William. F. Buckley Jr. on Humanae Vitae

buckley1Twenty years ago Buckley wrote Nearer, My God: An Autobiography of Faith, sharing his personal thoughts and experiences as a life-long Catholic. Writing in his typical high-brow conversational manner, you might feel as though you were sitting next to him on the panel of Firing Line. And indeed there is a panel; he structured his essays around answers to questions he had posed to his unique “Forum”, a group of intellectuals that had come to the Catholic faith as adults. His insights and outlooks remain relevant and valuable today.

On the subject of contraception (chapter 12), the opinions of his Forum were divided. But Buckley doesn’t bother to engage them; the publication of Humanae Vitae rendered the question pointless. “…[T]he answer, for a Catholic, has got to be: the position of the Pope, as spokesman for the magisterium.” He shifts the conversation to a question he finds more challenging:

“It is that the law against contraception is quite simply ignored. No, not by everyone; but the data suggest that contraceptives are sold in similar quantities to Catholic and to Protestant men and women. There is no way to establish what percentage of Catholic women (or men) who use them confess to having committed a sin. And in any case, if absolution is not valid in the absence of the penitent’s subjective determination not to sin again, one must assume—simply from one’s view of crowded communion rails—either that the sin is not being confessed or else that the determination not-to-sin-again is widely irresolute.”

Continue reading “William. F. Buckley Jr. on Humanae Vitae”

Humanae Vitae and Low Birth Rates

baptism2In July of 1968 Pope Paul VI, by issuing the encyclical Humanae Vitae, unequivocally upheld the Church’s long standing prohibition on contraception. In hindsight, we can see that its publication had created the circumstances for a divergence in birth rates between Catholics and the rest of society. This would have had a major impact on both the Church and the nation. But by means of a well-coordinated effort to discredit the encyclical, its message was disregarded. The expected divergence in birth rates turned out to be a correlation.

While it’s hard to find figures on birth rates for specific groups like Catholics, researchers from CARA have noted that the number of baptisms per 1000 Catholics in a given year is strongly correlated to the overall national birth rate which has been in decline since 1957. Continue reading “Humanae Vitae and Low Birth Rates”