Eamonn Keane
Contraception to euthanasia
By Eamonn Keane
May 17, 2010

The actress Raquel Welch stated in an article for CNN on May 10 that the introduction of the contraceptive pill sparked an explosion of sexual promiscuity and undermined esteem for the institution of marriage. After saying "the growing proliferation of birth control methods has had an awesome effect on both sexes and has led to a sea change in moral values," she added that "these days nobody seems able to keep it in their pants or honour a commitment." In her concluding remarks she said: "Seriously folks, if an ageing sex symbol like me starts waving the red flag of caution over how low moral standards have plummeted, you know it's gotta be pretty bad."

Welch's comments are further evidence pointing to the prophetic nature of Pope Paul VI's 1968 Encyclical titled Humanae Vitae (HV hereafter). In HV, Pope Paul VI defended the truth about marriage, particularly that aspect of it pertaining to the inseparable connection between its unitive and procreative meanings. In doing so he condemned contraception, direct sterilization and procured abortion as intrinsically evil. He warned that rejection of this moral teaching would have dire consequences for individuals and nations. In particular, he warned that the spread of contraceptive practices would lead to "conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality," further to which a man loses concern for the "physical and psychological equilibrium" of the woman," viewing her as a "mere instrument of selfish enjoyment and no longer as his beloved companion" (HV 17).

In his Foreword to my 1998 book titled Humanae Vitae: Wisdom for All Ages, the late Fr. Paul Marx, OSB, in referring to the prophetic nature of Pope Paul VI's teaching in HV said:

    "[T]oday we find ourselves in a tremendous cultural decline. Who would have believed that the infanticide masquerading as 'partial birth abortion' would not only be thinkable, but would be a widespread practice? Who would imagine back then that a Dr. Kervorkian would be found 'not guilty' by a jury in a mid-west state? That public school sex education programs would multiply, redefining the family to include gay and lesbian couples as parents? Who could have guessed that so many of the monotheistic religions in the first world would come to accept the 6th and 9th commandments as 'suggestions'?

    "Never before in the history of civilisation has the moral erosion been deeper, faster, or more complete. What has brought us to this sad state of affairs, when well-meaning and educated men and women actually believe they can be 'personally against' abortion, yet 'publicly for' it? ...Virtually all the evils of our morally defunct culture can be traced back to the apostasy from God that found its stumbling block in the chastity promoted and proclaimed by Humanae Vitae. The moral endgame has become one between those who would abort, euthanize, and sterilize vast numbers of the population and those who defend the right to life, the rights of the family, and the faith that was handed down to us from the apostles" (pp 2-3).

The response to the HV by those who disagreed with its contents was swift. The August 3, 1968 edition of the London Economist assured its readers that "the Encyclical within days of its issue is intellectually deader than the Dodo." It went on to foolishly assert that Pope Paul VI had no authority to teach on matters relating to sexuality since he himself was not married. It said: "For an Italian bachelor to claim to be the voice of God when talking of matters of human sexuality will appear to many low church-men as the most literal possible manifestation of the sin against the Holy Ghost."

In the United States, over four hundred theologians signed a statement formally rejecting the Encyclical's teaching. Some denied that its teaching had any basis in natural law or in Sacred Scripture. Others asserted that the choice of the lesser of two evils, or the conflict of duties or extreme necessity were situations exempting spouses from having to obey the teaching. Some faulted Paul VI for failing to conform to the 'insights' of the 'modern world,' and thereby accused him of causing unnecessary pain to millions of Catholics living in contraceptive based marriages. Finally, some speculated that during a future and more 'enlightened' pontificate the teaching would be changed.

However, both inside and outside the Church there were many also who applauded Pope Paul VI for striking a decisive blow in defense of human dignity. Speaking of the prophetic nature of HV and of Pope Paul VI's courage in issuing it, Bishop John Wright said:

    "How could Pope Paul have done or said other than he did? He has resisted the compulsion of the statistics, the economic determinism and the political absolutism of an age of computers and conformism destructive of the person. He has defended life and love against political controls and the selfishness ultimately destructive of both. With apostolic integrity he has braved the sneers of the cynical and the honest dissent of those who do not share his faith concerning the divine origins and eternal purposes of life and of love." [1]

Writing in his weekly column in the Indian newspaper Himmat on August 9, 1968, Mahatma Gandhi's grandson, Rajmohan Gandhi, said: "The Pope's views may not be as unpopular as the strident voices opposing them attempt to suggest. A number of people not practicing the disciplines the Pope recommends are nevertheless aware that these are right. They may feel guilty at not practicing them, but many a man would prefer an honest feeling of guilt to the insecurity of a moral desert without standards." Having stated this, Gandhi added: "In an age where blurs constitute art, where a straight line is viewed with suspicion, where black and white are always ugly, greys ever beautiful, where ambiguity is smart and precision square, Pope Paul has drawn a straight and precise line." [2]

Also praising HV when it was released in 1968 was Dr Kunig, who as Central President of the Swiss doctors said:

    I feel it is necessary in an age in which faith in technological progress set up as a philosophical doctrine is widespread, for someone to raise his voice in defense of those higher values which transcend all individual and collective aspirations of self-interest or convenience...Beyond the circle of the Roman Catholic Christian community the Encyclical remains like a finger in raised warning to all men of all denominations, that they should not treat of problems which transcend purely animal biology without deep respect. And it warns us doctors, also, that we should strive in this field to consider man in his twofold nature endowed with corporal and spiritual existence. [3]

