Someone at my church recently passed onto me a copy of an eye-opening article by John Galvin, titled “Was Humanae Vitae based upon the Majority or the Minority Report of the Papal Commission?” I read the article and thereby learned a lot of facts I did not realize before about the last papal encyclical Pope Paul VI ever issued. I thought I would share some of the highlights of Galvin’s observations about the landmark encyclical, Humanae Vitae.
The article was published in the August 2004 edition of Catholic Family News. The publisher has not provided a copy of the article online, but I did find a copy here. (Please note, all emphasis below is my own, unless otherwise noted.) Let’s just say, you are likely to be surprised at many of these observations made about Humanae Vitae like I was. I pass this along to you, my readers.
As I understand it, this article caused quite a stir when it was published, earning rebuttals, including one from no less than Dr. Janet Smith at the time. I have respect for her and know her personally. I have not read her rebuttal, as I have not located it online. If she or someone can pass it along to me, I would appreciate it.
Here are 100 observations made on Humanae Vitae and its Papal Commission, via John Galvin:
1. In 1963 Pope St. John XXIII established a “Papal Commission” to study the issue of birth control.
2. The Commission was later expanded by Pope Paul VI and had at one point up to 72 members of theologians, academics, doctors, lay people, and clergymen, including a total of 12 Cardinals and bishops.
3. The Papal Commission was not unanimous in their findings after four years of study on the topic.
5. Nine of the bishops and Cardinals, who served on the Papal Commission, signed the Majority Report.
6. Only three of the 12 bishops and Cardinals signed their names to the Minority Report.
7. Against common sense to those who know their Catholic faith, the Majority Report was the one that broke with traditional Catholic teaching, permitting use of contraceptives for the means of avoiding children.
8. That said, the Majority Report never explicitly approves the use of contraception, as Galvin points out.
9. However, the Majority Report does conclude the use of contraception ought to be left up to each individual couple to decide for themselves the size of their family (Chapter VI, section 1 & 2, for example).
10. Since the encyclical did not side with the Majority Report that using contraception was morally permissible, one would think that the encyclical rejected the Majority Report outright. But this is not the case, as John Galvin demonstrates in his article.
11. Rather, Humanae Vitae follows the Majority Report closely in its structure, terminology, and approach to the discussion of birth control.
12. The Minority Report gives an excellent overview of the condemnation of contraception use within Catholic tradition.
13. Incredibly, the encyclical borrows very little from the Minority Report in its explanation of its conclusion that contraception use is gravely immoral and never permitted.
14. Humanae Vitae has zero proof texts from the Bible.
15. “[Humanae Vitae] declined to present traditional justifications for the prohibition of birth control,” Galvin notes.
16. Magisterial teaching documents from Popes Pius XI, Pius XII, St. John XXIII, and the like are not quoted in the Minority Report.
17. Such documents are merely footnoted in a list in the encyclical Pope Paul VI published in 1968.
18. So much of the Church’s theological reasoning to oppose contraception leans on the lessons taught by the Great Doctor of the Church, St. Augustine of Hippo. He is leaned on heavily in the 1931 encyclical, Casti Connubii by Pope Pius XI, for instance.
19. St. Augustine is cited exactly zero times in Humanae Vitae, Galvin observes.
20. Much of the Church’s philosophical understanding gets its grounding in St. Thomas Aquinas.
21. Aside from one footnote in Humanae Vitae, the pope does not cite the Angelic Doctor in the encyclical.
22. Galvin argues the encyclical offers zero, coherent natural law arguments. Just one paragraph and a mere six total mentions of it can be found in the 1968 document.
23. Similarly, Pope Paul VI makes no teleological arguments against the use of birth control.
24. In all, “[T]he encyclical contains not one quotation from any of the documents that were cited by the Minority Report. The historical survey which the Minority Report considered indispensable groundwork is entirely swept away by Humanae Vitae,” Galvin informs.
25. The Minority Report shows contraception use remains immoral from many different angles. One of its more popular arguments involves the “inviolability” of the procreative act. This is exemplified in its line, “The fathers, theologians, and the Church herself has always taught that certain acts and the generative processes are in some way specially inviolable precisely because they are generative.”
26. Pope Paul VI does not make a single argument in his encyclical about the inviolability of the conjugal act.
27. The Minority Report contains this concise conclusion as to why contraception may never be permitted: “The Church cannot change her answer because this answer is true” (emphasis in the original).
28. The Minority Report goes on to explain precisely why the Church’s teaching can never change its teaching that condemns the use of contraceptives.
