Humanae Vitae

Hello friends, I have just joined this site and it seems like a nice place. This will be my first thread, so I hope we can get along.

I’m a little confused about Humanae Vitae, specifically the bit that talks about artificial birth control. To me, it seems like this:

be Paul VI
people are talking about contraception, start a commission to investigate
commission comes back saying birth control isn’t a problem
new commission with more clergy, hopefully they’ll agree with me this time
come back even more in favor of allowing contraception
too bad for you guys, I’m the Pope

Obviously, there has to be more to it than this. Can someone enlighten me as to what exactly happened here?

Welcome to the Forums!

Sorry, it has been a while since I read HV. What are your sources for these statements please? I think I have some understanding but wanted to make sure we are on the same page.

The Pope is under no obligation to adhere to the opinions of commissions, whether they agree with his personal views or not. What he is under an obligation to do is to gather information from all sources and then interpret that in light of Church teaching, scripture and Tradition.

My recollection is that the Pope asked for an open discussion of the issue, and then, after considering these opinions in light of Scripture and Tradition, made the correct teaching.

It is an example by the way of the power of Papal Infallibility. Even when the world says “we need to change and do this”, the Holy Spirit protects the Church from following along and teaching error.

Others will probably be along shortly with a better explanation.

Church teaching on contraception was laid out very clearly in the encyclical Casti Connubii published December 31, 1930. Nothing has changed.

The debate leading up to Humanae Vitae was not about contraception itself but whether a pill which interfered with ovulation could even be called contraception. There were two sides to the argument:

  • One side argued that ovulation was a part of the process of conception and so interfering with ovulation was contraception.
  • The other side argued that ovulation was a process apart from conception. They argued that the pill was not contra-ception but contra-ovulation.

But the teaching of the Church has never changed on artificial birth control. Read paragraph 56 of Casti Connubii from 1930.


Probably not the first time a leader disregarded the opinion of his advisers.

That’s pretty much it, except for the last part. There was a lot of pressure at the time (1967) to promote The Pill. Inside and outside the Church. Makers of the birth control pill had to sell product. The last thing they needed was the Pope reaffirming constant Church teaching against artificial contraception.

When Humanae Vitae was published in 1968, here was the reaction:

"Within 24 hours, in an event unprecedented in the history of the Church, more than 200 dissenting theologians signed a full-page ad in The New York Times in protest. Not only did they declare their disagreement with encyclical’s teaching; they went one step further, far beyond their authority as theologians, and actually encouraged dissent among the lay faithful.

"They asserted the following: “Therefore, as Roman Catholic theologians, conscious of our duty and our limitations, we conclude that spouses may responsibly decide according to their conscience that artificial contraception in some circumstances is permissible and indeed necessary to preserve and foster the values and sacredness of marriage.”

Source: Regnum Christi

“… an event unprecedented in the history of the Church…”

The so-called Sexual (without love) Revolution was occurring at the same time. Pope Paul VI acted at the right time and warned what would happen if his words were not heeded. We’re living through it now.


It’s analogous to this:

be Peter
people are talking about who Jesus is, and Jesus asks a commission of disciples who He is
commission comes back saying John the Baptist or Elijah
new commission with more disciples, hopefully they’ll get it right this time
come back with even more prophets’ names
too bad for you guys, Jesus made me the Rock: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

(adapted from Matthew 16:13-19).

Welcome Mongol,

If you want to know the truth the priests at my parish have been practicing birth control for years. It is called abstinence.

Birth control is not a problem. Never has been. The problem today is that people don’t believe in birth and they don’t believe in control. It is artificial birth control that is immoral, pretending to give everything in the act of holy matrimony, but actually lying with ones body and holding back.

Dear Todd and everyone else, please take my challenge and answer the question below. If you cannot answer it then humble yourself and accept that Pope Paul VI probably (actually definitely) knew a lot more about this issue than you (or I) and take the time to really study the resources I provide in his defense at the link below.

WHY is the credibility of the Church’s position on much stronger ground on account that it happened as it did, than if the commission voted 100% against artificial birth control ?

Please answer this question before continuing reading.
If you cannot answer then please accept my challenge to study the MP3’s I will provide.

Before the Lambeth Conference of the Church of England in 1930, every Protestant denomination was completely against artificial contraception. At that conference, they opened the door to its acceptance in only special cases. Since then, every single main line Protestant denomination has opened the door to not only contraception but they have completely caved in to abortion - through all nine months - as well.

Why were so many upset and angry about Pope Paul VI’s continuation of the constant teaching of the Catholic Church ? Everyone is free to use contraception. No one is stopping them. The Pope is certainly not going to stop them. They are free to make up their own religion. They are upset because back in the depths of their mind is a conscience that tells them that there is a God, and they are NOT Him, and they are not infallible, and just maybe the Pope is right, along with 1900 years of Christians including even Luther and Calvin on this point.

