MADISON -- Gathering for their final "staff catechesis" session of the spring the staff of the Diocese of Madison, the Catholic Herald, and Catholic Charities Madison met with Bishop Robert C. Morlino on Wednesday, June 18, to consider the upcoming 40th anniversary of Pope Paul VI's Encyclical Letter on human life and contraception - Humanae Vitae.
Church commission, pope's reaction
The bishop began by noting that this authoritative letter which repeated the consistent teaching of the Church regarding artificial contraception came in July of 1968 not long after the close of the Second Vatican Council.
"It's very interesting," the bishop said, "that during the Second Vatican Council the Council Fathers, the bishops of the world, wanted to address the morality of artificial contraception and they actually set up a commission of bishops and theologians to make a recommendation to the pope."
This commission was unable to reach consensus, the bishop noted, but the majority of the commission was going to make public a recommendation to the Council Fathers that the Church's teaching on artificial contraception be changed and that the Church teach that artificial contraception be allowed under certain circumstances.
"This particular recommendation was going to be given to the Council session of a certain day," Bishop Morlino recalled, "and Pope Paul VI, knowing what was going on, came down, unannounced, to St. Peter's Basilica, into the midst of the Council Fathers, and said, 'you are to drop this subject, and I will deal with it as the Supreme Teacher, later on. I don't want any further discussion on this by the bishops at this time.'"
"The Holy Father saw where their discussion was going and he knew that it couldn't possibly go there, and the only thing that he could do was to stop the discussion for a time. So there can be no doubt that at the Council itself, this issue of artificial contraception was a very delicate one," noted Bishop Morlino
And so, the bishop pointed out, "The Council ended in 1965 and after the first cloud of dust began to settle (the big cloud of dust has only began to settle in the last five or six years), in July of 1968, Pope Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae as a solemn Encyclical teaching of the Church, saying that the Church's consistent teaching on artificial contraception cannot be changed - that no one has the authority to make that change. If something is true, Pope Paul VI said, then an Ecumenical Council cannot change the truth, and neither can I as the Supreme Pontiff."
'Contraceptive mentality' warnings
Noting that many of the arguments which Pope Paul VI gave in his letter were further developed and expanded upon by Pope John Paul II, the bishop pointed out that, "the most important thing about Pope Paul VI's encyclical was his warning about the future and what the consequences of a society that had a 'contraceptive mentality' would be."
The first of these predictions, he said, "was that contraception would lead to conjugal infidelity."
The bishop noted that the "contraceptive mindset" has led not only to wide-spread marital infidelity, but has even led down the path to the redefinition of marriage. Both result, he said, from the separation of "the intimacy of a human relationship from procreation . . . the love-making aspect of marriage from the life-giving aspect."
And if, the bishop said, "you have an intimate relationship between a husband and wife and children are out of the picture, then that intimate relationship is a lot more like the intimate relationship between woman and woman or the intimate relationship between male and male. It's the openness to children that makes marriage, marriage."
"The second consequence which Pope Paul VI predicted is that contraception would lead to a general lowering of morality." About this, the bishop noted, there can be little doubt. For example, he said, "look at where we are with internet pornography."
Exploitation of women
The bishop noted that this example is also tied closely to the third prediction of Pope Paul, "that contraception would lead men to cease respecting women in their totality and would cause them to treat women as mere instruments of self-enjoyment, rather than as cherished partners."
Pornography, he said, "is the exploitation of women par-excellence."
In addition, though, Bishop Morlino emphasized, "contraception promotes the biggest anti-feminist approach of all, because the guy is now completely removed from any responsibility." When the "consequence" of having a baby is removed from sexual activity, men have even fewer scruples about treating women as objects, the bishop added.
"And how many women are emotionally and spiritually ripped up over the fact that they had an abortion, and the guy who partnered with them in conceiving the child walks away without a thought? It is the woman who pays the price!"
