Fifty years on, it's still the Pope versus the Pill


National Post, 2 August 2018

Paul VI predicted men would treat women more as objects to be used rather than potential collaborators in a family project. Was he right?

Last week marked the 50th anniversary of a signal moment of cultural revolution and conflict. By the summer of 1968, the sexual revolution had already gathered force, a scythe cutting down traditional mores on sex, marriage and family. The question before Pope Paul VI that summer was whether he would accommodate himself to the sine qua non of the sexual revolution, contraception.

Pope Paul VI reaffirmed the traditional teaching on the immorality of contraception in his encyclical Humanae Vitae (On Human Life). It was the most reviled teaching document in the entire history of the papacy.

The pope “bans the pill” was the headline, but of course popes don’t ban contraception anymore than they “ban” theft. They teach what conforms — and what does not conform — to the moral law.

But in 1968, the idea that Pope Paul VI would reaffirm the traditional Christian teaching on the immorality of contraception was an outrage. The sexual revolution was by then dismantling divorce laws across the world, popular culture had taken a decisive turn toward endorsing premarital sexual activity, and the Protestant world had moved away from the historic Christian consensus on the immorality of contraception. The Anglicans were first in 1930, followed in subsequent decades by other heirs of the Reformation, despite the fact that both Luther and Calvin were fierce in their denunciation of the practice.

Paul VI stood fast however, teaching that what was immoral yesterday could not be morally good tomorrow. Much of the Church and nearly all of the world ignored him. He was the man who stood athwart history to yell “Stop!” He was shouting into a tsunami.

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