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Did Humanae Vitae unintentionally undermine the Authority of the Church? May 6, 2010

Posted by Tantumblogo in Abortion, Basics, General Catholic.

Last week, my friend Steve B. sent me a rather remarkable article, written by John Galvin, which appeared in one form or another in Latin Mass Magazine.  The document, which is linked below, was a critique of Humanae Vitae from a traditional Catholic perspective.  Apparently, when first published in 2002, this article caused quite a stir, and not where you would think – it was essentially ignored by heterodox publications, but was attacked vociferously in The Wanderer.  The article also attracted criticism from the likes of Dr. Janet Smith, the Theology of the Body theologian formerly of the University of Dallas and a serious proponent of natural family planning. 

Why the strong reaction?  Well, the article is very long, and a bit hard to condense (I’ve been struggling with how to present all the arguments in the article for a week), but the essential argument is this: Humanae Vitae, while reaffirming the traditional Christian prohibition against artificial birth control, fatally undermined the moral authority of the Church because of the way this teaching was presented.  Gone were the references to Church Tradition which had been so key an element in previous encyclicals such as Casti Connubi, and gone was the emphasis on the procreative nature of the marital act (which I had argued in a previous post was a deficiency in the arguments of NFP proponents), to be replaced by an acceptance of the ‘problems’ of overpopulation and the ‘burdens’ of having children.  Mr. Galvin argues that all of Humanae Vitae was an acceptance of the then prevalent arguments in favor of artificial contraception, sounding very much like birth control supporter’s tract on the subject, until the very end, where Pope Paul VI stated that the Church still could not countenance the use of artificial means to limit the number of births and called for the use of NFP instead.  Mr. Galvin argues that this fatally undermines Church authority, as this is a seeming change from the procreative emphasis of the past to a unitive one, and at the same time by accepting all the arguments of the pro-birth control side prima facie, encouraged many priests, bishops, and theologians to follow the logic therein and recommend that faithful couples could, indeed, use artificial contraception (after properly ‘forming’ their consicences). 

To try to summarize the text, here are the conclusions from the Galvin article:

1.  For the past 35 years, the Church has failed to convince even its own bishops and priests using the line of thinking contained in the encyclical.  As far as convincing the faithful, she has barely even tried [ED – I don’t totally agree with this statement].  The actual prohibition against birth control  has been ignored and relegated to irrelevancy because it is clearly not in harmony with the ultimate destination of the line of thought expounded….Humanae Vitae.

2. For the teaching of the Church to be faithful to tradition and effective in instructing the laity, it must do much more than say, “Don’t use artificial contraception.”  It msut present an entire Catholic way of life.  God did not say “Thous shalt not use artificial contraception,” He said, “Be fruitful and multiply.”  In the last year of his pontificate (1958), Pope Pius XII delivered a beautiful “Address to Large Families” which extols a genuinely Catholic family life.  Thus we see an unbroken line of teaching lasting from Adam right up to our own lifetimes, a line which was not continued in Humanae Vitae

3.  The Church possesses an intellectual inheritance consisting of a coherent philosophy based on a solid foundation in Natural Law, a foundation whose removal threatens every aspect of the Church’s teaching.  Liberal critics claimed with reason that the encyclical bypassed appeals to Scripture and Tradition while attempting to establish its teachings on a natural law basis, yet it did not offer coherent natural law arguments.  Although these criticisms may have sometimes had less than sincere motives, in justice we msut admit that they are valid.  We have seen in actual practice the way in which the loss of credibility on this issue has undermined the Church’s credibility on every issue.  That historical fact is not in dispute.  But the often-noted exterior and visible loss of faith in the authority of the Church is in reality the outward manifestation of a philosophical crisis [ED – and a crisis of Faith].

4. “The salvation of souls is the ultimate rule.”  When we see hundreds of millions of Catholics rejecting this teaching of the Church and falling into a state of mortal sin that leads to eternal damnation, how can our hearts not burn within us with zeal to save these unfortunate souls?  When millions of Catholics stand upone the edge of a precipice ready to fall over into perdition, something must be done to save them; we cannot claim to be satisfied with the status quo.  Although we say that the circumstances demand drastic action, hey can never demand anything immoral or un-Catholic, no matter what outcome we desire.  But could there possibly be anything immoral or un-Catholic about returning to Tradition?  Could it be immoral or un-Catholic to teach what St. Paul taught, what St. Augustine taught, what St. Thomas Acquinas taught, what Pope Pius XI taught?  Would not, in fact, a return to Tradition be the only moral and Catholic course of action, and the only course of action with any hope of success for the salvation of souls?

It’s hard to understand what it was about Mr. Galvin’s article that caused such a firestorm of criticism from other, frequently orthodox, Catholics.  In all of the rebuttals of Mr. Galvin, most of them contained ad hominems galore and those that did not answered with this: so what?  So what if Humanae Vitae minimizes Tradition and Scripture for personalist and consequentialist arguments?  Mr. Galvin argues that the results are plain to see – the Authority of the Church has been fatally undermined.

I pray some folks will take the time to read the article, it’s linked at the bottom of this post.  I hope Steve B. will offer some comments.  Having spent some time having read Mr. Galvin’s articles, some of his other work, and the criticisms of his arguments, I think he’s got a strong point.  Something happened in the Church around that 1960’s timeframe.  In 1965, the average Catholic family had 5.5 kids – now, it’s 2.1.  Sunday Mass attendance in the 60’s was about 80% – now it’s about 15-20% in the US, and much lower in Europe.  Heck about 30% of Catholics don’t even believe in the Ressurection (which begs the question – why are you Catholic?).  And as the recent survey of religious attitudes revealed, less than half of Catholics feel their religion is important to them. Yes some other Churches have seen similar declines, but other churches, especially Bible-based evangelical churches, have seen tremendous growth during the same time frame. 

I will likely post more on this in ensuing days – this post is already long enough.  This is a complex subject, dealing with core areas of the Authority of the Church – Scripture, Tradition, and the consist philosophy that should derive from that. 

