Vatican Cardinal: Damage to the Church from the Dissent on Paul VI Contraception Doc Continues Today

 On the 40th anniversary of the signing of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae (HV), one of the highest ranking Americans in the Vatican has written an eye-opening and deeply personal retrospective on the world-shaking events which took place in the wake of the document’s publication. The deadliest thing to hit the Catholic in the last 40 years, he says, was not the encyclical which reiterated the Church’s stand against contraception – but the dissent from it. 

Cardinal James F. Stafford, Major Penitentiary of the Apostolic Penitentiary – the head of the Vatican arm that deals with indulgences – writes in the Vatican’s official newspaper that he was a priest in the Archdiocese of Baltimore at the time HV was published. 

Stafford, who hosted World Youth Day in Denver in 1993 as the then-Archbishop, recounts, “The summer of 1968 is a record of God’s hottest hour.” 

“The memories are not forgotten; they are painful . . . They inhabit the whirlwind where God’s wrath dwells. In 1968 something terrible happened in the Church. Within the ministerial priesthood ruptures developed everywhere among friends which never healed. And the wounds continue to affect the whole Church. The dissent, together with the leaders’ manipulation of the anger they fomented, became a supreme test. It changed fundamental relationships within the Church.”

The Cardinal explains that dissident theologians, led by Charles Curran and other dissident clergy, attempted to bully their fellow priests into signing on to documents of formal dissent. He relates a length his own experiences of being bullied, on August 4, 1968, when a meeting of Baltimore priests was convened, with the intention of pressing them into signing the Washington “Statement of Dissent.” 

That abusive pressure on priests loyal to Rome and the fractionization of unity resulting from large numbers of openly dissenting clergy has remained problematic to this day.  “Abusive, coercive dissent has become a reality in the Church and subjects her to violent, debilitating, unproductive, chronic controversies,” writes Cardinal Stafford.  “Diocesan presbyterates have not recovered from the July/August nights in 1968.”

One key area which Cardinal Stafford highlights as having sustained “a direct hit” was the friendship among the faithful and the clergy. 

 “The violence of the initial disobedience was only a prelude to further and more pervasive violence,” he writes. “Priests wept at meetings over the manipulation of their brothers. Contempt for the truth, whether aggressive or passive, has become common in Church life.  Dissenting priests, theologians and laypeople have continued their coercive techniques.  From the beginning the press has used them to further its own serpentine agenda.”

Read the Cardinal’s complete column at the Catholic News Agency:

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  • dennisofraleigh

    This is so, so sadly true.

    I was in Catholic high school at the time. The biggest “change” we experienced (I attended an all-male Catholic college prep school) was the high attrition rate among religious who taught at the school (priests and brothers) who were leaving their Order (Marist) and requesting layicization (sp.?). Not a whole lot of discussion about Humanae Vitae that I recall. Then again, not a whole lot of reinforcement of Catholic teaching on chastity either. Instead of sound Catholic teaching a la’ St. John Bosco or Bishop Sheen we got a snootful of Marc Oraison and Eric Fromm.

    But on a broader front, to make matters worse (as I understand it) the response of the American bishops to Humanae Vitae was collectively “Yes, we applaud Pope Paul’s affirmation of Church teaching…but you laity can do what you like with it. You know, ‘concience’ and all that.”
    Subsequently the number of babies born to Catholic mothers dropped like a rock over the next two decades as American Catholic women of childbearing age embraced artificial contraception, often with the direct complicity of their Catholic pastors. These same priests and Catholic women are now all set to vote for Barack Obama on the basis of that same “conscience.”

  • noelfitz

    Why do most Catholics in the west reject HV? Are most of these living in sin? My permanent problem is that most Catholics appear to be heading for hell, either through non-attendance at Sunday Mass or by rejecting the Church’s teaching on sex. I cannot understand how a loving God can create so many people who, it seems, will end up being punished for all eternity.

  • c-kingsley

    “I cannot understand how a loving God can create so many people who, it seems, will end up being punished for all eternity.”

    That’s a fair question. Here’s my understanding, take it for what it’s worth:

    God did not want to create robots. If your furby toy tells you it loves you, who cares? God wanted to create creatures with a real free will, a will that could choose him, or could choose to rebel from him. If he is going to allow these creatures to make real choices, then he has to allow their choices to have their effect, or he hasn’t really allowed them to make choices. If they choose to reject him, he will allow them to live apart from him. Unfortunately, since he is the creator of all good things, the choice to reject him also rejects all good as well.

    In other words, God does not create people to punish them, but he allows them to choose to be separated from him for all eternity.

    C. S. Lewis’s “The Great Divorce” illustrates this idea.

    “Whom do you serve?” (Imagine Sauruman asking the Uruk-hai he has just created.)

