Why does Pope Benedict talk about Humanae vitae in the new encyclical?

In Caritas in veritate there is a reference to Humanae vitae.

Remember that the Pope is addressing himself ad intra and ad extra, to the Church herself and to the world at large.

15. Two further documents by Paul VI without any direct link to social doctrine — the Encyclical Humanae Vitae (25 July 1968) and the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (8 December 1975) — are highly important for delineating the fully human meaning of the development that the Church proposes. It is therefore helpful to consider these texts too in relation to Populorum Progressio.

The Encyclical Humanae Vitae emphasizes both the unitive and the procreative meaning of sexuality, thereby locating at the foundation of society the married couple, man and woman, who accept one another mutually, in distinction and in complementarity: a couple, therefore, that is open to life[27]. This is not a question of purely individual morality: [The Holy Father is waging a battle against relativism.] Humanae Vitae indicates the strong links between life ethics and social ethics, ushering in a new area of magisterial teaching that has gradually been articulated in a series of documents, most recently John Paul II’s Encyclical Evangelium Vitae[28]. The Church forcefully maintains this link between life ethics and social ethics, fully aware that “a society lacks solid foundations when, on the one hand, it asserts values such as the dignity of the person, justice and peace, but then, on the other hand, radically acts to the contrary by allowing or tolerating a variety of ways in which human life is devalued and violated, especially where it is weak or marginalized.”[29] …

[27] Cf. nos. 8-9: AAS 60 (1968), 485-487; Benedict XVI, Address to the participants at the International Congress promoted by the Pontifical Lateran University on the fortieth anniversary of Paul VI’s Encyclical “Humanae Vitae”, 10 May 2008.

[28] Cf. Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae (25 March 1995), 93: AAS 87 (1995), 507-508.

[29] Ibid., 101: loc. cit., 516-518.

What to take away from this?

This is what I think is going on.

Benedict XVI is obviously going to make a reference to this vastly important part of the Paul VI’s magisterium, since the whole encyclical looks back to him. 

Benedict is also offering a challenge to those who think that they can diminish the important of human life and its dignity and the natural act by which human life is conceived when considering how we approach social ills.

He is reminding the world … and Catholics within the Church! … that you cannot diminish these elements, explained in Humanae vitae, and honestly think that you are for true justice.


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  1. Cosmos says:

    I think he is trying to close the unnatural rift between the basic moral principles of the Church and “social justice” issues. You cannot somehow be for social justice and indifferent to issues like marriage, abortion, etc. You don’t get to pick and chose your encyclicals, your emphasis, your beliefs, so easily anymore.

    The interesting part is that this works both ways!

  2. Fabrizio says:

    “save the babies, save the economy”, “save the family, save development”.

    Our Popes have been saying this forever: there can be no “social justice” if the non-negotiable principles do not shape your views on man and society. If you think that innocent life can be treated like a lab rat,that sexuality is what you “feel” it is, that terminal pateints can be suppressed like dogs, then your idea of society, of “justice”, of “solidarity”,of “hope” and of course of economy economy cannot possibly be good, because economy has to do with human interaction, human needs, human virtues and sin, and a rational use of potential. If your idea of man is crazy, how can your ideas about how men interact be good?

    After decades of statism and denatalist policies, we see EU governements complaining that there aren’t enough births to keep the mammoth welfare running, because there aren’t enough young people earning enough for long enough to tax and spend for government “programs”.

    They’ve been sawing off the limb they were sitting on.

    Save the family, save the third world.

  3. Chris says:

    While I don’t want to downplay a reference back to this important topic, I remain profoundly baffled as to why this or any of the last handfull of pontiffs can’t just say this plainly so that everyday people can understand it and have no more excuses: “Contraception, either artifically or naturally with a contraceptive mindset is a mortal sin. A mortal sin on your soul at death means eternal damnation.”

    It seems so simple but yet apparantly so difficult for the Church today to teach. No wonder large Catholic families are so rare today!

