.- 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 VIâs 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae on the fortieth anniversary of its promulgation, July 25. The group Catholics for Choice (CFC) claims that the encyclicalâs teaching against contraception has been an âutter failureâ that endangers womenâs lives and leaves millions at risk of HIV. However, a major pro-life leader said the groupâs accusations were hard to take seriously.
According to the version of the open letter obtained by CNA, CFC argues that there is a âparadoxâ in Humanae Vitae because âmost Catholics use modern contraceptives, believe it is a moral choice to do so, and consider themselves Catholics in good standing.â The letter asserts that the encyclical has been an âutter failureâ in convincing Catholics to abandon contraceptive use.
Catholic condemnation of contraceptive use, the CFC letter claims, has also hindered what it calls âgood public health policiesâ 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 VIâs Birth Control Commission, which he consulted in preparing Humanae Vitae, the CFC letter says the commission had âvoted overwhelminglyâ 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 commissionâs minority report, which supported the historical Catholic prohibition of contraceptives.
The CFC letter in its conclusion asks Pope Benedict to be true to âthe positive aspects of Catholic teachings on sexualityâ and also to âlift the banâ on contraception.
Father Tom Euteneuer, President of Human Life International, addressed some of the reported contents of CFCâs open letter in an e-mail to CNA, saying âI find it hard to take seriously the accusation that Humanae Vitae is an âutter failureâ.â
Father Euteneuer attacked the credibility of CFC, explaining, âAn 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.â He reported that the organization has been condemned twice in open session by the U.S. Catholic Bishops as a deceptive and false âCatholicâ organization.
Judging the success of Humanae Vitae, Father Euteneuer asserted, should not be colored by what he called CFCâs âpro-abortion glasses.â
âMillions of Catholic men and women are faithful to this teaching and will not send out press releases to tell about it,â he declared. This was evidenced, he said, by the success of organizations like Couple to Couple League, One More Soul, the âphenomenal popularityâ of Janet Smithâs Humanae Vitae presentations and the new âTheology of the Bodyâ of Pope John Paul II.
Father Euteneuer also countered the claim that Catholic teaching hindered HIV prevention efforts in the Third World. âThe only country that has effectively controlled its HIV problem has done it through non-condom prevention programs. That is the Catholic Philippines,â he said.
He also noted that Uganda had reversed its âskyrocketing HIV-AIDS rateâ through abstinence and behavioral change programs that shunned what he called âthe condom savior.â
âThey 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,â 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 âabstinence costs nothingâ and âcannot garner millions of dollars of economic aid like condoms can.â
Regarding the CFC letterâs claims about the 1967 Birth Control Commission, the HLI president wrote:
âThe 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.â
The fulfillment of what he deemed the âso-called Humanae Vitae propheciesâ in paragraph 17 of the encyclical vindicated Pope Paul VIâs judgment, in Father Euteneuerâs view.
The HLI president explained Human Life Internationalâs 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.
âWe 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,â Father Euteneuer stated.
CNAâs attempts to obtain comment from CFC on their letter went unanswered before press time.