Archbishop Chaput on Humanae Vitae
The Catholic News Agency has an interesting letter written from Archbishop Chaput (then of Denver) concerning Humanae Vitae. The letter was written in 1998 on occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of the encyclical letter, but has lost nothing of its beauty. It is very long, but it is easy to read, well argued, and extremely clear in its content at all times. Blessedly, it is also devoid of those continuous references to V II documents so dear to modern Vaticanese.
Archbishop Chaput repeats (and explains very clearly) the arguments brought by Paul VI against contraception, but he adds a new observation: the rather cold theological character of the encyclical letter did not help its diffusion or acceptance among the Catholic masses. It is true Chaput is able to write with admirable clarity, but I allow myself to see the reason for the failure of Humanae Vitae to stem the tide of contraception in the following elements:
a) weakness from the top. To write is one thing, to bite an altogether different one. Paul VI probably thought it was brave enough to issue the encyclical in the first place. I cannot imagine the idea of aggressively following up on the letter and demanding that it be upheld by his bishop and priests ever entered his mind.
b) On the contrary, Humanae Vitae gave rise to a widespread dissent within the Church.
Therefore, the letter was not vocally defended from the Vatican, and either ignored or outright opposed by the majority of the clergy. With these premises, it would have failed to be a success even if it had been written in the most beautiful and lyrical language.
When we talk about Humanae Vitae, we should not forget the encyclical was and is largely ignored because the Church as a whole failed – with the culpable inaction of Paul VI, who could see very well what was happening but lacked the courage to oppose the trend – to stand for it in the first place.
If the Church now begins to aggressively – and I mean saying it loud and clear, rather than always hiding behind the dratted pastoral sensitivity – defend the message of Humanae Vitae, in a couple of decades much will be done, as the Sixty-Eighters go to meet their maker (or not, as the case may be) and a new generation can be raised with the right values.