Pope Pius VI with Cardinal Ottaviani on his right.
Dan Herr, the former Editor of Crisis Magazine once wrote in one of his editorials, that if the Church had the same custom as the Chinese and named each year after an animal, the year 1968 would have to be named The Year of the Louse. From different vantage points it was both the best and the worst of years. It was a watershed year in the life of the Church.
It was inevitable that society would undergo radical changes on coming out of the experience of the Second World War. Every sector of society had been affected by that war, family life and been disrupted, individuals were set adrift and the standards of conduct were not longer restraining individuals in their interaction with others and with the communities in which they were now living, having been uprooted from the place of their birth and upbringing. Advances in technology fostered by the war effort now began to impact the civilian population, e.g. television brought the world into the living room of everyone with a television set.
Man has always had to struggle to control his sexual appetite, hormonal influences have always exerted powerful forces on human behavior. But now financial interests began to exploit man’s appetite for sexual gratification. The movie industry, dominated by secular Jews came into conflict with Catholicism dominated by Irish-Catholics. In 1965 the Eli Landau film, The Pawnbroker, successfully broke the Legion of Decency morality Code by having a woman playing a black prostitute open her blouse and expose her breasts to the camera. Movies, the most powerful means of spreading propaganda now began to assault the American population with erotic subject matter portrayed in entertainment.
In 1948 Alfred Kinsey had published his first report, Sexual Behavior of the Human Male, and in 1953 the second report, Sexual Behavior of the Human Female, was published. In 1966 Masters & Johnson published the research, Human Sexual Response, which would be followed in 1970 by Human Sexual Inadequacy. These works became best sellers and had a powerful influence in starting the cultural revolution of the 20th Century which was largely a sexual revolution.
In Boston, a Catholic physician, John Rock, who had been on the faculty of Harvard Medical School, with the help of a grant from Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, undertook research in controlling birth and in 1955 produced the first birth control pill, Enovid, which received F.D.A. approval in 1957. The way was now open for man to pursue the gratification of his sexual appetite without fear of pregnancies. The spring had become a stream and then a river and was now a flood threatening western civilization. The dam was broken when the United States Supreme Court in its 1965 Griswold v Connecticut decision removed all restrictions on the availability of birth control to anyone and everyone.
It was in the face of this of this tidal wave cultural revolution that Pope John XXIII appointed a special pontifical commission consisting of five lay persons to make recommendations to him on how to address this growing problem of birth control. The Pope died before the commission could make its report. Pope Paul VI almost immediately on assuming the papal office expanded the commission twice finally ending with a huge commission 50+ persons with 16 bishops overseeing the work of the commission. In the summer of 1968 the commission gave its report, a conflicted report with the majority favoring accepting under certainl conditions artificial birth control and the minority strongly opposed to any acceptance of artificial birth control.
Faced with such conflicted advice, Pope Paul VI wrote and published on July 25, 1968 his first and only Encyclical, Humanae Vitae, On the Regulation of Birth and the Sanctity of Life. In the encyclical the Pope stressed the procreative and unitive nature of conjugal relations but he wrote definitively on all aspects of human sexuality. The firestorm of criticism and dissent that broke out immediately over the Encyclical caused Pope Paul to not write another encyclical in his entire pontificate, but instead to write 122 Apostolic Constitutions, 8 Apostolic Exhortations, 121 Apostolic Letters and innumerable homilies, letter and reflections, many of them defending his teaching in Humanae Vitae.
In Washington, Father Charles Curran, who had taught moral theology at The Catholic University of America organized a public dissent that appeared in the press. A large number of priests of the Archdiocese of Washington joined in the public dissent from the teaching of Humanae Vitae. Patrick Cardinal O’Boyle, the Archbishop of Washington disciplined canonically nineteen of the priests who had publicly dissented from the teaching of the Encyclical. Those priests appealed to the Congregation of the Clergy in Rome, and the Congregation, probably fearing that a schism was in the making, ordered Cardinal O’Boyle to lift the canonical penalties from those priests. The result was a disaster for the Church in the United States.
