Jul 22, 2008
Editor’s note: July this year marks the 40th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s great 1968 encyclical, “Humanae Vitae” (“Of Human Life”). It also marks the 10th anniversary of Archbishop Chaput’s 1998 pastoral letter on the same subject, “Of Human Life.” Both of these important and very readable documents are available for download at www.archden.org. We also highly recommend Mary Eberstadt’s article, “The Vindication of Humanae Vitae,” in the August/September 2008 issue of First Things. The archbishop’s column this week is adapted from his 1998 pastoral letter.
In presenting his encyclical, “Humanae Vitae,” Paul VI cautioned against four main problems that would arise if Catholic teaching on the regulation of births was ignored. First, he warned that the widespread use of contraception would lead to “conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality.” Exactly this has happened. Few would deny that the rates of abortion, divorce, family breakdown, wife and child abuse, venereal disease and out of wedlock births have all massively increased since the mid-1960s. Obviously, the birth control pill has not been the only factor in this unraveling. But it has played a major role. In fact, the cultural revolution since 1968, driven at least in part by transformed attitudes toward sex, would not have been possible or sustainable without easy access to reliable contraception. In this, Paul VI was right.