The Secular Distortion of Humanae Vitae and Formation of Conscience

by | Aug 12, 2021 | Family Life, Teachings

Earlier today I came across a 3 year old article from NRP titled “50 Years Ago, The Pope Called Birth Control ‘Intrinsically Wrong’” published on July 3, 2018 by Tom Gjelten. The reason I wanted to focus on this for a bit is because I feel that this article really encapsulates the modern and secular view of church teaching as well as the misleading way that the world justifies its acceptance of contraceptives using this distorted view.

The article starts off by giving a brief background on the introduction of Humanae Vitae by Pope Paul VI and the official rejection of contraception into church teaching. This information is provided within the context of how universally “stunned” and “surprised” Catholics were across the globe as well as how unified church members were in its desire to drop it. The real ire of this is when the author, in his attempted justification to drop this teaching, states “Moreover, a Vatican II document stipulated the right of man ‘to follow his conscience.’” In other words, to put it more correctly in terms of secular wordage, this Vatican II document, called Dignitatis Humanae, supposedly stipulated the right of man to form his own truth and accept his own reality based off of that truth no matter how fallacious it is. The problem with this argument, is that it refers to the flawed concept of relativism which basically means that every man and woman forms their own subjective truths until we all become individual segmented atoms of truth, all in direct conflict with each other. This is not what Dignitatis Humanae refers to. What this refers to, and what the Catechism clearly states, is that in order to deepen our relationship with God, we have to have a well-formed conscience so that we are better equipped to make a judgment on what is right and wrong while making the distinction that the individual does not determine what is right and wrong;  that is already established by God and becomes known with a  properly formed conscience. Forming a proper conscience puts us in sync with the will of God and it is our duty to fully form and follow this conscience because God will not do this for us. What the author is suggesting, however, is we form our own conscience and accept that “truth” regardless of whether it is in line with church teaching or not. In other words, once the secular world got their hands on “man must form his own conscience” it was then used as a warped justification to conclude, “Great! Now I can oppose Catholic teaching and be a Catholic in good standing!” This is patently false and a clear ignorance to what formation of conscience in Catholicism means.

What I would like to provide next is a few anecdotal pieces from this article that I found somewhat striking, and then comment below it:

1) “Krista Sanders, 32, who attended a marriage workshop with her husband at St. Sebastian Catholic Church in Milwaukee learned about NFP. ‘They give you handouts with all these testimonials about natural family planning, with testimonials from couples who have done it. But I don’t know that very many people follow it. It’s kind of like, ‘O.K., that’s a nice suggestion. I appreciate the information.’ But in this current day, I don’t know that it’s as relevant for couples like us or other people starting out their marriages in the Catholic faith.”

2) “As with the birth control ban, however, the strictness of the marriage doctrine means many Catholics find themselves violating it. Marriage is hard. It doesn’t always last, and family life can be challenging.”

3) “U.S. Catholics however, show in their daily lives that the church’s official prohibition of artificial birth control means little in practice, even if it has some value in theory. As a rule, married Catholic couples clearly believe they have a right to control the size of their families, no matter what the church says.”

These anecdotes can be summed up as following:

1) Scripture is not relevant in this current day. The truth is, scripture applies today just as much as it ever has. Why? The answer is simple. Pride. Just like the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis, we believe we can become our own gods and we believe that we can create our own happiness and reach our own heaven because we know better. I have told my wife this several times, but since I’ve become a parent, one thing has become very clear. Adults who are engrained with secularism are no different than children learning the ways of the world. As children start to become aware of their own abilities, insubordination likewise correlates directly. They know better than their parents. The end result without proper parenting is this child becomes spoiled, entitled, and develops no respect for authority. These adults are no different. They believe that the laws of God are just there to confine us and that they know better.

2) Life is hard and marriage doesn’t always last, so do what you want. What a message this sends to the younger generation of people who are considering getting married. Why stop there though? Why not choose another passion such as a career over marriage? Why limit yourself to just one partner? Why spend any time with your kids at all? Marriage and family life is difficult, so you should live life to the fullest right? We don’t have time for strict rules. Obviously I’m being facetious but one can easily conclude how this lack of discipline can extend beyond the scope of just contraceptives simply because something is difficult.

3) Most people agree that something is morally permissible, therefore it makes it all ok. Morality is never a poll and is never something that can be formed solely because it is agreed upon by consensus. Why? Because as time goes on these groups of people, political parties, government officials, and societal norms all change, thus, making morality just a malleable entity based off of whatever period you currently live in. The Word of God, however, is eternal and unchanging. If all 7.8 billion people believed abortion was moral, but just one person opposed it, that would do absolutely nothing to diminish the intrinsically evil nature of abortion. And yes, the Catholic church does in fact believe that couples get to control the size of their own families. It’s called NFP. What the author is really saying is that couples should get to control the size of their own families with as little moral discipline as possible.

I’m honestly shocked that as long as things such as broken homes, one parent families, poverty linked to one parent households, sexually transmitted diseases, and so many other anguishes have befallen humanity, the perpetual response from secularism is still a resounding “we’ve got this because we know better!” Much in the same way that a child can keep hurting him or herself over and over because he or she is not heeding the warnings of the parents to change their course of action, and the child’s response is still “but I know better than you.” Many years ago I once overheard a woman in graduate school say, and I quote “I have had two children from two different men and I was on contraceptives. I think the government needs to step in and improve contraceptive research to make it 100% effective.”  I couldn’t help but think “That’s a lot like saying, ‘gosh… I keep putting on padding on every area of my body and jumping off the Grand Canyon and, the most bizarre thing happens, I keep breaking my bones! Someone needs to do something about this!’” Well, here’s a solution; keep the laws of God that are put in place for a reason, stop pretending like you can outsmart consequence, and stop jumping into the Grand Canyon. Sound pretty radical? Sadly enough, in this crazy world, yes it is.


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Patrick Hernandez

Patrick is married to his wife Allison and together they have one boy named Luke. He has a Masters degree in Finance as well as a second Masters in Information Technology, both from Colorado Technical University. He has worked for Agape Catholic Ministries since early 2017. In his spare time, Patrick enjoys hiking, fishing, and cheering on both the Denver Broncos and the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.

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