  • Cooky642

    Picking up on c-kingsley’s response, if God only created those who would love Him and follow Him, where would the “choice” be? If God only created those who would hate Him and refuse to follow Him, where would the “love, compassion, empathy” be?

    Jesus Himself told us in Matthew 7:13-14: “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

  • noelfitz

    “God wanted to create creatures with a real free will, a will that could choose him, or could choose to rebel from him”.

    It seems a pity God made a bad choice. Most people seem to have rejected Him. He does not appear to be attractive to the majority, who, apparently, will spend eternity in hell.

  • dennisofraleigh

    So, noelfitz, God makes “bad choice[s]?”

    When I flirted with Calvinism some years ago the old “double predestination” problem kept coming up again and again. Does God indeed give humans free will just so they will eventually reject the Church’s teachings and He can eternally damn them?
    St. Paul’s letter to the Romans addresses just such a charge. Remember the example of Pharaoh whose heart God “hardened?” (This is all in Ch. 9.) “God has mercy on whom he wills, and he hardens whom he wills.”
    “That’s not fair!” someone might retort. Paul responds very simply “But who indeed are you, a human being, to talk back to God?” This long section of Paul’s letter which discusses the topic of God’s sovereignty in election (chapters 9 thru 11) ends with this expression of praise: “Oh, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments, and how unsearchable his ways!” (Rom. 11:33)
    I don’t think we’ll ever know (this side of Heaven) why God allows so many to sin with impunity (temptation, of course, is the devil’s doing. God does not “tempt” us—see James 1:13). We also know He provides sufficient means to all to reject those temptations and embrace the cross (I’m excepting those who are invincibly ignorant. I speak of U.S. Catholics here). In this self-indulgent age it is not surprising that we see a wholesale rejection of Jesus invitation to “take up [our] cross and follow [Him]” in favor of taking up our sensual appetites and following *them*.

    BTW, along with the rejection of Church teaching on artificial contraception goes the false notion that only *really evil* people go to hell (unrepentant murderers, rapists, SS stormtroopers, brutal dictators, etc.). Apparently for the rest of us (or so the majority reason) God has chosen to hand out general passes to Heaven. No longer any obligation to obey Church teachings that have the power to “bind the conscience” (such as those governing divorce and contraception) under pain, as it is written, of “mortal sin.”

  • Cooky642

    Terrific answer, denisofraleigh!!! Good for you! I’d add to your assessment the passage in Luke 18:8: “…when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” It would seem from the way the question is phrased that the answer would be “no”.

    To noelfitz: I know that you have been wanting/looking for some discussion (debate?) in response to your posts: I hope denisofraleigh and I are keeping you mildly amused.

    I have another response to your statement on God’s “bad choice(s)”. I am pro-life, and work as best I can to promote life issues. (I am also pro-death penalty based on OT Scripture, but that’s another issue.) Perhaps you’ve run into some people, as I have, that make you shake your head and wonder what God was thinking when He created them. They seem to delight in creating heartache and agony in everything they do, say, and touch. I’m often tempted to wish someone would “take them out”……and then I have to stop and think: Do I really want to pursue the thought that God “made a mistake” in creating them? What does that mean for my concept of “God”? Where could that line of thinking end up? Frankly, it scares me (which, I assume, it’s supposed to do!) and I back away from it. The God I love and serve does NOT make mistakes. Everything He does is good–maybe not from MY perspective, but aren’t we all glad I’m not God? I believe He sees a “bigger picture” than I do. I believe He sees a more infitesimal detail than I do. He’s God, and I’m not. He’s got a Plan, and I don’t. I have to trust…..and isn’t that what faith is, finally?

    (Maybe I ought to change my screen name to “Son (daughter) of Thunder”! What do you think?)

  • Cooky: You are dead on regarding God. As for executions, my take is that they ought to pass the same moral test as other killings; i.e., they are licit when it is the only expedient means to protect others from the bad guy.

  • noelfitz

    I am pro-life. I am against the death penalty. I used to enjoy our debates in CE. Most of us were loyal Catholics, but we disagreed on everything, but the essentials. It is particularly pleasing when we can disagree and respect each other and remain good friends.

    I would love to get back to the way CE was.

  • Cooky642

    Arkanabar, I agree that they are licit, but I expect my criteria for “protecting society” would be different from yours. I have no problem executing an adult who has deliberately made choices that hurt others. The O.T. sees them as a cancer that needs to be cut out for the good of society.

    Noelfitz, I’m deeply sorry you’re so unhappy with CE. Not being part of the management, I can’t tell if they will ever get back to where they used to be. For myself, I’m just happy to be able to access CE at all: I missed them when they were down!