By John-Henry Westen
TORONTO, November 17, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The Humanae Vitae conference which took place this Saturday at St. Michael’s College in Toronto, attracting an overflow crowd, was a great success according to organizers and participants. The conference was organized to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae (On Human Life), which reaffirmed Church teaching against contraception in the wake of the advent of the birth control pill.
At the time of its publication, Humanae Vitae was rejected by many Catholics, clergy and bishops included. Even the Canadian bishops’ conference at the time issued what is known as The Winnipeg Statement, which was interpreted by most as absolving Catholics should they dissent from the teaching against contraception.
“The time at which it appeared,” said Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, SJ, speaking of the encyclical during this weekend’s conference, “was one of great discontinuity … not only in public life but also for the church.”
The Archbishop recalled the Winnipeg Statement and a follow-up statement that sought to clarify it. “Many felt, and some still feel, that the bishops’ first message was confusing and ambiguous, and that the follow up statement was too weak to correct mistaken notions communicated earlier,” he said.
He added, however, that now was the time for the faithful in Canada to move forward with promoting the teaching rather than looking back to the past. “At this point in the history of the Canadian Church we could look backwards and try to change the past such as the baggage that came with the so-called Winnipeg Statement,” said the Archbishop. “We can’t really change that but we can work for a better future by putting our energy to moving ahead, and bringing our healing vision to our culture …
“We need to go back and embrace or re-embrace the prophetic encyclical Humanae Vitae given through the Theology of the Body,” he said. “There is no doubt that we need to do more to promote the teaching of Humanae Vitae,” he added. “Many in our time do not understand the evil of the contraceptive act.”
The Archbishop urged the faithful “to read the encyclical, to study it and embrace it.” He noted that the “prophetic” encyclical which “time has shown … to be a gift from Christ to men and women everywhere,” is “just as important today as it was in 1968.” Prendergast quoted Cardinal Edward Gagnon as saying that Humanae Vitae is “one of the most important documents in the history of the church.” He also prayed “for the conversion of those who are still resisting” the teaching of the encyclical.
The archbishop of Canada’s national capital stressed the importance of a new document from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, released this year. That document, called “Liberating Potential,” was released in September and contained nothing but praise for and faithful adherence to Humanae Vitae. LifeSiteNews.com coverage noted that the new CCCB document contained not a mention of the Winnipeg Statement or a hint of its dissenting slant on contraception (see coverage: https://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2008/sep/08092909.html).
The archbishop urged faithful Catholics to “work for a better future by moving ahead and leaving the past in the Lord’s hands.” Concluding, he said, “I want to thank all of you who over the past 40 years have kept the truths of HV before us. I know that God will bless you for your efforts and your suffering and I ask that we all go forward now with the task of building the culture of life and love here in Canada.”
The conference was sponsored by Campaign Life Coalition, Priests for Life Canada, the Natural Family Planning Association, the Catholic Doctors Guild and LifeSiteNews.com. Jim Hughes of Campaign Life Coalition told LifeSiteNews.com that he was thrilled with the conference and that the sold-out crowd was very enthusiastic. “To see that there are bishops willing to speak out on this prophetic document bodes well for the future,” said Hughes.
Talks from the conference, including that of Archbishop Prendergast will be available from LifeSiteNews.com shortly.