Archbishop Barry Hickey of Perth, Western Australia, celebrated a special Mass in St Mary's Cathedral, Perth, on Sunday 25th July to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Pope Paul VI's encyclical 'Humanae Vitae' which has been the target of continued criticism from within the Church ever since its release. At the same time, the Archbishop issued a Pastoral Letter to commemorate the event to be made widely available within the Archdiocese. Later this year, Pope John Paul II will issue a new encyclical 'Veritatis Splendor' ('The Splendour of the Truth') which will affirm the right and duty of the Church to proclaim the changeless Revelation on which its moral teachings rest.
Exactly twenty-five years ago, on 25 July 1968, Pope Paul VI issued his Encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae in which he presented a glowing vision of Christian marriage and affirmed the Church's traditional teaching on artificial contraception.
In his letter he reminded married couples that God was calling them to a fully human conjugal love, through a free and total commitment to each other, which was to be faithful and exclusive until death and open to the creation of new life.
To prevent the creation of new life by artificial means, he said, undermined the solemn covenant of marriage, as it places a condition on the unconditional self-giving of a man and a woman called to be one in marriage. Artificial contraception denies that human love-making is designed to be open to conception. In doing so it touches the very core of the marriage union and is therefore wrong.
Today, more so than twenty-five years ago, the Western world better understands and respects the workings of nature and is more aware of the long-term and harmful effects of foreign substances on the human body.
But the world has found it hard to come to terms with this teaching. It has been attacked by some, ignored by others, clearly an unpalatable teaching in societies like our own where artificial contraception is commonly accepted and promoted.
Yet there are many who have followed this true path and have found its "good news." I want to thank and encourage those who are faithful to the Church's teaching. They will inspire others to stand firm against secular thinking and express in their lives the true values that surround marriage and sexual behaviour.
I wish to reaffirm in this Letter the Church's teaching on contraception lest anyone believe it has been quietly set aside or that it is about to be reversed.
His Holiness Pope John Paul II has spoken on numerous occasions about this teaching, describing it as part of the "permanent patrimony" of the Church.
Pope Paul VI predicted that widespread contraceptive practices would have social and moral consequences. In this he was truly prophetic. The separation of sexual intercourse from its procreative outcome has led to the separation of sex from marriage itself, opening the way to promiscuity, infidelity, broken marriages and the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases, even to abortion. The young are the ones most affected by this unfortunate heritage.
Natural Family Planning
I know that many couples agonise over decisions about having another child, fearful of the possible social, medical or genetic consequences.
They rightly seek guidance from God in prayer and turn to wise counsellors for help in resolving their problems of conscience. However, it is no solution to choose a path that is wrong in order to achieve a good end. Fidelity to God's law is the only way to peace of mind.
I encourage any couple experiencing difficulties to seek the appropriate help available in the Archdiocese, be it help from the Natural Family Planning teachers, from well-informed doctors and counsellors or moral guidance from their priests.
Young couples and those preparing for marriage should have a good understanding of Natural Family Planning methods which can be used when valid reasons exist for spacing families.
I do not wish to condemn those who practise contraception but to invite them to consider again the clear teaching of the Church and the reasons for it.
I ask our priests and teachers at every level in the Church to present the full vision of Christian marriage in their preaching and teaching.
I invite young people to take this matter to heart very seriously. In courageously taking her stand on the integrity of the marriage act and its role in marital unity and family life, the Church stands almost alone. We pray that her voice be heard in a world that is beginning to discover the sexual wilderness that a rejection of the Church's constant teaching has created.