Saturday, March 26, 2011

Now We Learn Humanae Vitae Was Not About Life, It Was About Papal Authority

Unfortunately babies will not find real sustenance in eating the pages of Humanae Vitae

Conservative moral theologian Germain Grisez, has recently released a set of personal documents surrounding the deliberations of the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control.  Grisez served as Fr. John Ford's secretary during the latter part of the deliberations.  Ford was famous in the US for having been a primary contributor in the drafting of the minority report.  It should be noted that the minority report represented exactly seven people associated with the commission of 72.  Four were dissenting priests, and the other three were voting members, Cardinal Ottaviani and two bishops, one of whom was Karol Wojtyla.  The following excerpt is from CNA and this link will take you to the NCR article.

New documents reveal inner workings of papal birth control commission

New documentation from a renowned moral theologian is shedding light on a controversial moment in Catholic history – the 1963-66 commission that considered the question of contraception prior to Paul VI's encyclical “Humanae Vitae.”
“The idea of what happened with the commission has been shaped by people who were pro-contraception.” said Germain Grisez, Professor Emeritus of philosophy and moral theology at Mount St. Mary's College in Maryland. “It's their account of what happened, that has been circulated over the years.”
Now, Grisez is seeking to set the record straight, by releasing documents that few in the Church have ever seen before.
They can be viewed through his website, at
According to Grisez, who assisted commission member Fr. John Ford in his work, several misunderstandings about the commission date back to 1967 – the year before Pope Paul VI condemned artificial contraceptive methods in his encyclical “Humanae Vitae.” 
During that year, a number of commission documents containing pro-contraception arguments were leaked to the public and the press.
The move led to the popular misconception of the Pope “overruling” a commission, although the commission had no authority to make decisions.
Those who supported the traditional teaching, like Fr. Ford, could have responded in kind with their own document leaks. But they chose not to do so at the time, considering themselves bound to keep the commission's work private and wait for the Pope to speak authoritatively.
“The people who weren't supportive of a change in Church teaching, believed that their knowledge of what the commission had done was confidential,” Grisez explained. “They didn't go around talking about it.”.....(Perhaps this is because they were very busy in the background secretly working on Paul VI.)
According to Grisez, this one-sided perspective on the commission's work made it appear that Pope Paul had simply disregarded the majority report.
But the new documents shows that the Pope took both sides of the issue seriously, and gave advocates of artificial contraception every chance to make their case.
It also shows how the commission's secretary general, Fr. Henri de Riedmatten, managed to exert a strong influence in favor of contraception, despite the opposing position of commission president Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani.(I love this, Reidmatten represented the thinking of 65 persons on the commission, and Ottaviani represented himself and six other clerics.)
Grisez noted that the Pope, rather than ignoring the pro-contraception arguments, was legitimately interested in considering the questions raised by new methods.
“He was perfectly happy to have a lot of people on the commission who thought that change was possible. He wanted to see what kind of case they could make for that view.”
But the Pope never intended to hand over his teaching authority to the commission. 
“He was not at all imagining that he could delegate to a committee, the power to decide what the Church's teaching is going to be,” Grisez said.
Some proponents of a change in teaching believed that Pope Pius XI's encyclical “Casti Connubii,” which condemned artificial birth control in 1930, had not conclusively settled the kinds of questions raised by new methods of hormonal contraception. 
They initially argued that the contraceptive pill was different from older methods, and could be accepted without contradicting prior teaching.

Pope Paul encouraged the commission to pursue this line of inquiry –  not expecting that the commission's work, after being leaked to the public, would be set on the same plane as his judgment. (This is describing an entirely different world view and one I have difficulty digesting.  It states the judgment of a pope is on some other higher plane than the rest of us.)
“He never intended the commission to be a public body, or that its study should be publicized in print,” Grisez emphasized. “He thought they were going to study, and make their presentation to him, so he would understand it and think the matter through.”
This spirit of inquiry, however, had consequences he did not intend.
“When the documents were leaked in 1967, Paul VI was extremely upset about it. He sent a letter to all the bishops and cardinals who were on the commission, about the documents. It wasn't what he had in mind at all.”
In the end, the majority of commission members actually lost interest in attempting to argue that contraceptive pills could be squared with “Casti Connubii.”  (Hmmm, doesn't seem there are too many people left alive to dispute this statement.)
Instead, they simply advocated the acceptance of contraception, without attempting to reconcile this prospect with the previous teaching of the Church.

