Thursday, May 22, 2008

HLI Humanae Vitae Priests: The Church's Best-Kept Secret

Humanae Vitae Priests
Human Life International e-Newsletter
for Priests, Deacons, and Seminarians

Volume 01, Number 11 | Thursday, May 22, 2008
The Church's Best-Kept Secret
By John Mallon

In 1968 when Humanae Vitae was released, there were great howls of protests from lay and clergy alike. The notion was that the Church was "behind the times," "out of touch" with the needs of married couples, lacking in compassion and so forth. In truth, it was the secular culture that was out of touch in its notion that the Church had to take her marching orders from the culture instead of vice-versa. On this issue as on many others the Church has been sadly vindicated, although many still do not recognize it.

As my dear friend, Father Tom DiLorenzo, of the Archdiocese of Boston, and one of the most effective preachers in the country, once proclaimed in a homily, "If you're having a disagreement with God, guess who's wrong!"

Many were and still are wrong in their disagreements with God on contraception. Is dissent on Humanae Vitae a disagreement with God? Yes. Jesus Christ is God, and he instituted the Magisterium, saying, "He who hears you hears me." He gave Peter the Keys, saying "what you loose on earth is loosed in Heaven, what you bind on earth is bound in Heaven." This is what Catholics believe; that the ordinary Magisterium speaks for Christ infallibly on matters of faith and morals. A papal encyclical is an exercise of the ordinary Magisterium which is infallible in its teaching, even though not declared solemnly.

Contraception is a moral issue. It is a matter of faith that we accept this teaching. However, God never asks the impossible or unreasonable of us. It may seem unreasonable in the short run, as in when He asked Abraham to slay his only son as a sacrifice, but Abraham in his obedience passed the test God put to him and his son was spared.

So too, some interpreted Humanae Vitae as unreasonable, a heavy burden. (Even though since the beginning of time couples gave birth to and raised children in hardships unknown to the modern world, yet the modern world somehow saw children as a burden.) Perhaps we too were put to a test of obedience. But before long God revealed to those studying the issue the gift of Natural Family Planning (NFP). The response has been less than grateful.

As always, God and the Church are very understanding and a licit way to space children for serious reason appeared on the scene, which had the added benefit of improving communication between couples on intimate matters, creating, in turn, greater intimacy. In fact, studies show that correctly done, NFP is more effective than the pill (more on this in future columns), and entirely free of the medical risks that accompany the pill. All this presupposes a proper Catholic attitude that children are a priceless blessing from God always to be welcomed.

Strangely, to this day NFP remains one of the Church's best-kept secrets. At the mention of it people still scoff: "Oh! The rhythm method!" This is inexcusable ignorance in any Catholic who ostensibly cares about the issue. NFP is most certainly not the rhythm method. One would have thought the good news of NFP would have been shouted from the housetops by those who found Humanae Vitae to be a "heavy burden " placed on couples by an "uncaring Church," but it hasn't worked out that way, which leads one to suspect the core of the issue is not pastoral but ideological. Attacking Church authority, it seems, is more important to dissenters than helping the "heavily burdened."

For all the ink and hot air spent on dissent from Humanae Vitae very little has been put into bringing NFP to those who would be helped by it. It is simply not a priority in most dioceses. An April 2008 report from the Secretariat for Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops bears this out. Space does not permit quoting at length but here is a sample:

Nationally, diocesan funding for NFP programs is meager at best. Forty percent of dioceses surveyed budgeted less than $5,000 for NFP programs in 2007. Fifty-one percent of all NFP diocesan programs operate on less than $10,000 per year. Eleven percent of all diocesan programs spend more than $30,000. There is a slight, but encouraging increase in financial support for diocesan NFP efforts. ...

Most dioceses rely on part time paid staffs. Volunteers are the unsung heroes of diocesan NFP programs. A few dioceses have full time paid NFP coordinators. The majority of diocesan NFP programs depend on volunteers to sustain their programs (86%). Of these, a little less than a third (35%) of the dioceses offer modest stipends to teachers to cover personal costs, e.g., transportation, baby sitters, materials, etc.

In most dioceses NFP efforts go largely unnoticed. Less than half (44%) of diocesan NFP programs are asked to submit an annual report of their activities. Often, NFP funding is so limited that it is not identified as a specific line item in diocesan budgets. To correct this problem, an annual NFP report should become typical programmatic practice in the dioceses.

In conclusion, the fundamental pastoral question that must be faced each year when examining each diocesan NFP program, is: Can couples who wish to be faithful to Church teaching on conjugal love and responsible parenthood readily get the NFP support they need? The answer to this question will determine how best to plan and support local diocesan NFP ministry. (Emphasis in the original)

The people of God deserve better.

The complete report can be viewed here.

Copyright 2008 - Human Life International
Permission granted for unlimited use. Credit required.

Human Life International
4 Family Life Lane -- Front Royal, VA 22630 U.S.A.
Phone: (540) 635-7884 Fax: (540) 622-6247
E-mail: Website: