Pope and Contraception Get Second Look

Pope Paul VI. 2014. On Human Life(Humanae Vitae). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The failure of many churches, especially protestant churches, to teach moral discipline since the 1960s is beyond dispute. The consequences have been stunning both in terms of cultural change and public health. For example, a recent report by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states:

Half of STDs are among young people ages 15 to 24 years. These infections can lead to long-term health consequences, such as infertility; they can facilitate HIV transmission; and they have stigmatized entire subgroups of Americans.

Cases reported for Syphilis, Chlamydia, and Gonorrhea rose 31 percent over the period from 2012 to 2017 showing infection among 2.3 million Americans in 2017 after declining since the 1940s.[1]This statistic does not include hepatitis or AIDS, both of which are also sexually transmitted and especially prevalent among homosexuals.


Unlike the protestants that began loosening restrictions on contraception in the 1930 Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church (87), Pope Paul VI ignored advice consistent with the protestant position to issue a papal encyclical, Humanae Vitae, on July 25, 1968. The encyclical affirmed the traditional church teaching on the issue of contraception. The encyclical states:

In considering the problem of birth regulation, as is the case for every other problem regarding human life, one must look beyond partial perspectives—whether biological or psychological, demographic or sociological—and make one’s consideration in the light of an integral vision of man and his vocation, not only of his natural and earthly vocation, but also of his supernatural and eternal one….Marriage, therefore, is not the effect of chance or the product of the evolution of blind natural forces, it is a wise institution of the Creator for realizing in mankind His design of love.(52-53)

This encyclical was not popular among Catholics, especially American Catholics, and it was widely ridiculed by practically everyone else.[2]Now, after all the negative consequences of the sexual revolution of the 1960s, Christians are taking another look at this encyclical.

A Second Look

The foreword to this publication by Mary Eberstadt cites four prophecies made in the encyclical that appear to have taken place:

“a general lowering of moral standards throughout society; a rise in infidelity; a lessening of respect for women by men; and the coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments.”(11)

The absence of a consensus on morality promoted uniformly by American churches has led to the perception that the church itself is irrelevant. The decrease in marriage, increase in illegitimacy, and increase in abortion have largely been ignored by the church. Secondary effects of the demise of the family like suicide, drug abuse, incarceration, and abuse of women get talked about without linking them back to the root causes (13). Safe irrelevance, not hard morality, tends to the be watchword in churches hemorrhaging members and young people.

In this context, Pope Paul VI encyclical is getting a second look by Christian leaders wondering what went wrong in our generation (35).


Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, On Human Life, raises the important issue of contraception. It is worthy of discussion, especially as fertility rates decline in America below the population sustaining level of 2.1 children per adult woman. As an economist, I have long linked declining fertility rates to the need for immigration. If for no other reasons than to keep our Social Security and Medicare programs viable.[3]Support for families and basic morality is a prerequisite for a viable economy and for preventing social diseases that are devastating for the individuals affected and for the economic viability of our health care system.


[2]I still remember John Carson’s comment—if you don’t play the game, you don’t get to make the rules.

[3]Both Medicare and Social Security are pay-as-you-go programs. This means that employed young people pay for the benefits of retired old people. If you have fewer young people than emerging old people, either rates have to increase or benefits have to decrease.

Pope and Contraception Get Second Look

Also see:

Thompson: Paul’s Ethics Forms Community

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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