“Almost nobody, in the end, was arguing that the pill was anything different,” Grisez recalled. 
“In the commission documents, you wouldn't find much of a case anywhere for that – although that was the starting point for the whole thing.”
Pope Paul VI considered their work, but grew more convinced than ever that the majority position was not correct.
“He became absolutely clear, in his own mind, that the pill was wrong. That led to the declaration in 'Humanae Vitae.'”

But in the public realm, the groundwork had already been laid for the disastrous reception of “Humanae Vitae” in 1968, through the leaking of the majority report that supported contraception.
Grisez hopes the new documentation he is providing might undo some of that damage, and help many people open their minds to the Church's teaching on sexuality.

“It would help the Church now, if people had a more sound notion of what did happen – an understanding of Paul VI's actual mentality, wanting to study the question without intending to hand over his authority.”  (If this was true, he would have given the commission the mandate to come up with support for the position stated the 1930 encyclical Casti Connubii.  That wasn't their mandate.)

The comments after the CNA article are fun to read in juxtaposition against the comments after the NCR article.  After forty years the debate rages on but the numbers don't change.  An overwhelming number of lay Catholics reject Humanae Vitae.  They are not interested in having the size and spacing of their families arbitrarily decided by a papal encyclical whose main motivation appears to have been preserving the mythical notion of the infallibility of papal teaching and the equally mythical notion of the constancy of Catholic tradition. 
Cardinal Sounens maintained at the time, that the Church could not afford another Galileo affair by rejecting the latest science on human reproduction, but even he could not persuade Paul VI to change his mind. So as Grisez decidedly implies, the welfare of women, families, and children were sacrificed on the altar of papal infallibility.  Such is still the case in developing countries where over population and AIDS runs rampant and Church charities are the largest source of health care.  No wonder the Vatican is leery of a lay mother running Caritas.  What if in her compassion for the plight of other women she turned a blind eye to the distribution of condoms?  Which reminds me, Germain Grisez was one the loudest voices attacking Catholic Relief Services for their alleged distribution of birth control and birth control information in Africa. 
One of the comments which irritated me after this CNA article was one bringing up the proverbial 'Islamic breeding hordes will take over Europe' mantra and wasn't Paul VI prescient in his understanding of this inevitability if white Europeans contracepted themselves out of existence.  Underlying this rational seems to be the idea that Catholic marriages are morally duty bound to provide cannon fodder for an Islamic war or engage in some sort of fertility contest with Islamic women.  No wonder gay marriage is the biggest threat to Catholic civilization.  What a waste of fertile sperm and ovum.  That would be like having an ammunition factory which only produced blanks.  Can't be having that.

On a more serious note, actually much more serious note, I can't help but wonder if these folks really understand what's happening in the Middle East.  The over throw of the leadership of one country after another is not just about democracy.  In every one of these countries the riots started over food prices and food availability.  Food.  They started over food.  Babies need food.  God did not design babies to live on air alone.  Grisez needs to think about this because white European babies can starve just as well as Islamic or African or Philippine babies and democracy will not magically solve food shortages as the Japanese are now finding out.

Paul VI was wrong in 1968 and Benedict the XVI is just as wrong now.  The Earth can not sustain unlimited population growth and the magical thinking behind papal infallibility will not change that one iota.  Kudos to Philippine President Benigno Aquino who is holding fast on behalf of his five point strategy regarding the Philippine Women's Reproductive Health bill and doing it against the full power of the Catholic church.  That kind of coercive power over the lives of lay women, men and their families needs to be broken once and for all.  Especially now as Germain Grisez is telling us Humanae Vitae was never about the Will of God, it was always about the will of popes.  Now that we know the rest of that story it's time to close the book and bury it in the Vatican Archives.


