This week marks the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s most memorable and controversial encyclical letter, dealing with the “regulation of birth,” and many Catholics are taking advantage of the date to commemorate a “prophetic” teaching.
Catholic speaker and author Terry Polakovic wrote Wednesday that like many other women, she initially rejected the teaching of Paul’s encyclical Humanae Vitae “before really knowing anything about it,” something she now regrets.
“I finally came to accept that he was not trying to stick his nose into my bedroom; rather, he was trying to save my soul,” she wrote of Paul VI, whom the Catholic Church will canonize as a saint next October and whom Polakovic calls “a prophet.”
“He openly predicted what would happen to a society that freely accepted contraception,” she said. Paul predicted that widespread use of contraception would lead to marital infidelity and the general lowering of morality. He expected that men would lose respect for women and revert to a level of greater concern for base-level satisfaction. He foretold of a time when governments would use contraception as a dangerous weapon and as a means to institute forced family-planning programs.”
“Over time, I fell in love with the message found in Humanae Vitae,” Polakovic said. “I credit my personal growth, as well as my love for the Church, to this document. After spending time with it, I began to realize that it is about so much more than contraception.”
She also recounts receiving an “abundance of testimonials” from women who said their lives were positively changed after studying and striving to live by Humanae Vitae.
“Many women reported that without understanding the Church’s teaching on marriage, sex and family, their Catholic faith and parish involvement would not be anywhere near as powerful as it had become,” she wrote.
A rejection of contraception is something that makes Catholics “most radical,” said Bishop Andrew Cozzens of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in a recent address to commemorate the encyclical. “We stand out as Catholics by our declaration that contraception is morally evil,” while most other Christian denominations no longer share this belief.
In a recent talk with young people, Cozzens said that the failure to heed Paul VI’s prophetic warning had warped the culture and paved the way for a number of societal ills, such as abortion, unwed pregnancies, marital breakdown, and divorce.
“Much of what we see around us in the culture today, 50 years later, is actually the result of not following God’s plan for sexuality and marriage,” Cozzens said.
Cardinal José Gomez, the archbishop of Los Angeles, agrees that Paul’s encyclical was prophetic, noting that much of what the pontiff warned of 50 years ago has happened.
The fallout to the sexual revolution, foreseen by Paul VI, has included everything from “rampant divorce, infidelity and pornography, to test-tube babies, widespread abortion, ‘demographic winter,’ and the total confusion about gender, sexuality and the human person that we see in our society today,” he said in a recent tweet.
For his part, Catholic intellectual and papal biographer George Weigel wrote this week that with the publication of Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI offered a “courageous witness to the truth about love.”
Weigel further said that he believes that the “contraceptive culture” of which Paul VI warned in Humanae Vitae, and the related abortion license, “are major factors in the sexual abuse of women that has come to public attention through the #MeToo movement.”
“I invite feminists to rethink their celebration of artificial contraception and abortion on this fiftieth anniversary,” he said.
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