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Msgr. Livio Melina speaks at the Rome Life Forum, May 18, 2018Diane Montagna/LifeSiteNews

ROME, June 13, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) — Failure to heed Blessed Paul VI’s “prophetic” teaching against contraception in Humanae Vitae has caused a damaging “mutation” in social relations, a prominent theologian argued last week.

Speaking on Saturday, June 9, at a conference on Humanae vitae held in the northern Italian city of Brescia, Italian moral theologian Monsignor Livio Melina argued that Blessed Paul VI’s encyclical reaffirming the Church’s ban on contraception “does not concern only the private sphere of sexuality, but also the social and public dimension of life.” 

Melina reaffirmed the teaching contained in Humanae vitae, and explained that the encyclical essentially sets forth the conditions under which sexual intercourse between husband and wife can be considered a fitting expression of marital love.

He also argued that those in favor of contraception ultimately will have “no arguments to oppose homosexual relationships.”

Msgr. Melina is a tenured Professor of Moral Theology at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, where he served as a President from 2006 till 2016.

The conference, marking the 50th anniversary of Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical, was themed ‘Humanae vitae: the truth that shines.’ Its keynote speaker was Cardinal Willem Jacobus Eijk, Archbishop of Utrecht, Netherlands, who recently made the news for his forceful response in defense of orthodoxy following the German bishops’ controversial intercommunion proposal.

In his talk, Msgr. Melina noted that for centuries the family has been under attack from radical secularists, including those in Rome, who fought in the 1960’s to reduce the population; and freemasons in France, who at the dawn of the sexual revolution sought to transform society by emancipating it from its “Judeo-Christian tradition” through a redefinition of the family. 

Today — with the widespread use of contraception — families, communities and entire societies are experiencing the devastating effects of these attacks. 

Love is not a relativistic reality, Melina argues. The love that flows from God is a gift for each of us, and it is shared according to our natural and supernatural vocation: to live the life of grace and make our way to heaven. Sexuality, then, is a gift for the individuals as well as the common good: and whoever misuses this gift introduces disorder into the world. Thus, homosexual “marriage” is at root contrary to a truly human ecology, which recognizes that the context of marriage is the male-female self-giving relationship always open to life and symbolizing Christ’s love for the Church.

Here below is a LifeSiteNews translation of Msgr. Livio Melina’s talk.


The meaning of Humanae vitae for social relations and the common good

by Livio Melina

The thesis that I would like to illustrate is the following: The encyclical of Blessed Paul VI does not concern only the private sphere of sexuality, but also the social and public dimension of life. It is a question of social morality and not only of individual ethics. 

Indeed, the context in which Humanae Vitae was published fifty years ago, on July 25th of that fateful 1968, was marked by an obsessive alarm over an uncontrolled growth of the world’s population, a true “demographic bomb” launched by Aurelio Peccei’s “Club of Rome.” From the outset, therefore, political concerns were at the heart of the debate. This is echoed throughout the encyclical, which nonetheless has the courage to go against the tide, and indeed prophetically to recall the serious consequences of the introduction of contraception into social custom: a general lowering of morality, an increase in marital infidelity, a loss of the respect due to women, and an exposure to the arbitrariness of public authority, to the detriment of the poorest peoples (HV, 17).

Paul VI was a prophet — unfortunately, an unheeded one. And today we can see that not only these but even more radical consequences have resulted: the introduction of contraception has caused a real genetic mutation in fundamental social relations, with grave threat to the common good. This is what I would like to talk about.

1. Sexuality in the logic of gift: the teaching of Humanae Vitae

Let us start with the doctrinal heart of the document found in n. 11: “Every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life,” by virtue of the “inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act” (HV 12). 