29. The Minority Report explains that the teaching authority of the Church could not have taught in Jesus Christ’s name all these many centuries a false doctrine on such an important and fundamental aspect of human life. The Minority Report reads, “If the Church could err in such a way, the authority of the ordinary magisterium in moral matters would be thrown into question. The faithful could not put their trust in the magisterium’s presentation of moral teaching, especially in sexual matters.”
30. A bit later it explains, the Minority Report rightly makes clear the absolute and universal truth of the Church’s teaching against contraception when it states, “[C]ontraception is always seriously evil. The truth of this teaching stems from the fact that it has been proposed with such constancy, with such universality, with such obligatory force, always and everywhere, as something to be held and followed by the faithful.”
31. You can look but you will not find such argumentation in Humanae Vitae.
So what then did Pope Paul VI base his teaching against contraception use upon, you ask? Good question.
32. Galvin argues in his article, “Humanae Vitae discovers an entirely new justification to maintain the prohibition on artificial contraception” (italics emphasis original). He repeats later the encyclical is caught “creating and presenting a novel justification of its own.”
33. The encyclical reveals a new explanation for the significance of the conjugal act in its Section 12: “the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.” Such an explanation for the purpose of the conjugal act cannot be found within Catholic tradition.
34. But apparently that is okay, because “Humanae Vitae goes further, and judges past teaching to be in some degree irrelevant to the current discussion,” Galvin adds.
35. “A general expectation was created that changes to the traditional doctrine would be forthcoming since a commission would hardly be needed to do no more than repeat ‘what has been taught always and everywhere,’” Galvin points out.
36. In fact, Galvin notes, according to Humanae Vitae one of the Commission’s purpose “was to examine views and opinions concerning married life, and especially on the correct regulation of births.”
37. The first sex sections of the encyclical concede most demographic arguments used by proponents of artificial contraception, Galvin observes.
38. The encyclical calls for “a new and deeper reflection” on “[t]his new state of things and new questions.” Galvin argues in his Catholic Family News article that the encyclical places emphasis on supposed changed circumstances “and even changed values,” he adds.
39. The irreformability of the Church’s teaching against contraception does not get emphasized in the encyclical.
40. The Majority Report contains many problematic passages, including this one that summarizes the deliberation of the Commission: “In the present study, dealing with problems relating to responsible parenthood, the Holy Father through his ready willingness to enter into dialogue has given it an importance unprecedented in history.”
41. Galvin argues, “The authors [of the Majority Report, from which Humanae Vitae is based] have thus framed the issue this way: marriage is to be viewed within the new, non-traditional concept of ‘responsible parenthood,’ and then a decision will be reached whether birth control can be reconciled with this new concept, rather than with the tradition of the Church.”
42. Galvin counts seven uses of the term ‘responsible parenthood’ within the encyclical, plus another similar phrase in its very first sentence.
43. Section 10 of Humanae Vitae contains six paragraphs that discuss exclusively the concept of ‘responsible parenthood,’ Galvin counts.
44. Point of fact, Pope Paul VI begins section 10, “Married love, therefore, requires of husband and wife the full awareness of their obligations in the matter of responsible parenthood, which today, rightly enough, is much insisted upon, but which at the same time should be rightly understood.”
45. In doing so, “Humanae Vitae goes so far… as to see ‘responsible parenthood’ as ‘the mission’ of marriage and to claim that an understanding of ‘responsible parenthood’ is now required for ‘conjugal love,’” Galvin summarizes.
What’s wrong with ‘responsible parenthood,’ you ask? Glad you asked.
46. “Those who wished to overturn the traditional moral norm of birth control decided to make the concept of ‘responsible parenthood’ the foundation of their efforts,” argues Galvin.
47. The term ‘responsible parenthood’ appears nowhere in traditional Catholic teaching.
48. Not until the promulgation in 1965 of the Vatican II document, Gaudium et Spes by Pope Paul VI himself does this concept of ‘responsible parenthood’ arise.
49. Section 51 of Gaudium et Spes reads in part, “Hence when there is question of harmonizing conjugal love with the responsible transmission of life, the moral aspects of any procedure does not depend solely on sincere intentions or on an evaluation of motives, but must be determined by objective standards.”
50. The Majority Report’s official title was Schema Documenti de Responsabili Parenitate (“Schema for a Document on Responsible Parenthood”).
51. One section of the Majority Report is titled, “On the Continuity of Doctrine and its Deeper Understanding.” To which Galvin retorts, “The chapter title explains the plan: continue to use language suggesting continuity with past tradition, while maintaining that the reversal of previous teaching represents a ‘deeper understanding.’”
