STAMFORD—Fifty years ago, Pope Paul VI issued his seventh and last encyclical, Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life), which upheld the Church’s teaching against artificial birth control, reaffirmed the sanctity of life and marital love, and emphasized the importance of responsible parenthood. The encyclical incited an immediate controversy among theologians, the laity and the clergy.
Fifty years later, there’s a growing appreciation for Humanae Vitae and the lessons it offers, and what Pope Francis has called Blessed Paul VI’s courage, prophetic vision and defense of moral discipline.
Father Andrew Vill of the Basilica of St. John the Evangelist in Stamford has organized a symposium titled “Making Room for God’s Love: Humanae Vitae at 50,” which will be held at the Basilica on June 23 from 9 am to 4 pm to mark the anniversary of the encyclical, which was released July 25, 1968.
The symposium will feature talks by George Weigel, columnist and author of best-selling biographies of St. John Paul II and Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center; Mary Eberstadt, essayist, Senior Research Fellow at the Faith & Reason Institute and author of several books about religious freedom and faith, including Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution; and Mary Hallan FioRito, an attorney who specializes in human life issues and is the Cardinal Francis George Visiting Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
There will also be a panel of medical experts who will discuss the health implications of artificial birth control and the option of natural family planning. The day will conclude with a Vigil Mass celebrated by Bishop Frank J. Caggiano.
Father Vill, who recently attended a symposium on Humanae Vitae at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., believes Blessed Paul VI was prophetic and that an examination of the encyclical in light of modern cultural upheaval shows he was correct in his predictions of what would happen with the widespread use of artificial birth control.
In the half-century since the encyclical was issued, Father Vill says, our culture has been plagued by the disintegration of the family, broken homes, cohabitation, casual sex, public policies that oppose the sanctity of life and the exploitation of women.
“Pope Paul VI said this is what would happen if the Church’s teaching was ignored,” Father Vill said. “It doesn’t stop at contraception; it proceeds to abortion, which would come later with Roe versus Wade.” And globally there is an abuse of power in countries like China, which have one-child policies, forced sterilization and abortion.
The controversy over the encyclical intensified further because Paul VI accepted the minority view of a commission studying the issue of artificial contraception, which included a contribution from then Archbishop Karol Wojtyla, later Pope John Paul II, who had written about the theology of the body and love.
The public and the media often lack a full understanding of the implications of the document because they take a narrow view, said Father Vill, who holds a licentiate in sacred theology in the studies of marriage and family from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute in Rome.
Participants for the symposium were selected after Msgr. Stephen DiGiovanni suggested reaching out to author George Weigel, who recommended other possible guests.
A panel of medical experts will discuss natural family planning and natural procreative technology to monitor women’s health, he said. Among the topics will be the adverse effects that hormonal birth control has on a woman’s body and the positive aspects of natural family planning, which should not to be confused with the outdated rhythm method that was ineffective and lacked a scientific foundation.
Assisting Father Vill in the symposium are parishioners Angela Marchetti, a Creighton natural family planning practitioner who works with couples, and Gretchen Hahn, who is helping to organize the event.
Father Vill encouraged both people who are familiar and those unfamiliar with the encyclical to attend the day-long symposium and engage the speakers so they can learn more about the Church’s teaching.
(For more info, visit stjohnsstamford.com; call 203.324.1553, ext 21; email firstname.lastname@example.org; or email Father Vill at frVill@diobpt.org.)
By Joe Pisani
Click here for Father Andy Vill article, Making Room for God’s Love