on Anniversary of Humanae Vitae:
July 25, 2008
Feast of Saint James the Apostle
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Forty years ago today, His Holiness Pope Paul VI released the Encyclical Humanae Vitae, “Of Human Life.” The Holy Father began the reflections in that text by stating that the matters discussed in that important and prophetic text dealt with “matters intimately connected with the life and happiness of human beings” (Humanae Vitae 1). On the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of this encyclical, I would like to call to mind the importance of the Church’s teaching reflected in Humanae Vitae for the present day. It is my hope that pastors and catechists will make the church’s teaching on the transmission of life better known and better understood.
A Study Guide to Humanae Vitae, Of Human Life has just been published this year by “Priests for Life” and carries my Imprimatur. It is available in Birmingham from Alpha Church Supply. This small book would be an excellent tool for study of Humanae Vitae for clergy and laity involved in working with families, couples preparing for the Sacrament of Matrimony, and Catholic students—all of whom face the real issues of life that Humanae Vitae deals with.
I would also encourage pastors to make available material on the Church’s teaching on human sexuality and contraception to their parishioners. This can be done by using space in the Sunday bulletin to explain the Church’s teaching on these issues, (perhaps giving references to Humanae Vitae during this anniversary year or by placing materials at the entrances of your parish church for parishioners to have access to as needed). I am enclosing one example: a pamphlet written by Dr. Janet Smith entitled Sex and Contraception, which is available from Our Sunday Visitor Publishing.
I wish to also encourage all of you to reflect on how welcoming you are as a parish to those with young children. In our society, children are often looked at as unwelcomed intruders—something that no doubt is an outgrowth of the contraceptive mentality that imbues our culture. We are called to be light and leaven to our culture. Let us never tire of renewing our commitment to foster a culture of life.
Finally, I would like to share a message from paragraph 17 of Humanae Vitae:
Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods 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, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.
Finally, careful consideration should be given to 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 blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? 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. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife (Humanae Vitae 17).
It is easy to see how the concerns of the Holy Father, Pope Paul VI, forty years ago today, have sadly been realized. I pray that you will make every effort on this anniversary of Humanae Vitae to work toward the reversal of these negative moral trends in our society by bringing the light of the Gospel to what Pope John Paul II characterized as a “culture of death.”
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Robert J. Baker
Bishop of Birmingham in Alabama