Center for Ethics and Leadership

Monday, July 28, 2008

Camden Diocese Hosts a Historic Pro-Life Conference

July 25 marked the 40th anniversary of Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae. This is the papal teaching that forbade artificial birth control. It is unnecessary to repeat that the teaching was not received by the overwhelming majority of lay Catholics (about 90 percent) and by the majority of the Church's moral theologians. Nonetheless, Paul's successor John Paul II continually articulated the rightness of the teaching and developed it over the many years of his papacy. His work is now referred to as the "Theology of the Body."

This weekend, the Diocese of Camden, NJ, in cooperation with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) held a leadership weekend designed to educate diocesan family life and pro-life employees nationwide about the Church's sexual and reproductive ethics entitled "Life, Justice, and Family." It was an impressive gathering. People came from as far away as Hawaii to spend the weekend at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Cherry Hill, NJ. The speakers were A-list. Helen Alvare and Tadeuz Pacholzyk spoke on law and philosophy, respectively and were superb. Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, CT, and Carl Anderson of the Knights of Columbus also addressed the assembly.

Most of the speeches were well prepared and well delivered. Two stand out in my mind. A physician from suburban Philadelphia, Lester Ruppersberger, impressed with his sobering facts about the patients he treats. For example, he has already treated 19-year-old women for cervical cancer brought on by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). He also brought forward many statistics arguing a link between increased levels of hormonal contraceptives and breast cancer, and outlined other medical indications. Most impressive was his personal statement that nine years ago, when he was about 50, he changed his ob-gyn practice from one that prescribed contraceptives to one that offered Natural Family Planning (NFP) only. That's gutsy.

Mark Chevalier, Ph.D., an executive with American Water, spoke of the effects of increased level of synthetic estrogen in the nation's rivers and streams. The estrogen not absorbed by the body is passed in the urine. It seems to find its way into the water and there are now instances of male fish being hormonally feminized. Male alligators have been discovered to have undescended testicles, and so on. Who would have thought that the pill would have a measurable environmental impact?

Those were only two of the excellent presentations that gave food for thought. Not every argument was convincing. Once too often came the simplistic statement that the ubiquity of the pill has been a significant cause of adultery, illegitimacy, STDs, and the breakdown of the family. And now and again the us-against-the-world argument was grating. In fact, the pill is both symptom and cause of these social problems, along with many other causes, some of which are political and economic and others cultural. And the attendees seemed solidly middle-class or better, so they are doing just fine in the world. More significantly, even when it is recognized that the conference's stated purpose centered on Humanae Vitae and related matters, too little attention was given to the Church's social teachings. They are pro-life in a profound sense of the word. That said, it was still a good weekend.


  • Very interesting post. As far as I know, natural family planning is the only method approved by the Catholic church, it's also very effective and be used both for conception and contraception. It's always great to see people talking about this subject, BreezySoft has written some information on the topic as well on one of their product pages. I find it fascinating that there's a perfectly natural method of birth control which is completely ethical and also not inconvenient, nor does it require spending money on contraceptives.

    By Anonymous Jolie Garcia, At September 21, 2009 10:15 AM  

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