Humanae Vitae was and is sign of contradiction, says director of L’Osservatore Romano

Giovanni Maria Vian
Giovanni Maria Vian


The director of the L’Osservatore Romano, Giovanni Maria Vian, devoted his latest editorial to the importance of Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae, which was published 40 years ago and which he called a “sign of contradiction” for today’s world and for the time in which it was published.

In his column, Vian recalled that “forty years ago, on July 25, 1968, Paul VI signed Humane Vitae, the encyclical that condemned contraception with artificial methods, hedonism and family planning policies frequently imposed on poor countries by richer ones.”

“Soon after its publication on July 29, the letter generated an unprecedented opposition inside the Catholic Church.”  “Rarely in the recent history of the Magisterium—Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in 1995--has a text become such a sign of contradiction as this encyclical written by Paul VI after a very painful decision,” Vian recalled.

He pointed out that on this “crucial issue, Pope Montini did not change his mind,” and the encyclical “is consistent with the developments of the Council in the understanding of marriage.”

“If we do not want the mission of engendering life to be subject to the will of man, we must necessarily recognize some impassable limits to the possibility of man’s dominion over his own body and functions, which no man, private or invested with authority, can licitly break,” Vian wrote.

He went on to note that before Humanae Vitae was published, a Pontifical commission had carried out a study concluding in 1966 that “contraception within the framework of ‘responsible parenthood’” could be permitted.  However, Paul VI did not feel bound by these conclusions, and he was criticized and attacked for his decision.”

“An authentic sign of contradiction, Humanae Vitae is not fondly remembered, certainly for its demanding and against-the-current teaching. But also because it is not useful for the ongoing game of pitting one Pope against another, a method perhaps useful from the historical point of view to delineate obvious diversities, but that must be rejected when used as an instrument, as occurs frequently above all in the media,” Vian continued.

He went on to note that Cardinals Karol Wojtyla and Joseph Ratzinger supported Humanae Vitae and that the encyclical confronts “the problem of birth control, which on June 23, 1964, the Pope already defined as ‘extremely grave’ because ‘it touches the sentiments and interests closest to men and women’.”

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