Please comment.  I think this is a subject that deserves more discussion in the Church.

Article below:



1. Steve B - May 6, 2010


On top of all your statistics showing the precipitous drop-off in Catholic belief & practice, it is also touted that only 30% of Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist anymore.

How Catholics of any stripe, much less our Bishops, can’t see the utterly perilous and desperate condition that the Church is in today – and who choose to either stick their heads in the sand, and/or do absolutely nothing about it – is utterly incomprehensible to me….

After reading the above referenced article by Mr. Galvin, and mulling over the precarious state of the Church today, I have concluded this – one of the fundamental problems plaguing Her today is that Catholics essentially consider it OPTIONAL to OBEY the teachings and laws of the Church – like She is only making recommendations anymore.

Is Mr. Galvin’s article then merely making a moot point that Pope Paul VI should’ve cited traditional Church teachings in Humanae Vitae? Given the disobedience of Catholics after Vatican II on a multitude of moral issues, would his citing of traditional teachings really have made ANY difference in stemming the rampant dissent which followed? I have my serious doubts….

I am presently reading an AMAZING book right now – James Hitchcock’s “Recovery of the Sacred – Reforming the Reformed Liturgy”. He links that a LOT of the reforms to the Liturgy closely tie-in with the radical change in the mindset of Catholics after the Council.

Mr. Hitchcock points out a MULTITUDE of premises and opinions (most of which makes one’s heart sink and/or jaw drop) regarding how the progressive/dissenting/secularist mindset quite literally overwhelmed the Church much like a tsunami after Vatican II – much of it likely stemming as an over-reaction to the perceived “repressiveness” of Catholic tradition and practice beforehand.

Since “sin” has in large measure lost its prominent emphasis within the Catholic Church since Vatican II (at least from the pulpit) – the message sent to the faithful has become essentially that we’re “inherently good”, no matter how morally decadent a life we might lead. And, because of that, many/most Catholics today don’t see much need or demand for obedience to Her moral teachings – which unfortunately is quite a logical conclusion that can be drawn. And, if that is the case, then what Mr. Hitchcock states below (from pg. 42 of his book) is the final nail in the coffin, so far as how many/most Catholics-in-name-only see the Church today:

“Insofar as the Church chooses to show its essentially worldly side to the world, … it loses all claim to attention, since it is reduced simply to telling the world what the world already knows, and for the most part telling it badly.”

In other words, many Catholics don’t OBEY the Church faithfully anymore (especially on contraception & abortion issues), and don’t see that as important for being a “good” Catholic, simply because they look at the Church as being utterly IRRELEVANT to modern times anymore.

So much for the Church trying to adapt Herself to modern times after Vatican II, eh? Looks like it was a game-plan the devil must’ve loved to see happen….

Pax et benedictiones tibi, per Christum Dominum nostrum.

tantamergo - May 7, 2010

Well, I share alot of your opinions. I’m coming to the conclusion that because of alot of factors, obedience to Authority in the Church was likely to suffer no matter what course the Church took from about 1950 on. We’re in a period of a pretty substantial apostasy – I don’t know if it’s ‘the great apostasy,’ but it’s a pretty good one. I don’t we’re quite to the point of the Arian heresy yet, but the modernist heresy will probably be looked back, from a 1000 years on, as one of the most major heresies the Church has had to deal with. And the fundamental aspect of modernism is that all truth is relative, and thus the Church has no special claim on it. So, yes, probably most Catholics would have walked away from the Authority of the Church no matter how Humanae Vitae was written, BUT…..I still think Humanae Vitae has played a role in this disrepect towards the Authority of the Church.

Why? Because even though Humanae Vitae did not permit Catholics to use artificial contraception, it was perceived to change Church doctrine somewhat. There was also a perception that Paul VI would have gone further and allowed the use of the Pill but was constrained from doing so by reactionary elements. This had a big impact on priests, theologians, and even many bishops, who took a pretty blase attitude towards birth control use by the laity. The laity almost never heard a priest or bishop railing against contraception use – in fact, the Church seemed to finally endorse birth control of a kind – hence the perception of NFP as ‘Catholic birth control.’ And if people perceived the Church could change its doctrine on such a core moral issue, does anything else really have to be obeyed, since it may just as well change later?

The above may be a bit of a stretch. I’m not Archbishop Dolan, I can’t read people’s minds. I think it’s hard for us to understand how weird things got in the 60’s, how alot of people’s thinking, especially among eliltes, became radically detached from what could be termed traditional views. I know this had a big role in the rejection of obedience at the time, and once the break is made, it’s hard to get back on track. There has been a general tendency among large segments of Western society for the past century or more to reject tradition and authority of any kind, and I know this has affected the Church. Still, I think Humanae Vitae represented a major milestone in that degression – as the stat said, in ’65, Cathoilic families had an average of 5.5 kids per, by 1980 it was down to 2. Alot of things changed in that time, but I think it can be argued that Humanae Vitae may have unintentionally played a role in that.

Deep stuff.

2. LarryD - May 7, 2010

The other point to consider regarding the wholesale rejection of Humanae Vitae is that the group commissioned to study artificial contraception prior to the Encyclical’s publication presented a majority opinion to remove the AC ban. Pope Paul VI went against the majority opinion. In the mind of theologians and many priests, the Pope made the wrong decision (acted contrary to the sensus fidelium, in a sense) and didn’t employ true “collegiality”, and with the fresh breath of Freedom of Conscience as a result of V II, they felt justified in denying the authority of the Encyclical.

Keep in mind, too, that there will be a Great Apostasy* prior to the Second Coming. It has to start somehow.

