I have a new article up at NewEvangelizers.com.
The Church is about to celebrate the 50th anniversary of one of its most famous encyclicals in the modern world: Humanae Vitae.
Of course if you have read most of the press coverage, the word “celebrate” may seem a bit odd.
For those who may not know, Humanae Vitae was written in 1968. At that time, a number of Christian denominations had stated that using artificial contraceptives like condoms and the birth control pill were morally permitted for their congregations. Pope St. John XXIII ordered a commission made up of non-theologians to look into the question for the Catholic Church and make recommendations to him. After John died, Blessed (soon to be Saint) Pope Paul VI added members of the clergy and theologians to the commission. When the commission reached its conclusion, the majority stated that there was nothing morally wrong with using artificial contraceptives and recommended Paul make the change to Church teaching. Instead, the pope re-affirmed the Church’s prohibition. To this day, using an artificial means to intentionally contract is a mortal sin.
For many Catholics, even among the clergy, Humanae Vitae is a document of great personal embarrassment. They want to talk about the “higher” things like God’s infinity love and His personal relationship with you. And to be sure these are the higher goals of our calling. But if someone brings up the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception, there are many who demure and deflect. A priest once said to my wife and I “The official teaching is that it is wrong, but just remember that confessions can take care of that.”
A theologian friend of mine once said, “This one encyclical is responsible for more people leaving the Church than almost anything else. And most of the people who left never bothered reading it.”
So what does the document actually say?