From the 1998 Inside the Vatican Special Supplement on Humanae Vitae

The Most Important Encyclical in History

Interview with Father Paul Marx, O.S.B., Founder of Human Life International

By John Mallon

John Mallon: Father Marx, this year we commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and the thirtieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae. It took only five years for Pope Paul VI's dire predictions to come true. Now we live in the results of ignored prophecy. From your perspective, where do we stand now?

FATHER PAUL MARX, O.S.B.: I think we stand where the Pope said we would stand, as he predicted, in a world where there's little respect for sexuality, and for the family, and we see what he predicted in '68: that governments would enter the bedroom and tell couples how many children to have. He said that to approve contraception would put a weapon in the hands of government which would then invade the sanctuary of the home, there to tell the couple how many children to have. Ten years later, we saw that starting in China in 1978. Very interesting. And he predicted, of course, as you know, the lowering of general morality. I think that is so obvious that one doesn't have to explain it. Humanae Vitae is an amazing document. Professor Jerome LeJeune used to say that it will turn out to be the most important encyclical in history, because it saved mankind, because it saved the family. 

For thirty years it's been largely disregarded and disobeyed, although we do see a new generation coming along that finds this teaching exciting, sees the beauty and truth of it and finds it novel. Do you see them as the hope of change?

Yes. After visiting and working in ninety-one countries all over the world over the last thirty-four years, I see a confirmation, all over, of what the Church has always taught to be the truth. Unfortunately, most people don't realize that, don't see that. But, Chesterton once said if there's one thing you don't have to prove about the Catholic Church, it is the fact of original sin. I say, another thing you don't have to prove these days, is the need of chastity — the control of the sexual impulse, because if that is not controlled, you get a mess — the sex mess. 

In this country, for example, we need immigrants to keep the country going. Over one million come in to shore up our birth rate, which is barely reproductive. In this country, we have never had more venereal disease. We've never had more divorce. In this country, last year, fifty-two percent of babies were born out of wedlock. In this country, we have eight million single-parent families which have resulted mostly from fornication. And thirty million Americans have incurable herpes as a result of unisexual abuse. And of course thousands have died from AIDS, which is sexually based, as you know. So that, when you look at the sexual world, you see such a sad confirmation of what the Church has always taught. I find it so convincing. In country after country it is always the same thing. Once you have contraception, the rest is completely predictable. So the Church is right, and the world is wrong. The Church is right, while the theologians who rejected Humanae Vitae are desperately wrong. 

Yes, despite seeing these young couples coming along that are so beautiful and generous, we still have a lot of resistance among the clergy. The 60s generation is still clinging to their resentment of Humanae Vitae. And it's becoming a real crisis for these young people — and that generation of clergy.

On the other hand, I find more and more young clergy are very conservative, and seeing the mess for what it is. And I think some priests are waking up to the realities. They have fewer baptisms, they see that their youth don't go to church, they see this enormous sexual activity amongst the youth, so I see minor changes. At HLI we are now doing seminars for priests on how to handle contraception, especially from the pulpit, and how to promote chastity without alienating people; because eighty percent of the people out there are doing what 20 centuries of Catholics have been asked not to do — not to contracept, not to use abortifacients, and not to get sterilized. 

So, I have a little streak of optimism in me. I see great results of one million children being home-schooled, and I see more people say the rosary than ever in the 51 years of my priesthood. I see perpetual adoration increasing in various parishes, and I see these tiny little Catholic schools being set up all over the country. I met some here I didn't know existed. And so, there are definitely positive things happening. I hope that the revolution has started. 

One thing that's been clear during this conference is that none of this is without persecution, and I know that HLI has suffered a lot of unfair criticism, and even you, yourself, were accused quite unfairly last year of anti-Semitism, by the bishop of the city in which you were going to have a conference. How do you respond to that incident and other criticisms?