  4. Fabrizio: Catchy and correct!

  5. Chris: Why should a Pope have to say that? That is something any reasonably well catechized Catholic should know.

  6. Andreas says:

    It (humane vitae) also fits in very much with the overall content of this encyclical: social progress founded on truth about what it means to be human. With various warnings all through the text about false ideologies impeding social progress, it is most fitting to shed light on the falsehood behind the contraceptive mentality with all of its devastating consequences.

    Why should that be repeated? Because the obvious is not always obvious. Think about it: he’s talking to people among whom are many who think that a couple of guys could get married to each other!

  7. Chris says:

    FrZ: “Why should a Pope have to say that? That is something any reasonably well catechized Catholic should know.”

    Father, you’re a very smart man. Most on your blog are smart, interested men and women. In your average novus ordo parish, how many “well catechized” Catholics do you run into?

    My mother was in a convent in the late 60s before leaving right before taking final vows. She didn’t know contraception, which she and my father practiced leaving me with only one sibling, was a mortal sin until a couple of years ago when I finally brought it up and showed her HV in cliff note form.

    If I’m wrong, and there are a ton of well-schooled Catholics, then they are heretics. I’d rather take the charitable look at things and think they’re just ignorant.

  8. @ Chris
    Given the stink raised in 1968 by the dissent over HV, I’d have to wonder about her pre-Vatican II religious instruction (even in the modern Church from 1930 on), the evil of contraception has been made clear in the face of other denominations legitimizing it). The rumors in 1968 was that the Church would relax the rules, so when the Church affirmed the teaching, there was a good deal of backlash.

    This all implies a Catholic who was ignorant of the issue could very likely have been vincibly ignorant.

  9. Chris says:

    None of this negates the fact that 90 percent of Catholics in this country contracept and the time to speak bluntly is now.

  10. Jeff Pinyan says:

    Get a load of this, from an article at Politics Daily: “[Pope Benedict] also promotes an almost Obama-esque approach to abortion reduction, arguing that ‘respect for life’ is inextricably linked to economic development and child welfare.”

    Sorry, sir… I don’t see that.

  11. David says:

    Chis, I’m with you 100%!

  12. Hidden One says:

    Bearing in mind that if our current pontiff went with what Chris desired, it would be spun into something horrible, let us consider: how many Catholics who will, are, or have actually read Caritas in Veritate don’t know about contraception?

  13. ssoldie says:

    Ah, Yes! and before there was Humane Vitea, there was Casti Connubii. What was the need of a special commission on or before or during Vatican II, on contraception, when Casti Connubii should have been reiterated, but maybe it was because the intellectuals at that time had a problem understanding exactly what it (Casti Connubii) meant.

  14. Dr. Eric says:

    “how many Catholics who will, are, or have actually read Caritas in Veritate don’t know about contraception?”

    I’m going to bet that 98% of Catholics will not read Caritas in Veritate.

    I don’t know anyone personally who has read an encyclical.

  15. Alice says:

    Casti Connubii was needed to restate the traditional condemnation of barrier methods that were gaining popularity as Protestants caved in on the issue. Humanae Vitae was needed because the traditional teaching of the Church on contraception needed to be restated due to the new threat of the Pill, the use of which some (including the inventor) claimed was compatible with Casti Connubii.

  16. Adam says:

    Many, many Catholics who have been through Catholic elementary and high school may never have heard what Chris said about contraception and eternal damnation. I can say that because I never heard it until well after I graduated from high school. I know I am not alone.

  17. Robert of Rome says:

    I agree with many of the comments posted so far which say, in effect, that in this encyclical Pope Benedict is once again trying to close the unnatural gap that exists in too many peoples’ minds between “peace and justice” issues and life issues, as between Populorum Progressio and Humanae Vitae. After reading Caritas in veritate a couple times, I am of the opinion that the Pope is making this point in as clear and definitive a way as can be done.

