Humanae Vitae 50th Anniversary Conference – Hope of a New Springtime

A one-day conference celebrating the 50th anniversary of the encyclical Humanae Vitae will be held at the Caroline Chisholm Centre Pennant Hills on 21 July 2018. 

25 June 2018 General Interest

Some may ask why all the fuss considering the fact that Humanae Vitae may possibly be the most contentious of all Church documents released in the twentieth century? One response would be to ask the reader to look again at the English translation of the encyclical’s title; ‘Of Human Life’. Almost immediately we recognise its perennial importance as it deals with the essence of life itself and, specifically, human life and what it is to be human. We can also add at this preliminary stage, that Humanae Vitae looked specifically at the question of the regulation of births and, most notably, the Church’s long-standing teaching that the use of contraceptive means to regulate births is always morally wrong. This in itself makes a discussion of Humanae Vitae as relevant today as it has been for each of the past five decades.

It was a pleasant surprise to hear Pope Francis state his intention to canonise Blessed Pope Paul VI in October. The canonisation of Paul VI would mark a considerable intent in the mind of Pope Francis to recognise not only the aforementioned pope’s ‘odour’ of holiness, but also Pope Paul VI’s decision - and let it be said in the face of world-wide opposition and even insubordination - to promulgate via Humanae Vitae the Church’s continued opposition to the use of contraceptive means.

Here we do well to look again at the original text as it is easy to forget the actual words used and remember instead the bitter aftertaste that the encyclical left in the mouths of those who were hoping for a change of Church teaching with regard to the use of contraceptives.

It is interesting to note the use of the term ‘responsible parenthood’ in the encyclical. For those who grew up post 1968, this term has been much used by those in support of contraception as well as those who would allow for an abortion. Thus the use of the term ‘responsible parenthood’ in our day is misunderstood and even misappropriated. Pope Paul VI uses it no less than seven times in one particular paragraph and does so to delineate clearly its proper definition and where the correct understanding of the term can only ever mean that the parents “are bound to ensure that what they do corresponds to the will of God the Creator.” (HV10)

This discernment of God’s will is really the point of contention for many Catholics today and is generally understood with relation to our understanding of conscience and our ensuing ability to make a good decision in the face of an important moral question. The Church has always encouraged her children to make decisions with an informed moral conscience where she the church as mother has a mandate to provide clear guidelines and teaching in the area of faith and morals. The fact that she has taught definitively that contraception is never a licit means for regulating births (cf. CCC 2370) must be taken on board in an authentic exercise in the formation of conscience. It could be argued that this objective and overly ‘rigid’ understanding does not take in the concrete realities of family life today. It is interesting to note that those in the Church advocating for contraception made this same point in 1968. Concrete realities there always will be but recourse must always be made to the truth of any matter and it is best, in light of this current discussion, if it is spelt out a bit more clearly in what follows.

The starting point is to look at the actual structure in which the sexual act between a man and a woman takes place. Here the Church with an ear to the teaching of Christ himself (cf. Mt. 19:4-6) puts forward the characteristic features of marriage and married love. This love is fully human in that it involves a free act of the will. It is total and faithful to the exclusion of all others and that this is unto death. It is also ‘fecund’ meaning that it is fruitful where children are seen to be the supreme gift of marriage and where they contribute in the highest degree to their parent’s welfare.

It is also important to note that Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae taught very clearly that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life. In every marital act then there is found two key meanings; (1) the unitive meaning and (2) the procreative meaning. These two meanings are inseparable and were established by the Creator to be as such. It is therefore morally wrong to interfere with this order and to do so knowingly would be to place oneself above the natural order established by God Himself.

So far we have remained at the theological level where it can seem to come across as quite ‘rigid’ and where the Church can seem to be intent on ruining all the ‘fun’. But let it be stated as clearly now as it has ever been… the Church is for life! It always has been. “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” These words of Christ resonate through the ages. The Church looks to safeguard what is best for marriage and for the individual man and woman themselves. She looks to safeguard the family and the children who have every right to be born into that family. When the Church reminds her children that something is not good for them, she does so out of a real concern for their well bing and seeks to encourage them along a ‘better path’; one that lifts them to the full experience of life and love.

Before we map out this ‘better path’, we do well to fully comprehend the gravity of what has ensued during these past 50 years where the western world en masse has in fact accepted the lie that the contraceptive pill was going to usher in the freedom and happiness it promised. Pope Paul VI made four predictions of what would happen if the contraceptive pill was popularly accepted and embedded into the life of any given society. Each of these prophetic predictions has come true and have formed veritable cancers which threaten the very existence of family life today.

First, Paul VI related that contraceptive practice would aid and abet “conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality.” We can look around today and see this has in fact happened. There is an epidemic of pornography, pre and extra marital affairs are the order of the day, sexually transmitted diseases abound, and advertising focuses heavily on sexual titillation. This is the end result of the sexual freedom that the Pill promised at its inception. Sex with no responsibility.

The Pope also warned that men would lose respect for women and that they would become mere instruments of disordered pleasure and no longer cherished and looked upon as beloved companions and human persons of innate dignity and respect. How many marriages have lost their ‘inner soul’ and harmony as the Pill takes residence in the inner sanctum of the marital life and where the co-responsibility for fertility is thrown upon the woman to “take care of it”? It would be fair to conclude that this masculine predation and sexual coercion is at the heart of the #MeToo movement where the woman is seen to be ‘up for grabs’ and at the ready disposal of the male partner.

Third, the Pope recognised that public authorities would seek to implement birth control measures as a form of population policy and control. Without dwelling too long on this point, we only have to look to China’s ‘One Child Policy’ to see how government intervention has totally destroyed the gender balance across the nation and has instead introduced the overt arm of the law into the very heart of the marital bedroom.

So now to the better path. Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae asked specifically for those in medical science to use their gifts to establish means that “through the observation of natural cycles of fertility, strive to establish a satisfactorily clear basis for the moral regulation of offspring.” (HV 24) Today we have in the aptly named Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction, a world leading body of researchers and practitioners who have successfully developed a program of fertility awareness that educates in and complements the natural cycles inherent to feminine and masculine biology. This is in no way a negative outcome of the Church’s insistence on adherence to natural law but rather a maternal encouragement to open oneself up to the beauty and mystery of the human person and the inherent truth which always tends towards the good of each person.

The program, the Creighton Model FertilityCare System and its partner program NaPro Technology, are the really ‘good news’ for couples who wish to embrace a method of responsible parenthood which corresponds to the mind of the Church and which does away with the love quashing and health draining qualities of contraceptive use. This truly is great news and key information indeed that will be at the heart of the Hope of a New Springtime 50th Anniversary Humanae Vitae one-day conference. Participants will hear from an array of qualified speakers who will seek to inform and encourage their audience to take up the challenge of sharing this key information relating to human identity and sexuality and to establish a real sense of hope for the future.

The keynote speaker, Katrina Zeno of the Diocese of Phoenix Arizona and of the Saint John Paul II Theology of the Body Resource Centre, will share her keen insights on Humanae Vitae during the conference and will also facilitate the five-day Hope of a New Generation Theology of the Body winter school which will be held from 9-13 July 2018.

To register or for more information about the Humane Vitae conference or the five-day Theology of the Body Course, please contact Steven Buhagiar on 0415 600 290 or



Catholic Diocese of
Broken Bay

Building 2, 423 Pennant Hills Road
Pennant Hills NSW 2120

PO Box 340
Pennant Hills NSW 1715

Phone 02 9847 0000
Fax 02 9847 0001

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