Humanae vitae Revisited

A new year dawns, bringing renewed social strife and uncertain presidential promises along with it. With the new year upon us, why not revisit an old yet groundbreaking encyclical in a new light?

The encyclical I have in mind is Pope Paul VI’s Humanae vitae (Of Human Life), delivered to the Church on the feast of St. James the Apostle in 1968. In essence, Humanae vitae clarifies the Church’s teaching on birth control, a topic which was left somewhat unresolved in 1965 at the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council.

Why do I choose this encyclical in particular? In brief, I am of the opinion that this encyclical clarified and defined the tone for the Church’s social agenda, which would reverberate for decades to come and shape the Church into the counter-cultural institution that it is in the Western world today. Of course, the Church has always been counter-cultural in a sense (just look at Pope Pius X and the rejection of “Modernism” in his 1907 encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis—or Jesus’s critiques of the Pharisees, the Jewish cultural authorities of His time), but Humanae vitae took a firm stand against a prevailing, ubiquitous change in Western society: the widespread acceptance of artificial birth control. The encyclical reaffirmed the Church’s counter-cultural status by weighing in on the birth control debate that reached a peak in the 60s, and which has simmered but by no means settled since—see, for instance, the debacle with the HHS birth control mandate.

In this post, I want to explore the claims of Humanae vitae against the backdrop of the birth control controversy, the circumstances of which are depicted with special insight and hilarity in David Lodge’s novel The British Museum Is Falling Down, first published in 1965 shortly before Pope Paul VI’s encyclical. In the novel, an English Catholic graduate student by the name of Adam Appleby bemoans the Church’s prohibition of artificial contraception as he tries to manage his growing family. Ultimately, I will conclude that Humanae vitae presents a challenge for ‘modern’ Catholics, trapped as we are in a ‘modern’ conception of sexuality. But the actual grit of that challenge, and the demands it places on Catholics and, indeed, all people, requires further examination.

The Historical Backdrop

According to the British historian Hugh McLeod, Western Christianity underwent a period of foundation-shaking turmoil in years leading up to Humanae vitae: the title of his study The Religious Crisis of the 1960s says as much. In this work, McLeod characterizes the 1960s as a focal point of change in religious belief in the Western countries (Europe, US, Canada, Oceania), involving a near universal decline in church attendance, the proliferation of belief systems outside of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and major changes within Christianity, not the least of which was the Second Vatican Council.1 It is in this historical context of Christianity’s decline that Pope Paul VI’s encyclical must be understood.

Since Humanae vitae primarily concerns itself with artificial birth control, a short history of Christian views on birth control methods will follow. For centuries, all Christian denominations opposed methods of birth control that prevented conception and, most especially, induced abortion.2 However, this stark rejection of birth control began to change in the 20th century, beginning with a gradual acceptance of contraception by the Church of England. Carlson lays out this progression in article that originally appeared under the title “How Protestants Learned to Love the Pill” in the journal Family Policy.

In effect, the Anglicans relaxed their condemnation of contraceptive methods in particular (or “cautiously accepted” them, as McLeod puts it) during the 1930 meeting of the Lambeth Conference—something like the Anglican equivalent of a synod.3 Just a year later in 1931, Carlson reports, a conference of American Protestants—including Methodists, Presbyterians, the Church of Brethren, and Congregationalists—petitioned for the legalization of contraceptive devices in the US.4 Meanwhile, the Vatican reaffirmed its opposition to contraception in Pope Pius XI’s encyclical Casti Connubii (On Chaste Marriage). Yet, the Protestant trend of accepting contraception continued, as the Anglican Church endorsed any means of family planning “mutually acceptable to husband and wife in Christian conscience,” according to resolution 115 of the 1958 Lambeth Conference. Thereafter, the 1961 North American Conference on Church and Family rocked the boat of standard anti-contraceptive teachings through the call for “a development of a new evangelical sexual ethic, one ‘relevant to our culture,’ sensitive to the overpopulation crisis, and grounded in modern science,” in Carlson’s words. Speakers included Mary Calderone of Planned Parenthood and Wardell Pomeroy of the Kinsey Institute, two bastions of ‘modern’ approaches to sexuality. Finally, the availability of ‘the Pill’ to American women in 1960 and British women in 1961, made contraception an easy, effective, and affordable form of birth control. And, still, the Vatican held firm.

