(CNS) -- Surrounding the 1968 release of "Humanae Vitae" ("Of Human Life") was the
cultural context of the sexual revolution and a widespread fear about
overpopulation following World War II, said Donald Critchlow, a professor of
history at Arizona State University.
the time, there were movements in support of eugenics, abortion rights, and
sterilizations in an attempt to curb population growth, Critchlow told an
audience at The Catholic University of America April 5.
who thought voluntary family planning was not enough proposed other, more
coercive ideas, such as requiring couples to get a license to have a child or
requiring sterilization for couples with more than five children, he added.
was one of several speakers at a 50th anniversary symposium on Blessed Paul VI's
encyclical "Humanae Vitae" April 4-6 hosted by Catholic University. Keynotes
and a number of workshop sessions examined the teaching and legacy of the
document on the regulation of birth issued July 25, 1968.
symposium was titled "Embracing God's Vision for Marriage, Love and Life," and
brought together experts on a variety of topics related to the encyclical's
teachings on human sexuality and family life.
a session exploring the historical context of the times when the encyclical was
released, Critchlow noted that prior to the drafting of "Humanae Vitae," a
commission was appointed to give suggestions for the Catholic Church's response
to new forms of contraception.
majority of the people on the commission recommended that the use of the birth
control pill should be accepted and church teaching on the subject should be
Paul rejected the commission's report and in "Humanae Vitae" affirmed the church's teaching on the
sanctity of human life and its opposition to artificial contraception. In the
document, the pope warned of the harm that widespread use of contraception would
cause in society, such as lowering of moral standards, marital infidelity, less
respect for women, and the government's ability to use different methods to
regulate life and death.
said many priests and laypeople, particularly in the United States, dissented
from this teaching. Students and faculty went on strike at The Catholic
University of America after the board of trustees denied the tenure of a
professor, Father Charles E. Curran, who publicly disagreed with the encyclical's teaching. Cardinal
Patrick O'Boyle disciplined 39 priests in the Archdiocese of
Washington for their dissent from the document. Thousands of scientists
wrote a petition published in The New York Times that criticized the encyclical.
his homily for the symposium's closing Mass at the Basilica of the National
Shrine of the Immaculate Conception April 6, Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of
Washington recalled that he had been given his first assignment as a priest
just a year before the encyclical's release.
was immediately met with widespread dissent and vocal opposition," he said. "I
was surprised to see such vehement rejection."
Wuerl also recalled the quick action on the part of what was then the National
Conference of Catholic Bishops in writing a pastoral letter to support and
explain the encyclical after it had been issued. The NCCB had as its president then-Pittsburgh
Bishop John J. Wright, for whom the future Cardinal Wuerl was serving as priest-secretary.
that time, Cardinal Wuerl said he learned about the importance of the teaching
role of the pope as the successor of Peter.
accept and follow the teaching of the Roman pontiff because it is true," said
Cardinal Wuerl. "We know it is true because of the authority with which he
historians note that "Humanae Vitae" "constitutes a high-water mark in silent
lack of reception on the part of the faithful," Cardinal Wuerl said, "we take
confidence in the reminder that a lack of reception of the teaching does not
negate its truth."
throughout the anniversary symposium, people continually praised the prophetic
message of the document, which still "stands as a profound and affirmative"
defense of traditional values and family life, said Critchlow.
the end, what 'Humanae Vitae' proved was to be prophetic in its warnings of the
breakdown of family and the depersonalization of sexual acts we see today in
America," Critchlow added.
Pope Francis's call to be in touch with realities people are facing in their
daily lives, Mary Eberstadt, an author and speaker on issues of American
culture, spoke about how the sexual revolution and the teachings of "Humanae
Vitae" fit into that reality.
promise for sex on demand without restraint may be the biggest temptation
humanity has been faced with," she said.
the face of that temptation, the teachings of "Humanae Vitae" are difficult, "but to confuse hard (teachings)
with wrong is an elementary error," said Eberstadt.
we are truly to lean into reality as Pope Francis has asked us to do ... there is
only one conclusion ... the most globally reviled and widely misunderstood
document ... is also the most explanatory and prophetic of our era," she added.
many proponents of contraception support it as a way to reduce the number of
abortions, Eberstadt said it is now "clear beyond a reasonable doubt that
contraception also led to an increase in abortion," as rates of out-of-wedlock
births exploded at the same time that people were increasingly using modern
the availability of abortion made the birth of a child "a physical choice of
the mother," it also made fatherhood a social choice for the father, who no
longer felt equally responsible for the out-of-wedlock birth, said Eberstadt.
women believe contraception will make them happier and freer than they were
before, Eberstadt said, noting that to the contrary, studies have shown that
female happiness has declined.
an example of how the sexual revolution and widespread use of contraception benefited
men more than women, Eberstadt pointed to the recent "Me Too" movement where
women have been sharing stories of sexual harassment in the workplace. These
stories show how "widespread contraception licensed predation," she said.
McCarthy, an assistant professor of theological anthropology at the Pontifical
Pope John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, spoke about
another contemporary challenge that resulted from the sexual revolution: "the
un-gendering of gender."
view of gender as a social construct without any natural difference has
resulted in the "forced separation of inseparable things," such as a woman from
her child, the man from the woman, and the child from the parents, said
this worldview, relationships with others are seen as constraining arrangements
that "we didn't' sign up for," she noted. Through artificial reproductive
technology, these relationships are then brought back into the picture on
different terms, as choices within an individual's control rather than a
natural occurrence, she added.
these realities in mind, Eberstadt noted that the consistency in the teaching
of "Humanae Vitae" continues to draw in "people who seek the truth and can find
it nowhere else."
the end of the conference, Cardinal Wuerl recognized that a large part of the
anniversary celebration for "Humanae Vitae" is "a call to the continued
accompaniment of those to whom we go out, announce, engage and walk with as we
try to help them grasp and appropriate the teaching of this encyclical."
evangelizing disciples of the Lord Jesus, bring so much to the appreciation of
the value of life and the integrity of its transmission," said Cardinal Wuerl.