  18. Larry says:

    I think that Pope Benedict is taking us back to the day HV was published. We have come so very far down the road of damnation it is hard to imagine. When HV hit the presses abortion was illegal almost everywhere. Devorce and pornography and homosexuality were growing as a problem but not yet a serious threat. Unwed pregnancy was rare and certainly not praised. All the ills and sins of the 70’s 80’s and 90’s find their root in contraception. If we are going to “remake the world we ought at least to go back to where the train jumped the track and show why it jumped. This is a dense document that few will read. I hope that the priests will not only read it but that they will discuss it and learn from it and then use it to teach those in the pews the TRUTH. The fact that so many were ignorant and are ignorant of the teaching in HV is because many many priests and not a few bishops failed horribly by not teaching it and even teaching against it. There is an old story of the US bishops meeting with JPII for lunch and discussing the poor catechesis of Catholics. One bishop remarks in words similar: “Well Holy Father at least the people will not be held in judgement for the the poor catechisis.” To which JPII replied “No, but the ones who taught them will burn in Hell.” That kind of Truth is what bishops and priests and catechists need to hear from time to time.

  19. Maureen says:

    The problem the Pope has is the problem a professor has, when a student walks into his classroom with a high school diploma, but doesn’t know anything — and doesn’t believe that the professor has a right to teach him. What’s more, the Pope can’t just shrug and be comfy with giving the student an F and forgetting him.

    So in every encyclical, practically in every homily, the Pope first has to teach _why_ the Church believes and teaches _anything_. He has to win people over to listening and thinking they might have something to learn.

    There’s not much point just sending people a list of mortal sins. If that’s what they wanted, they could look it up on the Internet.

    That said, you might well wonder why your own local bishop, or your own parish priest or religious education teacher, doesn’t preach or teach or send out newsletters about contraception being a sin. That sort of basic exhortation is really their job.

  20. jjoy says:

    When I was in high school (1982 grad), the liberal lay religion teacher flat-out stated that one could be sorry for contracepting, but not have to give it up. I thought that was strange, because even in that time I knew about purpose of amendment. So, ignorance of the catechists is not necessarily the reason. THey know and explain things away. I did not read Humanae Vitae until the early 90s. Shocker! Too bad HV wasn’t taught in my HS. At least some students might have caught a clue.

  21. The Masked Chicken says:

    Benedict is also offering a challenge to those who think that they can diminish the important of human life and its dignity and the natural act by which human life is conceived when considering how we approach social ills.

    Unfortunately, this includes both the scientific and medical communities, as contra-intuitive as that might sound. it is becoming increasingly difficult to get a good internship in a hospital while holding open pro-life views. In science, many biologists are salivating at the thought of conducting embryonic stem cell research. The concept of quality of life in medicine has come to mean the expediency to society or lack of pain for the individual. The idea of redemptive suffering has been left behind, even by some Catholics, I would bet.

    I think we might have to fight a literal war a la the Star Trek Eugenics war before all of this is sorted out.

    As to contraception: I know many well-meaning Catholics who were told that contraception was a matter of conscience. Many modern Catholics go to Church and assume that they will be informed of any theological developments, there. The Internet is changing things for the young, but the middle-aged still are not as connected. It would cause a revolution if the USCCB would pick a Sunday and require priests at Mass to talk about contraception and abortion, bluntly. That might shrink the Mass attendances after that date, or, hopefully, extend the confession lines.

    The Chicken

  22. Tom says:

    Because eugenics along with Sirico Capitalism were parts of a two pronged attack on the Church


  23. Chris says:

    Adam: “Many, many Catholics who have been through Catholic elementary and high school may never have heard what Chris said about contraception and eternal damnation.”

    That’s exactly right. I went through 12 years of “Catholic” education and was never tought about mortal vs. venial sin at all let alone the horrors of contraception.

    So when I’m told Catholics know this and the pope can always write and talk like the world’s Catholics are all PHD theologians I wonder if the people telling me that are just out of touch or have some other agenda.

    The only time I’d agree with Bs. Troutman is in the fact that most Catholics truly don’t understand the Faith. He thinks we need to dumb down the liturgy. Nonsense. We need to dumb down the theology and start speaking in ways that are blunt and to the point, leaving no ambiguity.

  24. Ernesto Gonzalez says:


    Yes the state of catechisis throughout much of the US is deplorable, but that state has become a crutch for people.

