Papal Encyclical Becomes Part of Congressional Record

One of the strangest moments at yesterday’s very strange hearing on whether a regulation duly promulgated under a law passed by Congress was “executive overreach” and an infringement of religious freedom was when Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Not Catholic) asked to have the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae entered into the Congressional Record.

His point, obviously, upon questioning the now-ubiquitous Bishop William Lori of the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was to show the authoritative (or rather, authoritarian) roots of the Catholic opposition to “artificialqui” contraception.

There it is now, part of the Congressional Record! A document few Catholics follow, and which provoked dissent from (believe it or not) American bishops when Pope Paul VI issued it in 1968. 

Writing in the Catholic magazine America in 1993, the 25th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, Richard McCormick observed, of the theological reaction to the document:

These were heady days indeed. Overnight, dissent became a front-burner issue. Any number of episcopal conferences mentioned its possibili­ty and legitimacy. The American bishops in their pastoral letter, “Human Life in Our Day” (Nov. 15, 1968), even laid out the norms for licit dissent. Expression of dissent is in order “only if the reasons are serious and well founded, if the manner of the dissent does not question or impugn the teaching authority of the Church and is such as not to give scandal.” Paul VI himself, in a letter to the Congress of German Catholics (Aug. 30, 1968), stated: “May the lively debate aroused by our encyclical lead to a better knowledge of God’s will.”

Summarizing in these pages (AM., 9/28/68) what had been said by several European hierarchies, Avery Dulles, SJ., issued this warning:

In view of the American tradition of freedom and pluralism, it would be a serious mistake to use the encyclical as a kind of Catholic loyalty test. Nothing could so quickly snuff out the spirit of per­sonal responsibility, which has done so much to invigorate American Catholicism in the past few years.

Nothing could be more discouraging to young people and intellectuals, upon whom the future of our Church so greatly depends. Nothing could be more destructive of the necessary autonomy of Catholic universities and journals, which have begun to prosper so well. Nothing, finally, could be more harmful to the mutual relations of trust and cordiality that have recently been established between bishops and theologians.

So what has happened in the past 25 years? Father Dulles’s worst fears have become reality. 

Nearly 20 years after that, I’m guessing the these same dissenters would be shocked by how that loyalty test is now a litmus test for American public health policy. And even more shocked by how some non-Catholics seem more enamored of it than American Catholics themselves.

At yesterday’s hearing, Rep. Mike Quigley of Illinois (D), chuckled as Bishop Lori insisted that the Church isn’t opposed to couples spacing out pregnancies, as long as they do it via natural family planning. “Bishop I respect your views,” said Quigley, explaining his reaction, “I just differ with the effectiveness there.” 

But Issa took up the defense of the Church, reading from Humanae Vitae, questioning Lori about it, and finally entering it into the Congressional Record.

Up next: “I request unanimous consent to enter Exodus 20:14, Deuteronomy 22:22, and Leviticus 20:10 into the record.”*

Rick Santorum, whose loyalty to all things medieval is unflagging, couldn’t eke out a victory in Michigan last night. That’s due, in part, to his inability to capture as much of the Catholic vote as Mitt Romney did. According to exit polls, 39% of the Michigan electorate was evangelical, and Santorum won 51% of them. Thirty percent of the electorate was Catholic, and Santorum was only able to capture 42% of them, to Romney’s 44%. The evangelicals liked Santorum more than his fellow Catholics did, and his fellow Catholics liked Romney more than they liked him. In Arizona, though, Santorum couldn’t even win the evangelicals. There, 42% of the voters were evangelical, and Santorum could only attract 37% of them to Romney’s 55%. (Arizona evangelicals probably know a lot more Mormons than evangelicals in other parts of the country.) Just 17% of Arizona voters were Catholic. Romney won 44% of them, Santorum 34%. Are we all Catholic now, as Mike Huckabee (Bapticostal) and Glenn Beck (Mormon) insist? By their test, not even the Catholics are.

*Joke. See, I have to make that clear.


Correction: An earlier version of this post identified Rep. Quigley as Catholic, but he is, in fact, non-denominational Christian. -The Eds.