fertile periods, “new life is not the result of each and every act of sexual intercourse.” (HV, No. 11) Thus, sex during the infertile period is morally good in so far as it serves the unitive purpose (alone) of marriage, since it is not by human intervention that the procreative purpose is removed from the sexual encounter. It helps also to consider that “recourse to the infertile period” is actually, essentially, abstention or the non-use of sex during the fertile periods, in which case there is no abuse (wrongful use) of the sexual faculty; hence, no moral disorder.
One last point. Much is often made of “unchecked population growth” as condemning the newly-born and their families to a life of poverty. But this proposition unduly shifts the blame on the poor (for reproducing), whereas the causes of poverty lie elsewhere. Moreover, population control programs assume an authority to determine (by arbitrary, subjective criteria) who (or which economic classes, ethnic groups, or sectors) may multiply and who should eventually become extinct as a group. Christian social philosophy says the State has no such authority. To hold otherwise would justify China’s one-child policy, forced sterilization, even genocide/ethnic cleansing. Thus, it makes better sense to leave “the proper regulation of the propagation of offspring” to the right consciences of married couples, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity; that is, without the undue influence of propaganda and other inducements or coercive measures, whether state-sponsored, foreign funded or financed by big business, and certainly without recourse to immoral acts.

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Arnold said...

Dear Francisco,
I am sorry , I totally disagree with your column from last Saturday, July 26th. I sent a letter to the editor stating some facts behind Humanae Vitae. just in case the letter won't be published I will put a copy here. You may be interested to read these facts. I hope you can get rid of your "My Pope, Right or Wrong" mentality. Once you were man enough to admit that you have been wrong in supporting the Marcos dictatorship. This time you could be wrong, too.

The Facts Behind Humanae Vitae

There is much confusion around the debate about the proposed Reproductive Health Bill and the Encyclical Humanae Vitae. It is high time to state some clear facts regarding both sides of the debate.
With respect to Humanae Vitae the facts are:
1) First of all, Humanae Vitae is highly controversial, ever since its promulgation in 1968. The Philippine Church thought it opportune to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the Encyclical by declaring the month of July as the month of Humanae Vitae. The ordinary faithful are caught by surprise and wonder what this is all about. The Encyclical is proposed as binding on the faithful, like it was forty years ago. People are almost made to believe that it is a dogma.
2) The church is hypocritical – it pretends that in those forty years after Humanae Vitae the majority of the faithful are following the church teachings as if nothing has happened in the concrete experiences of the many ordinary faithful, especially the poor, who have felt that it is impossible to stick to natural birth control methods, let alone the findings of theologians and scientists who feel that Humanae Vitae is highly obsolete and outdated. There are bishops and archbishops in the church who may not be surprised at all at this attitude towards the Encyclical, because they believe that the church teachings are timeless and archaic like the teachings of Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and forever. Archbishop Capalla is one of them. He made that statement some weeks ago, and accordingly he told the Speaker of the House that as a Catholic he has to vote against the proposed bill. To use the Holy Eucharist as a deterrent is an abuse that is totally out of place, whatever Canon Law says about it.
3) When in 1968 Humanae Vitae was promulgated, based on secret reports most members of the Pope’s own advisory commission were advocating a change in the previous teachings of the church. According to Hans Küng, one of the periti present in the Second Vatican Council, only a tiny minority agreed with the official teaching of Humanae Vitae. To say a teaching is not infallible is an euphemistic way of saying it might be wrong and may some day be changed.
4) The church through Humanae Vitae issued a ban on contraceptives. Many years before Humanae Vitae the church issued another ban, a ban on usury, but after some years the practice ceased to be considered a serious sin – which I believe it still is. In fact, it became a practice from which the Vatican itself benefits. And look also, who are the owners of the numerous lucrative pawnshops in town!
5) Even if the authority of the church is seen as almost absolute, it can never cancel out the conscience. In fact, the human conscience is the ultimate authority for man to know whether something is good or bad. Cardinal Newman considers the conscience of man as a divine resource, as directly inspired by God, by the Holy Spirit. That is why his famous adage ‘To the Pope, but to conscience first!’
6) It is a pity that most bishops look at the controversy of Humanae Vitae as canon lawyers and moralists and close their eyes for the reality. Only a few, like Archbishop Ledesma, are concerned about the human side of the issue. Population explosion in some parts of the world, including the Philippines, makes conservation unrealistic. God’s order ‘increase and multiply’ has been more than fulfilled. How many children are sold into slavery or in sex trade, crime and drug trafficking? These are a direct consequence of poverty and over-population.
7) God made humanity in his own image, with a mind and reason that the individual is supposed to use. In other words, when a Catholic denies a spouse his/her rights, or has a child that cannot be supported, or that will die of Aids, he/she cannot simply say he/she is obeying an order from the Pope. When a husband forces himself on his wife while he is drunk, should the wife not tell him to put on a condom lest she will be impregnated against her will or run the risk of getting an abnormal child? Can artificial birth control not be considered a God-given blessing appropriate for the needs of humanity today?
Is the primary purpose of marriage not for the spouses to love each other and the secondary purpose only to procreate?
8) The ‘tradition’ seems to be another stumbling block in the church. Many in the church still hold on to an ‘My Pope right or wrong’ mentality. The ‘tradition’, including the ‘Fathers of the Church’ can be wrong and in fact have been wrong in many instances. Some examples only:
- Incarnation means ‘there is no longer male and female’
- Tertullian saw woman as ‘the devil’s gateway’
- John Chrysostom: ‘woman taught once and ruined all’
- St Augustine: ‘separately as helpmate, the woman herself alone is not the image of God; whereas the man alone is the image of God’
9) When Pope Benedict on May 10, 2008 said ‘The transmission of life is inscribed in nature and in its laws’, he never speciafically denounced the use of artificial contraception or assisted fertilization by name. The Pope ordered the Church to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae this year. Hans Küng believes that it would be better to write a draft for a new encyclical, instead.
The Philippine Church has declared the month of July as the month of Humanae Vitae. I believe, it would be better for the Philippine Church to wait for the new encyclical to be published, instead.

Arnold van Vugt
Cagayan de Oro City

affinity said...

the roman catholic church must and shld reconsidered its stand on artificial used of contraceptives..

family plaaning is good and best way of making life fine.. but the catholic fathers must reconsidered the humanae vitae..