With Binz and Shannon, ‘Humanae Vitae’ shaped local Church legacy

| July 24, 2018 | 0 Comments

The formation of — and fallout from — “Humanae Vitae” was an intimate affair for leaders of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Among the three American bishops who served on the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission on Population, Family and Birth-rate — popularly known as the “birth control commission” — was Archbishop Leo Binz of St. Paul and Minneapolis, who maintained throughout the commission that every contraceptive act was wrong. Archbishop Binz never spoke publicly about his involvement in the commission, according to former auxiliary Bishop James Shannon.

Cover of a 50th anniversary edition of "Humanae Vitae"

This is the cover of a 50th anniversary edition of “Humanae Vitae” with related papal texts and published by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Blessed Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical reaffirmed the church’s moral teaching on the sanctity of life, married love, the procreative and unitive nature of conjugal relations, responsible parenthood and its rejection of artificial contraception. CNS

When “Humanae Vitae” was issued, Archbishop Binz was ill, and Coadjutor Archbishop Leo Byrne was leading the archdiocese. Upon its publication, Archbishop Byrne issued a statement in which he said,“It is obvious that during the period of deep consideration there were some individual opinions at variance with the tradition of the Church. Actually, what the Holy Father said in this statement was only a reaffirmation of the teaching of the Church through many, many centuries on this very important matter.”

Despite Archbishop Byrne’s clear affirmation of the teaching, some members of the local clergy remained skeptical. On Aug. 12, 1968, about 150 priests met at the St. Paul Seminary to discuss the document. Central topics reportedly included questions around conscience and compassionate counsel for Catholic couples. Ninety-one priests signed an open letter to Archbishops Binz and Byrne that questioned the document’s conclusions.

Locally, the greatest public impact of the encyclical was the 1969 resignation and eventual laicization of Bishop Shannon, who had served as an auxiliary bishop since 1965 and was a former president of the then-College of St. Thomas in St. Paul. In his 1998 autobiography, “Reluctant Dissenter,” Shannon wrote that he was unconvinced that “every act of contraception is, for a married couple, always and necessarily mortally sinful.” He never rejected the pope or Church, but his “inability” to assent to “Humanae Vitae” continually put him in contention with his duties as bishop, leading to his resignation. He later married, lived in Wayzata and attended Holy Name of Jesus in Medina. He died in 2003 at age 82.


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Category: Humanae Vitae at 50