DAY ONE IN PRAGUE: A CONVERSATION WITH A CARDINAL – CELEBRATING HUMANAE VITAE AT 50

DAY ONE IN PRAGUE: A CONVERSATION WITH A CARDINAL

I had a long and wonderful conversation this morning with Cardinal Dominik Duka, the archbishop of Prague and, as soon as humanly possible, I’ll be listening to that tape and writing about that amazing interview.

I’ll only mention one thing I learned from the cardinal and am doing so because today is the 50th anniversary of the publication of Humanae vitae, On Human Life. I did learn there is a very good pro-life movement here. After Easter this year, for example, over 10,000 people in Prague alone marched from the St. Vitus cathedral in the Prague Castle complex downhill to Wenceslas Square (where I am staying) quite an undertaking as I’ve discovered. The cardinal told me that other dioceses in the country have their own pro-life celebrations and marches.

Cardinal Duka is standing before the throne where Popes John Paul and Benedict XVI sat during their visits to Prague:

CELEBRATING HUMANAE VITAE AT 50

What better way to celebrate today’s 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae than to visit http://www.ewtn.com/prolife/ ! This HV50 site has everything you to know about the document, the pro-life movement, how we can participate, Humanae vitae videos and resources, etc.

Celebrating 50 years of anything is a wonderful milestone, 50 years of life, 50 years at a job, 50 years of marriage. Fifty years for a still very controversial document, born in a controversial context, is a miracle.

As we all know, either from experience or because we’ve read about it, the cultural and sexual revolution underway in the United States and elsewhere in the 60s was defined by a spirit of rebellion against tradition and authority, and if life was too difficult, you could do drugs to take the edge off. Drugs, doing your own thing, and divorcing yourself from law and order became the new and socially accepted way to escape reality. Self-indulgence was a key ingredient of those years and when did self-indulgence ever produce wonderful results?!

As I mentioned the other night on At Home with Jim and Joy in a segment about Humanae vitae and the context in which it was born, I lived through those years and I’m reasonably sure I came through unscathed because of my great family, the values they instilled, my strong Catholic upbringing. In all honesty, I was simply turned off by what I saw as it was antithetical to what I had been taught.

Pope Paul VI’s bombshell encyclical of July 1968, Humanae vitae, upholding the traditional Catholic ban on artificial birth control was born in this context, along with a widespread fear about overpopulation following World War II. Society in the 60s began to openly promote and support abortion rights and especially sterilizations in an attempt to curb population growth.

In rebellion typical of the decade, the use of contraceptives skyrocketed, also among Catholics. Dissent was massive, especially with Paul VI’s warnings of the harm that widespread use of contraception would cause in society – lowering of moral standards, marital infidelity, less respect for women.

For over a year now, in writings and symposiums dedicated to this week’s 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, many have praised the prophetic message of the document, saying it still “stands as a profound and affirmative” defense of traditional values and family life, and was prophetic in its warnings of the breakdown of the family and the depersonalization of sexual acts such as we see today.

Those who disagree, the naysayers, would only have to look at society today to see the breakdown, the lowering of moral standards, the legalization of abortion and huge numbers of abortions performed every year, marital infidelity, less respect for women – and a lot more.

I wonder how many of you know of Pope John Paul’s contribution to the commission that drafted this encyclical. At the time, he was archbishop of Krakow, Poland and he strove then – as he did as a priest and bishop and would do later as Cardinal and Pope – to emphasize the Church’s teachings on life and marriage and the family by always putting the person at the center.

Always the Number One fan of Humanae vitae, as Pope John Paul, his magnificent writings on marriage and the family, especially Familiaris consortio and his theology of the body catecheses, were actually a rampart against dissenters, and eventually became the Church’s formal teaching on life, family and marriage.

A number of dissenters of the teachings of Paul VI and John Paul II are alive and well today and, it seems, attempting a re-reading of Humanae vitae and other teachings. We saw some of this at the two synods on the family in 2014 and 2015 when the papal teachings of the past were basically ignored in favor of what is being called a “paradigm shift” towards a pastoral approach, rather than a strictly doctrinal one. Witness Amoris laetitia and its suggestion in a footnote that communion for those Catholics who divorced and civilly remarried – but technically still adultery – might be possible.

In 2017 a four-member commission was established by the Vatican with the Pope’s approval, to study Humanae vitae. Never formally announced, the Vatican only confirmed its existence after an Italian website was able to verify the rumors with a Vatican document signed by the then deputy secretary of State.

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life (an academy, by the way, founded by St. John Paul but totally restructured by Pope Francis), told Catholic News Agency that the initiative was aimed at “studying and deepening” the encyclical, it was not a “commission” whose purpose was to “reread or reinterpret” Humanae vitae. Paglia is known to want a “softer” approach to the teaching of Humanae Vitae.

I did not see anything from the Pope or Vatican today on this anniversary. …. Let’s see what is on the horizon.