Well, it quite surprised me, because he actually had invited me twice to speak to his seminarians when he was rector at Mount St. Mary's. He got caught with some very bad advice. And I'm convinced he would never do it again because he received over one thousand letters, many which we have, whereas we — it reminds me, in astonishment — received five negative letters, none of which were authentic. They were the kind of crackpot letters you wouldn't take seriously. So, I'm afraid he made an enormous mistake. 

As to my being anti-Semitic, I've had Jews on my program for years. I worked with a rabbi in Israel in the 70s, saving babies. And, I wrote one article on the Jewish predominance in the abortion movement — seven pages. And I made two references, all of them written. And my point there was that the Jews have a marvelous pro-life history. It's their background, doctrinally, you see, and it's a tragedy that so many are not on the bandwagon here. And I invited them to join us because they, too, are dying off from abortion. I didn't condemn them in any way. I invited them to come back. So that's hardly anti-Semitism. I want the Jews not to kill their babies. 

Well, it reminds me, just as you speak, of something Cardinal Law once said in Boston. He gave a pro-life talk, I think it was at Boston College, and he said something to the effect that he didn't understand why these people in the 60s were so anti-war, pro-civil rights, and seemed to be on the right track, but aren't with us now on abortion. Pro-life seems to be part of the same continuum but now they're our opponents. He said he wished we could win them back. He wished they were with us, and didn't quite understand why they are not.

Good point, John, because abortion is the greatest war of all time, if by war, you mean violence that ends in death. It's certainly a war without compare, when you think of the amount of deaths this war is causing every day. So indeed, they're quite contradictory, I'll tell you. In the 60s they were against war, and now they overlook the greatest war of all time. 

It would be amusing if it weren't so tragic — the 60s generation, the hippies, and so forth, were raising this great cry at the time about the novels 1984 and Brave New World, saying, "This is coming, Big Brother is coming," and now they are the very generation which has brought all this about, with these controlling governments, controlling fertility or sterilizing people against their will, and so forth.

The number of sterilizations is frightening. It is the fastest growing means of birth control in the world. According to the United States census, over sixty-five percent of married couples at forty-five years of age have been sterilized in this country, and it is comparably so in other developing countries who are just slightly behind us, but catching up quite fast. 

Mercedes Wilson spoke last night on Contraceptive Imperialism in the Third World and the statistics she gave were terrifying about what is happening at the United Nations and with U.S. backed programs. 

The United Nations and the International Planned Parenthood Federation are totally involved all over the world. And, it is the media, they have the money. There are 114 affiliates in IPPF. And they claim they can touch ninety-six percent of mankind. And I believe them because wherever I go, in any country, I have no trouble finding the local affiliate. They are all over, literally. 

Well, it almost seems like orthodox, pro-life Catholics are in the position of David against Goliath. 

Yes, we surely have our opposition. But, I think in the end we will win, if we don't give up. I like what St. Francis de Sales said, that in doing God's work, it is terribly important to persevere and never to despair. Because as long as you do God's work, you're winning. That's our good fortune. 

It's a victory in itself. 


Is there anything you'd like to add?

Well, I think we need a spiritual, moral revival. I don't see much change in the future, apart from that. As Dostoyevsky has said, "If God is not, then nothing is morally wrong." And that's why we have no moral rules anymore when it comes to sexuality. In the scientific world, if you can do something, then you have a right to do it. We see this gross phenomenon of cloning, and in-vitro fertilization, etc. All of this stems from a failure to believe that there is a God, in Whose hands is this world, and to whom we are responsible, or we pay an enormous price. And we're paying it every day, all over the world. 

St. Thomas Aquinas said man cannot live without joy, and when deprived of spiritual joy, he'll go after carnal pleasures. Of course, sin, as we know, brings blindness, and sexual sin, perhaps the greatest blindness of all. If this is the only source of joy the majority of people know today, it's leading them into tremendous isolation. 

The Benedictine writer, Dom Marmion said joy is the echo of God's life in us. There's little joy because the echo of God isn't there. Through our own resources, we have nothing but disaster, as we have learned from history. But the Pope seems very optimistic for the next century. I wonder what he is basing that on. Maybe he has a special revelation. 

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