Humanae Vitae 14: Unlawful Birth Control Methods

sperm and eggHumanae Vitae is online at the Vatican site, and the text highlighted below is © Copyright – Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

This section summarizes those that preceded, and gives Church teaching on contraception and sterilization in strong terms:

14. Therefore We base Our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when 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.* 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.** 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.*** Neither is it valid to argue, as a justification for sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive, that a lesser evil is to be preferred to a greater one, or that such intercourse would merge with procreative acts of past and future to form a single entity, and so be qualified by exactly the same moral goodness as these. Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good,” it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it (See Rom 3. 8)—in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which must therefore be judged unworthy of (people), even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general. 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.

* See Council of Trent Roman Catechism, Part II, ch. 8; Pius XI, Casti connubii: AAS 22 (1930), 562-564; Pius XII, Address to Medico-Biological Union of St. Luke: Discorsi e radiomessaggi, VI, 191-192; Address to Midwives: AAS 43 (1951), 842-843; Address to Family Campaign and other family associations: AAS 43 (1951), 857-859; John XXIII, encyc. letter Pacem in Terris: AAS 55 (1963), 259-260 [TPS IX, 15-16]; Gaudium et Spes 51.

** See Pius XI, Casti connubii: AAS 22 (1930), 565; Decree of the Holy Office, Feb. 22, 1940: AAS 32 (1940), 73; Pius XII, Address to Midwives: AAS 43(1951), 843-844; to the Society of Hematology: AAS 50 (1958), 734-735 [TPS VI, 394-395].

*** See Council of Trent Roman Catechism, Part II, ch. 8; Pius XI, Casti connubii: AAS 22 (1930), 559-561; Pius XII, Address to Midwives: AAS 43 (1951), 843; to the Society of Hematology: AAS 50 (1958), 734-735 [TPS VI, 394-395]; John XXIII, Mater et Magistra: AAS 53 (1961), 447 [TPS VII, 331].


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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13 Responses to Humanae Vitae 14: Unlawful Birth Control Methods

  1. FrMichael says:

    Ah, Pope Paul doesn’t buy the “fundamental option” idea espoused by many HV dissenters. He also doesn’t agree with the “lesser evil” theory, which historically is not used when dealing with matters of intrinsic evil. To me, HV n. 14 reads a bit like the Summa Theologica, with the objections listed and then dealt with one-by-one. It is to those that don’t agree with the idea that theology can be conducted by clear Thomistic theological thinking that St. John Paul began his Theology of the Body theological project. I think it can be argued (I have heard some of my circle of priests do so) that Pope Francis is trying such a large re-framing of pastoral theology. I don’t know enough of the theoretical pastoral theology that is out there, so I’m not qualified to say yeah or nay, but it might be so.

  2. Philip says:

    Does anyone else see the problematic nature of the third sentence (leaving aside normal sexual relations within marriage) in terms of Catholic guidance on ‘natural family planning’?

    • Michael says:

      Hi, Philip. Can I have a go at resolving the problem? “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.” I think the issue boils down to a question of whether Pope Paul was speaking only of action/s which aim to change the nature of specific act/s of sexual intercourse (actions directed at contracepting), rather than including actions that may lead to an avoidance of an act of sexual intercourse (actions directed at avoiding). A) In favour of the limited contraception interpretation – context, previous and subsequent popes, Catechism, Compendium etc. B) Against the broader interpretation – reduction to the absurd – if every action that deliberately prevents an act of sexual intercourse was condemned, would this include refusing to marry someone because you think she’d make a bad mother? (Does Pope Paul IN THIS SENTENCE specifically exclude this interpretation? No, but context, previous and subsequent Popes etc do exclude it.) I think we can see that the act of getting in a car in order to go and buy contraceptives is more remote than swallowing a pill, but it may still be done with the intention of eventually changing the nature of an act or acts of intercourse (contracepting acts), whereas charting cycles may be done for the purposes of avoiding acts, without changing their nature.

