Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 68(1) February 2018
Fruits of the Same Tree
Dr. Pravin Thevathasan
Fifty years ago, Pope Paul VI released his famous encyclical Humanae Vitae. He made a number of remarkable predictions: for example, contraception leads to the exploitation of women and the poor. In his great encyclical Evangelium Vitae Saint John Paul wrote that "contraception and abortion are closely connected, as fruits of the same tree".
The 16 September 2017 Tablet editorial states: "It may be that the majority of Catholics have come round to the formula sometimes used in the United States, that abortion in the first trimester should ideally be "legal, safe-and rare". That would be a realistic policy framework for Catholic campaigners and legislators to pursue." It is worth noting that The Tablet has been in a state of active dissent regarding Church teachings on contraception. And now it has demonstrated that Saint John Paul was correct: a contraceptive mentality eventually leads to acceptance of abortion in rare instances. Acceptance of abortion in rare instances eventually leads to promotion of abortion on demand. I have no doubt that the journalists working for The Tablet back in 1968 when Humanae Vitae came out would have condemned abortion outright while arguing that the teaching of the Church on contraception needs to change. Their successors have a different view. Let us compare The Tablet editorial to recent remarks by Bishop Michael Campbell of Lancaster: abortion is a "foundational issue" and "Catholics cannot claim to be true to the faith if they do not support Church teaching on Abortion. It is not good enough to keep the Catholic brand name and keep our heads down in the public sphere".
In an interesting short piece in this issue, Adrian Treloar recounts how the conversion of London was sacrificed by Bishop Mellitus in 616 AD simply because the Church was resolute in her determination to protect the Blessed Sacrament from being given to non-believers. There is a real resonance here in terms of the need to remain clear on key issues of family life and morals.
If contraception and abortion are fruits of the same tree, we need to examine how Catholics responded to Humanae Vitae back in 1968. In his book Salvation and Sanctification, the brilliant Fr John Hardon wrote: "Like Hans Kung, Karl Rahner also refused to accept the teaching of Humanae Vitae. But unlike Kung, Rahner said he believed in the Church's infallibility. To which Kung countered, "what kind of infallibility do you believe in?"...in Kung's mind there was no doubt that Pope Paul considered the doctrine of Humanae Vitae infallible." Most Catholics have followed Rahner in accepting that there are circumstances when conscience trumps Church teaching even when conscience is not formed according to the constant teachings of the Church on matters of faith or morals. If this is true for contraception, it is equally true for abortion and that is why the editorial in The Tablet is not incorrect in noting a greater tolerance for abortion among practicing Catholics.On this matter, Kung turns out to be right and Rahner wrong: once you reject the consistent teaching of the Church in one area of faith or morals, there is nothing stopping you dissenting in other areas. You end up asking if there is such a thing as infallibility, as Kung did.
When I first became pro-life, I too believed the teaching of the Catholic Church on contraception was wrong. There were certain individuals who helped me change my mind: Saint John Paul II and Dietrich Von Hildebrand, for instance. But there was one person who stood head and shoulders above all the rest. Her name is Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood. She was a racist and a eugenicist. I personally believe her to have been one of the most evil women of the twentieth century. At a time when statues of other racists and others are coming down, is it not outrageous that there are people being given the Margaret Sanger Award? More than anyone else, she convinced me of the immorality of contraception.
The following quotes are to be found on-line at http://dailysignal.com/. In a letter to Clarence Gamble on the 10th of December, 1939, Sanger writes:"We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the negro population".
Of course there are some American billionaires who will praise her for being thoroughly modern when she states: " The most immoral practice of the day is breeding too many children." Sanger also wrote: "The most merciful thing that the large family does to one of its infant members is kill it". (Woman and the New Race, 1920, chapter 5)
It is unlikely that she will be regarded as a champion for the disabled when she writes:"I think the greatest sin in the world is bringing children into the world, that have disease from their parents, that have no chance in the world to be a human being practically". This was from an interview with Mike Wallace in 1957.
Sanger said that people who she considered unfit needed to be sent to "farmlands and homesteads" where they can be supervised to not have children. What is needed is a "stern and rigid policy" of sterilization and segregation. Methods of population control, including abortion, will be "defending the unborn against their own disabilities." (Birth Control Review, April 1932, pages 107-108) With her close and strong alliance of racism, discrimination against disability and eugenics alongside both compulsory and voluntary contraception, Sanger revealed where the great advocates of population control really find motivation and purpose.
Even though Sanger did a better job in convincing me than Paul VI, the teachings of the Church makes sense: artificial contraception is wrong not because it is artificial but because it is contraceptive. It profoundly disrupts the procreative and unitive nature of marriage and sexual intercourse. Direct contraception involves choices that cannot respect God-given values, meanings and purposes, both procreative and unitive. Saint John Paul II was insightful when he said that contraception is not only anti-procreation but is also anti-unitive. Those are the key reasons why the great Dietrich Von Hildebrand saw the conjugal act as an expression of the loving, mutual self-donation of husband and wife. The philosopher Germain Grisez has stated that openness to procreation is required for integral fulfillment in Christ. Paul Quay, a Jesuit priest who chose to stay faithful to the teachings of the Church, spoke beautifully in terms of symbolism and sacramentality. There are so many great Catholics who have written in favor of the traditional teaching. We need to promote them.
In my case Paul VI failed to convince, at least in the first instance. Sanger did not. The direction that The Tablet has taken suggests that once we accept contraception, we are more likely to eventually compromise on abortion. When faced with challenges to the fundamental truths of our Faith, compromise was a word that was alien to Bishop Mellitus.
- Salvation and Sanctification by John Hardon S.J, St Paul Edition
- Encyclical Humanae Vitae: A Sign of Contradiction by Dietrich Von Hildebrand, Franciscan Press
- Fulfillment in Christ by Germain Grisez, University of Notre Dame Press
- The Christian Meaning of Human Sexuality by Paul Quay S.J, Ignatius Press