Today is the 37th anniversary of Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae. This encyclical reinforced the Church's constant teaching that it is always intrinsically wrong to use contraception to prevent the transmission of human life. Additionally, it continued the Church's constant teaching against abortion and sterilization.
"Therefore We base Our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children. Equally to be condemned, as the magisterium of the Church has affirmed on many occasions, is direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary.
Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation?whether as an end or as a means."
-Humanae Vitae 14
Unfortunately, statistics show that 97% of Catholics use artificial contraception. If you are one of the 3% who is trying to live Church teaching and trying to find a doctor who shares your values, it can be an uphill battle. In Allegheny county, which is 69.8% Catholic, there are only 4 doctors (that I have found) who do not prescribe, perform, or refer for contraception, sterilization, abortion, or in vitro fertilization. That's right, there are only 4 physicians who live out the Church teaching on sexuality and life issues in a county that is almost 70% Catholic. That seems a little ridiculous to me. Of those 4, 2 are pediatricians, 1 is an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor), and 1 specializes in occupational/preventive medicine. None of them do gynecology work, not even the preventive medicine doctor. I called and asked. So, if you are a practicing Catholic woman in Allegheny county, you need to go elsewhere to find a gynecologist who shares your values.
The bulk of the reason for this lies in the lack of demand for these doctors among Catholics. Why, though, are there so few Catholics practicing this tenant of the faith? Part of the problem lies in misinformation supplied by doctors. My gynecologist told me that "Natural Family Planning is an ineffective method of contraception." However, when used properly (the same standard used to measure artificial methods of spacing children), natural family planning is 99% effective in spacing children. She wasn't talking about the rhythym method either. She spoke of the indicators and charting. However, I think the root cause is more than misinformation from doctors. If people were really interested, they could go to books to get the right information about effectiveness. The root causes are people don't know what the Church teaches, why She teaches what She does, or just don't care.
The first two problems are related; they are caused by poor catechesis, priests who lack a spine and don't want to "drive people away", and bishops who don't shepherd the flock. Personally, although I grew up Catholic, I didn't understand the Church's teaching until college. I remember learning there was a Church rule against birth control. I didn't have the impression that that the rule was still followed or "enforced". I never even knew that natural family planning existed, nor did I know that there were requirements for its use to be just. I think I had a pretty typical experience in this regard. I grew up in your average parish, attended Mass on Sunday and all Holy Days of Obligation, went to Catholic school and CCD during public high school. It was only through an orthodox Newman center that is very effective at catechesis that I learned the Church's teaching on sexuality and Her reason for it. Why didn't my parents, who are supposed to be my primary catechists, mention it? Why did I not learn this in catechism class? Why had I never heard about it in a homily? The first time I ever heard the Church's teaching on contraception mentioned in a homily, I was in Denver and Mass was being celebrated by Archbishop Chaput. He is very much the exception to the rule, though. In my experience, there are very few priests who have the spine to talk about such a controversial issue in a Sunday homily. Where are the bishops? Why are more bishops not talking about it? Why are the bishops not encouraging their priests to talk about the issue?
The causes of the third problem, apathy, are different, but related. We live in a society of materialism and relativism. BMW's are more important than babies, profits more important than people. There is a lack of respect for Truth. "Whatever you want to believe is good enough for you as long as it doesn't affect me." seems to be the prevalent attitude. How can we progress to a society where people are more important than things if we don't have a standard, if we don't respect Truth? It is as Chesterton said in Orthodoxy:
"Akin to these is the false theory of progress, which maintains that we alter the test instead of trying to pass the test. We often hear it said, for instance, 'What is right in one age is wrong in another.' This is quite reasonable, if it means that there is a fixed aim, and that certain methods attain at certain times and not at other times. If women, say, desire to be elegant, it may be that they are improved at one time by growing fatter and at another time by growing thinner. But you cannot say that they are improved by ceasing to wish to be elegant and beginning to wish to be oblong. If the standard changes, how can there be improvement, which implies a standard?"
Now that we see the darkness of our society, it is time for each of us to be the "light of the world". (cf. Matthew 5:14) It is time for each of us to confront these problems, to raise awareness and understanding of Church teaching which will lead to demand for pro-life doctors. Each of us can aid in the solution of these problems. After learning the Church teaching ourselves, we can catechize our friends and family and dispel the misconceptions among those we meet. Parents can take responsibility for catechesis of their children. We can also support those who are open to life and have larger than average families who get criticized by society at large. Additionally, it is important for us to encourage our priests to speak out about the issue. Many times, unfortunately, the Sunday homily is the average Catholic's only catechesis for the week. It is important that moral issues which affect daily life, such as this one, are covered. We can also confront our bishops and ask them to shepherd their flock, both by speaking out about Church teaching themselves and encouraging their priests to do the same. I'm not talking about lip service, heresy, or wishy washy statements, either, but real catechesis and real Truth. We can live in such a way that shows we live the value that people are more important than things by sharing our time, talent, and treasure with those less fortunate than ourselves. We need to walk the walk AND talk the talk. Our lives and our lips need to speak the unadulterated, uncompromising Truth. The Truth, which this world is starving for, is the only answer to these problems. As Pope John Paul II said:
"If you want peace, work for justice; if you want justice, defend life; if you want life, embrace the Truth, the Truth revealed by God."
[BTW, July 24-30 is Natural Family PLanning Awarene
ss Week. – Funky]