Humanae Vitae, the most misunderstood musing

Over at Captain Ed’s Place there is a lively discussion taking place in the comments thread regarding the SCOTUS refusal to hear the appeal of Catholic Charities concerning California law. In a nutshell, California has told Catholic Charities – an excellent gang of people who help anyone in need with everything from tonight’s supper to job counselling – that their health plan must – must, mind you – offer health insurance coverage with includes artificial contraception. Got that? A non-profit organization under the umbrella of a church is being ordered by the government to offer something that is directly opposed to the teachings and beliefs of that church. And our increasingly cowardly SCOTUS is refusing to hear the case.

I’ll leave the debate for better, fresher minds than mine – I find myself distracted these days – but I had to mention that one of the commenters on that post has one tiny bit of information wrong, and it’s a particular bug-a-boo of mine – regarding the infallibility of the teaching.

Mona is mostly correct. Artificial birth control is considered a grave sin within the church, but contrary to Mona’s statement, it’s not an infallible teaching.

Many, many people believe it is – they believe Pope Paul VI spoke ex cathedra (from the chair of Peter) thus declaring the teaching ‘infallible’. He did not. Humane Vitae is many things and much of it has proven to be – if not prophetic – then prescient. For many Catholics (most of whom have never read the thing) Humane Vitae is problematic or ‘unrealistic’ or ‘unworkable’. For other Catholics it is a tool that leads to many graces. I am content to sit in the middle and suggest that HV is a very wonderful ideal that requires great faith in this age of “self-actualization”…but it is not an infallible teaching. Too many people think every time a pope opens his yap or issues an encyclical that he is claiming to speak infallibly. The truth is, unless he says, “‘Lissen up, now, youse, because I’m speaking infallibly”, then he is not.

The last time a pope spoke infallibly was in 1950, when Pope Pius XII declared the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary a dogma of the faith. Before that, I believe it had been over 100 years since there had been an infallible proclamation. They’re kinda rare! :-)

As to Humane Vitae– any Catholic who wishes to think of himself or herself as an informed Catholic really needs to read the thing. Most people who read it find that it’s a generous and compassionate document that has – yes, I’m going to be unpopular and say it – proven to be quite right over the years. I know Evangelical Christians who have taken its teachings to heart more enthusiastically than Catholics. God works where and as He will.

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