Question 88


Was Humanae Vitae Prophetic?

A look at 40 year old message

By Allison LeDoux

In the 40 years since Humanae Vitae was released on July 25, 1968, it has become clear that this was a prophetic document. We can see that our culture has followed a path not unlike that of our ancestors in the faith. This quickly becomes evident when we recall what life was like when faith and family had priority, and when we see the effects of humanity’s rejection of God’s design manifest in today’s society.

Remember the days when doors were left unlocked at night? Cars were left running for a quick stop at the corner market? Families had both a mother and father in the same home and lived comfortably on one income? This safer, simpler world may seem like a fairy tale by today’s standards, but in fact, this was the norm, it was the reality of the majority of Americans. One needn’t look far to hear the common sentiment that the world seems to be going down hill.

But what does this have to do with the Church’s teaching on contraception? The connections become apparent when we look at the prophetic vision of Humanae Vitae.

What did Pope Paul VI say would happen if the use of contraception became widespread? He predicted that there would be a general lowering of morality in society, increased infidelity, a disregard for the integrity and well-being of the person because of the treating of our bodies as objects to be manipulated, and governments would use family planning programs for coercive purposes.

Over the last 40 years contraceptive use has become widespread; and this is the root of the breakdown of the family and society. By contradicting the unity inherent in the gift of sexuality and by separating sex from procreation, marriages are under assault. Increased rates of divorce, adultery, premarital sex, abortion, and a host of other social ills have been exacerbated by the acceptance of contraception. The sacredness of self-giving love, fidelity, and trust has been betrayed. This has left a trail of broken hearts and subsequently, broken families.

Science, too, has documented the harmful effects of contraception. People who viewed “the pill” as a means to have sex without consequences have experienced its side-effects. Studies have shown that the pill does not only suppress ovulation, but also creates a chemically hostile uterine environment, and can cause the death of a newly conceived baby in the first weeks of life. Consider the vast numbers of lives lost to these unintended silent abortions that women are not even aware are taking place within their own bodies, and the inevitable consequences of this violation of God’s love.

Contraception’s promise of “freedom” has instead become enslavement.

God wants to give us true freedom and wholeness. The Holy Spirit has guided the Church to teach this truth. While the message of Humanae Vitae may not be a popular teaching, we are nonetheless called to pay heed to these Spirit-inspired words. When we truly listen, we see that the Church’s teaching is reasonable, and corresponds with the deepest desires of the human heart.

Throughout the Scriptures, God sends His prophets to call His beloved people back. The history of Israel is also our history. When the people heeded the Lord’s words they were blessed and when they disobeyed they were cursed. As the Lord said through the prophet Isaiah: “This is the fasting I wish: releasing those bound unjustly…setting free the oppressed... and not turning your back on your own.” Our culture has been bound, broken, and oppressed and we have turned our backs on our own children in their earliest stages of life. Yet our Church has courageously proclaimed the message that we can be freed from brokenness and oppression. By his prophetic words in Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI can be seen as someone whom Isaiah called “repairer of the breach” for all who are mindful of his warnings. “…Then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday; … the Lord will guide you always…He will renew your strength and you shall be like a spring whose water never fails.” (Is. 58)

It is well worth taking the time to read the prophetic Humanae Vitae on this 40th anniversary of its issuing. Both Popes Paul VI and John Paul II have warned us of the culture of death and guided us toward its alternative: the Kingdom of God and eternal life.

– The complete text of Humanae Vitae can be found here.

  • Mrs. LeDoux is the director of the Respect Life Office and 
Office of Marriage and Family for the Diocese of Worcester.


Fr. Matthew Habiger OSB