Anne Lastman

With the approaching 55th anniversary of Humane vitae (on The Regulation of Birth, July 25th, 1968) it maybe be time to look again at this document which caused so much confusion and rejection that this is still rejected, a document where some pastors even went so far as to say to their parishioners to follow their own conscience and not the document. This Encyclical restated the Church’s constant teaching on love and life and that the use of contraception to frustrate conception was/is gravely immoral. 

Because of the times and change in understanding of the feminine and feminine charism and the availability of all modes of contraception, the Holy Father St Pope Paul VI knew that it would be a document which would be rejected, but he knew or thought he did, that his “troops and supporters, that is, Bishops, priests, theologians would be there to first understand the document and then be able to teach their flock about the holiness of what the Encyclical spoke about.

At the end of the encyclical the Holy Father made a plea to his shepherds: “And now, beloved sons, you who are priests, you who in virtue of your sacred office act as counsellors and spiritual leaders both of individual men and women and of families we turn to you, filled with great confidence. For it is your principal duty to explain clearly and completely the Church’s teaching on marriage in its truest form.  The marital act which is deeply embedded in the human being in order to act as God’s co-workers in the continuing of creation. In the performance of your ministry, you must be the first to give an example of that sincere obedience, inward as well as outward, which is due to the magisterium of the Church” (HV 28).

However, upon the release of Humanae Vitae a group of dissenting theologians at The Catholic University of America in Washington, led by Father Charles Curran, boldly defied the Pope, and issued statements claiming that Catholics could oppose this teaching according to their individual consciences. The media inflamed the opposition against the Pope, and the dissent grew, spreading even to catholic institutions of learning and to seminaries and brothers within the clergy.   However, there were also priests who heard the voice of the Chief Shepherd speaking through “Peter” (St. Pope Paul VI), and heroically remained faithful.

From the testimonies of loyal priests who lived through that dark period, it appears that they were a minority. For example, Cardinal J. Francis Stafford recently wrote a testimony about how, in 1968, the priests of the Archdiocese of Baltimore publicly mobilized against Humanae Vitae and privately persecuted the few brother priests who wished to remain faithful.  Once it was told to us seminarians, “Prior to 1968, there was great unity among the priests. Whenever you walked into a room of priests, there was an instant bond and trust. After 1968, there was instant distrust and division. No priest knew to which group you belonged and in whom you could trust.”  The pastors and future pastors had turned on one another and each knew not what group they belonged with, which also made it difficult for the governance of the Church.  As a result, and for the next 55 years, the defiance and rejection continued to grow; until now it is deeply rooted within society including catholic world, many many believers, and pastors within the body of Christ.

Today we know that very many Catholics have ignored the Church’s teaching on Humanae Vitae and tragically what this has meant for humanity has been the birth of a “culture of death” as St Pope John II called it, most especially in the area of intentional death of children, by abortion, up to birth, post birth abortion, euthanasia, and now gender intrusion. Globally this rejection has also permitted governments to intrude “into the bedrooms” of homes and the intimate life of families.   This rejection opened the door for leaders of various governments to introduce Health and Human Services mandates that state that employers, including religious institutions, must pay for abortion related needs including sterilizations., contraception. This again, with support from dissenting clergy and in some cases Bishops. (HV23).  

In 1930, Pope Pius XI wrote the encyclical Casti Connubii (On Christian Marriage), in which he restated the Church’s position on contraception. Casti Connubii was given because of the emergence of something new with the Church, the introduction of contraception within marriage in order control number of children conceived.  The Anglican Church introduced this at the Lambeth Conference, a something which had not existed before that time.

Holy Father, stressed that marriage and sexuality called for a love which is “total” where the “husband and wife generously share everything, without undue reservations or selfish calculations” (HV 9). In this situation the covenanted couple are called to offer themselves in their entirety and their essence as a gift to each other. “Whoever loves his marriage partner loves not only what he receives, but for the partner’s self, rejoicing that he can enrich his partner with the gift of himself” (HV 9).  This, continued the Holy Father, is the “unitive meaning of marriage” and is a love which is faithful and exclusive until death. (HV 9).  Hence, marital love is creative kind of love, and is not consumed or exhausted ever and continues in its impetus to create new life (HV 9) thus fulfilling the words and command of God to be fruitful and multiply.  (Gn.1:28). Therefore, we can see that by the very nature of contraception, it’s a deception and a blasphemy against life, and the Lord and Giver of Life Himself.