  1. Heteronomic thinking at its best ( or worst).

  2. I recommend you visit If I can link properly then you will see an illustration of how life expectancy and fertility (measured by the number of children per woman) are related.

    Run the tool to see how the number of children per woman has changed throughout the world over the past 200 years.

    Hope this works:$majorMode=chart$is;shi=t;ly=2003;lb=f;il=t;fs=11;al=30;stl=t;st=t;nsl=t;se=t$wst;tts=C$ts;sp=5.59290322580644;ti=1893$zpv;v=0$inc_x;mmid=XCOORDS;iid=phAwcNAVuyj0TAlJeCEzcGQ;by=ind$inc_y;mmid=YCOORDS;iid=phAwcNAVuyj2tPLxKvvnNPA;by=ind$inc_s;uniValue=8.21;iid=phAwcNAVuyj0XOoBL_n5tAQ;by=ind$inc_c;uniValue=255;gid=CATID0;by=grp$map_x;scale=lin;dataMin=0.855;dataMax=8.7$map_y;scale=lin;dataMin=19;dataMax=86$map_s;sma=49;smi=2.65$cd;bd=0$inds=


  3. Well said. I think a lot of Catholics had independently come to the conclusion that their family sizes are their own business. Now we see just how much moral authority the hierarchy has (NOT!)

  4. Grisez and Ford made it very clear long ago what their real objection to contraception was:

    "The Church cannot substantially err in teaching a very serious doctrine of faith or morals through all the centuries -- even through one century -- a doctrine consistently and insistently proposed as one necessarily to be followed in order to attain eternal salvation...If the Church could err as atrociously as this, the authority of the ordinary magisterium in moral matters would be stultified; and the faithful henceforth could have no confidence in moral teaching handed down by the magisterium, especially in sexual questions." (emphasis added; John C. Ford and Germain Grisez, "Contraception and the Infallibility of the Ordinary Magisterium," Theological Studies 39 (1978):302-303)

  5. True, and it is another matter of empty miter syndrome, to quote one of yesterday's posters.

  6. Paul was wrong, wrong, wrong in what he did. And I'd like to think that on a certain level, he knew it, or was he just as lost in his fantasy world as the rest of them were? Probably!
    For whatever reason he never wrote another encyclical, and for that we can all be glad.

  7. What is interesting to me is that this whole discussion over the past 50 years has led people (Traditionalist Catholics) to claim that even science supports the condemning of the BC pill, because it causes nothing less than abortion. When Papists learned that a secondary effect of some BC pills was to make the uterus less likely to implant, they began to declare that the BC pills work by causing abortions. That the primary effect of these pills are to stop ovulation, and that so many other conditions and medications make it less likely for an embryo to implant, they refuse to recognize. What once was sinful birth control now become “murder of children” in the Traditionalist mind. Now that is a far fetched jump. Traditionalists then have the audacity to claim that even science supports their claims. Calumny to them is not sinful if it is for the “right” cause.

    When it was pointed out to Traditionalists that most blastocysts never implant anyway, they went on to say that it does not matter because we as humans are interfering with God's design and they continued to claim that science is on their side even if some (THE PREPONDERANCE OF) scientists were not on their side. In fact most scientists vigorously oppose their thinking. Science itself they continue to claim is on their side no matter what scientists say!

    I have introduced the term empty or hollow mitre several times on many boards. I think that this emptiness has led to evil in that one of our greatest challenges is to see that the earth survives. With ever increasing demands for resources and continued increase in population, the earth will continue to decay. Perhaps there will be some scientific solutions to help the situation of continued and never ending expansion, but that is not in sight at the moment particularly since most of the politicians that the Bishops support do not even wish to admit that there are disastrous climatory and ecological problems. These corporatist politicians (you know the ones supported by American Catholic Bishops) use the same tactics as do the Bishops, they bring in their own scientists (those few that they control) who lend “support” to the calumny stating that global warming etc. is not a problem. This tactic started with all the hired guns that discredited their scientific educations by claiming that not only was not tobacco a hazard to human heath but in fact it was good for health.