In brief, Protestant conferences through the first half of the 20th century gradually buckled under the pressure of cultural demands for artificial birth control, while the Catholic Church refused to give up ground, with the exception perhaps of Pope Pius XII qualified acceptance of the “rhythm method” in 1951. On these issues, the Church stood on the losing side.

McLeod relays the words of a young British woman from the 1960s, who spoke of howthe magazines that you read at the time very much were saying, go on the pill, the pill, the pill. That was all what it was, young girls were supposed to be doing, taking the pill” (163). A recent article in TIME magazine with the title “The Long, Strange History of Birth Control” (Feb. 2, 2015) corroborates this narrative of contraception’s rise on the other side of the Atlantic as well. According to the article, by 1965 almost 6.5 million American women used the birth control pill. In America in 1973, “70% of married woman between the ages of 15 and 44 were using some form of contraception.”

By the numbers, the tides had already turned against Church Teaching well before Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, even among Catholics. Drawing on research cited in Tentler’s Contraception and Catholics in America, McLeod writes that “a survey in the United States in 1960 found that 38 per cent of married white Catholic women aged 18–39 were using or had used methods of birth control forbidden by the church, including 46 per cent of those in the 35–9 age group” (167). On the one hand, it seemed that Catholics simply expected a change. By 1968, all the other mainline churches had accepted contraception as a norm, so why not the Roman Church? Adam, the protagonist of Lodge’s The British Museum Is Falling Down—to be discussed in depth later—, echoes this expectation of acquiescence, as he muses over the possibility that the ‘progressive’ Belgian Cardinal Suenans might triumph over the ‘conservative’ Italian Cardinal Ottaviani and declare artificial contraception proper for Catholic couples.

Much to the disappointment of these Catholics, however, Humanae vitae offered no such assent to the tailwinds of cultural change.

Pope Paul VI in his own Words

From this historical context provided above, we can frame the encyclical with the following backdrop: by 1968, all mainline Protestant churches has accepted artificial birth control (within marriage), Catholic couples in Western countries had already begun using artificial birth control (including 38 per cent of married white Catholic women in the US), and ‘the Pill’ had an especially strong hold. The scales seemed to be tipping in favor of papal approval of contraception for married people: even a commission first organized in 1963 under John XXIII, the predecessor to Paul VI, weighed in favor of allowing contraceptive measures in marriage, though its exact results were not meant to be public.5


Despite all of this pro-contraceptive momentum, Paul VI affirmed the Church’s Teaching against artificial contraception. Why? Was he just some meddling traditionalist bent on halting progress? Did he fear that a reversal of previous papal condemnation of artificial contraception in Casti Connubii would desecrate Church authority? In the pope’s own words, the matter has more to do with drawing out the implications of Christ’s teaching.

The encyclical begins by very much countenancing the problems that Catholic couples faced at the time. These include “rapid increase in population” and “demands made both in the economic and the education field” that impose hardships on large families—all concerns that Lodge’s fictional protagonist voices. In §3 the pope asks whether, given these contemporary conditions, married couples might be able to observe the moral norms of the Church “only with the gravest difficulty, sometimes only by heroic effort?” This mention of “heroic effort” represents a clear, candid extension of empathy from the pontiff to the married couples in his flock. Indeed, the emotional intelligence of the pope’s reflections comes to the fore in second paragraph of §3, which is worth quoting at length:

Moreover, if one were to apply here the so called principle of totality, could it not be accepted that the intention to have a less prolific but more rationally planned family might transform an action which renders natural processes infertile into a licit and provident control of birth? Could it not be admitted, in other words, that procreative finality applies to the totality of married life rather than to each single act? A further question is whether, because people are more conscious today of their responsibilities, the time has not come when the transmission of life should be regulated by their intelligence and will rather than through the specific rhythms of their own bodies.

Without a doubt, Paul VI acknowledges the concerns of Catholic couples of his day and respects their entirely rational need to limit family size and in doing so fulfill the procreative aim of marriage in the totality of marriage, rather than in every sexual act. But the encyclical also warns of “the domination and rational organization of the forces of nature” that lead to a Dr. Frankenstein effect in which “every aspect of [human] life” (§2) comes under human control. Here, we can see signs of hesitancy, even suspicion toward the artificial subversion of human nature.

And, indeed, it is on this boundary between the natural and the artificial that the gavel of papal authority finally falls in Humanae vitae. After addressing the results of the commission mentioned above, which “could not be considered by Us as definitive and absolutely certain” due to a lack of “complete agreement concerning the moral norms to be proposed” (§6), Paul VI draws out the implications of God’s loving design for married life. He reasons from the definition of marriage as a “union of two persons in which they perfect one another, cooperating with God in the generation and rearing of new lives” (§8), that married love is total, faithful and exclusive, and fecund. From this basis of marriage, it follows that married love must seek to bring forth new life if it is to be total and fecund. Perhaps more controversially, though, Paul VI clarifies that, according to Church Teaching, “each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life.” (§11). The question, then, is what it means to retain this procreative element.

Here, the division between natural and artificial means of spacing births enters into the fray. Because conception is the natural result of sexual intercourse, then “an act of mutual love which impairs the capacity to transmit life which God the Creator, through specific laws, has built into it, frustrates His design which constitutes the norm of marriage” (§13). Hence, the Church excludes methods of birth control which deliberately disable the transmission of life “either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse” (§14). Among the unlawful forms of birth control, then, would be condoms or other barrier methods, drugs that prevent ovulation, such as ‘the Pill,’ or that prevent implantation, as well as forms of sterilization. Yet, Paul VI affirms methods of birth control in accordance with the natural functioning of human reproduction, especially through engaging in intercourse “only during those times that are infertile” (§16). Hence, Humanae vitae does not rule all forms of birth control unlawful. Rather, artificial contraception, as an alteration of human sexuality, is admonished by Church Teaching.

At first, this distinction between artificial and natural methods of birth control may seem arbitrary. What difference does it make if a couple spaces births by having intercourse during infertile periods or by preventing ovulation with ‘the Pill,’ especially if the intention is to avoid pregnancy in both cases? The moral distinction occurs only between the constitution of the method rather than the intention. Paul VI addresses this concern, however. “In reality,” he writes, “these two cases are completely different. In the former the married couple rightly use a faculty provided them by nature. In the later they obstruct the natural development of the generative process.” (§16). Again, Paul VI emphasizes how artificial birth control alters the very nature of human sexuality.

Is Paul VI’s concern for the alteration of sexuality through birth control perhaps overstated? He claims, for example, that widespread use of artificial birth control “could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards.” (§17). Moreover, Paul VI worries that “a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, ans, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires” (§17). Finally, the pope directs his attention to governments, asking “Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone.” (§17).

Considering the ‘modern’ views of sexuality that have developed in the 50 years between Humanae vitae and the present—the legalization of no fault divorce, the preponderance of marital infidelity, especially in western Europe,6 the popularity enjoyed by so-called ‘moral relativism,’ the burgeoning growth of pornography, and the HHS birth control mandate—it is hard to assess Pope Paul VI’s concerns as anything less than prescient. For better of for worse, the transformations he forecasted have come to pass. Whether they have been caused by the availability of artificial birth control is harder to say, but certainly the separation of procreation from sexuality, which such methods wrought, has proliferated, indeed, revolutionized ‘modern’ views of sexuality.

