Two Catholic Universities Commemorate Humanae Vitae
Benedictine College and The Catholic University of America set an example for Catholic colleges by publicly supporting the Church’s teachings.
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae, Blessed Pope Paul VI’s monumental and controversial encyclical that strictly forbade the use of artificial contraception among Catholics because of the damage that it does to men, women, and children. Many Catholics and others initially rejected this teaching, and many are still opposed to it, actively working against it. Nevertheless, in the Church today, there are many brave witnesses who are in support of the teachings promulgated in Humane Vitae. To commemorate the anniversary of this encyclical, Benedictine College and The Catholic University of America have recently held conferences to promote the teachings.
On March 24-25, Benedictine College hosted a conference commemorating Humanae Vitae, inviting renowned scholars as keynote presenters, including Dr. Janet E. Smith, professor of moral theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary; Dr. Brad Wilcox, professor of sociology at the University of Virginia; and Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, founder of the Ruth Institute. Many other scholars came to present in breakout sessions, and I was honored to be present as both a participant and presenter.
Dr. Smith spoke on the moral use of natural family planning, giving many arguments to support those families who choose to use the Church-approved method for responsible parenthood. Dr. Wilcox spoke on the divide between low-income families, middle-class families, and upper-class families, noting that those children who are born into low-income families are more likely to experience divorce, single-parenthood, and multiple forms of abuse. In essence, he wanted to show that we cannot separate economic issues from marriage and family discussions. As the concluding keynote speaker, Dr. Morse gave the participants “three things you hadn’t thought of” on the “contraceptive ideology” that has infected our world, including the fact that the “contraceptive ideology” distorts the economy, corrupts the professions of law, medicine, and journalism, and is unjust to children.
The conference was also blessed with the presence of Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, Archbishop of San Francisco, who gave the lunch keynote. Drawing on his prestigious background as a canon lawyer, he explored the unified teaching about the primacy of the procreative end of marriage in Gaudium et Spes (no. 48) and Canon 1055. As he explained, “So much of the rejection of Humanae Vitae is the rejection of the Cross. …The last thing we need today is a way for people to reject the Cross.” He encouraged the attendees to continue in their work of spreading the message of Humanae Vitae, along with the message of Christ. “The purpose of the Church is to evangelize…. A place for people to encounter the Person of Christ. In other words, to win souls for Christ.” Those in attendance at the conference were seeking to do just that: learn new ways of bringing souls back to Christ, particularly through proclaiming the positive message of Humanae Vitae.
During the two panel discussions, I attended the sessions that focused on theological and philosophical topics related to Humanae Vitae. Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, O.P., professor of biology at Providence College, spoke about human gene editing with CRISPR, cutting-edge technology that allows us to edit human genes. He spoke of the obvious moral implications of this technology, but hinted also that the distinction of therapeutic versus enhancement offered in Dignitatis Personae (no. 26) is insufficient, given the growth and development of that technology. Dr. Alexander Pruss, professor of philosophy at Baylor University, gave a presentation on six reasons for explaining marriage as a natural institution to those who believe it is a societal construct. The other panel discussion, which I did not attend, discussed the implementation of the teaching of Humanae Vitae in professional medicine. Speakers included Terese Bauer, M.D. and Angelique Pritchett, M.D., both of Gianna Family Care, and Teresa Kenney, MSN, APRN, of the Pope Paul VI Institute.
The remarkable part of the conference was that not only was it held at the beautiful Benedictine College campus, nestled in the hills alongside the Missouri River, but that students were allowed to attend the conference for free. It was incredible to see the number of students who availed themselves of the opportunity to attend the symposium. Some breakout sessions were standing-room only because of the number of students who attended the papers. While we would expect a Catholic college to encourage its students to attend a symposium on Humanae Vitae, this is not always the case. It shows that Benedictine College, a small, liberal arts undergraduate program with a student population of about 1,800, is committed to introducing its students to the truths of the Catholic faith and educating the Catholic leaders for the future.
A few days later, on April 3-4, The Catholic University of America also hosted a conference commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae, on the theme, “Humanae Vitae (1968-2018): Embracing God’s Vision for Marriage, Love, and Life.” This conference boasted speakers including Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia; Janet Smith; Patrick Lee, professor of philosophy and the John N. and Jamie D. McAleer Chair in Bioethics at Franciscan University of Steubenville; Teresa Stanton Collett, professor and director of the Pro-Life Center at the University of St. Thomas School of Law; and Christopher Kaczor, professor of philosophy at Loyola Marymount University, among many others. One of the speakers was John Grabowski, associate professor of moral theology at Catholic University of America, who encapsulated the very spirit of the conference: “Like our Lord Himself, (the Church’s teaching) is often a ‘sign of contradiction.’ But to a culture such as ours, deeply wounded by the Sexual Revolution, it charts a path toward encountering God’s mercy and His healing love. This conference offers people an opportunity to rediscover the integral connection between love and life in God’s plan for us.”
What both of these conferences reveal is a reorientation in the Church. After so many years of opposition, many in the Church are starting to support and actively promote the Church’s teachings on contraception. It is encouraging to see this support coming from Catholic universities, who are forming the students who will be getting married, entering the workforce, and shaping the culture for their generation. These are the places where we should be rigorously supporting the Church’s teachings so that the next generation of Catholics are exposed to them and likewise show support in the public sphere. These universities should be applauded for hosting conferences supporting the teachings of Humanae Vitae—they are a light to the nations, both to Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
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