HAVE THE BISHOPS FAILED TO BE EFFECIVE TEACHERS OF HUMANAE VITAE AND NFP?
In this NFP Q&A column I am using a remarkable column by Archbishop Joseph Naumann, of Kansas City, KS. It is taken from The Leaven, and his previous columns are available at www.theleaven.com.
At the November meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, following the adoption by the whole body of bishops of the document “Married Love and the Gift of Life,” I was chosen to represent the Committee on Pro-Life Activities at a press conference.
A reporter asked me why the bishops were issuing this statement on a matter where so many Catholics do not agree with the church’s teaching.
I replied: “We [bishops] do not need to teach about doctrines everyone accepts. We need to devote much of our teaching to address those issues that many of our people are struggling to accept.”
With this column, I conclude this series of my reflections on the Church’s teaching regarding artificial contraception and marital chastity. In issuing “Married Love and the Gift of Life,” the bishops acknowledged that part of the reason so many of our people do not understand and accept this moral doctrine has been our own failure to be effective teachers. With the experience of the past 40 years providing so much empirical data about the negative consequences of artificial contraception impacting young people, marriages and society, I believe we have arrived at a teachable moment.
I chose to devote several columns to this issue because I believe that strong marriages are the foundation of st0rong families. Strong family life is essential for a healthy nation and society.
Moreover, each Catholic family is a little church that serves as the foundation upon which our parishes, dioceses and the universal Church are built.
During his pastoral visit to St. Louis in 1999, the late Pope John Paul II said: “As the new evangelization unfolds, it must include a special emphasis on the family and the renewal of Christian marriage. In their primary mission of communicating love to each other, of being co-creators with God of human life, and of transmitting the love of God to their children, parents must know that they are fully supported by the Church and by society. The new evangelization must bring a fuller appreciation of the family as the primary and most vital foundation of society, the first school of social virtue and solidarity. As the family goes, so goes the nation!”
Recently, I received a letter from a member in the archdiocese that, among other things, said: “It is ludicrous for celibate men to lecture caring, committed, prayerful married couples about what should and should not take place in their act of greatest intimacy.” This is very similar to much of the criticism directed at Pope Paul VI when he issued Humanae Vitae in 1968. Unfortunately, it was effective in silencing many bishops and priests from attempting to preach the fullness of the Church’s teaching.
The reality is that marriage matters not just to the couple and not even just to their children, but to culture, society and the Church. The Church’s teaching about artificial contraception was not an innovation of Pope Paul VI, but it was the clear and consistent teaching of the Church throughout its history. It was also the teaching of every other major Protestant denomination until 1930.
The Church’s teaching is premised on the reality that fertility is not an illness. Oral contraceptives are not medicines that combat disease, but are chemicals used to disrupt that which is healthy and normal.
In the very first chapter of the first book of the Bible, we read:
“God created man in his image, in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.” Part of the way in which we image our Creator is our capacity through love to create a new human life.
Artificial contraception disrupts the design of the Creator. It has effectively disconnected the most powerful physical expression of human love with the power to conceive a new life. In so doing, it has disrupted the balance that God designed into the act of sexual intercourse. Severed from the ability to give new life, the fundamental meaning of sexual intimacy has been changed.
I will not repeat the many manifestations of the social disaster that has ensued from this redefinition of the meaning of sexual intimacy. Suffice it to say, the widespread acceptance of artificial contraception has cheapened the meaning of sexual intercourse. It no longer needs be the physical expression of committed, faithful love, but can mean something far less.
Even within the marriage covenant, the severing of the life-giving power from its love-giving capacity alters the significance of each expression of sexual intimacy.
Lest this be discounted as just the lecturing of an old male celibate, I want to conclude this series of articles by sharing some of the testimonies from married couples regarding their experience from living the Church’s teaching:
“Natural Family Planning made our union different, more of a total giving. . . . Because we’re open to life, we’re giving everything.”
“Natural Family Planning has helped me to mature, though I have a long way to go. . . . It has called me to cherish my wife rather than simply desire her.”
“Natural Family Planning does require communication and commitment, but isn’t that what marriage is all about? We have gained so much by using Natural Family Planning and have lost nothing.”