The Game Changer and the Deal Breaker: the Lay and Clerical Catholic Response

For those familiar with the Church’s teaching on sexuality, the ruling against artificial birth control in Humanae vitae should come as no surprise. However, for Catholics of the day, the 1968 encyclical was a game changer and a deal breaker: a game changer because it set in stone, with that infamous papal infallibility, a doctrinal condemnation of artificial birth control for Catholics, and a deal breaker because it dashed the hopes of many married Catholics, who would subsequently break off from the Church.

McLeod offers a broad snapshot of this decidedly negative response to Humanae vitae in its own time. Before the encyclical, a 1967 poll among American Catholics found that 73 per cent want the condemnation of artificial birth control altered (168). Compare this to a 2013 poll from Quinnipiac, which reports that 64 per cent of Catholics in the US, including 51 per cent of weekly churchgoers, think the contraception ban should be relaxed. The irony, of course, is that nowadays Catholics are somehow less resistant to this particular teaching. For Australian Catholics, McLeod cites Anne O’Brien’s book God’s Willing Workers: Woman and Religion in Australia, which claims that Humane vitae marked “the beginning of the end of their association with the Church” (169).

The opposition to the encyclical’s ruling did not limit itself to the laity, though. McLeod cites David Rice’s book Shattered Vows: Priests Who Leave, to detail the sizable clerical opposition to Humanae vitae:

older Catholic priests are said to remember what they were doing when they heard the news of Paul VI’s condemnation of contraception. In a typical story, an American priest driving along a remote country road heard the news on his car radio and uttered the two words, ‘I quit’. (McLeod 193; Rice 41)

And quit they did. Rice’s study of priestly resignations from the 1960s to the 1980s found that “the only doctrinal reason mentioned was papal teaching on birth control” (McLeod 191). Rice himself was a Dominican priest until 1977, when, like Martin Luther, he renounced his vows to marry a woman. Meanwhile, several priests who did not cast off their cassocks campaigned against the Vatican’s ruling. Fr. Louis Janssens of the University of Louvain, for example, approved of oral contraceptives in the Belgian journal Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses in 1964 – again, before the encyclical’s publication, which goes to show the tidal wave against which Humanae vitae asserted itself.

An especially troubling trend that seemed to emerge in the 60s combines this lay and clerical opposition to Humanae vitae. Once the teaching against artificial birth control became doctrine, Catholic couples, many of whom were already using such methods (again, that 38 per cent figure from US Catholics in 1960), feared the admonishment of priests in the sacrament of confession.7 Subsequently, fewer Catholics received absolution in the confessional, and hence could not receive communion with the mortal sin on their hearts. Hence, church attendance declined. Simultaneously, priests opposing Humanae vitae refused to enforce the Church’s Teaching, or like Fr. Rice, vacated their priestly offices. Having fewer priests only exacerbated the problem with the sacraments and introduced an even more heinous problem: the recruitment of inadequate individuals for the priesthood, some of whom would contribute to the sexual abuse crises of the last 20 years, which would drive even more Catholics away from the Church. Though this downward spiral can hardly be attributed to Humanae vitae alone, the ramifications of the Church’s Teachings therein are immense.

Is The Catholic Church Falling Down?


The British Museum, London

My portrayal of cultural response to Humanae vitae up to this point leaves us with a far from rosy picture of Catholic Teaching on birth control. A retreat to comedy, then, might be in order. But I don’t think that the following examination of Lodge’s The British Museum Is Falling Down leaves us only with laughter. Indeed, Lodge’s portrayal captures many of the focal points of the birth control debate described above and, in the way that fiction often does, provides us with insight otherwise overlooked.