The commission’s decision in favor of artificial birth control was not a unanimous decision. The Pope had instructed them to keep their recommendation private until he had time to rule on the issue which I believe was over a month later. But some, contrary to the Pope’s instructions went public with their report. Some theologians, before the Pope’s ruling, went on to instruct married couples that it was permissible or even good to use it. When the Pope did not rule on the issue immediately these theologians began to realize that he might rule against their newfound dissent. So they apparently organized behind the scenes. When the Pope gave his decision these theologians were not about to humble themselves and say, “Oops. Sorry. We led you into serious sin.”

No. Humility was not their virtue. They organized an attack against the Vicar of Christ, against the Church, against morality, and even against God Himself.

Who is the Pope? What is his role ? A Statesman, a Politician, an Ambassador ? No to all of those roles. Truth is not decided by majority vote. He is a Prophet of God. His role is NOT to make us happy in this life, but to lead us to true happiness in heaven. He has a prophetic calling to point us to salvation, to the cross of Christ, to heaven.

Those on the commission were appointed by the Pope. If he had wanted to do so he could have appointed only conservative members who would have told him whatever he wanted to hear.
But he knew that if he had appointed only those theologians who accepted the Church’s ancient teaching that people today would just say he stacked the deck with Yes Men. Pope Paul VI was courageous. He purposely appointed theologians who he knew disagreed with the Church’s teaching so that he could hear any possibly good argument that they could make. And when they gave their decision he did not quickly dismiss their reasons, but studied and prayed over their arguments for some time, over a month I believe. Only then did he rule against their immoral arguments that had no logical or theological foundation.

So, happening as it did, we know that Pope Paul VI gave every possible consideration that the dissenters might come up with.

See his prophetic statement and listen to the MP3’s by Janet Smith if you want to educate yourself on her well thought out wisdom in his defense.


As noted in the previous post, it was not just the Catholic Church which taught that artificial contraception was a moral evil. Every single Protestant denomination, beginning with the Reformation and continuing until 1930, had the exact same teaching as he Catholic Church.

The 1930 Lambeth Conference of the Anglican church broke that understanding and allowed for artificial contraception for grave reasons in special cases. Once the Anglicans caved in, others followed.

There was a Catholic doctor who thought that hormonal contraception might be approved as being more natural than other kinds. It was partly because of this new form of contraception that the pope appointed a commission to study the matter. But Pope Paul VI also studied the matter himself, and he was guided by the Holy Spirit. He reaffirmed the 2,000 year old teaching.

Now if there is any doubt as to the disastrous consequences of the large scale use of artificial contraception, please read “Adam and Eve After the Pill,” which delineates the results in great detail. Pope Paul VI was certainly proven right. The evil consequences he predicted came to pass with a vengeance.

Because it is based on arguments from both sides of the aisle and objective truth was allowed to rule, as opposed to opinion. The Pope appointed the men…hand selected those who could give the strongest argument in favor of contraception. He wanted to see the most compelling evidence from the opposing view and he got it. And not from Protestants who were increasingly unfamiliar with Catholic doctrines, but from Catholics who knew the doctrines and could argue around them in a near-compelling way. Contraception’s strongest case was presented, and failed the test of objective morarlity, and the Pope upheld the constant teaching of the Church…the constant teaching of all of Christendom up until 1930. :thumbsup:

The debate prior to Humanae Vitae really wasn’t about contraception. The issue was ovulation. The pill interferes with ovulation.

Some argued that interfering with ovulation was contraception because ovulation was part of the process of conception. Others argued that conception was when a sperm entered an egg and since there was no egg there could be no conception to prevent.

The bottom line of the debate was what defines conception and whether the pill was contra-ception or contra-ovulation. That’s what the debate was really about.


Thanks Jim,
I added the following links to my page:
Introduction: Adam and Eve after the pill Trailer Video

Religious Freedom and Sexual LIberationism -
Helen Alvare at Franciscan University

Mary Eberstadt: Myths of the Sexual Revolution


I am not sure that is the entire case in this instance. What I have been told there were some people on the commission that were in favor of contraception and talked to the press and others. Many people then formed opinions as to what the commission would finally say in the end. Funny how that didn’t turn out to be true. The press and public do not determine morality for the Catholic Church. Consistency to morality was upheld or in other words the hermeneutic of continuity was maintained.

Here is the cover of the April 7, 1967 issue of Time magazine:,16641,19670407,00.html

Here is what the public was told in that issue:,9171,843551,00.html

The Pill offered freedom from fear. Fear of what? Babies.

Those bundles of joy, those gifts from God. Be afraid to have them - trust us.