George Weigel, in his book, The Courage to be Catholic, called the Congregation’s action “The Truce of 1968.” I think that it could more accurately be called the Sabotaging of Authority. Here is Weigel’s appraisal:
What I [argued] in my 2002 book, The Courage to be Catholic, and what I would still argue today, is that the Truce of 1968 (exemplified by the settlement of the Washington Case) taught various lessons to…the Church in America. The Truce of 1968 taught theologians, priests and other Church professionals that dissent from authoritative teaching was, essentially, cost-free. The Truce of 1968 taught bishops inclined to defend authoritative Catholic teaching vigorously that they should think twice about doing so, if controversy were likely to follow; Rome, fearing schism, was nervous about public action against dissent. The result…was that “a generation of Catholic bishops came to think of themselves less as authoritative teachers than as moderators of an ongoing dialogue whose primary responsibility was to keep everyone in the conversation and in play.” And Catholic lay people learned… “that virtually everything in the Church was questionable: doctrine, morals, the priesthood, the episcopate, the lot.” Thus the impulse toward Cafeteria Catholicism got a decisive boost from the Truce of 1968: if the bishops and the Holy See were not going to defend seriously the Church’s teaching on this matter, then picking-and-choosing in a supermarket of doctrinal and moral possibilities seemed, not simply all right, but actually admirable—an exercise in maturity, as was often suggested at the time.
Weigel’s description of the state of the Church in the United States since 1968 did not apply to the Archdiocese of Miami. Archbishop Carroll publicly supported Cardinal O’Boyle and warned the priests of the Archdiocese of Miami that he would not tolerate public dissent in any form, not only from the teaching of Humanae Vitae, but from any magisterial teaching of the Church. The chaos that plagued so many dioceses across the United States did not happen in the Archdiocese of Miami, but the Archdiocese did not escape the backwash from the chaos elsewhere. We had serious problems even though public dissent was not one of them.
In 1970 Archbishop Carroll ordained a group of men who had received their formation and education at Saint Vincent de Paul Major Seminary in Boynton Beach, Florida. That Seminary belonged the the Congregation of The Mission (the Vincentian Fathers) not to the Archdiocese. It was the custom of the Archbishop to have the faculty of the Seminary stay for lunch in the Cathedral Rectory after the ordinations. So on this occasion I, as Rector, served lunch to eight priests including the Archbishop and myself in the Rectory dining room.
Archbishop Carroll had the odd personality quirk of singling out one person at a dining table and needling that person relentlessly. On this occasion the Archbishop selected the Vincentian priest who was the Professor of Dogmatic Theology at the Seminary for his needling. The Archbishop asked the priest all kinds of questions about his teaching of theology. Sensing a flaw in what the priest was saying in replying to the Archbishop’s needling, the Archbishop challenged the priest directly by saying, in a joking manner, “You are so heterodox that I’ll bet you do not even believe in the Nicene Creed.” To the shock of the Archbishop, myself and everyone in the room, the priest answered, “I don’t.” With that the Archbishop got up and left the table, the room and the Rectory.
Shortly after that the Archbishop called me to his office and told me that he had heard that there were liturgical irregularities occurring at the Seminary and that I, as Chancellor, would have to go to the Seminary and investigate. I went and there were the usual infractions of the rubrics by the priests that were not really all that serious. However, I did hear of a very irregular celebration of the Mass that had occurred in the room of the Spiritual Director of the Seminary, who was one of the Vincentian priests.
On investigating the rumor I discovered that the priest was in the habit of having a few seminarians join him in his room for the celebration of a Mass. The priest would not wear vestments, would use a record album on his desk as an altar and would use ordinary bread for the host. On one occasion when he passed the Eucharist around the group of seminarians one of the seminarians gave a piece of the consecrated bread to the Seminary mascot, a dog. I was shocked to learn this. When I reported the results of my visitation to the Archbishop he decided right then and there that the Vincentians would have to go. The Archbishop told me to call Bishop Borders, Bishop of Orlando and bishop of the seminarian that gave the Eucharist to the dog. I called Bishop Borders, thinking that he would be shocked and dismiss the seminarian. Instead he told me, “But Rene, there was nothing wrong with what the seminarian did because the dog was the seminary’s mascot and therefore part of the community.” I later heard that Bishop Borders ordained that seminarian to the priesthood. The tidal wave of the cultural revolution had just manifested itself.
We negotiated with the Congregation of the Mission and purchased the Seminary from them. It then became the Saint Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary serving the dioceses of Florida and elsewhere. The Seminary was now staffed with Archdiocesan priests. The Vincentian priests who had served as the faculty up to then left and we learned that five of the eight Vincentian priests left the priesthood and two of them also attempted marriage.
We had a lot of problems with the priests who studied at that Seminary and were ordained in the years 1969 and 1970. Many of them left the priesthood, but not before they scandalized the faithful of the Archdiocese. They were the victims of the cultural revolution, the sexual revolution of the last half of the 20th Century. We still suffer from that revolution and it appears to be getting worse. I blame the ease with which men can access pornography on the internet along with the pornographic content of movies and television programming for the pedophilia crisis and the general breakdown of sexual morality in our society a breakdown which the Church, including every sector of the Church, bishops, priests, religious and laity, has not be able to escape.