    Really, anyone who has the initiative and ability to use contraceptives correctly has all the skills needed to investigate, become aware of, and understand (as much as is needed) the teaching of the Church regarding sin and contraception. This has been true of any literate society for at least the past century.

    What is truly lacking is an honest interest in the Church. This lack will persist as long the very concept of objective truth remains risible.

  25. Randy says:

    I think the pope is Obama in reverse. Make sure you get the human dignity right by teaching truth about life and sex. Only then does it make sense to develop society. Obama wants to develop society and hopes the moral issues improve as part of the deal. But he does not know what that improvment would look like. Morals are above his pay grade you know.

    So they agree there is a link between development, abortion, and contraception. But that is as much as they have in common on that. I expect Obama will try and read this document before his meeting woth the pope. I doubt he makes it past the first section. Not much of that will make sense to a non-Catholic.

  26. Chris says:

    Ernesto: “Really, anyone who has the initiative and ability to use contraceptives correctly has all the skills needed to investigate, become aware of, and understand (as much as is needed) the teaching of the Church regarding sin and contraception. This has been true of any literate society for at least the past century. What is truly lacking is an honest interest in the Church.”

    Then it would be even more true, for incredibly intelligent men like the pope and members of the Curia, to educate the ignorant as well. And if they choose not to in a way that is understandable, then is there a true “lacking” on their part to convey the true Faith?

  27. Ernesto Gonzalez says:


    I did not deny that the Church could express herself more clearly. I expressly stated that current catechisis is deplorable.

    What I do deny is that current catechisis is an excuse for people. People must want to learn, and people that do want to learn find ways of learning. All the bishops in the world could mandate clear and unambiguous teaching on contraception for every Sunday in a month. This mandate could be followed with the utmost care, and still there would be people claiming that they did not understand to their own satisfaction, and therefore would not accept, the intrinsic evil of contraception.

    People can be dragged kicking and screaming from the cave, but they cannot be forced to see that the surface, illuminated by the sun, is reality.

    People, and especially Catholics, must be honestly open to truth, and this, by the grace of God, is a personal conversion.

  28. mpm says:

    Comment by Ernesto Gonzalez — 9 July 2009 @ 10:39 am


    Your last sentence is critical. The Socratic principle, “morality is knowledge”
    is not complete, because it ignores the human will. Grace can purify the will
    to want what the mind knows via Faith.

    This implies that the Catechism (short for the published teachings of the Church)
    is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for conversion. I think all of us
    “unfinished Christians” can relate to that!

  29. Chris says:

    Ernesto, I agree with you that Catholics have to be open to the truth. But good grief, how were the majority of Catholic once ope in the early part of the 20th century and then not in the second half? Or is it that what we teach now and how we teach it is purposely flawed as to not offend anyone or drive them from our liberal parishes?

  30. mpm says:


    During the 60s, there was probably not a single Catholic couple that did not know and understand the Church’s teaching regarding “birth control”. Whether they lived it well or not, they knew contraception was a mortal sin, and refrained from receiving Holy Communion unless they had gone to Confession first. It was all based on Casti Connubii, and the usual moral teachings of always. If a Catholic couple did “practice” birth-control, it was highly likely that they used “coitus interreptus” rather than pessaries (condoms).

    What changed, as someone mentioned above, was the appearance of the Pill. Catholic publications, speakers, and priests began to yack about “maybe that’s OK?”, etc. That is why Vatican II left it up to the Pope to study and decide on the issue, during the Council the Pill was “too new” for there to be a strong conviction about its morality.

    Since there was no promulgated doctrine about the Pill specifically, and in a way very similar to the attitude regarding IVF in the early 80s, some experts (often members of the relgious orders) and some diocesan clergy, took the step of telling couples that they were free to do what they thought was right. That was supposedly done for “pastoral reasons”, but was a mistake, since, as any Thomistic philosopher/theologian knows, habits are very important in influencing one’s formation of conscience, and bad habits are called vices.

