PopeWatch: Humanae Vitae War

Sandro Magister reminds us that the war over Humanae Vitae is well under way:


The siege on Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical “Humanae Vitae” has racked up two new assaults in recent days. But also an energetic counterattack.

The first and more authoritative assault bears the signature of Cardinal Walter Kasper. In a booklet released contemporaneously in German and in Italy he exalts the “paradigm shift” inaugurated by Pope Francis with the exhortation “Amoris Laetitia.” A paradigm shift – Kasper writes – that does not limit itself to allowing communion for the divorced and remarried, but “concerns moral theology in general and thus has effects on many analogous situations,” including none other than recourse to artificial methods of birth control.

Kasper does not find in “Amoris Laetitia” the passage – in effect nonexistent – that would explicitly legitimize the use of contraceptives. But he points out that Francis, when he cites the encyclical of Paul VI, “encourages the use of the method of observing the cycles of natural fertility, but does not say anything about other methods of family planning and avoids all casuistic definitions.” From which Kasper deduces that “in ‘Amoris Laetitia’ even that which is not said may say something,” meaning that it may give the go-ahead to contraceptives, entrusting the use of them to the “deliberate decision of conscience” of the individual.


The second assault is less noble and not authoritative at all. And it is the acrobatic review, given a full page in the Sunday, December 4 edition of the newspaper of the Italian episcopal conference, “Avvenire,” with the byline of its specialist on questions of family morality, Luciano Moia, of the following important book, just off the presses:

Pawel Stanislaw Galuszka, “Karol Wojtyla e ‘Humanae vitae’. Il contributo dell’Arcivescovo di Cracovia e del gruppo di teologi polacchi all’enciclica di Paolo VI,” Cantagalli, Siena, 2018, pp. 550, 28 euro.

Among the documents published for the first time in this book, Moia isolates a letter written by Karol Wojtyla to Paul VI in 1969, after numerous episcopal conferences had spoken out critically against “Humanae Vitae.” In that letter the archbishop of Krakow asked the pope to publish urgently an instruction against the “harmful opinions” that were circulating, reiterating even more forcefully the teaching of the encyclical.

Paul VI did not do what Wojtyla had asked him. It was enough for him to hold firm what he had written in “Humanae Vitae,” without retreating one step. But by capitalizing on this silence of his, Moia contrasts Wojtyla’s “rigidity” with the presumed “openness” of Paul VI to the objections of various episcopates, all of them “characterized” – according to Moia’s prose – “by respect, acceptance, and comprehension.”

In reality, the erudite book by Galuszka documents not only Wojtyla’s important contribution to the drafting of “Humanae Vitae,” but also the extraordinary expansion that he offered afterward, as pope, to the comprehension of that encyclical, both with the cycle of catechesis on the theology of the body from 1979 to 1984, and with the encyclical “Veritatis Splendor” of 1993.

An expansion, that offered by John Paul II, which Benedict XVI has also recognized in this sincere autobiographical note of his, in the book-length interview published after his resignation from the papacy:

“In my situation, in the context of the theological thought back then, ‘Humanae Vitae’ was a difficult text. It was clear that what it was saying was valid in substance, but the way in which it was presented to us, at the time, even for me, was not satisfactory. I was seeking a broader anthropological approach. And in effect, John Paul II afterward integrated the encyclical’s natural law style with a personalistic vision.”


And here we are at the counterattack in defense of “Humanae Vitae,” which has been expressed both with the publication of the book mentioned above and with the presentation of it that was made on Wednesday, March 7 at the Pontifical Lateran University by Cardinal Gerhard L. Müller, the Polish philosopher Stanislaw Grygiel, and the Italian theologian Livio Melina, in addition to the author of the book,  Pawel Stanislaw Galuszka of Poland.

Melina, formerly the dean of the pontifical John Paul II institute for studies on marriage and family, is also the author of the preface to the book. His contribution on March 7 is reproduced in its entirety on another page of Settimo Cielo.

And these are his parting shots, in which he immediately takes aim at both Kasper and Moia, after which he makes an interesting reference to the letter “Placuit Deo” published a few days ago by the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, with the approval of Pope Francis.



by Livio Melina

Today one hears ambiguous talk of an epochal “paradigm shift,” which it is alleged must be applied  to Catholic sexual morality. In order to impose it there is also underway a questionable attempt at historical reinterpretation, which contrasts the figures of Paul VI and John Paul II, seeing in the second an intransigent and rigid traditionalist who is thought to have compromised the open and flexible attitude of the former.

In reality, this crude and arbitrary falsification is made only to serve an ideological manipulation of the magisterium of Pope Paul VI. Putting between parentheses the teaching of Saint John Paul II on the theology of the body and on the foundations of morality, his catecheses and “Veritatis Splendor,” in the name of the new pastoral paradigm of “case by case” discernment, does not bring us a step forward, but only a step backward toward casuistry, with the disadvantage that at least that was sustained by a solid ecclesial and cultural context of Christian life, while today it could not help but result in the total subjectivization of morality.