Adam Appleby is a simple man. He is a British graduate student in English literature, whose doctoral dissertation focuses on“The Long Sentence” in several literary works. He is also a practicing Catholic. At age 25, he has already sired three children with his loftily wedded wife Barbara and fears that they have conceived another. With this fear, the novel starts its progression—or perhaps digression—through Adam’s day at the library of the British Museum.8

Adam’s stance toward Catholic Teaching on birth control, like that of many of his contemporaries, could described as “less than enthusiastic” or “begrudgingly complaint.” In the first chapter he muses:

How different it must be, he thought, the life of an ordinary, non-Catholic parent, free to decide—actually decide, in calm confidence—whether to have or not to have a child. How different from his own married state, which Adam symbolised as a small, over-populated, low-lying island ringed by a crumbling dyke which he and his wife struggled hopelessly to repair as they kept anxious watch on the surging sea of fertility that surrounded them. (12)

Yet, Barbara and Adam proceed with the Church’s provisions to practice what was then called the “rhythm method.” Lodge pokes fun at the method throughout the book, characterizing it through “sheets of graph paper and little pieces of cardboard with transparent windows of cellophane” “patient graph-plotting” and “exhaustion and renewed suspense.” (14). The notion, essentially, is that all of painstaking measurements of the “rhythm method” are far from natural, that is, if couples intend to have frequent intercourse. For his own part, Adam “wrote to the Catholic Press about Birth Control” (29) and attends a meeting of Catholic dissenters to the Vatican’s at-that-point unestablished Teaching, while Barbara is entreated by their landlady to use ‘the Pill.’

Adam and Barbara’s concerns are of course well-founded. In fact, the main talking points of the birth control debate come to the fore in a bizarre conversation between Adam and their local priest, an Irishman by the name of Fr. Finbar, who amusingly hitches a ride on Adam’s moped. Adam begins:

Do you think the Council will change the Church’s attitude on Birth Control?”

What was that, Mr. Appleby?”

Adam repeated his question at louder volume, and the scooter lurched as his passenger registered its import.

The Church’s teaching never changes, Mr. Appleby,” came the stiff reply. “On that or any other matter.”

Hence, we encounter the issue of doctrine: the Church has established, unchanging teachings. Adam continues:

Well, all right—let’s say “develop”,” Adam went on. “Newman’s theory of doctrinal development—”

Newman?” interjected the priest sharply, “Wasn’t he a Protestant?”

Circumstances have changed, new methods are available—isn’t it time we revised our thinking about these matters?”

Following this humorous jab at Cardinal Henry Newman, who was indeed a Protestant prior to his conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1845, Adam raises the very same question Paul VI does in Humanae vitae in the discussion of “This new state of things” and “heroic effort.”9 Fr. Finbar, though, eventually answers with the stated foundation of marriage, reiterated in Humanae vitae §§ 8-9.

The true purpose of marriage is to procreate children and bring them up in the fear and love of God!” asserted Father Finbar.

But Adam answers with a plea that echoes “the demands made on both the economic and educational field” (§2) which impose difficulties for families in the industrialized world.

Adam, his scooter locked in traffic, twisted in his saddle. “Look, Father, the average woman marries at twenty-three and is fertile till forty. Is it her duty to procreate seventeen children?”

I was the youngest of eighteen children!” cried the priest triumphantly.

How many survived infancy?” demanded Adam.

Seven,” the priest admitted. “God rest the souls of the others.” He crossed himself.

You see? With modern medical care they might all survive. But how could you house and feed even seven in London today? What are we supposed to do?”

To this query, Fr. Finbar answers with a predicable response:

Practice restraint,” retorted the priest. “I do.”

That’s different—”

Pray, go to daily communion, say the rosary together . . .”

We can’t. We’re too busy—” (35-37)

Ultimately, it seems, the real strain on adherence to the Church’s teaching on birth control comes down to the very conditions of ‘modern’ life: busy-ness that leaves little time for spiritual cultivation such as daily prayer. The societal foundation of dissent to Church Teaching, one that is based in economic progress above all, should not be understated.

Despite all of Adam’s grievances, though, God’s plan ends up panning out for him in the end, though I don’t want give away the fanciful resolution Lodge works into The British Museum Is Falling Down. Let’s just say it involves deflecting temptation with a thermometer—the very tool of the “rhythm method” that Adam laments. There’s a great line in that scene, though, that is worth mentioning. The questions arises: “You mean you believe all that nonsense about birth control?” “I’m not sure I believe it,” Adam replies, “but I practise{sic} it.” (123).

