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Spoken from the heart of a father

Having come of age, most of us must admit that some warnings and lessons from our parents that were met with teenage disdain are years later more fully understood as true; lessons spoken out of loving concern for our protection and well-being and that of others. And those of us who are parents appreciate that we often must speak the truth even if it is not what our children want to hear.

It has been 50 years since Pope Paul VI issued the encyclical “Humanae Vitae” — the lesson that astonished the church and the world. In this document he affirmed the church’s unbroken teaching on the integrity of marital love and the transmission of human life. In 1968, this lesson was received with so much disdain and hostility because many scholars and theologians had already reached a different conclusion and felt they knew better than the pope. And yet we, as a church and a buckling society, faced with years of mounting evidence, now realize that which our "ecclesial parent" pronounced was neither ill-conceived nor regressive in its ideas but rather, wise and loving counsel.

Pope Paul VI made four prophetic warnings about the consequences of using artificial contraception:

1)  Marital infidelity would increase and there would be “a general lowering of moral standards.” (HV # 17)

2) Men would lose respect for women. “ …  a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.” (HV#17)

3) Public authorities will use these accepted measures of contraception as a way to solve social and communal problems. “Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone.” (HV#17)

4) “Consequently, unless we are willing that the responsibility of procreating life should be left to the arbitrary decision of men, we must accept that there are certain limits, beyond which it is wrong to go, to the power of man over his own body and its natural functions — limits, let it be said, which no one, whether as a private individual or as a public authority, can lawfully exceed” (HV #17)

Current sociological data confirms beyond a doubt that the sexual revolution, fueled by its reliance on artificial contraception, has realized the foreseen consequences outlined by Blessed Paul VI.


The studies confirm what has been right under our noses these past 50 years. We live in a world with a 50 percent divorce rate. Cohabitation is at an all-time high and the behavior of Catholics reflects that of the mainstream of the population who find sex outside marriage perfectly acceptable.

Data show that marriage is less likely to be a choice or will be a delayed choice for those of childbearing age, with a majority of poor children living in single parent homes. Lest we need clearer evidence the moral standards have been lowered, we need only look at the current cultural outcry of the #MeToo movement and the multi-billion dollar pornography industry fomented by internet technology.

Moreover, while many have noted that the birth control pill has harmed women significantly, we do well to consider the damage it continues to do to men who are never forced to take responsibility for themselves and live in a perpetual state of adolescence, moving from one woman to the next and never taking responsibility for their children.

Half a century later, “Humanae Vitae” carries a prophet's voice to our world; a shepherd's voice that echoes that of the Good Shepherd. “Humanae Vitae” is the teaching of a loving, holy parent; a Holy Father's lesson we can trace back to the heart of our heavenly father who loves us with the truth that sets us free.

This 50th year anniversary, let’s all pause to read or re-read this stunning encyclical. As we reappropriate the truths and recognize the nobility of marital love and human sexuality, we may also glean a new appreciation for that brave shepherd, soon to be canonized a saint, for his courage and prophetic genius.

Bermpohl is director of the Office of Marriage, Family and Respect Life.


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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018