*In stating this, I am not glad that so many millions are in danger of eternal damnation. But Christ did ask if He will find faith on the Earth when he returns…

tantamergo - May 7, 2010

My AoA man –

If you read the article I attached at the bottom of the post, that is the entire point – that Paul VI accepted ALL the arguments of the majority commission studying artificial contraception, but at the end did not change the Church’s stance on artificial contraception, but he did seemingly make it easier for Catholics to use NFP (no longer needed a grave reason, only a serious one). There was a minority report, 3 of the 12 bishops assigned to this commision on birth control, that couched their argument in traditional terms – birth control is forbidden by Scripture and Tradition, made reference to Pius XII and Casti Connubi, etc., but Paul VI did not make use of any of the logic from this minority report He used all the logic from the majority report, but at the end still said ‘no’ to artificial contraception. The author of the article felt this was the Holy Spirit protecting the Church from error, since all of HV seems oriented towards accepting the arguments in favor of artificial contraception.

Most Catholics expected Humanae Vitae to mark a sea change in the Church’s doctrine on this subject – which goes to show that poor Catholic formation is not a recent problem. There was great disappointment in many Catholic circles that Paul VI, in their mind, caved to ‘reactionary influence.’ Both the expectation of the Church ‘getting with the times’ on this issue, and the language of Humanae Vitae, could be playing a role in why so few Catholics can be bothered to accept this core Church doctrine. But, as Steve has said, it’s not as if the people of the Church either then, or now, have been known for great obedience. But, I think Humanae Vitae may have accelerated and already extant trend.

3. Katie - May 7, 2010

There are among my friends and family numerous “NFP families”–by which I mean families who love God and have him at the center of their lives; love the Church and joyfully accept her teaching authority; love their spouses and live generously their Sacramental vocation to be open to children, and who make use of NFP.
These families recognize that a woman’s fertility cycle is designed by God; that NFP is approved by the Church, that it is perfectly consistent with natural law and Tradition, and that it can be a great help in living out the Sacrament of marriage to the full.
Several of them have advanced degrees in Catholic theology and/or philosophy.

What would you say to such people?

Steve B - May 10, 2010


I’m not sure who you were directing your question toward. I’ll presume your question is directed to anyone reading this blog post and commentary, so I’ll make a stab at an answer myself….

The heart of what I think is of the most serious concern about even faithful Catholics who practice NFP is HOW they themselves would define that they “live generously their Sacramental vocation….”

Mr. John Galvin, in his “critique” of HV, also is concerned about this matter of “generosity”. He emphatically states on page 5 that HV and the Minority Report both “lack any focus on fruitfulness and generosity in accepting children.” It has become a scourge upon the Catholic Church in modern times, as Tantamergo cites in the horrific demographic statistics he lists above….

As I understand it, the fullest Catholic understanding of “generosity” in being truly open to new life must definitely entail two things:

1) being truly open to to the needs of the Church Herself, in bringing to life as many new faithful members as possible into Christ’s Mystical Body (generally speaking, that is in a nutshell what evangelization is all about anyway), and

2) being truly and COMPLETELY open to what GOD really wants, so far as bringing as many new SOULS as possible into existence for His glory on Earth and ultimately in Heaven.

MANY of the greatest Saints of the Church came from VERY large families (St. Catherine of Sienna – a Doctor of the Church – was the 24th of 25 children her parents brought into the world!). So, think of how much POORER the Church Herself is today, now that Catholic families are so much smaller in size….

Listen to the following sermon on NFP by a Catholic Priest starting at least at the 19:30 mark (the entire sermon if you can), who chokes up emotionally @ the 21:53 mark when he relates how incredibly generous his parents were to allow him – the 10th of their 12 children – to be brought into the world (there are GREAT sermons at this site BTW!):

[audio src="http://www.audiosancto.org/auweb/20040718-Holy-Matrimony-and-NFP.mp3" /]

ALL Catholics parents today need to put TOP PRIORITY on the spiritual needs and issues governing their families, even if that means profound and serious material and economic sacrifices might be required. Catholic couples and families “who love God and have Him at the center of their lives” and who practice NFP don’t necessarily ALWAYS have the willingness to accept such profound and serious sacrifices.

Speaking only from my own personal experience, even though my wife Kathi and I have been blessed with 6 children (and we have lost 4 to miscarriage), I can still honestly say that we COULD have been even more generous. Looking back in retrospect, my wife and I are saddened that we were not….

There ARE potential dangers involved in using NFP as a “tool” for couples to regulate the size of their family – it is only human nature that we desire to maintain as much CONTROL as possible over our families. NFP must NEVER be utilized as a form of “natural birth control.”

God does give us the power to control our family size via NFP, but the question is HOW extensively does God really WANT us to exercise that power vs. trusting as completely as we possibly can in His Providence???

Although, as you say Katie, there are many “families who love God and have him at the center of their lives”, ALL of us are sinners – and even when we try, we do that FAR from perfectly. Placing a greater confidence and trust in God’s Providence, and that He WILL truly provide for the needs of our families, should give each of us pause – we ALL need to question how completely open and generous we are to bringing as many souls AS POSSIBLE into His Church vs. whether our family and/or societal circumstances are grave and very serious to warrant trying to avoid a new pregnancy….

So, as I see the issue of NFP, the questions that must be asked are:

A) whether a couple has truly made a concerted effort to discern God’s will in being completely generous and open as possible to new life (which, realistically for Catholics, should almost always entail SOME sort of spiritual direction), or

B) whether they are open to new life (and anyone who practices NFP fulfills this requirement) but perhaps are not really as fully generous as God wills the couple to be.

I agree with Tantamergo that only grave and or very serious reasons warrant the legitimate long-term and/or continuous use of NFP for couples. Granted, the Church hasn’t taught that clearly and definitively, so right now Catholic couples have considerable latitude in their discernment process.

I won’t condemn anyone for using NFP w/o having those grave and very serious reasons – certainly, their decision isn’t remotely in the same category as those who seriously sin by contracepting. But, nonetheless, I think that the above questions of spiritual discernment are CRUCIAL for couples to ask themselves and God, so as to truly discern His will and to genuinely “have Him at the center of their lives” in every way possible.

Pax et benedictiones tibi, per Christum Dominum nostrum.