A Voice in the Wilderness

Belief and practice, indeed, mutually reinforce each other. They are inherently interwoven. In the ‘modern’ West, though, the two are often divided. Though the Church officially espouses the belief that artificial birth control is unlawful, the majority of its congregants do not practice what the Church preaches. Today in the US, a widely cited statistic announces that 98 per cent of Catholic women have used artificial birth control at some point in their lives. In Britain, a 2008 survey from Tablet magazine reports that 54.5% of Catholic women who regularly attend mass in England and Wales were on ‘the Pill.’ Half thought the teaching against artificial contraception should be revised.

Clearly, opposition to the Church Teaching on artificial birth control is widespread and popular, both inside the Church and outside of it. Moreover, artificial birth control, especially ‘the Pill’ and condoms, have become ubiquitous in the West. A BBC article reports that 2 million women in England and Wales have prescriptions for the pill, and 70% of women across Britain report having use the pill as a particular form of birth control at some point in their lives.10 In countries such as the Netherlands, Germany, and France, condom advertisements are sanctioned by the government. More recently in the US, the Affordable Care Act has mandated that insurance plans cover all kinds of birth control, including sterilization.

This embrace of artificial birth control has not been without its consequences, though. Indeed, it lies at the heart of ‘modern’ views of sexuality, which boil down to this: sex is not chiefly about procreation. It is about enjoyment, self-discovery, entertainment and even ‘having fun.’ The ‘modern’ West agrees: one need only look to the proliferation of pornography, the ubiquity of sexual references and portrayals in popular media, “hook-up” apps like Grindr and Tinder, the increase in cohabitation before marriage, the decline in number of marriages, the increase in average number of sexual partners, the decline in age of first sexual encounter, and a polyphony of other factors. The sexual revolution has changed Western society, not only in what Westerners belief, but also in what they practice.

It is precisely because such ‘modern’ views of sexuality are commonplace that the Church cannot yield to their pressures. In any society, there must be voices of opposition. In regards to matters of ‘modern’ sexuality, the Church is, most definitively, that voice. This position places orthodox Church Teaching on the margin for sure. Humanae vitae solidified that reality. Yet, there may still be room for Catholic couples to abide by these difficult doctrines in a way that requires less than “heroic effort.”

In a sort of epilogue to Lodge’s The British Museum Is Falling Down, the perspective shifts from a third-person narration of Adam’s day to the interior monologue of his wife Barbara. Those with a background in modern literature, particularly Irish literature, will immediately recognize this move as a play on the final section of James Joyce’s landmark work of Modernist fiction Ulysses, which ends with the barely punctuated interior monologue of the protagonist’s wife, Molly Bloom. In Ulysses Mrs. Bloom has committed infidelity. In Lodge’s novel, though, Barbara ponders the Church’s views on birth control. She speaks of the ‘Safe Method’ as “too mechanical, you’re always watching the calendar, it’s like launching a rocket—five four three two one, and by the time it’s zero you’re too tensed up to” (169). She refers to it jokingly as “Vatican Roulette” (172), yet she also acknowledges that even this method was once discouraged: “mum told me when she was young even the safe method was frowned on and you were only supposed to use it if you were starving or going to die from another pregnancy” (173). And though she, like her husband, struggles with Church Teaching on birth control, she also admits that there’s “something a bit offputting about contraceptives even non-Catholics would prefer not to” (174).

Surely, the birth control debate gives us much to think about. The final word of The British Museum Is Falling Down reflects this general need for further consideration. Joyce ends his monologue with the affirmative “Yes”; but Lodge, coyly and with literary allusion in mind, ends his with the hypothetical “Maybe.”

