Fifty years ago this month, Pope Paul VI issued a prophetic document celebrating the beauty of marriage, sex, and the family lived within God’s plan for human beings and warning of the dangers that would come from contradicting that plan, particularly through the widespread use of artificial contraception: conjugal infidelity; a decline in morality; the objectification of women; the abuse of power by governments over marriage and the family; and unlimited domination of the human body by arbitrary human will (Humanae vitae 17). Re-examining the document with eyes enlightened by five decades of hindsight, we can see today just how forward-thinking Humanae vitae really was.

Consider the rise of marital infidelity. While it is impossible to get an accurate measure of such secretive behavior, we can track the breakdown of marriages and families. The divorce rate in the U.S. spiked precipitously in the late 1960’s, peaking in the early 1980’s, after which it dipped slightly and has since held fairly steady at a rate far higher than in 1968 (Jeremy Greenwood and Nezih Gunar, “Marriage and Divorce Since World War II,” at

Paul VI also warned that a contraceptive culture would lead to a decline in morality and the objectification of women. To see if this is true, look at the 10 Commandments. Regarding the first three commandments, religiosity has declined significantly since the 1960’s (Tobin Grant, “The Great Decline: 60 years of religion in one graph,” at We’ve already seen the decline of marriage and the family (the fourth commandment), but the same time period has also seen the rise of legalized murder (the fifth commandment) in the form of abortion. In 1968, less than 20% of countries had legalized abortion; today over 50% have, and a quarter of all pregnancies end in abortion (Elizabeth Boyle, et al., “Abortion Liberalization and World Society: 1960-2009,” at These fifty years have also seen the explosion of the pornography industry (the sixth commandment), with over 40% of Americans today stating that pornograpy is morally acceptable and pornographic websites receiving more traffic each month than Netflix,, and Twitter combined. As for the objectification of women, almost 90% of leading pornographic videos depict either physical or verbal aggression against women, and studies show that consumers of pornography are more likely to condone violence against women (Pornography statistics at

Regarding Paul VI’s warning that governments would abuse their power by encouraging or requiring

contraception, one need only look at China’s one-child policy, beginning in 1979, which severely punished families for having more than one child, or India’s forced sterilization of over six million men in 1975. Even in our own country we see examples, such as the distribution of free contraception at high schools, without parental consent, or the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that health insurance plans include all approved forms of female contraception, even if the person seeking insurance does not want it included, or state laws requiring pro-life crisis pregnancy centers to advertise for the abortion industry.

Finally, what about Paul VI’s warning that a contraceptive culture would lead to unlimited domination of the human body by arbitrary human will? Consider the emergence of the market for human embryos, new human life created in a lab that is treated like a commodity to be bought and sold for anything from in vitro fertilization to scientific research, and, when the new human beings that have been created are no longer needed, they are locked away in a freezer or simply destroyed. And most recently, we see the new gender ideology, which insists that gender is not an integral, God-given aspect of our being, determined by our chromosomes, but is merely a social construct to be cast off and replaced, with hormone treatments and disfiguring surgeries, by whatever suits a person’s personal preferences, an ideology that is fast becoming mandatory doctrine at some schools and universities.

We need to be careful not to confuse correlation with causality; just because different things are related doesn’t mean that one necessarily causes the other. But the fact that the advent of widespread artificial contraception and the rise of the social ills that Paul VI warned about are related cannot be denied, nor can it be dismissed as a coincidence. Sadly, the Holy Father’s warning went ignored fifty years ago, but that does not have to be our destiny. We can choose differently by recovering and witnessing to the beautiful truth about marriage, sex, and the family, which Paul VI celebrated in Humanae vitae , and which we will look at in next week’s column.

Fr. Marc Stockton


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Outside of hurricane season, people looking for news coverage about anything except politics these days have pretty much adopted a lost cause.  The Democrats, the Republicans, and the president chase each other around in a circle, like a Tom and Jerry cartoon, only it isn’t funny.  Hours of television and radio shows, reams of newspapers and magazines, and countless blogs and websites bombard us daily with endless sound bites and analysis.  This side says this, this side says that.  This politician promises this, this politician promises that.  And so it goes, the politico’s waging a war of words for the heart of our nation, and here we are in the middle of it all asking ourselves, who really speaks for the people?  Who, if anyone, can claim that authority?


I will not even attempt to answer that, but I offer this example because our gospel reading raises a similar question.  In a world of many different, often competing, religions, who really speaks for God?  Who, if anyone, has that authority?  If our gospel reading is true, WE do, not by nature or by our own merits, but as an amazing gift and grave responsibility.


            Initially, today’s gospel seems rather superficial.  The first half reads like a student handbook, laying out a simple plan for discipline in the early Church.  But the second half digs deeper. Discipline requires authority.  All authority throughout the Scriptures ultimately comes from God, from the very beginning, when he disciplines Adam and Eve, through the Old Testament, as he repeatedly chastises his faithless People, right up to Christ himself, who, though completely free of sin, obeys the Father’s will and bears “the chastisement of us all” by becoming flesh and dying on the cross.  All authority in heaven and on earth comes from God. 

But, because of his obedient self-sacrifice, the Father gives all authority in heaven and on earth to his Son.  And, in today’s gospel, Jesus gives this authority to the community of disciples, the Church.


            Jesus gives the Church the authority to bind and loose, in this world and the next.  But that isn’t all.  He promises us that whenever the community agrees about ANYTHING for which we are to pray, it will be granted to us by our Father.  Jesus gives us the authority of God, all power in heaven and on earth, and he guarantees this promise by his continued presence with us through all time.  “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” he tells us, and he means it.


            Some of us may doubt this promise.  We can all probably think of an example of when we prayed desperately for something, and it didn’t happen.  We started prayer chains, offered Mass intentions, lit votive candles, prayed rosary after rosary on our knees, pleading with God, but still did not get what we wanted.  And maybe, for a while, we gave up on God. But remember Jesus’ words, “Where two or three are gathered IN MY NAME.”  Only when we gather in HIS NAME do we exercise his authority, and to gather in his name and exercise his authority means surrendering to the Father’s will, not trying to bend the Father to ours.




Think of the night before Jesus died.  He, too, questioned the Father.  Jesus struggled to see how the cross could accomplish God’s plan.  “Father, let this cup pass from me,” he begged, so intensely that he sweat blood.  But he continued, “Not my will; YOUR will be done.”  He surrendered himself completely to the Father’s will, and, through the defeat of the cross, triumphed over death.


Christ IS with us, always, even to the end of the age, but only if WE are with HIM, doing the Father’s will, do we share his authority.  Few people are called to do this through actual martyrdom, but we are all called to do this through obedient self-sacrifice.  Think of another image from the night before Christ died, before he went to the garden.  He reclined with his disciples at table, and, during the meal, he got up, wrapped a towel around his waist, and washed his disciples’ feet.  When he had finished, he said to them, “You call me teacher and master, and rightly so, for indeed I am.  If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.  I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”  Obedient self-sacrifice through loving service of others.  That is the will of the Father for us; that is how we exercise the authority of God, an authority of, and for, service.


            Who speaks for God?  Who has that authority?  WE do.  All power in heaven and on earth has been given to us by Christ.  May we exercise it generously by obediently surrendering to God’s will and sacrificing ourselves in loving service of others.