WASHINGTON — Surrounding the 1968 release of “Humanae Vitae”
(“Of Human Life”) was the cultural context of the sexual revolution and a
widespread fear about overpopulation following World War II, said
Donald Critchlow, a professor of history at Arizona State University.
the time, there were movements in support of eugenics, abortion rights,
and sterilizations in an attempt to curb population growth, Critchlow
told an audience at The Catholic University of America April 5.
was one of several speakers at a 50th anniversary symposium on Blessed
Paul VI’s encyclical “Humanae Vitae” April 4-6 hosted by Catholic
University. Keynotes and a number of workshop sessions examined the
teaching and legacy of the document on the regulation of birth issued
July 25, 1968.
The symposium was titled “Embracing God’s Vision
for Marriage, Love and Life,” and brought together experts on a variety
of topics related to the encyclical’s teachings on human sexuality and
In a session, Critchlow noted that prior to the
drafting of “Humanae Vitae,” a commission was appointed to give
suggestions for the Catholic Church’s response to new forms of
Blessed Paul rejected the commission’s report
recommending acceptance of the birth control pill and, in “Humanae
Vitae”, affirmed the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of human life and
its opposition to artificial contraception. In the document, the pope
warned of the harm that widespread use of contraception would cause in
society, such as lowering of moral standards, marital infidelity, less
respect for women, and the government’s ability to use different methods
to regulate life and death.
Critchlow said many priests and laypeople, particularly in the United States, dissented from this teaching.
his homily for the symposium’s closing Mass at the Basilica of the
National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception April 6, Cardinal Donald W.
Wuerl of Washington recalled the encyclical’s release.
immediately met with widespread dissent and vocal opposition,” he said.
“I was surprised to see such vehement rejection.”
note that “Humanae Vitae” “constitutes a high-water mark in silent lack
of reception on the part of the faithful,” Cardinal Wuerl said, “we take confidence in the reminder that a lack of reception of the teaching does not negate its truth.”
throughout the anniversary symposium, people continually praised the
prophetic message of the document, which still “stands as a profound and
affirmative” defense of traditional values and family life, said
“In the end, what ‘Humanae Vitae’ proved was to be
prophetic in its warnings of the breakdown of family and the
depersonalization of sexual acts we see today in America,” Critchlow
Noting Pope Francis’s call to be in touch with realities
people are facing in their daily lives, Mary Eberstadt, an author and
speaker on issues of American culture, spoke about how the sexual
revolution and the teachings of “Humanae Vitae” fit into that reality.
“The promise for sex on demand without restraint may be the biggest temptation humanity has been faced with,” she said.
the face of that temptation, the teachings of the Church are difficult,
“but to confuse hard (teachings) with wrong is an elementary error,”
While many proponents of contraception support it
as a way to reduce the number of abortions, Eberstadt said it is now
“clear beyond a reasonable doubt that contraception also led to an
increase in abortion,” as rates of out-of-wedlock births exploded at the
same time that people were increasingly using modern contraceptive
The Catholic Church’s teaching on marriage, abortion,
human sexuality and contraception is rooted in the same respect for
human dignity that guides its work for social justice and care for poor
people, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said in his keynote
address opening the symposium April 4.
It is imperative that the
Church make known why it upholds its teaching, as reiterated in “Humanae
Vitae” so that Catholics and the world understand God’s plan for
humanity, said the archbishop.
Helen Alvare, a professor of law at
the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University, spoke April 6
as part of a panel on “The Prophecies of ‘Humanae Vitae.’”
addressed the historical roots of making birth control and abortion a
constitutional right in the United States and what she described as a
devastating decline of legal safeguards for women and children that has
She said, “(Society’s message is) sexual expression without marriage is freedom.”
NFP conference in St. Louis
A conference on Theology of
the Body and Creighton Model NaPro Technology will take place Saturday,
April 28, at the Cardinal Rigali Center in Shrewsbury. The conference is
sponsored by the Offices of Natural Family Planning and Consecrated
The event will celebrate the sanctity of life through love,
marriage and procreation. Presentations will focus on Creighton NaPro
Technology-tracking and medical treatment of common conditions, Theology
of the Body, SPICE (Spiritual, Physical, Intellectual,
Communicative/Creative, and Emotional) aspects of sexuality, and
Archbishop Robert Carlson’s pastoral letter on Humanae Vitae.
will be celebrated at 11:30 a.m., followed by a renewal of the
Hippocratic Oath by health care professionals in attendance. This is one
of several activities planned in the Archdiocese of St. Louis in
celebration of the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae. For more
information or to register, visit archstl.org/TOBNaPro or call (314) 792-7250.