50 Years Later Humanae Vitae

Pope Paul VI followed the route map laid out by Pope Pius XI.

July marks Humanae Vitae's 50th anniversary. The two words encapsulate the strict prohibition brought by Pope Paul VI in 1968 against artificial contraception. The pontiff's encyclical lead to what many church observers believe to the Catholic Church's own version of the disastrous Vietnam War.

The encyclical "Humanae Vitae" translates into "Of Human Life." The edict was issued as a result of the invention of the literally life-changing birth control pill. The decision at that time shocked several laypeople and a number of  Catholic priests. Pope Paul VI found support only from conservative Catholics. The latter praised the pontiff for upholding traditional teachings.

For most Catholics, the Humanae Vitae did change birth control, but in inverse. Experts discovered that the incidence of birth control went up from the time of the encyclical. In 1955, about 30 percent of Catholic women employed birth control. In 1970, the number went up to 68 percent. A study conducted by Pew Research Center in 2016 revealed that even among devout Mass-attending Catholics, only a meager 13 percent held the opinion that contraception was wrong.

This does not mean Humanae Vitae does not have any takers. Although its supporters are a minority nowadays, the core support continues to be present, including individuals who completely support “Theology of the Body” by National Family Planning promoter St. Pope John Paul II. Humanae Vitae has found support among successive pontiffs, including the present Pope Francis. The latter will take the necessary steps in October to canonize Pope Paul.

Pope Paul VI was not the sole proponent of Humanae Vitae. The actual process began in the 1930s, when many churches, like the Anglican Church in its Lambeth Conference, allowed, with multiple corollaries, contraceptive usage. A number of Protestant denominations in the United States did the same, although with eugenic motivations. The church suddenly looked upon contraception as an ally, if not for its own congregations, then for the many "undesirable" groups.

All these drew a sharp response from the Pope Pius XI-led Catholic Church. In his Casti Connubii, the pontiff thundered that whoever practiced birth control is a sinner. The pope further said the Catholic Church would continue to stand tall in the midst of moral ruin. The intervening years were a slack period for the church authority, with the subject being revived by Pope John XXIII only in 1963. The pontiff took matters out of the Council and gave it to a special committee. The latter brought out a final report in 1966. It is apparent that Pope Paul VI merely followed the path laid out by Casti Connubii's Pope Pius XI.

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