Archbishop Chaput on Humanae Vitae

Archbishop Chaput, every bit as good in 1998 as in 2012.

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.


Posted on May 6, 2012, in Catholicism, Good Shepherds and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. Excellent, especially your last paragraph. God bless!

  2. Chaput excellent – as always!
    One observation though – even he, here, is too unqualified about NFP in the section where he deals with it..
    I have met NFP as both openly “catholic contraception” and B, more subtly , as a crack through which the contraceptive mentality may enter.The results remain evil, howsoever much less evil than the pill, abortion, and the fullflown wordly version
    A baby is always a blessing. Where is the blessing in the lack of one ?
    Because, however licitly , however grave the situation,the couple are in , and some women´s health problems are tough! the aim is to avoid a blessing, and the idea can take root that babies are bad, in themselves .
    We have a long way to go.
    Saint Gianna Beretta Molla, intercede for us !

    • I think if NFP is properly explained there should be no cracks. If there are cracks, then it wasn’t really explained, or it wasn’t really accepted.


  3. Dear Mundabor:
    You say:
    “I think if NFP is properly explained there should be no cracks. If there are cracks, then it wasn’t really explained, or it wasn’t really accepted.”
    Think about it:
    let NFP be well explained, and undertaken after much examination of conscience, in grave, not just serious, circumstances , by a catholic married couple making full use of prayer and of all the sacraments, most specifically regular confession and communion, and combatting through the ways the church suggests the constant barrage from society, family and friends and the media, against life..
    Nonetheless the aim is to avoid a baby-licitly, letting God have the lst and last word, ready to joyfully accept one, etc, yes.
    But that sheer motive or aim, or hope, howsoever temporal, in this best of all cases with this best of all couples, ( in the best of all parishes with the best of all priests in the best of all dioceses) is still a dangerous thought to have in a catholic head.

    More points, which be the history what it may, remain relevant: I have nowhere seen it stated that Pope paul VI believed in the hermeneutic of rupture, rather that he was consciously recapitulating standard and established church teaching on faith and morals. ( Which pastoral bishops might reasonably have been expected to know and be teaching , BTW, but that’s another story)

    Whatever he may have personally thought he was doing, as the veriest sinful layman I am very doubtful of the claim made that , for example, humane vitae , using the latin word for “serious,”, abrogates Pius XII , using the words “grave” AND serious. (Address to midwives.) This claim IS made.
    For example Ensuring a catholic education for one’s offspring has NEVER been considered trivial. But, Is it grave?

    God bless

    • Pepe,

      Pius XII said it so beautifully:

      Therefore, to embrace the matrimonial state, to use continually the faculty proper to such a state and lawful only therein, and, at the same time, to avoid its primary duty without a grave reason, would be a sin against the very nature of married life.

      Serious motives, such as those which not rarely arise from medical, eugenic, economic and social so-called “indications,” may exempt husband and wife from the obligatory, positive debt for a long period or even for the entire period of matrimonial life. From this it follows that the observance of the natural sterile periods may be lawful, from the moral viewpoint: and it is lawful in the conditions mentioned. If, however, according to a reasonable and equitable judgment, there are no such grave reasons either personal or deriving from exterior circumstances, the will to avoid the fecundity of their union, while continuing to satisfy to tile full their sensuality, can only be the result of a false appreciation of life and of motives foreign to sound ethical principles.

      It does not seem to me the Church’s understanding of NFP is different today than it was then. I have certainly never read anything to the contrary. But by all means, if you think it is make some concrete example and we’ll go from there.


  4. 1 Cor 7:5 “Defraud not one another, except, perhaps, by consent, for a time, that you may give yourselves to prayer; and return together again, lest Satan tempt you for your incontinency.”

    NFP in a nut shell.

  5. This is the traditional scripture used to develop NFP. Spouses should not refuse each other except by agreement so as to not violate the unitive aspect of marriage (mutual abstinence is not denying the other, it is denying the self). However, St Paul shows us that such an agreement must also be for a greater good than the life giving aspect. St. Paul speaks of a time of prayer and worship as one example. There are other examples too, including consecration to God as exhibited by Mary and Joseph. This is also seen with the married hIgh priests of the OT who would remain continent while serving in the temple. So interruptions were allowed where the object was not infertility, but a greater good.

  6. Mundabor.
    Pope Pius was who i was quoting.
    Concrete examples: appear , like my wife and I, with a large family, and you will find how many faithful orthodox/and or traditional priests and catholics, prolife often in action and prayer outside abortion mills, are in fact in agreement with President obama – a baby is not a blsssing from the creator but a punishm,ent, en masse an evil .
    Why do churchmen but open their mouths on marriage and out pops NFP.
    If you cant see it, well, there we are.I hope you don’t experience it.

