Southwestern Indiana's Catholic Community Newspaper

Respect Life Celebration Focuses On 'Humanae Vitae'

Father Tony Ernst, second from left, Dr. Bill Blanke, left, and Brendan and Laura McKenzie discuss "Humanae Vitae."

The Diocese of Evansville’s annual Respect Life Celebration focused on Blessed Pope Paul VI’s encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” which was published 50 years ago (July 1968). Sts. Peter and Paul Parish hosted the Oct. 4 event, which included Mass with Bishop Joseph M. Siegel; dinner; a panel discussion on the encyclical’s relevance today; and a look by Bishop Siegel at taking “Humanae Vitae” into the future.

Catholic Charities organizes the annual event through its Family and Life Programs Office.

In his homily, Bishop Siegel recalled that it’d been 46 years since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion. “Thousands die daily as a result,” he said. He also noted that there is movement at the other end of life’s arc to promote assisted suicide. “We must support people, rather than seek to eliminate them,” the bishop said.

He noted that the celebration was occurring on the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. “We look to his example of caring for the least among us,” he said.

Bishop Siegel’s thoughts revolved around one question he asked attendees: “Is any one human life more precious than another?”

Following Mass and a buffet dinner, Diocesan Vicar General Father Bernie Etienne served as master of ceremonies for a fascinating panel discussion that explored “Humanae Vitae” through the eyes of a married couple with a large family; an M.D., who follows the teaching of the Church in his practice; and a priest who counsels married couples and those who are planning to marry.

The couple

Father Etienne asked Brendan and Laura McKenzie, members of Evansville’s Holy Redeemer Parish, to reflect on how “Humanae Vitae” impacts their vocation as a married couple. They have five children, and they are very familiar with the encyclical. “‘Humanae Vitae’ was very counter-cultural,” Laura told the crowd. “The Church believes in natural law … that God knows what is best for us.”

Brendan said the couple has heard all the “having a baby” questions over the years – like “do you want a boy or a girl?” “You already have a boy, do you want a girl now?” “You have a boy and a girl … do you want twins now?”

“It finally got to the point where people were saying, ‘you just want the baby to be healthy, right?’” he said. “I told people that I didn’t care what God gave us because it was a child. I wanted that child to know God and love God.” The McKenzies talked about how following Church teaching and embracing the concepts of Blessed Pope Paul VI’s encyclical has helped them. “Children are blessings, not burdens,” Laura said. Brendan repeated her words just a minute later, calling children and their lives “the greatest gift that God can give.”

The doctor

Father Etienne introduced Dr. Bill Blanke, a member of Evansville’s Good Shepherd Parish, as “that crazy, conservative, Catholic doctor who actually believes what the Church teaches about birth control.” He asked Dr. Blanke to talk about the impact of the encyclical on his work as a doctor.

Dr. Blanke told the audience that he didn’t hear much Church teaching about birth control in medical school – even though he attended a Catholic university for those studies.

“My job as a doctor is to promote wellness and provide right counsel,” he told the audience. “We know that pills and surgery fix things … except in women’s health.”

Dr. Blanke encouraged the crowed to read “Humanae Vitae.” “It’s only 31 paragraphs,” he said. “Read it; study it.”

The Priest

Father Etienne asked Father Tony Ernst to talk about “Humanae Vitae” and how it affects his work as a priest. He recalled a session at Mundelein Seminary in Illinois.

“We had five married couples come in with a doctor, and they talked to us seminarians about Natural Family Planning,” Father Ernst said. “Those two hours provided the most practical experience I received in the seminary. It’s the natural law … what the Church teaches.”

Father Etienne then asked panel members to comment on whether they believed “Humanae Vitae” was still relevant after 50 years.

The McKenzies noted that, although the world has changed dramatically since the late 1960s, the encyclical has not – and that makes it still relevant today. “We are living life not to avoid trials and struggles,” Laura said. “We invite Christ into them. Things are not always easy, but he is always with us.”

Dr. Blanke said Blessed Pope Paul VI was “amazingly prophetic” with “Humanae Vitae.” “Is it relevant today? Absolutely; even more so,” he said.

Bishop Siegel concluded the evening with some thoughts on how we can take the encyclical forward. He noted that, after 50 years, “Humanae Vitae” is still the subject of praise, study – and criticism. He thanked couples who live it, and he thanked those who teach NFP. “We must witness,” he said, adding, “Our people deserve the truth about human sexuality and marriage.”

You can download a digital copy of “Humanae Vitae,” as published on the Vatican website, from Look under “Special Features” on the home page. If you don’t see it on the short list of articles there, click on the “more” button at the bottom of the Special Features section.