    When Humanae vitae came out there were two rather large groups of Catholics who had egg on their faces: a) “experts” who had enunciated favorable views, and even counselled people to go ahead, and b) those couples who had “gone ahead”.

    It was not uncommon to read or hear about priests in the early 70s who felt that by not preaching that using the Pill was sinful, they were helping couples by leaving them in invincible ignorance, of all things. “Invincible ignorance”, however, is the kind of error where you do not even suspect that you are making a mistake, which was impossible for people who had already been formed in the Church’s true teaching. So, there was inter-complicity.

    (Sarcasm alert) A truly “deep” understanding of moral and pastoral theology: don’t tell the sheep that they are eating clover, much less lead them elsewhere, just let them die quietly!

  31. Maynardus says:

    One need only read the recent comments by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg regarding abortion as a remedy for “populations that we don’t want to have too many of” to realize the necessity of what the Pope is doing here. It is perhaps too much to suppose that Justice Ginsburg will take heed of what H.H. is explaining, but perhaps more of our bishops and priests will take up this thread and teach their flocks!

    From experience with two different Pre-Cana programs over a period of at least five years (as well as the one my wife and I attended fifteen years ago) my firm impression is that the average Catholic between 20-45 these days is woefully ignorant of the Catholic Faith. Their ignorance, which seems to be the result of wretched catechesis, is compounded by a self-centered relativism which manifests itself in a prevailing attitude (noted above by Maureen) that nobody else has any standing to instruct or admonish them!

    You can probably guess which talk we give. And, as Maureen remarked about the Pope, we have first to explain “why the Church believes and teaches anything” in hopes that they will then be at least minimally open to what we’re saying about those teachings. It’s a tall order for a 20 min. talk, but for every ten or twelve couples who airily dismiss our “opinions” there is the occasional person who approaches us surreptitiously and asks: “is all of that TRUE? I had NN years of Catholic school and I never heard anything about this!”

    This Pope is LEADING, the Church – and the world – needs to follow!

  32. mpm says:


    May you continue to use your 20 mins. fruitfully! One by one.

  33. Richard Cox says:

    Pope Endorses “World Political Authority”


