Humanae Vitae: An anniversary is an awful thing to waste
May 8, 2018
“We have long thought that simply by stressing doctrinal, bioethical and moral issues, without encouraging openness to grace, we were providing sufficient support to families, strengthening the marriage bond and giving meaning to marital life. We find it difficult to present marriage more as a dynamic path to personal development and fulfilment than as a lifelong burden. We also find it hard to make room for the consciences of the faithful, who very often respond as best they can to the Gospel amid their limitations, and are capable of carrying out their own discernment in complex situations. We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them” (Amoris Laetitia 37).
This paragraph from Amoris Laetitia is one of the document’s more noteworthy and controversial passages. While most people focus on the end section about consciences, I would like to look at the first part in light of the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s famous encyclical, Humanae Vitae.
Dr. Christian Brugger recently wrote a two-part essay titled “A Re-Reading (Relectio) of “Humanae Vitae.” His articles provide a good summary of Pope Paul’s document and the Church’s teaching on contraception. However, that’s precisely why I think his articles fall short. I’m not here to pick on Dr. Brugger, his articles are simply the latest Humanae Vitae pieces I’ve read that simply reiterate the same teaching, the same talking points, that have been made for the past fifty years.
This brings me back to the passage from Amoris. Here Pope Francis says that simply reiterating Church teaching is not sufficient to support families and give meaning to marital life. In other words, while love without truth is just sentimentality, simply reiterating the truth clearly doesn’t exhaust the work of charity and evangelization. I would venture to say that this strategy, rather than reversing the corrosion of sex and marriage in our society, has exacerbated it, and Pope Francis would agree.