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HUMANAE VITAE/ Teaching the truth about marital love

The Church's teaching on human sexuality is part of a greater whole, but it seems that not many of the faithful have had their consciences well-formed by sound teaching. By SCOTT DODGE

Pope Paul VI and Card. Ratzinger (Infophoto) Pope Paul VI and Card. Ratzinger (Infophoto)

As both of my readers know, I write a lot about marital sexuality, particularly in support of Church teaching as set forth in Humanae Vitae. In his very good book, Sex au Naturel: What It Is and Why It's Good For Your Marriage, Patrick Coffin observed concerning Humanae Vitae Paul VI didn't deploy any arguments to speak of. In fact, he doesn't appear to have written it to persuade at all. Apart from setting out some basic principles, Paul VI simply reiterates the ancient teaching, albeit in language more in sync with the modern ear (18-19)

While I agree that it seems fairly clear that the Venerable Paul VI did not write what would be his last encyclical in an apologetic manner, he did address several arguments aimed at bringing about a change in Church teaching. To give one example, he addressed the "principle of totality" in paragraph three. A recent study conducted by the German Bishops Conference revealed something utterly unsurprising, namely that the vast majority of German Catholics reject fundamental Church teaching on matters concerning human sexuality, not only the intrinsically disordered nature of artificial contraception, but the reasons for not engaging in sexual relations outside of marriage, etc.

Perhaps most telling is that the vast majority of those surveyed had never heard the term "natural law." I try to be careful not to make invalid inferences, but I can't help thinking that one of the major reasons for this state-of-affairs is the reluctance and even failure to teach clearly on these matters, laying out the teaching objectively and persuasively.

Laying out what the truth about human sexuality in light of Jesus Christ is exactly what Bl. Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body (see Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body) did. In addition to John Paul II's comprehensive teaching, when I think of setting forward Church teaching on sexuality persuasively, I cannot help but point to the fifth chapter of Fr. Timothy Radcliffe's book What Is the Point of Being a Christian?, entitled "The Body Electric."

This brings me to a recent article written by Msgr. M. Francis Mannion for our diocesan newspaper, "Reconsidering the Catholic Church's teaching on birth control." Msgr. Mannion is a mentor and teacher of mine, a priest and theologian whom I admire greatly. In fact, without his initial encouragement and subsequent support I would likely never have pursued becoming a deacon. Hence, I was very happy to read his very down-to-earth "take" as to why it would be wise for many people, clergy and laity alike, to reconsider what, in many cases, is merely a reflexive reaction in rejecting Church teaching. I have but two minor critical thoughts concerning the article.