|The Encyclical Humanae Vitae in the context of its time
by Professor Roberto de Mattei
Delivered at « Humanae Vitae at 50: Setting the Context », Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas, Rome, 28 Oct 2017
In an interview released to Vatican Radio on July 25th 2017, Msgr. Gilfredo Marengo, president of the Humanae Vitae study committee, nominated by pope Francis, said that “from the historical-theological research perspective, it would be very useful to reconstruct the Encyclical’s elaboration process which had developed in distinct steps since June 1966 to its publication on July 25th, 1968” through the examining of the documentation stored in some Holy See archives. My essay intends to be an external contribution to this reconstruction.
The roots of the moral crisis
Humanae Vitae cannot be debated, without recalling the systematic errors that this encyclical fought, especially the movement of “birth control” that was part of the broad process of the sexual revolution of the 20th Century. In the investigation of the historical roots of this phenomenon, it is necessary to trace the trend of ideas, or to study the revolutionary agents’ biographies. In the first case, our understanding of the influence of evolutionism, Marxism and Freudianism must be deepened. In the second case, it is necessary to follow the action not so much of ideologues, but of the propagators of revolutionary ideologies. There is of course a parallelism and an interdependence between the two paths. It is not incidental, for example, that the dates of life and death of two promoters of the sexual revolution in the twentieth century, coincide: Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957), ideologue of Marx-Freudianism and Alfred Kinsey (1896-1956), who with his Institute for Sex Research, gave a pseudo-scientific role to Reich’s pan-sexualism.
As far as the specific issue of “birth control” is concerned, the ideology of neo-Malthusianism and feminism is interwoven with the biography of Margaret Sanger (1879-1966), the main activist of the Anti-Natalist Movement of the Twentieth Century, founder of the Birth Control Federation of America (BCFA), which in 1942 became the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA).
The expression “birth control” appeared for the first time, in the June 1914 issue of the magazine “The Woman Rebel” in which Margaret Higgins Sanger, a young American anarchist, announced the creation of a movement in defense of a woman’s right to be the “absolute mistress of her own body”. The magazine, published by the publisher Rabelais Press, was owned by the revolutionary woman’s lover, the Greek anarchist John Rompapas, and featured the motto “No Gods, no Masters” as subtitle.
In December of that same year, Margaret Sanger met, in London, the ideologist Havelock Ellis (1859-1939), author of The Task of Social Hygiene (1912), in which he proclaimed women’s liberation and their right to sexual pleasure. Ellis, founder of eugenics, became Sanger’s mentor, encouraging her to work for the spread of contraceptive methods.
The first development of the movement took place in England where, in 1877 Charles Bradlaugh (1833-1891) and Annie Besant (1847-1933), published the book The Fruits of Philosophy, or the Private Companion of Young Married People (1832) by Charles Knowlton (1800-1850), an atheist and secularist physician of Boston, known for his Elements of Modern Materialism (1829). Bradlaugh, also known as one of the founders of vegetarianism, was affiliated to the Loggia of Persevérante Amité, a branch of France’s Grand Orient. Besant was a socialist and feminist activist, who, thanks to Bradlaugh, joined Freemasonry, and later the Theosophical Society of which she became the second president in 1907, after Elena Blavatskis (1831-1891).
After the publication of the book, Bradlaugh and Besant were arrested and put on trial in London for obscene publications. When the “Knowlton trial” opened, Besant called Charles Robert Drysdale (1829-1907), a close friend of Darwin, in his defense. Drysdale and his companion Alice Vickery (1844-1929) were two free thinkers, convinced that marriage was “legal prostitution.” The two unmarried partners, together with Charles’s brother George Robert Drysdale (1825-1904), founded the Neo-Malthusian League in England, presided over by Charles Drysdale, then by Vickery and after his death by his son Charles Vickery Drysdale (1874- 1961).
