Thursday, June 26, 2014

An Open Letter To All My Brother Priests, On Humanae Vitae

And now, beloved sons, you who are priests, you who in virtue of your sacred office act as counselors and spiritual leaders both of individual men and women and of families—We turn to you filled with great confidence. For it is your principal duty—We are speaking especially to you who teach moral theology—to spell out clearly and completely the Church's teaching on marriage. In the performance of your ministry you must be the first to give an example of that sincere obedience, inward as well as outward, which is due to the magisterium of the Church.

For, as you know, the pastors of the Church enjoy a special light of the Holy Spirit in teaching the truth. And this, rather than the arguments they put forward, is why you are bound to such obedience. Nor will it escape you that if men's peace of soul and the unity of the Christian people are to be preserved, then it is of the utmost importance that in moral as well as in dogmatic theology all should obey the magisterium of the Church and should speak as with one voice. 

Therefore We make Our own the anxious words of the great Apostle Paul and with all Our heart We renew Our appeal to you: "I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment."
Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae 28

Reflection – Well, this is painful. I have been staring at paragraph 28 for some time now, trying to figure out what to write about it that is a) true; b) charitable; c) really, really, really charitable.
This is, in my view, the ground zero of HV, the precise place where, if this encyclical had been received by those to whom it was addressed, and lived out in this precise paragraph, I honestly believe things would have unfolded quite differently in the Church over the last forty-five years.

It is a tragedy the scope of which I don’t think we can readily grasp that the clergy of the Catholic Church greeted this encyclical, for the most part, not with ‘sincere obedience’ but without outright rebellion, disdainful scorn, and embarrassed silence. With very few exceptions, when the doctrine has not been openly controverted, it has been tacitly ignored by the clergy of the Church, at least on this continent.

It is a failure of pastoral care and love that HV and the Church’s teaching on contraception has not been preached, taught, promoted, studied, from every parish, every diocese, every Catholic school and college and hospital. The harm done to souls has been incalculable.

I say this without judgment of my elder brothers in the priesthood. I was two years old in 1968 – I do realize that it is the easiest thing in the world to look back at the mistakes and blindness of a past era with easy condemnation and judgment. I do realize that there was a whole social and cultural ferment in the late 1960s and 1970s that was very hard to withstand, that compelled a certain conformity in rebellion and revolution, and that HV was an unexpected and (I guess?) bizarrely counter-cultural document in its day.

Well, we should have tried harder. We should have had greater spiritual maturity, greater intellectual capacity, greater docility and humility and courage. I find it deeply saddening that the average Catholic today has heard virtually no homilies about the subject, to the point where this satirical article is painfully on point. There has been, in most parishes and dioceses, not one word of teaching and guidance from the shepherds of the Church to counteract the ‘shepherding’ we are given by the secular world, which counsels us to simply do whatever we want, however we want, with whoever we want, so long as everyone is consenting.

It is not my way to be critical or harsh or judgmental of people, generally. But… and I address this to my brother priests reading this... surely we can do better than that, can’t we? Even if, in the immediate ferment of the 1960s, the reception of HV was poor, surely 45 years later we can pull ourselves together, guys, can’t we? Who’s with me? Anyone? (Fr.) Bueller?

It’s not like time has proven the Pope to be wrong and the secular world to be right. As I blogged quite a while ago, all the prophetic bits of the encyclical have been borne out with almost scary accuracy.

Besides the negative (and at times, quite deranged) feedback I’ve gotten for this series, I’ve also gotten positive feedback calling me ‘courageous’. This disheartens me more than the hate mail and nasty comments. It should not be a matter of courage for a Catholic priest to teach Catholic doctrine on a Catholic website. I don’t feel especially courageous doing this series. It should not be a matter of  ‘courage’ because all Catholic priests should be teaching the doctrine, but they aren’t. May God have mercy on us.

What would it look like if we had, and if we did, starting now? Would the whole world suddenly break out into mass chastity and sexual sanity? Would every Catholic in the whole wide world be convinced and converted and start obeying God’s laws on this matter? Of course not. But some would. Maybe quite a few. And those who didn’t would have to grapple with the question as they do not have to right now, because no one ever challenges them on it.

Anyhow, that’s enough for one day. Pray for your priests, and those reading who are priests, let’s pray for one another, so that wisdom, charity, and pastoral boldness and love may reign in our hearts. Amen.