52. The authors of the Majority Report took the loaded term, ‘responsible parenthood’ and ran with it in their document. They mention the term nine times.
53. The Majority Report goes on to unpack the meaning they place on the loaded term ‘responsible parenthood’ with this problematic passage within its document: “The large amount of knowledge and facts which throw light on today’s world suggest that it is not to contradict the genuine sense of this tradition and the purpose of the previous doctrinal condemnations if we speak of the regulation of conception by using means, human and decent, ordered to favoring fecundity in the totality of married life and toward the realization of the authentic values of a fruitful matrimonial community.”
54. Galvin calls into question three phrases used in the above quote from the Majority Report, which he finds “each progressively more threatening:” “regulation of conception,” “human and decent means,” and “favoring fecundity in the totality of the married life.”
Each of these troublesome phrases the encyclical agrees with, Galvin argues, as you will see below.
55. The term “regulation of conception” cannot be found in Catholic traditional teaching.
56. Instead, it too makes its debut in the 1965 Vatican II document, Gaudium et Spes (sections 52 and 87).
57. The encyclical, Humanae Vitae makes five references to the regulation of births.
58. To its credit Humanae Vitae does mention the traditional teaching of the Church that “serious reasons” are required for births to be regulated.
59. However, the official title of the encyclical we all know as “Humanae Vitae” that the Vatican utilized remains “On the Proper Regulation of the Propagation of Offspring.”
60. Section 19, Galvin highlights, even calls upon the Church to “support mankind in the honest regulation of birth amid the difficult conditions which today afflict families and peoples.”
61. “Thus we see former teachings of the Church regarding generosity, fruitfulness and reliance on Divine Providence transformed into a new policy [within Humanae Vitae] which promotes the ‘regulation of birth’ provided it be done by ‘proper means,’” contends Galvin.
62. What did the Majority Report authors mean by the ambiguous term “human and decent means?” Galvin argues, “They have effectively subverted the clear and definite teaching with vague but innocuous-sounding language that opens the door to artificial contraception.”
63. Where the Majority Report does not define the term “human and decent means,” Humanae Vitae takes a shot at deciding by what methods couples may regulate the births of their children. It states in section 16: “Neither the Church nor her doctrine is inconsistent when she considers it lawful for married people to take advantage of the infertile period but condemns as always unlawful the use of means which directly prevent conception, even when the reasons given for the later practice may appear to be upright and serious,” Galvin shows.
64. The encyclical presents “the honest regulation of birth” as a positive good, Galvin goes on to interpret.
65. And, by “honest regulation of birth,” Galvin understands the encyclical to mean the tracking of the wife’s fertility cycle by any of the various methods of NFP.
66. In its history up to these tumultuous 1960’s, the Church had permitted just one means for the spacing of births: abstinence, whether temporarily or permanent, Galvin reminds his readers.
67. Yet, thanks to Humanae Vitae, “the practice of Natural Family Planning [NFP] has come to be promoted as ‘Catholic birth control,” Galvin observes in the centuries that have followed this seminal document.
68. The author of the Catholic Family News article author goes on, “Although the method differs from artificial birth control, the same goal and the lifestyle of family size limitation is often promoted.”
69. Those who do not practice NFP, but rather follow traditional Catholic teaching by relying on God to provide the number and supportive means for their children, have been labeled “providentialists” and are often scapegoated in Catholic circles, Galvin laments.
70. “With ‘favoring fecundity in the totality of the married life’ [as the Majority Report supports] we have crossed over the line into forbidden territory,” Galvin insists.
71. Galvin says the authors of the Majority Report mean by this term that each couple may use birth control for a portion of their marriage, so long as they remain open to life at some other periods of time.
72. Galvin remains aghast and does not hold back on the ludicrousness of this flawed moral principle, saying this permits theft or lying, so long as someone generally is honest. He concludes, “In short, this represents an overturning not only on the teaching on birth control, but of the moral order in relation to every potential sin.”
73. This way of thinking of so-called situational ethics lies behind Pope Paul VI’s use of the phrase “the totality of married life,” beginning in Section 3, titled “New Questions.” It gets discussed in great detail in the last paragraph of section 17, under the name of the “principle of totality” and gets many mentions in different forms throughout the encyclical.
74. At least Section 14 of Humanae Vitae puts a limit to the “principle of totality,” albeit under a different euphemism, in saying contraceptives are not permitted: “Consequently, it is a serious error to think that a whole married life of otherwise normal relations can justify sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive and so intrinsically wrong.”