This is not a general affirmation of an ideal which should then be applied to concrete situations according to the discernment of each person’s conscience, as is often said today, with deliberate forgery of the letter and the spirit of the Magisterium. In reality, Montini’s encyclical formulates a concrete moral norm that is valid for any conjugal act: “Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.” (HV 14). And he specifies that contraception is an “intrinsically dishonest” act, which can never be justified either by the principle of the whole or by the principle of a lesser evil. In order to be a faithful interpreter of the objective moral order established by God, the conscience of the spouses cannot proceed arbitrarily and decide for itself what are the honest paths to follow (cf. HV 10).

The moral norm just mentioned is not a legalistic prescription of a despotic will, which just as it issued the norm could also change it. On the contrary, it is the expression of a truth about the good inscribed in human nature by creative Wisdom. There are, therefore, intelligible reasons for the moral norm. And it is precisely these anthropological, ethical and theological reasons that St John Paul II wanted to explore and to teach in his Catecheses on the “theology of the body.”

The body, as a witness of the Creator’s original love, is the place where relationships break the isolation of the individual to generate a person. In his encounter with the woman, the man discovers his own body’s spousal vocation to the gift of self. And it is only by respecting this logic of gift that the personal dignity of love is safeguarded in openness to a new life, who can thus be born not as a mere physiological effect but as a gift from a gift.

In summary, we could say that Humanae vitae formulates the conditions according to which a sexual act is an adequate expression of conjugal love. Only when it remains in itself open to the transmission of life is the sexual act between spouses an act of union between the two, in which the authentic gift of self is realized in the body. The link between the two meanings should not be located at the biological level, but rather at the intentional level: there can be an intentionally contraceptive act which, even if it is physiologically fruitful, contradicts the truth of self-giving (for example, an act in which artificial contraception fails); just as there can be an act that per se is open to life, even though it is physiologically sterile and known as such (as happens in the natural regulation of births).

An act rendered intentionally sterile denies at the same time the sincere openness to the gift of oneself and the full acceptance of the other: it is an act that turns in on itself. Although carried out with the consent and collaboration of one’s partner, the contraceptive act intentionally closed to procreation is an act aimed at the pursuit of individual pleasure, which does not differ from masturbation. For this reason, sexual difference does not play a qualifying role in such an act and it is therefore analogous to homosexual acts. The English philosopher G.E.M. Anscombe says that those in favor of contraception will have no arguments to oppose homosexual relationships. The Italian philosopher Augusto Del Noce went so far as to say that “today’s nihilism (which he calls gay nihilism) always intends love ‘homosexually’ even when upholding a man-woman relationship.” It has been rightly observed that the man-woman relationship was public from its origin with its openness to the generation of children, and that is why it is sanctioned by marriage, while the homosexual relationship is in se private and cannot be recognized as marriage.

2. Sexuality, relationships and the common good

At the dawn of the sexual revolution in the West, the grand master of French Freemasonry, Pierre Simon, published a disturbing book in which he set forth a global project to transform French society, which was to be emancipated from its Judeo-Christian tradition through a redefinition of family and its constitutive relationships. Medicine was indicated as the instrument that would allow this surgical operation on the social body to occur, first through contraception and then through abortion and euthanasia. How does this transformation take place?

Sexuality has to do with the relationships that determine the identity of the subject and his social position: relationships of origin and those that point to our future: our being sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers. The separation of procreation from sexuality necessarily implies a radical transformation of these relationships. The child who is wanted and procreated outside of sexuality is reduced to a “product” of a technically controlled and evaluated project. Sexuality that is closed to reproduction no longer opens up to the other and loses its social meaning: it is “privatized,” because it is deprived of the generative breath that inherently permeates it.

The social dimension present in a man-woman couple consists in procreation. Insofar as it is ordered to procreation, sex, in the order of nature, is the only activity performed in the body that connects us also with the common good of society. And it is an activity accomplished outwardly by the body which, through personal communion and procreative cooperation, makes us more like God; it makes us a reflection of the Trinity. Privatization restricts sexual experience to an individualistic sphere, and impoverishes it on the level of semantics and relationships. Closed to generation, sexual activity is also futureless and restricted to the moment. The emphasis on performance has led to an agony in eros. A serious reflection on the statistics of the “Italian case” shows that the so-called “sexual revolution” has led, contrary to popular belief, to a drastic reduction in sexual relations: “free” sex has become even more banal and unsatisfying.

