14 March 1988

To the participants in a Conference for the Family on the anniversary of the Humanae Vitae

On Monday, 14 March, the Holy Father received in audience the participants in the Fourth International Conference for the Family of Europe and of Africa.  The conference was held at the Medical School of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart on the theme “For a Responsible Transmission of Human Life”.  The Holy Father addressed the group, which was led by Professor Adriano Bausola, Rector of the Catholic University, as follows:

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. It is with great joy that I welcome you to this special audience which I have gladly reserved for you, qualified representatives, on the occasion of the International Conference convoked to recall the twentieth anniversary of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae.  I greet you most cordially, with particular thanks to Professor Bausola for his opening address, and I wish to congratulate most heartily the directors of the “Centre for Study and Research on the Natural Regulation of Fertility” of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, who have sponsored this initiative, which will be repeated in the city of Bologna within a few days.The twentieth anniversary of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae offers the whole Church a fitting occasion for serious reflection on the doctrine taught in it, a doctrine which I have taken up again in the Exhortation Familiaris Consortio and on numerous other occasions.  It is a question, in fact, of a teaching which belongs to the permanent patrimony of the Church’s moral doctrine.

2. The uninterrupted continuity with which the Church has taught it derives from her responsibility for the true good of the human person, of the human person of the spouses, first of all.  In fact, conjugal love is their most precious good.  The interpersonal communion established between two baptized Christians in virtue of that love is the real symbol of Christ’s love for his Church.  The doctrine expounded in the Encyclical Humanae Vitae thus constitutes the necessary defence of the dignity and truth of conjugal love.

As with every ethical value, man has a grave responsibility with regard to conjugal love.  It is first of all married couples themselves who are responsible for their conjugal love, in the sense that they are called to live it in its entire truth.  The Church assists them in this task, enlightening their consciences and assuring them, with the sacraments, of the strength necessary for the will to choose good and avoid evil.

3. Still, I cannot pass over in silence the fact that many today do not aid married couples in this grave responsibility of theirs, but rather place significant obstacles in their path.

In this regard, no man or woman who has perceived the beauty and the dignity of conjugal love can remain indifferent in the face of the attempts being made to equate, in every respect, the conjugal bond with mere cohabitation. To equate the two is unjust and destructive of one of the fundamental values of all civil society – esteem for marriage.  It is also harmful for the upbringing of the young generations who are thus tempted to embrace a concept of freedom and a way of experiencing it which are radically distorted.

In addition, in their effort to live their conjugal love correctly, married couples can be seriously impeded by a certain hedonistic mentality widespread today, by the mass media, by ideologies and practices contrary to the gospel. This can also come about, with truly grave and destructive consequences, when the doctrine taught by the Encyclical is called into question, as has sometimes happened, even on the part of some theologians and pastors of souls.  This attitude, in fact, can instil doubt with regard to a teaching which for the Church is certain; in this way it clouds the perception of a truth which cannot be questioned.  This is not a sign of “pastoral understanding”, but of misunderstanding the true good of persons. Truth cannot be measured by majority opinion.

The concern you have shown in your conference to situate the more technical and scientific reflection on the natural monitoring of fertility within the context of full theological, philosophical and ethical reflections must be emphasized and praised.  Another way to weaken the sense of responsibility of married couples towards their conjugal love is, in fact, to supply information on natural methods without accompanying it with the necessary formation of consciences.  Technical knowledge does not resolve ethical problems, simply because it is not able to make the person better.  Nothing can take the place of education to chastity.  Only the man and woman who have attained a true harmony in the depths of their own personalities can love one another conjugally.

A real slaughter of the innocents

4. Twenty years after the publication of the Encyclical, one can see clearly that the moral norm taught in it does not defend merely the goodness and dignity of conjugal love, and thus the good of the person of the spouses.  It has an even greater ethical significance. In fact, the logical consequence and the ultimate root of the contraceptive act, which Paul VI had already pointed out prophetically, have now become manifest. What logic? What root?

The anti-life logic; over the last twenty years, many states have renounced their dignity as defenders of innocent human life, enacting laws permitting abortion.  A real slaughter of the innocents is being carried out every day throughout the world.

What root?  It is the rebellion against God the Creator, the one Lord of the life and death of human persons:  it is the non-recognition of God as God;  it is the intrinsically absurd attempt to build a world to which God is completely extraneous.

In the Encyclical Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI expressed the certainty that the document constituted a contribution, because of its defence of conjugal morality, to the establishment of a truly human civilization (cf. n. 18).  Twenty years after its publication, the foundation of that conviction is truly borne out in many ways:  in ways which can be verified not only by believers, but by every man or woman who is thoughtful about the lot of mankind, since anyone can view the consequences of man’s disobedience to God’s holy law.

Your efforts, as well as those of so many other persons of good will, are a sign of hope not only for the Church, but for all humanity.

As I invite each of you from my heart to persevere generously on the path you have set out upon, I give all of you my blessing, invoking heavenly assistance upon you.

John Paul II