The culture war currently raging around the Western world is popularly thought to be a war between Christianity and secularism. Many suppose that our fight is against those outside of our boundaries. Non-governmental groups who oppose the Church‘s teaching on sexual morality are legion around the world. Without question, their principal goals include attempting to undermine the Church’s efforts to propagate the culture of life.
There are also atheistic governments who oppress and persecute the Catholic Church for her teachings on sexual morality. In the past, these governments were primarily communist or fascist in ideology. Today, sadly, most western governments purporting to be “democratic” are also opposing and persecuting the Churchs right to religious freedom.
While this characterization is certainly true in many respects, it does not express where the real war is being fought. In fact, the aforementioned wars are merely incidental to the root of the culture war. In fact, the real war — the “dirty secret war,” as I call it — that is being waged is not outside of the Catholic Church, but within her very bosom. And it is over the issue of contraception.
This war found its apex and triumph early, during the sexual revolution of the 1960s. And for the next forty years, this pernicious dissent against human life has been wreaking havoc and destruction on the Church, the family, and civilization. We are only now reaping the tragic consequences of this sterilized cultural wasteland begun four decades ago. For instance, some European nations are now even offering couples over $1,000 U.S. to have a second child!
While this war is indeed fought within the Catholic Church, it nonetheless impacts all of civilization because, as the Church goes, so goes society. No other cultural and social institution has as much influence and moral capital as the Catholic Church has. If our enemies can thwart the propagation of truth, if they can massage it to render it impotent, if they can manipulate, twist, and undermine it, the Enemy outside her sacred boundaries can triumph for an indefinite period of time.
The war for the Church’s very soul is not being waged on conventional grounds with a conventional enemy. In the West, it is not a matter of easily identifying the local government thug who seeks to impose his atheistic and hedonistic values on the local peasant population. No. Here, in the “civilized world,” we are fighting a guerrilla war unlike no other war in the history of civilization. And a key plank to the success in this war is smoking out the enemy within our own ranks: the dissent from Humanae Vitae. If this particular dissent is eradicated, the culture of death will fall like a house of cards. It cannot stand.
On September 27, 1968, at the conclusion of their plenary assembly held at the Fort Garry Hotel in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the bishops of the Catholic Church in Canada issued a statement in response to Pope Paul’s encyclical on human life, Humanae Vitae. It was entitled “Canadian Bishops Statement on the Encyclical Humanae Vitae” – since then becoming known as The Winnipeg Statement. After the release of the Statement, Douglas Roche of the Western Catholic Reporter synthesized the obvious and apparent reading of the Statement’s controversial text:
“The issue is over in Canada. Catholics are free to use contraceptives if their informed conscience so prompts them.”
A number of major players surrounding the controversy appear to agree with Roche’s assessment.
Msgr. Vincent Foy, who has worked tirelessly over the past thirty years to revoke the Statement, concurred: “the world-wide perception was that the Canadian Statement was in rebellion against the Pope’s encyclical.” Father Edward Sheridan, S.J., one of the theological consultants present during the deliberations, wrote: “The Statement contained no general profession of assent to the whole teaching of Human Life; and nothing that could be interpreted as adding the local authority of the Canadian Hierarchy to that of the encyclical in general.” (America, October 19, 1968, p. 349). But perhaps one of the most candid admissions came from Bishop Alexander Carter, President of the Canadian Bishops’ Conference in 1968, who stated: “We faced the necessity of making a statement which many felt could not be a simple ‘Amen’, a total and formal endorsement of the doctrine of the encyclical — We had to reckon with the fact of widespread dissent from some points of his teaching among the Catholic faithful, priests, theologians, and probably some of our own number.” (America, October 19, 1968, p. 329)
Far from being restricted to Canada’s borders, the Statement’s capitulation to contraception reverberated throughout the world. Dissenters from many countries trophied the Statement to justify their rebellion against the Pope and his encyclical. The central dissenting theme of the Statement was disseminated far and wide by the progressive theocrats. Fr. Anthony Wilhelm’s book, Christ Among Us, was distributed throughout the English-speaking world with the imprimatur of Bishop Gerety of Newark, New Jersey. Three million copies of this book, which cited the more problematic parts of the Statement, were distributed before the Holy See ordered the bishop to rescind the imprimatur. Many other books and teaching sources parroted the message of The Winnipeg Statement, which caused disastrous results for the Church and society.
