Those of us who are not senior citizens can hardly understand what life was like before our generation. The world of the 1960s was marked by profound political and moral changes: no more war, liberation from taboos, the hippie movement, and Vietnam lost to Communism, all culminating in the student protests of May 1968. The Church, too, would have her peace-revolution as she came into harmony with the world.
Paul VI, elected pope in 1963, brought the Second Vatican Council to completion in 1965 and ensured its implementation until his death in 1978. He presided over a church in transition from the pre to the post-Vatican II eras. This transition witnessed the most fundamental revision of Roman Catholic liturgy in centuries, a changing priesthood marked by mass defections, a world deeply troubled from the crisis of authority and the liberation of the taboos.
In such critical context, Humanae Vitae stood at a sign of contradiction. In the controversy about contraceptives, Pope Paul VI, acting solo against his friends’ advice, produced the momentous encyclical which reaffirmed the age-old objective morality and denounced the pill. Yet, the experience had been excruciating for the liberal pope. Two years of indecision and his moral paralysis to go against his entourage revealed that he was not capable to lead the Church against a world quickly going mad. He seemed paralyzed in dealing with the Dutch catechism scandal, as well as some US prelates, along with a long list of de facto schismatic Episcopal conferences.
It is notable that, after Humanæ Vitæ in 1968, Paul VI issued no further encyclicals for the rest of his reign. At one point, he even said that he understood why St. Peter went back to Rome—it was to be crucified. May this 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae see the resurgence of Tradition and traditional teaching in the See of Peter.
Fr. Jürgen Wegner