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McCarrick, dissent from ‘Humanae vitae’, and the ‘sensus fidelium’

The price the Church has paid for neglecting to preach the truths of Humanae vitae and to promote Natural Family Planning is incalculable. 

Blessed Paul VI is seen in an undated official portrait. (CNS photo/Felici, Catholic Press Photo)

The fact that the 50th year anniversary of Humanae vitae should fall within the year of the #Metoo movement is ironic since that movement painfully reveals how the modern sexual ethic has debased men, women and sex—something that Saint Paul VI predicted would happen if contraception became widely available. The entertainment world and secular institutions must clearly radically change their cultures.

The failure of the Church to maintain a culture respectful of sexual values and to protect the innocent is even more distressing, for the Church has been appointed by Our Savior Jesus Christ to safeguard all morality. It is very painful for any Catholic to learn of the shocking and immoral behavior of Cardinal McCarrick, which exploited, violated and betrayed the trust of so many young men. Even more appalling is the fact that his success in the Church reveals a continued existence of a culture within the Church that permits such behavior to take place and prevents it from coming to light.

Bishops, priests, religious and laity must band together to find a way to eradicate what has been repeatedly spoken of as a network of homosexuals who abuse people and who control too much of what goes on in dioceses, orders, and even in the curia.

To those who have eyes to see, it is not hard to see that the widespread embrace of contraception leads to approval of homosexuality. After all, those who accept contraception hold that respecting the procreative possibility of the sexual act is not essential to the moral performance of that action. Thus why not homosexuality and a whole host of deviant sexual actions? The sexual abuse crisis in the Church was largely a crisis of homosexual priests exploiting young men. How many others did not prey on young men, but have lived double lives? Their ways of thinking and behaving surely permeated their priesthood in many ways.

What happened with McCarrick explains a lot. Over the last 50 years those priests and laity who have tried to promote Humanae vitae and to teach methods of Natural Family Planning have regularly been astonished and demoralized by how little support they have received from bishops. For decades the family life offices were dominated by dissenters, by those who taught couples in marriage preparation that using contraception was not a sin if their consciences were not troubled.

After I had given a talk explaining how the dissent from Humanae vitae quickly led to a dominance of dissenting faculty in seminaries, institutions for Catholic higher education, and in diocesan structures as well, a woman observed to me that now she understood why the good bishops who have been appointed in recent times have such a hard time with their presbyterates.

Many bishops this year are preaching on, writing statements on, and holding conferences on Humanae vitae. But that is a relatively new phenomenon. The good bishops of today inherited a Church shaped by bishops who have tolerated dissent and even manifest and egregious violations of chastity. I have no doubt that many of the dissenting bishops were badly educated in seminary; indeed, I have been surprised that so many good bishops have come out of the seminary system that was in place for years.

In the midst of all this confusion, dissent, and betrayal, the fidelity of lay Catholics who have sacrificed and struggled to defend Humanae vitae and promote Natural Family Planning is all that more admirable. Blessed John Henry Newman predicted that at times in the Church there would be a small portion of the flock (parvus grex), a flock largely abandoned by its shepherds, who would maintain commitment to the truth. It is this group that he believed possessed the “sensus fidelium”; it was this group whose faith was so deep and loyally practiced that the lack of leadership from those whose duty is was to lead did not deflect them from the true faith and from evangelizing as best they could.

The price the Church has paid for neglecting to preach the truths of Humanae vitae and to promote Natural Family Planning is incalculable.  Lives have been ruined, vocations have been lost, priests have left the priesthood, families have been destroyed, conversions have been stymied, and the culture has been deprived of the bold witness that the Church could and should give to the spectacular vision God has for human sexuality.

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About Janet E. Smith 7 Articles
Janet E. Smith holds the Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. She has recently edited Why Humanae vitae Is Still Right (Ignatius Press 2018) and Self-Gift, Essays on Humanae vitae and the Thought of John Paul II (Emmaus Press: 2018)


  1. I entered the seminary three weeks after Humanae Vitae. All eight years of seminary were controlled by dissenters from HV. Their stranglehold was incalculable and extended to every aspect of formation: liturgical, doctrinal, moral, canonical, personal. Those of us who dissented from the dissenters were persecuted mercilessly; not a few of us were sent to psychiatric gulags. It is a major miracle that we survived and that not a few of us have actually made contributions to the reversal of their heinous actions.
    I would not wish on my worst enemies the demoralizing experience of priestly formation post-HV. Deo gratias, so much has changed for the better. While far from perfect, today’s seminaries are a dream-boat compared to what my generation experienced.

