A group of Catholic dissenters plans to publish an open letter to Pope Benedict XVI in a major U.S. and a major Italian newspaper criticizing Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae on the fortieth anniversary of its promulgation, July 25. The group Catholics for Choice (CFC) claims that the encyclical’s teaching against contraception has been an “utter failure” that endangers women’s lives and leaves millions at risk of HIV. However, a major pro-life leader said the group’s accusations were hard to take seriously.
According to the version of the open letter obtained by CNA, CFC argues that there is a “paradox” in Humanae Vitae because “most Catholics use modern contraceptives, believe it is a moral choice to do so, and consider themselves Catholics in good standing.” The letter asserts that the encyclical has been an “utter failure” in convincing Catholics to abandon contraceptive use.
Catholic condemnation of contraceptive use, the CFC letter claims, has also hindered what it calls “good public health policies” on family planning and HIV prevention. It further claims that most Catholics support the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV.
Focusing on Pope Paul VI’s Birth Control Commission, which he consulted in preparing Humanae Vitae, the CFC letter says the commission had “voted overwhelmingly” to recommend rescinding the Catholic ban on artificial contraceptives. The majority reportedly argued that contraceptive use was not intrinsically evil and that previous Catholic teaching was not infallible, but according to CFC, Pope Paul listened to the commission’s minority report, which supported the historical Catholic prohibition of contraceptives.
The CFC letter in its conclusion asks Pope Benedict to be true to “the positive aspects of Catholic teachings on sexuality” and also to “lift the ban” on contraception.
Father Tom Euteneuer, President of Human Life International, addressed some of the reported contents of CFC’s open letter in an e-mail to CNA, saying “I find it hard to take seriously the accusation that Humanae Vitae is an ‘utter failure’.”
Father Euteneuer attacked the credibility of CFC, explaining, “An organization founded by a lady who ran illegal abortion clinics in the Third World before she graduated to higher levels of malfeasance is hardly an authority we should take seriously.” He reported that the organization has been condemned twice in open session by the U.S. Catholic Bishops as a deceptive and false “Catholic” organization.
Judging the success of Humanae Vitae, Father Euteneuer asserted, should not be colored by what he called CFC’s “pro-abortion glasses.”
“Millions of Catholic men and women are faithful to this teaching and will not send out press releases to tell about it,” he declared. This was evidenced, he said, by the success of organizations like Couple to Couple League, One More Soul, the “phenomenal popularity” of Janet Smith’s Humanae Vitae presentations and the new “Theology of the Body” of Pope John Paul II.
Father Euteneuer also countered the claim that Catholic teaching hindered HIV prevention efforts in the Third World. “The only country that has effectively controlled its HIV problem has done it through non-condom prevention programs. That is the Catholic Philippines,” he said.
He also noted that Uganda had reversed its “skyrocketing HIV-AIDS rate” through abstinence and behavioral change programs that shunned what he called “the condom savior.”
“They went from a 30% infection rate down to 5%; no other country in the world has done that, and the success can be laid at the feet of Catholic teaching,” he wrote, also crediting the work of the Franciscan nun Sister Miriam Duggan.
Father Euteneuer suggested that abstinence programs might not be as popular as condom-based programs because “abstinence costs nothing” and “cannot garner millions of dollars of economic aid like condoms can.”
Regarding the CFC letter’s claims about the 1967 Birth Control Commission, the HLI president wrote:
“The majority were in favor of changing the teaching and the minority were real Catholics. Whatever the outcome, the sole determinant in the truth of the Church teaching is only one vote, that of the Holy Spirit, and Pope Paul VI followed His inspiration in issuing Humanae vitae at a time when it was overwhelmingly unpopular. He was the Pope, not a politician, and he did exactly what he should have done in reaffirming centuries-old infallible teaching.”
The fulfillment of what he deemed the “so-called Humanae Vitae prophecies” in paragraph 17 of the encyclical vindicated Pope Paul VI’s judgment, in Father Euteneuer’s view.
The HLI president explained Human Life International’s own plans for the fortieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae, saying they had a priest and seminarian newsletter centered on the encyclical at www.humanevitaepriests.org. He reported that the organization also has prepared parish bulletin inserts, homily notes, and a petition campaign to declare assent to the encyclical.
“We will also call for a day of fasting and prayer on the anniversary of the encyclical so that good Catholics can make reparation for the sins of the likes of CFC,” Father Euteneuer stated.
CNA’s attempts to obtain comment from CFC on their letter went unanswered before press time.