Katie - May 10, 2010

Dear Steve,
First, let’s stipulate that we are speaking not of Catholics generally, but of faithful Catholics–those who live by faith and wholly accept the teachings of the Church. Hence, statistics and demographics are beside the point at hand.
My basic beef with the position that comes through in your comments is that it is excessively objectivistic. Where do you get the notion that Catholics are obliged to have as many children as possible? Not from Church documents. You are imposing a standard of your own making on fellow Catholics.
We are obliged not to have as many children as possible (if we were, why not marry off our daughters at 14 or 15 and get them started?) but to be generous in accepting children. And generosity is an inescapably subjective category. Being subjective DOESN’T mean “whatever I think is generous is generous”. It means, rather, that it is impossible to measure objectively, from the outside, from things such as the number of children a given couple has.
The widow was more generous in giving a mite than the rich man in giving a fortune. Why? Because the mite was all she had. Onlookers had no way of knowing this, but the Lord did.
I claim that it is perfectly possible that one Catholic mother of two or three may be more generous than another of 10 or 12, because it may be the case that she was giving all she had, while the other mother wasn’t. I claim that this could be true, EVEN IF the first mother practiced NFP and the second mother had as many children as came her, because “all she had” covers a lot more territory than “all she was physically capable of carrying”. (I know many stories of mothers of large families who are full of resentment. They gave, not from generosity, but from a false sense of obligation.)
This has everything to do with the mystery of human subjectivity. Some women are physically and psychologically robust, some are weak. For some women, giving birth and raising children is sheer joy, for others it is a terrible cross. (I have a friend, a mother of 5, who suffered migraines every day of every pregnancy.) Some women have more children then they are capable of caring for properly, not because they are super-generous, but because they misunderstand the teaching of the Church….

The key point is that no one on the outside of a given couple is capable of judging. Only God is.
Employing the grace given to them in the Sacrament of Marriage, it is each couples’ responsibility to discern, in freedom, in faith, in love and generosity, what is good and right for their family. It is every other Catholic’s responsibility to refrain from judging what we do not and cannot comprehend.

tantamergo - May 10, 2010

I would say that referencing advanced degrees is an appeal to authority, first of all. 😉

Lifelong use of NFP is not consistent with Catholic Tradition – it is a novelty introduced by Humanae Vitae. Previous encyclicals and other papal pronouncements on the subject always couched the use of NFP as being permissible only in the case of a ‘grave’ reason, and only for limited periods of time (at least, that was the intent). Now, if you’re a NFP family and you’ve had 8 kids over 15 years, well, I’m not sure what role NFP had to play in that – it would appear on the surface not to be much. But if ‘we’ use NFP to produce 2 children over 20 years ages 22-42, I don’t know, it would depend on the situation, wouldn’t it? But I am concerned that the way the use of NFP is promoted in the Church today helps support the contraceptive mentality – NFP as a contraception substitute, and when NFP becomes too much a hassle, why not just go back on the pill or get the tubes tied? I know couples who have done just that. The lessening of the requirements to use NFP creates a situation where one can also have selfish motives color their judgement – am I using NFP for a truly valid reason, or have my wife and I decided that having just two kids will allow us to afford a larger house, nicer car, etc? Even if the reasons are not that prurient there is still a wide area where Catholics could be deluding themselves into thinking ‘our motives are pure’ when they are in fact selfish. It would take a person of quite well developed self-awareness to be able to answer the question of ‘why do we practice NFP, as opposed to following God’s traditional command to be fruitful and multiply?’ with complete honesty. That is why the Church was so careful, in the past, to insist the NFP only be used for truly grave reasons – severe economic hardship, a life-threatening medical condition, etc. It was better to err on the side of caution, rather than leave an area open where selfish desires could manipulate the thinking of even the most faithful person.

It obviously depends on the situation. I am certain there are many Catholics using NFP responsibly and in consonance with both HV and traditional Church doctrine. But I am equally sure there are many who are not. Was it better to allow this ‘opening,’ if you will?

This is a subject where I’ve had some thoughts and some questions, but I would not say I’ve got a firmly made up mind. I agree with Pope John Paul II (and you?) that HV may have been better served with a more well developed moral and theological underpinning.

Katie - May 10, 2010

tantamergo, the reference to the advanced degrees was only meant to show that these are by no means people who have just taken what they’ve been told. They’ve studied the issues involved carefully. I myself have no advanced degree. But my undergraduate degree was in theology and I studied graduate philosophy for a few years before motherhood overwhelmed my powers of academic concentration (which were never very strong.) I hate artificial birth control with all the passion of my personalist heart. It is a grotesque violation of God’s law, of the dignity of persons, and of the integrity and beauty of marriage.
I see NFP as a marvelous gift–a powerful tools provided by the Church to Catholic parents to help them live their vocation to the full–a tool admirably suited to the particular challenges facing Catholic families today.

“Lifelong use of NFP is not consistent with Catholic Tradition – it is a novelty introduced by Humanae Vitae.”

Where do you find the Church prohibiting “lifelong use of NFP”–whatever that is?

“But I am concerned that the way the use of NFP is promoted in the Church today helps support the contraceptive mentality – NFP as a contraception substitute, and when NFP becomes too much a hassle, why not just go back on the pill or get the tubes tied? I know couples who have done just that.”

Then you must have a different set of friends from mine. Mine love the Church, love their families, and abhor artificial birth control.

And let’s not imagine the danger of selfishness is all on the side of those practicing NFP. Not using it can also be selfish. For instance, husbands can be selfish in refusing to abstain from conjugal relations during a fertile when their wives are clearly overwhelmed. (They may THINK they’re being “generous with God” when, in reality, they’re being selfish toward their wives.) Or parents both may shut their eyes to the reality that their children are suffering from a lack of parental attention. Refusal to use NFP can also come from sheer laziness and irresponsibility. It’s a challenge to discern well and clearly what is good and right. It’s easier to go with the flow and blame God when things get out of hand.

It is an lying illusion to think not practicing NFP is somehow morally safe, while practicing it is morally dangerous.

The calling of marriage is high and challenging. It requires the full engagement of all our powers.

I do agree that a fuller philosophical and theological basis for NFP needed to be unfolded. It was more than amply accomplished in Love and Responsibility and in the Theology of the Body.

Steve B - May 10, 2010


When you said the following:

“Where do you get the notion that Catholics are obliged to have as many children as possible? Not from Church documents. You are imposing a standard of your own making on fellow Catholics.”

I must contend that I NEVER ONCE said that Catholics are “obligated to have as many children as possible.”

I only said that married couples are to DISCERN God’s will for the size of their families, and that part of that process is prayerfully determining how they CAN BE as completely open to and trust in His Providence as POSSIBLE.

I made a concerted effort to be careful in not judging anyone.

I wish that you would refrain from judging me – saying that I am “imposing a standard of my own choosing” on others – when I did not and am not….

I merely asked and presented some pointed questions that EVERY Catholic who “claims” to have God at the “very center and focus of their lives” should be asking themselves. Not once did I judge anyone for the decision they might have made to use NFP in their marriage.

And I was the one who recommended spiritual direction for couples to use in discerning their decision whether or not to use NFP. Perhaps you think that idea was my being too judgmental as well ???

Pax et benedictiones tibi, per Christum Dominum nostrum.

4. Katie - May 8, 2010

Another quick point, I remember reading somewhere (I can’t remember where) that Karol Wojtyla, who was a strong support to Paul VI in resisting the pressure to allow artificial contraception, thought that HV needed to be better grounded philosophically and theologically, so that the faithful could understand for themselves WHY it was true.
This was the historical motivation for his Theology of the Body, as well as his establishing several graduate schools of philosophy and theology throughout the world dedicated to marriage and family.

Steve B - May 10, 2010

Hi Katie,

Quick reply.

In my book, Catholicism is a “both/and” religion – we believe in faith & works, God’s Justice & Mercy, etc., etc.

So, Pope Paul VI SHOULD have also taken a “both/and” approach to his writing of Humanae Vitae – touting and re-emphasizing BOTH the traditional teachings of the Church, as well as the deeper theological/philosophical reasons that explain “WHY” the Church has always taught that contraception is always a grave moral error and sinful.

The best parent explains not only WHAT the rules of the family ARE, but also WHY they are so important (once the children can understand).

The problems in the Church today are that now the reasons WHY are given, but our Priests and Bishops don’t enforce the rules anymore….

“Both/and” -> NOT “either/or” – that’s the TRULY and FULLY Catholic way of explaining the faith….

Pax et benedictiones tibi, per Christum Dominum nostrum.

5. Katie - May 10, 2010

Dear Steve, surely you must see the arrogance of a layman like us stating forty years after the fact what the Pope SHOULD have done in the circumstances he faced?
Surely you must see that both/and is an empty category? Couldn’t we just as easily say that HV IS a “both/and” document because it BOTH affirms the traditional prohibition on artificial contraception AND acknowledges all that is legitimate in the concerns of the majority report?
Isn’t perfectly possible that Pope Paul VI knew and understood enough to see that he must immediately and decisively prohibit birth control, but that he lacked personally the theological and philosophical training, depth and stature to do the job of grounding it himself? (He knew that it needed to be grounded not just in the scholarly way of showing how it was consistent with the tradition, but in a way that needed to take full account of the dramatic development of Vatican II, viz. of the Church’s new sense of her mission in the modern world.) That work was left to his successors, who accomplished it with a depth and comprehensiveness that have stunned the world.

As for “enforcing”–
I, too, would like to see much greater and clearer proclamation of the truth of Christian marriage and sexuality, much better formation of Catholic consciences.
But there is no “enforcing” of the prohibition on contraception.

tantamergo - May 10, 2010

It’s not an issue of saying the ‘pope should have done this,’ except to try to quantify a problem, if any. But surely faithful Catholics must do their best to apply their sensus fidei to the Church, and even to a document like Humanae Vitae, and see if there is anything that can be done to help further the Church’s mission based on HV, or any other document. It’s also not wrong to look at a document, look at the effect it had on the Church (or lack therof), and make some informed criticism with an eye towards trying to improve either the application of the document, or to find other Church resources (Casti Connubi, for instance) that may be more helpful in trying to address a problem in the Church. A problem could be defined as – why do so few Catholics follow Church teaching on birth control? Is it then wrong for the faithful to try to look at that problem, and even to say that perhaps the Church could have done thing X or document Y better?

Katie - May 10, 2010

” It’s also not wrong to look at a document, look at the effect it had on the Church (or lack therof), and make some informed criticism with an eye towards trying to improve either the application of the document, or to find other Church resources (Casti Connubi, for instance) that may be more helpful in trying to address a problem in the Church.”

I think it IS wrong. It is not in the competence or charism of the laity to determine such things.
If a battalion of soldiers is given a mission by high command, should they sit discussing what mission the high command SHOULD have given them–what other mission might have been more effective in the long run, given the overall strategy of the war? Or should they get busy accomplishing the mission?

We are in no position to judge the effects of HV. They are humanly unknowable. We have no right to decide that Casti Connubi is a better document and chose to adhere to it instead of HV. That’s just not how the Church works. Newer documents are the authoritative interpretations of older documents, not vice versa.

It is for us to receive the authoritative teaching of the Church with open, attentive, grateful hearts. And then to strive to understand it, and to live it to the full within our given station and sphere of influence, according to our gifts and abilities. If we find the teaching confusing or unclear, then there is of course nothing wrong with raising questions and seeking clarification. But that’s rather different from presuming to know what the Church or a given Pope should have done, don’t you think?

Steve B - May 10, 2010


Arrogance? Are you SERIOUS???

So, what you’re saying is that the laity should NEVER question the prior decisions of our Church authorities, nor the reasons that they use in arriving at them???

