The Gospel of Life Crowns My Life

Author: Fr. Paul Marx


by Paul Marx, O.S.B., Ph.D.

It can be maddening to be told "You were told." After 30 years of prolife/family work dating back to the early '60s I can say that the 194-page , the Pope' s eleventh encyclical, confirms all that I have taught and written on pro-life issues, all that was published by the Human Life Center of Minnesota's St. John's University since 1972. Out of the Human Life Center grew Human Life International in 1981 in Washington, D.C. I am sure other pioneer pro-lifers are even more vindicated.

I remember well my conversation with John Paul II on 17 November 1979 in Rome. The Pope had just come back from his first trip to America. In Chicago he asked the American hierarchy to promote and condemn contraception. The Pope remarked that some people in the USA didn't like what he said about contraception. They never have. So some 90 percent of married couples use contraceptives or abortifacients. Over 50 percent of the married in the age group 33-44 use the barnyard approach to birth control-sterilization.

I had been lecturing against abortion in Germany and Austria from 1972 on, and one night in Vienna I said the right thing for a change. A major Vienna paper the next morning carried the headline, "The Third World War Has Begun: Abortion," with a picture of yours truly. The Pope, then Cardinal Archbishop of Krakow, was aware of my pro-life activity in German-speaking countries and so asked me upon our meeting, "Is there a little bit of Karl in you?" I responded, "Your Holiness, only through Adam and Eve." He chuckled.

I then told the Pope that I had fought abortion in 48 countries of the world (90 by now) and that in every country, once you have contraception, widespread if not legal abortion follows. I could cite no exception, nor had anyone been able to cite one.

I explained to him: once you have contraception, legal abortion often follows eventually, if for no other reason, given the failure of contraception. Also contraception steps up irresponsible sexual activity; people become careless about their sexual activity, leaving in its wake ever more unwanted pregnancies. Therefore, anti-life people argue we must have "back-up legal abortion." Further, if parents contracept, they have lost their role as parents to exemplify chastity and to teach it to their young. So now you get ever more irresponsible teen intercourse, more unintended pregnancies, more venereal disease and more sterility later among married couples. Sexual morality evaporates, as we get recreational sexual activity.

Additionally, with legal abortion adoption services dry up. Despite widespread contraception, more illegitimate births occur, and venereal disease often escalates out of control. With legal abortion comes the prostitution of the medical and legal professions; the family is destroyed, as are birthrates, and with that comes the dying of the nations. So I spoke to the Pope, an intent listener.

He paused for an uncomfortable (to me) period of time. Fr. Werenfried von Straaten, who sees the Pope more often, told me he thinks that the Pope prays at a time like that for a good answer. I was shocked when the Pope told me, "You have lots of experience; you're doing the most important work on earth."

He then asked me in his Polish English (he has improved a lot since then!) to bring the pro-life/family mission to the whole world, "and surely the Americans will help you." I didn't fully catch on to the impact of what he was saying, but an hour later it occurred to me that babies are the only future that a nation has; babies are the only future the Church has; babies are the only future the married couple has -what is left of any marriage in old age but children who come to visit their parents at Christmas and Easter, and rush to their deathbed from all parts of the country to pray them into heaven, where hopefully, they will join them in heaven for all eternity? Non- replacement birthrates create many problems. I became acutely aware that every worthwhile cause one can think of assumes the on-going of human life.

Today the whole Western world is dying out. Italy has the lowest birthrate in the Western world with 1.2 children per completed family (needed for reproduction: 2.2); the Russians have the lowest birthrate in the world, with 1.1 children; last year they had 800,000 more coffins than cradles, as the blunt Germans say it. Meanwhile the one billion Muslims are poised to take over Western Europe.

condemns contraception, sterilization, abortion, euthanasia, fetal experimentation, allied evils and a vast array of other threats to life and the family, like threats to the environment and ecology. In a closely reasoned fashion, the Pope discusses the roles of health-care personnel, educators, politicians, civic leaders, media personnel, the family as domestic church and others in promoting the gospel of life and in opposing the culture of death. As one theologian said, "The specificity of the Pope's instructions was unusual in an encyclical and should therefore be taken very seriously." Others began the debate whether the is infallible teaching. As John Cardinal O'Connor predicted months ago, the encyclical is a blockbuster. Strangely, in some 10 accounts of the encyclical I have read in secular newspapers, contraception goes unmentioned. Yet it is clearly there.

The encyclical was four years in the making. Before it appeared, I several times asked Roman authorities associated with the encyclical whether contraception would be condemned. I was always assured it would be. One official asked me to submit evidence of how contraception led to baby-killing, a task that cost me 10 days of labor.

The encyclical is truly a remarkable document. It is a for the Church and mankind on life and family issues. The immediate attacks and rejections from Planned Parenthood, the pseudo-Catholics for a Free Choice and others only proves how the Pope has zeroed in on the most vital questions of our time.

But will the world listen? Will the bishops in the Western world act? Will our many dissenting theologians change course? Will they finally see that contraception is the root of so many evils in the destruction of youth, family, Church and state-and act? Will our bishops revamp the many sick marriage preparation programs? Will they promote natural family planning, which is as good a means of birth control for the informed and motivated couple as exists short of sterilization? (Would God give us anything less?) Will natural family planning continue to be the great secret in the Catholic Church? Will sex ed continue to destroy our youth? (As the Pope rightly said, sex education is the aphrodisiac of Western culture.) Will sterilization continue to be the fastest growing means of birth control in the United States and world?

Being proud of my humility, I can write and talk this way because I have been promoting NFP since the day of my ordination in 1947. I am totally convinced that until the more than 90 percent of Catholics who practice contraception learn to live the truth about sex, love, marriage and the faith, our seminaries and novitiates will continue to be more or less empty, the youth will continue to be misled by the bad example of their parents, and the priests will continue to neglect their pulpits, while the Church continues to decline in the Western world, until she is reduced to a faithful remnant at best.

One of the great tragedies of our time, as the so well demonstrates, is that the Church obviously has the truth about God's great gift of human sexuality, marriage and the family, but she has not been able (for whatever reason) to communicate this persuasively to the young, to those getting married and to those who, as parents, could be living examples of loving chastity. Yet without the Church' s truth there can be no authentic human love, nor a healthy family, nor a thriving society.

This encyclical is a godsend. It presents the only remedy for the sex mess that pervades the whole affluent West and other parts of the world, influenced by the money and media of the wealthy nations. But will Christians and men of goodwill listen and change? The future of the Church and mankind depends on it.

Copies of the new encyclical are available from HLI for $3.

Taken from the May 1995 issue of "HLI Reports." To subscribe contact: HLI Reports 7845 Airpark Road, Suite E Gaithersburg, MD 20879