In London, in 1914, Margaret Sanger got in touch with the League and received wide support from Alice Vickery Drysdale and his son Charles. Back in the United States, in 1916 she opened the first birth control clinic in Brooklyn. She was also arrested and tried, on charges of distributing pornographic material. On this occasion, another militant feminist intervened in favor of Sanger; Marie Stopes (1880-1958), the English prophetess of birth control, who had previously met her in London. In 1921, Sanger founded the American Birth Control League, which merged into the International Federation of Birth Control Leagues. The institution was re-established in 1925, at the 6th International Neo-Malthusian Congress. The boost was provided by the New York American Birth Control League. In Geneva, on August 29th, 1927 the first World Population Conference opened, organized by Sanger and the Society of Nations, with funding from the Rockefeller Foundation. From that date, the Malthusian League ceased its activity, which was resumed by Sanger. The Society of Nations, then the United Nations Organization and the great American Foundations, became the main sponsors of Sanger’s activity.
In those years, thanks to its apostolic nuncios and delegates and a network of excellent collaborators, the Vatican had an efficient information service. The Historical Archive for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs (The Vatican’s “Foreign Ministry”), had kept a detailed report, dated 1926, on the Neo-Malthusian movement, documenting its historical origin and its international extension in the world. In the text, we read, among other things: “All the Neo-Malthusian movement is headed by Mrs. Margaret Sanger. She is assisted in her business by a number of secretaries. The movement is particularly feminist.”
The Encyclical Casti Connubii
Since the early centuries, the Church has condemned contraception and abortion as serious sins, regardless of philosophical discussion regarding the moment when the soul is infused. “No Catholic theologian has ever taught that ‘contraception is a good act,’ says historian John Noonan. The first supporter of the need to reduce births, in 1798, was an Anglican pastor, Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834), whose movement was called Malthusian after his name. Malthus, unlike his followers, proposed chastity as the only legitimate means of limiting births. The first failure of this religious neo-malthusianism occurred at the Anglican Lambeth Conference of 1930, which asserted the legitimacy of artificial birth control.
That same year, the Catholic Church reiterated that contraception is a serious sin. This doctrine was confirmed as binding and finalized by Pope Pius XI (1922-1939) in his encyclical Casti Connubii of December 31st 1930. In this document, the Pope wanted to draw the attention of the whole Church and of all humanity, to the fundamental truths regarding the nature of marriage, conceived not by men, but by God Himself, and on the blessings and benefits that result from it, for society. The Pope then denounced the mistakes and abuses committed against marital union and suggested the necessary remedies to restore Christian marriage.
The encyclical contains a clear and vigorous condemnation of contraceptive acts. “Since, therefore, the conjugal act is destined primarily by nature for the begetting of children, those who in exercising it deliberately frustrate its natural power and purpose sin against nature and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious… any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin”.
Pius XII (1939-1958) confirmed in many speeches the doctrine of his predecessor: from the allocution to the Sacred Rota of 1941, to the speech to hematologists held in 1958, one month before his death.
Overstepping Casti Connubi?
However, in the 1950s and 1960s, within the Catholic Church, a process of overthrowing traditional morality began. The protagonists were theologians such as the German Jesuit Josef Fuchs (1912-2005), professor at the Gregorian University, and the German Bernard Häring (1912-1998), professor at the Alphonsianum, who tried to transfer to theology’s moral field, the thesis of the nouvelle theologie, just condemned by Pius XII in the encyclical Humani generis. The Catholic University of Leuven was a hub for disseminating and applying these theses. The main representative of the new Lovanian culture was the personalist theologian Louis Janssen (1908-2001).
The key issue of these innovators was the replacement of the concept of nature with that of person. Human nature is in fact the essence of man, what he actually is before being a person. Man is subject to rights and duties because he is a person, but he is a person by virtue of his human nature. All Häring’s work tends to frustrate natural law in the name of a “Christian existential personalism”.
Re-founding morality basing it on the individual rather than on the objective reality of nature means giving a dominant role to human conscience. If the person comes before nature, morality is based on self-consciousness and on one’s own will. The moral rule is no longer objective and rational, but affective, personal and existential. Individual consciousness becomes the sovereign norm of morality. And the first field for implementing this new anthropology was marital morality.
