Pope Francis continues to draw the curiosity of the world’s elite and the poor alike. Among orthodox Catholics there is even a bit of nostalgia as we think back to the early years of the pontificate of soon-to-be Saint Pope John Paul II. I think it is fair to say that he made Humanae Vitae the focus of the first ten years of his pontificate. This is pretty well documented in Chapter 7 of Sex and the Marriage Covenant from which I have lifted the following on page 148 of the 2005 edition:
“In his manner of speaking John Paul II has left no room for doubt that the doctrine of marital non-contraception reaffirmed by Casti Connubii, Humanae Vitae, and Familiaris Consortio must be believed and put into practice. He has taught that
• to hold out for exceptions as if God’s grace were not sufficient is a form of atheism (September 17, 1981);
• denying the doctrine of marital non-contraception is “equivalent to denying the Catholic concept of revelation” (April 10, 1986);
• it is a teaching whose truth is beyond discussion (June 5, 1987);
• it is a “teaching which belongs to the permanent patrimony of the Church’s moral doctrine” and “a truth which cannot be questioned” (March 14, 1988).
On the other hand, despite all of the reaffirmations by Pope John Paul II, the use of natural family planning continued to drop all throughout the Eighties, probably bottoming out in the Nineties, and still so very low that it can hardly get lower. I mean, there are a certain number of people who simply “get it” and recognize that unnatural forms of birth control are truly “unnatural” and will not have anything to do with them. A certain number of mothers similarly “get it” regarding ecological breastfeeding that some of them discover on their own simply because it is so natural.
Somehow or other, however, Pope John Paul II didn’t seem to get through to most of the bishops in North America and Europe that they need to take Humanae Vitae seriously and do everything within their power to teach it and provide the practical help to live it. I do not know what effects his affirmations had in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, but I have never seen anything to indicate they were much better than the morally declining West.
So maybe Pope Francis has seen all of this and is looking for a different approach. I found one sentence in his October 30th America interview to be intriguing. It is preceded by these sentences: “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent.” Then he says: “The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.”
Some have been disappointed in these few sentences, but I find a reason for hope in that last sentence. Maybe he sees that the abortion and same-sex issues (and also the widespread sex-as-sport attitude with its ramifications in fornication, adultery, and prostitution) are not disjointed but all stem from the acceptance of marital contraception.
Just about 100 years ago Margaret Sanger began her very public campaign to legalize contraception. Within a few years, she had influenced the progressives so much that they were spelling out the logical consequences of the contraceptive lifestyle, and it was widely practiced in the “Roaring Twenties.” Secular humanist Walter Lippmann wrote in 1929 that they were following the logic of contraception but not the logic of human nature.
The baby born out-of-wedlock has two-strikes against him, and the likelihood of poverty is one of them. Perhaps Pope Francis will be the international leader who points out the connection between the acceptance of marital contraception and the whole unhappy rest of the sexual revolution — and that the poor are the ones who suffer the most from it. Maybe he can be the one to lead the other ecclesial leaders to recognize that God does have a plan for love and sexuality starting with the basic fact that the marriage act ought to be a true marriage act that reaffirms the faith and love and “for better and for worse” openness to life of the marriage covenant.
So please pray for Pope Francis. He has a great opportunity. And please pray for the continued efforts of NFP International. Next year we will begin a transition process that will certainly need the guidance of the Holy Spirit, so we ask your prayers.
We remain in the fight. Please help us first of all with prayer for the NFPI apostolate. Second, please help us financially as you see fit. Every gift is important whether it’s $5 or $500 because every gift is a vote of confidence, and that’s something we need.
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John F. Kippley
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