Vitae 40': Some Clergy determined to bring message
by James Rygelski, St. Louis Review Editor,
July 25, 2008
At the end of "Humanae Vitae," Pope Paul VI asked priests
and their bishops to "to promote completely and clearly the
teaching of the Church concerning marriage."
Some priests of the St. Louis Archdiocese told the Review
that’s an important message, acknowledge that it hasn’t been
talked about much from the pulpit over the years but add
that with the proper preparation and guidance of the Holy
Spirit that priests can and should affirm the truth of "Humanae
Bishop Robert J. Hermann, administrator of the St. Louis
Archdiocese until a new archbishop is named, said "We
(priests) did not talk about it as much as we should have"
over the years. But he said that priests who wanted to
preach on it faced some challenges. In 1968, we didn’t know
how to contextualize it with the Scriptures. (Priests) were
afraid the message would be rejected."
"I think today the climate has changed so much. ‘Theology of
the body’ puts it into a scriptural context. It energizes
this truth with the Word of God. Today people hunger for a
deeper understanding of the mystery of sexuality," Bishop
Father Michael Houser, recently ordained and an associate
pastor at Holy Trinity Parish in St. Ann, is nevertheless
well familiar with the teachings of "Humanae Vitae" and
determined to bring its message to the faithful.
"I was first aware of ‘Humanae Vitae’ when fairly young. My
own family had great appreciation for Church teaching and
was committed to it, as both my parents taught natural
family planning with the Couple to Couple League.
"As I grew older and was discerning my vocation, adherence
to the teaching was important to me. I was aware it was not
easy for Catholics and for priests to accept at the time,"
It also meant a lot to him, he said, that his teachers at
Kenrick-Glennon Seminary were "very committed to the
Church’s teaching on marriage." He said he and fellow
seminarians have gained a full awareness of NFP and
During his transitional diaconate last year at St. Margaret
Mary Alacoque Parish in Oakville, he wanted to preach on the
topic during a Mass. "It’s a very sensitive topic that
requires preparation to speak on. I was intimidated the
first time. The most important thing was doing it, trusting
in God to use your words however He wanted to do that.
Clergy are called to be courageous even if what they do is
not popular," he added.
The readings for the Sunday in which he was to preach did
not readily lend themselves to a discussion of "Humanae
Vitae." But Father Houser used the Old Testament story in
the first reading of Naaman’s gratitude to God at being
cured of his leprosy to remind the congregation that
gratitude for what they have been given by God should lead
them to obeying His laws on such things as sex and
contraception. "God is calling us to something higher," he
said he told them.
He was happily surprised by the reaction. "What I heard was
that people were appreciative of the fact that I’d spoken
about it. None of us can judge the hearts of people in pews.
We say what needs to be said. It was very refreshing to me
to be approached by certain parishioners and have them come
up enthusiastic. It showed they were taking it seriously in
A priest should preach on the subject — and on many other
Church teachings as well — with regularity so that people
"can kind of keep hearing about it and it stays before their
consciences," Father Houser said.
Father Jeffrey A. Maassen, ordained in 1997 and recently
named pastor of St. David Parish in Arnold has spoken on the
subject of contraception. He did so recently at the monthly
Young Adult Coffee House at St. Monica Parish in Creve
"I had some trepidation on how it would be received," he
said of his preaching on the subject over the years. "I
certainly have talked about it, what our Church teaches
being open to life."
Father Maassen believes that disobedience to "Humane Vitae"
has led to a number of ills within the Church as well as in
the society overall. Support for contraception has led to
increased disrespect for women by men, he said.
"We’re all broken in this area of sexuality," he said. In
the Church, the shortage of priests and dwindling attendance
at Sunday Mass are among the offshoots of the rejection of
"If I am contracepting and I know what Christ teaches
through the Church but I continue to do it, that fosters
disobedience and disrespect for authority. I won’t be
listening to the Church’s authority on other things," he
said in describing what he thinks is a prevailing attitude.
"If families are contracepting there’s less of a pool for
priests. There’s also less of a pool of scientists that
could have cured cancer," he added.
- back to
Q & A --