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August 2018

Words are powerful. A single word can recapture a long-lost image, even a time of life. A word like Berkeley. If the student free speech movement of the ’60s had a birthplace, it was in that California town. And it was from Berkeley that the forces of social dissent and change began to galvanize and reverberate through the country.

The ’60s was one of the most turbulent domestic times in our country’s history. The civil rights movement was in full swing. At times rioting erupted, and major cities went up in flames. Disenchantment with the escalating Viet Nam war was itself escalating to a fever pitch. A drug culture was taking hold. In Berkeley, Timothy Leary became a cult hero with his push of psychedelic drugs and his mantra to “tune in, turn on, and drop out.” He urged youth to question all authority, particularly about the war. Many did.

There was one more element to the perfect storm of social turmoil. With the protests came the call to “make love, not war.” For some, “free love” became a way of life. “Love-ins” became a thing. In 1960, the FDA approved a pill—the pill—designed to prevent unwanted pregnancies. It made the “love,” or at least the sex, so much more tempting, like the thought of eating sugar without adding calories. By 1970, an estimated two-thirds of Catholic women were using contraceptives, about 28% on the pill.

Over 6,000 miles away, Giovanni Montini was watching these happenings with great interest. In 1963, Pope John XXIII established a commission to examine the subject of married life, particularly as it pertained to the regulation of birth. The members’ disagreements on the subject were troubling because some of the commission’s proposed norms were inconsistent with the moral doctrine on marriage. So Montini, then Pope Paul VI, wrote a reply—his July 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life). It caused an immediate firestorm. Clergy and religious left the Church over what it said. Without ever reading it, Catholics in droves rejected it out of hand. But if Humanae Vitae can lay claim as one the most controversial documents in Church history, it must also be viewed as one of the most prophetic writings since the Book of Isaiah. We are now paying the price for ignoring it.

Humanae Vitae is beautifully written, relatively short, and easily readable. It speaks of a way of living, a way of love and sacrifice—really two sides of the same coin. The love has its origin in God, Who instituted marriage to accomplish His plan to fill the earth with His greatest creations. Through marriage, man and woman cooperate with God in creating and raising the next generation. Marital love is intended to be a total act of free will, not a mere drive of nature or emotion. In that total love, spouses give everything of themselves for the other, forsaking all others. Love that is total and faithful becomes creative. Children become the gifts of marriage to the world. They are God’s lifelong gifts to the spouses.

The call of Humanae Vitae is to recognize our responsibility to follow God’s Will in marriage. Responsible parenthood means that reason and will must control innate drives and emotions, but control them in ways that recognize a couple’s duties to God, themselves, their families, and society. Controlling the number of births is permissible, so long as the marital act leaves a couple open to God’s will as to children. The problem with artificial birth control is that it treats children as enemies of couples and of society. So Humane Vitae reiterated the Church’s condemnation of it and called for abstinence—at times a real sacrifice—during fertile times as the moral way of controlling or spacing births.

With Humanae Vitae came the Pope’s four prophecies. Artificial birth control will lower moral standards generally. It will increase the temptation to marital infidelity. It will erode the reverence to be given to women and turn them into mere objects of men’s pleasure. Finally, it will create “the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law.”

Now 50 years after Humane Vitae, what’s the scorecard on those prophecies? Are our moral standards better or worse? Are spouses more faithful or less? Have women—and men—become the objects of pleasure even more than they were? Well, just listen to people talk. Turn on the television. Go to a movie. Read a newspaper. Surf the net. Today, we are so far off our moral center that we kill unborn babies by the millions as a so-called matter of fundamental right. So unfortunately, the first three have been proven. What about that last one?

Back over 6,000 miles from Rome is Berkeley. This past June, its city council passed a resolution in advance of “climate emergency.” Avoiding mass extinction will take “an effort to preserve and restore half Earth’s biodiversity in interconnected wildlife corridors and to humanely stabilize population.” The council even cited Pope Francis’ encyclical on ecology, ironic given that he has condemned population control. So unless the council plans mass suicides, it will need to find some “volunteers.” Who better than the unborn? After all, the contraception mentality has made them enemies, so if the unborn escape contraception, they won’t get any further. One less person to take what we have. Humane? Our laws don’t protect the unborn, and some elected officials say that they’re merely “clumps of cells.” In their minds, how inhumane can it be? For years it’s been done in China, where families are fined for a third child. A Chinese official put it quite simply: if a third pregnancy is reported, “We’ll definitely find you and persuade you to do an abortion.” That persuasion won’t be friendly.

Turns out that Pope Paul VI was spot-on with those prophecies. That’s how God works. He sends us people we don’t want to see to tell us what we don’t want to hear. He does it for our own good. We ought to listen—and fast.


Paul V. Esposito is a Catholic lawyer who writes on a variety of pro-life topics. He and his wife Kathy live in Elmhurst, Illinois and have six children.

© Paul V. Esposito 2018. Culture of Life. Permission to copy and distribute for pro-life purposes is granted. Visit us at and on Facebook.

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