Vatican II opens
On January 25th 1959, just three months after his election to the papal throne, Pope Roncalli announced the Second Vatican Council. One of the documents drafted by the preparatory committee to be discussed in the hall, was called De castitate, virginitate, matrimonio, familia. The text reiterated that “the primary purpose is solely the procreation and education of the offspring” and that secondary purposes are “the mutual help and comfort of the spouses in the shared domestic life, as well as the remedy, as it may be defined, to concupiscence”. Among the mistakes condemned are “theories that, reversing the right order of values, put the primary purpose of marriage in the shade with respect to the biological and personal values of the spouses and that, in the same objective order, suggest the conjugal love as the primary goal” (No. 14). In the second chapter, devoted to the rights, duties and virtues proper to Christian marriage, the document, resuming the traditional Augustinian doctrine of the three goods, distinguishes the “bonum prolis”, “bonum fidei” and “bonum sacramenti” (n 16). From bonum prolis descends the right and duty of spouses to procreate, but artificial insemination and the use of contraceptives are forbidden.
The original schema for marriage and family arrived in the hall on October 11th 1962 but, like all other resolutions adopted on the eve of the Council by Pope John XXIII, it was never discussed because, following the “blitzkrieg” implemented by the liberal minority in the first days of the Council, it was absorbed within a framework in which the relationship between Church and modern world was supposed to be debated. Within the appointed committee, called to draw up the new document, a sub-commission for family and marriage was created, chaired by Msgr. Emilio Guano (1900-1970), bishop of Livorno. Fr Bernard Häring, who was the main author of the document, was nominated as secretary. In 1964 the document became the XIIIth schema.
The schema was very different from that of the preparatory committee. Article 21 of the fourth chapter of Schema XIII was devoted to The dignity of marriage and the family. However, the text in fact avoided the traditional distinction between the primary and secondary purposes of marriage and, indeed, the procreation of children was subordinate to the marital bond of love, leaving open the possibility of “birth control”, entrusted to the spouses’ consciences.
Dr. Pinkus’s “pill”
The birth and marketing of the first oral contraceptive, Enovid, the famous Dr. Pinkus’s pill, marked a historic turn. In his book The Birth of the Pill. How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution, Jonathan Eig ascribes the birth and spread of the pill to four “crusaders”: the feminist star Margaret Sanger, the iconoclastic scientist, Gregory Goodwin Pinkus (1903-1967), the Catholic doctor John Rock (1890-1984), “and the supplier of cash behind it all”, Katharine McCormick (1875-1967).
Dr. Pinkus had worked on fertilization since the 30s, and had been dismissed from Harvard University for being unscrupulous in his research activity (Dr. Frankestein had been nominated) but his plans began to be realized in the 1950s thanks to Margaret Sanger’s decisive support, she convinced Katharine McCormick to fund his research. John Rock, in 1963, published a book, The Time Has Come, in which he claimed the need for a new approach from churches, and above all of Catholicism, to the issue of birth control. That same year, a long article by the already quoted theologian Louis Janssens came out, in which the topics contained in Rock’s book were commented on and which reached the conclusion that perhaps, indeed, “the time had come”. The University of Leuven, with its great protector, the primate of Belgium Card. Léon-Joseph Suenens (1904-1996), stood in favor of the pill.
As for the opposite coalition, Jesuit theologians John Cuthbert Ford (1902-1989) and Gerald Kelly (1904-1964) recalled the traditional doctrine, writing that “according to the authoritative teaching of Pius XII and the unanimous teaching of the theologians, the use of pills as contraceptive means, is sinful, and Catholics who intend to use them in this way, cannot be granted absolution and admitted to the Eucharist “.
John XXIII, on March 8th, 1963, set up an ad-hoc committee consisting of eight experts. The issue was addressed, from this moment on, by two different commissions, that of the Council and that instituted by John XXIII and then extended by Paul VI.