That position, Katie, in and of itself is precisely the very SAME pre-Conciliar “clericalism” mindset in the Church that you have so often railed against!

Yes, Pope Paul arrived at the same traditional CONCLUSION as prior Popes. But, as Mr. Galvin points out so clearly, Pope Paul didn’t expound upon ANY of the traditional REASONS to continue support of the Church’s traditional stance against contraception – except for a few completely unexplained footnotes buried within HV, Pope Paul didn’t present ANY traditional justifications in his encyclical.

In EVERY pre-Conciliar encyclical I know of, the Popes clearly built their teachings upon the magisterial teachings of their predecessors. Pope Paul ALSO failed to do THAT in his writing of HV, which of itself was quite the NOVELTY as well. Thus, in more than one way, HV was COMPLETELY unprecedented in how it presented Catholic teaching, which conservative traditionalists and dissenting liberals BOTH recognized as a glaring weakness of HV (and the liberal dissenters have exploited that to the hilt!).

We, the laity, have the obligation to submit to the authority and teachings of our Church, and to give our Church leaders their due respect as Christ’s appointed Shepherds. Our questioning of Pope Paul’s line of reasoning in HV, however, does not violate EITHER obligation.

Nowhere does Catholic teaching EVER even infer that the lay faithful do not have the right to challenge Magisterial teaching – especially when we are doing so merely to point out deficiencies and/or inconsistencies compared to prior Church teachings.

In fact, Canon Law itself (Canon 212 §3) gives faithful Catholics not only the right, but also compels us that it is our DUTY, to express “…their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinions known to the rest of the Christian faithful…”

So far as “enforcing” of rules goes, my comment above was not specific to contraception. But, what would be so bad about our Priests having the courage to finally stand up for the immemorial teaching of the Church in condemning contraception, and telling the congregation that those currently using it will be committing SACRILEGE against Our Lord if they receive Him in Holy Communion??? That, in a sense, WOULD be at least SOME sort of attempt to “enforce” the Church’s prohibition on contraception. The “silent apostasy” (as JPII himself called it) NEEDS to be challenged by our Priests & Bishops!!!

As I’ve stated many times before, our Priests & Bishops need to get a backbone again to give Church teaching some teeth. If we ran our families like the Church is run today, i.e. with virtually no enforcement of our family rules at all, I can’t even FATHOM how chaotic they would eventually and ultimately become.

If it requires using guilt to get Catholics to be OBEDIENT once again, I’m ALL for it. But, of course, a healthy balance of justice and mercy is always the best course of action….

Pax et benedictiones tibi, per Christum Dominum nostrum.

Katie - May 10, 2010

Clericalism is basically the idea that priests are generally superior (as Catholics) to the laity, whose role is essentially to “pay, pray and obey.” I deplore it, because it’s false and degrading.

The clergy have a charism and a competence; so do the laity.
Just as they go wrong when they misrespect our role, we go wrong when we misrespect theirs.

6. Steve B - May 10, 2010


Oh, and your comment that Pope Paul VI knew that “he must immediately and decisively prohibit birth control” is also quite misleading – at least the “immediately” part….

The Papal Commission on Birth Control submitted their reports to Pope Paul in 1966 (sorry, I can’t find which month). Humanae Vitae was issued on July 25, 1968. Thus, by any reasonable time standard, an “immediate” response by Pope Paul did NOT happen – and when both Commission reports were leaked to the press in 1967, the liberal dissenters had SCADS of time to prepare their public outcry against his encyclical once the Pope did finally release his encyclical….

Contrasted against Pope Paul’s PRONOUNCED delay in responding to the Commission reports, Pope Pius XI took a scant 4.5 months to issue Castii Connubi (Dec. 31, 1930) in responding to the Anglican Church’s allowance of contraception in their Lambeth Conference of Aug. 14, 1930.

Oh, and one internet source I found (which dissents from HV btw) touts that one of the co-authors of the Minority Report was – guess who? – Archbishop Karol Wojtyla ! So, you might consider that fact a reason to perhaps not discount so quickly the traditional conclusions of the Minority Report….

Pax et benedictiones tibi, per Christum Dominum nostrum.

Katie - May 10, 2010

Steve, time is relative. For an institution that spans millennia, a few months may be consider “immediate”, no? I meant that the emergency of the historical moment, the rising pressures of the sexual revolution evidently required a papal decision. It seems to me altogether reasonable to suppose that the Pope might have felt constrained to give that decision before the theological groundwork could be properly.
Consider that the Theology of the Body was worked out across years of papal audiences.

What makes you think I discount the conclusions of the Minority Report?

All peace and good to you too.

Katie - May 10, 2010

I am a spastic typist. Sorry for all the mistakes.

Steve B - May 11, 2010


“Benedictiones” is Latin for “blessings” – which I agree ARE good too! 😉

Since you hadn’t (and still haven’t) mentioned in your comments even ONE favorable comment about the Papal Commission Minority Report, I surmised that you weren’t much in favor of what it entailed – or, that you thought their conclusions relatively unimportant or essentially obsolete.

I just thought it might be quite surprising to you that JPII felt strongly compelled to argue against the “personalist” arguments in the Majority Report. It seemed rather astonishing to me anyway….

And your comment:

“We have no right to decide that Casti Connubi is a better document and chose to adhere to it instead of HV. That’s just not how the Church works.”

misses the mark of what Tantamergo’s blog post was all about.

We, as Catholics, are to NEVER pit one Papal document against the other. Neither Tantamergo nor I are trying to do that.

Tantamergo and I are merely trying to apply Pope Benedict’s “hermenutic of continuity” to interpret Humanae Vitae and Casti Connubi in a way that they are consistent with each other, and so that they support one another. Pitting one against the other will NEVER achieve that….

And when you said:

“The clergy have a charism and a competence; so do the laity.
Just as they go wrong when they misrespect our role, we go wrong when we misrespect theirs.”

that implies to me that we, as the laity, would have no grounds either with which to complain or confront our Bishops wrt the horribly inept catechesis they have provided the Catholic faithful for at least the past 40 years. Catechesis IS their charism after all, since they are the official teachers of the Church.