The introduction of technology that separates sexuality and procreation distorts sexual relations and ultimately leads to a perversion in the relationship between the generations. Gratitude and the gift which is recognized, accepted and communicated, disappear from the sexual experience, and are replaced by the search for self-sufficient eroticism and anxiety over performance. Fathers and mothers no longer live for their children; rather, they want their children only and only when they fit into a project that satisfies them. The natural order is reversed: children are called to live for their parents.

The demographic desert that we have been facing for decades is only the consequence of a loss of the generative and generous logic of giving, of a privatization of sexuality that is excluded from the common good of society, of a perversion of the relationship between the generations. 

Contraception corrodes the common good of society because it introduces an “un-political” (S. Fontana), indeed and perhaps even more apt, an “anti-political” factor into social relations: the principle of the individualism of individual beings close to one other and at the same time subjected to a despotic power that dominates them. 

Privatized to the extreme, sexuality is also paradoxically put under the domain of public control, and handed over to an invasion of public, political and legal power. The purely contractual logic of post-modern democracy invades private life and transforms intimacy such that, in virtue of a utopian absolute autonomy of the individual, it formulates models of “pure relations” that are unhinged from any reference to nature and tradition. As Stefano Fontana rightly states, a sexual relationship is neither private nor public: it is personal and communal. Only if it is set forth, not in terms of contraception but of spousal union open to life, can it be freed from the grip of privatization and public control.

3. Symbol and transcendence

And thus do we reach an even deeper manipulation: the elimination of the symbolic dimension and of transcendence from the sexual relationship. Paul VI evoked the presence of God the Creator in Humanae vitae, as the guarantor of the unity between the unitive and procreative meanings of the conjugal act. If God has nothing to do with it, procreation becomes a simple reproduction of a specimen of the species. If God has nothing to do with it, sexual union loses its symbolic meaning of covenant and becomes a diabolical place of confusion and exploitation. Separated from any reference to God, the body becomes a simple manipulable object to be disposed of as one wishes. When reference to divine Providence disappears from the horizon of existence, life becomes a calculation of advantages and disadvantages, a utilitarian planning that closes itself off in fear to surprises which the future holds — a future which we claim to govern, but which ultimately we do not decide.

“This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church” (Eph 5:32). The mystery of sexuality experienced in marriage is a great light for the life of the world. The elimination of the dimension of “mystery” from sexuality has accompanied the sexual revolution and its alleged emancipation from its inception. The Marquis De Sade, in his attempt at compulsory re-education in a purely hedonistic practice of sex, obsessively repeats the formula: “It is nothing more than” — a formula that is both reductive and violent, that wants to censor the indispensable question of meaning.

In one of his last brilliant addresses, on the occasion of his Christmas greetings to the Roman Curia, on December 21, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI sounded a cry of alarm on the theme of the family, which precisely since contraception was introduced, has been radically questioned in its natural shape, as a relationship founded on marriage as a stable bond between a man and a woman, ordered to the procreation and education of children. He reiterated that it is not only a particular social form that is at stake here, but man himself in his fundamental dignity: in fact, if this bond is rejected, “the key figures of human existence likewise vanish: father, mother, child – essential elements of the experience of being human are lost.” 

An authentic human ecology, as Pope Francis has also mentioned in Laudato si’ (No. 155), should deal not only with the pollution of the natural environment but also with that of the human environment, with social relations, which enable man to be himself, by finding his identity and breathing in deeply the truth of love.

I can therefore conclude by saying that Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae vitae, precisely because it protects the truth regarding married love from a logic of domination of the body and the pollution of a hedonistic and individualistic mentality, is also an essential contribution to the common good of human society.