A few days ago I was talking with my father in law about Pope Francis. While the pope had been much more open and enthusiastic than Benedict XVI, he hasn’t changed or updated any church teachings. My father in law wondered aloud of he would give a new look to the Church’s current understanding of artificial birth control.
Most Christian Churches opposed artificial birth control until 1930. In 1931 Pope Pius XI wrote an encyclical titled Casti Connubii reaffirming the Church’s opposition to birth control. After the reforms of Vatican II many Catholics thought the Church would update its teachings. To this end Blessed John XXIII appointed a commission to explore this issue. Pope Paul VI expanded this commission and in 1966 they advised Paul VI to explore updating Catholic teaching. Instead he published Humanae Vitae that reaffirmed the ban.
This was a cause of great pain for couples of child bearing age (including my father in law). While some couples lived with this, many chose to ignore the teaching. The teaching has had a smaller and smaller place in the lives of most Catholics, and by the time I was ordained in 1994 the subject virtually never came up. Polls show that Catholics couples use birth control at the same rate as non Catholics in the United States.
So this has gotten me to wonder: what would happen if Francis updated the teaching? There is certainly a small but vocal minority who would go crazy. Perhaps this would give some couples the permission they’ve sought, but statistics show that this is a small number.
I suspect that since most Catholics of child bearing age were born after 1968 (if we think of child bearing until age 50), it wouldn’t make much of a difference. In that sense perhaps the Church should let this teaching just fade away. In a sense that’s what we did with Galileo; he was denounced in 1615 for claiming the earth revolved around the sun and the Church didn’t officially change that until 1992.
On the other hand it I think it would be a strong statement that would be of great benefit to the Church’s image. In a sense it would probably be seen as throwing Paul VI under the bus, but that may not be a bad thing. I have nothing against Paul VI, but I suspect that he didn’t update the teaching out of concern of throwing Pius XI under the bus. Some pope, some day, should have the courage to do what the overwhelming number of us think he should do. I’d like to this it’s Francis.
I’m not sure why but this date is replete with events in my life. Some of them are good, but most of them are bad. In the years to come I’m thinking of just skipping this day.
On this day in 1994 my godfather died.
On this day in 1995 my grandfather died.
On this day last year my agency, San Diego Hospice died (it actually announced it was closing but spent the next month transferring patients).
Today two of my coworkers (who are co-survivors of the death of San Diego Hospice) were laid off.
On the other hand, some good things happened. Today a friend of mine celebrated 11 years of sobriety, and the daughter of my friends Mike and Dana turn 19 today.
Maybe everyone has a date like this, but it seems that February 13th is the intersection of lots of people and events in my life.
Next year I start the sleeping pills on the night of the 12th and hope to wake up on the 14th.
One year ago today, Pope Benedict XVI announced he would resign as Pope, something that hadn’t happened in centuries.
It was a courageous act. His health had suffered greatly during his papacy and he felt that he could no longer adequately serve the church.
I was the exception: almost everyone I knew thought the conclave would elect a pope who would lead with the same agendas as Benedict and Blessed John Paul II. They saw a church that would continue to see purity of orthodoxy over the inclusion that Jesus sought. A church that saw itself as under siege by forces that wanted its destruction. They thought this because all 115 of the Cardinals in the conclave were appointed by either John Paul or Benedict.
I gave more credit to the Holy Spirit. I was reminded that Blessed John XXVIII was appointed Cardinal by Pius XII. He came out of nowhere and made more progress in the 20th Century than anyone expected. I prayed for another successor like John.
On March 13th we learned of the election of someone we’d never heard of: Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio. We learned that he is of Italian descent, but was from Argentina. We learned quickly that change was in the wind. A Jesuit, he chose (for the first time) to be called the name of St. Francis, a medieval saint who embraced poverty as a way of holiness. Then he took the bus back to his hotel and paid the bill.
In the 11 months since his election many of us liberal Catholics have rejoiced in him. He is humble, kind, and loving. Maybe we should take this for granted in a Pope, but it’s been a long time since we’ve been able to.