John Allen of the Globe has opined today that there are two key words that capture why many church officials believe it’s so important to avoid what they regard as false expectations of swift change to the church’s ban on divorced and remarried Catholics receiving communion and the other sacraments: Humanae Vitae, Paul VI's 1968 document reasserting the church’s traditional ban on birth control. It rocked the world, Allen writes, "in part because the reforming energies of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) had led people to suspect change was just around the corner, in part because the pope himself had created a commission to study the issue." The outcome of the Pope’s evential reassertion of the ban “soured public opinion on Pope Paul, in some ways inflicting a blow from which his papacy never really recovered.”
On matters related to marriage and the family, the Church has always seen the fertility of the husband and wife as a gift from God and the end (telos) of marriage where children are the fruit of the conjugal love, the total giving of self of husband and wife. In this, husband and wife procreate; it is God who creates a new and immortal soul at each conception, a reality of which Vatican II sought to remind the faithful:
All should be persuaded that human life and the task of transmitting it are not realities bound up with this world alone. Hence they cannot be measured or perceived only in terms of it, but always have a bearing on the eternal destiny of men. (Gaudium et Spes, No. 51)
Those disagreeing with Paul VI in Humanae Vitae are strangely silent on this conciliar teaching. Contraception is evil because what it prevents; conception is an act of God. St. Paul warned that the Christian should not hope for the Church’s wisdom to see eye to eye with “the wisdom of the world,” (1 Cor 1:20) for her moral teaching comes not from man but from God; Humanae Vitae teaches that artificial contraception obstructs the will of God, “based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.” The language of contraceptive intercourse says, so to speak, “I will give you all of myself, my person except my God-given ability to make a new life.”
The other and, I think, principal reason Catholics persist in ignoring what Our Lord wished to teach us about the proper use of our sexuality is that contraception is a sin, and in speaking of it as an intrinsic evil the Catechism reminds us that it, as does all sin, separates us from God:
Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as "an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law."
Sin is an offense against God: "Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight." Sin sets itself against God's love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become "like gods," knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus "love of oneself even to contempt of God." In this proud self-exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation.
What I find both exciting and encouraging at present is that the discipline of social science, usually understood to be the preserve of progressive secular scholars, in following the data has corroborated the evils Pope Paul had predicted in Humanae Vitae. Recent research findings by scholars in the social sciences confirm contraception as the culprit behind the considerable rise in divorce and illegitimacy in the United States, both which in turn have spawned other societal ills such as increased rates of criminal behavior and high school dropout rates. No surprise, it turns out that the poor are especially susceptible to the harms caused by the American contraceptive culture. These findings are the studied work of secular scholars, most regarded as slightly left of center on the sociopolitical spectrum.
The end results of the contraceptive revolution that so frightened Pope Paul were promiscuity, the disintegration of the family, crime, and bitter relations between men and women, the poor among us paying the more dear. I believe Paul VI would have been greatly saddened had he lived to see all that developed in the final decades of the third millennium in spite of his prophetic warnings in his encyclical, "from which his papacy never really recovered.” I would only add that we too have as yet not recovered from the evils bestowed upon us by the contraceptive mentality.