So, no, despite the laity and the clergy each USUALLY having their own respective and mutually exclusive charisms and competencies, I have to strongly disagree that we are each “untouchable” wrt either one challenging the other. That too is clericalism, whether one wants to call it that or not….

And, Holy Scripture itself states in Proverbs 27:17 – “As iron sharpens iron, so man sharpens his fellow man.”

The laity, religious, and the clergy are all called to “sharpen” each other spiritually. As long as we do that with due respect and consideration for each other, there is no need to create charisms and competencies which are always mutually exclusive. The Holy Spirit CAN and DOES sometimes work outside of the realm of the “official” Church structures….

Pax et benedictiones tibi, per Christum Dominum nostrum.

7. Katie - May 11, 2010

Dear Steve,
you wrote “we ALL need to question how completely open and generous we are to bringing as many souls AS POSSIBLE into His Church vs. whether our family and/or societal circumstances are grave and very serious to warrant trying to avoid a new pregnancy….”

This is what I referred to when I said above that you were imposing a standard of your own making on fellow Catholics. The idea that we ought to be bringing “as many souls as possible” into his Church does not come from the Church.

Katie - May 11, 2010

Further, openness and generosity are not the only goods of family life. Nor does the Church require or even recommend that couples seek “spiritual direction” before practicing NFP. You write as if there is grave danger involved in it. I don’t find that at all in the teachings of the Church.

8. Katie - May 11, 2010

Sorry for several posts in a row here. I find I can no longer reply directly to posts above. Seems to be some sort of technical limit.

Steve wrote: “And I was the one who recommended spiritual direction for couples to use in discerning their decision whether or not to use NFP. Perhaps you think that idea was my being too judgmental as well ???”

Yes. I think this idea is too judgmental. I think it is out of bounds. It seems to me we have no right in urge others to go beyond the judgments of the Church. We can say for ourselves, “I am doubtful enough about our discernment in this case that I’d like to seek the help of a priest.” But that’s as far as it goes.
The Church does NOT call on couples to seek the help of a priest in making the most central and most intimate decisions of our vocation. A priest may throw some light in cases of perplexity, but in general the question is simply outside his competency. It is a judgment confided to the couple by virtue of their sacramental vocation.

9. Katie - May 11, 2010

“that implies to me that we, as the laity, would have no grounds either with which to complain or confront our Bishops wrt the horribly inept catechesis they have provided the Catholic faithful for at least the past 40 years. Catechesis IS their charism after all, since they are the official teachers of the Church.”

No, wrong.
OF COURSE we have a right to object and bring pressure if the bishops are not fulfilling their responsibilities, just as they have right to object and bring pressure if we are not fulfilling ours.

We can and should challenge bishops and priests to live up to their calling, as they challenge us to live up to ours.

That is very different from second guessing their judgments and reasonings when those judgments are within the due limits of their office. I would take huge exception if my parish pastor were, for instance, to question from the pulpit the motives and reasonings and decisions of parents who chose to homeschool, and to instruct his parishioners to enroll their children in the parish school forthwith. I would say he is speaking out of his depth and beyond his competence.
I feel the same when priests preach as if Catholics are obliged to support “universal health care” (provided the abortion language is removed. That is frankly outside their competence. If our bishop did it, I would write a letter to the editor complaining.

Steve B - May 11, 2010


And, apparently, the CHA and LCWR organizations also thought the USCCB was speaking outside of its competence on the recent Health Care Reform legislation, eh?

And who out there is leading the charge to embarrass our Bishops into doing a MUCH better job at catechizing the Catholic faithful???

We see that the Catholic Church has been UTTERLY devastated by secularism since Vatican II, Katie. THAT, and that alone, is why we tradition-friendly Catholics feel compelled to second-guess the past prudential judgments and reasoning of our some of our Church leaders.

It is incontrovertible that at least SOME of the “personalist” arguments made by Pope Paul in HV were highly influenced by secularism and modernist ideologies, and many were particularly aimed to address the “new state of things” for humanity – e.g. the overpopulation “problem”, and the “problems” inherent to educating children in a large family in modern times.

Secularism is RAMPANT throughout the Church today – both within the hierarchy as it is amongst the laity. That our liturgies are required to be “relevant” for modern times is a clear testimony to that….

So, if Tantamergo, Mr. Galvin, and myself want to second-guess Pope Paul in HV for resorting to secularist, modernist, and/or other novel philosophical/theological arguments even while condemning contraception, we think that we are doing the Church a SERVICE to get a message across to our leaders – that we EXPECT and that they NEED to do MUCH better at teaching on and “enforcing” the moral issues plaguing the Church than Pope Paul & even Pope John Paul II did.

Pope Paul went into a virtual shell after the dissenting onslaught attacked him personally as he issued Humane Vitae – check it out – he didn’t release even ONE more encyclical after 1968 until he died ten years later in 1978. Doesn’t sound to me like a man who had even complete confidence himself in the message he delivered to the Church in Humane Vitae….

Contraception is a PLAGUE which has infested the Church for 40+ years! It’s LONG overdue for our leaders do SOMETHING to help excise that CANCER and other secularist/modernist scourges which have horrifically undermined the spiritual health and vitality of the Catholic Church since Vatican II.

And, more and more Catholic couples ARE using NFP as natural birth control, contrary to the teachings of the Church, despite that there are some/many who do try to use it with the same mind as the Church.

I think I’ve exhausted all I care to say anymore on this topic, so I’m done….

Pax et benedictiones tibi,per Christum Dominum nostrum.

10. Steve B - May 11, 2010


As He urged us in Matt 5:47, we are called by Christ Himself to – “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

What does that mean? That we are merely to do the MINIMUM that the Church has pronounced?

Or, does what Christ urges us to do mean that we are to strive to the highest degree of human excellence possible, which God has blessed us with the talent to pursue/achieve?

