Humanae Vitae, Germany, And Amoris Laetitia

by John F. Kippley

(Editor’s Note: John F. Kippley is the author of Sex and the Marriage Covenant: A Basis for Morality [Ignatius]. He is involved in the NFP movement and is available for presentations related to Humanae Vitae. Contact him via www.nfpandmore.org and at P. O. Box 112035, Cincinnati OH 45211).

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Although I have read many words about Amoris Laetitia, I don’t recall seeing anything that has related it to Humanae Vitae. To be more specific, I have not seen analyses that relate the non-support of Humanae Vitae by the German hierarchy in 1968 to the state of the Church today in Germany and then to the Kasperite interpretation of Amoris Laetitia. Now that it’s time to get ready for the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae next year, it is also time to connect the dots.

For whatever reasons, in 1968 the German hierarchy became known the world over for its non-endorsement of Humanae Vitae. There were probably some outstanding exceptions at that time, just as there have been some wonderful supporters of that teaching in recent years and at present, but the impression I had at the time was that Germany was exceptional by not giving even lip service to the encyclical.

As I recall, there was no open dissent on the part of the hierarchy, but there was also little or nothing to teach their people that the received teaching against unnatural forms of birth control still held true. Thus, it appears that a huge percentage of German Catholics followed the cultural spirit of the times and practiced unnatural forms of birth control.

There is a special irony in this because it was in Germany that a Catholic priest in 1934 started to teach a very effective form of natural family planning (NFP). Fr. Wilhelm Hillebrand had been helping his people learn the relatively new Ogino-Knaus rhythm method, and he listened when some of his couples told him that it wasn’t working well for them. A doctor told him about the value of the temperature sign, so he then counseled his couples to look for some elevated temperatures to crosscheck the O-K calculations for post-ovulation infertility.

In June 1967, when Pope Paul VI was preparing to write the encyclical, Dr. G.K. Doering published his study of a calendar-temperature NFP system in a German medical journal. He found a 99 percent effectiveness rate in avoiding pregnancy when couples abstained from the marriage act from Day 1 of the cycle until the evening of the third day of well-elevated temperatures. He found a 97 percent effectiveness when couples also used the early days of the cycle. Was this valuable information brought to the attention of the Pope?

Large numbers of Catholics adopting the secular modes of contraception would then suffer the same consequences — marital disillusionment, unhappiness, and divorce. Many of them would try a second time in a civil marriage, and some of these would eventually miss the Catholic practice of Mass and Communion. Many, perhaps most, could not obtain an annulment of the first marriage because there were no valid grounds for thinking it was an invalid marriage. Their complaints have reached sympathetic ears, including mine, but reality is reality.

Some perhaps kept complaining about the Church discipline while still attending Mass; others dropped out entirely.

Among those who dropped out entirely, some have stopped checking the “Catholic” box on their German federal income tax form, not an easy thing to do. (The federal government collects a church tax and then uses it to subsidize all the various churches according to the data on the tax form.) To avoid paying the denominational church tax, a person has to make a public act of separation from his particular church. Thus, withdrawals from the Catholic Church reduce the income of the Church, but those empty churches still have to be maintained until they are sold. And some are sold for secular purposes such as skate parks and trapeze training schools. The Wall Street Journal ran a page-one story on this (January 2, 2015).

All of this leaves the Church in bad shape, especially in terms of Catholic religious life. Not a few have suggested that allowing marital contraception would keep the pews full, but Malcolm Muggeridge years ago pointed to the Anglican empty pews as proof of a failed teaching. The same is true of the Catholic Church where it ignores Humanae Vitae or gives it only lip service. In Germany, weekly Mass attendance is a small fraction of what it was prior to the nonacceptance of Humanae Vitae.

How dissent from Humanae Vitae leads to a Kasperite interpretation of Amoris Laetitia:

In the Amoris Laetitia discussion, some wonder why some priests and bishops seem so open to the idea of people living in a state of adultery and receiving Holy Communion. I don’t know. But perhaps they have avoided some difficult questions. What about people who are engaging in the serious immorality of using unnatural forms of birth control and receiving Communion without repentance and Confession? What about those same people exercising public liturgical offices such as lectors and distributors of Holy Communion? Does this happen? Who knows?

But for years I have heard about the long lines for Holy Communion but the almost absent lines for Confession while at the same time reading that 95 percent of fertile-age married Catholics are using unnatural methods of birth control.

Considering these well-publicized numbers, let us imagine that in some dioceses and parishes it is recognized or at least seriously suspected that many couples have formed their consciences in a way that is objectively erroneous but subjectively allows them to practice contraception and receive Holy Communion. Let us imagine that it is considered pastorally acceptable for pastors at every level to remain silent on this objectively sacrilegious practice.

The situation is even worse when the unnatural method has the potential to cause early abortions. That’s the well-known operation of the Pill and other forms of hormonal birth control. It is entirely possible that a Catholic woman using the Pill and distributing Holy Communion may be saying “the Body of Christ” while her Pill is aborting the embryonic body of a newly conceived child within her womb.

It seems to me that willfully ignoring these unhappy realities creates an ecclesial environment of at least apparent indifference to serious sin. In that sort of permissive environment, divorced persons in invalid civil marriages can more easily feel comfortable in receiving Holy Communion while committing what is objectively adultery according to the teaching of Matthew 19.

In brief, the rejection of Humanae Vitae leads to a greatly increased use of contraceptive behaviors which in turn result in more marital unhappiness and divorces of validly married couples. That leads to increased numbers of invalid second marriages in which some or many want to feel comfortable receiving Holy Communion. That leads to great pressure to change the Church discipline which supports the teaching of indissolubility. That creates confusion and disunity in the Church. And that’s where we are today, not just in Germany but all throughout the Western Church.

After almost 49 years of relative silence about Humanae Vitae and consequent widespread marital unchastity, the time has come for Catholic pastors to do all they can to ensure that Catholic couples are properly evangelized and live their marriages in accord with that great encyclical. Whatever our state in life, we are all called to do and teach the truth in love. That’s the way to happiness and peace — in marriage and in the Church.

Peace is the tranquility of due order. Peace within the Church requires the acceptance, teaching, and living of Humanae Vitae.

(© 2017 John F. Kippley)

Published in The Wanderer, February, 2017. Reprinted with permission by author.