MADISON -- In his talk at the recent Diocesan Family Picnic, held on the back lawn of the Bishop O'Connor Catholic Pastoral Center in Madison, Bishop Robert C. Morlino addressed parents and teens attending on the topic of Humanae Vitae, the controversial papal encyclical celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
"It seems it's not an unfamiliar topic in the Madison area," the bishop said, referencing the column in the Wisconsin State Journal by Bill Wineke and the many letters it recently inspired.
The point of his talk was to address the issues of conscience and the teachings presented in this life-affirming work of Pope Paul VI, which still cause many struggles today as it did in 1968.
"It's true that everyone has to follow his or her conscience," said Bishop Morlino. This is true even if that conscience is in error.
"But they have also an obligation to correct a conscience that is in error - and that's the piece of the puzzle that's frequently left out," he said.
When the pope teaches in a solemn way that contraception is intrinsically evil and against the natural law, that is meant to correct the conscience, the bishop said. He explained that God is the author of the truth and the Holy Spirit is the teacher through the teachings of the Church, the pope, and the bishops.
"Even though the conscience has to be followed by the individual, the conscience is not the author of the moral truth," he said.
In Humanae Vitae and the Church's stance on contraception, the teachings are following the natural law.
God created the intimate space between husband and wife for his own use to create new life, the bishop said. That space must always be available to God if he should want to create new life - even if it is not his will to do so every time a husband and wife are in that intimate space.
"Contraception means expelling God from the space that he created," Bishop Morlino said. "I know couples don't mean this . . . but that's an act of atheism.
"There is no way any pope can allow this, because he's always accountable to the truth," he said. "When something is very clear from the natural law, from the way God created husband and wife, there's no authority for the Church to change that."
Our task, therefore, is to say with love, "Don't leave the Church over this teaching," the bishop said. "Use the sacrament of penance to get mercy and grace and go on in the Church."
At the same time, however, he said, with equal love we have to tell people, "don't stay in the Church only because you're convinced this teaching can change, because it can't."
"That's the story, as we celebrate 40 years of Humanae Vitae - a real treasure of the Church and still a sign of contradiction, a sign that causes a lot of trouble, especially when the teaching is confused," the bishop said.
For a video of the bishop's complete and unedited talk at the Diocesan Family Picnic, including the question-and-answer session that followed, go to www.madisondiocese.org and click on the drop-down menu under the banner "Audio and Video."