    • Chris says:

      It is interesting that Pope Emeritus Benedict has just released an interview in which he says that, while he accepted the conclusion of Humanae Vitae, he did not find it’s arguments very convincing. I think many share his views.

      God Bless

      • Michael says:

        “It was certainly clear that what it said was essentially valid, but the reasoning, for us at that time, and for me too, was not satisfactory,” Benedict states.
        “I was looking for a comprehensive anthropological viewpoint,” he continues. “In fact, it was [Pope] John Paul II who was to complement the natural-law viewpoint of the encyclical with a personalistic vision.”
        Since we share, with Pope Emeritus Benedict, the benefits St John Paul II’s personalistic vision, e.g. “Love and Responsibility” etc, we can, with Pope Emeritus Benedict, feel quite satisfied with the wealth of reasoning that shows how right the conclusions of Humanae Vitae are. We also have the benefit of having seen Humanae Vitae’s terrible prophecies fulfilled. You see, Ratzinger could see THAT more was to be said, and he needed the help of Wojtyla, who knew WHAT was to be said. If you identify with the way Ratzinger felt in 1968, follow his lead and read JPII, and you’ll then identify with how he feels now.

  3. FrMichael says:

    Philip, in response to your question: no. It appears as if the Pope is referring to withdrawal, contraceptive douches, or who knows what (in our own day, “Plan B” medications) to prevent pregnancy in temporal proximity to intercourse. All of these are deliberate actions taken to make the procreative act infertile. The use of NFP to prevent pregnancy doesn’t have to do with altering the act or the consequences of the act. It has to do with avoiding sexual intercourse altogether at certain times.

    • Philip says:

      How do you conclude the Pope was referring to those actions you list? Determining when to avoid sexual intercourse for the purposes of NFP requires a range of very specific actions contributing to the prevention of conception.

  4. Chris says:

    I was just about to make the same point Philip made before reading his comment.

    “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.”

    This would, if taken as written, rule out NFP as it is an action (discerning infertile periods and abstaining during them) before intercourse which is specically intended to prevent procreation.

    Regardless of what one thinks of the morality of contraception, HV is appallingly written and most people today have enormous difficulty trying to grasp what it is trying to say.

    Again, there is no proof in this paragraph that contraception actually is immoral.

    God Bless

  5. Chris says:

    One has to add quite a lot of theology to HV for HV even to make sense as FrMichael has done above in his 2nd comment.

    The problem with that is that the argument is then no longer the Pope’s own argument but a substantial development of it.

    On the other hand, this makes HV open to substantial development by a later Pope or Ecumenical Council.

    God Bless

  6. FrMichael says:

    And indeed, Pope John Paul II did substantially develop HV’s themes during his pontificate.

    Philip, I reread the paragraph and can see how one could read it in your manner. However, in light of the remainder of the encyclical, especially n. 24, and subsequent actions by the Church to promote NFP, it seems that my reading of this paragraph is the favored one.

  7. Mike Gregory says:

    As a former Catholic (but still a Christian), I am intrigued by the Catholic position on “artificial” birth control. Would someone provide a Scriptural basis for the belief that sexual intercourse between a husband and wife has, as its primary goal, pregnancy?

    • Todd says:

      Thanks for commenting, Mike. The mandate given Adam and Eve in Genesis comes to mind, the command to be fruitful and multiply. The Torah does not make this explicit, connecting the creation of human beings directly with bearing children, but the link is close enough. I should also mention that the Church also affirms the expression of self-giving in the married sexual act. St Paul counseled that husbands love their wives as Christ loved the Church. Here too, it’s not explicit, but sexual intercourse is part of that sacrifice and imitation of the Lord. The married person gives of themselves to their partner and receives many gifts in return, including human intimacy, comfort, peace, solace, and support. If the Church believed that intercourse was primarily for procreation, older people would be discouraged from marriage. And we know they are not.

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