Thursday, June 5, 2008

Humanae Vitae

“Wedding Guide” in the May 23 Catholic San Francisco, the newspaper of the San Francisco archdiocese had an important reminder for all committed Catholics of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae.

Deacon Paul Turrentine called it “the most devastating thing I had ever read.” As a 14-year old in 1967 he had been “in full sympathy with the hippie movement.” In 1968, when the encyclical reiterating the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception was issued, Turrentine said he and his friends were certain “that the Catholic Church was a dangerous anachronism which opposed progress to control people afraid to think for themselves.”

Yet nine years later, Turrentine became Catholic. During his preparation for baptism, however, and even in the marriage preparation he and his fiancée underwent later, the Church’s teachings against contraception were never mentioned. “We assumed this was an ancient, dreamy ideal but certainly not a practical requirement for modern Catholics.”

Two years later, after reading Humanae Vitae and other Church documents, Turrentine said he and his wife, “with trepidation and self-pity … agreed that, as faithful Catholics, we had to submit to these teachings…. This was the heaviest cross ever thrust upon us. Growing up in a time of general rebellion against societal norms, the virtue of chastity was foreign to me.” Since the method of Natural Family Planning they learned “depended upon a single sign of fertility … which works well for the vast majority of couples,” but did not for them, the Turrentines had a “surprise pregnancy.” (They later discovered the Sympto-Thermal method, taught by the Couple-to-Couple League, that includes multiple signs of fertility.)

Despite all this, the Turrentines never turned back to contraception. Having “dispensed with artificial methods, our relationship had improved profoundly … [t]he use of contraception had involved exploitation. We discovered … what Pope Paul VI had warned about: by disrupting the baby-making part of sex, we had also been damaging the love-deepening part of sex.”

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