The creation of the new committee had been recommended to the Pope by Cardinal Suenens. It was no coincidence that the first meeting took place in Leuven on 12 and 13 October 1963. It consisted of six members: the French Jesuit Stanislas de Lestapis, the Swiss Dominican Henri de Riedmatten, the English neurologist John Marshall, the Belgian demographer Clement Martens, Belgian doctor Pierre van Rossum and Belgian economist Jacques de Wilmars. Half of the members were Belgian. Four members were lay, all married; two were priests, but none of them was a theologian. All the members had been suggested by Cardinal Suenens.
The second meeting took place in Rome on April 3-5, 1964, with the addition of another 7 members, for a total of 13 participants. Some members of clear liberal orientation were introduced, such as the priests Joseph Fuchs and Haering and canon Pierre de Locht, Cardinal Suenens councilor, but also others of orthodox orientation such as the Spanish Jesuit Marcelino Zalba of the Gregorian University, and Redemptorist Jian Visser of the Accademia Alfonsiana. The commission was again convened in Rome on 13 and 14 June of the same year, with the participation of two new members, Tullio Goffi and Fernando Lambruschini.
Paul VI, on June 23rd, 1964, revealed the commission’s existence in a speech to the cardinals, asking the Council to address the subject only in general terms. The position between those favorable and those against the contraceptives was not yet defined. On this issue, the decisive battle was going to go far beyond the case of contraceptive pill, but touched the very foundation of natural law. Many Council Fathers welcomed the Malthusian suggestions that “prophesied” a catastrophe for mankind unless a strict “birth control” be implemented. Among them, Bishop Joseph Reuss, Rector of the Meinz Seminary, the two Canadian Cardinals, Maurice Roy (1905-1985), Bishop of Quebec, and Paul-Emil Léger (1904-1991), Archbishop of Montréal and above all, the Cardinal primate of Belgium Leo Suenens, great protector of the Leuven school.
On the opposite side were the cardinals Michael Browne (1887-1971), Ernesto Ruffini (1888-1967) and Alfredo Ottaviani (1890-1979), alongside a large group of bishops and some experts on traditional orientation such as Salesian Ermenegildo Lio (1920-1992) and the Spanish Jesuit Marcelino Zalba (1908-2009).
Vatican Council II
At the end of October 1964, the issue of contraception entered the arena during the discussion on Schema XIII about the Church and the Modern World, from which the conciliar constitution Gaudium et Spes was generated. On October 23rd, presenting the schema, Msgr. Guano, Bishop of Livorno, warned the Fathers that the question of the regulation of births was not within the jurisdiction of the Council, the Pope having taken the issue upon himself, and entrusted its study to a special commission. But, when the debate opened, card. Ruffini, the first to speak by order of seniority, criticized the scheme presented by Msgr. Guano, because he had asserted “that the last word on the number of children remains only to the spouses themselves,” defining this doctrine very difficult to accept, “obscure and full of dangerous ambiguities”. Cardinal Ottaviani, with a speech which stunned the audience for the personal slant, seldom heard in his speeches, addressed the Fathers of the Council: “The priest now speaking to you, is the eleventh of a family of twelve children. His father was a workman, a workman, not a boss of workmen, just a workman, nevertheless he never doubted Providence, never thought of limiting the number of his children, regardless of difficulties. Do we want to forget the words of Our Lord: ‘Look at the birds of the air (…), look at the lilies in the fields’ (Mt 6:28)?”
After cardinal Ottaviani’s speech, there immediately followed Cardinal Browne’s, who explained the traditional concept of marriage in a clear manner, as opposed to what the document proposed.
The most notable speech was, on October 29th, the one of Card. Suenens,who explained with the following words the role of the Committee wanted by him, on birth control: “The first task of this committee lies in the line of Faith and must consist of this: to check if we have sufficiently highlighted all aspects of Church teaching on marriage. (…) It may be that we have over stressed the words of the Scripture: ‘Grow and multiply’ to the point of leaving in the shadow the other divine words: ‘The two will be one flesh’. (…) It will be up to the Commission to tell us if we have not overly emphasized the primary purpose, which is procreation, at the expense of an equally imperative purpose, which is growth in marital unity. Similarly, it is up to the Commission to respond to the immense problem posed by the current demographic explosion and overpopulation in many parts of the earth. (…) The Commission’s second task lies in the line of scientific progress and more in-depth knowledge of natural ethics. The Commission will have to examine whether traditional doctrine, especially in the manuals, takes into sufficient account the new data of today’s science. We have made progress from Aristotle and discovered the complexity of the real in which biology interferes with psychology, the conscious with the subconscious. New possibilities are constantly discovered in man, in his power to direct the course of nature (…) Who does not see that in this way we will be perhaps led to further research on the problem of what is for or against nature’? Let’s follow the progress of science. I beg you, Brothers. Let’s avoid a new ‘Galilei trial’. One is enough for the Church“
While listening to this speech, cardinal Ruffini could not help knocking a punch on the table for indignation and two days later, he vented his anger in front of cardinal Cicognani, Secretary of State, defining Suenens words as “horrendous”. Archbishop Helder Câmara expressed, instead, all his enthusiasm for the Primate of Belgium: “He said everything that could be dreamed of listening to, about birth control, including the courage to assert it in his role of a Cardinal of the Holy Church, as a Moderator of the Council, and in St. Peter basilica: ‘We will not repeat the Galileo trial!’.
The “claque” for Cardinal Suenens was organized by Câmara himself. “He had notified me” he writes, “and we made sure that his pioneering position, be warmly applauded in the Basilica. Once again he has appeared to be the leader paving the way for us”.
Paul VI, who, on moral issues, did not share the progressivist positions, was bewildered and in a frenzied meeting with Suenens, he scolded him for having failed to evaluate.
Gaudium et Spes
In the time between the third and fourth sessions of the Council, the two committees, the conciliar and the papal, continued to proceed on two separate rail tracks. Within the conciliar commission, that was working on Schema XIII, a subcommittee called to address the problems connected to marriage, was also operative. This was chaired by the Bishop of Detroit Mgr. John Francis Dearden (1907-1988), assisted by the auxiliary bishop of Liège Joseph Heuschen (1915-2002) and Belgian mayor Victor Heylen (1906-1981), professor of moral theology at Leuven. “This” – says Renzo Puccetti – “was a triad, completely in favor of making contraception allowable.” The new formulation of Schema XIII, which at the end of September 1965 reached the arena, had the triad’s hallmark.
During the discussion, the issue of Christian marriage and “birth control” was again addressed. The text stressed some general principles, stating that it is up to the spouses to “determine the number of children”, but without specifying how this could happen. Cardinal Ruffini judged that the nature of marriage was badly illustrated, and that the same was instead much more clearly explained in Casti connubi of Pius XI. The Cardinal highlighted the parts of the text which, in his view, seemed to add doubts and confusion to the path of married couples. In particular, it was not reaffirmed in the schema that it is always shameful, dishonest, and against nature, to deprive the marital act of its natural procreative force and purpose. The text underwent thousands of amendments by both sides.
Between the end of October and the end of November there was a struggle behind the scenes between the lovanienses and the priests most faithful to the Church’s teachings, in particular Father Lio and Father Ford. Paul VI himself, was concerned about the approach of the text and intervened, through his theologian, Mgr. Carlo Colombo (1909-1991), proposing four restrictive amendments. The commission, only partially, accepted the pontifical amendments and the final result was a compromise text that did not leave anyone satisfied. In Gaudium et Spes, the pastoral constitution of December 7th 1965, paragraphs 47 to 52 are devoted to the matrimonial institution in general (No. 48), to the concept of conjugal love (No. 49), to maternal fertility (No. 50), and to the interaction between love and procreation (No. 51). The supremacy of the procreative end over the unitive end is not clearly stated. It is true that in the speech of 1956 to participants during the Conferences on Infertility, Pius XII speaks of the co-existence of the two aspects of marriage, the procreative and the unitive, but the subordination of the secondary aspect, which is the spouses union, to the primary purpose of procreation remains clear, in his Magisterium.
In No. 51 of Gaudium et Spes, it is stated that “the children of the Church, in regulating procreation, will not be allowed to follow the ways that are condemned by the Magisterium in the explanation of divine law”. In the related note (119), there is a reference to Casti Connubii and to the speech of Pius XII to obstetricians, but it adds that “some problems needing further and more thorough analysis, by order of the Supreme Pontiff, were entrusted to the Commission for the study of population, family and birth rate, so to allow the Supreme Pontiff to give his judgment after its task’s completion. Being at this stage, the doctrine of the Magisterium, the Council does not intend to propose well drawn solutions, immediately”.
As in many other cases, this Council text was a substantially ambiguous document. Cardinal Walter Kasper emphasized this in an article in the “Roman Observer”. “In the conciliar texts” – he wrote – “we had to find compromise formulas. (…) So the conciliar texts themselves have enormous potential conflicts; they open the door to a selective reception in either direction.”
The majority of the Fathers voted for the document, meaning that procreation remained primary and the basis of the objective nature of the marriage institution. The Progressivist Fathers, on the other hand, interpreted the equalization as the negation of the primacy of procreation and the implicit affirmation of the primacy of conjugal love, founded not on nature but on the human person.
The work of the Committee after the Council
The Council closed, but the Pontifical Commission continued its work. Father Ford could not understand the ambiguous attitude of Paul VI, who, on the one hand intervened in the Council to confirm Casti Connubii, and on the other, encouraged the Pontifical Commission to explore ways that would have inevitably led to the rejection of the same doctrine. Cardinal Ottaviani, together with the vice-presidents, the Cardinals of Monaco and Westminster, Döpfner and Heenan, all of whom had different orientations, were appointed chairmen of the committee. At the June 6th session, John Ford had to defend the reasons for keeping the doctrine, while his brother Joseph Fuchs illustrated the arguments for a change. On the 23rd, a Document Scheme de responsabili paternitate was voted on: 9 members of the committee expressed themselves in favor of contraception, three voted in the opposite direction, three abstained (one member was absent). On June 26th, the commission report was brought by Father Riedmatten and Cardinal Döpfner to Paul VI, who, not satisfied by it, encouraged Mgr. Carlo Colombo to deliver him a report produced by the minority. At the end of the same year, the Pope set up a new eight-member committee chaired by Cardinal Ottaviani, with Mgr. Carlo Colombo as rapporteur.
In December 1966 a news leak occurred. The priest (then married) Leo Alting von Gesau (1925-2002), one of the authors of the Dutch Catechism, approved by Cardinal Bernard Alfrink (1900-1987), sent to some newspapers the text of the committee’s report in favor of contraception, with the false news that it had been approved by a very large majority. The aim of the maneuver was to exert pressure on the Pope by media, in order to prevent him from changing the committee’s decisions. On April 15th, 1967, the “National Catholic Reporter” published an article with this title: “On responsible parenthood: 1) Final report; 2) Minority Report; 3) The issue is not closed: the liberals reply. The conviction that Paul VI was ready to change the Church’s traditional doctrine on birth control became widespread, because almost everywhere, family planning had been presented as a need of the contemporary world and the birth control pill, as a means for “liberating” women.
After a few months of indecision and internal conflict, on July 25th,1968, Paul VI published the encyclical Humanae Vitae. In this document, contrary to the opinion of the majority of experts he had consulted, the Pope reaffirmed the traditional position of the Church on artificial contraception with these clear words: “Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means. Neither is it valid to argue, as a justification for sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive, that a lesser evil is to be preferred to a greater one, or that such intercourse would merge with procreative acts of past and future to form a single entity, and so be qualified by exactly the same moral goodness as these. Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good, it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which must therefore be judged unworthy of man, even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general. Consequently, it is a serious error to think that a whole married life of otherwise normal relations can justify sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive and so intrinsically wrong.” (n. 14).
“The announcement in July of 1968 came as a veritable bombshell” writes Ralph McInerny. According to Romano Amerio, it was the most important deed of Paul VI pontificate.
The opposition to Humanae Vitae
A few days later, on July 30th, 1968, under the title Against the Encyclical of Pope Paul, the New York Times issued an appeal signed by over two hundred theologians who invited Catholics to disobey the encyclical of Paul VI. This statement, also known as the “Curran Declaration”, by the name of one of its promoters, Charles Curran, theologian of the Catholic University of America, was something never witnessed before, in the whole of the Church’s history. The exceptional fact is that the dispute was not only between theologians and priests, but also between some episcopates, including, first of all, the Belgian one, headed by Cardinal Primate Leo Suenens. The Déclaration of the Episcopate of Belgium on the Encyclical Humanae Vitae of August 30th 1968, was, together with the one by the German episcopate, one of the first drafts elaborated by a bishops’ conference and served as a model of rebellion for other episcopates.
A group of protagonists of the Council, opposing the encyclical of Paul VI, including Cardinals Suenens, Alfrink, Heenan, Döpfner and König, met in Essen to decide on opposition to the document and, on September 9th 1968, during the Katholikentag of Essen, in the presence of the pontifical legate, Cardinal Gustavo Testa, an overwhelming majority, voted for a resolution to review the Encyclical. From correspondence of Mgr. Gérard-Maurice Huyghe (1909-2001), bishop of Arras, with Suenens, we know about many other reactions, such as that of Cardinal Michele Pellegrino (1903-1986), archbishop of Turin, who defined the encyclical “one of the tragedies of papal history”.
In 1969, nine Dutch bishops, including Cardinal Alfrink, voted for the so-called Independence Declaration inviting the faithful to refuse the teaching of the encyclical Humanae Vitae. On the same occasion, the Dutch Pastoral Council, with the abstention of bishops, supported the New Catechism, refusing the corrections suggested by Rome and calling for the Church to remain open to “new radical approaches” on moral issues, which were not mentioned in the final motion but which emerged from Council’s work, such as premarital intercourse, homosexual unions, abortion and euthanasia. This request was consistent with the role of sexuality as recognized by progressivist theology: an instinct that men do not have to suppress through asceticism but rather “liberate”, finding in sex a form of “realization” of the human person.
“In 1968” – as recalled card. Francis J. Stafford – “something terrible happened in the Church. Within the ministerial priesthood, among friends, fractures occurred everywhere, which would never again be healed, those wounds continue to afflict the whole Church”.
Paul VI was almost traumatized by the dispute, which emerged from some of the Council’s main characters closest to him and, in the ten years following Humanae vitae, he did not publish any other encyclical, after having published seven of them, between 1964 and 1968.
The post-Council period did not see the directions of Humanae Vitae followed, but rather those of Cardinal Suenens and the dissident theologians. In papal colleges and seminaries, the texts used were those of Father Häring and the “moralists of Leuven”.
In 1979 Louis Janssens published an article with 60 quotations from Gaudium et Spes to justify his approval of artificial insemination. In Italy the “new moralists” were theologians such as Don Tullo Goffi (1916-1996), Don Enrico Chiavacci (1926-2013), Don Ambrogio Valsecchi (1930-1983), Don Leandro Rossi (1933- 2003).
In 1973, an Encyclopedic Dictionary of Moral Theology for the Paoline editions was published, by Valsecchi and Rossi which intended to replace the classic Dictionary of Moral Theology by Cardinals Francesco Roberti and Pietro Palazzini. In the new moral dictionary, Enrico Chiavacci argued that “real human nature is that of not having nature”.The new moralists replaced the objectivity of natural law, with the “person”, intended as a will, relieved of any legal constraint and immersed in the historical-cultural context, or in the “ethics of the situation”. And since sex is an integral part of the person, they claimed the role of sexuality, defined as the “primary function of personal growth”, represents the most intimate and intense moment of human love, regardless whether it is aimed at procreation or not. According to Don Tullo Goffi, sexuality helps the “evolution” and “maturation” of man through the “knowledge” of the other, by implementing the teaching of Gaudium et Spes (No. 24). A clever critic, Father Cornelio Fabro, summed up their positions: “God’s love acts as love for neighbor, the love for neighbor is expressed first and foremost in sexual intercourse”. This was the new morality that developed and is still dominant today.
