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Historic 'Humanae Vitae' still felt after 30 years

The Catholic Times, August 2, 1998.

By Laura Troiano

A prominent pro-life priest and a doctor who practices according to Church teaching on the transmission of life were featured at the local St. Luke Catholic Physicians Guild celebration of the 30th anniversary of "Humanae Vitae" (Human Life).

The encyclical, which proscribed artificial birth control and was greeted by a storm of criticism from many in and out of the Church, was issued July 25, 1968 by Pope Paul VI. So the two-day recognition began on Saturday, July 25, with a dinner at the DaVinci Ristorante attended by almost 200 physicians, clergy and lay people.

Featured speakers were Father Frank A. Pavone of the New York Archdiocese and Dr. John T. Bruchalski of Fairfax, Va.

Bruchalski, 37, an obstetrician/ gynecologist, practices in medicine according to the guidelines in "Humanae Vitae." For example, he refrains from prescribing artificial contraception and sterilization.

Bruchalski, who has a thriving practice that promotes natural family planning, traced his path from a man of science to a Catholic man of science in his speech, "Cultivating a Catholic Medical Consciousness." "Humanae Vitae" addressed "men of science." It urged them to "advance the welfare of marriage and the family" by explaining "the various conditions favoring a proper regulation of births."

Though difficult and painful, Bruchalski relayed his experiences as a doctor involved with genetic terminations as well as with contraceptive research and advancement.

Moved by the Holy Spirit while visiting Guadalupe in 1987 and Medjugorje in 1989, Bruchalski eventually decided he could no longer practice medicine as he had done in the past.

"Once the Holy Spirit gets into you - it's only a matter of time," he said. He felt that "everything I wanted to help, I was hurting." Revitalizing his concept of medicine, he began to only practice those methods encouraged by the Church.

The encyclical encouraged physicians and medical personnel discovery of solutions inspired by faith" as well as to "strive to arouse this conviction and this respect in their associates." It said part of their professional duty was to acquire the knowledge needed "so as to be able to give those married persons who consult them wise counsel and healthy direction." This included advocation for the regulation of births "founded on the observance of natural rhythms" as opposed to artificial means of regulation,

Using Michelangelo's depiction on the Sistine Chapel of the "Creation of Man," Bruchalski explained that, "What the Church teaches is this is the moment when that sperm enters that egg, and the electrical charge of the zone changes, and no other sperm can get in there - my faith and my Church says ... something happens in that moment." Though he worked in a field where a sperm joining with an egg was considered just another biological event, Bruchalski connected the scientific with the spiritual to reveal that these two realms were not at odds, but rather intrinsically entwined.

As a sign of hope for medical progress, he said that while there were only seven doctors prescribing natural family planning in 1991, the number had now grown to 35 gynecologists across the country.

Though Bruchalski said that questioning is necessary for faith, and that questions do not make doubt, he cautioned against doubt; the source of life is Jesus Christ. The focus must be on what God wants and not on what man wants, he said.

"There are two great truths that we have to learn in this life," said Father Pavone. "They are, number one: There is a God; and number two: It isn't me."

Father Pavone said, "'Humanae Vitae' is a prophetic document, not so much about birth control as about life control." He stressed that the question at the heart of the encyclical was, "Who is Lord?"

"Humanae Vitae" said that married persons are "collaborators of God the Creator" and not the arbiters of the sources of human life. Since God is the origin of conjugal love, and children are the supreme gift of marriage, "every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life."

To use artificial means of birth control to regulate births was "to contradict also the plan of God and His will." The unitive and procreative aspects of the conjugal act were protected when natural methods for regulating births were used.

While "Humanae Vitae" addressed the responsibilities of priests by stating that, "In their difficulties, many married couples always find, in the words and in the heart of a priest, the echo of the voice and the love of the Redeemer," Father Pavone asserted that the clergy and those in medical professions have an opportunity to speak in "one voice." He said, "the Church ... together with the medical profession, are not unfamiliar with the difficulties that people have ... the Church as teacher and Mother is ready to help them with whatever difficulty they may have."

The second-half of the "Humanae Vitae" weekend celebration included a roundtable discussion on teen chastity that was held in St. Patrick Social Hall on Sunday, July 26. The panel featured Father Pavone; Bruchalski; Dr. Dennis Doody, a local pediatrician; Judith Schlueter, a local counselor and chastity educator; and Rachel Schlueter, a young-adult chastity educator.

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