    I can not believe that infallibility can be supported by what are bold faced lies. Yet this is exactly what is claimed in the case of those who are so against the birth control bill that they call its usage the cause of abortions or the “murder of children.” Even in the statistics that so many traditionalists use about abortions, they fail to separate out inevitable abortions and miscarriage to claim that the world is going through its greatest holocaust. This is calumny that increases on a exponential scale every time these guys open their mouths to speak of more INFALLIBLE claims about sexual conduct. I remain a Catholic but please take off the adjative Roman or Papal.


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  9. In the past, birth and death were inextricably linked. Many women and children died at the time of birth and in the time following.

    At Dr. Hans Rosling has assembled public health figures for the past 200 years. Note the relationship between life expectancy and fertility, measured as the number of children per woman.

    In 1803 the average French woman had 4.26 children, Spanish women 5.13, Irish women 4.2 and Italian women 5.47. Average life expectancy was less than 40. (Think about that for a moment!)

    In 1900 the average French woman had 2.8 children, Spanish women 4.49, Irish women 3.04 and Italian women 4.53. Average life expectancy increased more in the countries with lower fertility. Irish citizens could expect 49 years of life and the French 45 years.

    Note the trends prior to Vatican 2, birth control legalization and effectiveness.

    Today the average European woman has fewer than 2 children and a life expectancy of over 80 years. Similar patterns are seen all over the world without regard to religion. Some countries are lagging, particularly in Africa. Islamic countries show the same patterns. For example: In Egypt women are having fewer children than they used to at 2.8 and they are living to age 70.


  10. In 1800 Egyptian women averaged 6 children, as did their sisters in Indonesia. Turkish women averaged 6.9 children

    In 1900 Egyptian, Indonesian and Turkish women were still having the same number of children as they did in 1800. Life expectancy was 33 years, no change in 100 years. Life expectancy in Iran was 26 years!

    Today Egyptian woman average 2.8 children, Indonesian women average 2.1 children and Turkish women average 2.1 children. Life expectancy in Egypt is 78 years. In Indonesia it is 71, and Turks can expect to live to 72. Iran has a life expectancy of 78 and fertility rate of 1.72

    This article ties in nicely with the previous one asking if the church is its own worst enemy. Yes, the church is its own worst enemy.

    For me, it is almost as stupid as opposing soap on the basis that God wills us to have disease and early death and artificial methods of hygiene interfere with god's plan for us.



  11. p2p thanks for the links and statistics. This is pretty staggering information. Certainly proves actually having the children is a whole lot more physically taxing than the act of procreation.

    Your analogy with soap is pretty funny, but I'm still trying to figure out why God's natural law doesn't apply to erectile dysfunction. Apparently God never wills erectile dysfunction and the little blue pill is fine, but the little pink and white pills are not.

  12. i studied similar data years ago in medical school and until the time of modern gynecology, women trailed men in life expectancy. The most common cause of death for women was hemorrhage at the time of childbirth. The 2 vatican commissions on BC had to have had this data as well because I went to medical school just after Vatican II. It was thought in the past, however, that the reason for increasing life expectancies in men and women were more due to transport of food that allowed people to live more healthy and less diseased lives. From that supposition, one would think that fertility would have increased an not decreased. I think that education may be more related to decrease production of children than anything else??

    It is interesting to me that the RCC spends so much time discussing the side effects of birth control, when in fact even today it is more dangerous to have a baby than to take the BC pill. This is calumny pure and simple. The relationship between these bold face lies and the support of infallibility is inescapable. With Paul’s last (and only encyclical?) We have the evidence to answer Kung’s question. “Infallibility a Question.” He gave a lot of evidence questioning infallibility, 1) but the sense of the people about BC, and 2) the fact that the current theology against women priests, there are already women priests amongst the Old Catholics, Anglicans, and the Women Priest movement composed of holy women, give one pause to believe in infallibility. It is all a great lie and the more this lie is supported, the more defensive Rome becomes, the more we see the emperor without clothes even if he chooses to dress in lavish vestments.

