Some years ago, the diocese of Rockford, Illinois, hosted a series of annual family conferences at which I was blessed to speak. At one of these, the late, great bishop of Rockford, Thomas Doran, gave a rousing address on Pope Paul VI and his most famous (and final) encyclical, Humanae Vitae.
His talk succinctly presented the truth concerning contraception as our Holy Father did so well in this great document, particularly in in paragraph nine, where Pope Paul reminded us that conjugal love must always be:
1. “Fully human… an act of the free will” of the spouses, “so that husband and wife become in a way one heart and one soul, and together attain their human fulfillment.”
2. “Total—that very special form of personal friendship in which husband and wife generously share everything… Whoever really loves his partner loves not only for what he receives, but loves that partner for the partner's own sake, content to be able to enrich the other with the gift of himself.”
3. “Faithful and exclusive of all other, and this until death. This is how husband and wife understood it on the day on which, fully aware of what they were doing, they freely vowed themselves to one another in marriage… The example of countless married couples proves not only that fidelity is in accord with the nature of marriage, but also that it is the source of profound and enduring happiness.”
4. “Fecund. It is not confined wholly to the loving interchange of husband and wife; it also contrives to go beyond this to bring new life into being. ‘Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the procreation and education of children. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute in the highest degree to their parents' welfare.’”
These profound truths are rooted in natural law and are not up for debate or a vote:
This particular doctrine, often expounded by the magisterium of the Church, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.
The reason is that the fundamental nature of the marriage act, while uniting husband and wife in the closest intimacy, also renders them capable of generating new life—and this as a result of laws written into the actual nature of man and of woman” (12).
But when Bishop Doran turned to paragraph seventeen of Humanae Vitae, a solemn hush came over the auditorium. There, Pope Paul predicted (prophesied, really) at least three catastrophic consequences for failing to heed to the law of God written into our very nature concerning the evil that is contraception:
- “Marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards.”
There is much we could say here, but just the divorce rate alone—compared to where we were in 1968—is staggering. Its sharp rise began in the late sixties, when the development and legalization of modern contraceptives joined with the Sexual Revolution to create a perfect environment for easy, seemingly-consequence-free adultery and the accompanying rise in marital unhappiness and breakdown.
A “general lowering of moral standards”?? We don’t have enough space here even to scratch the surface.
- “[Men] may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires.”
I wonder how many leaders of the #MeToo movement realize that a pope saw this coming half a century ago? Despite the talk of contraception “liberating” women sexually by freeing them from the “burden” of childbearing, in reality it has made them prey to male desire by promising to make them sexually available, without consequence or attachment, at all times. No wonder that modern men, having “gro[wn] accustomed” to this arrangement as Paul VI foresaw, should lose respect for women’s spiritual, emotional, and physical dignity.
Then of course there’s pornography, no longer relegated to “dirty” magazines in dark corners but right onto a screen on your lap, on demand and inexhaustible. There’s the rise in human trafficking, the objectification of women’s bodies to sell everything from football to hamburgers, the decline of marriage and stunning rise in our-of-wedlock birth and childrearing (usually left to the woman). Take your pick.
- “The danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law…. Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone.”
China immediately and most obviously comes to mind. Only eternity will reveal the numbers of forced abortions and sterilizations of women whose only crime was to try to bear a second child. But we don’t have to fly to the other side of the globe to find Pope Paul’s prophecy fulfilled. During the last administration we just experienced the power of “public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law.”
We must not forget how Christians, for example the Little Sisters of the Poor, were threatened with financial ruin if they would not bow to our government’s attempt to force them to offer contraception and abortion to their companies and call it “healthcare.” We must not forget how Western governments and organizations strive ceaselessly to impose contraception and abortion on poor nations, offering insidious population control under the euphemism of “developmental aid.”
I will never forget when Bishop Doran said, as part of his closing remarks, words to this effect: “You can say what you want about Pope Paul VI, but don’t tell me he was not a prophet of God.” “Say what you want” was a reference to all the attacks His Holiness endured in his life and even after: attacks on everything from his moral integrity to his legitimacy as pope!
When Bishop Doran thundered those words, every person in that room got the message loud and clear. Humanae Vitae was and is a prophetic document from a prophetic pope who challenged the entire world and continues to challenge us today. We must pick up the prophetic baton and continue to herald the prophetic message. It represents the only hope for our gravely disjointed age.