Go here to read the rest.  Leftists within the Church have adopted the usual Leftist strategy.  When they lose they regard it as merely a temporary setback to be overturned at a later date.  When they win the matter is decided for all time, no matter the contrary history of twenty centuries, and those who impose the latest Leftist innovation are heretics to be cast into the outer darkness.


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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.


  1. Why the slow evaluation of the pill, since contraception was long considered evil? This allowed far too many to assume that the pill might be okay? Thirty(?) leftist theologians holed up at “Watergate” hotel were loving it, so they could blast the encyclical when it finally came out–much too late to appear certain in its validity.

  2. Why do we make Paul VI & HV the starting point? The Church has condemned contraception from its very beginning.

  3. I would guess on one side, the contraceptive methods were well known to be condemned; on the other, manipulating hormones does sound different than the various other methods of preventing birth, especially those that involve killing a recognizable human.

    There’s also the problem that we are in the world, and a lot of evil was done in the name of the “spirit of Vatican II” that boiled down to removing teachings that were hard, which is going to mean a whole lot of the ones about sex.
    I’ve mentioned before that my husband and I following the rules about contraception, especially when so much falsehood has been spread, has resulted in…stress… in our relationships with family, even those that are Catholic.

  4. Am I alone in finding an eerie similarity between the “Truce of 1968,” as George Weigal calls it, when the Congregation for the Clergy decreed that Cardinal O’Boyle of Washington should lift canonical penalties against those priests whom he had disciplined for their public dissent from Humanae Vitæ and the “Peace of Clement IX” during the Jansenist controversy?

    In both cases, after the Church had been riven by a decade-long dispute, a papal document was issued that was intended to be definitive.

    In both cases, the original quarrel was immediately forgotten and argument raged over the scope of papal authority to decide the question. In the Jansenist case, peace, of a sort, was achieved, when Pope Clement IX brokered an agreement that neither side would argue the question, at least, from the pulpit.

    The “Peace of Clement IX” lasted for about 35 years and ended in 1705 when Clement XI declared the clergy could no longer hide behind “respectful silence.” Eventually, in 1713, he issued Unigenitus and demanded the subscription of the clergy to it. There was enormous resistance, with bishops and priests appealing to a future Council (and being excommunicated for their pains, in 1718). As late as 1756, dissenters were still being denied the Last Rites.

    Will the “Truce of 1968” end in a similar fashion?

  5. I meant to say that my reference to the Truce of 1968 was inspired by Greg Mockeridge’s excellent post.

  6. I must admit to being a bit perplexed by the war against HV; I count only three possibilities:
    1. These clergy consider it impossible to scientifically determine when fertility exists and when it does not. Perhaps a little scientific training might cure this.
    2. These clergy consider it impossible to abstain from sex for 7-10 days! Nothing might be done for this, at least nothing by me.
    3. These clergy think of laity as being to weak to abstain from sex? This perhaps is the ultimate form of clericalism.

    I’m going to be generous in my thinking. We need to (#1) teach all these clergy about God’s wonderful design, how fertility while not predicable, can be observed and measured, for a fertility awareness and appreciation of God’s great gift.
    It has to be #1, it couldn’t really be #2 or #3, could it?

  7. My understanding about the pill, and the long time to condemn it, was based on its mode of action. Did it truly regulate the menstrual cycle, allowing a couple to use the “calendar rhythm” effectively. Believe it or not, rhythm can be very effective IF a woman has clock work cycles, and it not unduly influenced by stress which may cause cycles to go somewhat wonky. I’m one of the “lucky ones” in that regard. Other women are not so lucky, and their cycles are very irregular, making a simply calendar formula totally unworkable (modern day methods of Sympto-Thermal and/or Creighton Model are very helpful here).
    The Pill promised women “regular cycles”. In reality, a woman is not cycling at all. The normal function of the fertility cycle is suppressed–ovulation does not occur (or is not supposed to occur), and the lining build up of the uterus is made very thin–this is why women who bleed heavily are often put on the Pill in the first place. One of the mechanisms of the pill is to prevent a good lining build up so that if a child is conceived (in the Fallopian tubes), it will have a much more difficult time implanting in the thin uterine lining.
    So the Pill is in fact a contraceptive (possibly antiabortion chemical), and not a drug that truly regulates anything, like a pacemaker regulates a heartbeat. That is my understanding of the discussion.

  8. I believe the best exposition of HV is Miss Anscombe’s Contraception & Chastity (1972)
    It is unusual, in that it is written from the perspective of an Analytical philosopher in the British Empiricist tradition, Miss Anscombe being the student, translator and literary editor of Wittgenstein and her analysis of intention is just what one would expect from her.

    She was my tutor, so perhaps I am biased

  9. DJH-
    you would not believe the outrage I got when I pointed out that a secondary contraceptive effect of hormonal control was to prevent implantation, ie, to cause an abortion.
    It says it right there on the box, but I had to be wrong, Or Else. (No wonder my family insists that I can “never admit” that I’m wrong….)

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