The anti-natalist culture
After Paul VI, both John Paul II and Benedict XVI reiterated the Catholic doctrine on contraception, but Humanae Vitae was disqualified in practice. Today, a contraceptive mentality, is, unfortunately, prevailing even within the Church. According to Mgr. Ignazio Carrasco de Paula, at the root of the anti-natalist imperative there are three postulates:
“1) Only through frequent and fulfilling sexual intercourse, can a real “couple life” exist (anthropologic postulate, of clear Freudian matrix).
2) Only through limiting population growth, thus reducing the number of children to a minimum, is it possible to promote an adequate quality of life (economic postulate, demographic, neo-malthusianfiliation).
3) Only contraception can unite these two opposed needs: it is the technological postulate, the original contribution of the birth control ideology”.
These postulates have not spread as a result of a process immanent to history, but thanks to the personal action of agents who, outside and inside the Church, wanted to overturn traditional morality. The result of this revolution in mentality and customs has been an increase in premarital intercourse and cohabitation, a delay in and decrease of marriages, the postponement of the first child, an increase of children born outside marriage, a reduced fertility rate, to such an extent that it has fallen below the replacement rate (2.1 children per couple), and also the rise in divorces and the dissolution of families.
Is the encyclical Humanae Vitae infallible?
The strategy of those who tried to impose the artificial regulation of births in the Council, and then contradicted Humanae Vitae, has been that of “reinterpreting” or “re-reading” the encyclical of Paul VI, as confirmed by the title of a book which appeared in 1970, edited by some Belgian and Dutch theologians: Pour relire Humanae vitae. In fact, one of the book’s editors Msgr. Philippe Delhaye (1912-1990) said: “Nous avons perdu une bataille, nous n’avons pas perdu la guerre”.
The Post-Synodal Exhortation Amoris Laetitia seems to be a revenge of the 1968 defeat. What the authors proposed in 1970, to win the war, was to re-read Humanae Vitae in the light of the statements of the Bishops’ Conferences of the time. Today, the neo-modernists propose to re-read Humanae Vitae in the light of Amoris Laetitia, a document that has its cultural background in the positions of those theologians who, back then, contradicted the encyclical of Paul VI.
Someone could formulate this objection: are theologians and pastors who today criticize Pope Francis’s exhortation Amoris Laetitia not in a position similar to that of those theologians and bishops of dissent, who yesterday opposed Humanae Vitae? Don’t we have the duty to obey Pope Francis? Just as yesterday it was mandatory to obey Paul VI, because the pope is the pope, and a Catholic has the duty to always follow, in any circumstance, his words and actions?
The answer to this objection is not difficult. Papolatry is not part of the Catholic faith. The error of the dissenting Catholics of 1968 was not to resist Paul VI, but to refuse the everlasting teaching of the Church, of which the pope was, at that time, the spokesman. Those who today criticize Amoris Laetitia, like the cardinals who wrote the dubia and the authors of the Correctio Filialis, do not intend to oppose the Pope, who is acknowledged as the supreme authority, but rather to oppose a document that contradicts the Church’s Tradition. The Church’s living Magisterium is not limited to the present but includes the past, and no “majority” can impose it on the “minority”. In the Church, Benedict XVI explains, “there is no such thing as the present-day society. In it, the dead are not dead, because the communion of saints goes beyond the boundaries of present time. The past has not passed, and the future is already present. In other words: in the Church there can be no majority against the saints, against the great witnesses of the faith, who characterize the whole history. They always belong to the present, and their voice cannot be isolated in the minority”.
Fr. Arthur Vermeersch SJ (1858-1936), the great moralist of the Gregorian University, in his commentary on Casti connubii, the encyclical of Pius XI, believes that the condemnation of acts contrary to nature which limit births