75. This rejection of intrinsic moral evils to be avoided by everyone at all times can be seen in the thesis of the Majority Report, which reads, “In fulfillment of its mission the church must propose obligatory norms of human and Christian life from the deposit of faith in an open dialogue with the world. But since moral obligations can never be detailed in all their concrete particularities, the personal responsibility of each individual must always be called into play. This is even clearer today because of the complexity of modern life: the concrete moral norms to be followed must not be pushed to an extreme.” Scary!
Some of the Good Things Humanae Vitae Does Affirm
76. Thanks be to God, Humanae Vitae does not permit the practice of intrinsic evils, like the Majority Report does.
77. The encyclical does uphold, “[I]t is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it—in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which must therefore be judged unworthy of man, even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general.”
78. Pope Paul VI states all contraceptive acts are condemned when he writes, “Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.”
79. The Vicar of Christ’s seventh encyclical also adds, “The Church, nevertheless, in urging men to the observance of the precepts of the natural law, which it interprets by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life.”
80. Humanae Vitae confirms, “Equally to be condemned, as the magisterium of the Church has affirmed on many occasions, is direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary.”
81. Abortion is also directly condemned in the encyclical: “We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children.”
Conclusions drawn by Galvin in his article include the following:
82. Contrary to popular sentiment Pope Paul VI did not reject the Majority Report.
83. The Holy Father did not accept the Minority Report either, virtually ignoring its argumentation outright.
84. Still, “[w]e have much to be thankful for [in this encyclical],” Galvin stresses, as the Holy Spirit prevented the Church from plunging into serious error in this realm, and affirmed the “essential truth.”
Why it matters the method Humanae Vitae used to affirm the Church’s teaching against contraception
85. “One might question why we should care about the type of arguments used in Humanae Vitae, and be tempted to make the claim, ‘As long as the law remains the same, the arguments used to support it are irrelevant,’” Galvin writes.
86. Galvin sums up elsewhere a lot of people’s thinking, “It was a yes or no decision, and the Pope said ‘No.’ Nothing else mattered.”
87. In the end, Galvin’s thesis reads, “[Humanae Vitae] substantially altered the traditional teaching by wiping the slate clean of centuries of doctrine and then propos[ed] an entirely new way to view marriage and procreation.”
88. The Minority Report counts 19 instances between 1816 and 1929 that the Catholic Church taught the same teaching that contraception remains gravely sinful at all times, Galvin points out.
89. Yet, in the time proceeding from the publication of Humanae Vitae, the Church has seemingly suffered a sort of collective amnesia (or perhaps worse, subjected itself to willful ignorance) on the entirety of the Church’s traditional understanding of the prohibitions on birth control.
90. The Minority Report argued that if the Church were ever to conclude that contraception was now morally permissible, then “the magisterium itself will seem to be empty and useless in any moral matter.”
91. Galvin contends this emptiness behind the Church’s authority has occurred nonetheless because it has stripped itself of the weight of its 2,000-year history on this moral subject.
92. In fact, Galvin asserts further, “We have seen in actual practice the way in which the loss of credibility on this issue has undermined the Church’s credibility on every issue.”
93. Not all the clergy even follow the Church’s teaching on this important moral issue, Galvin points out.
94. The Church’s clergy largely ignore the life issues in the pulpit and in the public square, meaning they are not teaching the lay faithful these truths either, the same author reports.
95. How can we be surprised so many millions of Catholic lay people do not follow the Church’s teachings on this issue or any of the life issues, when no one from the Church has bothered to teach it to them?
96. When Humanae Vitae promotes NFP, and together they accept the premise of the Majority Report that ‘responsible parenthood’ remains and “obligation” on all married couples, the prohibition on contraception is effectively “ignored and relegated to irrelevancy,” Galvin adds.
97. In other words, Humanae Vitae and the Church as a whole have not presented a way of life for the Catholic lay faithful that remains open to life. Instead, it permits and even encourages couples to buy into the mindset that they are supposed to limit the number of their children.
98. “We cannot claim to be satisfied with the status quo,” Galvin urges, after pointing out the millions of Catholics who endanger their eternal salvation by failing to follow the Church’s prohibition on contraception.
99. Of course, Humanae Vitae is not solely responsible for our current state of affairs. However, the application of this landmark encyclical has not been effective in preventing too many souls from being lost to the vice of contraception.
100. Galvin does suggest a solution: a return to the traditional Catholic teaching on the issue. Where Humanae Vitae fails to acknowledge the enormous wealth of wisdom and truth in the Church’s teaching, society needs to delve into it now more than ever.
Okay, don’t shoot the messenger. What do you think of John Galvin’s observations made about Humanae Vitae?
Leave any comments you have below!