A month-long social media conversation on Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae kicked off this week, facilitated by the Diocese of Arlington.
Dr. Chad Pecknold, a theology professor at The Catholic University of America, will host the primary conversation on Twitter. His account, he said, will be devoted to the cause.
While he will proactively be providing some content, Pecknold said that he will also be addressing any questions that are posed and encouraging “everyone to think out loud on social media about the points that are made in Humanae Vitae.”
As a professor, Dr. Pecknold hopes to see a productive question-and-answer style conversation, similar to what he sees in the classroom.
“I hope young people will do what they do in the classroom, which is try to be courageous and formulate a question,” he told CNA. “You… kind of learn how to have good discussion through having the courage to ask questions.”
Humanae Vitae, the 1968 encyclical by Pope Paul VI, affirms the Church’s teaching against contraception. It talks about the dignity of human life and sexuality, and outlines the use of Natural Family Planning as a morally valid method of planning and spacing children.
Amy McInerny, respect life director for the Diocese of Arlington, helped in the genesis of the diocesan conversation project. She said she hopes to spread Humanae Vitae’s message to a world hungry for something “substantial.”
“If you look at Humanae Vitae, it’s a beautiful document bubbling over with truth, designed to make people happy and holy. And so many people, as we know, reject the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception,” she said, adding that the diocese wants to “[take] the message to where the people are” - social media.
In the encyclical, Paul VI predicted that if the use of contraception became widespread, society would see devastating consequences, including an increase in marital infidelity and general decline of moral standards, the possibility of governments using coercive measures to force contraceptive use upon people, a loss of respect for women, and a general decrease in humility regarding humanity’s dominion over the human body.
Each of these predictions has come true in the modern era, said Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington.
In a statement reflecting on the 50th anniversary of the papal document, the bishop said that “the truths of Humanae Vitae are eternal.”
“Its practical approach to intimate love, marriage, and the dignity of the human person can transform society and the Church, drawing all people closer to God through a proper understanding of how he made us to share life and love in the sacred bond of marriage,” he said.
Both Dr. Pecknold and McInerny encouraged participation in the conversation.
“These are open fora,” said McInerny.
There will be “2-3 tweets a day for the first three weeks, and then a social media symposium” on July 25, the anniversary of Humanae Vitae’s promulgation, she said. The symposium will be hosted on Twitter and people will “be able to engage live with Professor Pecknold.”
Those who do not use social media can visit a website with all the conversation content from each day.
Dr. Pecknold emphasized the importance of studying the document as a community.
“Like a lot of Church teaching, it has to be received afresh,” said Dr. Pecknold. Whether or not people have read the document, it should be a time to reflect on its ever-relevant teachings, he said.
“People are tired of polarization,” he said, “they want to think about the common good. And Humanae Vitae is really about the fundamental common good of human life.”