    • God bless you, Father! Sending up an Ave right now for your priesthood, your protection from evil, and your final perseverance.

    • I feel obliged to concur with what Fr. Peter has written. I was involved in seminary work during that period and I could see the massive betrayal of the Catholic faith that was going on in American formation. Providentially, I managed to survive with my sanity and faith intact and then spent many years abroad in places where the Catholic faith still survives. Of course, the bottom line is that the situation in America was especially the fault of the bishops, and the pedophilia scandal helped to show what kind of shepherds they really were.

      • It was not a pedophillia scandal; it was a homosexual scandal. The vast majority of the victims were pubescent males. Catholics need to be aware of this fact, because the secular media won’t tell them. Gays are a powerful and protected class, especially in the Church. That’s why we’re in the mess we’re in.

    • Thanks be to God for you, Father Peter — and for Janet Smith: no one toils harder, or more faithfully, in the Church’s vineyards than she.

  2. Janet writes: “I have no doubt that many of the dissenting bishops were badly educated in seminary….” Related to her article, here’s a broad observation.

    From 2001 to 2004 the Archdiocese of Seattle sponsored a very solid and committed pastoral council (25 members). As part of the project, and as a member, I chose to attend all twelve of the “listening sessions” (a suspect concept, but it can be done right) across western Washington state. At one session, I spied a well-known and distinctly reliable pastor, with a copy of the Documents of Vatican II in his hand (The early Abbott version complete with all footnotes). In the table conversation he noted this: “There’s a lot of very interesting material in these documents; we never covered any of this in the seminary.” In this particular seminary curriculum there was NOTHING about the actual Vatican II documents.

    I estimate that this priest was ordained a full ten years after the council. No wonder many priests are more taken by the floating and so-called “spirit” of the council members, rather than what the actually said, wrote, deliberated, and then voted upon. There is a certain amount of precision there, including strategic interventions by Pope Paul VI (especially the Church in the Modern World, the few-page Prefatory Note to Chapter III, usually inserted for some reason at the very end.)

    (The seminary in question closed its doors in 1977.)

  3. The last paragraph sums up the last 50 years. Not a day passes that I do not feel great sadness and distress over the sermons never heard, the lessons never taught, the grandchildren never conceived and the family tree that dies.

  4. Cardinal McCarrick has deceptively undermined the Catholic Church in a variety of ways, not least of which was his hand in publishing the 1967 Land of Lakes statement, the manifesto by which “progressive” college presidents and administrators declared they would no longer be bound by Catholic authority.

    Hence the SJ’s Fordham U. selected a non-Catholic man, Prof. Hornbeck, in a “same sex marriage” to a man, as Chair of Theology.

    Hence, the SJ College of the Holy Cross has a theology professor, Benny Liew, who lectures on the homoerotic appeal of Jesus’ crucifixion.

    And McCarrick, like almost all other Bishops, ignored the direction of John Paul II in Ex Corde Ecclesiae, requiring college theologians to have a mandatum from the Bishop to teach Catholic theology at a Catholic college.

  5. Thank you, Janet, for this beautiful article, and thank you Fr. Peter Stravinskas for your faithful service as a priest. Tomorrow, July 25th, is the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae. Let us give thanks to God and thanks to (soon-to-be) Saint Paul VI for the gift of this encyclical.

  6. AMEN to your entire article, Janet!! BRAVO!!
    God bless you, Father Stravinskas! So grateful that you persevered.
    My husband, a physician, as a medical student at a prominent Jesuit University Medical School had similar awful experiences as did I in a Catholic nursing school and later as well as an NFP director and teacher in various NFP programs.
    We could summarize the support of our NFP efforts at the diocesan, Catholic Hospital, and parish level as ‘Silence and/or Lip Service’ at best. No surprise to us that fifty years later most are ignorant of HV and NFP.
    Sad (but in my opinion, also not surprising) about the recent news on C. McCarrick. Janet said it best in her article above.
    Is 2018 a ‘shake out’ year? I’m thinking ‘yes’. It’s not over yet.

    Maybe, just maybe after 50 years, bishops/clergy and laity will be able to add 2 plus 2 and get the answer and not be ashamed to proclaim it. Late is better than never.

  7. The inestimable Janet Smith.

    As with GEM Anscombe, a masterful explanation and apologetic that the contraceptive Catholics cannot even grasp.

    Great column.

  8. Rebellion against the Church teaching on human sexuality in Humanae Vitae does not explain pre-Vatican ll sexual predation or homosexuality in or outside of the Church. The open dissent by the leaders of the Church and laity against Humanae Vitae unquestionably opened the door further to evil though.