"Lastly," Bishop Morlino noted, "[Pope Paul VI] said that the massive use of contraception by couples would lead to a massive imposition of contraception by unscrupulous governments - those governments who chose to regulate the number of children that a family should have and then further make decisions as to how those children should be educated. In other words, artificial contraception in those countries has led to the most serious violation of parental rights that could ever be imagined."
"Artificial contraception has allowed governments to enter into that sacred sanctuary of the family, to tell them how many children they can have."
"And once you regulate how many children they can have," the bishop pointed out, "it's the shortest step to telling them how to raise them, saying, 'we'll run the schools, we'll teach them what we think is important, we don't care about 'parental rights.'"
At stake in this entire issue, the bishop told his staff, is the defense of the Natural Law and the proper role of conscience. By way of the Natural Law, the bishop briefly reviewed, it is possible for all people to know that God exists, that this God is the creator and origin of all things, and that this God created man and woman in a very particular and complementary way. "The male and the female are designed by the creator, as they come together in loving intimacy, to be the receptacle together of new human life."
Why Church teaches on sexuality
And this, he added, "[is] why the Church takes an interest in matters concerning human sexuality. The Church is not obsessed with sex. Our society is obsessed with sex and the Church has to get involved because the Church cannot remain silent when we're talking about that sphere where God chooses to bring new life into the world. It's an exceptionally sacred sphere!"
Understanding human sexuality as such, the bishop asked, "what is artificial contraception? It is the deliberate exile of God from the sacred space which He created, for his very own."
Most couples, Bishop Morlino emphasized, do not understand or intend to "exile God," with the use of contraception. "That is not their intention. And I know that it is not their intention and so did Pope Paul VI - that's why he said that if couples are caught in a 'rut' of contraceptive mentality, they shouldn't leave the Church, [but] they should go to Confession and work the problem out within the Church."
"This is a tough teaching and the Church is a place of mercy," the bishop declared.
The place of conscience
The other issue at stake, the bishop continued, is the proper understanding of conscience. Conscience, the bishop recalled, "is truth-seeking radar," which seeks to discover and obey the truth, not to fabricate it.
And, the bishop lamented, "not a few bishops, and not a few priests, and not a few lay faithful decided that the teaching of Pope Paul VI was at the disposition of their conscience."
"Indeed," the bishop said, "we have a right and an obligation to follow our conscience when our conscience is 'locked-on' to the truth, but I don't have a right to use my conscience to fashion the truth."
"If God is the source of truth and Pope Paul teaches the truth (through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit), then my conscience has to 'lock-on' and follow it. To follow my conscience is to follow the truth."
Scandal of sexual abuse
And returning to the scandal of sexual abuse among some clergy members, the bishop added, "once bishops, priests, and others decided that they could use conscience to excuse them from obedience to the truth, as taught by the Church - when bishops and priests started giving conscience the authority to determine moral truth, rather than to obey the truth as taught by the Church, it's not surprising that [during those years] some priests and some bishops started to follow their own conscience in terms of sexual misconduct."
"The rejection of the Natural Law and reason, in the rejection of Humanae Vitae because of a misunderstood notion of conscience, has led to all of these terrible consequences (mentioned above) and on top of all of it too, the sexual misconduct scandal with some priests."
"That is where the disobedience to Humanae Vitae has led us; it's a pretty grim picture and it's going to be a long time before we recover from it," the bishop added.
Get back on track
"Once the life giving aspect of marriage is separated from the love making aspect, 'the lid is off.' And so we have to take advantage of this 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, to do whatever we can, humbly, to try to get things back on track."
"If we are going to be respectful and merciful to people, that begins with telling them, respectfully, lovingly, and with a smile, the whole truth," said Bishop Morlino.
For complete audio and video of Bishop Morlino's staff catechesis visit the "Audio & Video" section of the diocesan Web site at www.madisondiocese.org
Diocese of Madison, The Catholic Herald
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