From the 1998 Inside the Vatican Special Supplement on Humanae Vitae
‘The Most Prophetic Statement of the 20th Century’
An Interview with Father Joseph Fessio, Founder, Editor, of Ignatius Press, San Francisco
By John Mallon
John Mallon: Father Fessio, it is this year we're commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of Roe v. Wade and the thirtieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae. Those two dates alone show that it didn't take very long for Pope Paul VI's dire predictions to come to pass. Now, thirty years have gone by. In your view, where do we stand now?
FATHER JOSEPH FESSIO, S.J.: I think that Humanae Vitae was the most prophetic statement the Church made in the twentieth century. I think it strikes at the heart of God's plan for creation. The creation of man as male and female is the very fundamental structure of the created order, which, in the order of grace, is the relation between Christ and the Church. And that this divorce of procreation from the unitive function of marriage, which is taking place, has been a disaster for society. All of Paul IV's predictions have come true, and worse than he predicted. I think that everything, whether it's contraception itself, which divides the marriage act, and destroys marriages, to abortion, which is the natural result of contraception, to divorce, to promiscuity, to homosexuality — which is the perfect contraceptive act, because you've got obviously infertile actions taking place and unnatural actions — they all stem from a denial of the fundamental created order, which Humanae Vitae maintained. So, I think that when people say that it's peripheral. they're dead wrong. It's not peripheral. It's central to the created order, and unless we come back to that truth, society will destroy itself. There's no question about it in my mind. It always works in that direction.
Well, it appears that practically every important legal issue in the nation today is a moral issue. Almost everything the government's dealing with is a moral issue, and it looks as if it can all be traced back to this break from this truth about man. The divisions in the Church, as well, all seem to go back to the disobedience of Humanae Vitae.
That's true. Obviously there are other factors at work, and probably not all governmental decisions are moral in the strict sense. For example, we're making new traffic laws, and trade regulations, and so on, but the ones which really affect the family — which are the most important ones — are all poisoned by the contraceptive mentality. Also, obviously, abortion is clearly a heinous crime because you're taking an innocent human life. But you know, there's a sense in which contraception is worse, because we believe that God can still, in His mercy, fulfill that little child with heavenly bliss, even though he's been aborted by his mother or by the doctor. But, the child that God wanted to be, that now doesn't exist for all eternity, that's a loss that will never be replaced.
So, some people say, "Well, let's just fight abortion, that's clearly bad, and we can put up with contraception." Actually, contraception is a horrible offense against God, and God's providence, and God's love, and you wonder how many millions and millions of wonderful people don't exist because of the selfishness of their parents.
What do you think can be done in the Church to encourage clergy, because this is an extremely divisive issue with the clergy, dividing them from laity. Young couples in their twenties and thirties want to obey Humanae Vitae, while many of their pastors are clinging to the sixties, getting older and older, and will not budge. There's a real problem there.
I think you're expression of clinging to the sixties hits the nail on the head, because we had these people who looked upon themselves as progressive, but they're absolutely fixated in the Sexual Revolution and the moral relativism of the sixties and seventies, whereas now we're finding out that the perennial truths of the Church, which have been upheld against the society, are the new, refreshing truths that the younger generation is responding to. There are many, many — hundreds, if not thousands of Protestants, for example, who have become Catholic because of Humanae Vitae.
The younger clergy now, and the new seminarians, have no resentment of the pre-Vatican II period because they don't know much about it. All they know is that there is something wrong with our society. I'm finding that young seminarians and young priests are militant for Humanae Vitae. Young Catholic families, homeschooling families, especially — rejoice in Humanae Vitae. So, I think that the generation you're talking about is passing. The revolution is over, and it failed. I think it's a matter of time before we see a real resurgence of reverence for life and reverence for the Church's teaching here.