Seeking spiritual guidance assists us in our desire to strive for spiritual excellence. Discouraging others from seeking spiritual guidance, especially when the creation of souls is at stake, hardly seems to me to further Christ’s command in Matt 5:47….

Katie said: “we have no right in urge others to go beyond the judgments of the Church.”

I disagree, totally. We have no right to COMPEL others to go beyond the judgments of the Church, but we DO have the right (and even should) urge and encourage others to strive for spiritual & human excellence. Isn’t THAT what the Mystical Body of Christ is REALLY all about – encouraging each person to be ALL that God gave them the talent and capability of being??? I can’t envision ANY higher standard of in promoting “personalism” than that….

The profound teachings of the Church, and Christ’s voice Himself, BOTH urge us to strive for spiritual excellence. You know this, and so do I. Sadly, the vast majority of Catholics have absolutely no clue about this AT ALL….

But, limiting ourselves to the judgments of the Church, while it is completely licit and does not jeopardize our salvation in any way, does not necessarily comprise the standard of excellence that God wants EACH of us to discern for our lives. Sometimes, we DO need some nudging and encouragement from others in the faith to move in the ultimate spiritual direction that God really wishes from us. That’s all that I am advocating.

Leaving each individual and/or married couple to figure this out entirely on their own (as the Church has essentially done since Vatican II because of the inept catechesis provided by our Bishops) hardly seems like the optimal spiritual “game plan” for the Catholic faithful….

I, for one, and VERY glad that the Priests we have at the traditional Catholic parish my family and I now attend – especially since they are ALWAYS willing to provide for their flock the kind of teaching, shepherding, and spiritual direction that DOES urge each individual and married couple to strive for spiritual excellence. We DEFINITELY did not get this kind of encouragement from our former local parish, as kind-hearted as the Pastor and the faithful there often were.

Unfortunately, at this historical juncture in the Catholic Church, I realize that the situation at my current parish is all too often the exception rather than the rule.

So, out of immense gratitude, I try to pray on a daily basis for the wonderful and amazingly dedicated FSSP Priests who so sacrificially serve our traditional Catholic faith community. I also try to pray daily that our Bishops and more of the Church’s other Pastors will rededicate themselves to better serving the Church in that manner as well.

Pax et benedictiones tibi, per Christum Dominum nostrum.

11. Katie - May 11, 2010

Last comment of mine:

1) Among the reasons for the problems in the Church today is that bishops and priests have failed to respect the limits of their office and so have the laity. We cannot say, “Well the bishops have failed to save the Church from secularization, therefore the laity have to do the work of bishops.” The laity have to do the work of the laity. It’s the only work we have the grace to do properly. It is not a service to the Church to attempt what lies outside out charism.

2) The responsibility to bear children and raise them in the faith is one that belongs to the parents. It is no “more excellent” for them to consult with a priest before they make the most important and intimate of decisions regarding their family then it would be “more excellent” for a man to consult with his parents before making such a decision. The decision is theirs and theirs alone. In their Sacrament they have the grace they need to make it well. To imply that they ought not to make it without first consulting a priest is false. You are “adding to the law.” To “add to the law” is to restrict the freedom for which Christ has set us free and to needlessly burden Catholic families.

I wrote an article on this some years back in case you’re interested.

And now I will say farewell and peace be with you.

12. Steve B - May 11, 2010


You have SO distorted what I said previously, it boggles my mind….

I NEVER said that couples HAVE to or OUGHT to consult with a Priest before making their decision wrt NFP. What I did say/imply is that they should SERIOUSLY CONSIDER seeking spiritual guidance from a Priest in discerning their decision.

I don’t know either why you or any other Catholic would think that there would be NO advantage in consulting with a Priest vs. consulting with one’s parents on matters of bringing new life into the world. Perhaps you just have lousy Priests at your disposal for consultation???

To put all of our spiritually trained Priests (I know, some of them BADLY formed, so all of them are not suitable as advisors) into the SAME category as one’s parents (most of whom are probably as badly catechized as we were) is woefully fallacious logic, in my opinion….

To reject out of hand ANY consideration for consulting on matters of NFP with a Priest who is holy, theologically trained, orthodox, and knowledgeable on the subject is definitely what I would deem a “clericalization of the laity” – in other words, you’re saying “we don’t need Priests to guide us in our marriage.”

Yes, we DO get innumerable graces in the Sacrament of Marriage. I don’t doubt that one bit. And, you are right that the ultimate decisions in marriage ARE made by the couple themselves.

And, granted, we don’t need to and shouldn’t consult with our Priests on EVERY spiritual decision we might make either. The Good Lord knows that with our vocations crisis they are busy enough already. But, certainly our decisions which DO have “souls hanging in the balance” ARE worthy of CONSIDERING such a consultation – By EVERY married Catholic couple.

Nonetheless, it is pompous for ANYONE to insinuate that we, as Catholics, have little to nothing to gain in seeking spiritual guidance on marriage matters from our Priests. That, in my opinion, is the VERY same line of reasoning for why Catholics go to Confession in such dreadfully low numbers and/or frequency anymore – i.e. too many Catholics today are thinking “I can figure this out by myself. I don’t really need a Priest to advise me on how I should live my life.”

Thanks for your comments Katie. Even though it looks like we ultimately disagree wrt issues related to NFP, it is still good to know how even dedicated Catholics can see these issues differently about the life of the Church….

Now, since we HAVE flogged this issue of NFP to DEATH, can we get this discussion BACK on track wrt what Tantamergo’s original post was asking:

Did Humanae Vitae unintentionally undermine the Authority of the Church?

Pax et benedictiones tibi, per Christum Dominum nostrum.

tantamergo - May 11, 2010

Good grief, I can’t keep up with you two, you crazy kids. I read your exchange yesterday afternoon but didn’t have time to reply, but I came in this morning all ready to join in, to find that my comments have been somewhat obsoleted.

Get a room!

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