In Humane Vitae, the Holy Father has carefully shown that contraception is intrinsically evil (HV14, CCC 2370. Their object is evil itself, and as such cannot be ordered to God thus violating the good of the human person created in the Imago Dei (Veritatis Splendour 80) and the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, whose work this document clarifies, and affirms.

The timely release was an attempt by the then Holy Father, Pope Paul VI, to stem the tide of the sexual revolution which was beginning to unfold and entrench itself into the emerging societal changes.

This is a document which speaks about the total vision of humanity “man” It speaks beautifully about conjugal love and respect and this found in marriage. It speaks of a love which is total and giving. It speaks of the exclusivity of this love, and the vows made to one another and of course such honour which accompanies such vows and fidelity.

In  55 years since its promulgation  it’s possible to see that rejection of Humane Vitae, together with  the absence of strong leadership and catechesis, on the matter of sacredness of sexuality, by the priests and bishops, and trained la has rendered a deadly wound to society leaving it floundering in the midst of loss of all knowledge about sacredness, holiness, nature of “man” respect, for the nature and purpose of the marital act, faithfulness to God’s design, grave consequences of artificial birth control, loss of knowledge about conjugal honour.   It left the people of God in a sea of immorality and violence.

By the lack of true teaching on Humane Vitae a spiritual abandonment has occurred to three generations of women who did or do not know what it means to honour one’s own body because contraception, (the pill) is their normal and being made available now to young girls upon reaching puberty. This abandonment has opened a portal for societal degradation, a loss of true love and respect for women (HV 17) and a mentality which says that children are negotiable and/or disposable.

As a result of loosened morality due to contraception today we have abortion on demand worldwide. (40-50, 000,000 per year). The disrespect of sexuality and the marital act and its “fruit” has further resulted in demands by other interest groups to validate intrinsically wrong behaviour and coupling “new types of unions suited as they say, to the present temperament of men and times, with various new forms of matrimony they presume to label “temporary” “experimental” and “companionate.” (CC51). The new morality and use of IVF and the loss of innumerable embryos to death and experimentation, and loss of idea of permanent marriage, that once societal strength now severely weakened by globally enshrined a law to reframe or redefine and change its meaning.

Pope Pius XI goes on to say about rejection of children “frustrating the marriage act” and justify their beliefs and desires or “criminal abuse” because they wish to gratify their desires without the consequent burden. (Contraception-the Pill). Even in past day the language of rejection was uttered “Others say that they cannot on the one hand remain continent nor on the other can’t they have children because of the difficulties whether on the part of the mother or on the part of family circumstances” (CCC53)

Humane Vitae was written under the guidance of the Holy Spirit whose view is timeless and who foresaw what was to come.  However, whilst the Holy Spirit advises, via Peter, there always remains free will to either engage with the activities and desires of God or the desires of fallen “man.” We can know that this is a reality because today we live in a society whose ethos is “disobedience” and this disobedience permeates all levels of human endeavour.   The notion of authority and obedience being anathema.  Indeed, the Edenic story is being replayed. 

Like Pope Pius XI, Pope Paul VI also made a “Peter” plea to his beloved priests, (he is called to strengthen the brethren, Lk.22:32) Peter was strengthening the brethren by his words, “We admonish, therefore, priests who hear confessions and others who have the care of souls … not to allow the faithful entrusted to them to err regarding this most grave law of God. … If any confessor or pastor of souls, which may, God forbid, lead the faithful entrusted to him into these errors or should at least confirm them by approval or by guilty silence, let him be mindful of the fact that he must render a strict account to God, the Supreme Judge, for the betrayal of his sacred trust” (57).

Donum Vitae, Casti Conubii, Humane Vitae., Evangelium Vitae, Veritatis Splendour, and Theology of the Body, are gifts from the Holy Spirit for our edification and the understanding of God’s idea for “man,” love and life. For transmission of Life, for an understanding of the vision of who man is. For understanding of conjugal love, honour for the marital act. Meaning of Union and Procreation. For faithfulness and trust for God’s design, and the terrible consequences of artificial birth control. For the Church as a guarantor and protector of the divine image in “man.”

Humane Vitae, a beautiful story of the human being and his/her preciousness and the lengths both God and the Church go to in order to protect the human being.

Promemoria: FIAMC Document on Humanae vitae – F.I.A.M.C.