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Stafford says priests dissented under pressure.

OMAHA, Neb. - Archbishop J. Francis Stafford of Denver recalled the pressures put on him and other priests to dissent from Humanae Vitae, as he addressed a conference marking 25th anniversary of the encyclical, which was released on July 29, 1968.

One day later, Stafford said, Catholic theologians in Washington, led by Catholic University of America moral theologian Fr. Charles Curran, signed a letter of public dissent from Humanae Vitae, the encyclical on human sexuality issued by Pope Paul VI.

That day, July 30, was "the pivotal day in the life of the Catholic church" in the United States in this century, said the archbishop, who was then a priest and director of Catholic Charities for the Baltimore archdiocese.

At the International Humanae Vitae Conference in Omaha, Stafford recalled how the wave of dissent swept from Washington to Baltimore.

In Baltimore on Aug. 4 of that year, a small group of priests called a meeting in the basement of a parish rectory to persuade 54 of their fellow priests to publicly dissent from Humanae Vitae.

Their objective was to publish the statement the next day in The Baltimore Sun. Stafford was the last in line. All before him had signed the letter of dissent. He refused, saying that he had not read the encyclical and that he agreed with the church's stand on contraception. He encouraged the other priests to at least read Humanae Vitae before dissenting.

Stafford said that after refusing to publicly dissent from church teaching, he was isolated and abused by other priests, not only in Baltimore but in subsequent assignments as bishop of Memphis, Tenn., and archbishop of Denver.

The archbishop also challenged Fr. Richard McCormick's recent article in America magazine, which said participants in the 1980 Synod of Bishops on the family were coerced into following church teaching on human sexuality. Noting that he had attended the synod and McCormick had not, Stafford called the priest's charge "self-serving and dishonest."

The archbishop was moderator at a July 26 panel discussion on "From Dissent to Acceptance: Realiking the Full Riches of Humanae Vitae." On the were William May, professor of moral theology at the Pope John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family in Washington; Peter Riga, an attorney from Houston; and Jesuit Fr. Richard Roach, associate professor of moral theology at Marquette University in Milwaukee.

May, who signed a document opposing Humanae Vitae shortly after earning his doctorate, said, "It was in no way an act of courage, but cowardice.

"I was puffed up and very anxious to curry the favor of the leading Catholic intellectuals of the day. Gaining their approval was my principal reason for signing the statement."

He changed his mind while studying moral theology closely in preparing to teach a course. "By then, I realized quite clearly what the acceptance of contraception meant," he said.

Riga said Catholics who use contraceptives have been "brainwashed, culturally."

"It is one thing to say that couples can be imperfect in reaching the ideal of Humanae Vitae," he said and quite another to say that "the pope is wrong."
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Title Annotation:Archbishop J. Francis Stafford; 1968 papal edict banning artificial contraception
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Aug 13, 1993
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