Catholic Culture Solidarity
Catholic Culture Solidarity

the clash of an idea

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jul 12, 2008

"Debate over 1968 encyclical rages on," reads the headline in today's Boston Globe.

Oh, boy: a debate! The clash of wits, the competition of ideas! Can't wait. Let's get right to the story. After a quick introduction, writer Rich Barlow sets the terms of the debate:

Some contemporary critics of the Vatican's policy contend, for example, that the church could save lives in AIDS-ravaged Africa by relenting on its opposition to condom use.

Traditionalists counter that the pope was prescient in condemning a culture that seems often to treat life as a disposable soda bottle.

Not bad, really. Now let's get a bit deeper into the arguments.

The unfortunately named Stephen Pope of Boston College says that Humanae Vitae is a disaster. Leslie Woodcock Tentler says that most Catholic priests disagreed with the Pope. Gallup and Pew polls reveal that few Catholic couples follow the teaching of the encyclical.

OK, fair enough. Now how about the other side of the debate?

Hang on a minute. First Stephen Pope is back to take a couple more swats at Pope Paul. But then Father Robert Imbelli reports that he actually knows Catholic couples who follow Church teaching! And they like it! Now we're getting to the crux of the debate! And....

Oh, wait. Imbelli is gone. Pope is back. (Stephen Pope, I mean; not the old geezer in Rome.) He is willing to concede, Barlow tells us, that Pope Paul had a useful message about "the inseparability of marriage and love." That's a necessary message today, the BC professor and the Globe ventriloquist tell us, presumably because there are so many voices in today's culture recommending loveless marriage.

Funny: I thought this debate was about contraception. The "inseparability" that Pope Paul highlighted in Humanae Vitae was the natural link between the act of marital love and the process of human procreation. Break that link, the Pope warned, and all hell will break loose in human relationships, as reverence for human life declines. But after that one memorable line about the "disposable soda bottle," we've heard nothing more along those lines.

It's not just that fashionable liberals can't come to terms with the argument of Humanae Vitae. It's that they can't even state the terms of the debate accurately. It would be too embarrassing to revive the old-fashioned idea that the use of the human reproductive system might have something to do with human reproduction. So instead of summarizing Pope Paul's thesis, the squeamish journalist substitutes an inane formula: "the inseparability of marriage and love." Globe readers unfamiliar with the argument of Humanae Vitae-- and that will describe all Globe readers, if the editors have their way-- will nod in agreement that love and marriage go together (I feel a song coming on..), and never learn what the Pope said and why he said it.

Too late now. The debate is over. The defense has rested. Or rather I should say the defense is rested-- which is understandable, since the defense never got out of its chair.

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