Priest documents preparation of ‘Humanae Vitae’

By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Documents in the Vatican Secret Archives and the archives of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith prove it was a “myth” that Blessed Paul VI largely set out on his own in writing “Humanae Vitae,” the 1968 encyclical on married love and the regulation of births.

In anticipation of the encyclical’s 50th anniversary, Pope Francis gave special access to the archives to Msgr. Gilfredo Marengo, a professor at Rome’s Pontifical John Paul II Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences. The results of his research were published in Italian in early July in the book, “The Birth of an Encyclical: ‘Humanae Vitae’ in the Light of the Vatican Archives.”

In a note to reporters, Msgr. Marengo said his research revealed some little-known facts:

  • Pope Paul approved an encyclical, “De Nascendae Prolis” (“On a Child’s Birth”), in early May 1968, but was convinced by translators in the Vatican Secretariat of State that it still needed work;
  • A new draft was corrected by hand by Pope Paul;
  • Pope Paul asked the 199 bishops at the 1967 world Synod of Bishops to send him reflections on the theme of the regulation of births. This is not included in any report about the synod itself. On several occasions, the future St. John Paul II sent suggestions, including an extensive treatment of the theme, but there is no evidence that they were used heavily in the final document.

“The news about the desire of the pope to consult all the members of the synodal assembly is very important,” Msgr. Marengo said, “because one of the accusations repeated most often after the publication of ‘Humanae Vitae’ was that the pope decided to act alone, in a manner that was not collegial.”

The pope received only 25 responses, Msgr. Marengo said. And, perhaps more surprising, of those, only seven bishops asked Pope Paul to repeat the Catholic Church’s teaching against the use of contraceptives.

The other responses – including a joint U.S. response from Cardinal Lawrence Shehan of Baltimore, Cardinal John Krol of Philadelphia, Archbishop John Dearden of Detroit and Bishop John Wright of Pittsburgh – exhibited an openness to the use of artificial birth control in some circumstances; however “none of them would say that using the pill is a good thing,” Msgr. Marengo told Catholic News Service.

Bishop Fulton J. Sheen of Rochester, New York, and Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, Poland – the future Pope John Paul II – were among the seven bishops urging the reaffirmation of church teaching that using contraceptives was wrong.

“The pope never thought of proceeding alone,” Msgr. Marengo wrote.

Pope Paul expanded the commission, which included several married couples. The commission’s work ended in 1966 with the leaking of a report by the majority of members asserting artificial contraception was not intrinsically evil; minority reports, insisting contraception was morally wrong, were leaked in response.

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