COLORADO SPRINGS. Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical outlining the Catholic Church’s teaching on contraception was poorly received and appeared to be an inadequate response to the sexual revolution. Nonetheless, his prediction that efforts to separate sex from procreation would lead to the objectification of women has been born out over the past 50 years, said a well-known Catholic speaker at Holy Apostles Parish on May 15.
“It all came true and then some; we wouldn’t have the ‘Me Too’ movement if we had listened to Paul VI,” said Mary Beth Bonacci, a nationally-known chastity speaker. “He warned us that if we continued on the path we were on, women would not be respected. I don’t think even he imagined how bad it would get.”
Delivered to an audience made up of those who work in marriage preparation and marriage ministry in the diocese, Bonacci’s talk was sponsored by the Office of Marriage and Family Life in honor of the 50th anniversary of “Humanae Vitae (On the Transmission of Human Life).” In the encyclical, Paul VI stated that the only method of regulating births that is consistent with Catholic moral teaching is for couples to abstain from sexual relations during fertile periods.
Bonacci began by describing the cultural climate surrounding the encyclical’s controversial release in 1968.
“The summer of 1967 was the ‘Summer of Love.’ This was the apex of the sexual revolution and the era of technology — we were going to the moon. Technology was releasing us from the shackles of our limits,” she said.
Meanwhile, prior to his death in 1963, Pope John XXIII had formed a commission to advise him on how to promulgate the Catholic Church’s teaching on contraception, but the move was interpreted by many as a signal that a change in teaching was imminent, Bonacci said.
“Initially, the commission was just intended to advise the pope on how to promulgate the Church’s teaching on contraception, but somewhere in the course of it, someone decided that their job was to advise the pope on what the teaching should be,” Bonacci said. “And so, the commission broke down into a majority and a minority. A majority of commission members wrote an extensive report advising the Holy Father to change the Church’s teaching on contraception. The report got leaked to the press — in the U.S. through the National Catholic Reporter.”
It was assumed that Pope John XXIII’s successor, Paul VI, would heed the commission’s advice when he issued “Humanae Vitae” in 1968.
“Instead, it was 23 pages of reasserting consistent Church teaching,” Bonacci said. “It was like a bomb went off. People were shocked; some pastors had already been advising couples in anticipation of the reversal.”
What is less well-known is that one of the members of the commission was then-Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, who was prohibited by Poland’s Communist government from traveling to Rome for meetings but who had been observing the deliberations from a distance. Wojtyla had already studied and written about the subject of human sexuality in his book “Love and Responsibility.”
“He’s seeing everything that’s going on, and he started writing a theological treatise in response,” Bonacci said. “He believed that what the Church was lacking was an ‘adequate anthropology’ — an adequate understanding of man as male and female and created in the image and likeness of God,” as described in the Book of Genesis.
These reflections formed the basis of Wojtyla’s “Theology of the Body,” which was published after he became Pope John Paul II and explains the natural-law concepts found in “Humanae Vitae,” Bonacci said.
Among other things, Theology of the Body demonstrates why contraception is damaging to marriage, Bonacci said.
“John Paul II is very ground-breaking in this; he said that contraception is not just a violation against the procreative aspect — it’s a violation against the unitive,” she said.
A video of Bonacci’s entire presentation can be viewed at https://youtu.be/Gslywt_BwtU.