The Holy Father mentioned in HV (which can be found here: )of the various commissions set up to study the question, given the public opinion and shift of sexual actions of the time. However, as he writes “certain criteria of solutions had emerged which departed from the moral teaching on marriage proposed with constant firmness by the teaching authority of the Church.” That is to say, these commissions arrived at solutions that contradicted the faithful and continuous Church teaching. As such, the magisterium could not accept the thought of these commissions as binding, but merely as just opinion. Ultimately, the Church’s mission is to proclaim the truth, as handed down by Jesus through the apostles and their successors. Truth is immutable, and cannot be changed - it is what it is. Paul VI could hardly promote anything other than what he did than he could say that a wristwatch was a pepperoni pizza.

On a sidenote, shortly after HV came out, a majority of Canadian bishops published what became known as the Winnipeg Statement, where they publicly announced their dissent from the teaching of the encyclical. Sadly, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has yet to publish a definitive statement rejecting the Winnipeg Statement, although several documents had been circulated that support, albeit not definitely, the Church’s teaching from HV.

Wow. You really summed it up for me there. Thanks a lot! I understand a lot better now.

That’s interesting about the Canadian bishops, I hadn’t heard of that. It’s interesting that bishops of all people would reject HV. Haven’t they come under some kind of penalty?

…I dunno, I’m scared of babies. I can’t stand kids and hope I never have them. I don’t think they’re gifts, maybe they are for some people but not for me. I think they’re expensive headaches and I can’t understand why anyone in their right mind would want them. I’m sorry, I know that’s going to bother a lot of people.

Maybe he wanted to make a gesture of collegiality. Maybe he wanted to hear all the best arguments to the contrary before articulating an official position. Maybe he genuinely wasn’t sure what the correct position would be and was totally unconvinced by the (extremely lame) arguments put forth by his advisors. That’s just three possible explanations off the top of my head.

To each their own. Babies can be scary. Until I had one (well, specifically, my wife) I was at least nervous around babies and young children - I didn’t know how to change a diaper, swaddle, or cuddle a child until I HAD to. But, back to the point, there are moral and ethical ways to avoid pregnancy that do not involve intentionally sterilizing or otherwise abusing the conjugal act. Natural fertility planning, abstinence, and the like. And I can also say that despite the fact that babies are gifts from God, there’s times where they don;t seem like gifts (for instance, at 3am when baby has been screaming for three hours. Fortunately, God doesn’t have a return or exchange policy.)

No problem–I hope you didn’t mind me using your post as a template. I just want to show that pretty much the exact same scenario happened in the Bible with regard to a different question.

That’s interesting about the Canadian bishops, I hadn’t heard of that. It’s interesting that bishops of all people would reject HV. Haven’t they come under some kind of penalty?

Just a note on this, the Winnipeg statement was not a direct dissent from Humane Vitae. It affirmed the truth of the encyclical. It also acknowledged that it was difficult for many to accept, but that they should keep trying to understand and accept it, finally noting that those who follow their conscience in good faith are not sinning. All of this is in line with Catholic doctrine. Unfortunately, the last part was probably not articulated as clearly as it could have, and a lot of people took it to mean you can do whatever you want. It probably didn’t emphasize the duty of making that continual good faith effort to form one’s conscience enough (although it did mention it).

My friend, no problem at all. It’s interesting to see how what we have here is nothing new. I guess that’s why the Lord gave us scripture.

Here’s another situation. Suppose two people got married, were in line with HV, and yet had no desire for children, and actively used NFP to prevent ever having said children. How would the church view their situation?

I must admit that this is a very pressing question for me, as I would like to get married someday, but on the other hand can’t stand kids and hope I never have them.

Hah! That sounds like me. How did the experience effect you? Are you more comfortable around kids now? Granted, I’m only 24 and as a result have an extremely narrow view of family life, but it seems to me like having a kid of one’s own would exacerbate one’s discomfort, rather than the other way around.

Got a chuckle out of this.

I assume you’re a young man. Most young men (myself included) are (were) petrified of babies–unless they had a baby bro/sis as a kid, or a baby relative. We’re just not naturally wired to love babies, and we usually don’t even get the whole baby thing. It naturally freaks us out.

Ever notice how reluctant young single men are to holding babies? I think I was 27 years old, when I first held a baby–my nephew–and you would have thought someone handed me a stick of dynamite, or a grenade, the way I was holding it…

I have 4 kids now–ages 9-2. They drove me batty; still do. I practically stopped ‘being’, after the first one. Stopped drinking, partying, working out, playing sports, exercising… My entire identity, suspended, indefinitely.

…and yet, I never felt more alive, nor more fulfilled, before that.

Hell yes, it’s scary. as heck.

But it’s the best darn thing going in this thing we call life. Bar none.

Nothing even comes close.

…and don’t forget–you were a baby once too.

I bet your dad was pretty darn scared too.

Maybe even your mom…

God bless…

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit