By Georgiana Francisco | Correspondent
Exactly 50 years to the day since Pope Paul VI issued the encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” faithful from around the Diocese gathered to celebrate and learn more about the 15-page document that continues to influence today’s society.
The goal of the two-hour discussion, held July 25 in St. Joan of Arc Parish, Marlton, was to further today’s understanding of the papal document and its implications for the future.
“Humanae Vitae” discusses God’s plan for the creation of new life within the bounds of married love. It was controversial, especially for the time, for the Pope warns of the harm that widespread use of contraception could cause in society, such as lowering moral standards, marital infidelity, less respect for women and the government’s ability to use different methods to regulate life and death.
Peg Hensler, associate director of Marriage Ministries and NFP for the diocesan Department of Evangelization and Family Life, led the discussion by asking older participants for their reaction to the encyclical when it was first introduced. She also asked younger attendees their thoughts in light of what is now being seen as the prophetic nature of the document.
Responses were mixed. Some said the encyclical had many positives with regard to marital love and keeping the marital act sacred, but they felt there was little attention given to educating parishioners and promoting its lessons for the future. Now, a half-century later, newcomers to the document believe it can still have a positive impact on Catholic families who can see what Pope Paul VI predicted – that society’s wide acceptance of artificial birth control would contribute to a moral breakdown in society and the family.
“There is tremendous hope for the future because it was such a prophetic document, and now there is so much more fuel for acceptance,” Hensler said. “One of the reasons ‘Humanae Vitae’ was rejected at the time by so many Catholics was because couples were called to make responsible decisions regarding parenthood, but the science of Natural Family Planning was not well developed.”
Pointing out that newer, effective methods of Natural Family Planning – which uses a woman’s daily biomarkers to help chart a women’s fertility – weren’t known in the 1960s, Hensler said she is hopeful that “there will be wider acceptance of the encyclical in today’s society.”
Hensler’s son, Kevin, also addressed the crowd. Kevin Hensler is a doctoral student of world religion in Temple University and adjunct professor of theology at St. Joseph University, both Philadelphia. In addition to discussing the encyclical’s place in history, he spoke to its current influence and what it could mean for a young person in today’s world.
“As a young adult Catholic, I question everything, but it’s my duty, and the duty of all Catholics, to study and learn why the Church teaches what it does, and then explain it to others with conviction,” he said. “That’s how we can make a difference in the world.”
The program also included a short video featuring Bishop Robert Barron, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis. In the video, Bishop Barron focuses on Section XVII of the encyclical that demonstrates the foresight of Pope Paul VI – “he clearly holds that not only is artificial contraception bad in itself, but he also saw all kinds of societal ramifications that if it were to be widely accepted, lots of other bad things would ensue, and that just jumped out at me, because it became clear that this man was clearly looking ahead to our time.”
The evening, one of a number of anniversary events sponsored this year by the Diocese’s Department of Evangelization and Family Life, also included a trailer of a new film available to parishes and dioceses that was 20 years in the making. “Sexual Revolution: 50 Years Since Humanae Vitae” puts an historical perspective on the years since the encyclical’s debut.
For more information on NFP, visit the Diocese’s website at https://dioceseoftrenton.org/nfp-awareness.
This article includes information from Catholic News Service.