By Anne Lastman—

Clearly, the most controversial encyclical of the 20th century was the 1968 document Humanae vitae (On the Regulation of Birth), in which Pope Paul VI restated the Church’s teaching that the use of contraception to frustrate conception is gravely immoral.

With so much pressure leading up to its release, the Holy Father knew that the encyclical would be rejected in various circles.

Yet he had his priests, scattered all over the world, whom he believed would support him.  

His Holiness Pope Paul VI  (canonised October 14, 2018) in  his call to them, his spiritual sons,  said, “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 spell out clearly and completely the Church’s teaching on marriage. 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, on publication of Humanae vitae, there emerged a group dissenting theologians and priests led by Father Charles Curran (USA) who openly and loudly defied the Pope and issued statements claiming that Catholics could themselves respond and oppose this teaching of the Vicar of Christ by ignoring the teaching if their consciences called for this.   

Of course the media wrote slavishly about the dissent against the Pope, and this dissent even spread to encompass Moral Theology professors entrusted with the teaching of this document to future priests and those priests faithful to the Magisterium of St Paul VI were in the minority then as indeed now.   Humane vitae, The Encyclical released by the Holy Father Pope Paul VI,  July 25th, 1968, whose focus is on the error of contraception and its attack against sacredness of life,  has been one of the most contested magisterial documents at least to date with Amoris Laetitia close behind.   

Humane vitae was a document emanating directly from the mind and heart of God.  It’s the document honouring the work or perhaps even the nature of the Third member of the Blessed Trinity, The Holy Spirit, The Lord and Giver of Life and whose activity this document affirms and clarifies.

Humane vitae has been the most rejected and reviled document both within and without the Catholic Church, and as a result, in just over one biblical generation (40 years) we have a society with a well-developed “Culture of Death.” (St John Paul II Evangelium Vitae.) 

Its 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 unravel and entrench itself into the emerging societal changes. 

This is a document about the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality and calls 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 a creative love, and cannot be exhausted and continues to create new life (HV 9). 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 shown that contraception is intrinsically evil (HV14, CCC 2370) because the basis of intrinsically evil acts is understood as actions which in themselves are opposed to the love of God. Their objective 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).

To look for examples of intrinsically evil acts, the Holy Father St John Paul II, In Veritatis Splendour,  has cited abortion, contraception, homosexuality, direct sterilisation, IVF, euthanasia,  mental and physical torture. In this way St John Paul II is recalling the evil character of contraception, which is sterility, just as the other evils mentioned, and his intent to reaffirm the Church’s unchanging teaching of the sacredness of life, and the holiness and fruitfulness of the sexual life of a married couple, and further the teaching that “it is never lawful, even for the gravest of reasons, to do an evil that a good may come from it.” (HV14.  Vs 80). 

In  51 years since its promulgation  and with the benefit of hindsight it’s possible to see that rejection of Humane vitae, first by the Catholic population, together with  the absence of strong teaching on this matter by the priests and bishops, has indeed rendered a deadly wound to society.  It left the people of God flailing and rudderless in a sea of immorality and violence.

This has been a spiritual abandonment which has occurred now to three generations of women who take the artificial contraception, resulting in such an abandonment opening a portal for societal degradation and degeneration.

It’s interesting that in 1930 at the Lambeth conference, the Anglican Church first broke with 2000 year Catholic/Christian tradition and approved contraception within marriage.  Thirty eight years later an Encyclical (Humane vitae) was necessary to try and stem the subsequent sexualised culture which had developed following that Conference.

 It’s further interesting that 51 years after the issuing of Humane vitae the prophetic nature of this document is clearly evident with contraception not necessarily used only within marriage to space out family as it was first thought, but is given to very young girls who are assumed to become sexually active as soon as puberty begins its work.

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.   IVF and the loss of innumerable embryos to death or experimentation, and permanent marriage, that once societal strength now severely weakened and globally enshrined a law to reframe and change its meaning.

Humane vitae was and is a gift to humanity by the Lord and Giver of Life Himself and God who foresaw the disorder to come provided for His children, however, the children being the same  disobedient as those in Eden and as proud refused the gift.

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. 

In 1930, (year of Lambeth Conference and its response) Pope Pius XI wrote the encyclical Casti Connubii (On Christian Marriage), in which he stated the Church’s position on contraception.

Like St Paul VI, Pope Pius XI 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).

The Second Vatican Council proclaimed in its introduction to the “Decree on Priestly Training” that the holiness of the Church depends on the holiness of its priests: “Animated by the spirit of Christ, this sacred synod is fully aware that the desired renewal of the whole Church depends to a great extent on the ministry of its priests” (Optatam Totius) and weakening of this belief, this truth, has in part led to the culture of death which has submerged our society. A culture where marriage has been deconstructed and made temporary, women no longer are given or demand respect, and children are no longer seen as a blessing and a quiver full (Ps 127).

The consequences of the rejection of Humane vitae, like the changes wrought at the Lambeth conference (1930) can be seen clearly in our day. I refer to threat to life before birth to all gestational stages, legalised infanticide, embryonic experimentation, cloning, acceptance of euthanasia, and the latest death assault, gender confusion and a certain sterilisation because of this and finally not forgetting the IVF attack on embryos (or babies) and the horrifyingly disturbing numbers of embryos destroyed in this jaunt towards “creating” a child when on the other hand over 50,000,000 of them are deemed unwanted and destroyed in utero. 

Therefore we can see that by its very nature contraception is a lie, which has caused the attempted destruction of the human being.  It’s a deception which demands that the body is forced to lie and be made sterile when it is designed to be fertile, and it’s a blasphemy against life, and the Lord and Giver of Life Himself.

In a culture like today where ethical behaviour and ethical living  appear to be perishing, it’s possible to see that something has gone wrong and even where the wrong began, that is, loss of respect for human sexuality which has always been oriented towards  life which comes from this.