The most explosive and damaging part of the Statement appeared in paragraph 26 which reads:
“Counselors may meet others who, accepting the teaching of the Holy Father, find that because of particular circumstances they are involved in what seems to them a clear conflict of duties, e.g., the reconciling of conjugal love and responsible parenthood with the education of children already born or with the health of the mother. In accord with the accepted principles of moral theology, if these persons have tried sincerely but without success to pursue a line of conduct in keeping with the given directives, they may be safely assured that, whoever honestly chooses that course which seems right to him does so in good conscience.”
It goes without saying that while this particular paragraph does not explicitly say it is permissible to contracept, it is difficult to construct a more obvious representation. This stands in stark contrast to Pope Paul VI’s encyclical. Humanae Vitae was very clear that contraception could not be accepted in any circumstances and that his prohibition was absolute in scope:
“Therefore, We base Our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children. (Humanae Vitae, 14)
Fr. John F. Kippley makes this very blunt assessment of paragraph 26 of the Statement: “A more misleading statement would be hard to imagine. There are no principles of moral theology that allow a person to engage in actions taught by the Church to be objectively immoral, whether such actions be adultery, contraception, fornication or sodomy. And, of course, what applies to one behavior applies to all the rest.” (Sex and the Marriage Covenant, the Couple to Couple League, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1991, p.145.)
The Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, has repeatedly denounced contraception in many of his addresses and writings (Cf. Familiaris Consortio, 32; Letter to Families, 12; Evangelium Vitae, 13; Gaudium et Spes, 51; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2370). He has steadfastly and consistently reiterated the Church’s position:
“Contraception is to be judged objectively so profoundly unlawful, as never to be, for any reason justified. To think or say the contrary is equal to maintaining that in human life, situations may arise in which it is lawful not to recognize God as God.” (Pope John Paul II, L’Osservatore Romano, Oct. 10, 1983).
By refusing to respect or acknowledge God’s created order, we thwart God’s reproductive design and purpose for our bodies. Contraception is a distortion of God’s design and purpose since it seeks to recreate the purpose of our bodies and its functions for disordered sexual gratification. In so doing, each spouse deceives the other by pretending their bodies should not do what God has intended. It is also the language of cowardice and despair which is against God’s language of love and trust in His supreme Providence. Those who contracept fail to realize that the sexual act is, above all else, an act of faith expressed through conjugal bodily relations. For married couples in particular, the act of faith is not merely an intellectual assent or even an act of love directed toward another person. Rather, it is most perfectly demonstrated by extending an invitation to God to be present within the marital embrace.
The time has come for the Canadian Church and her leaders to face the truth and begin the process of spiritual healing we so desperately need. Retracting The Winnipeg Statement is a good first step so that the Church in Canada may be shown the light on the biggest lie of modern times. In order to do this, the Canadian Church needs to be in genuine agreement with Rome on this issue. As contraception seeks to withhold full participation and assent within the marital embrace, so too has the Winnipeg Statement represented the withholding of full participation in the Pope’s teaching. The Statement is, for lack of a better term, “ecclesiatistical” contraception that blocks the good seed of truth in the words of the Pope from finding their reception in the hearts of the faithful and bringing forth the fruit of holiness.
In hopes of obtaining the goal of full communion with Rome on the issue of human life, a Canadian movement called The Rosarium is seeking the retraction of the Winnipeg Statement. It is a movement of lay men and women, along with priests and religious, who are joining forces to remove this cancerous tumor from the Body of Christ. Interested readers can find out about this movement by visiting its website www.therosarium.ca.
In 1978, Pope Paul VI gave his last sermon in St. Peter’s Basilica. In confirming his stance on human procreation, he would say three times, “I did not betray the truth.” Now, it’s time for the Canadian hierarchy to have the courage to say the same thing, and then actually follow through by retracting The Winnipeg Statement. The ecclesiastical contraception must end before conjugal contraception ever will.