Humanae Vitae, 40 Years Ago Today

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I remember well the promulgation of Humanae Vitae on July 25, 1968. Subsequent history has demonstrated that Pope Paul VI spoke "with a special light of the Holy Spirit," and with a certain grace of prophecy. Here are the sections of Humanae Vitae addressed to priests:

To Priests

28. And now, beloved sons, you who are priests, you who in virtue of your sacred office act as counselors and spiritual leaders both of individual men and women and of families--We turn to you filled with great confidence. For it is your principal duty--We are speaking especially to you who teach moral theology--to spell out clearly and completely the Church's teaching on marriage.

Sincere Obedience

In the performance of your ministry you must be the first to give an example of that sincere obedience, inward as well as outward, which is due to the magisterium of the Church. For, as you know, the pastors of the Church enjoy a special light of the Holy Spirit in teaching the truth. (39) And this, rather than the arguments they put forward, is why you are bound to such obedience.

Speak As With One Voice

Nor will it escape you that if men's peace of soul and the unity of the Christian people are to be preserved, then it is of the utmost importance that in moral as well as in dogmatic theology all should obey the magisterium of the Church and should speak as with one voice. Therefore We make Our own the anxious words of the great Apostle Paul and with all Our heart We renew Our appeal to you: "I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment." (40)

Abounding in Mercy Toward Sinners

29. Now it is an outstanding manifestation of charity toward souls to omit nothing from the saving doctrine of Christ; but this must always be joined with tolerance and charity, as Christ Himself showed in His conversations and dealings with men. For when He came, not to judge, but to save the world, (41) was He not bitterly severe toward sin, but patient and abounding in mercy toward sinners?

The Heart and Voice of the Priest

Husbands and wives, therefore, when deeply distressed by reason of the difficulties of their life, must find stamped in the heart and voice of their priest the likeness of the voice and the love of our Redeemer.

Never to Lose Heart Because of Weakness

So speak with full confidence, beloved sons, convinced that while the Holy Spirit of God is present to the magisterium proclaiming sound doctrine, He also illumines from within the hearts of the faithful and invites their assent. Teach married couples the necessary way of prayer and prepare them to approach more often with great faith the Sacraments of the Eucharist and of Penance. Let them never lose heart because of their weakness.


The bishops of the Philippines apologised to their flocks some years ago for their failure to preach and teach HV robustly. It seems that many priests have ignored these sections. The day may come when they will do as the bishops did.
It is sadly now the case that some Catholics assume that the Church approves of contraception or is indifferent to it. I was very surprised when I came across this reality.
So many moral theologians let the Church down, and continue to do so. Thank God, he has raised up a new generation of theologians and philosophers who are dedicated to this teaching. May God protect them.

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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