Father Shenan J. Boquet, President, Human Life International shares some thoughts ahead of Thursday’s anniversary of Humanae Vitae. He focuses on some of Father Paul Marx’s comments derived from his autobiography of 1997. Fr. Marx was the founder of Human Life International (HLI).
One of the most powerful observations recorded by Fr. Marx in the excerpt below is sad and shocking but in my experience has proved true as well. It reminds us of the true and high price of fellowship with Christ: We must walk in the light. (I John 1:7)
To militantly reject “Humanae Vitae” is really to reject the Church's moral authority, and such rejection, I have noticed, color's a priest's whole theological outlook and performance. In the first twenty-five years of my priesthood, whenever I met a priest for the first time I could sense an immediate rapport, because we were in total theological agreement. Today the same kinship is felt only when one learns that the newly met priest accepts “Humanae Vitae”.
With Pope Paul VI's prophetic Humanae Vitae turning 45 next Thursday, we wanted to revisit how HLI's founder, Father Paul Marx, took the Holy Father's teaching "On Human Life" to heart. The encyclical would soon inspire the priest who became the first leader of the international pro-life movement. In this excerpt from his 1997 autobiography, Faithful for Life, Father Marx recalls the initial struggle among clergy with the encyclical's teachings. Although he too struggled with the teaching at first, it wasn't long before Fr. Marx fully embraced Humanae Vitae, and realized "what a tragedy the rejection and contradiction of that encyclical would induce."
Excerpt from Faithful for Life, Father Paul Marx
An ancient wise man once said, "God always forgives, men sometimes, Nature, never"; she is jealous of her fertility; she strikes back. And no generation should know that better than today's people. Widespread legal euthanasia is threatening. Daily the line between contraception and abortion becomes ever thinner, while new chemical abortifacients are being added to the arsenal of death and may soon obscure the high visibility of surgical abortion.
Theologians who dissented [from] Humanae Vitae do not realize how heavily they contributed to the unleashing of the sexual instinct to the destruction of youth and family; to the proliferation of out-of-wedlock births; to the increased number of single-parent families; and to the massive escalation of venereal (now sanitized as "sexually transmitted") disease, divorce, that "alternative lifestyle" we used to call "shacking up," marital unhappiness, and a host of other evils, including child and spousal abuse.
You will recall that my older brother Joseph became a Benedictine monk (Father Michael) at St. John's Abbey. Roman-trained, he taught theology and Scripture for years there. He died 5 May 1993. He and three confreres, Fathers Godfrey Diekmann, Aelred Tegels, and Kieren Nolan, joined Father Charles Curran in officially dissenting to Humanae Vitae in 1968, a subject Father Michael and I could hardly ever discuss thereafter; he persisted in his false view to the end. From all four I learned from what flimsy grounds and inexperience this sad dissent stemmed. To militantly reject Humanae Vitae is really to reject the Church's moral authority, and such rejection, I have noticed, color's a priest's whole theological outlook and performance. In the first twenty-five years of my priesthood, whenever I met a priest for the first time I could sense an immediate rapport, because we were in total theological agreement. Today the same kinship is felt only when one learns that the newly met priest accepts Humanae Vitae.
Humanae Vitae was issued by Paul VI on 25 July 1968. I did not sleep that night. After having tried to help so many couples with the then-available methods of NFP [Natural Family Planning], I yielded to my doubts about the encyclical; I took the dissenting theologians too seriously; I even sponsored some of them. But before long I saw the consequences of contraception and how far they would extend -- that contraception, with its abortifacient tentacles was already devastating Church and society. I sensed, too, from an abundance of NFP counseling, teaching, and promotion, what a tragedy the rejection and contradiction of that encyclical would induce.
But now we know that the prophetic Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae was entirely right in making his amazing three predictions[*]: that the practice of contraception would lower general morality; cause men to use and abuse women; and put a weapon into the hands of the government, which then would enter the sanctuary of the home and there dictate to the couple how many children they may have. All of these predictions have subsequently been fully verified in the estimation of all who have eyes to see. Every day the message of that controversial document resounds more convincingly. After all, Humanae Vitae means "Of Human Life," and you cannot defend human life unless you defend its source, which is God's great gift of human sexuality, whereby he invites the truly loving married couple to intimately cooperate with Him in the mysterious act of creation.
* Today writers generally refer to Humanae Vitae's four predictions, all of which have come to pass -- here Father Marx combines two of them into a single prediction, which some did in the wake of the encyclical’s release.
Father Marx's witness and faithfulness to the Humanae Vitae's beautiful teachings inspired many to be engaged in pro-life work, and has saved countless lives. In spite of the losses and setbacks we've faced from legal and judicial decisions around the world, there have been tremendous strides made on behalf of life, faith and family. We must never lose heart or give up hope. Though bombarded by strife and evil from every direction, we are a people of joy.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Father Shenan J. Boquet
President, Human Life International
From Catholic Medical Quarterly: