Bishop Cozzens spotlights ‘Humanae Vitae’

| July 17, 2018 | 0 Comments

Fifty years ago, Blessed Pope Paul VI articulated the gift of the Church’s positive vision of human sexuality in the encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” and its message is a stark contrast to the false vision of sexuality that society promotes, said Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens. An example of that “false vision,” he said, can be found along Minnesota highways in the form of billboards advertising vasectomies.

The billboards portray a middle-age couple with the woman embracing the man as both smile. “Easy Vasectomy” runs across the top with bullet points: “no scalpel,” “no needle,” “low cost.”

“For me, it captures a little bit about the way our society views sex, and the results of the view of this on our society,” Bishop Cozzens told a group of more than 50 young adults at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis June 28. “Let’s just step back and ask ourselves, ‘Has it been so great?’ … This idea that sex could be no pressure, no fear of pregnancy and only amount to the expression of my love for that person — has that actually produced the results that society says?”

Bishop Cozzens encouraged such questions for reflection in one of several presentations he’s giving this year during the 50th anniversary of “Humanae Vitae,” the landmark 1968 papal encyclical by Blessed Paul VI on human sexuality and the regulation of birth, a response to questions about population growth, the rising use of artificial contraception and the advent of the birth control pill.

It prophetically stated what would happen to society if contraceptive use became widespread, Bishop Cozzens said.

“I think people don’t realize the damage they do to themselves when they stray away from God’s plan,” said Jenessa Wieser, 24, a parishioner of the Basilica who attended Bishop Cozzens’ presentation. “When we harden our hearts, it’s difficult for us to know what it is or to pretend that it’s not, but the damage is still done.”

Bishop Cozzens said he wants to highlight the importance of this anniversary because of the harm done to society by the prevalence of contraception. He has partnered with the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ Office of Marriage, Family and Life. He gave his first presentation in a homily at St. Stephen in Minneapolis May 8.

“It’s one of the areas where our Catholic faith is most radical, that is, we stand out as Catholics by our declaration that contraception is morally evil,” Bishop Cozzens said in his homily. “Very few other Christians even make this declaration.”

“Humanae Vitae” caused a worldwide stir among Catholic laity and leadership alike and remains a point of debate today. Despite some Catholics’ expectations, the document upheld a longstanding Church teaching that contraception use is always gravely immoral, and that “each of every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life.”

At the time of the document’s promulgation, there were many laity and clergy who considered the teaching too challenging, Bishop Cozzens said in an interview with The Catholic Spirit.“Many well-meaning people thought that,” he said. “My experience is many people who have dissented from this teaching dissented from it not based on principle, but based on practice.”

When speaking to the Basilica Young Adults, Bishop Cozzens presented the dichotomy between the prophecies of “Humanae Vitae” and the broken promise of the sexual revolution.

In “Humanae Vitae,” Blessed Paul VI outlined consequences of society’s widespread use of contraception. He said it would lead to more marital infidelity and a “general lowering of morality.”

“He didn’t use the words ‘#MeToo,’ but he may as well have,” Bishop Cozzens said of Blessed Paul VI. “The #MeToo movement is proof that Pope Paul VI was right. He says [that] the man will lose respect for the woman and no longer care for her physical and psychological equilibrium, and will come to the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment and no longer as his respected and beloved companion.”

Bishop Cozzens said the explosion of pornography, prostitution and sex trafficking in society are consequences of widespread contraception use. Divorce rates, abortions and sexually transmitted diseases have also skyrocketed in the past five decades.

Upon the release of the birth control pill in the 1960s, Bishop Cozzens said, Planned Parenthood promised that the pill would increase sexual intercourse in marriage without the risk of conception, lower divorce rates, reduce teen pregnancy and result in fewer abortions.

“So here we are 50 years later. They made these promises. Did any of them come true?” Bishop Cozzens asked the crowd. “Is it possible to imagine that we could saturate the society even more with contraception and actually have these promises come true?”

Wieser, who works as a project manager for a digital agency, sees something missing among her peers who have bought into popular culture’s view of sexuality.

“I think that is an indication that there is a loneliness, that there is an emptiness that everyone is experiencing when you don’t have God at the center of your life,” she said. “When God is not at the center, there is emptiness because the only thing left is selfishness.”

Bishop Cozzens also explained that Blessed Paul VI wrote about a natural way for couples to postpone pregnancy known as natural family planning, or NFP. Its methods work with a woman’s natural fertility cycles.

“Natural family planning is not what most people call the ‘rhythm method.’ That was the earliest version,” Bishop Cozzens said.

“Thankfully, we have modern science applied to human fertility that allows us to understand what natural family planning is. One can regulate sexual activity either to try to conceive a child or if necessary, for a grave reason, to avoid conceiving a child.”

Bishop Cozzens said it differs from contraception because it “actually requires discipline” and chastity. He added that Blessed Paul VI wrote that such discipline helps “husband and wife develop their personalities, be enriched with spiritual values” and “strengthens who you are and makes you able to make more of a gift of yourself.” It makes a marriage stronger, Bishop Cozzens explained.

“This is why the ‘easy vasectomy’ is not so easy,” he said. “What it actually does is it gives you permission to give free reign to your selfishness, and that’s not going to strengthen your love.”

Bishop Cozzens said the spacing of children is a matter of discernment for families, and that the Church trusts them with that responsibility. Many of the questions from the young adults following the talk related to questions of spacing and family size, which the Church also leaves open to discernment.

One young adult asked what constitutes a “serious reason” to use NFP to delay having a child or more children. Bishop Cozzens said that takes serious, prayerful discernment for the couple. It could be related to economic reasons, health or education, he added.

“I think it would have to be something that would be damaging to myself, my spouse or my current children,” Bishop Cozzens said about serious reasons. “In other words, it has to be a greater good I’m protecting [by avoiding pregnancy].”

Young adults in attendance said they appreciated the bishop’s insight and guidance in exploring one of the Church’s most challenging teachings.

“I thought that the way the bishop talked about all of this really led a receptive audience to asking some really tough questions,” said Grace Kane, 25, a law school student at the University of Iowa. “I appreciated gaining the knowledge and also being in an environment where we can openly and freely and without guilt ask questions that we’ve seen in our life, in our work [and] whatever else we do outside of the Church.”


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Category: Featured, Humanae Vitae at 50