Forty-three years ago (25 July 1968) Pope Paul VI promulgated one of the most controversial encyclicals ever. The encyclical letter was Humanae Vitae, a prophetic letter on the regulation of births.
This was the time of free love, the pill and women’s liberation. Many in the Church felt that it was time to get with the times and for contraception to be allowed. Paul VI was advised of this and there was an expectation that a new doctrine would be declared.
But Paul VI was protected from teaching error in this instance and he stood firm in the teaching that had gone before him. He wrote:
“In conformity with these fundamental elements of the human and Christian vision of marriage, we must once again declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun, and, above all, directly willed and procured abortion, even if for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of birth regulation.
Also, to be excluded, as the Magisterium of the Church has on a number of occasions declared, is direct sterilization, whether perpetual or temporary, whether of the man or of the woman.
Similarly excluded is every action that, either in anticipation of the conjugal act or in its accomplishment or in the development of its natural consequences, would have as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible.” (#14)
With these words came much dissent from the Bishop’s of the world and a myriad of the lay faithful. Many chose to do what they wished, and instead of listening to the wisdom of Pope Paul VI, walked a contrary path. Today, we live the legacy of that dissent.
Pope Paul VI warned of the serious consequences of artificial birth regulation:
- Lowering of morality;
- Youth given an easy way to evade the moral law’s observance;
- Men losing respect for women and using her as a means of selfish enjoyment (think of all the pornography);
- Rulers imposing upon their people methods of contraception they think most efficacious (think China – forced sterilization, forced abortion and UN programmes in Third World countries that require the implementation of reproductive programmes in order to receive aid.)
We see these consequences at an alarming rate in our world today, and it seems that each day the outlook appears bleaker.
Married couples need the teaching of Humanae Vitae today more than ever before. Many Catholic couples contracept seeing nothing morally wrong with their choices. New Zealand has the highest vasectomy rate in the world (and many Catholic men have chosen this form of sterilization).
Those who have the opportunities to teach and influence the faithful need to speak of Humanae Vitae. This doctrine of love and life needs to shared far and wide. No one need be afraid. The truth sets us free. And so many people need to be set free.
A copy of Humanae Vitae can be downloaded here.