    The controversial Papal statement comes just before a meeting of the G-8 nations and a scheduled meeting between the Pope and President Obama at the Vatican on July 10.
    Some in the media are calling it just a statement about “economic justice.” But Pope Benedict XVI’s “Charity in Truth” statement, also known as an encyclical, is a radical document that puts the Roman Catholic Church firmly on the side of an emerging world government.
    In explicit and direct language, the Pope calls for a “true world political authority” to manage the affairs of the world. At the same time, however, the Pope also warns that such an international order could “produce a dangerous universal power of a tyrannical nature” and must be guarded against somehow.
    The New York Times got it right this time, noting the Pope’s call for a world political authority amounted to endorsement of a New World Economic Order, a long-time goal of the old Soviet-sponsored international communist movement. Bloomberg.com highlighted the Pope’s call for a new world order with “teeth.”
    The Pope’s shocking endorsement of a “World Political Authority,” which has prophetic implications for some Christians who fear that a global dictatorship will take power in the “last days” of man’s reign on earth, comes shortly after the United Nations Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis issued a call for global taxes and more powerful global institutions. U.N. General Assembly President, Miguel D’Escoto, a Communist Catholic Priest, gave a speech at the event calling on the nations of the world to revere “Mother Earth” but concluded with words from the Pope blessing the conference participants.
    The controversial Papal statement comes just before a meeting of the G-8 nations and a scheduled meeting between the Pope and President Obama at the Vatican on July 10.
    Sounding like Obama himself, Pope Benedict says this new international order can be accomplished through “reform of the United Nations Organization, and likewise of economic institutions and international finance, so that the concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth.”
    The “teeth” may come in adopting the global environmental agenda, which the Pope warmly embraces.
    Sounding like Al Gore, the Pope said that one pressing need is “a worldwide redistribution of energy resources, so that countries lacking those resources can have access to them.” He adds that “This responsibility is a global one, for it is concerned not just with energy but with the whole of creation, which must not be bequeathed to future generations depleted of its resources.”
    “The Church has a responsibility towards creation and she must assert this responsibility in the public sphere,” he explains.
    In a statement that sounds like an endorsement of a new global warming treaty, which will be negotiated at a U.N. conference in December, the Pope says, “The international community has an urgent duty to find institutional means of regulating the exploitation of non-renewable resources, involving poor countries in the process, in order to plan together for the future.”
    “The technologically advanced societies can and must lower their domestic energy consumption, either through an evolution in manufacturing methods or through greater ecological sensitivity among their citizens.” he declares.
    In terms of how this new “world political authority” should look, the Pope says that it, too, should have “teeth” in the form of “the authority to ensure compliance with its decisions from all parties, and also with the coordinated measures adopted in various international forums.” Pope Benedict declares that “such an authority would need to be universally recognized and to be vested with the effective power to ensure security for all, regard for justice, and respect for rights.”
    But the document, which is more than 30,000 words long, is contradictory in that it pretends that a world government can co-exist with freedom and democracy. For example, the statement calls for “a greater degree of international ordering, marked by subsidiarity, for the management of globalization.” The term “subsidiarity” is usually defined as having matters handled by local authorities, not international bureaucrats.
    In another example of double-speak, the Pope declares that “Globalization certainly requires authority, insofar as it poses the problem of a global common good that needs to be pursued. This authority, however, must be organized in a subsidiary and stratified way, if it is not to infringe upon freedom and if it is to yield effective results in practice.”
    He doesn’t explain how it will be possible for citizens to influence or control this “world political authority” when they are under its bureaucratic control.
    In the statement about how the New World Order could turn into a tyranny, the Pope is also contradictory, declaring that “…the principle of subsidiarity is particularly well-suited to managing globalization and directing it towards authentic human development. In order not to produce a dangerous universal power of a tyrannical nature, the governance of globalization must be marked by subsidiarity, articulated into several layers and involving different levels that can work together.”
    Against, he doesn’t explain how people on the local or even national levels will be able to resist this tyranny.
    In a strong endorsement of foreign aid, the Pope says that “In the search for solutions to the current economic crisis, development aid for poor countries must be considered a valid means of creating wealth for all.”
    But there must be more. He says that “…more economically developed nations should do all they can to allocate larger portions of their gross domestic product to development aid, thus respecting the obligations that the international community has undertaken in this regard.”
    This statement seems to be an urgent call for fulfilment of the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals, which involve an estimated $845 billion from the U.S. over a ten-year period.
    The Pope goes on to say that the social order should conform to the moral order, but the fact is that on moral issues such as abortion and homosexuality, the agenda of the United Nations is opposed to that of the Catholic Church. Even on capital punishment, there is disagreement. The U.N. opposes it while traditional church teaching (Section 2267 of the Catholic Catechism) allows it in certain cases.
    In his statement, the Pope declares that “Some non-governmental Organizations work actively to spread abortion, at times promoting the practice of sterilization in poor countries, in some cases not even informing the women concerned. Moreover, there is reason to suspect that development aid is sometimes linked to specific health-care policies which de facto involve the imposition of strong birth control measures. Further grounds for concern are laws permitting euthanasia as well as pressure from lobby groups, nationally and internationally, in favour of its juridical recognition.”
    What he doesn’t mention is that some of these groups operate through and with the support of the United Nations.
    Cliff Kincaid is the Editor of the AIM Report and can be reached at cliff.kincaid@aim.org

  34. Ben D. says:

    @Chris: “I remain profoundly baffled as to why … pontiffs can’t just say this plainly …: ‘Contraception, either artifically or naturally with a contraceptive mindset is a mortal sin.'”

    I think the first reason is that it’s not that simple. The first part of your statement, yes, absolutely — although I would prefer to say “grave evil” than “mortal sin” because the term “mortal sin” implies full knowledge & deliberate consent, etc. etc.

    But what exactly do you mean by “naturally with a contraceptive mindset”? NFP involves avoiding pregnancy by *not* doing something. Where, precisely, would the sin be here — and what moral law is being violated?

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