I have a new article up at NewEvangelizers.com.
he pope is the head of the Catholic Church. Every Catholic knows that we are called to listen to him as the Vicar of Christ on Earth. But when Blessed Pope Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae in 1968, an enormous portion of the Church, especially in America, refused to listen. In fact, a Gallup Poll from 2012 says that 82 percent of Catholics believe that artificial contraception is morally licit. Even if we adjust that poll for different biases, that is a radically large number.
So how did this happen?
For more of an in depth look at this, I highly recommend The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice by Philip Jenkins. Here he lays out in detail all that went wrong. For the purposes of this article, I will be brief.
While this does not interact directly with the issue at hand, it helps to understand how much a time of upheaval it was in 1968. The world felt like it was once more on the brink of World War III. The Soviets were threatening to invade Czechoslovakia, which they did a few weeks after Humanae Vitae was issued.
In the United States, the public was in turmoil over two prominent assassinations: Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. Social and political movements took on a polarizing, life or death mentality. It was also during this time, with the Vietnam War raging, we saw the rise of a strong anti-authoritarianism. Catholics in America had, for the most part, found prejudice from the political right. We were viewed as the Church of the poor immigrants and not as loyal American. But around 1968, Catholics had generally be accepted by the political right and were being increasingly ostracized by the political left. The Church became viewed as a stalwart of the old social order that refused to go along with progress. Humanae Vitae’s reaffirmation of the Church ban on birth control was something that played into this narrative.
2. The Leak of the Report.
As stated in the last article, Pope St. John XXIII and Blessed Pope Paul VI approved of an advisory council to investigate if the Church should change its teaching on artificial contraception. It consisted of bishops, priests, and laity. Of the 68 members who could vote, 64 recommended that the Church allow for some artificial contraception and they presented a report. A dissenting report of 4 members was also issued to the pope. Among the dissenters was the Archbishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyla, who was not allowed to travel to Rome because of the restrictions of the communist government.
These reports were to be confidential and allow the theologians to explore arguments without fear of public scrutiny. However, the reports were leaked to the press. Based on the fact that the vast majority of the commission supported a change in the teaching, many in the clergy believed that this would be the ultimate decision of the pope. Theologians began to teach why the Church artificial birth control was morally acceptable. Priests started counseling married couples that it was okay to engage in contraception.
When the encyclical finally was promulgated, these people who had jumped the gun had spiritual egg on their faces.