    • Pepe,
      it’s not great news many Catholics probably agree at some level with Obama (though at least, I hope, with some level of discomfort). But you will agree this is no demonstration NFP is wrong, or the clergy shouldn’t talk about it.

      On the contrary, I am rather sure many of the Obama fraction would never practice NFP in the first place.

      I have no children, so I cannot relate to the negative experiences you mention. Still, i would venture to say they come invariably from the wrong type of Catholic.


  7. I am sorry to hear you have not been blessed with offspring.

    Quote….”.the negative experiences you mention. Still, i would venture to say they come invariably from the wrong type of Catholic..”…unquote

    When things come from the “wrong” type of catholic, one may be saddened by not surprised.
    My experience has been with ones of whom I would NOT expect it.
    I hate to be nuanced , or even use the word, but needs must.
    The use, , by a married couple ,, for grave reasons,, of the wife’s naturally mostly infertile periods may be licit.
    This is a longstanding part of church teaching, which I hope nobody is disputing . (Some Lefebrists do, actually,, but that’s another matter) The word I used was not “wrong” but “dangerous”

    Because ,” may be licit ” is not the same as ” always reccomendable and never in the least dangerous to practice or emphasize ”

    The very name NFP is dangerous : it came in under particular historical circumstances, true, “PLANNED parenthood ” is socalled because Planning as such is a good in itself, right ?
    Well even without such an evil organization, what about soviet fiveyear plans? what about the planners destruction of the human heart of britsish cities?
    But that is not even yet the point, which is are we creatures or created? Do we have a plan for God, or does God have a plan for us?
    (Natural Fertility awreness would be a far better name.)
    I don’t want to labour the point , whilst the name is not necessarily leading to sin, thinking along the lines of planning like god leads to sin as it did in Eden .

    So, is there anything wrong with an unplanned child? Apparently so. God apparently did not plan it if the parents didn’t . A christtain won’t kill it the way pagans do, but ….

    And as I say , I am most unhappy with the way bishops etc who I most respect, such as Chaput, always have it to the fore . Licit it may be: but do we HAVE to envisage the grave circumstances looming quite so large before they actually do? The prominence NFP gets , you’d think it was for EVERY catholic married couple to somewhat reduce their fertility for serious ends . asuch as paying for education.

    I assume that this is in consonance with what I have actually met with:: NFP as catholic contraceoption, among every bit the “right” sort of catholics.

    If I could think this only my limited personal experience and went no further , Id be very happy.

    I suspect though that I am right to insist: Licit, under grave circumstances.
    And dangerous.

    • Pepe,
      we call you reasoning processo alle intenzioni. In my first post I had said “if properly understood”.
      Everything can be wrongly understood.


  8. I am not trying to score debating points with you alli intenzioni or however.If you’re happy, ok.
    Im not.
    To go back to your original post then : WILL the next generation of catholics, if any , get Humanae Vitae , both in the sense of get taught and understand.
    The signs I see are not good.Not hopeless, but not good.

    • It depends on the Bishops’ work, Pepe.

      In my eyes, aggressive Catholicism will bring things all right in one generation, two at the very most. I think Catholicism is an extremely powerful weapon when it is used, and it is now languishing merely because the clergy do not use it. If the bishops starts doing things right now, they will probably not convert many of the Pelosi-Sebelius generation, but an entire new generation of young Catholicism will grow knowing nothing else than orthodox Catholicism.

      Poland was conquered again to Catholicism in around 30 years. Without TV or Internet. If the bishops start to work properly, much can be done. This is also the reason why I do not believe in this “we will all die in jail” mantra. Wake up and fight the fight,my dear bishop, and the one who dies in an autodafe may well be Obama.


  9. Just so!
    Not ours to decide if penal times will touch us or not, and we be called to martyrdom, as many are at this very moment in sudan , china, iraq, pakistan …..there’s a long list!
    if it be so , how much better that it be for manly gungho forward defence of the whole thing, not apologizing for our existance till they drag us off. Bishops the more so! Poor souls , they need a lot more praying for than they get! Me , I’m not converted enough nor pray enough for myself nor live a christian enough life of daily combat, to be ready should the moment come!
    Oh BTW – I don’t find much ofthe council of Trent and its aftermath congenial – but that’s it, it’s not about having tea with “THEM”and being “nice”. But look at the reports of lax lutheran-and worse- ideas rife all over in say Spain at the time – and it was NOT the stick of the inquisition – it helped- which turned the ship round – it was the Holy Spirit,to which end showing human disposition , it was all hands on deck and the helm hard over.

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