I couldn’t believe it. I had taken my oldest daughter Maddy for a ride on the back of the motorcycle up to Healesville yesterday, where I found an original copy of TIME magazine dated November 22nd 1968. On the cover was Paul VI. The lead article was headed: “Catholic Freedom v. Authority”. The topic? Human Vitae and the revolt against the birth control decision. And the scary thing? I had no idea that at that time, only 4 months after the encyclical was released, there was already such a huge groundswell of dissent. The article lays it all on the table as it was happening “on the ground” at the time. I’m going to post almost all of it in a series of (lengthy) posts. Watch out for the names that pop up–all the usual suspects still making noises today!
Here for your enjoyment is: TIME, NOVEMBER 22, 1968 “Catholic Freedom v. Authority”:
JULY 29, 1968, may prove to be a major landmark in the long history of the Roman Catholic Church as significant, perhaps, as the moment when Martin Luther decided to post his theses on indulgences at Wittenberg Castle Church. On that day last summer, Pope Paul VI promulgated his seventh encyclical, Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life), which condemned all methods of contraception as against God’s natural law. Since it reflected the views of a distinct minority of Catholic theologians and moralists, the encyclical created an unprecedented storm of protest and dissent within the church. Millions of laymen, priests and even bishops made it clear that they simply could not accept, without qualification, the teaching of Humanae Vitae. At the same time, many contended that their dissent in no way affected their standing as Catholics. By so doing, they raised much larger and more troubling questions about the rights of freedom v. authority in Catholicism and the limitations on the Pope’s right to speak as teacher for the church.
It would be too much to hope or fear that the church is on the verge of a second Reformation. There is little question, however, that it is suffering from an internal rebellion of critical proportions. Priest Sociologist Andrew Greeley of Chicago, in a recent column for U.S. diocesan newspapers, quoted a bishop as saying that there are two Catholicisms an “official church” belonging to the Pope and hierarchy, and an undefined “free church,” which is attracting a growing number of laymen and priests. Similarly, Paulist Father Thomas Stransky, an official of Rome’s Secretariat for Christian Unity, suggests that the church is suffering from a “silent schism” of rebels who are remaining Catholic in name but are “hanging loose” from the institutional church.
Corrosive Criticism. No man is more aware of this dissension than Pope Paul VI, who issues new warnings almost daily against imprudence, rebellion, disobedience and the dangers of heresy. Last week he cautioned Catholics against tampering with “indispensable structures of the church” and partaking in intercommunion services with Protestants. “A spirit of corrosive criticism has become fashionable in certain sectors of Catholic life,” he told an audience at Castel Gandolfo last September in a typical peroration. “Some want to go beyond what the solemn assemblies of the church have authorized, envisaging not only reforms but upheavals, which they think they themselves can authorize and which they consider all the more clever the less they are faithful to tradition. Where is the consistency and dignity which belong to true Christians:
Where is love for the church?” Paul is not the only Catholic bishop to be worried by this restlessness and turmoil. A dramatic illustration of the hierarchy’s concern and of some of the reasons for it took place last week in Washington. At their regular semiannual conference, the 235 Catholic bishops of the U.S. found themselves the target of a bizarre series of demonstrations by dissident priests and laymen. On the day before the bishops met, 3,500 laymen rallied at the Mayflower hotel in support of 41 local priests who had been disciplined by Patrick Cardinal O’Boyle for criticizing Humanae Vitae. The keynote speaker was one of the nation’s best known Catholic laymen, Senator Eugene McCarthy, a onetime novice in a Benedictine monastery.
Lobby Sit In. Later, 130 priests burst into the lobby of the Washington Hilton hotel, where the bishops met, to stage a sitin in support of the censured clerics. On another night, 120 laymen demonstrated in the Hilton lobby for two hours. They sang the Battle Hymn of the Republic and Impossible Dream, prayed for the disciplined priests to be granted due process and for “the proper use of authority in the church.”
Beset by their own internal divisions, the bishops labored in marathon sessions lasting as late as 4 a.m., trying to compose a pastoral letter on birth control that might ease the storm of dissent against Humanae Vitae among U.S. Catholics while not contradicting the Pope. They finally issued a statement which, while urging faithfulness to the Pope’s teaching, made clear that U.S. Catholics who practice contraception will not be barred from the sacraments. “No one following the teaching of the church can deny the objective evil of contraception itself,” the bishops said. “With pastoral solicitude we urge those who have resorted to artificial contraception never to lose heart but to continue to take full advantage of the strength which comes from the sacrament of penance and the grace, healing, and peace in the Eucharist.” The American statement was similar to the stand taken by other hierarchies. It did not, however, go nearly so far as the declaration last week by the bishops of France who emphasized more strongly that couples who conscientiously feel the need to practice birth control should do so; they choose the “lesser evil” in disobeying the Pope’s decrees.
Unquestionably, Pope Paul was thoroughly unprepared for the reaction to his encyclical. Perhaps the most dramatic repudiation of its teaching in the U.S. was a statement, prepared by the Rev. Charles E. Curran and other theologians from the Catholic University of America, insisting that couples had the right to practice contraception if their consciences dictated; so far, more than 600 priests, theologians and laymen have subscribed to the declaration. In West Germany, 5,000 laymen at the church’s annual Katholikentag (Catholic Day) gave their voice vote to a resolution warning the Pope that they simply could not accept the encyclical’s teachings. Swiss Theologian Hans Kling, among many individual thinkers voicing their protests, declared that “the encyclical is not an infallible teaching. I fear it creates a second Galileo case.”
“Birth control,” says one American scholar in Rome, “is the Pope’s Viet Nam.” But he has other battles to fight as well. Today there is hardly a dogma of the church that has not been either denied or redefined beyond recognition by some theologians. Any number of Biblical scholars concede, at least privately, that the virginity of Mary is a symbolic rather than a biological truth. Theologians prefer to emphasize the humanity of Jesus rather than his divinity, veiling the fact that some of them cannot subscribe to the traditional formulations of Christ as God’s incarnate Son. The sacraments are seen not as quasi-magical dispensing machines for divine grace but as signs of spiritual commitment created by the religious community rather than God.
Stay tuned for more as this exciting story unravels…