There is a popular but false perception that opposition to contraception has always been restricted to Catholics. When HV was issued, the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, who at the time had primacy of the Orthodox Church, spoke out publicly in support of Pope Paul VI and confirmed that the teaching of HV was the only possible Christian response to the question of the moral nature of contraceptive acts. [4]

Up until relatively recent times, contraceptive acts were condemned by all the major Christian denominations. In his 1989 book titled The Bible and Birth Control, Charles D. Provan, in writing from a Protestant perspective, pointed out that the founders of the Reformation such as Luther and Calvin and many of their later followers such as John Wesley were strongly opposed to contraception. [5]

In 1873, the US Congress, largely composed of Protestants, passed the Comstock laws prohibiting the sale and distribution of contraceptive devices in federal territories. These laws remained in force until 1930 the year in which the consensus that had existed amongst the major Christian denominations regarding the evil of contraception was broken. Until 1930, the Church of England had been opposed to contraception, a practice it condemned at its Lambeth Conference of Bishops in 1908. This condemnation was repeated at the 1920 Lambeth Conference which in Resolution 20 stated: "We utter an emphatic warning against the use of unnatural means for the avoidance of conception." However, at the 1930 Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Church gave way on the contraception question. In doing so, however, Resolution 15 of the Conference which approved the use of contraception also acknowledged that the Anglican Church had always taught "that the use of preventive methods is in all cases unlawful for a Christian."

The shift in policy by the Church of England in 1930 was followed in 1931 by a committee of the Federal Council of Churches in the US which endorsed "the careful and restrained use of contraceptives by married people." An editorial in the March 22, 1931 edition of the Washington Post condemned this change of policy by the Federal Council of Churches by saying: "Carried to its logical conclusion, the committee's report, if carried into effect, would sound the death knell of marriage as a holy institution by establishing degrading practices which would encourage indiscriminate immorality. The suggestion that the use of legalised contraceptives would be 'careful and restrained' is preposterous."

In 1990, the distinguished German physician and former president of the Lutheran Baden-Wurttemberg Synod (the largest in Germany), Dr Siegfried Ernst, M.D, published a booklet defending the teaching of HV against an attack on it by Catholic theologians in Germany and Austria. He said: "What abysmal blindness and stupidity it is for psychologists and young people, misled by certain theologians with the support of television reporters, to think that by virtue of his office the Pope is entitled to alter not only revealed norms but also natural laws, adapting to contemporary trends the norms for man's relations with God." [6] In reference to the radical nature of the way contraception alters the meaning of marital intercourse and how it has "made many persons almost incapable of love and marriage," Dr Ernst added: "It has led to an increasing collapse of marriage and the family, extending even to the killing of unborn children as onerous 'parasites.' It has amounted to a conscious attack on the most intimate relationship of Europeans with one another and with Jesus Christ." [7]

Outside the Christian tradition, Mahatma Gandhi was strongly opposed to contraception. Margaret Sanger, who wanted Gandhi to lend support to her efforts to spread contraception in India, was granted an interview with him in January 1936. He informed her that as far as he was concerned the only moral way of regulating birth was through the use of Natural Family Planning. [8] In an earlier letter to the Secretary of the Bombay Birth Control League, dated 20 March 1924, Gandhi expressed his opposition to the spread of contraception by saying: "The introduction of contraceptives under the name of science and the imprimatur of known leaders of society has...made the task of reformers who work for purity of social life well-nigh impossible...I am totally opposed to artificial means of controlling the birthrate and it is not possible for me to congratulate you or your co-workers on having brought into being a league whose activities, if successful, can only do great moral injury to the people." [9]

Western societies are now enmeshed in a veritable "culture of death." Some of its main indications are high divorce rates, growing support for same-sex marriage, abortion, IVF, destructive embryo experimentation, sperm and embryo banks, falling birth rates and declining labour forces, aging populations and a weakening of intergenerational solidarity, euthanasia. There will be no exit from this cultural and moral abyss until we rediscover the true meaning of marital love, something that is undermined by the contraceptive mentality and its associated practices.


[1]  Bishop John Wright, L'Osservatore Romano, August 22, 1968.

[2]  Rajmohan Gandhi, Himmat, India, August 9, 1968. Also published in L'Osservatore Romano, September 26, 1968.

[3]  Dr. Kunig, cited by Cardinal Charles Journet, L'Osservatore Romano, October 10, 1968.

[4]  Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, see reference in essay by Professor Elizabeth Anscombe published in Why Humanae Vitae Was Right: A Reader, edited by Professor Janet E. Smith, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1993, p. 132.

[5]  Charles D. Provan, The Bible and Birth Control, Zimmer Printing, Pennsylvania, 1989, pp. 14, 70, 91.

[6]  Dr Siegfried Ernst, M.D., Is Humanae Vitae Outdated?, Human Life International, Gaithersburg, USA, 1993, p. 10.

[7]  Ibid. pp. 18-19

[8]  Cf. Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. IV, pp. 45-48, cited in Wisdom for All Times: Pope Paul VI and Mahatma Gandhi On Birth Regulation, Fr. A. S. Antonisamy, Searsolin, Philippines, 1977, p. 16

[9]  Mahatma Gandhi, cited in Wisdom for All Times: Pope Paul VI and Mahatma Gandhi On Birth Regulation, opp.cit. p. 38.

© Eamonn Keane


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Eamonn Keane

Eamonn Keane is married with five children. He studied Commerce and Education at the National University of Ireland and Religious Education at the Catholic Teachers Training College in Sydney, Australia. He currently serves as Head of Social Science at Sydney's Redfield College... (more)


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