Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

More on Pope Paul VI—The Development of Peoples and Humanae Vitae

After my posting on Humanae Vitae this past Sunday, I received an e-mail from a Mirror of Justice reader who wanted to call to my attention to the fact that in 1967, more than a year before the he issued Humanae Vitae, the pope promulgated the encyclical letter Populorum Progressio, On the Development of Peoples. This, indeed is true, and as the reader pointed out, Paul VI stated in the 1967 encyclical,

There is no denying that the accelerated rate of population growth brings many added difficulties to the problems of development where the size of the population grows more rapidly than the quantity of available resources to such a degree that things seem to have reached an impasse. In such circumstances people are inclined to apply drastic remedies to reduce the birth rate. There is no doubt that public authorities can intervene in this matter, within the bounds of their competence. (Italics mine) They can instruct citizens on this subject and adopt appropriate measures, so long as these are in conformity with the dictates of the moral law and the rightful freedom of married couples is preserved completely intact. (Italics mine) When the inalienable right of marriage and of procreation is taken away, so is human dignity. Finally, it is for parents to take a thorough look at the matter and decide upon the number of their children. This is an obligation they take upon themselves, before their children already born, and before the community to which they belong—following the dictates of their own consciences informed by God’s law authentically interpreted, and bolstered by their trust in Him. (Italics mine) (N.37)

I was aware of this because Humanae Vitae refers to the earlier encyclical as well as other documents written by Paul VI, his predecessors in the Chair of Peter, and the Second Vatican Council. The passage from Populorum Progressio that I have quoted may prompt some to think that Paul VI changed his view when he issued Humanae Vitae over a year later. But I submit that this would be an incorrect view of the pope’s thinking. I make this observation because in October of 1965 when the pope addressed the United Nations General Assembly, he commented on and condemned artificial birth control (a matter for which he was criticized a few days later in a New York Times editorial). I contend that Paul VI consistently opposed the use of artificial birth control, be it voluntarily chosen by married couples or be it imposed by the state. In his address at the UN he had this to say,

For you deal here above all with human life, and human life is sacred; no one may dare make an attempt upon it. Respect for life, even with regard to the great problem of the birth rate, must find here in your Assembly its highest affirmation and its most rational defense. Your task is to ensure that there is enough bread on the tables of mankind, and not to encourage an artificial control of births, which would be irrational, in order to diminish the number of guests at the banquet of life. (N.6)

RJA sj


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