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Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Bishop Egan's Pastoral Letter breaks a "difficult silence"

Bishop Philip Egan sent his people an excellent Pastoral Letter for the feast of the Holy Family. He presents clearly the orthodox teaching of the Church concerning the divinity and humanity of Christ. With regard to Christ's perfect humanity, he reflects on human nature itself and the teaching of Humanae Vitae. As he rightly says:
Sadly, the teaching of Humanae Vitae about sexual morality and family values has become something of an ‘elephant in the room’ that no-one seems to mention.
Well Bishop Egan has certainly mentioned it now.

The process by which Humanae Vitae became shrouded in silence is well described in Clifford Longley's book The Worlock Archive, an important record of the way in which the Catholic Church in England and Wales changed during the post-conciliar period. I recommend it especially for younger Catholics as it helps to understand how we got to where we are now.

In chapter 8 of his book, Clifford Longley describes how, after the publication of Humanae Vitae, a compromise was reached by the Hierarchy with a carefully worded statement supporting the encyclical but proposing leniency towards priests who dissented from it. As he astutely observes:
“It was a tacit acknowledgement, at least for the time being, that there was nothing to be gained by an aggressive policy of promoting the teaching of Humanae Vitae in the parishes. This was where the statement was most eloquently silent. A bishop issued his carefully worded pastoral letter, and in many cases also a private letter to his priests, and then left the subject alone. After a while this silence became a difficult silence to break.” (p.254)
(I wrote about this at greater length in the Faith Magazine editorial of July-August 2007 (Sex Education in Catholic Schools. The Deeper Questions.)

Bishop Egan's courageous pastoral letter deserves the commendation that it has received from priests and lay Catholics well beyond the confines of his diocese.

The full text of the pastoral letter is on the Diocesan website.
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