In today's New York Times, Peter Steinfels surveys the 40-year anniversary history of Humanae Vitae, which has been seen variously as a prophetic statement of the Church's Truth about sexuality, or as one of those encyclicals which fail the test of being "received" throughout the Church. Steinfels explains:
Most Catholics have neither read “Humanae Vitae” nor followed these debates. What they know is that the church authorities condemn contraception and that this condemnation is somehow the linchpin of Catholicism’s sexual wisdom.
That is another dividing line between Catholic supporters and critics of the encyclical.
Like most people, both factions are quite willing to recognize a dark side to the contemporary sexual revolution. The supporters believe that contraception has been the battleground on which Catholic sexual morality must stand or fall — especially if it is to have any impact on that revolution.
The critics believe that this focus has been a tragic error and that it has exiled the church to the sidelines in the culture’s current struggles over sexuality.
And now, Monty Python's irresistibly disrespectul parody will be going through my head: Every sperm is sacred . . . well, you know the rest.
Addendum: John Fea graciously has ignored that last little sophomoric interlude to add the following helpful reference: For an interesting conservative defense of "Humanae Vitae" check out this essay in *First Things*: http://www.firstthings.com/article.php3?id_article=6262