  13. I forgot to mention the most important part of the statistics. Women's life expectancies do to child birth were two to five years less than were mens even at the time of Vatican I. Since the time of modern gynecological care, women of course have surpassed men by two to three years. This is a hugh change that should not be overlooked. dennis

  14. @rdp46

    Yes Dennis the major factors have been advances in medical hygiene, education and nutrition. There have been significant changes in opportunities and rights for women too. Note the differences for those select European women between 1800 and 1900. Eventually other women are catching up.

    Birth control is a reason for fewer births per woman in the last 50 years, as is abortion. The long term trends were well established long before the 1960's.

    Consider Ireland, a country known for obedience, poverty, and a staunch Roman Catholicism with so many vocations that the Irish evangelized much of the world in the next 200 years. From 1800 to 1850 the number of children per woman declined by 31%.
    It wasn't until after the potato famine that this happened. (Irish life expectancy in the 1840's dropped from 39 years to 20 years.) Women have always attempted to control their fertility in light of their current circumstances such as famine, poverty and war, for example.

    However, the next 150 years saw a 35% further decline in the number of children per woman. This despite a post WW2 Irish baby boom. So ultimately you have 1.9 children per woman instead of 4.2.


  15. And another thing!!!!

    The fewest number of children per Irish woman in the pre-contraception era was 2.56 in 1939-40.

    Coincidence? I think not.


  16. It has been said that the women who forced the confirmation of Nineteenth Amendment did so by telling their husbands who had the votes in the various legislatures, no yes vote at work then no yeses at home. I think woman as they have become more educated learned many ways to control their fertility. There are many types of BC. As more woman learned how not to have so many babies certainly female morbidity and mortality numbers were improved. So BC in almost all forms decreases female morbidity and mortality and likely women’s life spans. It is important though to remember the terrible M&M’s prior to women’s use of contraception and that they gained from three to 8 yrs. of increased life expectancy than did did men. The biggest factor causing the increased life expectancy for them was education then BC methods. The BC pills, and abortion, even though they have there own M & M cause an over all decease in M & M for women and seemingly increased life expectancy. I am not some one that loves to dwell in lots of statistics even though I had to take several statistical classed learning how to do research.

    Being a contrarian, one of my favorite statistics to spring on an unsuspecting statistic professor was that statistically Carcinoma of the lung would seem much more likely related to color TV sets than it is to tobacco. I am glad that the tobacco industry did not latch on to that one. But most of their statistics had similar problems in not proving any relationship to health.

    I do think p2p that the statistics you point out are valuable to examine for good statisticians to pour through and point out to all.

  17. P2P-great job on the statistics. One thing that was common among the Irish in both Ireland and America was late marriage. There are records of marriages in my own family where the husband and wife delayed marriage until they were in their early thirties. The result was that the women had fewer children.

  18. Kathy, the late marriage issue probably has a lot to do with the current birth rates both in North America and Europe. And as Dennis points out, higher education in women is the biggest statistical correlation with fewer children. This has had far more impact on birth rates in developing countries than birth control. Although the two probably go hand in hand to some extent.

  19. The data shows a relationship between the number of children per woman and the age of first marriage.

    The statistics are not as complete but it clearly shows that on average European women are waiting until they are over 30 for their first marriage. Irish statistics are available only since 1971 but show Irish women used to get married at 24 but are now waiting until they are 31. (Of course fewer women get married now.)

    I found it interesting that for the past 200 years Canadian women waited about 2 years longer than Americans to get married.

    Female literacy correlates highly with fewer children. There is a strong relationship between child mortality and the number of children per women. In 2008 there were 12 countries where women averaged more than 4.5 children, the highest averages in the world, and the mortality rate for children under 5 years of age was over 120 per thousand. The dozen or so countries with the lowest child mortality (less than 2 per thousand) had the lowest number of children per woman with fewer than 1.5.