Bishop Egan is fulfilling the hopes that so many faithful and loyal Catholics have placed in his consecration to the episcopacy by using his pastoral letter on the feast of the HolyFamily to speak to his people about the vital importance of Humanae Vitae to our families and wider society. Not since Bishop O’Donoghue’s courageous documents Fit for Mission? Schools and Fit for Mission? Church has a bishop spoken so openly of the need to break the taboo about Humanae Vitae. Bishop Egan wrote:
‘Jesus Christ is the way to personal happiness and authentic humanism. Sadly, the teaching of Humanae Vitae about sexual morality and family values has become something of an ‘elephant in the room’ that no-one seems to mention. In this Year of Faith then, I would like to invite everyone to discover again the Church’s wonderful vision of love and life, as expounded in the Catechism.’
Bishop O’Donoghue said in his retreat talks to priests in 2009:
‘Dissent and disobedience. We are living in an unprecedented period in the life of the Church when countless individual priests, and laity, even bishops, believe they are free to decide what it means to be Catholic for themselves. For example, we have witnessed a wholesale rejection of the Church’s perennial teaching against contraception. This is the litmus test of the acceptance of obedience in the Church. How many priests support Gaudium et Spes’ crystal clear rejection of contraception, upheld by successive Popes – Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI? If we reject their teaching on this matter we are saying, as priests, that we know better than the successor to Peter! Is this tenable in a priest?’
Here’s the rest of Bishop Egan’s pastoral letter:
In 1968, at the height of the Sixties, Pope Paul VI wrote an Encyclical Letter that then and now many Catholics find difficult. He repeated the traditional teaching of the Church, based on the natural law and confirmed by revelation, that sexual intercourse is an integral act for love and for life, and that these two aspects of sexuality – love and life – cannot be divorced[viii]. Humanae Vitae was a prophetic document. Pope Paul spoke of catastrophic consequences for society and culture if these two ends of marriage were split. 45 years on, we can see what he meant in such things as the reduction of sex to a leisure activity, the trafficking of people for prostitution and pornography, broken family relationships, and the explosion of addictive behaviours leading to despair, shame and guilt[ix].
As Catholics, we believe in the natural way of life. We believe that the purpose of sexual intercourse is to express the love between a man and a woman, a love which, within the permanent commitment of marriage, is open to being fruitful to life.[x] This is the way to lasting happiness and fulfilment, even if to become chaste – that is, to develop a mature and fully integrated sexuality, as a single person or a married couple – involves a life-long struggle and “apprenticeship in self-mastery”[xi]. To help us, Jesus calls us to be his disciples, and offers us the healing balm and the strength we need, above all in confession and Holy Communion.
Jesus Christ is the way to personal happiness and authentic humanism. Sadly, the teaching of Humanae Vitae about sexual morality and family values has become something of an ‘elephant in the room’ that no-one seems to mention. In this Year of Faith then, I would like to invite everyone to discover again the Church’s wonderful vision of love and life, as expounded in the Catechism. I would also like to ask all families, whatever their form or circumstances, to think about developing a deeper and richer Catholic ethos in the home, so as to give a clearer witness to contemporary culture. For instance, why not spend an evening together as a family, occasionally switch off the computer, make the Sign of the Cross on entering the house, adopt a communal work of justice and charity, or keep special the fast-days and feast-days? I am sure you will think of many other ways of preserving our Catholic distinctiveness.
Protect the Pope comment: Now that Bishop Egan has challenged us all to face the elephant in the room will more clergy, priests and deacons, follow his example to teach our people the prophetic truth of Humanae Vitae? Our people have not rejected Humanae Vitae for the simple reason that most of them have not been told about Humanae vitae from our pulpits. Let’s break this taboo during thr Year of Faith!