Chicago Studies Fall 2021/Winter 2022

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John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and the Gift of Children1 By Angela Franks, Ph.D. Context We tend to think that the context for contemporary Catholic moral analyses concerning children begins circa 1968, with the crisis of the sexual revolution. Certainly, the magisterium of the Catholic Church did not engage questions of sexual ethics in any sustained way prior to the twentieth century (and then mostly in its latter half). These teachings indicate a development of doctrine, in the sense of applying Catholic teaching to new questions. Those new questions did not emerge only in the 1960s, however, nor were they simply driven by the arrival of hormonal contraception. Rather the reverse: The technological advances were enabled by a novel ideology, one that predated the technology by about eighty years. 2 The rise of eugenics followed by the organized Neo-Malthusian movement in the last decades of the nineteenth century promoted “quality, not quantity” when it came to children: eugenic quality instead of population quantity. Birth control was first promoted in a widespread way not by sexual revolutionaries but by eugenic population controllers. Even America’s homegrown sexual free-thinker, Margaret Sanger (founder of Planned Parenthood), only began to focus on contraception as a result of her tutelage by sexologist and Neo-Malthusian Havelock Ellis in the early 1910s. Some in the Catholic hierarchy, at least in America, were alert to the confluence of ideologies behind the promotion of contraception already in the 1910s and 1920s, with the bishops’ spokesman, Fr. John Ryan, speaking out against both eugenics and contraception. By the 1920s, the eugenic population-control movement had won over the intelligentsia in the Anglo-American world and had begun to embrace openly the eugenic solution of contraception or, even, eugenic sterilization (enabled by the Supreme Court in Buck v Bell, 1927: “three generations of imbeciles are enough”). When the Anglican bishops at Lambeth met in 1930 and decided to alter Anglican teaching on the issue—the first time any Christian denomination was to do so—eugenic exigencies were among those mentioned in the debate as a rationale for the change. This background is important for understanding why Pius XI felt impelled to reaffirm Catholic teaching on contraception in the 1931 encyclical Casti Connubii. Obviously, that encyclical did not quiet the debate. Eugenic population control motivated activists to siphon Rockefeller money into the Population Council and other organizations to promote research into contraception. 3 Nobody needed to invent “the lust of the flesh” (I Jn 2:16), but the sexual revolution of the 1960s happened when it did in part because of these larger societal factors; ideology preceded technology. Neo-Malthusianism was served if sex’s purpose was recreation, not procreation. Hormonal contraception in particular fueled the precise debate to which Paul VI responded in 1968 with the encyclical Humanae Vitae. The young intellectual Karol Cardinal Wojtyła was asked to be on the commission of theologians that advised the pope, although he could not make its final meeting due to visa problems. Humanae Vitae bucked the commission and affirmed traditional Catholic teaching on the matter. Only in its aftermath was open theological dissent on a whole range of issues normalized in Catholic universities. What is less well-known is how the upheaval roiled the daily life of priests. J. Francis Cardinal Stafford harrowingly describes the fall-