July 25 marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of Humanae Vitae, Blessed Paul VI’s encyclical on God’s plan for married love and the transmission of life. The document was issued at the height of the sexual revolution and three years after the close of the Second Vatican Council, which led many to hope that in the encyclical the Church would drop her long-standing opposition to the use of artificial contraception. When the pope refused to follow the zeitgeist and reaffirmed the Church’s traditional teaching (a teaching that every mainline Christian accepted prior to the Anglican Church’s 1930 Lambeth Conference), the opposition was both swift and vocal, led by many Catholic theologians and intellectuals.
But the Holy Father was right! He warned the Church and the world that when you separate the unitive and procreative dimensions of the marital act through artificial contraception, certain consequences — though unintended — naturally follow. He accurately predicted that an acceptance of birth control would lead to an increase in sexual promiscuity and marital infidelity; that men would begin to treat women more and more as objects to be used for their own selfish pleasure; and that people would be pressured and even forced at times by civil governments to limit the size of their families.
What was supposed to empower women and strengthen marriages has had the exact opposite effect in the last five decades. The widespread use of contraception (even by practicing Catholics) has resulted in the further objectification of women, an increase in adultery, more broken marriages and families, a greater number of sexually-transmitted diseases (some of which are life-threatening), and a divorce rate that is sky high.
Pope Paul VI was a courageous and steadfast prophet, who spoke the truth about married love and the transmission of life to a world that desperately needed to hear it. And still does.