Maybe the possibility that still stands for Catholic couples, especially those struggling with Church Teaching, consists in the formation of strong communities with programs in marriage counseling, workshops on various Natural Family Planning (NFP) methods, and strong pastoral care for growing families. Maybe, too, it consists in rejecting the prevalent sexualization of popular media and cultivating the values of modesty, self-respect, and that oft-mocked fulcrum—chastity, which does not seek silence on sexual matters, but rather a mature and thoughtful handling of them.

As for a shift in Catholic doctrine away from the precedents set in Humanae vitae? That is a possibility only in fiction.

1This process of “de-Christianization,” of course, traces back to a epoch long before the 1960s; Brad Gregory, for instance, argues in The Unintended Reformation that the modern decline of Western Christianity has its roots in the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. Other scholars, such as the Italian philosopher Augusto del Noce, stress the importance of the Enlightenment in Christianity’s decline. Charles Taylor, meanwhile, traces the roots of modern secularism back to the so-called Axial Age all the way back in the 6th century B.C., in which societies became structured more in terms of the individual rather than the collective.

2This opposition to birth control has Biblical precedent in the story of Onan in Gen 38, in which Judah’s son Onan, tasked with continuing his genetical line of his brother Er, “spilled his semen on the ground” (Gen 38:9) since he knew the children would not be his – hence, the method of “pulling-out” is referred to as Onanism, as is masturbation. The divine decree to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28) in the Priestly creation story is also cited in the birth control debate. However, Catholic Teaching on birth control grounds itself more in a holistic understanding of human sexuality and the natural ordering of sexual intercourse toward procreation.

3The modesty of the language in the Lambeth Conference’s resolution allowing “other methods” of birth control, one resolution 15, should be noted. Only in cases with a “clearly felt moral obligation to limit parenthood” did the conference approve of contraception, whereas the conference condemned cases with “motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience.” Yet even this narrow gap allowed a sort of Pandora’s box to be opened. A commentator in the June 30, 1930, edition of the London Times went so far as to say that the conference would alter the “social and moral life” of humanity, and not without merit. In light of this, the Church’s hesitancy to approve of any artificial means of birth control is understandable.

4They would have to wait for the 1964 Supreme Court ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut to have their pleas for nationwide contraception met, at least for married couples. The 1972 Supreme Court ruling in Eisenstadt v. Baird would extend contraceptive rights for non-married couples eight years later. This follows a general narrative in US courts toward sexual liberation (see, for example, Roe v. Wade in 1973, Lawrence v. Texas in 2003, and of course the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling of 2015).

5Documents leaked to the press in 1967 show that 9 committee members voted in favor of artificial birth control, including Cardinal Suenens mentioned above, 3 abstained, and 3 opposed, including Cardinal Ottaviani, also mentioned above. See, Janet E. Smith, Humanae vitae: A Generation Later (Catholic University of America Press, 1991).

6According to my research of recent polls, reported rates of infidelity in any romantic relationship in western Europe stand at around 40 per cent (my information comes from 2014 poll by the French Institute of Public Opinion, and a similar poll from the Italian equivalent of Ashley Madison, a website that facilitates marital infidelity). This compares to around 20 per cent in the US, according to a YouGov poll in 2015. However, rates of marital infidelity seem to be more or less the same between western Europe and the US, with around 3 per cent of spouses reportedly having an extra-marital sexual partner in the last year, according to surveys in France and the US from 2004, cited by Druckerman.

7One survey shows a decline from 38 percent attending confession monthly in 1968 to 17 percent in 1974 (Greeley, The Catholic Revolution, 49).

8Adam is clearly an autobiographical character: Lodge, also an English Catholic, worked on a PhD in literature while providing for a burgeoning family.

9This new state of things gives rise to new questions. Granted the conditions of life today and taking into account the relevance of married love to the harmony and mutual fidelity of husband and wife, would it not be right to review the moral norms in force till now, especially when it is gelt that these can be observed only with the gravest difficulty, sometimes only be heroic effort?” (Humanae vitae §3)

10Rebecca Cafe, “How the contraceptive pill changed Britain” (4 Dec. 2011), BBC News.