    “Blessed John Henry Newman predicted that at times in the Church there would be a small portion of the flock (parvus grex), a flock largely abandoned by its shepherds, who would maintain commitment to the truth. It is this group that he believed possessed the “sensus fidelium”; it was this group whose faith was so deep and loyally practiced that the lack of leadership from those whose duty is was to lead did not deflect them from the true faith and from evangelizing as best they could.” Let us all pray we can humbly be a part of this small portion of the flock.

  9. Generally speaking … no. That is, although it is true that temptation will only be resisted when it is recognized as a temptation to do something really wrong, there is certainly no truth to the idea that sexual scandals in the Church are limited either to the past 50 years, or for that matter to the theologically liberal. Nor is it at all true that before Humanae vitae, McCarrick’s actions would have been seen as acceptable. And McCarrick’s sins have almost as little to do with contraception as they do with Communism — when you condemn contraception for fabricated connections, you actually give the false impression that real reasons for condemning it are hard to find.

  10. I have heard of priests who counsel Catholc couples to use Natural Family PLanning as cheap, healthier and more reliable contraception because they don’t want children or plan to have just the two ‘ideal’ children Not sure that is being open to life..

  11. Thank you, Janet, for your faithful witness over the years. I have given away many of those CDs! May your mission continue to flourish.

  12. I weep now realizing how profoundly the Catholic Church could have evangelized the outside world if it had embraced Humanae Vitae instead of fighting it. There is no doubt that people fully discovering and embracing true NFP would have lead finally to discovering and embracing the one true Church. Our Shepherds have no idea how their dissent and apathy ruined real marriages. Our resulting demographic winter has already imploded lives and future civilization. Thanks, guys. All that precious dissent may have made you worldly “cool” at the time. But all the unborn and never born will finally tell the real story.

  13. Excellent article. My parents left their Catholic faith b/c they bought into the lie of contraception, so my sister and I were brought up with no religion. I eventually became an atheist, she became a protestant many years later – a branch that upholds few sexual standards. After my conversion to Catholicism (Deo gratias!), my (still) atheist husband & I have had extreme problems in our marriage due to my stance against contraception. My teenage kids are struggling in their faith without their dad’s leadership and, by the statistics, only 2 percent of kids without a faithful, practicing father will go on to retain their Catholicism in their adulthood, despite having a faithful mother. I’m battling the horror scenario of my kids getting sucked into the secular culture just as my sister and I were. So in my immediate family alone, we have three generations that have nearly been wiped out spiritually by the gutless evil of Catholic leaders embracing contraception.

    • Antonia be assured God will greatly bless you for your brave stand in reverence to his Truth. Despite statistics grace works in us and others beyond our expectations. You will continue to have my prayers and support as I’m confident others will join.

      • Fr. Morello, Thank you for your gracious reply. I’m not really brave…I just finally (finally!) saw the light. All our priests & bishops are always in my prayers as well, faithful or not (maybe most of the dissenters haven’t ever really encountered Christ, just as I hadn’t for so long). You will especially be in our prayers. Thank you for the sacrifices you’ve made to be a priest for us, and thanks again for your kind support & encouragement. ¡Viva Christo Rey!

    • Antonia:

      We are all seeing our loved on s suffer because of the silent apostasy of the Church.

      All families have souls getting brutalized by the false gods of the world.

      I will keep you in prayer for courage and perseverance, as we all should one another.

      Your true friend in Christ

  14. Janet
    Magnificent, as usual. The truths of the natural world cannot be denied without producing evil, both physical and moral. Either Sartre or St Thomas, there is nothing in between. Either we are thrust into existence and create our own essence with absolute freedom or we are created by God with a human essence made to exist by him, an essence whose character determines the broad outlines of moral and physical goodness for us.

  15. Does anyone remember the days of the “mission”, when we would have a priest (Paulist or Redemptorist in my experience) who were great orators, gifted speakers? We received the most wonderful formation which stood us in such good stead for the rest of our lives; and it was not about hell and brimstone as so many like to describe it.

  16. Israel would fall bc of their leaders but that glorious mystery of our Lady Queen of Heaven keeps the promise to the individual who prays for the authorities.

  17. Pope Pius XII said many many years ago – “the biggest sin of our times is the loss of the sense of sin.”

  18. Natural family planning is natural contraception. It’s not the couple decision to decide when they have kids. If they do because they think they cannot afford them than they are not trusting in God.

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